Even though global markets are down almost 20%, getting excited about buying equities at an index level on current multiples is difficult. The MSCI World Index has only derated to “normal” levels and is not yet pricing what we believe to be a likely earnings drop.
Valuations for the S&P 500 post the global financial crisis reached abnormally high levels (see chart 4 below). These were fueled by overzealous monetary and fiscal policy, which resulted in high economic growth against initially subdued inflation.
Chart 4: S&P 500 PE Ratio – Elevated multiples in 2021
Source: Iress I 28 February 2023
Consequently, equity markets rallied at an above-average pace of 10.4% real (chart 5) versus the long-term (1960’s to present) real returns of 5% (chart 6).
Chart 5: MSCI World Index TR vs US Inflation & Inflation plus 10.4%
Source: Iress & Northstar I 28 February 2023
Chart 6: MSCI World Index TR vs US Inflation & Inflation plus 5%
Source: Iress & Northstar I 31 May 2022
The consensus is that US inflation will moderate to 2% within 18 months. The bond market, via the breakeven inflation rate, points to inflation averaging 2.25% over the next 5 years. The Fed remains resolute on meeting its target inflation of 2%. If inflation does indeed moderate to these levels, coupled with the knowledge that long-term real returns for equities have trended at 5%, the minimum return target for equities should be at least 7%.
With this objective in mind, based on our intrinsic value estimates, our Northstar global buy list contains companies that will meet this hurdle; however, as we have been warning, we generally believe stocks offer low prospective returns from current levels. As one measure of value, most companies are on low current dividend yields. That said, screening on broader parameters and using consensus dividend data highlights opportunities that potentially fall more in the “value” camp.
We note some of these opportunities based on a restricted universe of US businesses subject to yields above 2.7% (1% above the market), 5 consecutive years of forecasted positive dividend growth in the future and returns above 12% (based on reasonable exit multiples).
Chart 7: Dividend yield vs 5y prospective dividend growth
Source: Capital IQ & Northstar I 15 March 2023
Tobacco stocks such as Altria continue to grow their top line, lift margins, buy back shares, maintain a strong balance sheet, and also trade on a dividend yield of 8% and a PE multiple of 9.8x. Dividends are growing at 7%, and anticipated to continue growing, which should translate into healthy double-digit returns.
Healthcare stocks like Amgen have a similar profile with stronger growth metrics. Amgen operates on high, stable margins and provides a yield of 3.7% and a 15.1x PE multiple. This company expects to grow its dividends at 8% and has a reliable record of stable dividend growth. Medtronic, which is on our buy-list, offers a dividend yield of 3.5% and has decent return prospects.
This screening method highlights more than a handful of financial companies, including banks and investment companies. The T Rowe Price valuation looks particularly interesting. This asset manager has a long history of stable revenue growth. In addition, it has been buying back shares over the last decade, has a very healthy balance sheet and delivers strong cash flows. More recently, the share price has come under extreme pressure due to a drop in revenue and moderating margins. On depressed margins, this company is worth scrutinising as it trades on a dividend yield of 4.6%, and expected DPS growth of 7% over the next 5 years.
If market sell-side analysts are correct, and we will still vet this information, assuming these stable dividend payers do continue to grow their dividends, then perhaps current prices are attractive enough to provide mid-double-digit returns. Across a shortlist of 30 stocks growing their dividend yields, the average dividend yield and growth rates are 4.4% and 5.9%, respectively. Versus history, these companies’ dividend yields are trading at their 91’st percentile – within the 10% most favourable over time.
A rerating back to more reasonable levels implies an average total return of 19.1%. In those situations where we have identified enough of a margin of safety, it is likely that some of these businesses will find their way into the soon to launch Northstar Global Income Fund which seeks higher yields than are available through the cash and bond markets.