Avoid US stocks – even the Fed can’t keep the market up forever

America's stockmarkets breathed a sigh of relief after the Federal Reserve backpedalled on raising interest rates. But US stocks are in bubble territory. Investors should look elsewhere.


Even the US government is warning against US stocks.

So the US Federal Reserve bottled it.

Markets were holding their breath on Wednesday. They were worried that the Fed might take away the punch bowl. After all, six years into the wildest money-printing party ever, everyone knows that the only way to avoid a painful hangover is to keep on drinking.

The Fed did remove the word patient' from its communication. But it also moderated its hopes for growth, inflation and unemployment.

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Subscribe to MoneyWeek today and get your first six magazine issues absolutely FREE

Get 6 issues free

Sign up to Money Morning

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Sign up

As one analyst put it, the Fed is "no longer patient, but definitely not impatient, yet".

The back-pedalling helped buoy markets. But maybe they should be more concerned.

US stocks are already in bubble territory more stimulus or not, can they really go a lot higher from here?

Here's a surprise a US government agency warning on the stockmarket

Quite startlingly, it's carrying a rather bearish message not what you expect from a US government agency.

An analyst called Ted Berg has clearly taken a leaf out of well-known fund manager Jeremy Grantham's book. Grantham's wealth management group, GMO, is one of the best-known bubble experts in the financial industry.

One of Grantham's key indicators for spotting a bubble is when valuations get more than two standard deviations away from the historic average. A standard deviation (SD) is simply a statistical measure, you don't need to sweat about exactly what it means. It's a useful benchmark for spotting if prices are simply high, or insanely out of whack. At the two SD level, you're looking at the latter.

Berg has concluded in his Quicksilver Markets report that the key US market, the S&P 500, is very near two standard deviations above its historic average. This is 1999, 2000, 2007 territory.

He's using all the usual measures the ones we like at MoneyWeek magazine. There's the cyclically-adjusted price/earnings ratio (CAPE) which compares prices to average earnings over ten years. That's at a historic high (though not an all-time high).

There's Tobin's Q which put very simply, looks at what the total market costs compared to how much it would cost to build all the companies in the market from scratch. If the market value is a lot higher than the replacement value of the companies in the market, then it's overvalued.

Finally, there's the Buffett Valuation indicator. This looks at market capitalisation compared to a country's GDP. Again, on this measure, the US market is very overvalued compared to history.

As usual, none of these indicators are any good for short-term timing. There's no magic number where the market suddenly goes pop!'

And as many of the more optimistic pundits point out - with interest rates at these incredibly low levels, there's every reason for the market to be overvalued compared to history.

That's perfectly sensible. If the risk-free' rate collapses, then the yield you as an investor demand from other assets collapses too. And when yields collapse, prices go up.

Trouble is, that's all fine until interest rates rise. And that's why I think it's still well worth paying attention to these stuffy old valuation measures that suggest the market is incredibly overvalued.

The market might be able to stay where it is while interest rates are still nailed to the floor. But we are getting to a point where everything good' that can be priced into the market, must surely be priced in by now.

That leaves it very vulnerable.

How to cope with these markets

In MoneyWeek magazine this week, Jonathan Compton looks at some of his favourite ways to play the European market. You can get your first four issues free here if you're not already a subscriber.

But if you're interested in finding out more about how an active investor can adapt to these sorts of overblown markets, you should check out an offer from my colleague and regular MoneyWeek magazine contributor Tim Price.

It's a pretty unusual offer and it's proved exceptionally popular. If you haven't had a chance to look into it yet, I'd suggest you do now it's not going to be around for much longer.

John Stepek

John is the executive editor of MoneyWeek and writes our daily investment email, Money Morning. John graduated from Strathclyde University with a degree in psychology in 1996 and has always been fascinated by the gap between the way the market works in theory and the way it works in practice, and by how our deep-rooted instincts work against our best interests as investors.

He started out in journalism by writing articles about the specific business challenges facing family firms. In 2003, he took a job on the finance desk of Teletext, where he spent two years covering the markets and breaking financial news. John joined MoneyWeek in 2005.

His work has been published in Families in Business, Shares magazine, Spear's Magazine, The Sunday Times, and The Spectator among others. He has also appeared as an expert commentator on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, BBC Radio Scotland, Newsnight, Daily Politics and Bloomberg. His first book, on contrarian investing, The Sceptical Investor, was released in March 2019. You can follow John on Twitter at @john_stepek.