How have Global Markets Fared?

Despite a stellar rally since the global recession, the US stock market continues to run, while European markets didn't fare quite as well thanks to resilient unemployment

Alex Morozov, CFA 27 June, 2014 | 12:46PM
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The adage suggests to stash your cash in the mattress in May, but it appears the bull US equity market has no respect for the calendar, with the S&P returning 2.1% in the month of May and rewarding investors who were along for the ride.

European markets didn't fare quite as well, as low economic growth and resilient unemployment continues to plague the continent. However, no matter how you slice it by geography, investors have been rewarded handsomely year to date, despite lingering concerns regarding the overall pace of recovery in the developed-world economies and worries about the strength of emerging markets, particularly China. The World Bank recently cut its global forecast for growth, citing weakness in the US, global political instability, and deceleration in emerging markets, but as corporate profit margins continue to expand, the bull market appears to be unstoppable.

Stock-Picking Is Critical in This Market

Being bottom-up stock pickers, we at Morningstar find it challenging to highlight many equities amid a strong market rally. Certainly, there are a number of great businesses out there that some would consider owning no matter where the markets go, but we caution that ‘buy and hold’ isn't the same as ‘buy and forget’. It is critical for investors to examine their holdings thoroughly and frequently, no matter how safe those positions appear to be, because even the best companies could become overvalued. ‘Best company’ isn't always equal to ‘best investment’, and to paraphrase Warren Buffett, being fearful rather than fearful of missing out sometimes is a prudent strategy. 

That said, even in this current bull run, we don't consider US stocks to be a terrible place for investment. Our aggregate median price/fair value ratio is a few percentage points over 1, suggesting slight but not egregious overvaluation. However, this ratio has crept up slightly over the past few quarters; better-than-expected earnings so far have moved our valuations upward but not at the pace of the overall market.

Sector-by-sector aggregate analysis shows quite divergent paths, however. Technology stocks are still on a tear, trading at a notable premium to our valuations, while energy, basic materials, and financial services sectors are roughly fairly valued.

Currently, we have less faith in the outlook for returns in the technology sector, which faces a much higher degree of disruptive innovation risk over the long run and even higher current valuations. However, there are pockets of value for patient investors. In particular, we believe that the international telecom and domestic cell tower industries offer more appealing valuations. In general, we would prefer a wider margin of safety in technology and are quick to gravitate toward firms with established economic moats, which might be in a better relative position to withstand near-term revenue and operating margin volatility.

The industrials, health-care, and consumer cyclical sectors also look quite pricey right now. Of particular note is the outlook for retailers, where we have some concerns about profitability in upcoming second-quarter results. Many stores' sales were negatively affected in the first quarter by poor weather conditions throughout the country, and a need to liquidate remaining inventory could invite price discounting, hampering gross margins. 

Aggregate analysis doesn't tell you the whole story about where we see the most attractive opportunities. Individual stock-picking is critical, in our view, to successful investment, and there are still wonderful businesses out there that are cheap. This isn't 2008, when nearly half of our stocks under coverage were trading in five-star territory, but we still have wide moat companies trading at meaningful discounts to our fair value estimates.

Cast Your Net Globally

There are wonderful businesses that exist across all the geographies, and with most sophisticated investors casting a rather wide global net, we tend to do the same when identifying the best companies as well as stock ideas. 

On average, the US market is trading at the steepest premium to our valuation relative to the rest of the world (106%), so when broadly looking for ideas, emerging markets are fairly attractive at this point.

Once again, we don't advocate buying every equity in all geographies, but the market rally has definitely moved valuations upward in the U.S. while the rest of the world has lagged. The most attractive areas are currently Latin America; 92% of fair value estimate, and Asia Pacific/Australia-New Zealand; all trading at par. Canada and Europe are modestly overvalued; 102% and 104%, respectively.

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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About Author

Alex Morozov, CFA  Alex Morozov is the director of the health-care team at Morningstar.