If you needed a reason to become bearish on the stock market, perhaps the best one appeared on the front cover of USA Today last month...
On the cover, the headline read, "5 Wall Street Heavyweights say 'It's Time To Get Back Into Stocks.'"
Yes, this is a signal to get bearish... not bullish. Why should you disagree with "heavyweights" who make millions of dollars on Wall Street?
Let's be clear about something. Wall Street brokerage firms and
their so-called research departments and asset-allocation models are
absolutely, positively worthless to you. They're best at destroying
value for investors, not creating it.
So when they say it's time to get back into stocks, it really means
they believe they can sell investors new stock fund products because
the broad market sentiment is bullish enough. They hear the ducks
quacking, and they plan to feed them. When everyone wants stocks, it's a
sign there's too much speculation in the market... and you should be
Another sign of speculation is investors are becoming more and more
bullish on stocks... even though stocks have soared since March 2009
and are now overvalued. Mark Hulbert tracks the bullish and bearish
sentiment of newsletters. When all the newsletter editors agree, it's
usually a sign that whatever trend they agree on is over.
Right now, Hulbert says stock market sentiment among newsletter
writers is "disturbingly high," meaning way too bullish. In his most
recent MarketWatch column, Hulbert says the current level of wildly
bullish sentiment is one "on which market declines typically thrive."
Hulbert also reports corporate insiders are selling stock at their
highest rate since early 2007... just months prior to the market's
all-time peak in October 2007.
Ned Davis Research also tracks investor sentiment through its Crowd
Sentiment Poll. The poll is currently at 69% bullish, which Ned Davis
Research describes as "Excessive Bullishness."
Excessive optimism and speculation produces excessive, dangerous
valuations. And this market is overvalued by every measure you can find.
I use three such measures: price/earnings (P/E) ratios, dividend
yields, and the ratio of the stock market to GDP. All three tell me to
avoid the overwhelming majority of stocks.
The U.S. stock market is trading at around 18 times earnings. That
means the average U.S. stock portfolio bought today might double your
money in 18 years (with a good crash or two in between). I don't have
that long to wait, so I'll pass.
Stocks are yielding about 1.85%. Dividends on a basket of U.S.
stocks bought today will pay back your initial investment in 54 years.
I'm 49. I'll be 103 in 54 years. Again, I don't have that long to wait.
So I'll pass (unless I can get huge dividend growth, in which case I'll
buy all I can get if the price is right).
In addition to P/E ratios and dividend yields, I also use a
favorite indicator of one of the world's greatest investors, Warren
Buffett (who learned it from his mentor, Ben Graham). The U.S.'s GDP is
about $14.75 trillion. The Wilshire 5000 index contains about 98% of
U.S. stocks by market cap. If you add the missing 2% to the Wilshire,
the U.S. market is worth about $14.9 trillion.
So the U.S. stock market is now priced higher than the entire
output of the U.S. economy. That's like saying the entire U.S. economy
consists of nothing but a few thousand publicly traded companies. Stocks
aren't truly undervalued until the market is around 80%-85% of GDP. At
100%-plus, they're absurdly expensive.
The best way to handle an overpriced, overly bullish stock market
is to hold a large chunk of cash in your account. In other words, it's a horrible time to buy almost any conventional stock or bond. It's an especially bad time to own the great majority of the standard income-producing securities.
This isn't exciting or fun. It's not the glamorous "2011 investment
guide" you're seeing everywhere else... But I believe sticking with
only the safest blue-chip dividend paying stocks – and holding plenty of
cash and gold – is better than losing a big chunk of money in a