From GMO's Monthly Commentary
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness …”
- A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
While all eyes were on Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen in Jackson Hole, we were watching something else. In August, the Shiller P/E, a well-regarded metric for measuring the valuation of U.S. equities, breached 27. Given that its normal range is something a bit above 16, valuations are looking rather stretched. Further, the last time the Shiller P/E was above 27 was in October … 2007. And we all know how that movie ended.
While nobody here at GMO is saying that a crash is imminent (and there’s no law that says stocks cannot become even more expensive), we continue to maintain our bias against U.S. stocks. We will also take this end-of-summer moment to point out the yawning disconnect between fundamentals (of the U.S. economy and even corporate America) and their stocks. It really is a tale of two cities, one of mediocre fundamentals versus a meteoric rise in markets (see the chart below).
We pulled together some meaningful metrics on the health of the economy and some top-line/bottom-line numbers on the S&P 500 Index: GDP growth, productivity, and household income, as well as a few others, including revenue and earnings for U.S. stocks, for good measure.
It is a tale of mediocrity, at best. Then, we contrasted those with the actual market returns of the S&P 500 Index over the past five years. Truly meteoric. (As an aside, we at GMO have always been leery of drawing too many investment conclusions from staring at economic data—we are more valuation-oriented, after all—but even we are struck by the divergence.)
Which brings us back to the Shiller P/E. Much of the run-up over the past few years has been primarily about multiple expansions. And the scary thing about multiple expansions is that they are reliably mean-reverting—if they run too far, the market always takes it back, sometimes with a vengeance. And we are currently almost 70% too far.