The Multiples Myth.

Jun. 28, 2011 7:59 PM ET
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Macro

Contributor Since 2013

John Thomas is a 50-year veteran of the financial markets. He spent 10 years as a financial journalist, ten more years trading for a major investment bank, and another decade running the first dedicated international hedge funds. Seeing the incredible inefficiencies and severe mispricing offered by the popping of multiple bubbles during the Great Crash of 2008, and missing the adrenaline of the marketplace, he returned to active hedge fund management.

With The Diary of a Mad Hedge Fund Trader, his goal is to broaden public understanding of the techniques and strategies employed by the most successful hedge funds so that they may more profitably manage their own money.

He publishes a daily research newsletter, and offers one of the most successful trade mentoring services in the industry. He currently has followers in 134 countries.

In his free time, John Thomas climbs mountains, does long distance backpacks, practices karate, performs aerobatics in antique aircraft, collects vintages wines, reads the Japanese classics, and engages in a wide variety of public service and philanthropic activities.

His career has taken him up to 20,000 feet on Mount Everest, to the edge of space at 90,000 feet in the Cockpit of a MIG-25, and to the depths of a sunken Japanese fleet in the Truk Lagoon.

Why they call him "Mad" he will never understand.

I am getting tired of the endless procession of permabulls who keep insisting that. at a 15 times multiple, the S&P 500 is cheap. The last time I heard this was in 2000, when NASDAQ multiples went from 100 to 50, on their way to 10. Before that, it was in Japan in 1990, when multiples went from, guess what, 100 to 50 on their way to 15. Some 20 years later, Japanese multiples are still at 15.

When I first entered the stock business in the mid-seventies, typical equity earnings multiples were in the seven to eight neighborhood. If you performed exhaustive stock screens, which then involved paging through endless reams of 10-k’s, newsletters, and tip sheets printed in impossibly small type, you could occasionally find something at a two multiple, the kind Graham and Dodd wrote about. Anything over ten was considered outrageously overpriced, fit only to be sold on to retail investors. This is when the prime rate was at 6%.

The selloff we saw recently is consistent with my long term view that we are permanently downshifting from a 3.9% to a 2% growth rate, and the lower multiples this deserves. I shall now throw all modesty and humility to the wind, and refer you to my April 25 piece, “Meet the “RISK OFF” portfolio (click here for the piece).

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