Archives For Value Investing

Quiz!

Which stocks are riskiest when inflation is high? (Note: stocks in each group are split between Growth and Value, with Value getting the lower Price/Book.)

  1. Value stocks that are priced far above their average valuations.
  2. Growth stocks.
  3. Value stocks.

What is the Impact of High Inflation on Stock Returns?

We are experiencing very high inflation, last seen in the early 1980’s. What is the Impact of High Inflation on Stock Returns?

  1. Negative: It hurts stocks, by reducing stock valuations (Price/Book) to reflect a lower value of future earnings. It hurts growth stocks with high valuations especially hard. Examples are S&P 500 and Nasdaq.
  2. Positive: It ultimately helps stocks, because high inflation = higher prices => higher earnings for the companies.

The bigger the spike in inflation, the more stocks are likely to decline in the short run, because the negative forces can be greater than the positive ones. Once stock valuations adjust to higher inflation and higher interest rates (that are used to combat inflation), the positive impact tends to be much stronger, especially for value stocks.

Key takeaways:

  1. When inflation spikes, you should be especially cautious of stocks with very high valuations. Now the largest tech stocks are priced extremely high, something familiar from past cycles. In the 1970’s, we had the nifty-fifty, also called “one-decision” stocks. Counter to expectations at the time, they crashed badly despite being the most prominent of US stocks (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nifty_Fifty). Stock returns adhere to the formula, price = book value x (price / book value). If the valuations (price / book value) are very high, even the best company in the world can see its stock price drop.
  2. Value stocks (with low valuations, or price / book-value) are better positioned for high inflation, for 2 reasons: (1) Immediate: there is no big correction necessary to valuations; (2) Ongoing: more of their earnings are from the near-term, with a smaller needed discount to future earnings.
  3. Even value stocks can be expensive at times. For example, US Large Value stocks are currently very expensive (but still less than the S&P 500 and Nasdaq). In stark contrast, non-US Value stocks are priced low.

Quiz Answer:

Which stocks are riskiest when inflation is high? (Note: stocks in each group are split between Growth and Value, with Value getting the lower Price/Book.)

  1. Value stocks that are priced far above their average valuations. [Correct Answer]
  2. Growth stocks. [Correct Answer]
  3. Value stocks.

Explanation:

  1. While value stocks tend to have low Price/Book, sometimes an entire collection of stocks becomes expensive, including value stocks. A current example is US Large stocks.
  2. Growth stocks tend to have earnings far into the future, that need to be discounted by high interest rates (the tool used to combat high inflation).
  3. Value stocks are priced lower and have nearer-term earnings that not impacted as much by higher interest rates. The increase in income (along with inflation) can become the dominant force.

See article for more explanations.

Disclosures Including Backtested Performance Data

Quiz!

Question 1: In the past 10 years, how much did the S&P 500 companies grow their book values (change in price divided by change in price/book)?

  1. 16.2%
  2. 6%
  3. -6%

Question 2: Last time the S&P 500 had approximately today’s valuations, what was its average annual performance in the following 10 years?

  1. 16.2%
  2. 10%
  3. -1%

S&P 500 10-Year Returns if The Past Repeats

The S&P 500 enjoyed strong returns averaging 16.2% per year in the past 10 years. 10 years look like a long track record, enough to entice investing in the S&P 500 today, based on this data. Let’s evaluate this theory:

1. Actual book-value growth calculated at a mere 6%: What was the growth in the book value of the S&P 500 companies in the past 10 years? We can calculate it as the difference between compounding the 16.2% price increase per year and about 9.6% price/book increase per year (x2.5 going from under 2 to nearly 5), which is 6% per year. It turns out that the past 10 years were not very exciting for the S&P 500 companies.

2. Valuations declined 9.6% per year: From the most recent cycle when valuations reached today’s valuations (year 2000), they declined from about 5 to about 2 in 10 years, which is equal to -9.6% per year.

3. If the past repeats itself, we can get -3.3% annual decline for 10 years = -28% total: If the companies do as well as the past 10 years = 6% per year, and valuations revert to normal as happened last time we reached today’s valuations = -9.6% per year, we get an annual decline of -3.3% per year, and a total decline of -28%.

We don’t know what the future will actually be. But, if you are projecting the past to the future, you should prepare for material declines for the S&P 500 over the next 10 years.

Quiz Answer:

Question 1: In the past 10 years, how much did the S&P 500 companies grow their book values (change in price divided by change in price/book)?

  1. 16.2%
  2. 6% [Correct Answer]
  3. -6%

Question 2: Last time the S&P 500 had approximately today’s valuations, what was its average annual performance in the following 10 years?

  1. 16.2%
  2. 10%
  3. -1% [Correct Answer]

See article for more explanations.

Disclosures Including Backtested Performance Data

Quiz!

Which factors may contribute to value (low Price/Book) outperformance moving forward? (There may be multiple answers.)

  1. A change in sentiment.
  2. Rising bond interest rates.
  3. Expectation for inflation.
  4. Very low valuations.
  5. Very low valuations relative to growth (high Price/Book) stocks.
  6. Economic recovery from the pandemic.
  7. The best option out there.

Tipping Point for Value?

Last year will go into the history books given the pandemic. But another, less noticed, rare thing happened. Growth stocks, those with a high price relative to the company’s book value (P/B), or intrinsic value, went from very expensive to extremely expensive – a level barely second to the late 1990’s. While they’ve become more expensive for a while, there was a big spike in unprofitable small growth stocks. Last time we had a spike even close to this magnitude was around 1999. This is very reassuring for Value stocks, because often a long-lasting trend ends in a big spike in the direction of the trend, followed by a sharp reversal. For value stocks in the US, last time the reversal meant a 50% outperformance in a mere 2 years.

There are a number of logical reasons to see a reversal at this point:

  1. A change in sentiment: The reversal already started a few months ago, long enough for people to take note, and start treating it more like a new trend than noise.
  2. Expectation for inflation: Two forces are leading to an expectation for higher inflation: (1) Dramatic government stimulus; (2) The Fed planning to hold interest rates low until after inflation overshoots the typical target. Bond prices already started declining reflecting this expectation.
  3. Very low valuations relative to growth (high Price/Book) stocks: With the valuations of growth stocks going so much higher relative to value stocks, growth stocks became much more dangerous. People took note and started shifting towards value stocks.
  4. Economic recovery from the pandemic: Value stocks tend to outperform at times of economic recovery.

Note that value stocks outside the US have much lower valuations than US stocks – near record difference, making them even more appealing. As always, there could be surprises, and it is important to structure your financial picture to account for them.

Quiz Answer:

Which factors may contribute to value (low Price/Book) outperformance moving forward? (There may be multiple answers.)

  1. A change in sentiment. [Correct Answer]
  2. Rising bond interest rates. [Correct Answer]
  3. Expectation for inflation. [Correct Answer]
  4. Very low valuations.
  5. Very low valuations relative to growth (high Price/Book) stocks. [Correct Answer]
  6. Economic recovery from the pandemic. [Correct Answer]
  7. The best option out there. [Correct Answer]

Explanations: #4 is only partly correct. In the US value stocks are not low relative to their historic average, though they are very low relative to growth stocks. Outside the US, valuations are clearly low.

See article for more explanations about the correct answers.

Disclosures Including Backtested Performance Data

Quiz!

What typically happens to stocks when interest rates & inflation rise?  (There may be multiple answers.)

  1. Stocks go down.
  2. Stocks go up.
  3. Growth (high P/B) stocks go down.
  4. Growth (high P/B) stocks go up.
  5. Value (low P/B) stocks go down.
  6. Value (low P/B) stocks go up.

Look for the answer below and read this month’s article for a discussion.

What Happens When Interest Rates & Inflation Rise?

Optimism about the pandemic’s direction led to expectation for inflation along with rising interest rates in the past month.  The direct impact of inflation and rising rates is damage to stocks & bonds.  This is especially true for growth (high P/B) stocks that obtain much of their value from earnings far into the future – earnings that are less valuable, the higher the inflation.

Beyond the initial reaction, value and Emerging Markets (EM) investments tend to do very well from conditions like today.  The closest example is the behavior of Extended-Term Component (ET) in 2003.

Extended-Term Component (ET) Behavior with Expectation for Higher Interest Rates and Inflation
6/9/2003 2/26/2021
ET P/B 0.93 1.01 (lower equivalent given the profitability tilt since 2014)
Time since recent low 8 months 11 months
10-year treasury rates Increased fast (2% in 2 months) Increased (1% in 7 months)
Federal rates went up starting 1 year later (6/30/2004) ?
Federal rates went up by 4.25% in 2 years! ?
Dollar High and declining High, and peaked recently
ET gained An additional 449% in 4.5 years ?

Every case is different, and I don’t necessarily expect a repeat gain of 449% in 4.5 years.  This information shows that rising rates have not been bad for your investments historically.

Note that in the example above, growth stocks also did very well, but their valuations were substantially lower than today.  Between the positive forces of the economy and stimulus and the negative impact of extreme valuations, it is tough to predict gains or declines for growth stocks.

While I cannot predict future returns, there are a number of factors that would lead me to optimism for both EM and Value investments in upcoming years.  Here is some logic:

  1. Interest rates reached record lows in recent months, and there are mounting forces for higher interest rates and inflation.  This hurts growth stocks, making value stocks more attractive on a relative basis.
  1. During economic recoveries, cyclical value stocks tend to do especially well.
  1. The dollar is relatively high, and has plenty of room to go down, increasing the value of non-US investments.
  1. An economic recovery from the pandemic would lead to a benefit for stocks in general, especially ones that are not already priced high.  The discount of value stocks relative to growth stocks is still at a real extreme.
  1. Beyond value vs. growth, EM Value stocks are priced extremely low relative to US Value stocks.

While the 2003 example above seems most relevant, a more recent situation of rising rates was 2016-2017, where ET enjoyed a 99% gain in about 2 years, within weeks after the Fed started raising rates.  To emphasize, no specific result is guaranteed, but fear of rising rates hurting EM and Value stocks would not be rooted in past experience.

Quiz Answer:

What typically happens to stocks when interest rates & inflation rise?  (There may be multiple answers.)

  1. Stocks go down.
  2. Stocks go up.  [Correct Answer]
  3. Growth (high P/B) stocks go down.
  4. Growth (high P/B) stocks go up.  [Correct Answer]
  5. Value (low P/B) stocks go down.
  6. Value (low P/B) stocks go up.  [Correct Answer]

Explanations:  In general, stocks tend to go up when interest rates & inflation go up, reflecting an expanding economy.  Value stocks tend to outperform growth stocks, as the higher rates & inflation hurt the value of future earnings.  Note that the valuations of growth stocks are extremely high at this point, so it is tough to project their future.

Disclosures Including Backtested Performance Data

Quiz!

In which ways was 2020 different than other big declines (e.g. 2008 & 2000)? (There may be multiple correct answers.)

  1. It was deeper.
  2. It was shorter.
  3. It was scarier.
  4. It was longer.
  5. The turnaround came before economic improvement.
  6. The government & central bank support were bigger than usual.

The Surprises & The Expected of 2020

The pandemic of 2020 was shocking to investors and humans in general. It involved substantial uncertainty, leading people to predict years of pain for stock investments. While the split between surprises & the expected will vary depending on the reader, below is my split.

Surprises:

  1. While the key actions to contain the pandemic were known early on (looking at some Asian countries), the magnitude of unwillingness to take these actions seriously in other countries was greater than I expected, leading to a much worse result than possible otherwise. While stocks recovered rapidly, they could have bottomed higher, with fewer lives lost on the way.

Expected:

  1. The decline was shorter than typical, because it didn’t come from a position of economic leverage and euphoria.
  2. When panic took hold in March, the Fed repeated its 2008 announcement, being prepared to do whatever it would take to support the economy. Other countries operated similarly.
  3. The turnaround came as soon as the level of uncertainty diminished, far before the economy improved, as typical.
  4. While the economy is still hurting badly, it started the turnaround much earlier than in prior declines, thanks to the cause being a shock and not leverage.
  5. Many people said about this decline that it’s different, and will last much longer than past declines. Fortunately, this prediction failed, as typical when made at past times of uncertainty.

The specifics of every market decline are different, creating a need to prepare for declines of varying lengths & depths, worse than we experienced before. While the specifics vary, there are some truths that follow through the cycles, especially some level of correlation between starting valuations (e.g. Price/Book) of risky assets and the severity of the decline. With the right planning, whether cash set aside or low spending relative to liquid assets, there is no need to label any case as “this time is different”. The more prepared you are, the stronger you can be going through scary times, with discipline to avoid panic selling at the depth of the decline.

Quiz Answer:

In which ways was 2020 different than other big declines (e.g. 2008 & 2000)? (There may be multiple correct answers.)

  1. It was deeper.
  2. It was shorter. [Correct Answer]
  3. It was scarier. [Correct Answer]
  4. It was longer.
  5. The turnaround came before economic improvement.
  6. The government & central bank support were bigger than usual. [Correct Answer]

Explanations:

  1. This decline was shallower than the other two declines.
  2. This decline was dramatically shorter than the other two declines.
  3. While every decline is scary, this was scarier, because we haven’t seen such a widespread pandemic in our lifetimes.
  4. This decline was dramatically shorter than the other two declines.
  5. In most declines, the turnaround comes far ahead of the economic turnaround. It comes from a combination of government & central banks (e.g. the Fed) support along with an expectation for a future turnaround.
  6. Both 2008 and 2020 saw very big government & central bank support, but this year’s support was even bigger.

See article for more explanations.

Disclosures Including Backtested Performance Data

Quiz!

Which of the following are true about US stocks (multiple answers may be correct)?

  1. Value stocks outperformed growth stocks in the past 90 years.
  2. Value stocks have become more expensive than growth stocks.
  3. Growth stocks grow faster than value stocks.

Value Investing Is Alive and More Appealing Than Typical

I’ve seen a number of articles declaring US value investing dead.

What is Value Investing? Value investing refers to buying companies with low stock prices relative to their intrinsic value, or book value (i.e. low Price/Book or P/B). Over the past 90 years, the collective of US value stocks outperformed growth (high Price/Book) stocks.

Why would people question value investing now? US Value stocks have underperformed US Growth (high Price/Book) stocks for the past 10 years – long enough for people to believe that maybe there is a new normal and value stocks will underperform growth stocks moving forward.

What is the theory for the new normal? The theory is that value investing became more commonplace, and the extra investing in value stocks led to bidding up their prices and eliminating the excess-return benefit compared to growth stocks.

Let’s test the theory. If the theory is right, the prices of value stocks increased all the way to match the prices of growth stocks (by definition, they cannot be any higher), eliminating the pricing benefit. It turns out that the opposite is true: the discount in Price/Book of value stocks increased significantly in the past 10 years.

Conclusion. The theory that value investing is dead due to overcrowding fails a simple math test. Based on the test, the opposite seems true, supporting the notion that the underperformance is part of a cycle, and value investing may enjoy greater excess returns than typical in upcoming years.

Implications for other investments. There are 2 other investment categories that show potential promise thanks to a similar simple mathematical test: US Small stocks & Emerging Markets stocks.

Quiz Answer:

Which of the following are true (multiple answers may be correct)?

  1. Value stocks outperformed growth stocks in the past 90 years. [The Correct Answer]
  2. Value stocks have become more expensive than growth stocks.
  3. Growth stocks grow faster than value stocks.

Explanations:

  1. This has been correct in the US for the past 90 years, and in other countries for decades.
  2. The opposite is true: value stocks are enjoying lower valuations (Price/Book, or price relative to the intrinsic value) today than in recent years.
  3. This has been true in the past 10 years in the US, but not in the long run.
Disclosures Including Backtested Performance Data