Living with lower market expectations

By Marc H. Goedhart and Timothy M. Koller

An analysis of the long-term performance of the real economy and its links to financial markets suggests that in general—though not in the late 1990s—the market values stocks rationally.

In recent years, the US stock market’s extreme mood swings have intensified uncertainty and caused many executives to put off strategic decisions. While no one can forecast the performance of markets with certainty, an analysis based on the real economy’s long-term performance and its links to financial markets yields insights. This vantage point lends some assurance that current valuations are broadly in line with long-term economic fundamentals.

We developed a model to calculate where P/E ratios for the stock market since 1962 would have stood had they been based on long-term corporate profits and growth estimates.1 We then matched these basic values to the actual market P/Es. The fit was very close, indicating that, in general, the market values stocks rationally. Only rarely did the measures diverge widely, most notably during the bubble of the ’90s. Actual and fundamental market P/Es have since converged again at around 15, their long-term norm.

About the author(s)

Marc Goedhart is an associate principal in McKinsey’s Amsterdam office, and Tim Koller is a principal in the New York office.