The Advent of a Cynical Bubble

That the US equity market is obscenely overvalued can hardly be news to anyone. Even a cursory glance at Exhibit 1 reveals that we are now at the second most expensive level of the Shiller P/E ever seen – surpassed only by the TMT bubble of the late 1990s!

Only a handful of what we might call valuation deniers remain. They are dedicated to finding new and inventive ways to make equities look reasonable, and they have never yet met a bull market that they didn’t love.

As we have documented before, the Shiller P/E isn’t perfect,1 but it does a pretty good job of providing a really simple way of checking valuation. Nor is it unique in showing the US equity market to be extremely expensive.2 So for all the hand-wringing over the inclusion of 2009 in the 10-year average, the lack of robustness, shifting payout policy, etc., that haunts discussions based on the Shiller P/E, it is still a very powerful metric.3

This is not news to most institutional investors. A recent Bank of America ML survey showed the highest level of those citing “excessive valuation” ever (see Exhibit 2).

Yet despite this, the same survey showed fund managers to still be overweight in equities (see Exhibit 3). This gives rise to the existence of that strangest of creatures: the fully-invested bear. The most common rationale for such a cognitively dissonant stance is “the fear of missing out on the upside”(aka FOMO – fear of missing out). As I think Seth Klarman pointed out long ago, this isn’t really fear at all, but rather greed.