At a time when the stock market seems to set new records every day, Wall Street is sending a counterintuitive message to investors: By some measures, the cheerleaders say, stocks are actually cheap. But beware of bulls bearing forward earnings projections.

眼下,股市记录似乎每天都在刷新,但华尔街却向投资者发出的信息却是背道而驰。这些啦啦队长们称,从某些方面来看,股票实际上并不贵。但是,我们一定得小心那些利用远期盈利预测的投机商。

For market strategists and pundits arguing that stocks are still a buy, it’s a major challenge to prove that today’s lofty, even seemingly excessive, valuations aren’t really so lofty. That’s where forward earnings come in. This much-favored metric involves taking analysts’ consensus estimates for the S&P 500’s earnings-per-share, as predicted for the next four quarters, and dividing that number by the S&P’s current price. Those future-earnings estimates skew bluebird optimistic, almost invariably pointing to big increases in profits. Put it all together, and that methodology establishes a “forward” price-to-earnings multiple (P/E) that’s virtually always far lower, and a lot more fetching, than the P/E based on results already on the books—in other words, the actual earnings recorded over the past four quarters.

对于那些仍鼓励购买股票的市场策略师和专家来说,要证明眼下高高在上、甚至貌似过高的估值实际上并没有那么高,并非是件易事。远期市盈率也就应运而生。这一大受欢迎的指标的计算方法是:用未来4个季度预测的标普500的每股收益平均预估值,除以标普当前的价格。这些未来收益预估过于乐观,几乎不约而同地预测了利润的大幅提升。但综合来看,这一方法所得出的“远期”价格/收益市盈率(P/E)实际上总是比按照实际账面结果(也就是过去4个季度的实际营收)计算的市盈率低得多。

In an interview with CNBC on Dec. 27, Jonathan Golub, chief market strategist for Credit Suisse, cited the forward P/E to justify his prediction that the S&P 500 would reach 3000 by the close of 2018 (a 12.2% increase from where prices stood that day). “Let’s look at multiples the way most investors do on a forward basis,” declared Golub. “We were looking before the tax plan at an 18-and-a-quarter multiple for stocks. For every dollar you earn you’re willing to pay 18 or more dollars to buy that company. If earnings go up as much as I expect, the multiple gets cheaper, so I think that you’re probably on the actual earnings paying something like 17 forward.”

在12月27日接受CNBC采访时,瑞士信贷首席市场策略师乔纳森·格勒布曾预测,标普500将在2018年底达到3000点大关(较采访之日的价格将上涨12.2%),而他的依据便是远期市盈率。格勒布说:“让我们按照大多数投资者的方式,从远期的角度来看待市盈率。在税改法案出台之前,股票的市盈率是18.25。也就是说,公司每挣1美元,人们就会自愿掏18美元或更多的资金来购买该公司的股票。如果收益的增幅与我的预期一致,那么市盈率倍数就会降低,因此我觉得人们的购买价格其实相当于17倍的远期盈利。”

To the ears of most investors, the prospect of P/Es well below 20 are comforting. But the reasonable-sounding forward numbers are highly misleading. To understand why, let’s examine two factors. First, let’s look at how today’s forward P/E compares not with trailing P/Es, but with its own species, forward P/Es over long periods. And second, we should ask: What kind of earnings projections are required to arrive at a sub-20 P/E, and are they reasonable?

在大多数投资者看来,市盈率前景低于20会让他们感到欣慰不已。但是这一看似合理的远期数字颇具误导性。为了弄明白其中缘由,不妨看看以下两个因素。首先,让我们把如今的远期市盈率与它的同类——长期远期市盈率进行对比,而不是与过去的市盈率对比。此外,我们还需发问:哪种类型的收益预测必须低于20倍市盈率,这种预测合理吗?

Historically high prices—backward or forward

价格创历史新高——过去或者远期

It’s important to emphasize that the current stock multiple, based on trailing, four-quarter GAAP earnings, is a daunting 24. That’s 26% higher than the average of 19 since 1990, and 44% above the figure of 16.7 since 1888. The CAPE P/E developed by Yale economist Robert Shiller is even more forbidding at 33.3, a number surpassed only by valuations during the tech bubble of the early 2000s.

我们有必要强调,按照过去4个季度的GAAP(美国公认会计准则)收益计算,当前的股票市盈率达到了惊人的24,较1990年以来的平均值19高出了26%,比1888年以来的平均值16.7高出了44%。耶鲁大学经济学家罗伯特·席勒开发的CAPE市盈率更是达到了令人生畏的33.3,仅次于21世纪初的科技泡沫期间的股市估值。

In the CNBC interview, Golub appears to be referring to forward P/Es based on operating earnings. But the forward estimates using GAAP earnings, though slightly lower, follow a similar pattern. Which brings us to the first point: How do today’s forward estimates compare with past projections? Is the forward P/E low or high by historical standards?

在CNBC采访中,格勒布似乎根据运营收益来计算远期市盈率。然而,使用GAAP收益计算的远期预估值,虽然略低,但也采用了类似的方法。这又让我们回到了第一个问题:如果对比当今的远期估值与过去的预测,结果会如何?按照历史标准来看,远期市盈率是低了还是高了?

According to S&P Global Market Intelligence, the analysts’ consensus estimate of four-quarter forward P/E based on GAAP profits stood at 19.25 as of Monday, Jan. 8. Makes stocks sound reasonably priced, right? Not necessarily. Since early 2003, the average forward forecast for Jan. 8 of each year was 15.7. So the current estimate of 19.25 is 22% higher than the sixteen-year average. Even if we include the gigantic forecasts from 2000 to 2002, when the tech craze was still inflating projections, the current number is 13% above average.

标普Global Market Intelligence称,分析师根据GAAP利润计算的四个季度(以1月8日周一为截点)远期市盈率平均预估值为19.25。从这一数字来看,股票的价格是十分合理的,不是吗?并不一定。自2003年初以来,每年1月8日的平均远期预测为15.7。因此当前19.25的估值高于16年以来的平均值。即便我们将2000-2002年(当时科技股的狂热仍在推动预测不断膨胀)的超高预测值计算在内,这一数字仍将高出平均值13%。

Second, it’s instructive to answer this question: Just how much are profits expected to surge in order to push the forward P/E below 20? As of Q3 2016, the last full quarter of reported earnings for the S&P 500, GAAP trailing 12-month earnings per share (EPS), in the aggregate, totaled $107.08. By the end of Q4 2018, analysts predict total, four-quarter trailing EPS of $136.75. That would be a rise of almost 28%.

第二,回答以下问题会让我们得到启发:为了让远期市盈率低于20,那么利润预计应上涨多少?以2016年第三季度(标普500依据报告的营收的最后整个季度)为截点,过去12个月的GAAP每股收益总计达到了107.08美元。以2018年第四季度末为截点,分析师预测前四个季度每股盈利总计将达到136.75。涨幅接近28%。

And remember, that epic result would only lower the forward P/E to 19.25, still much higher than the average for that figure. That hardly tags stocks as a bargain. Will it happen? Unlikely. As of Q3, S&P 500 operating margins stood at 10.7%, the highest level of seven years, and one of the most elevated figures in S&P history. Even in the wake of the huge tax cut passed late last year, boosting that operating-margin figure by 28% would require almost unprecedented performance.

别忘了,这一惊艳的业绩也只会将远期市盈率倍数降至19.25,仍然远高于该数据的平均值。这也无法让股票成为香饽饽。这种情况会发生吗?不大可能。截至第三季度,标普500的运营利润率为10.7%,创7年以来的新高,是标普历史上最辉煌的数字之一。即便美国去年年底已然通过了大幅减税法案,但28%的运营利润率增幅却需要空前绝后的业绩作为支撑。

To judge whether stocks are extremely expensive or reasonably valued, trust the stalwarts, like the trailing, GAAP numbers, or even better, the Shiller P/E or CAPE. Following forward multiples is a trip to fantasyland.

为了判断股票价格是否过高还是处于合理区间,我们应该去看看股市的支撑点,例如过去的业绩,GAAP数据,或Shiller市盈率或CAPE这类更好的参考标准。追随远期市盈率无异于梦游幻境。