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Will Stocks Get Hit This September?

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September got off to a rocky start yesterday as the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 2%, stoking fears concerning what has historically been the worst month in the calendar for stocks. But just how bad could things get this year?

A short market history lesson
Using price data from Dow Jones going back to May 1896, I verified that September is indeed the worst month for the Dow on the basis of average returns. At (1.2%), it is one of only two months that can't boast a positive average return (the other is February, with a much smaller 0.2% loss). September also hosted the worst monthly performance for the Dow in history: a loss of nearly 31% in 1931.

That was then, what about now?
What can we expect this year? A month's time horizon is far too short to even begin making a serious prediction. However, according to data compiled by Professor Robert Shiller of Yale, the broader S&P 500 index is valued at nearly 18 times its cyclically-adjusted earnings (average inflation-adjusted earnings over the prior 10 years). That is a premium to the multiple's long-term historical average of 16.3, so a correction of 10% to 20% wouldn't be highly surprising in this environment.

The good news
The outlook isn't uniformly somber, though: By my calculations, every one of the Dow components is currently changing hands at a cyclically-adjusted P/E multiple below that of the S&P 500. This includes superb businesses such as:


Cyclically-Adjusted P/E Multiple*

Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT  )


Exxon Mobil (NYSE: XOM  )


Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS  )


JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM  )


United Technologies (NYSE: UTX  )


Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  )


Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO  )


*Note that the calculation of these multiples isn't perfectly consistent with Shiller's calculation for the S&P 500.
Source: Author's calculations, based on data from Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

The table suggests that while runaway bulls may have picked clean lower-grade stocks, prudent investors should look at a different menu -- there may be an opportunity to feast on quality stocks instead.

Jeremy Grantham's firm, GMO, is forecasting that "high-quality" U.S. stocks will beat large-cap stocks by nearly seven percentage points annually over the next seven years! Morgan Housel has identified three high-quality companies that are still cheap.

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Alex Dumortier, CFA, has no beneficial interest in any of the companies mentioned in this article. Walt Disney is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Walt Disney and Microsoft are Motley Fool Inside Value selections. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Alex Dumortier covers daily market activity from a contrarian, value-oriented perspective. He has been writing for the Motley Fool since 2006.

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