April 9, 2009


How Cheap Is the Market? (Jeremy Siegel, Ph.D., 4/08/09, Yahoo)

According to Standard & Poor's, total reported earnings on the S&P 500 index for calendar year 2008 was a mere $14.97, the lowest in many decades, primarily because of the huge losses of a few financial firms. S&P reports that, at the index's level on March 31 of 798, the S&P was selling at an extraordinarily expensive 53.3 times last year's earnings.

Yet S&P's own Web site says that "AIG's record setting Q4 '08 'As Reported' loss of $61.7 billion, or $22.95 per share, took $7.10 off the index." AIG's quarterly loss was so massive that it more than canceled out the entire year's income of Exxon Mobil, which earned $45 billion in 2008. For the full year, AIG lost over $99 billion, more than twice the total profits of Exxon Mobil.

Where the Distortion Comes In

Here is where the distortion comes in. Exxon Mobil has a market value of $350 billion, while AIG's value is now a mere $15 billion (and it was only $5 billion a month ago). That means that the average investor owns more than 20 times as much Exxon Mobil stock in their portfolio as AIG stock, so that for the average portfolio of those two stocks, the oil giant has over a 95 percent share and AIG has less than a 5 percent share.

S&P says that an investor holding 95 percent of his portfolio in Exxon Mobil and 5 percent in AIG has negative aggregate earnings and an infinite price-to-earnings ratio because the losses of AIG are greater than the profits of Exxon Mobil, no matter how much you hold in each. S&P would say this even though 95 percent of your portfolio is in Exxon Mobil, a stock that sells for less than 8 times its earnings.

My methodology would weight the $45 billion earned by Exxon Mobil by 95 percent and the $99 billion loss of AIG by 5 percent to obtain a weighted average earnings of $39 billion for the portfolio. With a weighted average market value of AIG and Exxon Mobil of $335 billion, this would lead to approximately a 9 P/E ratio for the portfolio, not the infinite P/E computed by Standard & Poor's.

With a few firms sporting huge losses, weighting the gains and losses by market value gives a much better picture of the market's current valuation. Instead of reported earnings of $14.97, the market-weighted earnings is a much higher $71.50, which gives the market a P/E ratio of just over 11 instead of 53.3, as reported by S&P.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 9, 2009 7:20 AM
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