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.

14 Facts About The Absolutely Crazy Internet Stock Bubble That Could Crash And Burn In 2014

TwitterShouldn’t Internet companies actually “make a profit” at some point before being considered worth billions of dollars?  A lot of investors laugh when they look back at the foolishness of the “Dotcom bubble” of the late 1990s, but the tech bubble that is inflating right in front of our eyes today is actually far worse.  For example, what would you say if I told you that a seven-year-old company that has a long history of not being profitable and that actually lost 64 million dollars last quarter is worth more than 13 billion dollars?  You would probably say that I was insane, but the company that I have just described is Twitter and Wall Street is going crazy for it right now.  Please don’t get me wrong – I actually love Twitter.  On my Twitter account I have sent out thousands of “tweets”.  Twitter is a lot of fun, and it has had a huge impact on the entire planet.  But is it worth 13 billion dollars?  Of course not.

When it comes to the Internet, what is hot today will probably not be hot tomorrow.

Do you remember MySpace?

At one time, MySpace was considered to be the undisputed king of social media.  But then something better came along (Facebook) and killed it.

It is important to keep in mind that Facebook did not even exist ten years ago.  Yes, almost everybody is using it today, but will everybody still be using it a decade from now?

Maybe.

But the way that the financial markets are valuing these firms can only be justified if they are going to make absolutely massive profits for many decades to come.

Will Twitter eventually make a little bit of money?

Probably, as long as they get their act together.

In fact, Twitter should be making significant amounts of money right now if it was being run correctly.

But will Twitter ever make 13 billion dollars?

No, that simply is not going to happen.  But that is what Wall Street says that Twitter is worth.

The utter foolishness that we are witnessing on Wall Street right now is so similar to what we saw back in the late 1990s.  It is almost as if we have learned nothing from our past mistakes.

These days I keep having flashbacks of the Pets.com sock puppet.  For those too young to remember, the following is a brief summary from Investopedia about what happened to Pets.com…

It’s impossible to think of the first Internet era without thinking of the Pets.com sock puppet. He was everywhere and was nearly as well-known as the Geico gecko is today.

That familiarity, in part, persuaded many investors to lay down money in the company’s February 2000 IPO (which was backed by Amazon.com). Pets.com raised $82.5 million – but nine months later it folded, due to major recurring losses. Part of the reason for that was aggressive advertising, but the company also lost money on virtually every item it sold. In the third quarter of 2000, Pets.com reported negative gross margins of $277,000. (The second quarter had seen a $1.7 million margin loss.) That same quarter (its last full quarter as an operating entity), the company lost $21.7 million on $9.4 million in revenue.

As for the puppet, he went on to shill for BarNone, which helps people with bad credit histories get car loans. He’s still there today, front and center on that website.

Everyone loves to laugh at the poor little sock puppet, but the truth is that the tech bubble that is inflating right now is far worse than the Dotcom bubble of the late 1990s.  The following are 14 facts about the current tech bubble that will blow your mind…

#1 In just a few days, the Twitter IPO is expected to raise close to 2 billion dollars even though Twitter actually lost 64.6 million dollars last quarter and has a long history of not being profitable.

#2 It is being projected that after the IPO Twitter could have a market valuation of more than 13 billion dollars.

#3 Twitter is not expected to make a profit until 2015 at the earliest.

#4 According to CNBC, Pinterest is currently valued at 3.8 billion dollars even though it has never earned a profit.

#5 Yahoo paid more than a billion dollars for Tumblr even though Tumblr’s revenues are so small that Yahoo is not even required to report them on financial statements.

#6 Snapchat, an Internet service that allows people to send out messages that “self-destruct”, is supposedly worth 4 billion dollars.  But it actually has zero revenue coming in, and many believe that it is essentially worthless as a money making enterprise.  For one extensive analysis by a tech blogger, please see this article.

#7 The stock of Rocket Fuel, an online advertising company, is trading at about 60 dollars a share and it has a market valuation of about 2 billion dollars even though it has never made a profit.

#8 The stock of local business review website Yelp is up 241 percent this year even though it has never earned a quarterly profit.

#9 Fab.com just raised 165 million dollars from investors even though it recently laid off 44o employees.

#10 LinkedIn stock has risen in price by 136 percent since the 2011 IPO, and it is now supposedly worth more than 18 billion dollars.

#11 The head of engineering at Twitter, Chris Fry, got a 10.3 million dollar pay package when he joined Twitter last year.

#12 Facebook’s VP of engineering, Mike Schroepfer, earned 24.4 million dollars in 2011.

#13 Office rents in San Francisco (where many of these tech companies are based) are now 23 percent higher than they were at the peak of the real estate market in 2008.

#14 Facebook stock is up close to 140 percent over the past 12 months and the company is now worth more than 120 billion dollars.

And I am certainly not the only one that is concerned that we are repeating the mistakes of the late 1990s…

“When you look at valuations and look at the lack of earnings and revenue, it seems to me much like the dot-com bubble,” said Matt McCormick, a money manager at Cincinnati-based Bahl & Gaynor Inc. who helps oversee $10.2 billion. “This market looks a little frothy and Twitter is the personification of a risky trade.”

In fact, as the Wall Street Journal recently noted, we have seen some of these tech stocks crash more than once during the Internet age…

“It’s fascinating to me that today’s mini-mania includes shares of Amazon, Netflix and Priceline that have previously peaked and crashed before—in some cases they’ve peaked and crashed twice before,” says Darren Pollock, portfolio manager at Cheviot Value Management. “Stocks like these have again captured the imagination of speculators. We’re skeptical that there is enough underlying intrinsic value to many of the highfliers to support today’s prices.”

So how long will it be until the current tech bubble implodes?

That is a very good question.  Please feel free to share what you think by posting a comment below…

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