Stock Market Valuation is Stretched on Long-term Basis

By: Prieur du Plessis | Tue, Mar 16, 2010
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With the S&P 500 Index and a number of other benchmark stock market indices flirting with cycle highs, I will be monitoring things very closely over the next few days to see if the market's overbought condition spells more downside potential than an expected consolidation. Or will the Index surprise us and fly trough the 1,151 area?

In addition to being overbought, the S&P 500 is also now expensively valued on a long-term cyclically adjusted PE (CAPE) basis, according to Robert Shiller, economics professor at Yale and author of, among others, Animal Spirits, Subprime Solution and Irrational Exuberance.

In order not to work with notoriously unreliable forward-looking earnings estimates, I have always preferred using Shiller's CAPE methodology, or normalised earnings, as they average ten years of earnings. This measure provides a good picture of the market's value regardless of where we are in the business cycle. I have therefore been updating a CAPE chart for a number of years. On this basis, the multiple has increased to 20.5 since the March low of 13.3, representing an overvaluation of 25.0% when compared to a long-term average of 16.4.

"Where breadth goes, the market usually follows," goes an old market saying. Breadth indicators are useful tools to assess the inner workings of the market's rallies or corrections, and are used to identify strength or weakness behind market moves, i.e. to assess how the bulls and the bears are exerting themselves.

One such measure is net new highs, calculated by subtracting the number of new 52-week lows from the number of new 52-week highs (see top pane in the chart below). This indicator often peaks before the price index, as was the case in January. It has also been falling sharply over the past few days. Is this again a precursor to a lower S&P 500 (bottom pane)?


I stand by my summary in my Words from the Wise review on Sunday: Although the fat lady has not yet made her appearance to signal the end of the bull cycle, the steepness of the nascent rally, together with resistance in the area of the January highs, could result in stock markets consolidating in order to work off a short-term overbought condition. On the fundamental front, tighter money does not necessarily spell a declining stock market, but turning off the "juice" will certainly remove a tailwind, making earnings growth the key determinant for generating further gains (especially in light of stretched valuations).

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Prieur du Plessis

Author: Prieur du Plessis

Dr Prieur du Plessis

Dr Prieur du Plessis

With 25 years' experience in investment research and portfolio management, Dr Prieur du Plessis is one of the most experienced and well-known investment professionals in South Africa. More than 1 000 of his articles on investment-related topics have been published in various regular newspaper, journal and Internet columns. He also published a book, Financial Basics: Investment, in 2002.

He holds the following degrees: BSc (Quantity Surveying) (Cape Town), HonsB (B & A) (cum laude) (Stellenbosch), MBA (cum laude) (Stellenbosch); and DBA (Doctor of Financial Management) (Stellenbosch).

Prieur is chairman of the Plexus group of companies, which he founded in 1995. Previously he was general manager: portfolio management at Sanlam, responsible for the management of investment portfolios with total assets in excess of $5 billion.

Plexus is a pioneer in the mutual fund industry and has achieved a number of firsts under Prieur's leadership. These include the authoritative Plexus Survey, a quarterly analysis of the consistency of the performance of unit trust management companies, the Plexus Offshore Survey, the Plexus Unit Trust Indices, and the PlexCrown Fund Ratings.

Plexus is the South African partner of John Mauldin, American author of the most widely distributed investment newsletter in the world, and also has an exclusive licensing agreement with California-based Research Affiliates for managing and distributing its enhanced Fundamental Index™ methodology in the Pan-African area.

In 2001 Prieur received the Santam/AHI Business Leader of the Year award for corporate leadership, business acumen and entrepreneurial flair. He was also profiled in the book South Africa's Leading Managers (2006). Plexus received the AHI/Old Mutual Enterprise of the Year award in 1997 and was also included in the book South Africa's Most Promising Companies (2005).

Prieur is 52 years old and lives with his wife, TV producer and presenter Isabel Verwey, and two children in Welgemoed, Cape Town. His recreational activities include long-distance running, motor cycling and reading. He belongs to the Cape Town Club, Johannesburg Country Club, Gordon's Bay Yacht Club and Swiss Social & Sports Club.

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