There is an interesting debate over my column on Monday, which looked at evidence for distorted profits in the US. In brief, there is a long-term discrepancy between the earnings yield on the S&P 500 (the inverse of the price/earnings ratio), and the long-term actual real return to investors (what they receive in dividends and in capital appreciation on an annualised basis). The two ought to be very similar. But in fact, earnings yield runs at about 1.5 percentage points per year higher.
The column highlighted research by the great Andrew Smithers who can be seen here discussing his idea with Martin Sandbu, who is doing a great job on the Authers’ Note video:
Mr Smithers’ explanation for the discrepancy, which does not make him popular, is that earnings are systematically overstated – and that the manipulation has intensified now that the modern bonus culture gives executives a much greater incentive to overstate profits in the short term. However, there is another possible explanation.