When Will the Market’s Expensive Price Levels Matter?

When Will the Market’s Expensive Price Levels Matter?

It’s hard to deny that stocks are a bit pricey, but a recent article in CNBC argues “there is plenty of nuance and subjectivity in assessing equity valuations.”

The article offers the following valuation analysis from Goldman Sachs that shows the market is “at or near the most-expensive levels in recent history on most measures:”

For those looking to justify paying up for stocks, however, the article suggests focusing on the two “yield gap indicators that compare the S&P’s earnings yield to Treasury and investment-grade bond yields. Since high bond prices are lowering yields, the article suggests, stocks are the more attractive alternative, which creates a relative “valuation cushion” —one that has been bolstered by Fed chair Jerome Powell’s recent “implicit” endorsement that, on a relative basis, stocks are not terribly overvalued.

Although low bond yields don’t entirely “forgive” high valuations, the article notes they “do make them seem less irrational and more continuous with generally elevated asset values.”

Stock valuations also appear less extreme based on corporate free cash flow, the article argues, which “speaks to the changed makeup of the S&P 500, weighted toward higher-return businesses, as well as lower tax rates and slimmer debt costs.”

The article concludes that “valuation is more a background condition than a here-and-now driver of market direction. When financial conditions remain very loose and the direction of expected earnings is up, there tends not to be a general reckoning due to high valuations—even if expensive stocks have more to lose once the air starts coming out.”