Modern trading making earnings multiples obsolete

Price to earnings multiples were once the basis of investment decisions. The analysis was simple: the return divided by the stock price should properly valuate a certain company. But with many companies all over the map in both PE and PEG ratios, investors are looking for other guidelines for evaluating an investment. Technical trading has all but taken over the short term trader, and it looks ready to conquer the long term as well.

Old value investors

Warren Buffett dominates the field of value investing. Rather than following the world’s hottest stocks, he looks for companies that are considerably undervalued, both by assets and what he believes the company is really worth. While he’s made a large fortune from his studies on value investing, the markets are seemingly turning out of his favor. Valuing a company is no longer as easy as looking for cheap assets, as many companies have little assets to back their valuations. Others trade at huge multiples of their earnings, while their competitors enjoy smaller ratios, and even others are destined to stay cheap forever due only to the nature of the business.

Case in point

It seems that many companies are selling for high premiums, even with little to back up their valuations. Take for example the internet stocks. Google sells for a PE ratio of 41 but a PEG of 1.02. While Google does sell for an extreme premium over its earnings, adjusted for growth Google is still in the buy range. Compare these statistics to the lesser rival Yahoo, which trades for a PE of 33 and a PEG of 2.8. Even prior to the failed Microsoft bid, Yahoo traded at a similar PE and PEG ratio; for the most part, it’s horribly overvalued.

Yahoo vs. Google in valuation

Traditionally, you would think that the two valuations would come to meet each other in the middle. Google’s price would ultimately rise while Yahoo would shed a few points to come back to earth. Though this is what the rational person would think, it seems like Yahoo will forever enjoy being overpriced and Google will always be under priced. In fact, Google has never traded for a PEG ratio higher than 2. Yahoo has traded for both extremely high PE ratios and PEGs, though its data is somewhat skewed by the y2k internet bubble fiasco.

Has technical analysis beat out fundamentals?

It appears as though technical traders have finally won over the market. By looking at today’s measurements, Yahoo’s stock is kept afloat largely by technical support and resistance, while Google is much the same. The difference in trading techniques even from just 2004 to today would suggest that stocks are now traded more independently than ever. Rarely are stocks compared to reasonable value to their competitors by investors. The new age of trading is systematically making investors “one stock” types, those only willing to trade the ups and downs and day to day of a specific stock, rather than comparing it to its competition.

Investing at its roots has been crippled. The sustainability or profitability of future results are rarely calculated in many investors algorithms. Technical analysis has instead brought trading to a whole new level, where stocks are nearly as good as any other commodity. The earnings of a company no longer matter, nor do its assets, nor its valuation. The digits in the stock price are the few things that matter to most modern day traders; forget the business behind the ticker.

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