Equities analysts and strategists including myself have been arguing for some time that if no further details were provided on how and when the proposed U.S. tax reforms and spending plans will take place, the market rally should take a pause. However, U.S. President Donald Trump provided no new details in his speech to Congress on Tuesday, and yet, stocks surged to new highs.
The only surprise we received was Trump’s striking shift in tone which was hugely different from his inaugural address and regular messages on Twitter. But is it enough to justify this rally?
What’s even more interesting is markets now consider a tighter monetary policy a sign of confidence in economic growth and thus a reason to continue purchasing stocks, when for years post 2008 crisis it had been considered the most significant motive to dump stocks.
The most asked question we receive on a daily basis is whether this rally still ‘haslegs’? Well, fund flows suggest that investors are still willing to take the risk thatwill potentially lead to higher prices.Sooner or later however, investors will realize that valuations are what matter most inthe longer run.
When looking at S&P 500 Shiller’s cyclicallyadjusted price-to-earnings ratio (CAPE) which is currently trading at 29.5 x earnings.This takes us back to April 2002;from April to October 2002, S&P 500 dropped from a high of 1,174 to a low of 768, a total of 34.5%.Since then, the Shiller’s CAPE never re-visited these levels until just this week.
Low long-term interest rates do justify to some extent higher valuations. For example, back in April 2002, U.S. 10-year treasury yields were trading above 5% as opposed to 2.46% today, but as the Fed tightens more- “probably three rate hikes in 2017” - then risk-free rates will go higher and investors will require more return on their investments.
If this is the case, then expected earnings and dividends growth will be the key metrics to look for going forward. There’s no doubt that improved economic conditions, consumer confidence, and higher inflation will all lead to higher earnings growth, but what markets are currently pricing in is more than just these factors. It’s mainly about tax reforms, and assuming a reduction in the U.S. corporate tax from 35% to 20%, although difficult to calculate its impact on earnings, is expected to lift net profits from 10% to 15%, and this is what investors are betting on.
If you still want to ride the current bullish momentum wave, pray that Trump’s tax reduction plan succeeds as soon as possible.
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