2022 Forecast for the S&P 500: Reaching 5,722 Is Possible

Mega-cap Technology Stocks to Drive Upward Moves

The bulls were in full command of the stock market in 2021, with the S&P 500 advancing an impressive 26.9%. That was the S&P 500’s third consecutive year of gains and its best performance since gaining 28.9% in 2019.

Between 2010 and now, the S&P 500 recorded its highest gains in 2019 and 2021. Even 2020 was good, with a gain of 16.3%.

The S&P 500’s strong gains were driven by the increase in the allocation of technology stocks, which account for approximately 30% of the index.

The S&P 500 was powered by the incredible moves of the mega-cap technology stocks, including Alphabet Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG), Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN), Apple Inc (NASDAQ:AAPL), Meta Platforms Inc (NASDAQ:FB), Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT), Netflix Inc (NASDAQ:NFLX), and Tesla Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA).

These stocks helped the S&P 500 set 71 record highs in 2021, but the heavy technology exposure also makes the index vulnerable to volatility.

Chart courtesy of StockCharts.com

The beginning of 2022 has seen technology stocks sell off. I expect another up year for the S&P 500 unless the macroeconomic risks intensify.

Analysts largely forecast that the S&P 500 will rise, but their estimates of the gains are wide-ranging. The predictions come with numerous assumptions that make things difficult.

For instance, my estimate for the S&P 500 in 2021 was initially 4,000 and I increased it to 4,180. Even so, my target fell 12.3% short of where the S&P 500 ended up.

In 2022, there’s optimism about the reopening economy, despite the continued concerns about COVID-19 variants.

In a poll of analysts by FactSet, the median earnings-per-share (EPS) estimate for the S&P 500 in 2022 sat at $222.32. (Source: “Industry Analysts Expect S&P 500 to Report Record-High EPS in 2022,” FactSet, December 3, 2021.)

This represents the highest-ever EPS estimate for the S&P 500. If it pans out, the EPS will jump above the S&P 500’s pre-pandemic level.

The difficulty is selecting the right price/earnings (P/E) ratio for the S&P 500. My assigned P/E ratio for 2021 was too conservative, which resulted in my target falling short of the actual result.

Setting a Target for the S&P 500

Take a look at the following table showing the S&P 500’s P/E ratios for the past 22 years.

The number has varied from a low of 14.9 in January 2012 to a high of 70.9 in January 2009, following the Great Recession that was triggered by the subprime mortgage crisis. (Source: “S&P 500 PE Ratio by Year,” Multpl.com, last accessed January 7, 2022.)

The P/E ratio for the S&P 500 was 36.0 in January 2021 after the COVID-19 pandemic ravished the economy.

DateS&P 500 P/E Ratio
January 7, 202229.5 (estimate)
January 1, 202136.0
January 1, 202024.9
January 1, 201919.6
January 1, 201825.0
January 1, 201723.6
January 1, 201622.2
January 1, 201520.0
January 1, 201418.2
January 1, 201317.0
January 1, 201214.9
January 1, 201116.3
January 1, 201020.7
January 1, 200970.9
January 1, 200821.5
January 1, 200717.4
January 1, 200618.1
January 1, 200520.0
January 1, 200422.7
January 1, 200331.4
January 1, 200246.2
January 1, 200127.6
January 1, 200029.0

(Source: Ibid.)

P/E ratios tend to be higher during times of economic weakness or market shocks followed by moderation after the initial burst.

The average S&P 500 P/E ratio since the technology market meltdown in 2000 is about 25.7. The number is much higher than the historical average, but more in tune with recent valuations.

Since 2020, there have been only seven years in which the S&P 500’s P/E ratio was higher than average. Since the 2008 recession, there have been 11 years in which the S&P 500’s P/E ratio was lower than average.

In the table below, I assigned an expected value for the S&P 500 based on the EPS estimate and multiple.

MultipleS&P 500Change

Analyst Take

Applying the average multiple in the above table, I arrived at 5,723 for the S&P 500, or a 23.7% gain. While that’s possible, I doubt it will be that high.

Assigning a reasonable multiple of 20 times, we get a value of 4,446, or 3.9% below the current level. This value could be used as a downside support level, followed by the 50-day and 200-day moving averages at 4,661 and 4,387, respectively.

If I take the average multiple between 2016 and prior to the pandemic in 2020, the multiple is 23. Applying this, I arrive at a target of about 5,113, representing a gain of 10.6%.

This estimate might look somewhat conservative, considering the moves from 2019 through 2021, but, given the macroeconomic risk, I’ll start with this target and revise it based on the ongoing fundamentals and macroeconomic conditions.