We have been in the throes of a secular bear market, subject to strong cyclical swings in either direction, since 2000. [Currently, based on the 5 leading investment indicators analyzed in this article,] the measures all confirm that, from a longer-term perspective, the market remains overvalued. [Let’s take a look at each to see why that is the case.]
So writes Bob Seawright (http://rpseawright.wordpress.com) in edited excerpts from his original article* entitled Above the Market’s Leading Investment Indicators.
[The following article is presented by Lorimer Wilson, editor of www.FinancialArticleSummariesToday.com and www.munKNEE.com and may have been edited ([ ]), abridged (…) and/or reformatted (some sub-titles and bold/italics emphases) for the sake of clarity and brevity to ensure a fast and easy read. This paragraph must be included in any article re-posting to avoid copyright infringement.]
Seawright goes on to say in further edited excerpts:
Leading indicators are measures that typically change before the economy as a whole changes, thus providing some predictive power with respect to what lies ahead.
While the Conference Board publishes a Leading Economic Index intended to forecast future economic activity, my intent [here]…is to derive some Leading Investment Indicators. Unlike leading economic indicators, these metrics were designed:
- as longer term indicators of value, risk and expected returns [and, as such,] not as short-term predictors…[but] to measure potential real long-term returns [and, thus,]…in no way should be used as any sort of timing mechanism…[and]
- to be a helpful tool to help shape an overall investment thesis and process as well as to separate short-term and long-term concerns, not to dictate trading decisions.
The largest contributing factor to equity returns is the P/E ratio. The expansion or contraction of the broad market P/E ratio creates secular bull and bear markets. The chart below from Crestmont Research breaks down the components of total return for the S&P 500 for ten-year rolling periods.
Yale Professor Robert Shiller’s 10-year Average Inflation-Adjusted PE Ratio, also known as CAPE, Shiller PE or PE10, provides the best longer-term market gauge available. PE10 is the stock index price divided by the average real earnings from the previous 10 years – the time period is designed to smooth out near-term noise in the data. The basis for this approach is the finding that earnings valuation ratios provide predictive power for long-term stock market returns. Campbell & Shiller, “Valuation Ratios and the Long-Run Stock Market Outlook.” Journal of Portfolio Management 24, 2 (Winter 1998), pp. 11–26.
The long-term mean CAPE as calculated by multpl.com using Prof. Robert Shiller’s data is 16.45. In January 1921, PE10 was 5.12, the lowest value of any January in the historical period. Meanwhile, PE10 in January 2000 was 43.77, the highest January level in history. It is 22.19 today, suggesting that stocks remain significantly overvalued. Historical S&P 500 PE10 is charted below.
Source: multpl.com, using Prof. Shiller’s data
The dividend-price ratio or dividend yield (DY) is another predictor of the subsequent 10-year real returns on stocks, although this approach has its problems. Historical S&P 500 DY is charted below and suggests that stocks are significantly overvalued today.
Source: multpl.com, using Prof. Shiller’s data
3. Tobin’s Q
The Tobin’s Q is the ratio of price to replacement cost, which is in many ways similar to book value…The most current Q ratio can be calculated from September’s release of the Flow of Funds report for Q2 2011. It is calculated by dividing line 35 of table B.102 by line 32. The historical data is also available on the St. Louis FRED website…[but] because the Flow of Funds report is released long after the quarter end, getting a relatively current level takes a bit of extrapolation.
When equity as a percentage of GNP is above-average then total real returns for U.S. equities have a high probability of being below average. When equity as a percentage of GNP is below-average then total real returns for U.S. equities have a high probability of being above-average. Another use for Q is to determine the valuation of the whole market in ratio to the aggregate corporate assets. The Q ratio is a statistical measurement of the market’s value; fair value for Q is 0.65, primarily because capital stock is routinely overstated leading to a larger denominator in the Q equation. (See Doug Short’s excellent analysis here).
Per Doug, the average (arithmetic mean) Q Ratio is about 0.70. The all-time Q Ratio high at the peak of the Tech Bubble was 1.78 — which suggests that the market price was 153% above the historic average of replacement cost. The all-time lows in 1921, 1932 and 1982 were around 0.30, which is about 57% below replacement cost….
Doug’s current estimate puts the ratio about 50% [updated] above its arithmetic mean:
and 62 percent [updated] above its geometric mean.
By this measure the market remains overvalued.
4. Market Cap to GDP
Market Capitalization to GDP has been described by Warren Buffet as “probably the best single measure of where valuations stand at any given moment.” It compares the total price of all publicly traded companies to GDP. This metric can also be thought of as an economy wide price to sales ratio. The data here is from the St. Louis FRED. However, because the data is quarterly, data for the other months have been entered using the prior ratio adjusted for the change in stock prices. As charted below, this metric suggests that stocks are significantly overvalued and overvalued as compared to October, 2011 and August, 2012 (.96 and 1.01 to the current 1.03).
Source: Vector Grader
5. Bond Yields
Returns on bonds depend on the initial bond yield and on subsequent yield changes. Low bond yields tend to translate into lower returns because of less income and heightened interest-rate risk. As Warren Buffett has pointed out (although he is not alone in this):
“Interest rates act as gravity behaves in the physical world. At all times, in all markets, in all parts of the world, the tiniest change in rates changes the value of every financial asset. …If interest rates are, say, 13 percent, the present value of a dollar that you’re going to receive in the future from an investment is not nearly as high as the present value of a dollar if rates are 4 percent.”
As charted below, long-term interest rates have been generally declining for more than 30 years and remain near record low levels, suggesting that all assets are at risk going forward.
Source: The Big Picture (for a more limited period, the U.S. Treasury data is available for charting here)
These measures all confirm that, from a longer-term perspective, the market remains overvalued…We are (since 2000) in the throes of a secular bear market, subject to strong cyclical swings in either direction.
I continue to encourage investors to be skeptical, cautious, and defensive, yet opportunistic. I suggest that they look to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves while carefully managing and mitigating risk, which should remain their top priority.
[Editor’s Note: The author’s views and conclusions in the above article are unaltered and no personal comments have been included to maintain the integrity of the original post. Furthermore, the views, conclusions and any recommendations offered in this article are not to be construed as an endorsement of such by the editor.]
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