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Bill Smith
Bill Smith
Articles (43) 

Market Musings: Current Market Valuations, May 2011

May 30, 2011 | About:

The S&P500 finished last week at 1331, which is about a 6.6% gain YTD. However, market valuations remain, in my opinion, over-priced (as we’ll get to in a moment).

My goal in providing these periodic updates is to review the market’s valuation from a couple of different perspectives, as originally outlined here.

I review this information continually to make allocation and contribution decisions in my personal 401K, which only offers five index funds. My aim is to keep it simple, and focus on valuation levels and the likely outcomes for stock/bond returns looking forward, and then invest accordingly. Providing this review is a byproduct of this process.

I should point out, that although there’s a lot of hand wringing going on out there about the market and the economy, this series ignores the macro-economic picture. As you’ll see below, that information is simply not germane in the review.


Take a moment and look at the metrics below of expected returns and timeframes, compiled as of May 28, 2011:


Expected Return (as of May)

Expected Return

(as of April)

Timeframe (Years)









AAA Corp Bond Index




The Expected Market Return vs the T-Bill:Let’s start with a mental experiment.

Imagine for a moment, that your only two choices for investment were the S&P500 and the 10 Year T-bill. Which would you pick right now to invest in?

Judging by these numbers, the 0.65% spread between the expected market return and the T-bill represents a 20% margin of safety. In April the spread was 0.14% and represented a 3.9% margin—basically a toss-up. However, when viewed in the context of inflation, neither figure is much better than the long-term inflation rate.

Think of it this way. If you’re going to lock up money for the next 8-10 years, would you rather have it earn a likely 3.8% in stocks or a definite 3.15% in T-bills? At what point would the spread between the two make you pick stocks over the T-bill?

The Expected Market Return vs the Corporate Bond:

Recall, that in any particular company, it’s a given that stock investors, due to the increased risk with their investment, should earn higher returns than the bond holders. Additionally, we generally accept the S&P to be a proxy for business common stock—the stock of the average American company as it were. In like fashion, the AAA Corporate Bond Index can also be thought of as a proxy for business debt—or the bonds of the average American company.

Continuing the mental experiment, now imagine for a moment, that your only two choices for investment were the S&P500 and AAA corporate bonds. Which would you pick right now, knowing that you should get a lower return from corporate bonds?

The data implies that you can earn a likely 3.8% return from the average American stock or 5.8% from the average American company’s debt. It seems to me the relationship between returns is backwards… and by a significant degree; the margin of safety is not in your favor.

Additionally, when viewed in the context of inflation, it seems corporate bonds would be the better choice to preserve purchasing power, and not the stock market at current levels.

Conclusion: based on the above review of likely outcomes, it appears the market continues to be over-priced.

About the author:

Bill Smith
I'm an IT professional and a private individual value investor with degrees in electronic engineering and business economics. My major investment influence is Warren Buffett--finding "wonderful companies trading at wonderful prices".

Rating: 3.5/5 (11 votes)


Laxman310 - 6 years ago    Report SPAM
Although you mention your limited alternative investment opportunities, I still think your analysis is rather simplistic, although kinda accurate.

If you look at the normalized price/earnings of the S&P over the past 20 years, or the S&P earnings to GDP, you'll see that the market is in fact moderately overpriced (about 5-10% overpriced).

Here's the problem. If you pick a fixed income investment, you lock in a rate and you take the risk that the fed hikes rates, and your bond becomes worth less than what you payed. The likelyhood of that occuring is high considering historically low rates. If you pick a T-bill, your margin of safety for beating the long term inflation rate of 3% is 0.15%. At least if you invest in the S&P your future earnings will be adjusted for inflation.

Now, if your argument is to invest in short term (1-2 year) fixed investments, and then capitalize on a market hiccup, thats a better strategy.

Really, you should just dollar cost average in any sort of retirement account.

Doctor Investor
Mikewen - 6 years ago    Report SPAM
Well, if you compare earning yield and bond yield of some high quality large caps, equity looks much better than bonds:

Just look at the spread between earning yield and bond yields of:\


Bill Smith
Bill Smith - 6 years ago    Report SPAM
Laxman: thanks for the post. There's nothing wrong with simple if it leads me to sensible actions. I'd rather be approximately right, than precisely wrong :-)

The TMC/GDP ratio itself is at 0.965, and means modestly overvalued. If you're unfamiliar with the ratio, please read this on Gurufocus. It describes the metric in detail, and how to estimate future expected returns.

In the interest of brevity in the article, I linked to my previous article that laid out the concept. For convenience here it is. You'll find that it's a valuation-informed method of dollar cost averaging and asset allocation, adapted from Ben Graham's counsel in The Intelligent Investor. In the 401K, there are only 5 indices to choose from: 3 equity, 1 aggregate bond index, and 1 short-term (built on the 90-day T-bill). Not a lot to pick from. The account currently sits at 25% in the S&P, down from 75% back in October when valuations were cheaper. So yes, it's currently situated to capitalize on market hiccups...and that's the idea. [u][/u]



Bill Smith
Bill Smith - 6 years ago    Report SPAM
Mikewen: see my previous comment, no individual stock picks in the 401K for me, just indices.
Adib Motiwala
Adib Motiwala - 6 years ago    Report SPAM
Can anyone say what the total market cap for US stocks is compared to GDP. I think thats a way of looking at P/S for the entire US.

Market Cap would be the P. and GDP the S. ...
Bill Smith
Bill Smith - 6 years ago    Report SPAM
Hi, Adib: it's 0.965. You're correct, TMC/GDP is a P/S ratio, which factors in P/E & profit margins as well:

P/S = P/E * E/S

in this case:


E = corporate profits

Adib Motiwala
Adib Motiwala - 6 years ago    Report SPAM
Thanks Brewerdude.!

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