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Earnings Season Post Mortem & Valuation Update, May 9, 2017

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The S&P 500 has been largely “stuck” in the 2300-2400 trading range for nearly 10 weeks, despite a big non-confirmation from 10-year yields, modestly slowing economic data and political disappointment. Given that less-than-ideal context, the market has been downright resilient as the S&P 500 only fell to around 2320ish. The main reason for that resilience is earnings and valuation.

While it’s true that stocks are at a valuation “ceiling” right now, and need a new macro catalyst to materially breakout, it’s also true that given the current macro environment the downside risk on a valuation basis for the market is somewhat limited. That’s why we’re seeing such aggressive buying on dips.

Here’s the reason I say that. The Q1 earnings season was better than expected, and it’s resulted in 2018 S&P 500 EPS bumping up $1 from $135-$137 to $136-$138. At the higher end of that range, the S&P 500 is trading at 17.4X next year’s earnings. That’s high historically to be sure, but it’s not crazy given Treasury yield levels and expected macro-economic fundamentals.

However, if the S&P 500 were to drop to 2300 on a macro surprise, then the market would be trading at 16.67X 2018 earnings. In this environment (low yields, stable macro environment), that could easily be considered fairly valued.

Additionally, most analysts pencil in any help from Washington (including even a small corporate tax cut and/or a foreign profit repatriation holiday) adding a minimum of $5 to 2018 S&P 500 EPS. So, if they pass the bare minimum of expectations, it’s likely worth about $5 in earnings, and that puts 2018 earnings at $143.

At 2400, and with $143 expected earnings, the S&P 500 is trading at 16.8X 2018 earnings. Again, that is high historically, but for this market anything sub 17X will elicit buying in equities (whether it should is an open question, but that is the reality).

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