A glance at a chart seems to indicate that stocks are expensive. After dropping 4.3 percent from high to low, the S&P 500 is nearly back to record levels. And as bears delight in pointing out, the market has not suffered a 10 percent correction in more than two years. But according to one simple measure of market valuations, investors who buy stocks now are getting a much better bargain that those who bought earlier.
In 2014, "different than 2013, the move higher is driven primarily by an improving corporate outlook than a re-rating of market multiples," writes RBC chief U.S. market strategist Jonathan Golub in a Monday note. "In fact, forward P/Es [or price-to-earnings ratios] have actually contracted modestly, making stocks a more attractive purchase."
Translation? Investors are paying less for every dollar of expected earnings.
As for reported earnings, they have come in above expectations. According to FactSet, of the S&P 500 companies that have reported their second-quarter results, 73 percent have beaten analyst earnings estimates and 64 percent have beaten revenue estimates. That means that while analysts on the whole were looking for earnings to grow 4.8 percent in the second quarter, so far we've seen a blended growth rate of 7.6 percent.
And with companies beating expectations, analysts have responded by raising their estimates of the earnings that companies will report in the future.
"Over the past four months, estimates have begun to rise for 2014. Higher estimates are likely the result of stronger management guidance and greater analyst confidence. We believe this is a bullish sign for equities," Golub writes.