This leads to the second factor that analysts seem to ignore Specifically, major market downturns are not driven by a simple downturn in earnings over a year or two, but instead invariably reflect a change in the valuation of the entire long-term stream of cash flows (either because expected long-term cash flows are revised, or because investors require greater long-term prospective returns). We often hear analysts talk as if the change in the S&P 500 should simply track the change in earnings
over the same period. But the historical correlation between the two - for example, the year-over-year change in earnings versus the year-over-year change in the S&P 500 - is close to zero. Major stock price fluctuations nearly always reflect a shift in expected long-term cash flows or in required long-term prospective returns.
To illustrate this, suppose you have a company that is expected to earn $2 per share next year, pays half of earnings out as
dividends, and grows at 5% annually each year, ad infinitum. In order to expect a 10% return from this stock over the long-term, you would pay $20 a share today (essentially giving you 5% from expected price growth and 5% from dividend yield). In order to expect a 6% return on this stock, you would pay $100 [5% growth + 1% yield: P = D/(k-g)]. Now let's wipe out all of the
earnings and dividends in the coming year, but leave the long-term flows unchanged. If you do the math, you'll find that in each case, the value of the stock drops by only about 90 cents. The only way you'll get a huge change in the price of the stock is if you've misjudged the whole stream of long-term cash flows (which is what I believe analysts are doing by failing to adjust for profit margins and using a single year of earnings as the whole basis for valuation), or if you change the long-term prospective return that the stock is priced to achieve. "