Arguably the single biggest theme and driver of the record 2019 stock market rally has been the plunge in interest rates. In short, as interest rates rose in late 2018, stocks fell off a cliff, and as interest rates have plunged in 2019, stocks have come roaring back.
Why have interest rates and stocks been inversely correlated? In depth, it’s a complicated conversation. But the high level ideas are easy to digest.
There are two things at play here. One, bonds and stocks are competing investment vehicles. Money all around the world has to constantly decide whether to be invested in stocks, or bonds. When interest rates drop, bond yields drop and the return on bonds becomes less attractive relative to stocks. Thus, money rushes into stocks. Further, because bond yields are lower, that gives wiggle room for stock yields to go lower, too, so the multiple on stocks can and should move higher in a low rate environment.
Two, the theoretical present value of a stock is the net present value of its future profits, discounted back by a certain discount rate. One of the principal components which influences that discount rate: the risk free investment rate (which is a byproduct of current interest rates). Thus, as interest rates drop, the risk free investment rate drops, the discount rate on future profits drops and the present value of equities rises.
Consequently, it is reasonable to say that low rates today are inflating equity valuations everywhere.
This is especially true for certain stocks which seem a too inflated by low rates. For these stocks, if/when rates rise, their present valuations could crumble, and the stocks could fall off a cliff.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at 7 stocks that seem overly inflated by low interest rates.
Stocks Being Inflated By Low Rates: Proctor & Gamble (PG)
YTD Gain: 24%
Forward P/E Multiple: 24
Long Term Projected EPS Growth Rate (sourced from YCharts, for all stocks): ~7%
Consumer staples giant Proctor & Gamble (NYSE:PG) has rallied 24% year-to-date, generating 4 points of alpha on the S&P 500, mostly thanks to the plunge in interest rates. In short, PG is a defensive story with a big yield. Defensive stories tend to have low multiples, so when rates fall, these defensive stories can benefit from big multiple expansion. At the same time, big yield stocks become relatively more attractive in low rate environments, since healthy risk free yield is hard to find.
But at current levels, PG stock has nearly the same forward earnings multiple as Facebook (NASDAQ:FB). Facebook is a 20%-plus revenue grower. Proctor & Gamble grew revenues by 1% last quarter (5% on an organic basis). Over the next several years, this company projects as a mid single digit profit grower. A 24 forward multiple is simply too steep for mid single digit profit growth, especially considering the entire consumer staples sector trades at less than 20-times forward earnings for a similar long term earnings growth rate.
Net net, PG stock has been overly inflated by low rates, and if/when low rates do creep higher, PG stock could drop in a big way as the multiple compresses to more reasonable levels.
Stocks Being Inflated By Low Rates: Match Group (MTCH)
YTD Gain: 67%
Forward P/E Multiple: 40
Long Term Projected EPS Growth Rate: ~15%
Shares of global internet dating behemoth Match (NASDAQ:MTCH) have rattled off a near 70% gain through the first six months of 2019, as low rates have supported multiple expansion on the stock while the company has continued to report strong subscriber growth numbers which underscore that online dating is a growing global phenomena. This is nothing new for MTCH stock. Over the past three years, the stock is up nearly 400%.
The secular growth narrative here is healthy. Dating, like shopping and TV watching, is moving to the online channel. Match is the dominant player in this market, having bought up pretty much all the competition and controlling a suite of dating apps which together comprise the lion’s share of the online dating market. This dynamic of leadership in a secular growth market implies that Match will continue to report robust subscriber, revenue, and profit growth for the foreseeable future.
But robust here needs an asterisk. Subscriber, revenue, and profit growth growth were all in the low to mid teens range last quarter. Going forward, analysts project this as a mid teens profit grower. MTCH stock trades at 40-times forward earnings. That’s a steep multiple for 15% profit growth. The info tech space broadly trades at half that multiple for roughly the same long term profit growth rate.
Consequently, MTCH stock — while supported by secular growth tailwinds — seems to be overly inflated here by low rates.
Stocks Being Inflated By Low Rates: Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG)
YTD Gain: 71%
Forward P/E Multiple: 57
Long Term Projected EPS Growth Rate: ~20%
Year-to-date, Mexican fast casual eatery Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE:CMG) has been one of the S&P 500’s top stocks, rising more than 70% through the first six months of 2019. The catalyst behind the rally has been acceleration of Chipotle’s operational recovery. Expansion of the digital business, new menu additions and aggressive health-oriented marketing have driven Chipotle’s recovery into the next-gear, with comps and margins flying higher. Investors keep buying into this recovery narrative, and Chipotle stock keeps moving higher.
But the valuation on CMG stock now makes no sense, unless interest rates remain depressed forever. CMG stock trades at nearly 60-times forward earnings, roughly three times the projected long term EPS growth rate of 20%. Realistically, I actually think Chipotle can do better than 20% EPS growth, and think EPS can land around $40 by 2025 (nearly 25% annualized growth). But based on a restaurant average 27 forward multiple and 10% discount rate, $40 EPS by 2025 supports a 2019 price target for CMG stock of just $670.
Chipotle stock trades hands today north of $700. Thus, this stock appears to be overly inflated by presently low interest rates.
Stocks Being Inflated By Low Rates: Starbucks (SBUX)
YTD Gain: 38%
Forward P/E Multiple: 32
Long Term Projected EPS Growth Rate: ~15%
Shares of coffee retail giant Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) have rallied 38% in 2019, nearly double the return of the S&P 500, as investors have grown more optimistic regarding the company’s long term growth trajectory in China and as operations domestically have shown signs of improving.
But traffic trends in the U.S. are still negative, competition is still ramping, traffic trends everywhere else are slowing, overall comparable sales growth is slowing from its multi-year trend, margins aren’t moving higher, and — despite all that — SBUX stock now trades at its biggest forward earnings multiple (32) since 2015, when the company’s internal growth rates were much higher.
Indeed, 32-times forward earnings seems like a steep price to pay for low to mid single digit comparable sales growth, mid to high single digit revenue growth, flattish margins and mid teens profit growth. As such, it is reasonable to say that the current valuation underlying SBUX stock is sustainable if and only if interest rates remain low. As soon as they move higher, the multiple will compress and the stock will drop.
Stocks Being Inflated By Low Rates: Under Armour (UAA)
YTD Gain: 49%
Forward P/E Multiple: 77
Long Term Projected EPS Growth Rate: ~30%
Athletic apparel company Under Armour (NYSE:UAA) has been one of the market’s hottest stocks in 2019, rising nearly 50% through the first six months of 2019 as athletic apparel demand trends have remained favorable, and Under Armour’s growth and margin trends have improved against the backdrop of falling inventory (which is usually a solid leading indicator in the retail space).
But UAA stock now trades at nearly 80-times forward earnings. Sales growth last quarter was 3%. The quarter before that it was 3%. Sure, margins are moving higher here, and top-line growth rates may improve as Under Armour pushes a more relevant product line-up over the next few quarters. Still, at best, this is a 20-30% profit grower over the next few years. Extrapolating that out, Under Armour will probably wind up with around $1.50 in EPS by fiscal 2025. Based on a long term average Nike-type forward multiple of 25 and a 10% discount rate, that equates to a 2019 price target for UAA stock of $23.
Under Armour stock presently trades hands around $26. Thus, the current valuation seems overly inflated by low rates.
Stocks Being Inflated By Low Rates: Costco (COST)
YTD Gain: 35%
Forward P/E Multiple: 34
Long Term Projected EPS Growth Rate: ~10%
Shares of warehouse retailer Costco (NASDAQ:COST) have marched higher in 2019, to the tune of a 35% year-to-date gain, as the company has benefited from continued strong domestic consumer spending trends, especially in the discount segment, and as low rates have helped support multiple expansion in COST stock.
At the present moment, both of those tailwinds will continue. Consumer economic fundamentals remain healthy, characterized by low unemployment, big wage gains, low consumer debt levels, and good credit. Meanwhile, rates project to remain low for the foreseeable future, as the Fed has embraced a rate cut mentality. The combination of those two dynamics should allow COST stock to keep moving higher.
But it’s also worth noting that the stock is trading at a decade high valuation despite the growth profile remaining largely unchanged. That dynamic is sustainable only if rates remain low. As soon as they start creeping higher, COST stock could feel some pressure.
Stocks Being Inflated By Low Rates: Wingstop (WING)
YTD Gain: 48%
Forward P/E Multiple: 130
Long Term Projected EPS Growth Rate: ~20%
One of the hottest stocks in the market both this year and over the past several years has been chicken wing restaurant operator Wingstop (NYSE:WING). Year-to-date, WING stock is up nearly 50%. Over the past three years, the stock is up 270%. The big rally can be attributed to Wingstop’s consistently positive comparable sales growth trajectory, which has coupled with huge unit growth rates and healthy margin expansion to produce second-to-none profit growth in the restaurant industry.
But despite the company’s strong growth track record, promising future growth potential, and tasty chicken wings, valuation is a serious issue for WING stock. The stock trades at 130-times forward earnings. That’s is the most expensive multiple I have ever seen in the restaurant category. Further, Wingstop isn’t growing that fast. Revenue rose 16% last quarter, and EBITDA rose 11%. Those are tiny growth rates next to a triple digit forward earnings multiple.
As such, it is very reasonable to say that WING stock’s present valuation is being overly inflated by low rates. Once rates start creeping up, WING stock will likely drop in a big way.
As of this writing, Luke Lango was long FB.