So based on patterns in the past, in so far as companies’ earnings are not artificially propped up by low interest costs and barring any structural change in the economic environment, investors who enter the market at current levels have a good chance of earning satisfactory returns from the stock market over the next five years.
(ex BT reporter, now in fund mgt, wrote on 13 October 2013 in SunT)
Consider the price of the Singapore market, relative to the 10-year average of its earnings per share, as calculated by Thomson Datastream. This is measured by the so-called Graham and Dodd price-earnings (PE) ratio.
In the past 30 years, the highest the market price has gone up to was 33.5 times its 10-year average earnings. That was in August 1987 just before the October 1987 Black Monday crash. The lowest the market has plunged to was 10.3 times its 10-year average earnings. That was in February 2009, the darkest point of the recent global financial crisis.
In the past 30 years, when the Graham and Dodd PE fell below 16 times, the returns of the three portfolios five years later tended to be substantial.
They averaged 15.2 per cent a year for the entire market; 25.4 per cent a year for the low (price-to-book) PB portfolio; and 13 per cent a year for the high PB portfolio. The five-year period starting from the lowest point on our PE chart, i.e. February 2009, has not ended yet. But already, those who entered the market at that point are sitting on, or had made, outsized returns.
There was only one instance when buying into the market at the Graham and Dodd PE of 16 times or below did not pay off handsomely five years later. That was in July 1997, at the onset of the Asian financial crisis. Five years later, in August 2002, the market was still trading at similar levels as it struggled to climb its way out of the dot.com bust and the 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.
The higher the Graham and Dodd PE, the lower the return five years later. Investors who entered the market at a PE of 26 times or higher had seen a miserable 1 per cent average return a year in the following five years for the market portfolio, 7 per cent for the low PB portfolio and minus 2 per cent for the high PB portfolio.
At that market entry level, chances of an investor suffering capital loss are also elevated. Based on monthly numbers in the past 30 years, the probability of loss five years later (at Graham and Dodd PE of 26 times and above) was 42 per cent for the market portfolio, 12 per cent for the low PB portfolio and a whopping 70 per cent for the high PB portfolio.
Finally, where is the Graham and Dodd PE for the Singapore market now? It’s at 14.1 times as at end September. This compares with the average of 20.8 times in the past 30 years.
In the past three decades, there were 25 different months when the Graham and Dodd PE traded between 14 and 16.5 times. For those 25 different months, the market portfolio returned an average 15.5 per cent a year over the next five years. The low PB portfolio averaged 24.8 per cent a year, and the high PB portfolio 14.3 per cent a year. The probability of capital loss for those periods was 1-in-25 for the market portfolio, and 3-in-25 for the low PB as well as the high PB portfolios.
Remember what Warren Buffett said about expenses, “Investors should remember that excitement and expenses are their enemies.” He goes on, “And if they insist on trying to time their participation in equities, they should try to be fearful when others are greedy and greedy only when others are fearful.”