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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Is CAPE of above 23 extraordinary for a bullish stock market?

In his article "Has the Nearly 2-Yr-Old Bull Market Topped Out?" the respected by me Mark Hulbert speaks about his concerns that the current bull market might be surpassing its sound valuation levels and it might be near its end.

The author uses a CAPE measure to prove his point. CAPE is a modified P/E ratio which was made popular by Robert Shiller, a Yale University professor who uses it in his book "Irrational Exuberance". CAPE stands for "Cyclically Adjusted Price Earnings" and it differs from the general P/E in that its denominator (the E) is average inflation-adjusted earnings over the trailing 10 years. The data the article cites could be found on the Mr. Shiller's website. It's a very complete data set in the Excel file format.

According to Mr. Hulbert's calculations the current CAPE of 23.7 (as of the date of his article) is considerably higher than the average CAPE of 18 for the bull markets of the last century which he examines. The conclusion is that it would be hard to argue that the market is undervalued or even fairly valued.

Now my remarks.

  • What Mr. Hulbert is missing is that as a rule of thumb a bull market could surpass a lot its sound valuation levels especially in its extreme points before it tops out and converts to a bear market. And such a conversion doesn't happen overnight. We know a bull market will stop but we usually don't know exactly what time will pass ebfore it really happens. Exiting too early could save your money but also would mean a lot of unrealized profits. Usually choosing one over the other is a matter of personal preferences and attitude.

  • Now as we stand on the understanding that a higher CAPE is a normal phenomenon for a bullish market, it would be nice if the article of Mr. Hulbert shows at what ratio the average CAPE the author calculated was overrun by the real CAPE for the years of the bull markets it discusses. But it doesn't. It just states the current CAPE is higher than the avegare one.

    If we dig the data from Mr. Shiller's file we see that the current month CAPE is 23.69 and it's indeed higher than the average 18 Mr. Hulbert calculated. But during 2007 there was noticed a CAPE of above 27 (50% above the average value of 18), during 2004 - above 26-27 (again about 50%), during 1999-2001 - above 40 (122%)! In all the period between the late 1995 to 1999 CAPE values were above 24 with an average value of about 31.5 (75%).

    So the current CAPE is 30% above the average of 18 but we've seen even higher differences during the past 15 years. Seen in that light a 23 CAPE doesn't seem so extraordinary.

If you are a strictly value oriented investor I understand that leaving your money in a market that you believe is overvalued is hard and against your logic. Not everyone in the market is such a type of investor though. That makes the market move and the imperfections present opportunities.

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