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股市今年前景黯淡

股市今年前景黯淡

Shawn Tully 2014年01月15日
2014年伊始,华尔街集体唱多股市。不过,根据过往的经验,目前的企业利润已经处于历史最高点,不太可能推动标普500指数继续上升,2014年的股市前景堪忧。

    进入新的一年后,美国股市策略分析师、分析师和评论人士都在预测2014年及以后的市场形势。华尔街的口径一如既往地一致。大家在商业频道以及投资银行的“小抄”、“图表集”和“来年股市”报告中看到的内容无一例外地大肆唱好股市,实在让人感到单调。

    其实不该是现在这种局面,原因是看跌远比看涨有吸引力,警示力也远胜前者,而且得到了数据和历史经验的支持。

    目前,传统观点认为大幅上涨的利润将推动股市在2014年以及随后的许多年里高歌猛进。这种观点有悖于近年来的实际情况,但要更坚定地唱好股市,它必不可少。这几年的故事根本就不是强劲增长的利润,而是稳步上涨的股价。2011年年底以来,标普500指数(S&P 500)的利润水平仅上升了11.2%,每年涨幅约为5.5%,表现极为平庸。

    相形之下,标普500指数在此期间蹿升了45%,超过利润涨幅34个百分点。股价相对于利润的激增已经让标普500指数的市盈率从14.5倍升至18.9倍。1928年以来,该指数的平均市盈率为16倍。也就是说,对股票的热情已经让投资者从讨价还价变得较为大手大脚,这是前方存在危险的信号。

    就算最勇敢的唱多者也不会说股价涨幅将一直远远超过盈利,因为利润最终必须证明股价的合理性。企业盈利将迅猛增长的观点是否合理也需要得到验证。

    让我们来检验一下那些对2014年持乐观态度的预期。整体而言,美国股市分析师预计,2014年标普500指数的每股收益将提高9.6%。在大多数情况下,各家投行的预期是利润增幅将接近10%,市盈率将略有下降。这样,投资者就能在两方面都得到高额回报。而且,得益于利润的快速增长,股票的估值将再次回到非常有吸引力的水平。这是典型的华尔街论调。

    举例来说,高盛(Goldman Sachs)预计,今后三年标普500指数的年均涨幅将稍高于7%,而利润的年化增长率更高,将达到8%。美银(Bank of America)预测的2014年利润增速为10.2%,而股价涨幅为8.9%。在这两家公司对未来的预期中,回报率都很高,估值水平都会下降,这都得益于利润的强劲增长。与众不同的是摩根大通(J.P. Morgan)。这家投行为标普500指数设定的2014年目标点位是2075点,增幅为13%,而它预计的利润增长速度只有9%。在这种情况下,市盈率会从目前水平进一步上升,延续2012和2013年的狂热势头。

    利润实现两位数增长的可能性有多大呢?要注意的一个要点是,企业盈利已经处于历史最高水平:目前,营业利润占销售额的百分比为9.7%,是20年来的最高点。在这 20年里,标普500指数一直在随着这个数字波动。2006和2007年形势大好时,这个比例为9%,而目前的营业利润/销售额之比已经超过了这个水平。它比20年来7.1%的平均值高了2.6个百分点,这很了不起。请记住一点,建立在创纪录利润之上的高市盈率(超过19倍)意味着股票实际上要比表面看起来昂贵得多。

    As the New Year begins, America's equity strategists, analysts, and pundits are making their forecasts for 2014 and beyond. And as usual, Wall Street is speaking with one voice: The talk you hear on the business networks and in the banks' "cheat sheets," "chartbooks," and "equity year ahead" reports is so overwhelmingly, uniformly positive that it's positively boring.

    It shouldn't be, because the opposite case is far more compelling and alarming. It has both math and history on its side.

    This time, the conventional view is that a surge in profits will drive stock prices far higher in 2014, and for many years thereafter. That's something of a departure from the experience of the recent past, but it's absolutely essential to bolstering the argument for equities. In recent years, the story hasn't been robust earnings at all, but steeply rising prices. Since the end of 2011, profits for the S&P 500 (SPX) have risen just 11.2%, or around 5.5% a year, an extremely mediocre performance.

    By contrast, the index has jumped 45% in the same period, outstripping profit gains by 34 points. The explosion in prices relative to earnings has driven the S&P price-to-earnings ratio from 14.5 to 18.9. The average P/E since 1928 stands at 16, which means that investors' enthusiasm for stocks has transformed a bargain into a relative extravagance signaling danger ahead.

    Even the bravest bulls wouldn't argue prices will continue to far outpace the earnings that must eventually justify those prices. Hence the rationale that we're on the cusp of a big upswing in corporate profits.

    Let's examine the predictions that have been welcoming the New Year. Overall, America's equity analysts project that EPS for the S&P will rise 9.6% in 2014. In most cases, the individual banks forecast that earnings will grow at close to double digits, and P/Es will shrink a bit, so that investors will get both solid returns, and stocks will reestablish highly attractive levels of valuation through the elixir of fast-rising profits. It's a Wall Street classic.

    Goldman Sachs (GS), for example, sees the S&P gaining slightly more than 7% annually over the next three years, and profits growing even faster on an annualized basis, at 8%. Bank of America (BAC) forecasts 10.2% earnings growth for 2014, versus an 8.9% increase in stock prices. So both scenarios draw a future of both big returns and cheapening valuations, all courtesy of strong earnings. An exception is J.P. Morgan (JPM). The bank has a 2014 target of 2075 for the S&P, a gain of 13%, with earnings rising only 9%. In that scenario, the current P/E would get even richer in a continuation of the mania of 2012 and 2013.

    What are the odds that profits will swell at a double-digit rate? It's important to note that profits already stand at record levels: Operating profits as a percentage of sales are now 9.7%, the highest level in the 20 years S&P has been tracking that metric. That exceeds the 9% in the flush days of 2006 and 2007, and it's an extraordinary 2.6 points above the two-decade average of 7.1%. Keep in mind that a high PE (at over 19) on top of all-time record profits means that stocks are really far more expensive than they appear.

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