price earnings ratio

Can You See the Forest?

© Can Stock Photo / Elnur

The old saying, “Can’t see the forest for the trees,” refers to the difficulty we humans have in maintaining perspective, of keeping the larger context in mind. Our current challenges bring us reminders of this.

Recently we were discussing the prospects for investing in a food processing company. Market disruptions have knocked the cost of $1 of annual earning power down to $10 – an earnings yield of 10%. (Another way to say it: a price-earnings ratio of 10.) If one can purchase durable earning power in an enduring industry at valuations like that, the holding might be owned a very long time.

(No guarantees – there are a lot of assumptions in that last paragraph.)

A colleague asked us whether we were concerned about the impact of processing plant shutdowns. After agreeing that any shutdowns would likely be limited to a matter of weeks, this seemed to be one of those problems of perspective.

For none of the past few decades have the plants been shut down for a virus. Apart from the next few weeks, it seems unlikely that virus-related shutdowns will be much of a factor in the decades ahead.

The forest is that we humans will still need to eat in the future, and there is probably money to be made by meeting that need. The trees are the virus and the shutdowns and the disruptions. One of our key roles is working to see the big picture and striving to act accordingly. We need to be able to see the forest in spite of the trees.

Interestingly, the challenge of maintaining perspective may play a role in creating bargains. Investors who get too wrapped up in transitory effects may push prices to levels that don’t reflect the long term value. When current conditions fade, as they will, that value may become apparent. Again, no guarantees.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

Extreme Discounts

© Can Stock Photo / konephoto

One of the basic distinctions made in the stock market is between growth and value. Growth stocks offer the potential or history of above-average growth in revenues and earnings. Investors are buying a brighter future.

Value stocks present a low cost in terms of price for a current dollar of earnings, or price/earnings (P/E) ratio. In the late 1990’s growth stock boom, value stocks were derided as “old economy” stocks. The exciting “new economy stocks,” computer chip and internet and fiber optic companies, were all firmly in the growth camp.

Investing in growth worked well until it didn’t. Value stocks went nowhere until the Tech Wreck, when growth stocks peaked and then fell a long way. The stock market often experiences periods where one of these factors outperforms, and the other one lags.

A recent article at MarketWatch.com1 detailed the work of a Wall Street analyst who claims that value stocks are at their biggest discount relative to growth in many years. The charts show that valuation differences generated by a decade of strong growth stock returns put value stocks at perhaps the biggest discount in history relative to growth.

In plain language, the bargain stocks have generally become bigger bargains.
When there are sound reasons for expecting better stock prices at some point in the future, we may own companies that are underwater, or down from what we paid for them, for an extended period.

We strive to own the best bargains. It is hard to watch as bargains become even better bargains while more expensive stocks do better. But we know how this works. We believe that sooner or later the bargains will produce gains.

If the differences in valuations are at extreme levels, perhaps the trend change is coming sooner rather than later.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.

Notes & References

1. MarketWatch, “Value Stocks are Trading at the Steepest Discount in History”. https://www.marketwatch.com/story/value-stocks-are-trading-at-the-steepest-discount-in-history-2019-06-06. Accessed June 14th, 2019


Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

All investing involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.