Archive for the ‘Austrian Economics’ Category

In The Equity Q Ratio: How Overvaluation Leads To Low Returns and Extreme Losses I examined Universa Chief Investment Officer Mark Spitznagel’s June 2011 working paper The Dao of Corporate Finance, Q Ratios, and Stock Market Crashes (.pdf), and the May 2012 update The Austrians and the Swan: Birds of a Different Feather (.pdf), which discuss the “clear and rigorous evidence of a direct relationshipbetween overvaluation measured by the equity q ratio and “subsequent extreme losses in the stock market.”

Spitznagel argues that at valuations where the equity q ratio exceeds 0.9, the 110-year relationship points to an “expected (median) drawdown of 20%, and a 20% chance of a larger than 40% correction in the S&P500 within the next few years; these probabilities continually reset as valuations remain elevated, making an eventual deep drawdown from current levels highly likely.”

In his 2011 and 2012 papers, Spitznagel describes the equity q ratio as the “most robust aggregate overvaluation metric, which isolates the key drivers of valuation.” It is also useful in identifying “susceptibility to shifts from any extreme consensus,” which is important because “such shifts of extreme consensus are naturally among the predominant mechanics of stock market crashes.”

He observes that the aggregate US stock market has suffered very few sizeable annual losses (which Spitznagel defines as “20% or more”). Extreme stock market losses are by definition “tail events” as Figure 1 demonstrates.

Figure 1 shows how infrequently large drawdowns occur. However, when the equity q ratio is high, large losses are “no longer a tail event, but become an expected event.”

Figure 3 shows the magnitude of potential losses at various equity q ratios. In the last bucket (equity q > 0.9), the expected (median) drawdown is 20 percent, with a 1/5 chance of a greater than 40 percent correction in the S&P500 within the next few years. Spitznagel describes Figure 3 as “[t]he best picture I have ever seen depicting the endogenous risk control to be had from Benjamin Graham’s margin of safety principle (which insists on cheapness to conservative fundamental assumptions in one’s equity exposures, and thus provides added protection against errors in those assumptions).

Equity q ratios over 0.9 lead to some very ugly results. So where are we now? I’ll discuss it later this week.

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Universa Chief Investment Officer Mark Spitznagel’s June 2011 working paper The Dao of Corporate Finance, Q Ratios, and Stock Market Crashes (.pdf), and the May 2012 update The Austrians and the Swan: Birds of a Different Feather (.pdf) examine the “clear and rigorous evidence of a direct relationship between overvaluation measured by the equity q ratio and “subsequent extreme losses in the stock market.”

Spitznagel argues that at valuations where the equity q ratio exceeds 0.9 a 110-year relationship points to an “expected (median) drawdown of 20%, and a 20% chance of a larger than 40% correction in the S&P500 within the next few years; these probabilities continually reset as valuations remain elevated, making an eventual deep drawdown from current levels highly likely.”

Today I examine the calculation of the equity q ratio and estimated market-level returns. Later this week I’ll take a look at the likelihood of massive drawdowns at elevated q ratios.

Spitznagel is perhaps best known to we folk who do not trade volatility as Nassim Taleb’s chief trader at Taleb’s Empirica. Here’s Malcolm Gladwell describing Spitznagel in his New Yorker article Blowing Up:

Taleb was up at a whiteboard by the door, his marker squeaking furiously as he scribbled possible solutions. Spitznagel and Pallop looked on intently. Spitznagel is blond and from the Midwest and does yoga: in contrast to Taleb, he exudes a certain laconic levelheadedness. In a bar, Taleb would pick a fight. Spitznagel would break it up.

The three argued back and forth about the solution. It appeared that Taleb might be wrong, but before the matter could be resolved the markets opened. Taleb returned to his desk and began to bicker with Spitznagel about what exactly would be put on the company boom box. Spitznagel plays the piano and the French horn and has appointed himself the Empirica d.j. He wanted to play Mahler, and Taleb does not like Mahler. “Mahler is not good for volatility,” Taleb complained. “Bach is good. St. Matthew’s Passion!” Taleb gestured toward Spitznagel, who was wearing a gray woollen turtleneck. “Look at him. He wants to be like von Karajan, like someone who wants to live in a castle. Technically superior to the rest of us. No chitchatting. Top skier. That’s Mark!”

In his 2011 and 2012 papers, Spitznagel describes the equity q ratio as the “most robust aggregate overvaluation metric, which isolates the key drivers of valuation.”

The “equity” q ratio is similar to Tobin’s q ratio, which is the ratio of enterprise value (market capitalization plus debt) to corporate assets or invested capital. With no debt, Tobin’s q is market capitalization over total assets. The equity q ratio (or “Q ratio”, as Spitznagel describes it in his papers) is market capitalization over shareholders’ equity. Shareholders equity is total assets less total debt. With no debt, shareholders’ equity is equal to invested capital. The equity q ratio is a market level price-to-shareholders’ equity ratio, where shareholders’ equity is calculated using assets valued at replacement cost.

Spitznagel examines the long-run tendency of the equity q ratio to mean revert, noting:

[T]he arithmetic mean to which it has been seemingly attracted is, surprisingly, not 1, but rather about .7. This, then, would be the appropriate “fair value” for use in gauging over- or under-valuation (and the March 2009 low actually came very close to this mean). 

Why doesn’t equity q mean revert to 1?

It would have been expected for this Q ratio level to be where ROIC = WACC, that is, where the price equals the net worth of the businesses, Q=1. Ostensibly, the current value of invested capital (i.e., the replacement cost of company assets) has been systematically overstated (and its depreciation understated). This is evident in the historical aggregate ROIC as computed from Flow of Funds data vis-à-vis the actual known aggregate ROIC (and adjusting thereto is consistent with Q ≈ 1).

Is the equity q ratio predictive?

If the Q ratio … is in fact the most robust and rigorous metric of aggregate stock market valuation and represents all there is to know about aggregate stock market valuation, shouldn’t it be the case that it has empirical validity as well? That is, shouldn’t it tell you something ex ante about subsequent aggregate equity returns? (The caveat of course, from Williams, is that, since “the public is more emotional than logical, it is foolish to expect a relentless convergence of market price toward investment value.“)

Just a casual perusal of Figure 2 [above] (and a basic memory of what U.S. stocks did during this period) tells the story quite well, but let’s put some numbers on it.

Figure 3 from the 2011 paper shows Spitznagel’s backtest of the relationship between mean one-year S&P 500 total returns and the starting level of the equity q ratio going back to 1901:

Spitznagel 1

Spitzagel notes:

When stocks are overvalued on aggregate, as identified by the Q ratio, their returns have been lower (with 99% confidence) than when they are less overvalued, not to mention undervalued. (Whenever one hears a reference to historical aggregate stock returns to support forecasts of future returns, it is good to recall that not all historical returns were created equal.)

Spitznagel’s white papers are important because they demonstrate that, like the Shiller PE and Buffett’s total market capitalization-to-gross national product measure, the equity q ratio is a highly predictive measure of subsequent stock market performance. Spitznagel is a specialist in tail risk, and so the most intriguing part of Spitznagel’s papers is his demonstration of the utility of the equity q ratio in identifying “susceptibility to shifts from any extreme consensus” because “such shifts of extreme consensus are naturally among the predominant mechanics of stock market crashes.” I’ll continue with the rest of the paper later this week.

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This letter from Howard Buffett, the highly libertarian “Old Right” United States Representative father of Warren, to anarcho-capitalist historian and economist Murray Rothbard, if real, is incredible. Buffett the Elder wrote to Rothbard that he “read that Rothbard had written a book on ‘The Panic of 1819‘” and wanted to know where he could buy a copy for his son “who is a particularly avid reader of books about panics and similar phenomena.”

Here is the letter:


The timing of the letter – July 31, 1962 – is interesting. The first “flash crash” occurred in May 1962, and was at the time the worst crash since 1929. Time LIFE described the 1962 “flash crash” thus:

The signs, like the rumblings of an Alpine ice pack at the time of thaw, had been heard. The glacial heights of the stock boom suddenly began to melt in a thaw of sell-off. More and more stocks went up for sale, with fewer and fewer takers at the asking price. Then suddenly, around lunchtime on Monday, May 28, the sell-off swelled to an avalanche. In one frenzied day in brokerage houses and stock exchanges across the U.S., stock values — glamor and blue-chip alike — took their sharpest drop since 1929.

Memory of the great crash, and the depression that followed, has haunted America’s subconscious. Now, after all these years, was that nightmare to happen again?

The article continues that, “although the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell almost 6 percent on that one vertiginous Monday and the market was anemic for a year afterwards, the markets as a whole, at home and abroad, did bounce back.” Good to know.

h/t: Mises.org

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From Montier’s most recent piece, Hyperinflations, Hysteria, and False Memories (.pdf) (via GMO):

In the past, I’ve admitted to macroeconomics being one of my dark, guilty pleasures. To some “value” investors this seems like heresy, as Marty Whitman¹ once wrote, “Graham and Dodd view macro factors . . . as crucial to the analysis of a corporate security. Value investors, however, believe that macro factors are irrelevant.” I am clearly a Graham and Doddite on this measure (and most others as well). I view understanding the macro backdrop (N.B. not predicting it, as Ben Graham said, “Analysis of the future should be penetrating rather than prophetic.”) as one of the core elements of risk management.

¹. Martin J. Whitman, Value Investing: A Balanced Approach, John Wiley & Sons, 1999.

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Mark Spitznagel, CIO of Universa, released in May a prescient white paper called “The Austrians and the Swan: Birds of a Different Feather” in which he discussed the theory behind the “Equity Q Ratio,” a variation of Tobin’s Q ratio, and the expected returns to the market from various levels of Equity Q Ratio.

Tobin’s Q ratio is the ratio between the market value of the stock market and against the aggregate net worth of the constituent stocks measured at replacement cost.

It can be defined to include or exclude debt. We exclude debt for ease of calculation, and refer to it in this form as “Equity Q”.

Spitznagel observes that the aggregate US stock market has suffered very few sizeable annual losses (which Spitznagel defines as “20% or more”). By definition, we can categorize such extreme stock market losses “tail events.”

However, when the Equity Q ratio is high, large losses are “no longer a tail event, but become an expected event.”

Equity Q ratios over 0.9 lead to some very ugly results. So where are we now?


H/T Zero Hedge.

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Chris Cole of Artemis Capital Management has created an incredibly cool film called “Volatility at World’s End: Two Decades of Movement in Markets” showing  a depiction of real stock market volatility using trading data from 1990 to 2011. It accompanied his speech at the 2012 Global Derivatives and Risk Management Conference in Barcelona, Spain.

Here’s Chris’s introduction:

“Nobody will deny there is roughness everywhere….” Benoit Mandelbrot

The movement of stock prices has been an obsession for generations of speculators and traders. On a higher level mathematicians believe that modern markets are an extension of the same fractal beauty found in nature. Visualized these stock markets may take the shape of a turbulent ocean with waves made of human hope, greed, and fear. Merging the world of high-finance and high-art Artemis Capital Management LLC is proud to present a creative visualization of stock market volatility over the last two decades. The video was first shown in conjunction with Christopher Cole’s speech at the 2012 Global Derivatives and Risk Management Conference in Barcelona, Spain.

For the value investor a cursory understanding of volatility can be an important component of market timing. Many value investors are aware of the VIX index that tracks 30 day volatility of the S&P 500 index. The film from Artemis goes one step further animating a series of theoretical VIX indices at different maturity levels extending from 21 days all the way to 1 year. The end effect is a vibrant volatility “wave” that shows when investors are most fearful or complacent in vivid motion. Artemis has produced an interesting piece of art and a multi-dimensional view into the sentiment of investors for over 20 years. When the volatility wave is violent, steep, or exploding investors are afraid and willing to pay more to protect their portfolio. The height of the wave represents the changing price of portfolio insurance far into the future.

And, without further ado, the film:

Head on over to his website for the research note that accompanies the film and other interesting research.

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Warren Buffett has long eschewed any ability to foresee the path of the markets or the economy, but according to this BusinessWeek article, he’s resolute that the economy will not slide back into recession:

Warren Buffett ruled out a second recession in the U.S. and said businesses owned by his Berkshire Hathaway Inc. are growing.

“I am a huge bull on this country,” Buffett, Berkshire’s chief executive officer, said today in remarks to the Montana Economic Development Summit. “We will not have a double-dip recession at all. I see our businesses coming back almost across the board.”

Berkshire bought railroad Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. for $27 billion in February in a deal that Buffett, 80, called a bet on the U.S. economy. The billionaire’s outlook contrasts with the views of economists such as New York University Professor Nouriel Roubini and Harvard University Professor Martin Feldstein, who have said the odds of another recession may be one in three or higher.

Now that the great man has prognosticated on the state of the economy, I have to ask, “Are we all macro investors now?”

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In Burry, Predictor of Mortgage Collapse, Bets on Farmland, Gold, Bloomberg has a great profile on Dr. Michael Burry and his recent investments. Says Bloomberg:

Michael Burry, the former hedge-fund manager who predicted the housing market’s plunge, said he is investing in farmable land, small technology companies and gold as he hunts original ideas and braces for a weaker dollar.

“I believe that agriculture land — productive agricultural land with water on site — will be very valuable in the future,” Burry, 39, said in a Bloomberg Television interview scheduled for broadcast this morning in New York. “I’ve put a good amount of money into that.”

Burry points to market correlation as “problematic”:

Burry, who now manages his own money after shuttering the fund in 2008, said finding original investments is difficult because many trades are crowded and asset classes often move together.

“I’m interested in finding investments that aren’t just simply going to float up and down with the market,” he said. “The incredible correlation that we’re experiencing — we’ve been experiencing for a number of years — is problematic.”

He likes Asian tech stocks:

Still, it’s possible to find opportunities among small companies because large investors and government officials focus on bigger ones, he said. He is particularly interested in small technology firms.

“Smaller companies in Asia, I think, are neglected,” he said. “There are some very cheap companies there.”

And gold:

Gold is also a favored investment as central banks issue debt and devalue their currencies, he said. Governments haven’t adequately addressed the causes of the financial crisis and may be sowing the seeds for future problems by borrowing, he said. In the U.S., lawmakers showed they didn’t understand how to prevent another crisis when they gave the Federal Reserve and Chairman Ben S. Bernanke additional authority, he said.

“The Federal Reserve, in my view, hadn’t seen this coming and in some ways, possibly contributed to the crisis,” he said. “Now, Bernanke is the most powerful Fed chairman in history. I’m not sure that’s the right response. The result tends to tell me they’re not getting it right.”

Read the post.

Burry continues to be a very popular topic on Greenbackd (for more, see my posts Michael Lewis’s The Big Short, the Vanity Fair article Betting on the Blind SideBurry’s techstocks.com “Value Investing” thread and Burry’s Scion Capital investor letters)

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Multpl.com has a handy Graham / Shiller PE10 chart for the S&P500 that updates on daily basis. Where is the PE10 today? 19.93:

Interested in the mean, median, minimum or the maximum? Multpl.com has those too:

Mean: 16.37
Median: 15.74
Min: 4.78 (Dec 1920)
Max: 44.20 (Dec 1999)?

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I love a stock-index-to-gold ratio (see my earlier Chart of the DJIA priced in gold). Zero Hedge has calculated the performance of the S&P500 in gold over the last 18 months. It’s scary stuff. Here, in his inimitable style, is Tyler:

It may come as a surprise to some that when the market’s performance is expressed in the opposite of infinitely dilutable paper, we are currently just barely 15% higher than the generational S&P low of 666. As the chart below demonstrates, the S&P expressed in gold is plunging, and has dropped 22% from its 2010 highs, down 18% from the beginning of the year, and just 15% higher than March 5, 2009. As Russia and GLD have been demonstrating so aptly over the past 5 months, gold is not dilutable, and can not be contaminated with various Greek sovereign bond holdings. It is, in summary, pure, and is immune from that strain of 100% lethal, and printerborne, Central Banking syphilis where one’s paper rots off. Which is why the Dow may easily pass 36,000. The issue is that at or about that time, the Dow to Gold ratio will be 1. Note also, the downward channel in the SPX/Gold index: each day this channel is not broken, is another day that Bernanke pops a few extra Ambien.

S&P500 in gold since January 2009:

S&P500 in gold since 2005:

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