Our Outlook for the Stock Market

QUARTERLY OUTLOOK: The market is still reasonably close to fair value but we see some potentially deep shifts under the surface

Heather Brilliant, CFA 27 June, 2013 | 9:21AM
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  • Although the market continued to rise in the second quarter, stocks are now trading at 94% of fair value, a small improvement from the 97% we saw last quarter, based on stocks under Morningstar coverage using a market-capitalisation-weighted average.
  • The risk/reward ratio does not favour bond investors, with credit spreads tight and the potential for higher rates looming.
  • We think the outlook for equity markets is reasonably good over a longer time horizon, given pockets of undervaluation, an overall market valuation that is not too demanding, and our expectation that the bond market will correct, sending more assets towards equities. We expect higher volatility in the short term, however.


The market is still reasonably close to fair value, the United States is still the most overvalued market, and we still see the cheapest valuations in the energy and basic materials sectors.

When we look at our valuation data on stocks, which is based entirely on our bottom-up views of each company we cover, not much has changed: The market is still reasonably close to fair value, the United States is still the most overvalued market, and we still see the cheapest valuations in the energy and basic materials sectors.

However, a look at the global macroeconomic picture and the bond market reveals some potentially deep shifts under the surface. Japan, a market darling just a quarter ago, has plummeted. Treasury volatility has spiked, and Treasuries themselves have seen a meaningful increase in yield (albeit off a very low base). And the economic picture seems to be worsening on the margin, with purchasing manager surveys declining to below 50 in markets across the world.

In my opinion, there are a couple of key insights that can be gleaned from this collection of data points. First, it has become increasingly clear that the bond market is laden with downside, and we see very little upside potential to offset that risk. We have been commenting on the uneven risk/reward in bonds for several quarters, but fortunately for bond investors, rates remained very low and credit spreads continued to tighten. We think the picture is changing. As my colleague Dave Sekera says in his credit outlook, "We think the preponderance of credit spread tightening is likely to have run its course." Add to that Dave's analysis that Treasuries generally trade about 245 basis points above inflation (which at today's inflation levels would mean Treasuries at 3.25%-3.5%), and we could easily see the bond market hit by flat or widening spreads and another 100-basis-point increase in Treasuries—not a pretty picture. Will this happen in the next quarter? No one knows. But I believe the risk/reward equation is not in your favour in the bond market today.

Second, equity valuations are not as stretched as it may appear at first glance. Although many market participants rely on the Shiller price/earnings ratio to argue the markets are materially overvalued, that measure averages earnings over the past decade and therefore includes a period of very low earnings during the financial crisis. This doesn't make it wrong; it is exactly what it claims to be: a rolling 10-year historical average. I'm not claiming that the market is cheap; according to our bottom-up analysis using forecast earnings, it's somewhere between 6% undervalued (using a market-cap-weighted average price/fair value ratio) and 1% overvalued (using the median price/fair value ratio of our coverage universe). But we don't see the market as materially overvalued at these levels, either.

In a market trading at close to fair value, it's important to pick your opportunities wisely. We still see basic materials and energy as the most undervalued sectors, trading at 82% and 86% of fair value, respectively (again using the market-cap-weighted average). These are both clearly very economically sensitive sectors, and given that we're more optimistic on the outlook for the US economy than for Europe—albeit a little less optimistic than we were last quarter—our best ideas in these sectors focus on opportunities that are relatively more exposed to the US or leverage a company-specific story. Devon Energy (DVN) is an example of this, as our estimates of the company's future cash flows show the stock trading at a 45% discount to our fair value estimate. You can read the details of the story in our Analyst Report on the stock, but in a nutshell we think the company will navigate a transition to more oil-heavy assets better than the market is currently expecting. We expect it will do well even with tepid US economic growth, based on its own internal strategic decisions in future quarters to refocus its business where it can extract the most value.

While we see opportunities to stay invested in equity markets, we think the volatility in the bond market will continue to bleed over into the stock market, making the next few quarters a bumpy ride. Things that could benefit the stock market over a longer time horizon, like improving cash flows in cyclical sectors, valuation appreciation and assets being reallocated to stocks, don't always play out over shorter periods. However, we relish volatility for the opportunity it gives us to invest in great businesses at a discount. At these fairly valued market levels, as of June 19 we don't have a single wide-moat stock trading at a 5-star price. However, we have more than 40 wide-moat stocks trading in 4-star territory that make for great watchlist candidates in this environment. Personally, I'm hoping the market hands us an opportunity to add some of these great businesses to our portfolios.

The information contained within is for educational and informational purposes ONLY. It is not intended nor should it be considered an invitation or inducement to buy or sell a security or securities noted within nor should it be viewed as a communication intended to persuade or incite you to buy or sell security or securities noted within. Any commentary provided is the opinion of the author and should not be considered a personalised recommendation. The information contained within should not be a person's sole basis for making an investment decision. Please contact your financial professional before making an investment decision.

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Securities Mentioned in Article

Security NamePriceChange (%)Morningstar
Devon Energy Corp48.09 USD-0.30Rating

About Author

Heather Brilliant, CFA  Heather Brilliant, CFA, is the vice president of Global Equity and Credit Research at Morningstar.

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