The average price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio for the stock market over the past 80 years has been 15.3-to-1. Recently it's been about twice that, surpassing the previous extremes of 1929 and 1987.
While the Depression years of the mid-1930s produced slightly higher P/Es, observes Growth Stock Outlook (P.O. Box 15381, Chevy Chase, MD 20825), "profits were minuscule for most of that decade and nonexistent in 1932. We had record profits in 1997. A regression to the mean P/E lies somewhere ahead."- IDS Growth Fund has produced 22.1 percent average annual gains over the past five years. Its manager, Mitzi Malevich, likes companies with annual earnings-growth rates of at least 20 percent that she can buy at price multiples below those rates. But even more than that she likes strong managements. "I want managers who are doing now what everyone agrees needs to be done in the future," she says. Recent favorites: Cisco Systems, Microsoft, Travelers Group, Worldcom, Washington Mutual, Merrill Lynch, Schlumberger, Coca-Cola, Pfizer, Intel.
- The Asian Tigers will have a long road back, predicts Taking Stock of Latin America newsletter (P.O. Box 6184, Springfield, VA 22150). "And Europe is at least a decade away from unwinding its strangling corporate structures. That leaves the Western Hemisphere. Those seeking higher stock-market returns will focus specifically on Latin America." Taking Stock's favorite Latin plays: Cifra, the giant Mexican retailer; Bancomer, Mexico's second-largest bank; and Labratorio Chile, Telefonica del Peru, Telefonica de Venezuela.
- Low interest rates are a potent elixir for stocks. But they benefit certain industries disproportionately, notes United & Babson Investment Report (101 Prescott St., Wellesley Hills, MA , 02181). "Homebuilders, for example, are helped when declining rates lower homeownership costs. And insurance companies experience immediate profits in their bond portfolios."
Here are some stocks that U&B expects to benefit from the even-lower future rates it envisages: Fannie Mae, General Re, Horace Mann Educators, MBIA, DelWebb.
- Yield spreads between Treasury bonds and top-quality municipals have narrowed significantly, making munis a bargain for even moderate-income investors.
Reports Safe Money (P.O. Box 2923, West Palm Beach, Fla., 33402): "Silver's recent rally, combined with the Indian currency's decline, has caused a 60 percent jump in silver prices in India. Besides dampening demand, high silver prices are likely to cause dishoarding in India, as investors scurry to nail down profits."