NEW YORK (Real Money) -- Chasing hot recent past performance often results in poor portfolio results. Decent-yielding, high-quality shares have benefited from excess demand due to ZIRP (zero interest rate policy).
That increased buying interest has translated into much-higher-than-normal price to earnings ratios for stocks like 3M(MMM) - Get Report. It also makes investors comfortable with what are historically subpar yields.
3M is a fine firm, but has not been a consistently stellar grower of EPS. Profits fell from 2007 through 2009. They expanded by less than 12.9% cumulatively from 2007 through 2012. During that tepid period, MMM was typically available for 14 times to 15 times multiples while sporting about 2.66% in dividend yield.
At its 2007 peak, 3M commanded 17.3 times that year's final tally and paid under 2% to those who plunged in near $97 a share. Momentum traders seeking quick profits suffered a 58% drawdown in the 2008-2009 crash and had to wait more than five years to get firmly into the black.
MMM's growth rate since then has picked up a bit, but its valuation has outdistanced those fundamentals. At Tuesday's closing price, MMM now trades for 20.6 times expected 2015's expected earnings per share of $8.15.
A higher-than-normal payout ratio hasn't fully offset the run-up in price. The nominal 2.47% current yield might not sound bad, but it is well under the best from MMM during the company's better buying opportunities since 2008.
Applying a historically generous 16-times multiple to MMM's 2016 estimate of $8.95 would only support about $143 almost two years from today. That strictly unemotional view is reflected in the fair value estimates from both Standard & Poor's and Morningstar.
S&P carried an enigmatic hold rating at the end of last week when the stock was still above $167. The company's own analysis saw more than $19 of risk.
Data-driven minds at Morningstar were a bit more pessimistic. They called MMM a sell and felt its shares could give back about $26 from Tuesday's closing quote.
If you are lucky enough to own 3M, consider locking in gains. Speculators might want to play by owning a few puts out to July or October. Any general market pullback is likely to hit an overvalued MMM harder than the average stock even if it is a low-beta name.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published at 9 a.m. EDT on Real Money Pro on April 15.