Yahoo Daily TickerFund manager John Hussman of the Hussman Funds has been hammering on what is probably the biggest risk to future stock performance:
The risk that today’s record-high profit margins will fall, taking corporate earnings down with them.
Those who want stocks to keep charging higher have come up with a list of many reasons why it’s “different this time” and today’s profit margins will keep on increasing. These include:
- Almost half of big corporate profits now come from international operations, so profit-to-US GDP measures aren’t meaningful
- The source of the high profit margins is efficiency and low labour costs, and those gains will continue (labour glut, high unemployment, etc.)
- There is no law that says profit margins HAVE TO drop…
Those points have some merit.
But the idea that it really is “different this time” and that corporate profit margins will now remain at record levels forever seems, at best, dreamy.
After all, this is what profit margins (blue) have done in the past:
The chart also shows what earnings growth (red, right scale) has done as profit margins have changed.
Note the sudden and violent mean reversion.
And note, too (though you can’t see it in the chart), that, at the time, very few people saw this mean reversion coming.
Anyway, John Hussman doesn’t do a lot of interviews. But he is one of the smartest and most methodologically disciplined fund managers in the world.
Lauren Lyster of Yahoo caught up with him recently at a benefit. Here’s (an unfortunately small) video. You can watch a bigger version here.
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