Do you remember the panic-inducing headlines related to PIIGS, Crimea, Ebola, Cyprus, and the Flash Crash? Probably not. But if you do remember, these false alarms have likely been relegated to the financial memory graveyard, along with the many other sensationalist news events that have been killed off in the post-financial crisis era. Time will tell whether Brexit dies off or becomes a resurrected concern, like the repeating fears of a China slowdown or Greek collapse. Regardless, as the S&P 500 stock index reaches new all-time record highs, investors are currently shrug off the noise while muttering, “Brexit-Schmexit.”
Individuals have tried to use scary headlines as a timing tool to consistently time market corrections for all of recorded history. Unfortunately, emotional, knee-jerk reactions to alarming news stories rarely is the best strategy. Famed fund manager Peter Lynch said it best when he noted,
“Far more money has been lost by investors preparing for corrections, or trying to anticipate corrections, than has been lost in corrections themselves.”
Having invested for some 25 years, experience has taught me not only is conventional wisdom often wrong, but it also is frequently an accurate contrarian indicator. In other words, frightening news often should be an indicator to buy…not sell. Case in point is the U.K. European Union referendum. The Brexit referendum “Leave” vote caught virtually everyone by surprise, but the rebound in stock prices to new record highs may be even more surprising to most observers. However, for investors following the key factors of interest rates, profits, valuation, and sentiment (see also Don’t Be a Fool, Follow the Stool), may not be shocked by the positive price action.
- Interest Rates: For starters, you don’t have to be a genius to realize that stocks become more attractive when there is a scarcity of investment alternatives. When there are an estimated $13 trillion of negative interest rate bonds, a layman can quickly understand a 2%, 3%, or 4% dividend yield offered on certain stocks (and funds) can represent a much more attractive opportunity. With interest rates at record lows (see chart below), the overall dividend yield of stocks has provided a floor for stock prices and has limited the depth and duration of sell-offs and corrections.
- Profits: Corporate profits are near record highs but have been sluggish due to several factors, including the negative impact of the strong dollar on multinational exports; the depressing effect of declining interest rates on the banking sector’s net interest profit margins; the general decline in oil and commodity prices; and general lethargic economic growth overall in international markets (emerging and developed economies). Encouragingly, a stabilization in the value of the U.S. dollar, along with a rebound in energy prices augurs well for a potential shift back to earnings growth in the coming quarters.
- Valuation: On a valuation basis, the Price/Earnings ratio of the stock market is about 10-15% above historical averages (see chart below). The average S&P 500 stock price trades around 19x’s the value of trailing twelve-month earnings. However, in the context of all-time record low-interest rates, a premium valuation is well deserved, especially for those companies paying a dividend and growing their bottom line.
- Sentiment: Since the Great Financial Crisis / Recession, there has been about $1.5 trillion in equity investments that have been pulled out of U.S. equity mutual funds. This statistic is a clear sign of the extreme risk aversion and pervasive pessimism. Despite money flowing out of equity funds, corporations have bolstered the upward trajectory in stock prices with hundreds of billions in corporate stock buybacks and trillions in mergers & acquisition transactions. With all the universal jitteriness, I like to remind investors of Warren Buffett’s credo, “Buy fear, and sell greed.”
Brexit-Schmexit NOT Brexit-Panic
Despite the risk aversion in the marketplace, stock prices in the U.S. continue to grind higher to record levels. The stock market is currently communicating interest rates, profits, valuation, and sentiment are more important factors to price direction than are Brexit and other geopolitical concerns.
The silver lining behind severe investor skepticism is the creation of additional investment opportunities. As famous investor Sir John Templeton stated regarding stock market cycles, “Bull markets are born on pessimism and they grow on skepticism, mature on optimism, and die on euphoria.” Even the most objective observers have difficulty pointing to a broad set of indicators signaling euphoria, and the recent Turkish military coup attempt and domestic gun violence incidents will not squash out the negativity. Until optimism and elation rule the day, there’s no need to worry-schworry.