Based on those changes below, I have slightly reduced my calculation of the S&P 500's fair market value from 1345 to 1335. My methodology, though appearing precise, recognizes the difficulty of attaining investment precision given the numerous moving parts (economic, interest rates, sentiment/psychology and exogenous factors) in its calculation.
Below are the criteria I use to evaluate the S&P 500 and upon which I conclude that fair market value is approximately 1335 (or about 5% below Friday's closing price of 1404).
Scenario No. 1 -- Economic Reacceleration Above Consensus
(probability goes from 25% to 10%): The pace of U.S. economic recovery reaccelerates to above-consensus forecasts (3%-plus real GDP) based on pro-growth fiscal policies geared toward generating job growth; corporate profit margins being preserved (with low inflation and contained wage growth); interest rates remaining low; and housing recovering sharply, owing to the adoption of aggressive plans by the government to enact a massive home refinancing effort and deplete the excess inventory of unsold homes. Europe stabilizes (and experiences only a shallow recession), and China has a soft landing. S&P 500 profit estimates for 2012 are raised modestly to $106 to $110 per share. Stocks, valued at 14.5x under this outcome, have 16% upside over the next 12 months. S&P target is 1,565.
Scenario No. 2 -- Recession
(probability goes from 5% to 0%): The U.S. enters a recession precipitated by a loss of business and consumer confidence, producing a fall in manufacturing output and personal consumption expenditures. A series of bank failures and sovereign debt defaults in the eurozone contribute to a deep European recession and a hard landing in China and India. S&P 500 earnings estimates for 2012 are materially slashed to $75 to $80 per share. Stocks, valued at 10.0x under this outcome, have 42% downside risk over the next 12 months. S&P target is 775.
Scenario No. 3 -- Below Consensus Economic Growth
(probability goes from 25% to 30%): The U.S. experiences a disappointing sub-1% real GDP growth rate, and Europe experiences a medium-scale recession. S&P 500 profit forecasts for 2012 are cut back to $98 to $100 a share (only slightly above 2011's levels). Stocks, valued at 12x under this outcome, have 12% downside risk over the next 12 months. S&P target is 1185.
Scenario No. 4 -- Muddle Through
(probability goes from 45% to 60%): The U.S. muddles through with 1.5%-2.0% real GDP growth, and the European economies suffer a modest (but contained) business downturn. S&P 500 profits for 2012 trend toward a range of $103-$105 a share as some margin slippage occurs. Stocks, valued at 13.25x under this outcome, have 2% upside over the next 12 months. S&P 500 target is 1,375.
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