Let’s jump right in, here’s the H1-2017 performance for my usual benchmark indices:
Move along, nothing to report here…but that’s exactly what we should focus on! Of course, the financial media’s become more & more hysterical about the markets – de rigueur in an ADHD world – but cooler & more logical heads have also been sounding the alarm bells so often, I’m sure I’ve gone deaf. But sacrilegious as it may sound, a +8.2% YTD gain for the S&P 500 isn’t all that extraordinary… Sure, it’s within spitting distance of the market’s average annual return, but that doesn’t mean much – history confirms annual returns tend to rack up in just a few months, with the market faffing around for the rest of year.
And looking back, I’m hard-pressed to find this outrageous bull market everybody’s yammering about. In reality, the S&P soared a massive 6.6% pa over the last three calendar years (2014-2016). Seriously…that’s it!? [How many readers are reacting with disbelief right now?] Even my blind maiden aunt couldn’t get her knickers in a twist over that kind of return…
Of course, the nay-sayers will argue the S&P’s trajectory is irrelevant – we should really focus on how expensive it is today, in absolute terms. Hmmm…maybe if you cherry-pick the most damning P/E multiple comparison!? But taking a longer-term perspective, the Nifty Fifty actually peaked at 42x in 1972, while TMT stocks peaked at 60x in 2000 (with the S&P hitting 29x). Except isn’t that just a greater fool approach…shouldn’t we be evaluating the market vs. normal P/E multiples? Well, again I fail to understand the alarm: The S&P today actually sports an 18.8 forward P/E, a mere 9% premium to the average 17.2 forward P/E over the last 20 years (which included the dot-com bubble, but also the financial crisis).
And absurdly, the doubters choose to ignore gravity (i.e. interest rates)! Whereas I’m perfectly happy to defer to Buffett here – aside from secular earnings growth itself, interest rates are arguably the equity market’s greatest single driver (& valuation benchmark). This one 10 Year UST chart effectively tells you more than a dozen books could about the US equity market’s trajectory over the last 50+ years: