by David Haggith, The Great Recession Blog:
Since Trump’s election, the US stock market has climbed unstoppably along a remarkably steep path to round off at a teetering height. Is this the irrational exuberance that typically marks the last push before a perilous plunge, or is the market reaching escape velocity from the relentless gravity of the Great Recession?
This burst of enthusiasm in response to Trump’s victory, flew in the face of almost everyone’s predictions. That it lifted the market from seven months of languor certainly makes 20K on the Dow look like the elevation marker of a breathtaking summit.
While breaking 20k, if it happens, may be as meaningless as one more mile on the odometer when all the numbers roll over, it is psychologically potent for many. Breaking through it, could cause fear as eyes turn down and see how far below the earth now is, or the rarified air up here may bring euphoria that lifts the market to even greater levels on a rising current of hot air.
Investors have been buying and selling with as much frenzy as Christmas shoppers. Now there will be much eating and drinking to celebrate this record-setting Santa-Clause rally, even if it doesn’t top 20, before Christmas, as investors take a brief rest to enjoy their surprise gains, fat and happy in belief that 2017 will be a prosperous new year.
There is almost no evidence of fear amongst all the cheer. According to Gallop, economic confidence has never been higher in the general population. Some are calling it Trumphoria as people seem to be relieved that eight years of Obamanomics are ending, and business is seizing the reins of government, guided by one of the world’s richest and most dazzling developers.
The first positive double-digit index score since the inception of Gallup Daily tracking in 2008 reflects a stark change in Americans’ confidence in the U.S. economy from the negative views they expressed in most weeks over the past nine years.
A similar CNBC survey indicates this is the greatest breath of fresh air for consumer confidence since Obama was elected in 2008, and it is not just stocks that are soaring. The US dollar has reached its highest peak in fourteen years.
Will this exuberant ride continue in 2017?
Many analysts believe the push through a major milestone, if it happens, confirms a strong new market trend; but what does history say about breaking past such major psychological resistance barriers? When the Dow first broke past the 100 level in 1906, it tumbled back down and didn’t break through with any continuance again until the mid 20s! When the Dow ascended past the 1,000 mark for the first time in 1966, it did continue a ways higher; but in less than three months the market sank back beneath 1,000 again and kept falling for the next two years to hit a point 44% lower, while the nation sank into recession. The Dow didn’t break the 1,000 mark again until 1972! And, after the Dow broke 10,000 in 1999, it flirted with that level a bit but never sustained another breakthrough until eleven years later!
What if we look at what history has to say about irrational exuberance by using other measures than the Dow? The ratio of stock prices against corporate earnings is one of the most common ways of assessing the relative height of a market peak. Here again, there are only a few times in history that the S&P 500 has climbed to prices that are 27.9 times more than corporate earnings of the last ten years, which is where the S&P stands now. Once was in 1929 just before the Great Depression, then again in an ill-fated boom of the 60’s, and only one other time in 2002.
The altimeter I’m using here to assess our present peak is called the CAPE (the Cyclically Adjusted Price-Earnings ratio that won Yale’s Robert Schiller his Nobel Prize). In market terms, our present mark on the gauge means we’re entering the stratosphere! Even in 2007, the market was not this overpriced by the CAPE’s measure, and irrational exuberance has always accompanied this level: (Some will argue otherwise, but hang with me a minute.)
Early 1929 was actually a fantastic time to get into the US stock market — so long as you didn’t stick around. So were the late 1990s. Someone who sold their stocks in late 1996, when the CAPE hit 28, missed out on the biggest free-money bubble bonanza in recorded history…. Nonetheless … over the past 150 years, it has generally been an extremely poor move to invest in U.S. stocks with the CAPE at these levels. (Market watch)
Not everyone thinks passing this mark on the CAPE matters. In fact, apparently many don’t, or the stock market wouldn’t have kept climbing into the CAPE’s red zone this month, but according to Valentin Dimitrov of Rutgers University and Prem Jain of Georgetown, the measure has been applied too simplistically by those who disregard it:
In a nutshell: Investors shouldn’t flee stocks simply because the Shiller PE is above average. They shouldn’t flee stocks even when the Shiller PE is way above average. But history has said they should flee stocks when the Shiller PE is at extreme levels — like now. Only when the CAPE is “higher than 27.6”, they conclude, has the stock market proven to be a really bad investment. (Marketwatch)
It is, however, not just the height of this peak, but the rate of rise that evidences irrational exuberance. This month, the US stock roller coaster ratcheted its way relentlessly up its highest hill one clanky link at a time. If the Dow closes above 20,000 this week, it will be the fastest 1,000-point rise in market history! The previous record rate of rise came in 1999 in the run-up to the dot-com bubble crash. Of course, the higher the market is, the less meaningful a thousand-point rise is.
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