The resilient US economy has led to an improved earnings outlook for US stocks, but many investors worry that valuations—represented by the forward price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio—are too expensive given the uncertainty surrounding interest rates and the economy.
US stock valuations seem elevated relative to historical averages and to stocks in other regions of the world (Figure 1). But a deeper analysis of the S&P 500 Index reveals that a handful of mega-cap stocks that account for a large share of the index are responsible for the high valuations. This group of stocks—which includes Alphabet, Amazon.com, Apple, Meta Platforms, Microsoft, NVIDIA, and Tesla—has become widely known as the Magnificent 7.
US stocks look expensive
(Fig. 1) P/E ratio of US stocks relative to history and compared to other regions
As of October 23, 2023 Actual outcomes may differ materially from forward estimates.
Sources: T. Rowe Price analysis using data from FactSet Research Systems Inc. All rights reserved. MSCI Indexes. See Additional Disclosures. US stocks are represented by the S&P 500 Index.
Collectively, the Magnificent 7 hold a P/E ratio that is considerably higher on a market cap-weighted basis than the S&P 500 Index. Without these seven stocks, the P/E ratio of the index is relatively modest (Figure 2). In other words, the broader US stock market does not look expensive through this lens; however, valuations for the Magnificent 7 look expensive.
Magnificent 7 have distorted US equity stock valuations
(Fig. 2) Comparing valuations of mega-cap stocks versus other S&P 500 stocks
January 1, 2008, through October 23, 2023. Actual outcomes may differ materially from forward estimates.
Sources: T. Rowe Price analysis using data from FactSet Research Systems Inc. All rights reserved. S&P 500 Index. See Additional Disclosures. P/E ratios are market-cap weighted. *The “Magnificent 7” stocks are Apple, Alphabet, Amazon.com, Meta Platforms, Microsoft, NVIDIA, and Tesla. The specific securities identified and described are for informational purposes only and do not represent recommendations. Not representative of an actual investment. There is no assurance that an investment in any security was or will be profitable.
Whether these elevated valuations are warranted is a difficult question to answer, but one simple way to provide a sanity check is to compare the P/E ratio of an index to its return on equity—a measure of how profitable and efficient a company has been over the past year. For the Magnificent 7, their high valuations were accompanied by similarly high market cap‑weighted returns on equity as of October 23. Whether these seven companies can sustain the level of profitability and efficiency that they have thus far exhibited remains to be seen.
When taken in context, the elevated valuations of US stocks in general and the Magnificent 7 collectively do not appear unreasonable. As a result, our Asset Allocation Committee currently holds a broadly neutral allocation to US equities despite elevated valuations amid an uncertain environment.
Author: Tim Murray is a capital markets analyst in the Multi-Asset division at T. Rowe Price.. To find out more contact your financial adviser.
The specific securities identified and described are for informational purposes only and do not represent recommendations.
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