Sunday, June 03, 2007

Price Earnings Ratio and Earnings Yield (Again!)

One way of using Price Earnings Ratio (PER) is to look at its inverse: Earnings Yield. This has been discussed in a previous post, but I would like to emphasize the importance of Earnings Yield, hence the PER strikes back. Do not under-estimate the power of PER… Ok ok, let’s move on.

Earnings yield is the inverse of Price Earnings, meaning when I say I will only buy stocks with PER of 18x and below, I am actually saying I will only buy stocks with earnings yield of 5.6% and above. Or stocks that will give me 5.6% return over the long run. (1/18 is 0.056 or 5.6%, this is what I meant by the inverse)

Consider the China market now. Its PER is over 40x. This means that the Chinese farmers and the Chinese students are willing to buy stocks that will actually only give them 2.5% return (1/40 is 0.025 or 2.5%). They might as well put their money in fixed deposit in Singapore! The other time when the PER of a market reached 40x was during the dot com bubble. Of course, with bubbles, you can never know when it will break, so 40x can go even higher, to 100x. And with China, it may be possible bcos there are maybe another 800mn farmers and students waiting to open brokerage accounts. This is the perfect Greater Fool Game, if you are those who like to play this game.

Earnings yield can also be incorporated with the risk-free rate to calculate the equity risk premium, i.e. the excess return to investors who are willing to risk their money to get better return, hence a risk premium. Remember higher risk, higher return. For STI, the earnings yield currently is roughly 5% while the risk free rate is roughly 3%, so investors are being compensated an additional 2%, the equity risk premium, for investing in risky equities or stocks. That’s actually quite low by historical standards. Equity risk premium should be around 3-5% on average.

For the case of our lovely China, the risk-free rate is now roughly 3% while the market earnings yield is 2.5%. This means that the equity risk premium is actually negative! 2.5% minus 3% gives -0.5%. You are being penalized to invest in risky equities. This is higher risk lower return! What an ingenious break-through!

However, I must stress that a lot of this stuff is academic talk and offers little help in the real world, China’s equity risk premium can go to -3% for all you know, meaning the stock market can still double from current levels.

But earnings yield is a very handy concept to use when you want to gauge the potential return that you will get from your investment (if you hold for the long term). Next time you want to buy a stock with PER 30x, ask yourself, am I ok with this stock giving me a mere 3.3% return over the long term? I would advise you to go open fixed deposit!