The markets continue to hover around record highs. But there could be a storm brewing investors need to watch.
Aug 8, 2018
Don't forget risk.
Leverage remains insanely high at $647 billion, 55% higher than at the 2007 double housing and stock bubble peak and 116% higher than the 2000 tech mania peak. Total margin debt has exceeded 3% of Gross Domestic Product only three times; in 1929 as the madness of the Roaring Twenties peaked, last year and this year.
Leverage may seem like magic on the way up but the effects are horrifying when prices fall. The unwinding of margin debt between 1929-1932 resulted in a economic depression as the phenomenal wealth driving the nation's economy evaporated.
Stock prices fell as much as 90% after soaring 4.2-fold in only nine years and four months. The damage was so extensive that the Dow Industrials did not fully recover until 26 years later in 1955.
Thus, we look at today's stock market and worry about the similarities. In only nine years and four months from the previous bear market bottom in March 2009, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has now surged 4.1-fold, almost exactly the same as the run into the 1929 peak.
While we do not expect an exact repeat of the 1929-32 period when excessive leverage led to a crash and a collapse into an economic depression, the current environment is way too similar to past manias and in certain aspects — primarily leverage — is far worse than the prior two peaks in March 2000 and October 2007. Given our long term target of Dow 14,719, down 43% from today, we have zero comfort for the long side.
Meanwhile, total dollar trading volume (DTV) now stands at yet another new record high. Over the last 12 months, total DTV is now $81.24 trillion, up nearly 15% from last years record, roughly 75% higher than at the 2007 double bubble peak and 150% higher than at the tech mania peak.
The trend to trade more has kept average holding periods for U.S. stocks to just over four months. When stocks are held for the long term, valuation becomes a primary consideration. The shorter period one holds stocks, the less likely one is to rely on valuations, hence valuation methodologies are now routinely shunned and scorned in favor of chasing momentum.
Sentiment is perhaps the most significant driver of price, but it is not mere excessive optimism that makes the current environment so dangerous. Excessive valuations have been in place for so long that they are now accepted as entirely normal.
In the same way that buying stocks for 10% down in 1929 was regarded as normal, in the same way the "Nifty Fifty" one decision stocks in 1972 were considered normal, in the same way Nasdaq at a 250 P/E multiple in 2000 was considered normal, today's environment is accepted as normal and forecasts of higher prices abound.
In a CNBC survey of 19 top Wall Street firms, every strategist forecast higher prices and an average gain of another 10.6% through the remainder of the year. We are far more comfortable on the other side of the fence. Risks on the long side continue to be insanely high.
History has shown 30% downturns occur on average, roughly once every nine years. We are astonished how little attention is paid to risk parameters, even at this point when it is so ridiculously obvious how much leverage is built into stock prices and how overvalued stocks are.
We expect as bear market and our target remains Dow 14,719. Be careful. A storm is brewing.
By: Alan Newman, editor of CrossCurrents. Via MoneyShow.