Tens of thousands of investors read my commentary at popular financial portals. Some have been reading my articles for more than a decade. Others might have clicked on a social media “follow” link in the last month or the last last year.
Ironically, few realize that I originally developed a front-n-center persona on national talk radio in the late 1990s. The medium was unique in the way that listeners felt like they had a connection with me (a.k.a. “the G-Man”) and I felt connected to them. In fact, I felt a responsibility to help people understand investment mania as well as how to protect one’s self from devastating loss.
Scores of folks in 50 some-odd cities may have listened for entertainment and perspective. On the other hand, many of those individuals did not take my words to heart. For instance, in 1999, I compared the stocks on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) with those that traded on the NASDAQ. The NYSE Composite had been flattening out over the final year-and-a-half of the 1990s whereas the NASDAQ Composite appeared to be charting a near-vertical course northward. Not only that, the records for the NASDAQ had been occurring on sky-high valuations and declining NASDAQ market internals (breadth). The bleak combination warranted caution.
I did not tell investors over the radio airwaves to sell every equity holding. After all, the NASDAQ’s uptrend remained intact due to a handful of market-cap leaders still shouldering the work-load. Instead, I suggested tactical asset allocation shifts to prepare for the inevitable bearish turn somewhere down the pathway. Lighten up on the more aggressive holdings that had already experienced the greatest gains. Shift a bit to value. Raise cash equivalents for future buying opportunities. And pick up a bit more of investment grade bonds.
The generalized recommendation to reduce the risk of loss was a winner in practice. Many who had lost 50%, 60%, 70% of their net worth pleaded for specialized asset management. Indeed, the 2000-2002 tech wreck is the reason that I was able to start my own Registered Investment Adviser that focused on the growth and protection of retirement portfolios.
Flash forward to present day euphoria. The collective sentiment of the go-for-growth crowd is that central banks will never allow recessionary pressures to build; relatively low rates and/or the possibility of additional measures to create money electronically will be there to prop up equities should the economy or market confidence stumble. In 1999, it was the dot-com revolution that caused investors to ignore the exorbitant valuations and pitiful breadth. In 2015, it is the remarkably low cost of capital as provided by central banks worldwide that is causing investors to dismiss ridiculous valuations and dismal market internals.
Are valuations really that ridiculous right now? Undoubtedly. And it does not matter if you prefer cyclically-adjusted price ratios (e.g., PE10), current price ratios (e.g., price-to-sales), the Buffett Indicator (market-cap-to-GDP) or a dividend yield-earnings yield combo. One can only decide that, like 1999, valuations no longer matter in a “New Economy,” or that 10-year returns for buy-n-hold will be woeful. In contrast, one could raise cash and less risky assets in his/her portfolio to buy at lower prices than currently exist.