Over the recent economic cycle, the acceleration in Global equities Returns was driven by three catalysts including (1) growth in corporate Earnings (2) a downward trend in interest rates (with bond yields reaching all time lows and indeed dipping into negative territory) and (3) massive liquidity injected into the financial system by Central Banks. (Notably, this resulted in their balance sheets being expanded from $4 trillion to $22 trillion since before the Great Financial Crash). And “Voila”, we are where we are today with market valuations.
Looking across Global Markets, we see divergence in the returns since 2014 when the US (in blue) is included & excluded (in orange). (EAFE: Europe, Australasia, Far East)
Taking a closer look at the US markets, we observe today that the Cyclically Adjusted Price Earnings Ratio CAPE for US Equities (shown below) is about 30.6 times earnings compared to its 20 year average of 25.6 and its all time PE average of 17.1. Similarly, the Buffet Indicator (Market Cap to GDP) currently stands at 176.6%. To put that into context “fair” value falls in the range of 93% to 114%.
RATIO OF CURRENT US500 LEVELS TO 10 YEAR AVERAGE PE RATIO ADJUSTED TO INFLATION (CAPE) (Source: Shiller RS)
Though US valuations usually tend to be higher than other global regions, it is reasonable however, to attribute this (over) growth in US market valuations (by in large) to the technology sector. While overheated valuations within sectors are not unusual, it appears that the US growth stocks are particularly affected by over exuberant market participation leading to often eyewatering valuations. Indeed, one could argue that we are in a period of irrational exuberance within this sector when we see stocks like Tesla inc (TSLA) trading at Price/Sales = 13.8x, Price/Book Value = 35.2x, Price/Earnings = 224, and EV/Operating cash = 101.3x.
So, the CAPE, Buffet indicators (& others) suggest that US equities are indeed overvalued implying likely lower returns in the long term.
Casting our “Valuation” eyes around the globe however, we see a different picture. In Europe, Australasia, the Far East and Emerging Markets, valuations (and hence long-term returns) do appear more attractive. As the chart below shows, current Price to Earnings (PE) and Future Price to Earnings ratios (fPE) are lower than those for the US.
CURRENT (in blue) AND FORWARD (in orange) PRICE TO EARNINGS RATIOS FOR GLOBAL EQUITIES (Source: MSCI)
As investors really favoured “Growth” over “Value” factors for the past 5 years, we are now seeing attractive entry points across the European, Australasia, Far East and in particular, Emerging Markets. An opportune time then to consider adding a list of some of the worlds great and innovative companies to your portfolios from these regions?
Perhaps, but as always, we need to add further consideration and perspective to the analysis. As we begin a cycle of more challenging corporate outlooks and continued low interest rates, global earnings too, will be challenged and we shouldn’t be surprised if overall future returns are lower than the last decade. Indeed, within sectors, we shouldn’t be surprised where we also see swift reversal of fortunes of stocks which are currently in favour.
So how does all this distill into your long-term Financial Plan? From a practical viewpoint, if your plan contains long-term financial objectives, having a solid core of funds invested in Global Equities in your portfolio provides a decent foundation for long-term returns. Being Globally invested, your investment will already be positioned to take advantage when investor sentiment shifts to more attractive valuations within markets and across regions.
At Lifetime Financial Planning, our core beliefs continue to be…..that portfolio diversification, time in the market, not timing, passive investments and a long-term horizon all lead to decent and consistent capital returns in portfolios. We just have to remain disciplined (some would say boring), accept the short-term volatility and ignore the “noise”.
Michael Wall CFP® PhD is a Director of Lifetime Financial Planning. Aidan Wall Financial Services Ltd Trading as Lifetime Financial Planning is regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland. All views and details contained within this article are for information purposes only, are subject to change & are not advice. We recommend you seek independent clarification for your particular circumstances. Lifetime Financial Planning makes no representations as to the accuracy, completeness nor suitability of any of the information contained within and will not be held liable for any errors, omissions or any losses arising from its use.