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Fed’s Chair Powell said stock valuations are ‘high,’ but...: Morning Brief

Sam Ro
·Managing Editor
·4 min read

Thursday, January 30, 2020

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One valuation metric never tells the whole story

It’s no secret that stock market valuations are high.

According FactSet, the forward 12-month price/earnings (P/E) ratio is at around 18.6, well above the market’s 5-year average of 16.7 and its 10-year average of 14.9. And these elevated valuations have caught the attention of Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell.

"We do see asset valuations as being somewhat elevated,” Powell said during his post-FOMC press conference on Wednesday. “Risk spreads: they're narrow. P/Es: they're high.”

But it’s ill-advised to consider valuation metrics like P/Es in a vacuum. Powell understands this.

“One way to think about equity prices is what's the premium you're getting paid to own equities rather than risk-free debt,” Powell added. “That's also at fairly low levels, but not extremely low levels. Valuations are high, but not at extremes.”

With interest rates at historically low levels (which means bond prices are high), valuations look relatively more reasonable.

Powell’s brief discussion of stock market valuations — which was part of a broader discussion about financial conditions — echoes what his predecessor Janet Yellen said during her tenure as Fed chair.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell speaks during a news conference following the Federal Open Market Committee meeting in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020.    (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell speaks during a news conference following the Federal Open Market Committee meeting in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

“The fact that [stock market] valuations are high doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily overvalued,” she said in December 2017. “For starters, high valuations don’t portend lackluster returns in the near term. History shows that valuations provide no reliable signal as to what will happen in the next 12 months.”

(For a longer conversation about how valuations don’t predict next-12-month returns, check out the Jan. 3 Morning Brief.)

Yellen continued: “We are in a...low interest rate environment. Lower than we’ve had in past decades. That’s a factor that supports higher valuations.”

And it’s not just Fed chairs who think this way. Warren Buffett, arguably the greatest investor of all time, will also tell you that valuation metrics must be considered in the context of interest rates.

“Everything in valuation gets back to interest rates,” Buffett said to Yahoo Finance’s Andy Serwer in April 2017. “[Valuation metrics] can be very important. Sometimes they can be almost totally unimportant. It’s just not quite as simple as having one or two formulas and then saying the market is undervalued or overvalued.“

It’s something to keep in mind the next time someone points out how high stock market valuations are.

By Sam Ro, managing editor. Follow him at @SamRo

What to watch today

Economy

  • 8:30 a.m. ET: GDP quarter-on-quarter, Q4 (2.2% expected, 2.1% in Q3)

  • 8:30 a.m. ET: Personal Consumption, Q4 (2.2% expected, 3.2% in Q3)

  • 8:30 a.m. ET: GDP Price Index, Q4 (1.8% expected, 1.8% in Q3)

  • 8:30 a.m. ET: Core PCE quarter-on-quarter, Q4 (1.6% expected, 2.1% in Q3)

  • 8:30 a.m. ET: Initial Jobless Claims, week ended Jan. 25 (214,000 expected, 211,000 prior); Continuing Claims, week ended Jan. 18 (1.731 million prior);

  • 9:45 a.m. ET: Bloomberg Consumer Comfort, week ended Jan. 26 (66.0 prior)

Earnings

Pre-market

  • 6:55 a.m. ET: Coca-Cola (KO) is expected to report adjusted earnings of 44 cents per share on $8.88 billion in revenue

  • 7 a.m. ET: UPS (UPS) is expected to report adjusted earnings of $2.10 per share on $20.67 billion in revenue

  • 7 a.m. ET: Verizon (VZ) is expected to report adjusted earnings of $1.15 per share on $34.60 billion in revenue

  • Other notable reports: Biogen (BIIB), Eli Lilly (LLY), Hershey (HSY), Raytheon (RTN), Valero (VLO)

Post-market

  • 4 p.m. ET: Amazon (AMZN) is expected to report adjusted earnings of $7.02 per share on $86.15 billion in revenue

  • Other notable reports: Western Digital (WDC), Visa (V), Vertex (VRTX), U.S. Steel (X)

Read more

Top News

FILE - In this Tuesday, April 18, 2017, file photo, a conference worker passes a demo booth at Facebook's annual F8 developer conference, in San Jose, Calif. Facebook Inc. reports earnings Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File)
FILE - In this Tuesday, April 18, 2017, file photo, a conference worker passes a demo booth at Facebook's annual F8 developer conference, in San Jose, Calif. Facebook Inc. reports earnings Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File)

Facebook stock tumbles despite earnings beat [Yahoo Finance]

Tesla 4Q earnings top expectations, company sees 500K+ deliveries in 2020 [Yahoo Finance]

Microsoft beats on top and bottom line on strength of cloud [Yahoo Finance]

China seen boosting stimulus as virus hammers the economy [Bloomberg]

YAHOO FINANCE HIGHLIGHTS

At first investor day, Goldman Sachs pledges a 'path forward' with emphasis on banking, culture

UPS is investing $1.4 billion on a new Pennsylvania 'super hub' and automated sorting facilities

US government to shed $750 million worth of properties

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