Comparing apples and oranges

What would you say if I told you the market was over-valued by 30%? Would you think I was full of it?

What if I told you that this over-valuation were based solely on market commentators comparing apples and oranges?

When someone says the market is fairly valued or over-valued, what do they mean by that? What standard are they comparing it to? This may seem like a pie-in-the-sky question, but it’s very important.

Why? Because market commentators are frequently saying the market is fairly valued by comparing apples and oranges! And, the two are off by 30%.

You see, many say the S&P 500 is fairly valued because they are comparing the S&P 500’s forecast, operating earnings to the S&P 500’s actual, reporting earnings. But that’s comparing apples and oranges.

This may seem like technical minutia, but it makes a big difference. In fact, operating earnings of the S&P 500 have been 20% higher than reported earnings over the last 5 years. And, forecast earnings for the S&P 500 have been 10% higher than actual earnings.

In other words, when commentators say that the S&P 500 is trading at its historical average, they are comparing apples (forecast, operating earnings) to oranges (actual, reported earnings). And, those apples are 30% overstated compared to the oranges.

Next time you hear someone say the market is fairly valued, ask them if they are comparing apples to oranges. Are they comparing forecast, operating earnings to the historical average of actual, reported earnings? If so, tell them to adjust their numbers and get back to you when their figures are fairly comparing apples to apples.

Nothing in this blog should be considered investment, financial, tax, or legal advice. The opinions, estimates and projections contained herein are subject to change without notice. Information throughout this blog has been obtained from sources believed to be accurate and reliable, but such accuracy cannot be guaranteed.