While we are not predicting that the proverbial "wheels are about the come off the cart," today, this is another in a long list of indications that value in the stock market is no longer present. Of course, this would also suggest this might be, just maybe, a time to start considering "selling high." Of course, such a suggestion is wildly ludicrous and absolutely illogical since it is widely believed that the markets will never go down...ever.
The uncorrected half-cycle advance since 2009 has been accompanied by a resurgence of proponents advocating that stocks should simply be bought and held indefinitely, regardless of price. As Graham & Dodd warned, "it is important to note that mass speculation can flourish only in such an atmosphere of illogic and unreality." The over-arching reality is that there is a cliff at the edge of what appears to be a permanently high plateau.
This won't last... here's 3 reasons to consider why...
We are repeatedly reminded by many pundits that the stock market is in a bubble, and that when QE programs end stock markets will "crash". But it seems that the bubble is in cash, not in stocks.
Martin Feldstein, Harvard University professor alludes to what many in the financial community recognize that risk-taking is out of control.
There is an ongoing belief that the current financial market trends will continue to head only higher. This is a dangerous concept that is only seen near peaks of cyclical bull market cycles.The problem for most investors is that by they time they recognize the change in the underlying dynamics, it will be too late to be proactive. This is where the real damage occurs as emotionally driven, reactive, behaviors dominate logical investment processes.
The stock market is presently a roulette wheel with dimes on black and dynamite on red... The ‘buy the dip’ mentality can introduce periodic recovery attempts even in markets that are quite precarious from a full cycle perspective. Galbraith reminds us that the 1929 market crash did not have observable catalysts: “the crash did not come – as some have suggested – because the market suddenly became aware that a serious depression was in the offing... for it is in the nature of a speculative boom that almost anything can collapse it."
There has been much discussion as of late about the end of the current quantitative easing program and the beginning of the Federal Reserve "normalizing" interest rates. The primary assumption is that as interest rates normalize, the financial markets will continue to rise as economic growth strengthens. While this certainly seems like a logical assumption, is it really the case?
Occam’s razor is a principle that states that among various hypotheses that might be used to explain a set of observations, the hypothesis – consistent with the evidence – that relies on the smallest number of assumptions is generally preferred. Essentially, the razor shaves away what is unnecessary and retains the most compact explanation that is consistent with the data. When we observe the increasingly tortured arguments that “this time is different,” we see investors discarding straightforward explanations that are fully consistent with the evidence and opting instead for the aliens-from-Xenon theory. nothing even in recent market cycles provides any support to the assumption of permanently elevated valuations. The only support for it is the desire of investors to avoid contemplating outcomes the same as the market suffered the last two times around. “This time is different” requires a lot of counterfactual assumptions. Occam’s razor would suggest a nice shave.
While the current bull market remains "bulletproof" at the moment to geopolitical events, technical deterioration, overbought conditions and extremely complacent conditions; it is worth remembering what was being said during the third phase of the previous two bull markets...
When investors hear "bull markets are bull markets until they aren't," their initial response is "no, duh!." However, if that statement is so obvious, why do we spend so much time in trying to predict the future? It is interesting that we are extremely skeptical of fortune tellers, palm readers and psychics but flock to Wall Street analysts and economists that are nothing more than "fortune tellers" in suits. The reality is that no one is actually prescient. It is all a "best guess" with nothing assured except what "is." Currently, the bull market cycle that began in 2009 remains intact. It is, what "is." The hypnotic chant of the "bullish mantra" will lull individuals from a momentary state of consciousness back into the dream world of complacency. It is from that place that investors have typically harbored the worst outcomes.
"Blessed are the young, for they shall inherit the National Debt." - Herbert Hoover
The roll off of the massive slice of the population known as "baby boomers" in the years ahead will have a significant and profound impact on the economy and the markets. In my opinion, there is simply not enough attention paid this issue and it is an important one. However, since demographic impacts take a very long time to mature, they are ignored by the mainstream media which are focused on the 24-hour news and market cycles.
"Everybody knows interest rates are going to rise." Whether you agree with this premise, or not, is largely irrelevant to this discussion. The current "bullish" mantra is the "great bond bull market is dead, long live the stock market bull." However, is that really the case? When the bond bubble ends this means that bonds will begin to decline, potentially rapidly, in price driving interest rates higher. This is the worst thing that could possible happen.
Despite much hope that the current breakout of the markets is the beginning of a new secular "bull" market - the economic and fundamental variables suggest otherwise. Valuations and sentiment are at very elevated levels while interest rates, inflation, wages and savings rates are all at historically low levels. This set of fundamental variables are normally seen at the end of secular bull market periods. It is entirely conceivable that stock prices can be driven higher through the Federal Reserve's ongoing interventions, current momentum, and excessive optimism. However, the current economic variables, demographic trends and underlying fundamentals make it currently impossible to "replay the tape" of the 80's and 90's. These dynamics increase the potential of a rather nasty mean reversion at some point in the future. The good news is that it is precisely that reversion that will likely create the "set up" necessary to launch the next great secular bull market. However, as was seen at the bottom of the market in 1974, there were few individual investors left to enjoy the beginning of that ride.
While the only fun-durr-mentals that matter appear to be global central bank liquidity injections (and thus the level of leverage entrusted to the JPY carry trade), the crowd is swayed by truthisms and "common knowledge" memes that recovery is here, that things are improving, that earnings are 'solid', that markets are still cheap, and that historical analogs are different this time. However, with monetary policy at a turning point, we also appear (fundamentally and technically) to be at "the inflection point from self-reinforcing speculation to fragile instability."