John P. Hussman, Ph.D.
With the exception of extreme market conditions (see Warning- Examine All Risk Exposures , andExtreme Conditions and Typical Outcomes ), I try not to wave my arms around about near-term market risks, but I think it’s important to cut straight to the chase here. The present market environment warrants unusual concern, in my view. Based on a wide variety of evidence and its typical market implications over an ensemble of dozens of subsets of historical data, the expected return/risk profile of the stock market has shifted to hard-negative. This places us in a tightly defensive position. This isn’t really a forecast in the sense that shifts in the evidence even over a period of a few weeks could move us to adjust our investment stance, but here and now we observe conditions that have often produced abrupt crash-like plunges. This combination of evidence includes elevated valuations, overbullish sentiment, market internals best characterized as a “whipsaw trap” on the basis of typical follow-through, heightened credit strains, and clear evidence (on reliable forward-looking indicators) of oncoming recession, among other factors.
As always, we try to align our investment positions with the evidence we observe. If the evidence softens, our hedges will soften. While the quickest route to a modest exposure to market fluctuations (perhaps 20-30%) would be a clear improvement in market internals – which could justify a less defensive stance even in the face of recession risks and rich valuations – the most likely route to a significant investment exposure would be a decline to much lower prices and correspondingly higher prospective returns. Presently, avoidance of major market losses takes precedence in our analysis.
On a valuation front, we estimate that the S&P 500 is likely to achieve an average total return over the coming decade of about 4.8% annually. This is certainly better than the projected returns that we have observed over much of the past decade, but then, the past decade has produced virtually no total return for equity investors at all. An expected total return of 4.8% is also clearly better than is presently available on Treasury bills, which are priced to return a single basis point of interest annually, and is also better than the sub-2% yield available on 10-year Treasury debt.
The problem is that the duration of a 10-year Treasury bond is only about 7 years, which is not only the weighted average time it takes to receive the future stream of payments, but also conveniently measures the expected percentage change in the bond price for a 1% change in long-term return.
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