Stock markets have enjoyed a banner half-decade, forcefully reclaiming the ground lost to the financial crisis, and then some. This vigorous performance has occurred thanks, above all else, to two key enablers: surging earnings and recovering valuations. On the surface, there is nothing especially questionable about either. Earnings naturally rise as economies grow, and valuations recover as risk aversion fades.
However, a closer examination reveals a significant vulnerability within this cozy equation. Corporate earnings growth has been, in a sense, too good – persistently outpacing both revenues and the economy. This has driven profit margins to multi-decade highs.
Worryingly, profit margins have long been assumed to be mean-reverting, arguing that these juicy gains may eventually have to reverse. Such a scenario would necessitate an eye-watering one-third decline in the S&P 500. With stakes as big as these, a clear sense of the downside risk is imperative. This report evaluates th