On bubble and the risks of the current rally

Here’s an excellent piece from John Authers of the FT for this weekend on the possibility of a bubble and the riskiness of the current rally:

Thus, in a true bubble, stocks are wildly overvalued compared with their fundamental measures, such as their earnings or the value of the assets on their balance sheets. But conventional valuation measures of stocks suggest they are still far from a true bubble. US stocks are trading at a multiple of 18.7 times their average earnings for the past 10 years, according to the data kept by Professor Robert Shiller of Yale University. Historically, extremes in cyclical price/earnings ratios have accurately signalled long-term market peaks and troughs. The cyclical p/e stood at 27 immediately before the crisis in 2007, for example, and reached 43 at the peak of the internet boom. So it looks premature to say stocks are in a bubble.

. . .

But an argument that this is an incipient bubble, carrying real risk that a mania will develop, is easier to sustain. First, according to Kindleberger, bubbles are driven by cheap credit. With US interest rates at zero, credit is very cheap. Second, many investors seem to be using bubble-like logic; they believe others will soon be prepared to buy even more.

Mark Lapolla, of Sixth Man Research in California, who has called aggressively for investment in the market, says he “cannot emphasise strongly enough just how big a role simple game theory will play”. He argues it is large equity mutual fund managers who are driving the market. Most have done well this year, and are ahead of the benchmark stock market indices against which they are compared. “Therefore the incentive is to not lose ground rather than gain it,” he says, so they will stick closely to stocks in the main indices to protect their year-end bonuses.

Read the whole thing here.

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