asset allocation  |  june 11, 2020

Have Stocks Become Too Expensive?

Despite dire forecasts, equity valuations remain reasonable.


Key Points

  • After the sharp rally in equity markets amid dire economic data, investors may be questioning whether stocks have become too expensive.

  • While caution is warranted given the heightened level of uncertainty, we believe that equity valuations remain reasonable relative to bonds.

Tim Murray, CFA

Capital Markets Strategist, Multi‑Asset Division

Stocks have rebounded sharply from March lows despite the alarming backdrop of plummeting earnings expectations and staggering unemployment numbers. This apparent contradiction is prompting many investors to question whether stocks have become too expensive, given dire economic forecasts.

Relative to the alternative, which for most investors is bonds, we do not think that equities are too expensive. To compare the valuations of stocks and bonds, equity valuations can be converted into earnings yields by inverting price/earnings (P/E) ratios.

A comparison of the S&P 500 forward earnings yield to BBB rated corporate bond yields from December 2016 to May 2020 shows that, while the earnings yield on stocks has become less attractive on an absolute basis, it remains well above the bond yield—even though earnings projections have fallen considerably over recent months. This signifies that investors still appear to be compensated for the additional risk of owning stocks instead of bonds. Further, an analysis of the equity yield premium since 1997 shows that, relative to history, stocks are priced quite reasonably versus bonds.

Comparing Valuations of Stocks vs. Bonds

Investors still appear to be compensated for owning stocks.

There are two line charts. The one on the left is as of May 15, 2020 and describes the yield % based on various dates (range from March 2017 to March 2020) for S&P 500 Forward Earnings Yield and BBB Corporate Bond Yield - ending at 4.96% and  3.46% respectively. The second chart on right is as of April 30, 2020 and describes the Equity Yield Premium % vs a time range of 1997 to 2020 for Premium to 3-Month U.S. Treasury and Premium to BBB Bonds - ending at 4.87% and 1.51% respectively.

Source: T. Rowe Price analysis using data from FactSet Research Systems Inc. All rights reserved.
BBB Corporate Bond Yield is based on the BofAML U.S. corporate bond universe. S&P 500 forward earnings yield is IBES earnings estimates over the next 12 months. Earnings Yield = Earnings/Price. 3-Month U.S. Treasury yield is based on the benchmark 3-month U.S. Treasury Bill. Equity yield premium compares the forward earnings yields for stocks of the S&P 500 Index versus the yields to maturity of U.S. Treasuries and BBB bonds.
Yields and company earnings are not guaranteed and are subject to change.

We have recently moderated our equity position in our asset allocation portfolios as valuations have become less attractive after the recent market rebound. In our view, caution is also warranted given the heightened level of uncertainty and the depth of the near-term economic shock we are facing.

However, we continue to believe that, despite the bleak economic outlook, equity valuations appear attractive relative to bonds. As a result, our asset allocation portfolios remain overweight to stocks.

Call 1-800-225-5132 to request a prospectus or summary prospectus; each includes investment objectives, risks, fees, expenses, and other information you should read and consider carefully before investing.

Additional Disclosures

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Important Information

This material is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be investment advice or a recommendation to take any particular investment action.

The views contained herein are those of the authors as of June 2020 and are subject to change without notice; these views may differ from those of other T. Rowe Price associates.

This information is not intended to reflect a current or past recommendation, investment advice of any kind, or a solicitation of an offer to buy or sell any securities or investment services. The opinions and commentary provided do not take into account the investment objectives or financial situation of any particular investor or class of investor. Investors will need to consider their own circumstances before making an investment decision.

Information contained herein is based upon sources we consider to be reliable; we do not, however, guarantee its accuracy.

Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. All investments are subject to market risk, including the possible loss of principal. All charts and tables are shown for illustrative purposes only.



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