While Goldman gives the following explicit warning in all of its public research pieces: "Our asset management area, our proprietary trading desks and investing businesses may make investment decisions that are inconsistent with the recommendations or views expressed in this research", the reality is that in recent months Goldman's chief equity strategist David Kostin has been getting increasingly "toppish" if not outright bearish on stocks. In his latest report he now openly warns that "the market will rise to 2150 by mid-year but fade after the Fed raises interest rates in September for the first time in nine years." As a result Goldman's "year-end forecast is 2100 and its 12-month target equals 2125."
Which is where the S&P 500 closed on Friday. In other words, sell in May and come back until next May.
Here is what else Goldman is telling its buyside clients:
During the last 50 years, dividends accounted for nearly 80% of the total return generated by US equities. The proportion fell to 45% during the past 25 years and 35% for the past decade. However, since the 2009 financial crisis lows, price return has accounted for more than 80% of the total return of the S&P 500 as the P/E multiple soared from 10.1x to 17.3x. Looking ahead, the market implies 46% of the total return for stocks during the next decade will be generated by dividends, in-line with the past quarter-century.
The median S&P 500 stock trades at a P/E of 18.2x, the 99th percentile of historical valuation, and has limited scope for further upward expansion. Investors are looking to enhance performance by buying stocks returning cash to shareholders. We forecast S&P 500 firms will return $1 trillion to investors during 2015 via dividends and buybacks. Cash dividends will total $400 billion, a 7% increase from 2014, while buybacks will climb by 18% to $600 billion. The median S&P 500 stock trades with a 1.9% annualized dividend yield, slightly below the ten-year US Treasury note yield of 2.2%.
In addition to high dividend yields, investors are also looking to boost returns by finding stocks growing dividends at a rapid pace. The median S&P 500 stock is expected to grow its dividend by 8% annually during the next two years. However, with record levels of cash on corporate balance sheets, many firms are increasing dividends at a much faster clip.
The dividend swap market foreshadowed by more than six months the underperformance of shares in our dividend growth basket. The rebound in the dividend swap market at the start of 2015 presaged by two months the recent rally in our dividend growth basket.
At the sector level, Telecom and Utilities offer the highest dividend yields at 4.8% and 3.7%, respectively. Information Technology and Financials account for the largest proportion of gross S&P 500 dividends paid, each at 15% of the index total. The fastest dividend growth is found in Financials, Health Care, and Consumer Discretionary, each with a 13% pace.
The historical relationship between the cyclically-adjusted P/E multiple (currently 23.4x) and forward equity returns suggest the prospective 10-year annualized total return for the S&P 500 will be 5%. Dividend levels implied by the swap market suggest that 46% of the total return during the next ten years will be derived from dividends, and 54% from price gain.
Which means annualized capital appreciation (i.e., price increases) over the next decade will be just about 2.5%. And that is assuming record central bank intervention. One wonders: what happens if and when the central planners finally pull the plug?