Stock Market Valuation: September 1, 2011

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Sep 02, 2011
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I started this monthly market valuation series in December 2009. The motivation for the article was to debunk the pundits stating that the market was overvalued because PE TTM was 87. This was ridiculous because earnings were deflated by the worst economic crisis since the great depression. However, the question was how to value the market from a purely quantitative methodology; while ignoring all the outside noise and macro predictions of where the economy is headed. I looked for several different metrics to evaluate the market which over time have proven to be effective and decided to look at all the metrics, instead of just focusing on the last 12 months of earnings.

I was contemplating only updating the valuations on a quarterly basis, since why is there a need every month? However, the market continues to be quite volatile, I consider it useful to evaluate on a monthly basis. When volatility truly gets to lower levels, it will suffice to update these series on a quarterly basis.

What a difference a month makes! In my market valuation article on June 2, 2011, I stated: I find the current valuations astonishing. No I am not referring to LinkedIn or Groupon or the high fliers. The overall market is so overvalued considering the macro picture. I am not a macro investor, but Wall Street is. It makes no sense for the Shiller PE to be at 23 (an earnings yield of 4.3%), when the deficit is out of control, there is inflation across the board except real estate (the one asset class QE2 was really supposed to help!), housing is in a double dip, unemployment cannot come down for years unless there is job growth of 500k a month (close to impossible). Additionally, the euro zone is experiencing a big crisis, Japan suffered a catastrophic humanitarian and economic disaster, and countries like China are starting to get nervous about over heating in their economies.

What further demonstrates the inefficiencies in the market, is the valuation of small caps to large caps. The perma-bulls are looking for companies that have large exposure overseas, especially in emerging markets. However, the large cap companies produce far more of their revenue from overseas than small caps. Yet, large caps are far cheaper than small caps. This really defies logic.

The market declined 5.5% over the past month. Since June 2nd, the S&P500 has decreased 9.4%. I was not predicting that the market would crash, merely that the market would eventually go down to more normalized levels. However, as the data below demonstrates, the market still seems overvalued by most metrics.

The current level of the S&P500 is 1,219, and the Dow is at 11,614 – lower than last month.

I update market valuations on a monthly basis. The point of this article is to measure the stock market based on seven different metrics. This article does not look at the macro picture and try to predict where the economy is headed.

I collaborate with two colleagues of mine for some of the data in this article, Doug Short of Dshort, and Josh of Multipl. All are great sites, and I encourage readers to check them out.

As always, I must mention that just because the market is over or undervalued does not mean that future returns will be high or low. From the mid to late 1990s the market was extremely overvalued and equities kept increasing year after year. In addition, individual stocks can be found that will outperform or underperform the market regardless of current valuations. However, as I note at the end of the article I expect low returns for the overall market over the next ten years based on current valuations when the metrics revert towards their mean.

To see my previous market valuation article from last month click click here

Below are different market valuation metrics as of September 1, 2011:

The current P/E TTM is 15.6, which is slightly higher than the TTM P/E of 15.0 from last month.


This data comes from my colleague Doug Short of Based on this data the market is fairly valued. However, I do not think this is a fair way of valuing the market since it does not account for cyclical peaks or downturns. To get an accurate picture of whether the market is fair valued based on P/E ratio it is more accurate to take several years of earnings.

Numbers from Previous Market lows:


Historic data courtesy of []

Current P/E 10 (Shiller) Year Average 21.04, a decrease from the 23.67 level measured last month.


The current ten-year P/E is 21.04; this is lower than the P/E of 21.04 from the previous month. This number is based on Robert Shiller’s data evaluating the average inflation-adjusted earnings from the previous 10 years.

The Shiller P/E is calculated using the four steps below:
  • Look at the yearly earning of the S&P 500 for each of the past ten years.
  • Adjust these earnings for inflation, using the CPI (i.e., quote each earnings figure in 2011 dollars).
  • Average these values (i.e., add them up and divide by ten), giving us e10.
  • Then take the current price of the S&P 500 and divide by e10.
The common criticism of Shiller’s method is that it includes years like 2008 and 2009 when earnings were awful. However, I would argue that it is balanced out by the bubble years of 05-07. Additionally the Shiller P/E (with the exception of 1995-2000, where the stock market went up to absurd valuations) has been a much better indicator of market bottoms and tops than /PE TTM. Two recent examples: In March 2009, the Shiller PE was at 13, while P/E TTM was at approximately 110. At the market top in October 2007, the Shiller P/E was at a very high level of 27.31, while the P/E TTM was only at 20.68.

Robert Shiller stated in an interview recently that he believes the S&P 500 will be at 1430 in 2020. Shiller believes that based on his metric the market is overvalued, and will offer sub par returns over the next 10 years. This number in my humble opinion is in the danger zone. When the Shiller P/E is above 20, future real returns have usually been below 2% per annum.

Based on my colleague, Rob Bennett’s market return calculator, the returns of the market should be 2.72% annually over the next ten years in the mostly likely scenario.


Stock MarketBest PossibleLuckyMost LikelyUnluckyWorst Possible
10-Year Percentage Returns8.715.712.71-0.29-3.29
20-Year Percentage Returns7.725.723.721.72-0.28
30-Year Percentage Returns8.387.386.385.384.38
40-Year Percentage Returns7.286.385.484.483.48
50-Year Percentage Returns7.296.495.694.994.29
60-Year Percentage Returns7.677.026.375.775.17
Rob states:

This new calculator tells you what return you can reasonably expect at various time-periods from an investment in the S&P stock index, presuming that stocks perform in the future much as they have in the past. The results are expressed in terms of real, annualized total (that is, with dividends reinvested and without additions or subtractions to principal) returns.

My colleague Doug Short thinks the Shiller’s numbers are a bit inaccurate because the number used above does not include the past several months of earnings, nor revisions. Doug calculates P/E 10 at 20.1



Mean: 16.40

Median: 15.78

Min: 4.78 (Dec 1920)

Max: 44.20 (Dec 1999)

Numbers from Previous Market lows:

Mar 2009 13.32

Mar 2003 21.32

Oct 1990 14.82

Nov1987 13.59

Aug 1982 6.64

Oct 1974 8.29

Oct 1966 18.83

Oct 1957 14.15

June 1949 9.07

April 1942 8.54

Mar 1938 12.38

Feb 1933 7.83

July 1932 5.84

Aug 1921 5.16

Dec 1917 6.41

Oct 1914 10.61

Nov 1907 10.59

Nov 1903 16.04

Data and chart courtesy of []

Current P/BV 2.37


I thought the metric would be great for figuring out market returns because as Tweedy Browne and David Dreman demonstrate through extensive research, a basket of the lowest P/B stocks over long periods of time dramatically outperforms the market. It therefore would make sense that the P/B metric would be useful for evaluating the market itself in terms of overvaluation or undervaluation.

Horizon Asset management used the same numbers for P/B provided by Standard and Poors and came up with a whopping 3.68% (for April), according to the same numbers that I used to came up with closer to 2.30%, and so did many other people, including Barron’s. Since the vast majority seems to conclude similar numbers to mine I will go with that figure over Horizon’s. The number that I used, I obtained using data from Barron’s, and updated using the latest change in the price of SPY. I am not sure where Horizon got their data from — no one else has measured book value at such a high rate. Unfortunately, there is very little data regarding P/B. I have been able to find close to no historic data on the metric. Additionally, my number was always an outlier which made me suspect my numbers might be wrong. I even had a Ph.D. student contact me to ask if there was any data available on price/book. I told him no. If you are reading this or anyone else, and have the data, I would be grateful if you sent it to me.

The average price over book value of the S&P over the past 30 years has been 2.41. Book value is considered a better measure of valuation than earnings by many investors including legendary investor Martin Whitman. He states that book value is harder to fudge than earnings (although book value can easily be distorted). In addition, book value is less affected by economic cycles than one year earnings are. P/BV therefore provides a longer term accurate picture of a company’s value than a TTM P/E. I will continue my search for PB numbers.

Current Dividend Yield 2.00


The current dividend yield of the S&P is 2.00. This number is higher than 1.75 from last month. The number is not so low considering the 10-year treasury is yielding 2.23%. Recently as another flight to safety has occurred, treasury yields have gone down, and the stock market has declined, pushing up the dividend yield.


For attractive yield check out my recent article about Australian debt:

It is hard to determine on this basis whether the market is overpriced. The dividend yield for stocks was much higher in the beginning of this century than the later half. The dividend yield on the S&P fell below the yield on 10-year treasurys for the first time in 1958, after the flight to safety when Lehman Brothers collapsed. Many analysts at the time argued that the market was overpriced and the dividend yield should be higher than bond yields to compensate for stock market risk. For the next 50 years the dividend yield remained below the treasury yield and the market rallied significantly. In addition the dividend yield has been below 3% since the early 1990s. While I personally favor individual stocks with high dividend yields, I must admit that the current tax code makes it far favorable for companies to retain earnings than to pay out dividends. Finally, as I noted above, the current economic environment has zero percent interest rates and low bond yields. During periods where yields are low it is logical for income oriented investors hungry for yield to be bid up the market, and dividend yields to decrease. I think it is hard to claim the market is overbought based on the low dividend yield.

Mean: 4.34%

Median: 4.28%

Min: 1.11% (Aug 2000)

Max: 13.84% (Jun 1932)

Numbers from Previous Market lows:

Mar 2009 3.60

Mar 2003 1.92

Oct 1990 3.88

Nov1987 3.58

Aug 1982 6.24

Oct 1974 5.17

Oct 1966 3.73

Oct 1957 4.29

Jun 1949 7.30

Apr 1942 8.67

Mar 1938 7.57

Feb 1933 7.84

July 1932 12.57

Aug 1921 7.44

Dec 1917 10.15

Oct 1914 5.60

Nov 1907 7.04

Nov 1903 5.57

Data and chart courtesy of []

Market Cap to GDP is currently 85.2%, which is significantly lower than the 97.2% level from last month.

Ratio = Total Market Cap / GDPValuation
RatioSignificantly Undervalued
50%Modestly Undervalued
75%Fair Valued
90%Modestly Overvalued
Ratio > 115%Significantly Overvalued
Where are we today (08/31/2011)?Ratio = 85.3%, Fairly valued

In his 2001 Fortune magazine article, Warren Buffett used the ratio of the market value of all U.S. publicly traded securities to Gross National Product (GNP) as a yardstick to measure the stock market valuation. He stated that "The ratio has certain limitations in telling you what you need to know. Still, it is probably the best single measure of where valuations stand at any given moment.” He further went on to say, "If the percentage relationship falls to the 70% or 80% area, buying stocks is likely to work very well for you. If the ratio approaches 200% – as it did in 1999 and a part of 2000 – you are playing with fire.”

According to Barron’s the ratio got as low as 40% in the late 1940s, when investors feared another depression, and in the inflationary 1970s.

Over the long term, the returns from the stock market are determined by these factors:

1. Interest rate

Interest rates “act on financial valuations the way gravity acts on matter: The higher the rate, the greater the downward pull. That’s because the rates of return that investors need from any kind of investment are directly tied to the risk-free rate that they can earn from government securities. So if the government rate rises, the prices of all other investments must adjust downward, to a level that brings their expected rates of return into line. Conversely, if government interest rates fall, the move pushes the prices of all other investments upward.”— Warren Buffett

2. Long Term Growth of Corporate Profitability

Over the long term, corporate profitability reverts to its long term-trend, which is around 6%. During recessions, corporate profit margins shrink, and during economic growth periods, corporate profit margins expand. However, long-term growth of corporate profitability is close to long-term economic growth. The size of the U.S. economy is measured by Gross National Product (GNP). Although GNP is different from GDP (gross domestic product), the two numbers have always been within 1% of each other. For the purpose of calculation, GDP is used here. The U.S. GDP since 1970 is represented by the green line in the first of the three charts to the right.

3. Market Valuations

Over the long run, stock market valuation reverts to its mean. A higher current valuation certainly correlates with lower long-term returns in the future. On the other hand, a lower current valuation level correlates with a higher long-term return. The total market valuation is measured by the ratio of total market cap (TMC) to GNP — the equation representing Warren Buffett’s “best single measure.” This ratio since 1970 is shown in the second chart to the right. calculates and updates this ratio daily. As of 08/31/2011, this ratio is 85.3%.

We can see that, during the past four decades, the TMC/GNP ratio has varied within a very wide range. The lowest point was about 35% in the previous deep recession of 1982, while the highest point was 148% during the tech bubble in 2000. The market went from extremely undervalued in 1982 to extremely overvalued in 2000.

According to Barron’s the ratio got as low as 40% in the late 1940s, when investors feared another depression, and in the inflationary 1970s.

Historic Data:

Min 35% in 1982

Max 148% in 2000.

Data and charts courtesy of

Note from Doug, who compiled the Tobin's Q information: I have low confidence in the Q ratio this month. The Flow of Funds data on which it’s based is increasingly stale. The latest release in June includes data through Q1 2011. The new Flow of Funds release will be available on September 16. I’ll update this commentary that afternoon.

Current Tobin’s Q 1.09 compared to 1.05 from last month.




As can be seen from the above charts, the market is significantly overvalued based on Tobin's Q.

What is Tobin's Q?

Here is a brief explanation from

A ratio devised by James Tobin of Yale University, Nobel laureate in economics, who hypothesized that the combined market value of all the companies on the stock market should be about equal to their replacement costs. The Q ratio is calculated as the market value of a company divided by the replacement value of the firm’s assets:


Investopedia explains Q Ratio (Tobin’s Q Ratio)

For example, a low Q (between 0 and 1) means that the cost to replace a firm’s assets is greater than the value of its stock. This implies that the stock is undervalued. Conversely, a high Q (greater than 1) implies that a firm’s stock is more expensive than the replacement cost of its assets, which implies that the stock is overvalued. This measure of stock valuation is the driving factor behind investment decisions in Tobin’s model.

As can be seen from the above charts, the market is significantly overvalued based on Tobin's Q. The data comes from Doug Short. This is the most accurate data that is available. It is impossible for the data to be 100% precise because the Federal Reserve releases data related to Tobin’s Q on a quarterly basis. The best that can be done is to extrapolate the data and try to provide the most accurate data possible based on the change in the Willshire 5000. This is what Doug and I did to get the current number. This method has proven extremely accurate for calculating Tobin's Q on any given day.

The data comes from Doug Short. This is the most accurate data that is available. It is impossible for the data to be 100% precise because the Federal Reserve releases data related to Tobin’s Q on a quarterly basis. The best that can be done is to extrapolate the data and try to provide the most accurate data possible based on the change in the Willshire 5000. This is what Doug and I did to get the current number. This method has proven extremely accurate for calculating Tobin's Q on any given day.

The current level of 1.09 compares with the Tobin's Q’s average over several decades of data of approximately .72. This would indicate that the market is extremely overvalued.

In the past Tobin’s Q has been a good indicator of future market movements. In 1920 the number was at a low of .30, the next nine years included phenomenal gains for the market. In 2000 Tobin’s Q almost reached a record high of nearly 2, and the market declined subsequently about 50% by 2003.

Historic Tobins Q:

Previous market bottoms. Data courtesy of Doug of


Market Low 1932: 0.30 Market High 1929: 1.06 (This is not the highest number ever reached, just the number reached before the 1929 crash.)

Average historic Tobin's Q .72 (source: Stocks for the Long Run by Jeremy Siegel)

Sometimes market sentiment is the best way to measure future returns. Usually when the retail investor is bullish it is a contrarian sign to be fearful, and when they are bearish it is a sign to be bullish. The sentiment has proven remarkably accurate, the numbers below from previous market bottoms confirm this fact. For example in 2009, 70% of investors were bearish. The broad stock market is up ~100% since then.

According to the AAII, “the AAII Investor Sentiment Survey measures the percentage of individual investors who are bullish, bearish, and neutral on the stock market for the next six months; individuals are polled from the ranks of the AAII membership on a weekly basis. Only one vote per member is accepted in each weekly voting period.”

AAII sentiment survey data from 8/31/2011

38.6% Bullish

29.0% Neutral

32.3% Bearish

Individual investors are not very bullish; a large percentage are neutral.

Long-Term Average:

Bullish: 39%

Neutral: 31%

Bearish: 30%

Sentiment Survey Past Results

Reported DateBullishNeutralBearish
September 1:38.62%29.04%32.34%
August 25:36.44%22.60%40.96%
August 18:35.56%24.62%39.82%
August 11:33.43%21.79%44.78%
August 4:27.16%22.99%49.85%
July 28:37.84%30.74%31.42%
July 21:39.86%29.54%30.61%
July 14:39.31%31.45%29.25%
July 7:41.77%33.54%24.68%
June 30:38.31%31.49%30.19%
June 23:37.46%26.80%35.74%
June 16:29.00%28.25%42.75%
June 9:24.42%27.91%47.67%
June 2:30.18%36.39%33.43%
May 26:25.61%32.97%41.42%
May 19:26.69%32.02%41.29%
May 12:30.77%33.73%35.50%
May 5:35.46%32.67%31.87%
April 28:37.90%31.45%30.65%
April 21:32.16%36.84%30.99%
April 14:42.25%26.76%30.99%
April 7:43.59%27.56%28.85%

For all historic data on the AAII survey back to 1987 click on the following link:

Table 1. Historical Averages & Extremes of AAII Member Sentiment*


[i]*data covers period from July 24, 1987 to September 2, 2004.[/i]
We see the historical extremes for bullish, bearish and neutral sentiment. Bullish sentiment reached its highest levels on January 6, 2000 — the height of the tech bubble — at 75.0%. Levels of extreme bullishness — if viewed as a contrarian indicator — would lead one to believe that a market decline is in the wings, and vice versa.

Bullish Neutral Bearish

March 2009 18.92% 10.81% 70.27%

March 2003 34.3% 14.30% 51.40%

Oct. 1990 13.00% 20.00% 67.00%

Nov. 1987 31.0% 41.00% 28.00%

Average 39.00% 31.00% 30.00%

Max 75.00% 62.00% 70.00%

Min 12.00% 8.00% 6.00%

GMO data:

GMO forecasts the returns for the next seven years for various asset class. GMO is quite bearish on nearly everything besides “high-quality” U.S. stocks, large international stocks, emerging markets and timber. Even these classes will have lower returns than their historic real rates of return as shown below:

GMO 7 Year Forecasts August 2011

GMO 7 Year Forecasts August 2011

To Recap

1. P/E (TTM) – Fairly Valued 15.6

2. P/E 10 year – Extremely overvalued 21.04

3. P/BV – Slightly undervalued - 2.37

4. Dividend Yield – Indeterminate/ overvalued, but attractive compared to treasurys: 2.00%

5. Market value relative to GDP – Fairly valued 85.3

6. Tobins Q – Extremely overvalued 1.19

7. AAII Sentiment – Average

8. GMO – Overvalued, stocks will have below-average returns.

In conclusion, the market is possibly at close value based on the metrics used. The pictures is more mixed as opposed to previous months, where the market was overvalued by many metrics. Tobins Q, and Shiller PE indicate that valuations are too high. No indicator is undervalued besides P/B, which is only slightly undervalued. PE ratio is about average, but as mentioned above not a great indicator. Market cap to GDP is fairly valued.

However, the historical data fails to take into account current record low interest rates. I know not many investors take issue with my inclusion of interest rates in the equation. However, I think that investors should look at the stock/bond alternative. Right now you can get some blue chip stocks with dividend yields close to the ten-year treasury yield.

However, eventually the market will likely return to normal valuation ratios as interest rates reach more normal levels. I believe returns over the next ten years will be sub par (far below the 9.5% average market return). I think we will likely see returns equal to inflation over the coming decade.

You can read more about my predictions in the following two articles:

What Will The S&P 500 Return Over The Next 10 Years Part I

What Will The S&P 500 Return Over The Next 10 Years Part II

Note: I have received numerous suggestions on how to improve my monthly series. I tried to incorporate these ideas in my current article. Please email me or leave a comment if you would like to provide further suggestions.

Stay tuned till the beginning of next month for the next monthly valuation article.

Valuing Wall Street: Protecting Wealth in Turbulent Markets by Andrew Smithers. The book explains in detail how tobin’s Q is calculated.

Wall Street Revalued: Imperfect Markets and Inept Central Bankers. A more recent book by Andrew Smithers.

Irrational Exuberance by Robert Shiller. Great book by the man who calculates the P/E 10 ratio himself, Robert Shiller. The book is written in 2000, right before the tech bubble crash. Shiller correctly predicts the crash. Shiller also accurately predicted the housing bubble.

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