Stocks Look Pricey

At the heart of our assessment of the stock market is our Capitalized Profits Model.

That model takes economy-wide profits (excluding profits or losses generated by the Federal Reserve) quarter by quarter going back nearly seventy years and discounts those profits by the 10-year Treasury Note yield in each of those quarters. We then compare discounted profits in those quarters with discounted profits today, putting equal weight on every previous quarter, and using that average to estimate value.

At Friday’s close, the 10-year Treasury was yielding 4.24%. Plugging that yield into the model (and assuming profits remain at the same level as they were in the first quarter) suggests a fair value for the S&P 500 of 3,170, substantially lower than the Friday close of 4,406.

It's important to recognize that the Cap Profits Model isn’t a “trading” model. You shouldn’t use it day-to-day; stocks can remain significantly overvalued or undervalued for prolonged periods of time. However, the model can be used to gauge how attractive stocks are relative to normal.

Today, stocks look expensive. Moreover, when we review what would have to happen for the model’s estimate of fair value to rise to where the stock market is today, it looks even more likely that stocks will face headwinds in the year ahead.

One way to bring fair value up to Friday’s close of 4,406 would be for the 10-year yield to drop to 3.05%. But what do the economy as a whole and profits in particular look like in a scenario with a much lower long-term bond yield? The yield curve would be very deeply inverted and nominal GDP growth would have to be either much slower or expected to slow substantially in the near future. In turn, that would probably mean weaker profits.