Skip to main content
Search

November 2023 / VIDEO

Are U.S. Stocks Worth the Price?

The Magnificent 7 have distorted U.S. equity valuations.

Skip to article

Transcript

Thus far in 2023, the U.S. economy has proven quite resilient despite the headwind from higher rates. Although this resilience has led to a steady improvement in the earnings outlook for U.S. stocks as the year has progressed, many investors remain concerned because they believe stock valuations—typically represented by the forward price-to-earnings ratio—are too expensive.

In fact, when one compares the current P/E of the S&P 500 to its historical averages, it does appear elevated. As of October 23rd the forward price-to-earnings ratio of the S&P 500 stood at 17.5x, which is somewhat higher than the 25-year average of 16.4x. While the difference is not substantial, many investors believe that an elevated P/E is very much unwarranted given the numerous headwinds the equity market currently faces.

U.S. stocks also look expensive when compared to other regions of the world. For instance, the forward P/Es for the MSCI Europe, Japan, and Emerging Markets indices are all significantly lower than that of the S&P 500.

A closer look at valuations reveals that the elevated valuations of U.S. stocks is mostly attributable to a handful of stocks that account for a very large share of the S&P 500 Index. This group of stocks has become known as the “Maginificent 7,” and it includes Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Meta, Microsoft, NVIDIA, and Tesla. As of October 23rd, these seven stocks accounted for over 28% of the S&P 500 Index.

And this group of stocks holds a P/E ratio that is considerably higher than the rest of the index. On a market cap-weighted basis, the Magnificent 7’s forward P/E was 27.4x as of October 23rd. Consequently, if we were to remove these seven stocks from the index, the S&P 500 P/E would be a relatively modest 15.4x. So we can conclude that U.S. stocks are not broadly expensive; rather, the Maginicent 7 are.

Since we know that U.S. stocks appear to be expensive primarily because of the Magnificent 7, the pertinent question becomes: Do these stocks deserve to be this expensive? This can be a very difficult question to answer—one that typically requires deep fundamental analysis. But one simple way to provide a sanity check is to compare the P/E of an index to its return on equity—a measure of how profitable and efficient a company has been over the past year.

When we make this comparison, we can see that the very high valuations that these companiess hold are accompanied by a similarly high ROE. As of October 23rd, the Magnificent 7’s ROE on a market cap-weighted basis was 32.6%, while the rest of the S&P 500 Index was 17.2%. And further comparisons to other regional equity indices show a similar relationship, with the MSCI Europe, Japan, and Emerging Markets indices all holding dramatically lower ROEs to go along with their lower valuations.

The bottom line is that the elevated valuations of the Magnificent 7 collectively and U.S. stocks in general are not unreasonable when taken in context. The real question is whether or not the level of profitability and efficiency that these seven companies have exhibited can be sustained.

In conclusion, while U.S. stocks may seem overvalued on the surface, a deeper analysis shows that this is driven only by a handful of companies whose valuation collectively may not be unreasonable. As a result, our Asset Allocation Committee currently holds a broadly neutral allocation to U.S. equities despite elevated valuations amid an uncertain environment.

 

Key Insights

  • At first glance, the S&P 500 Index’s elevated valuation could be concerning given the numerous headwinds facing equity markets. 
  • A deeper analysis reveals that a handful of mega-cap stocks in the S&P 500 Index have distorted U.S. equity valuations, but their prices may not be unreasonable.

The resilient U.S. economy has led to an improved earnings outlook for U.S. stocks, but many investors worry that valuations—represented by the forward price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio—are too expensive given the uncertainty surrounding interest rates and the economy.

U.S. stock valuations seem elevated relative to historical averages and to stocks in other regions of the world (Figure 1). But a deeper analysis of the S&P 500 Index reveals that a handful of mega-cap stocks that account for a large share of the index are responsible for the high valuations. This group of stocks—which includes Alphabet, Amazon.com, Apple, Meta Platforms, Microsoft, NVIDIA, and Tesla—has become widely known as the Magnificent 7.

U.S. stocks look expensive

(Fig. 1) P/E ratio of U.S. stocks relative to history and compared to other regions

Bar chart comparing the forward price-to-earnings ratio of U.S. stocks relative to their history and relative to stocks in other regions, namely Europe, Japan, and emerging markets as represented by MSCI indices.

As of October 23, 2023
Actual outcomes may differ materially from forward estimates.
Sources: T. Rowe Price analysis using data from FactSet Research Systems Inc. All rights reserved. MSCI Indexes. See Additional Disclosures.U.S. stocks are represented by the S&P 500 Index.

Magnificent 7 have distorted U.S. equity stock valuations

(Fig. 2) Comparing valuations of mega-cap stocks versus other S&P 500 stocks

Line chart showing that the Magnificent 7 have higher valuations relative to the S&P 500 Index. The lines also show the difference in valuations between the Magnificent 7 and the rest of the S&P 500 Index.

January 1, 2008, through October 23, 2023.
Actual outcomes may differ materially from forward estimates.
Sources: T. Rowe Price analysis using data from FactSet Research Systems Inc. All rights reserved. S&P 500 Index. See Additional Disclosures.
P/E ratios are market-cap weighted.
*The “Magnificent 7” stocks are Apple, Alphabet, Amazon.com, Meta Platforms, Microsoft, NVIDIA, and Tesla. The specific securities identified anddescribed are for informational purposes only and do not represent recommendations. Not representative of an actual investment. There is no assurancethat an investment in any security was or will be profitable.

Collectively, the Magnificent 7 hold a P/E ratio that is considerably higher on a market cap-weighted basis than the S&P 500 Index. Without these seven stocks, the P/E ratio of the index is relatively modest (Figure 2). In other words, the broader U.S. stock market does not look expensive through this lens; however, valuations for the Magnificent 7 look expensive.

Whether these elevated valuations are warranted is a difficult question to answer, but one simple way to provide a sanity check is to compare the P/E ratio of an index to its return on equity—a measure of how profitable and efficient a company has been over the past year. For the Magnificent 7, their high valuations were accompanied by similarly high market cap‑weighted returns on equity as of October 23. Whether these seven companies can sustain the level of profitability and efficiency that they have thus far exhibited remains to be seen.

When taken in context, the elevated valuations of U.S. stocks in general and the Magnificent 7 collectively do not appear unreasonable. As a result, our Asset Allocation Committee currently holds a broadly neutral allocation to U.S. equities despite elevated valuations amid an uncertain environment.

IMPORTANT INFORMATION

This material is being furnished for general informational purposes only. The material does not constitute or undertake to give advice of any nature, including fiduciary investment advice, and prospective investors are recommended to seek independent legal, financial and tax advice before making any investment decision. T. Rowe Price group of companies including T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc. and/or its affiliates receive revenue from T. Rowe Price investment products and services. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. The value of an investment and any income from it can go down as well as up. Investors may get back less than the amount invested.

The material does not constitute a distribution, an offer, an invitation, a personal or general recommendation or solicitation to sell or buy any securities in any jurisdiction or to conduct any particular investment activity. The material has not been reviewed by any regulatory authority in any jurisdiction.

Information and opinions presented have been obtained or derived from sources believed to be reliable and current; however, we cannot guarantee the sources' accuracy or completeness. There is no guarantee that any forecasts made will come to pass. The views contained herein are as of the date noted on the material and are subject to change without notice; these views may differ from those of other T. Rowe Price group companies and/or associates. Under no circumstances should the material, in whole or in part, be copied or redistributed without consent from T. Rowe Price.

The material is not intended for use by persons in jurisdictions which prohibit or restrict the distribution of the material and in certain countries the material is provided upon specific request.  

It is not intended for distribution to retail investors in any jurisdiction.

Canada—Issued in Canada by T. Rowe Price (Canada), Inc. T. Rowe Price (Canada), Inc.’s investment management services are only available to Accredited Investors as defined under National Instrument 45-106. T. Rowe Price (Canada), Inc. enters into written delegation agreements with affiliates to provide investment management services.

© 2023 T. Rowe Price. All rights reserved. T. ROWE PRICE, INVEST WITH CONFIDENCE, and the bighorn sheep design are, collectively and/or apart, trademarks or registered trademarks of T. Rowe Price Group, Inc.

Previous Article

November 2023 / ESG

As climate risks intensify, investment analysis must rise to the challenge
Next Article

November 2023 / GLOBAL FIXED INCOME

Avoiding False Signals in Wait for Peak U.S. Treasury Yields
202311-3209600