Is The Stock Market Overvalued?

Stock Market Overvalued - Public DomainAre stocks overvalued?  By just about any measure that you could possibly name, stocks are at historically high prices right now.  From a technical standpoint, the stock market is more overvalued today than it was just prior to the last financial crisis.  The only two moments in U.S. history that even compare to our current state of affairs are the run up to the stock market crash of 1929 and the peak of the hysteria just before the dotcom bubble burst.  It is so obvious that stocks are in a bubble that even Janet Yellen has talked about it, but of course she will never admit that the Federal Reserve has played a key role in creating this bubble.  They say that hindsight is 20/20, but what is happening right in front of our eyes in 2015 is so obvious that everyone should be able to see it.  Just like with all other financial bubbles throughout our history, someday people will look back and talk about how stupid we all were.

Why can’t we ever learn from history?  We just keep on making the same mistakes over and over again.  And without a doubt, some of the smartest members of our society are trying to warn us about what is coming.  For example, Yale economics professor Robert Shiller has repeatedly tried to warn us that stocks are overvalued

I think that compared with history, US stocks are overvalued. One way to assess this is by looking at the CAPE (cyclically adjusted P/E) ratio that I created with John Campbell, now at Harvard, 25 years ago. The ratio is defined as the real stock price (using the S&P Composite Stock Price Index deflated by the CPI) divided by the ten-year average of real earnings per share. We have found this ratio to be a good predictor of subsequent stock market returns, especially over the long run. The CAPE ratio has recently been around 27, which is quite high by US historical standards. The only other times it has been that high or higher were in 1929, 2000, and 2007—all moments before market crashes.

But the CAPE ratio is not the only metric I watch. In my book Irrational Exuberance (3rd Ed., Princeton 2015) I discuss several metrics that help judge what’s going on in the market. These include my stock market confidence indices. One of the indicators in that series is based on a single question that I have asked individual and institutional investors over the years along the lines of, “Do you think the stock market is overvalued, undervalued, or about right?” Lately, what I call “valuation confidence” captured by this question has been on a downward trend, and for individual investors recently reached its lowest point since the stock market peak in 2000.

Other analysts prefer to use different valuation indicators than Shiller does.  But no matter which indicators you use, they all show that stocks are tremendously overvalued in mid-2015.  For instance, just consider the following chart.  It comes from Doug Short, and it shows the average of four of his favorite valuation indicators.  As you can see, there is only one other time in all of our history when stocks have been more overvalued than they are today according to the average of these four indicators…

Four Valuation Indicators - Doug Short

Another danger sign that many analysts are pointing to is the dramatic rise in margin debt that we have seen in recent years.  Investors are borrowing tremendous amounts of money to fund purchases of stock.  This is something that we witnessed during the dotcom bubble, it was something that we witnessed just prior to the financial collapse of 2008, and now it is happening again.  In fact, margin debt just surged to a brand new all-time record high.  Once again, the following chart comes from Doug Short

NYSE Margin Debt - Chart by Doug Short

All of this margin debt has helped drive stocks to ridiculous highs, but it can also serve to drive stock prices down very rapidly when the market turns.  This was noted by Henry Blodget of Business Insider in a recent editorial…

What is “margin debt”?

It’s the amount of money stock investors have collectively borrowed via traditional margin accounts to fund stock purchases.

In a bull market, the growth of margin debt serves as a turbocharger that helps drive stock prices higher.

As with a home mortgage, the more investors borrow, the more house or stock they can buy. So as margin debt grows, collective buying power grows. The borrowed money gets used to fund new stock purchases, which helps drives the prices of those stocks higher. The higher prices, in turn, allow traders to borrow more money to fund additional purchases. And so on.

It’s a self-reinforcing cycle.

The trouble is that it’s a self-reinforcing cycle on the way down, too.

If the overall U.S. economy was absolutely booming, these ultra-high stock prices would not be as much of a concern.  But the truth is that the financial markets have become completely divorced from economic reality.  Right now, corporate profits are actually falling and our exports are way down.  U.S. GDP shrunk during the first quarter, and there are a whole host of economic trouble signs on the horizon.  I am calling this a “recession within a recession“, and I believe that we are heading into another major economic downturn.

Unfortunately, our “leaders” are absolutely clueless about what is coming.  They assure us that everything is going to be just fine – just like they did back in 2008 before everything fell apart.  But the truth is that things are already so bad that even the big banks are sounding the alarm.  For instance, just consider the following words from Deutsche Bank

At issue is whether or not the Fed in particular but the market in general has properly understood the nature of the economic problem. The more we dig into this, the more we are afraid that they do not. So aside from a data revision tsunami, we would suggest that the Fed has the outlook not just horribly wrong, but completely misunderstood.

Ultimately, most people believe what they want to believe.

Our politicians want to believe that the economy is going to get better, and so do the bureaucrats over at the Federal Reserve.  The mainstream media wants to put a happy face on things, and they want all of us to continue to have faith in the system.

Unfortunately for them, the system is failing.  I truly do hope that this bubble can last for a few more months, but I don’t see it going on for much longer than that.

The greatest financial crisis in U.S. history is fast approaching, and it is going to be extraordinarily painful.

When it arrives, it is not just going to destroy faith in the system.  In the end, it is going to destroy the system altogether.

Whenever Margin Debt Goes Over 2.25% Of GDP The Stock Market Always Crashes

Bubble - Photo by Jeff KubinaWhat do 1929, 2000 and 2007 all have in common?  Those were all years in which we saw a dramatic spike in margin debt.  In all three instances, investors became highly leveraged in order to “take advantage” of a soaring stock market.  But of course we all know what happened each time.  The spike in margin debt was rapidly followed by a horrifying stock market crash.  Well guess what?  It is happening again.  In April (the last month we have a number for), margin debt rose to an all-time high of more than 384 billion dollars.  The previous high was 381 billion dollars which occurred back in July 2007.  Margin debt is about 29 percent higher than it was a year ago, and the S&P 500 has risen by more than 20 percent since last fall.  The stock market just continues to rise even though the underlying economic fundamentals continue to get worse.  So should we be alarmed?  Is the stock market bubble going to burst at some point?  Well, if history is any indication we are in big trouble.  In the past, whenever margin debt has gone over 2.25% of GDP the stock market has crashed.  That certainly does not mean that the market is going to crash this week, but it is a major red flag.

The funny thing is that the fact that investors are so highly leveraged is being seen as a positive thing by many in the financial world.  Some believe that a high level of margin debt is a sign that “investor confidence” is high and that the rally will continue.  The following is from a recent article in the Wall Street Journal

The rising level of debt is seen as a measure of investor confidence, as investors are more willing to take out debt against investments when shares are rising and they have more value in their portfolios to borrow against. The latest rise has been fueled by low interest rates and a 15% year-to-date stock-market rally.

Others, however, consider the spike in margin debt to be a very ominous sign.  Margin debt has now risen to about 2.4 percent of GDP, and as the New York Times recently pointed out, whenever we have gotten this high before a market crash has always followed…

The first time in recent decades that total margin debt exceeded 2.25 percent of G.D.P. came at the end of 1999, amid the technology stock bubble. Margin debt fell after that bubble burst, but began to rise again during the housing boom — when anecdotal evidence said some investors were using their investments to secure loans that went for down payments on homes. That boom in margin loans also ended badly.

Posted below is a chart of the performance of the S&P 500 over the last several decades.  After looking at this chart, compare it to the margin debt charts that the New York Times recently published that you can find right here.  There is a very strong correlation between these charts.  You can find some more charts that directly compare the level of margin debt and the performance of the S&P 500 right here.  Every time margin debt has soared to a dramatic new high in the past, a stock market crash and a recession have always followed.  Will we escape a similar fate this time?

S&P 500

What makes all of this even more alarming is the fact that a number of things that we have not seen happen in the U.S. economy since 2009 are starting to happen again.  For much more on this, please see my previous article entitled “12 Clear Signals That The U.S. Economy Is About To Really Slow Down“.

At some point the stock market will catch up with the economy.  When that happens, it will probably happen very rapidly and a lot of people will lose a lot of money.

And there are certainly a lot of prominent voices out there that are warning about what is coming.  For example, the following is what renowned investor Alan M. Newman had to say about the current state of the market earlier this year

“If anything has changed yet in 2013, we certainly do not see it. Despite the early post-fiscal cliff rally, this is the same beast we rode to the 2007 highs for the Dow Industrials. The U.S. stock market is over leveraged, overpriced and has been commandeered by mechanical forces to such an extent that all holding periods are now affected by more risk than at any time in history.”

Unfortunately, most Americans never get to hear such voices.  Instead, most Americans rely on the mainstream media to do much of their thinking for them.  And right now the mainstream media is insisting that we are not in a stock market bubble…

Forbes: “Why Stocks Are On Solid Footing And This Is No Bubble

ABC News: “AP Survey: Economists See No Stock Market Bubble

Businessweek: “Prognostications: It’s Not a Stock Bubble

Yahoo: “This Is NOT a Stock Bubble! Says Ben Stein

MarketWatch: “Is a stock bubble coming? No, say economists

So what do you think?

Do you believe that we are in a stock market bubble that is about to burst, or do you believe that everything is going to be just fine?

Please feel free to express your opinion by posting a comment below…

17 Reasons To Be EXTREMELY Concerned About The Second Half Of 2012

What is the second half of 2012 going to bring?  Are things going to get even worse than they are right now?  Unfortunately, that appears more likely with each passing day.  I will admit that I am extremely concerned about the second half of 2012.  Historically, a financial crisis is much more likely to begin in the fall than during any other season of the year.  Just think about it.  The stock market crash of 1929 happened in the fall.  “Black Monday” happened on October 19th, 1987.  The financial crisis of 2008 started in the fall.  There just seems to be something about the fall that brings out the worst in the financial markets.  But of course there is not a stock market crash every year.  So are there specific reasons why we should be extremely concerned about what is coming this year?  Yes, there are.  The ingredients for a “perfect storm” are slowly coming together, and in the months ahead we could very well see the next wave of the economic collapse strike.  Sadly, we have never even come close to recovering from the last recession, and this next crisis might end up being even more painful than the last one.

The following are 17 reasons to be extremely concerned about the second half of 2012….

#1 Historical Trends

A recent IMF research paper by Luc Laeven and Fabián Valencia showed that a banking crisis is far more likely to start in September than in any other month.  The following chart is from their report….

So what will this September bring?

#2 JP Morgan

Do you remember back in May when JP Morgan announced that it would be taking a 2 billion dollar trading loss on some derivatives trades gone bad?  Well, the New York Times is now reporting that the real figure could reach 9 billion dollars, but nobody really knows for sure.  At some point is JP Morgan going to need a bailout?  If so, what is that going to do to the U.S. financial system?

#3 Derivatives

Last week, Moody’s downgraded the credit ratings of 15 major global banks.  As a result, a number of them have been required to post billions of dollars in additional collateral against derivatives exposures….

Citigroup’s two-notch long-term rating downgrade from A3 to Baa2 could have led to US$500m in additional liquidity and funding demands due to derivative triggers and exchange margin requirements, according to the bank’s 10Q regulatory filing at the end of the first quarter.

Morgan Stanley – which Moody’s downgraded from A2 to Baa1 – said a two-notch downgrade from both Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s could spur an additional US$6.8bn of collateral requirements in its latest 10Q. The bank did not break down its potential collateral calls under a scenario where only Moody’s downgraded the bank below the Single A threshold.

Royal Bank of Scotland estimated it may have to post £9bn of collateral as a result of the one-notch Moody’s downgrade to Baa1 in a statement on June 21, but did not detail how much of this additional requirement was driven by margin for swaps exposures.

The worldwide derivatives market is starting to show some cracks, and at some point this is going to become a major disaster.

Remember, the 9 largest U.S. banks have a total of more than 200 trillion dollars of exposure to derivatives.  When this bubble completely bursts it is going to be impossible to fix.

#4 LEAP/E2020 Warning

LEAP/E2020 has issued a red alert for the global financial system for this fall.  They are warning that the “second half of 2012” will represent a “major inflection point” for the global economic system….

The shock of the autumn 2008 will seem like a small summer storm compared to what will affect planet in several months.

In fact LEAP/E2020 has never seen the chronological convergence of such a series of explosive and so fundamental factors (economy, finances, geopolitical…) since 2006, the start of its work on the global systemic crisis. Logically, in our modest attempt to regularly publish a “crisis weather forecast”, we must therefore give our readers a “Red Alert” because the upcoming events which are readying themselves to shake the world system next September/ October belong to this category.

#5 Increasing Pessimism

One recent survey of corporate executives found that only 20 percent of them expect the global economy to improve over the next 12 months and 48 percent of them expect the global economy to get worse over the next 12 months.

#6 Spain

The Spanish financial system is basically a total nightmare at this point.  Moody’s recently downgraded Spanish debt to one level above junk status, and earlier this week Moody’s downgraded the credit ratings of 28 major Spanish banks.

According to CNBC, Spain’s short-term borrowing costs are now about three times higher than they were just one month ago….

Spain’s short-term borrowing costs nearly tripled at auction on Tuesday, underlining the country’s precarious finances as it struggles against recession and juggles with a debt crisis among its newly downgraded banks.

The yield paid on a 3-month bill was 2.362 percent, up from just 0.846 percent a month ago. For six-month paper, it leapt to 3.237 percent from 1.737 percent in May.

Needless to say, this is very, very bad news.

#7 Italy

The situation in Italy continues to deteriorate and many analysts believe that it could be one of the next dominoes to fall.  The following is from a recent Businessweek article….

The euro zone’s third-biggest economy is seen as the next domino at risk of toppling after the European Union’s June 9 deal to lend Spain $125 billion in bank bailout funds. Yields on Italy’s 10-year government bonds reached 6.2 percent on June 13, up from just 4.8 percent in March. By pushing up Italy’s borrowing costs out of fear of default, investors are making a default more likely. 

A recent Fortune article detailed some of the economic fundamentals that have so many economists deeply concerned about the Italian economy right now….

The main glaring risk threats that could propel Italy down the path to become Europe’s next domino is the size of country’s outstanding debt (at €1.9 trillion or 120% of GDP); the mountain of debt it has to roll over in the next 12 months (nearly €400 billion); and the market’s cracking credibility around Prime Minister Mario Monti’s ability to reduce the country’s fiscal footprint and spur growth.

Further, fear around Italy’s creditworthiness, which has recently been expressed by near cycle highs in sovereign CDS spreads and government yields on the 10-year bond, follow some rather glaring negative fundamentals over recent quarters and years:  declining GDP over the last three consecutive quarters; a rising unemployment rate (especially among its youth); deterioration in labor market competitiveness; and increased competition for export goods to its key trading partners.

#8 Greece

I have written extensively about the financial nightmare that is unfolding in Greece.  Unemployment has soared past the 20 percent mark, youth unemployment is above 50 percent, the Greek economy has contracted by close to 25 percent over the past four years and now Greek politicians are saying that a third bailout package may be necessary.

#9 Cyprus

The tiny island nation of Cyprus has become the fifth member of the eurozone to formally request a bailout.  This is yet another sign that the eurozone is rapidly falling apart.

#10 Germany

German Chancellor Angela Merkel continues to promote an austerity path for Europe and she continues to maintain her very firm position against any kind of eurozone debt sharing….

Merkel, speaking to a conference in Berlin today as Spain announced it would formally seek aid for its banks, dismissed “euro bonds, euro bills and European deposit insurance with joint liability and much more” as “economically wrong and counterproductive,” saying that they ran against the German constitution.

“It’s not a bold prediction to say that in Brussels most eyes — all eyes — will be on Germany yet again,” Merkel said. “I say quite openly: when I think of the summit on Thursday I’m concerned that once again the discussion will be far too much about all kinds of ideas for joint liability and far too little about improved oversight and structural measures.”

In fact, Merkel says that there will be no eurobonds “as long as I live“.  This means that there will be no “quick fix” for the problems that are unfolding in Europe.

#11 Bank Runs

Every single day, hundreds of millions of dollars is being pulled out of banks in southern Europe.  Much of that money is being transferred to banks in northern Europe.

In a previous article I included an extremely alarming quote from a CNBC article about the unfolding banking crisis in Europe….

Financial advisers and private bankers whose clients have accounts too large to be covered by a Europe-wide guarantee on deposits up to 100,000 euros ($125,000), are reporting a “bank run by wire transfer” that has picked up during May.

Much of this money has headed north to banks in London, Frankfurt and Geneva, financial advisers say.

“It’s been an ongoing process but it certainly picked up pace a couple of weeks ago We believe there is a continuous 2-3 year bank run by wire transfer,” said Lorne Baring, managing director at B Capital, a Geneva-based pan European wealth management firm.

How long can these bank runs continue before banking systems start to collapse?

#12 Preparations For The Collapse Of The Eurozone

As I have written about previously, the smart money has already written off southern Europe.  All over the continent major financial institutions are preparing for the worst.  For example, just check out what Visa Europe is doing….

Visa Europe is holding weekly meetings to discuss scenarios in the event the euro zone collapses, joining other companies that are preparing for a potential breakup of the currency bloc.

Chief Commercial Officer Steve Perry said Tuesday that management at the U.K.-based credit-card company meets weekly to explore various possible outcomes, including a total collapse of the euro zone.

#13 Global Lending Is Slowing Down

All over the globe the flow of credit is beginning to freeze up.  In fact, the Bank for International Settlements says that worldwide lending is contracting at the fastest pace since the financial crisis of 2008.

#14 Sophisticated Cyber Attacks On Banks

It is being reported that “very sophisticated” hackers have successfully raided dozens of banks in Europe.  So far, it is being estimated that they have stolen 60 million euros….

Sixty million euro has been stolen from bank accounts in a massive cyber bank raid after fraudsters raided dozens of financial institutions around the world.

According to a joint report by software security firm McAfee and Guardian Analytics, more than 60 firms have suffered from what it has called an “insider level of understanding”.

What happens someday if we wake up and all the money in the banks is gone?

#15 U.S. Municipal Bankruptcies

All over the United States there are cities and towns on the verge of financial disaster.  This week Stockton, California became the largest U.S. city to ever declare bankruptcy, but the reality is that this is only just the beginning of the municipal debt crisis….

Stockton, California, said it will file for bankruptcy after talks with bondholders and labor unions failed, making the agricultural center the biggest U.S. city to seek court protection from creditors.

“The city is fiscally insolvent and must seek Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection,” Stockton said in a statement released yesterday after its council voted 6-1 to adopt a spending plan for operating under bankruptcy protection.

#16 The Obamacare Decision

The U.S. economy is already a complete and total mess, and now the Obamacare decision is going to throw a huge wet blanket on it.  All over America, small business owners are saying that they are going to have to let some workers go because they cannot afford to keep them all under Obamacare.  It would be hard to imagine a more job killing law than Obamacare, and now that the Supreme Court decision has finally been announced we are going to see many businesses making some really hard decisions.

#17 The U.S. Election

It is being reported that Barack Obama is putting together an army of “thousands of lawyers” to deal with any disputes that arise over voting procedures or results.  It certainly looks like this upcoming election is going to be extremely close, and there is the potential that we could end up facing another Bush v. Gore scenario where the fate of the presidency is determined in court.  This campaign season is likely to be exceptionally nasty, and I fear what may happen if there is not a decisive winner on election day.  The possibility of significant civil unrest is certainly there.

We definitely live in “interesting” times.

Personally, I am deeply concerned about the September, October, November time frame.

The other day, Joe Biden delivered a speech in which he made the following statement….

“It’s A Depression For Millions And Millions Of Americans”

And what Biden said was right for once.  Millions of Americans are out of work right now and millions of Americans have fallen out of the middle class in recent years.  If you have lost everything, it does feel like you are living through a depression.

When people lose everything, they tend to get desperate.  And desperate people do desperate things – especially when they are angry.

A whole host of recent opinion polls have shown that anger and frustration in the United States are rising to unprecedented levels.  The ingredients are certainly there for an explosion.  Someone just needs to come along and light the fuse.  We truly do live in frightening times.

Let us hope for the best, but let us also prepare for the worst.

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