Following six years of positive returns, the S&P 500 Index opened 2015 with a modest +1.0% return in the first quarter. The unprecedented corporate cost-cutting measures and general economic recovery following the financial crisis has fueled impressive earnings growth. Over the last six years, the S&P 500 is up +194% cumulatively. While such a rampant appreciation of market prices would normally give us pause, equity valuations are scarcely higher than historical averages due to these robust earnings.
After six years of zero interest rate policy, investors are acutely focused on the Federal Reserve’s plan to taper its lax monetary policy. Equity investors are not fully insulated from such actions, however, we believe the effect on equities should be more subdued than many investors expect. Firstly, increasing interest rates are often correlated with positive economic developments, which is good for corporate cash flows. Secondly, long bond rates are a component of the cost of capital used to discount corporate cash flows. Fed tapering should impact short term interest rates disproportionately to long term rates, which already reflect expectations of a less intrusive Fed. Finally, the premium equity investors require above treasuries is considerably higher than historical averages. If interest rates rise, we may see a reversion of the equity premium back to normal levels, resulting in equity prices remaining stable despite higher interest rates. Continue Reading »