The thing about the multiple expansion vs. earnings growth argument when it comes to what’s driving stocks it that, to quote Citi’s Tobias Levkovich, “so much depends on the starting point.”
When he said that earlier this year, he was looking at things from the bull side of the debate, but as we wrote at the time:
Duly noted, but I guess what we would suggest is that his “starting point” is just as arbitrary as the “starting points” he’s criticizing. Why his are any more legitimate than anyone else’s is anyone’s guess.
So depending on how you subdivide the time frame you’re looking at, you can make it seem more or less like markets are being driven by multiple expansion or actual profit growth.
In their year-ahead preview, Goldman noted the following:
Between 1987 and 1996, the S&P 500 index was lifted by roughly 30% from P/E multiple expansion and 70% from earnings growth. The components of the current bull market that started in 2009 are similar: Valuation expansion has accounted for about 30% of the rally, profit growth about 50%, and the remaining 20% from an increase in expected EPS growth. In contrast, more than 50% of the market rise between 1996 and 2000 came from a dramatic P/E multiple expansion and less than half came from higher earnings. We believe the current modest upward trajectory can continue because less than 10% of the projected return from today through 2020 will come from valuation expansion.
Ok, but if you break this down further (which is something Goldman has done before by the way), things look a little bit different with regard to the trend. Have a look at this chart from SocGen, for instance:
As the bank writes, “since Trump’s election, the S&P 500 has risen 24% [and] only half of this performance has been driven by earnings growth; the other half is from P/E expansion.”
But here’s the real kicker from the same SocGen note:
Below, we dig into this leg of performance by focusing on the Top 10 contributors of the S&P 500’s bull run, which alone accounted for 33% of the S&P 500 performance. All of the companies listed below have seen their P/Es expand over the last 12 months. Only three companies (Apple and the two banks) have 12-month P/Es that are below the market average (18x). Lastly, except Amazon, all of the companies already pay a corporate tax rate below the current US federal tax rate (35%), and five companies even pay a tax rate that is below the 20% rate targeted by Trump’s tax reform.
So there are some inconvenient truths for you on Thanksgiving.