Archive for the ‘Behavioral economics’ Category

Warren Buffett’s favored market valuation metric, market capitalization-to-gross national product, has passed an unwelcome milestone: the 2007 valuation peak, according to GuruFocus:


The index topped out at 110.7 percent in 2007, and presently stands at 111.7 percent. From GuruFocus:

As of today, the Total Market Index is at $ 17624.4 billion, which is about 111.7% of the last reported GDP. The US stock market is positioned for an average annualized return of 2.2%, estimated from the historical valuations of the stock market. This includes the returns from the dividends, currently yielding at 2%.

I’ve seen several arguments for why this time is different, and why it’s not a bubble. I don’t buy it. When we see clear skies, that’s all we can imagine, and so we extrapolate it over the horizon. From Seth Klarman’s latest:

Investing, when it looks the easiest, is at its hardest. When just about everyone heavily invested is doing well, it is hard for others to resist jumping in. But a market relentlessly rising in the face of challenging fundamentals–recession in Europe and Japan, slowdown in China, fiscal stalemate and high unemployment in the U.S.– is the riskiest environment of all.

[O]nly a small number of investors maintain the fortitude and client confidence to pursue long-term investment success even at the price of short-term underperformance. Most investors feel the hefty weight of short-term performance expectations, forcing them to take up marginal or highly speculative investments that we shun. When markets are rising, such investments may perform well, which means that our unwavering patience and discipline sometimes impairs our results and makes us appear overly cautious. The payoff from a risk-averse, long-term orientation is–just that–long term. It is measurable only over the span of many years, over one or more market cycles.

Our willingness to invest amidst failing markets is the best way we know to build positions at great prices, but this strategy, too, can cause short-term underperformance. Buying as prices are falling can look stupid until sellers are exhausted and buyers who held back cannot effectively deploy capital except at much higher prices. Our resolve in holding cash balances–sometimes very large ones–absent compelling opportunity is another potential performance drag.

For more on market value-to-GNP see my earlier posts Warren Buffett Talks… Total Market Value-To-Gross National ProductWarren Buffett and John Hussman On The Stock MarketFRED on Buffett’s favored market measure: Total Market Value-to-GNPThe Physics Of Investing In Expensive Markets: How to Apply Simple Statistical Models.

Order Quantitative Value from Wiley FinanceAmazon, or Barnes and Noble.

Click here if you’d like to read more on Quantitative Value, or connect with me on LinkedIn.


Read Full Post »

In a great article The Wiki Man: If you want to diet, I’m afraid you really do need one weird rule Rory Sutherland argues that we require a “black-and-white, binary approach” to things we find psychologically difficult to follow. Sutherland says, “And as the world’s religions have known for thousands of years, abstinence is far easier than the continuous exercise of self-restraint. Or, as the neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran suggests, “humans may not have free will but they do have free won’t.”

Absolute rules (if X, then Y) work with the grain of human nature. We feel far more guilt running a red light than breaking a speed limit. Notice that almost all religious laws are absolute: no food is half kosher; it is or it isn’t. No Old Testament prophet proposed something as daft as the French 35-hour ‘working-time directive’: they invented the Sabbath instead.

In a more complex world weighed down by Big Data, convoluted tax structures and impenetrable legislation, do we actually need more of what religion once gave us: simple, unambiguous, universal absolutes? In law such rules are known as Bright Line Rules: rather than 20 million words of tax law, you simply declare ‘any financial transaction whose only conceivable motivation is the avoidance of tax is by definition illegal’.

Does a complex world need simpler rules? And simpler metrics? The temptation is that because we have gigabytes of data, we feel the need to use all of it. Perhaps all you need is a few bits of the right information?

During the second world war, experts needed to decide whom to train as RAF fighter pilots. Today this would mean a battery of complex tests. Back then they used two simple questions: 1) Have you ever owned a motorcycle? 2) Do you own one now? The ideal recruits were those who answered 1) Yes and 2) No. They wanted people who had been brave enough to ride a motorbike but were sane enough to abandon the habit.

How many of the world’s problems could be solved if we abandoned this pretence of perfect rationality and fell back on simple, heuristic rules of thumb? According to the brilliant German decision-scientist Gerd Gigerenzer, quite a few.

The investing corollaries are easy to find. I’ll expand on that later this week.

Order Quantitative Value from Wiley FinanceAmazon, or Barnes and Noble.

Click here if you’d like to read more on Quantitative Value, or connect with me on LinkedIn.

h/t @abnormalreturns and @farnamstreet

Read Full Post »

David Tepper was on CNBC this morning arguing that stocks are historically cheap:

[Tepper] said the post showed “when the equity risk premium is high historically, you get better returns after that.” He continued, “So we’re at one of the highest all-time risk premiums in history.”

In making his argument Tepper referred to this article, Are Stocks Cheap? A Review of the Evidence, in which Fernando Duarte and Carlo Rosa argue that stocks are cheap because the “Fed model”—the equity risk premium measured as the difference between the forward operating earnings yield on the S&P500 and the 10-year Treasury bond yield—is at a historic high. Here’s the chart:

Here’s Duarte and Rosa in the article:

Let’s now take a look at the facts. The chart [above] shows the weighted average of the twenty-nine models for the one-month-ahead equity risk premium, with the weights selected so that this single measure explains as much of the variability across models as possible (for the geeks: it is the first principal component). The value of 5.4 percent for December 2012 is about as high as it’s ever been.The previous two peaks correspond to November 1974 and January 2009. Those were dicey times. By the end of 1974, we had just experienced the collapse of the Bretton Woods system and had a terrible case of stagflation. January 2009 is fresher in our memory. Following the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the upheaval in financial markets, the economy had just shed almost 600,000 jobs in one month and was in its deepest recession since the 1930s. It is difficult to argue that we’re living in rosy times, but we are surely in better shape now than then.

The Fed model seems like an intuitive measure of market valuation, but how predictive has it been historically? John Hussman examined it in his August 20, 2007 piece Long-Term Evidence on the Fed Model and Forward Operating P/E Ratios. Hussman writes:

The assumed one-to-one correspondence between forward earnings yields and 10-year Treasury yields is a statistical artifact of the period from 1982 to the late 1990’s, during which U.S. stocks moved from profound undervaluation (high earnings yields) to extreme overvaluation (depressed earnings yields). The Fed Model implicitly assumes that stocks experienced only a small change in “fair valuation” during this period (despite the fact that stocks achieved average annual returns of nearly 20% for 18 years), and attributes the change in earnings yields to a similar decline in 10-year Treasury yields over this period.

Unfortunately, there is nothing even close to a one-to-one relationship between earnings yields and interest rates in long-term historical data. Why doesn’t Wall Street know this? Because data on forward operating earnings estimates has only been compiled since the early 1980’s. There is no long-term historical data, and for this reason, the “normal” level of forward operating P/E ratios, as well as the long-term validity of the Fed Model, has remained untested.

Ruh roh. The Fed model is not predictive? What is? Hussman continues:

… [T]he profile of actual market returns – especially over 7-10 year horizons – looks much like the simple, humble, raw earnings yield, unadjusted for 10-year Treasury yields (which are too short in duration and in persistence to drive the valuation of stocks having far longer “durations”).

On close inspection, the Fed Model has nearly insane implications. For example, the model implies that stocks were not even 20% undervalued at the generational 1982 lows, when the P/E on the S&P 500 was less than 7. Stocks followed with 20% annual returns, not just for one year, not just for 10 years, but for 18 years. Interestingly, the Fed Model also identifies the market as about 20% undervalued in 1972, just before the S&P 500 fellby half. And though it’s not depicted in the above chart, if you go back even further in history, you’ll find that the Fed Model implies that stocks were about as “undervalued” as it says stocks are today – right before the 1929 crash.

Yes, the low stock yields in 1987 and 2000 were unfavorable, but they were unfavorable without the misguided one-for-one “correction” for 10-year Treasury yields that is inherent in the Fed Model. It cannot be stressed enough that the Fed Model destroys the information that earnings yields provide about subsequent market returns.

The chart below presents the two versions of Hussman’s calculation of the equity risk premium along with the annual total return of the S&P 500 over the following decade.

Source: Hussman, Investment, Speculation, Valuation, and Tinker Bell (March 2013)

That’s not a great fit. The relationship is much less predictive than the other models I’ve considered on Greenbackd over the last month or so (see, for example, the Shiller PE, Buffett’s total market capitalization-to-gross national product, and the equity q ratio, all three examined together in The Physics Of Investing In Expensive Markets: How to Apply Simple Statistical Models). Hussman says in relation to the chart above:

… [T]he correlation of “Fed Model” valuations with actual subsequent 10-year S&P 500 total returns is only 47% in the post-war period, compared with 84% for the other models presented above [Shiller PE with mean reversion, dividend model with mean reversion, market capitalization-to-GDP]. In case one wishes to discard the record before 1980 from the analysis, it’s worth noting that since 1980, the correlation of the FedModel with subsequent S&P 500 total returns has been just 27%, compared with an average correlation of 90% for the other models since 1980. Ditto, by the way for the relationship of these models with the difference between realized S&P 500 total returns and realized 10-year Treasury returns.

Still, maybe the Fed Model is better at explaining shorter-term market returns. Maybe, but no. It turns out that the correlation of the Fed Model with subsequent one-year S&P 500 total returns is only 23% –  regardless of whether one looks at the period since 1948 (which requires imputed forward earnings since 1980), or the period since 1980 itself. All of the other models have better records. Two-year returns? Nope. 20% correlation for the Fed Model, versus an average correlation of 50% for the others.

Are stocks cheap on the basis of the Fed model? It seems so. Should we care? No. I’ll leave the final word to Hussman:

Over time, Fed Model adherents are likely to observe behavior in this indicator that is much more like its behavior prior to the 1980’s. Specifically, the Fed model will most probably creep to higher and higher levels of putative “undervaluation,” which will be completely uninformative and uncorrelated with actual subsequent returns.

The popularity of the Fed Model will end in tears. The Fed Model destroys useful information. It is a statistical artifact. It is bait for investors ignorant of history. It is a hook; a trap.

Hussman wrote that in August 2007 and he was dead right. He still is.

Order Quantitative Value from Wiley FinanceAmazon, or Barnes and Noble.

Click here if you’d like to read more on Quantitative Value, or connect with me on LinkedIn.

Read Full Post »

I’m back from the Value Investing Congress in Las Vegas. There were a number of outstanding presentations, but, for mine, the best was Vitaliy Katsenelson’s epic presentation based on his Little Book of Sideways Markets.

12 years into this sideways market, valuations are still 30% above the historical average, while in 1982 they were about 30% percent below average! Also, historically, stocks spent a good amount of time at below-average valuations before sideways market turned into a secular bull market.

Vitaliy shows that genuine 1930s-style bear markets are rare. Most of the time the market trades sideways or up.


Since 2000, the market has traded sideways. Vitaliy expects this to continue for another decade:


Read GDP growth has been consistent. There’s little relationship between earnings growth and stock returns.


Real GDP growth is very similar in both sideways and bull markets…


…the difference in returns is the change in valuation.


Don’t chase stocks. In the absence of good stocks, hold cash.


Sideways markets contain many cyclical bull and bear markets.

slide-321During a sideways market, asset allocation is not as important as stock selection.



See the full presentation:

Order Quantitative Value from Wiley FinanceAmazon, or Barnes and Noble.

Click here if you’d like to read more on Quantitative Value, or connect with me on LinkedIn.

Read Full Post »

Chris Turner has a guest post at Doug Short’s Advisor Perspectives called When Warren Buffett Talks … People Listen examining Warren Buffett’s favored market valuation metric: Market Value divided by Gross National Product. (I’ve also examined market value-to-GNP several times. See Warren Buffett and John Hussman On The Stock MarketFRED on Buffett’s favored market measure: Total Market Value-to-GNPThe Physics Of Investing In Expensive Markets: How to Apply Simple Statistical Models)

Here Chris looks at the metric using the CPI deflator on both the numerator — market value — and the denominator — Gross National Product.

Here Chris calculates two fair values for the S&P 500. The blue line shows the historical mean and the green line shows Buffett’s 80 percent value estimate:

Chris comments:

Readers can see from the chart that based on both Buffett’s rule and the historical mean, the S&P would be trading much lower from present levels. The S&P would be sub 1000 based on the historical mean and around 1150 based on the 80% Buffett rule.

Read When Warren Buffett Talks … People Listen.

Order Quantitative Value from Wiley FinanceAmazon, or Barnes and Noble.

Click here if you’d like to read more on Quantitative Value, or connect with me on LinkedIn.

Read Full Post »

Montier Corporate Profit Margins

Source: “What Goes Up Must Come Down!” James Montier (March 2012)

In his recent piece The Endgame is Forced Liquidation John Hussman eloquently describes the reason why investors need to be wary of structural arguments intended to dispose of indicators with a very reliable cyclical record:

On the temptation to disregard proven indicators

As a side-note, it’s important for investors to be wary of “structural” arguments intended to discard indicators that have very reliable cyclical records. For example, hardly a day goes by that we don’t see an attempt to harness some long-term structural factor, such as increasing globalization of trade, to explain away the spike in profit margins over the past few years – in the hope of proving that these margins will be permanent this time. Some of these arguments are discussed in recent weekly comments. But these factors don’t explain the cyclical fluctuations in profit margins at all, and can’t be used to discard the accounting relationships and decades of evidence that corporate profits have a strong secular and tight cyclical mirror-image relationship with the combined total of government and household savings.

Investors get themselves in trouble when they embrace “new economy” theories not because those new theories can be demonstrated in the data; not because existing approaches fail to fully explain the subsequent historical outcomes; but solely because time-tested approaches suggest uncomfortable outcomes in the present instance.

The same sort of structural second-guessing is evident in the gold market here – a good example of what forced liquidation looks like, as my impression is that leveraged longs have been forced into a fire-sale in recent weeks, creating good values for longer-term investors, but with continued near-term risks.  If we look at the ratio of gold prices to the Philadelphia gold index (XAU), we do believe there are structural factors that affect that ratio (primarily the increasing cost of extracting gold over time). But these don’t explain away or eliminate the strong cyclical relationship between the gold/XAU ratio and subsequent returns on the XAU over the following 3-4 year periods. So while we don’t believe that the record high gold/XAU ratio can be taken entirely at face value, there’s no question that it is elevated even on a cyclical basis (that is, even allowing for a gradual structural increase over time), and there’s no question in the data that cyclically elevated gold/XAU ratios have been associated with strong subsequent gains in the XAU index over a 3-4 year period on average, though certainly not without risk or volatility.

As a final example, some analysts (such as the Dow 36,000 authors) have argued that the proper risk premium on stocks, relative to Treasury securities, should be zero. This line of argument was used in 2000 to suggest that stocks were still cheap despite high apparent valuations. But this “secular” argument for high valuations ultimately did not weaken the long-term evidence and tight cyclical relationship between valuations and subsequent market returns. Despite all the new economy arguments about productivity growth,  the internet, globalization, the great moderation, and the outdated relevance of risk premiums, stocks still went on to lose half their value over the next two years, and to produce negative returns over the decade that followed.

The bottom line is that it becomes very tempting – both in speculative markets and fearful ones – to discard well-proven indicators as meaningless by arguing that some “structural” change in the market or the economy makes things different this time. True, those arguments can sometimes be used to explain very long-term changes in the level of an indicator. But even then, new economy arguments are typically ineffective at explaining away the informative cyclical variations in good indicators. Be particularly hesitant about ignoring indicators whose cyclical variations have been effective even in recent data, as is true of the ability of time-tested valuation approaches to explain subsequent 10-year market returns even during the period since the late-1990’s, and the ability of government and household savings to tightly explain cyclical swings in profit margins and subsequent profit growth, even in the most recent economic cycle.

Order Quantitative Value from Wiley FinanceAmazon, or Barnes and Noble.

Click here if you’d like to read more on Quantitative Value, or connect with me on LinkedIn.

h/t Joe

Read Full Post »

Corporate profit margins are presently 70 percent above the historical mean going back to 1947, as I’ve discussed earlier (see, for example, Warren Buffett, Jeremy Grantham, and John Hussman on Profit, GDP and Competition). John Hussman attributes it to the record negative low in combined household and government savings:

The deficit of one sector must emerge as the surplus of another sector. Corporations benefit from deficit spending despite wages at record lows as a share of economy.

John Hussman spoke recently at the 2013 Wine Country conference. Here he describes the relationship between corporate profits, and government, and household savings (starting at 22.08):

Hussman’s whole talk is well worth hearing.

Order Quantitative Value from Wiley FinanceAmazon, or Barnes and Noble.

Click here if you’d like to read more on Quantitative Value, or connect with me on LinkedIn.

h/t Meb Faber

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: