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Valuations in Free-Fall: S&P 500 Cheapest Since 1957!

October 5th, 2011

The Standard and Poor’s 500 index valuation has hit 25% below the average from the last nine recessions, even as price estimates continue to fall, according to Bloomberg‘s data. These estimates provide a statistically significant outlook on analyst expectations for future growth and the degree to which stocks might be considered undervalued.

Historically, market contractions have not reached these lows since 1957 when the gauge for American equities traded at 13.7 times forecast earnings. Today’s equities trade at 10.2 times 2012 forecast earnings and earnings estimates continue to fall to their lowest level since April.

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“What you’re seeing is a growth scare,” Wayne Lin, a money manager at Baltimore-based Legg Mason Inc. “The question is, how much of that is priced in. I’d say that if we don’t have a double-dip recession, if earnings just stay flat, these valuations are reasonable. The market already expects those downgrades.” (via Bloomberg)

Unlike previous market crashes or recessions, this one has been relatively slow-going. In the previous nine quarters, companies prepared for further economic volatility and managed to exceed income forecasts after cutting costs and lowering debt. With lowered analyst estimates for 2012 companies will have an easier time hitting their mark.

Whether or not lowered earnings estimates makes today’s stock prices a bargain is an ongoing debate between bears and bulls. According to Rob Arnorr, founder of Research Affiliates LLC, “the measures by which stocks are cheap today rely on continued recovery and a continued surge in already peak earnings. It relies on a very shaky foundation.”

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Valuations in Free-Fall: S&P 500 Cheapest Since 1957!

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