Sunday, April 2, 2017

High CAPE ratio making me nervous

It's already high enough to make me nervous ... the CAPE ratio is one of the best indicators, or I might say the best indicator, if you look at one alone, for the outlook in the long run for stocks. It's high now; and in the past when it's been this high, it hasn't done well.

I'm just playing the game a little bit here, and thinking, in the shorter run, this rally — I can start to see reasons for it, and I'm thinking about those reasons.

This is not a typical bull market with a lot of excitement. It's more of an anxious market where people are afraid of secular stagnation, of losing their jobs to foreigners, or to computers. And they have kind of a wishful-thinking bias about investments like stocks. It's the only way I can understand it. 

I'm not going to plunge into the market. I'm holding steady; I'm not pulling out, either. If I was giving you advice: Do nothing. Don't pull out. Don't go in," the Nobel laureate economist said Tuesday. "I'm sounding very standard right now. I still suspect there is more left in the Trump rally. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Long term investors could reduce risks by selling some stocks

Long-term investors ought to use the recent market rally to cut back on their equity holdings, according to Yale professor of economics Robert Shiller.

The S&P 500 forward price-earnings ratio, a common measure of market valuations that compares the index's current price to analysts' consensus expectation for earnings over the next year, is now at the highest level since 2004, according to information from S&P Global.

The cyclically adjusted price-earnings (or CAPE) ratio developed by Shiller shows even greater overvaluation; that metric, which compares current prices to average earnings over the past 10 years adjusted for inflation, is more elevated than it's been since 2002.

The CAPE ratio, which aims to measure earnings over the course of an entire business cycle, is "high enough to worry about," Shiller said Thursday on CNBC's "Trading Nation." "At this level, it suggests that the expected returns for stocks might be negative, but only slightly so."

Shiller is quick to add that since short-term moves are nigh impossible to forecast, the metric "is not suggesting, necessarily, any imminent disaster."

Still, the current level of the CAPE ratio "would suggest reducing your holdings of stocks, especially for a long-term investor. We can't time the market accurately, but we know that when it's this high, over the long term, it usually doesn't do great."

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Monday, January 23, 2017

US inflation objective of 2 percent

Speculative markets have always been vulnerable to illusion. But seeing the folly in markets provides no clear advantage in forecasting outcomes, because changes in the force of the illusion are difficult to predict.

In the US, two illusions have been important recently in financial markets. One is the carefully nurtured perception that President-elect Donald Trump is a business genius who can apply his deal-making skills to make America great again.

The other is a naturally occurring illusion: the proximity of Dow 20,000. The Dow Jones Industrial Average has been above 19,000 since November, and countless news stories have focused on its flirtation with the 20,000 barrier – which might be crossed by the time this commentary is published. Whatever happens, Dow 20,000 will still have a psychological impact on markets.

Trump has never been clear and consistent about what he will do as president. Tax cuts are clearly on his agenda, and the stimulus could lead to higher asset prices. Lower corporate taxes are naturally supposed to lead to higher share prices, while cuts in personal income tax might lead to higher home prices (though possibly offset by other changes in the tax system).

But it is not just Trump’s proposed tax changes that plausibly affect market psychology. The US has never had a president like him. Not only is he an actor, like Ronald Reagan; he is also a motivational writer and speaker, a brand name in real estate, and a tough deal maker. If he ever reveals his financial information, or if his family is able to use his influence as president to improve its bottom line, he might even prove to be successful in business.

The closest we can come to Trump among former US presidents might be Calvin Coolidge, an extremely pro-business tax cutter. “The chief business of the American people is business,” Coolidge famously declared, while his treasury secretary, Andrew Mellon – one of America’s wealthiest men – advocated tax cuts for the rich, which would “trickle down” in benefits to the less fortunate.

The US economy during the Coolidge administration was very successful, but the boom ended badly in 1929, just after Coolidge stepped down, with the stock-market crash and the beginning of the Great Depression. During the 1930s, the 1920s were looked upon wistfully, but also as a time of fakery and cheating.

Of course, history is never destiny, and Coolidge is only one observation – hardly a solid basis for a forecast. Moreover, unlike Trump, both Coolidge and Mellon were levelheaded and temperate in their manner.

But add to the Trump effect all the attention paid to Dow 20,000, and we have the makings of a powerful illusion. On 10 November 2016, two days after Trump was elected, the Dow Jones average hit a new record high – and has since set 16 more daily records, all trumpeted by news media.

That sounds like important news for Trump. In fact, the Dow had already hit nine record highs before the election, when Hillary Clinton was projected to win. In nominal terms, the Dow is up 70% from its peak in January 2000. On 29 November 2016, it was announced that the S&P/CoreLogic/Case-Shiller national home Price index (which I co-founded with my esteemed former colleague Karl E Case, who died last July) reached a record high the previous September. The previous record was set more than 10 years earlier, in July 2006.

But these numbers are illusory. The US has a policy of overall inflation. The US Federal Reserve has set an inflation “objective” of 2% in terms of the personal consumption expenditure deflator. This means all prices should tend to go up by about 2% per year, or 22% per decade.

The Dow is up only 19% in real (inflation-adjusted) terms since 2000. A 19% increase in 17 years is underwhelming, and the national home price index that Case and I created is still 16% below its 2006 peak in real terms. But hardly anyone focuses on these inflation-corrected numbers.

The Fed, like the world’s other central banks, is steadily debasing the currency to create inflation. A Google Ngrams search of books shows that use of the term “inflation-targeting” began growing exponentially in the early 1990s, when the target was typically far below actual inflation.

The idea that we actually want moderate positive inflation – “price stability,” not zero inflation – appears to have started to take shape in policy circles around the time of the 1990-91 recession. Lawrence Summers argued that the public has an “irrational” resistance to the declining nominal wages that some would have to suffer in a zero-inflation regime.

Many people appear not to understand that inflation is a change in the units of measurement. Unfortunately, though the 2% inflation target is largely a feelgood policy, people tend to draw too much inspiration from it. Irving Fisher called this fixation on nominal price growth the “money illusion” in an eponymous 1928 book.

That doesn’t mean that we set new speculative-market records every day. Stock-price movements tend to approximate what economists call “random walks,” with prices reflecting small daily shocks that are about equally likely to be positive or negative.

And random walks tend to go through long periods when they are well below their previous peak; the chance of setting a record soon is negligible, given how far prices would have to rise. But once they do reach a new record high, prices are far more likely to set additional records – probably not on consecutive days, but within a short interval.

In the US, the combination of Trump and a succession of new asset-price records – call it Trump-squared – has been sustaining the illusion underpinning current market optimism. For those who are not too stressed from having taken extreme positions in the markets, it will be interesting (if not profitable) to observe how the illusion morphs into a new perception – one that implies very different levels for speculative markets.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Donald Trump does magic


Trump does magic. Maybe it will be black magic sometime, but he's an amazing phenomenon. He's the fundamental right now. It's all Trump. He's in charge, and it's really making a change.

We believe that psychology drives the macro economy, and there's something changing our psychology. We have a business-oriented president who wants to cut corporate taxes, who wants to cut regulations, and who sympathizes with business. Maybe it's not a good thing — it's a good thing for business, though.

Once people start to believe that it's a new era, it could go on for a while, even if it's unfounded. It's about human psychology, and it's what they call self-fulfilling prophesy.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

CAPE ratio is now over 27

The cyclically adjusted P/E (CAPE), a valuation measure created by economist Robert Shiller now stands over 27 and has been exceeded only in the 1929 mania, the 2000 tech mania and the 2007 housing and stock bubble.