Christopher Caparelli, CFA
As U.S. equity indices again touched record highs during the first quarter, the appropriate valuation level for the market continues to be a popular topic in the financial press. Complicating the issue for investors is the tendency of the financial press to use different valuation methods interchangeably (trailing price to earnings, forward price to earnings, cyclically adjusted price to earnings, enterprise value to pre-tax income, etc.). Oftentimes different valuation methods will flash different signals and there is no single method generally accepted as the “correct” indicator. When confusion arises, it is natural to have Warren Buffett weigh in on the issue with his trademark simplicity. In a 2001 article appearing in Fortune Magazine, Mr. Buffett commented that at any given point in the market cycle, market-cap to GDP is likely the best long-term valuation indicator of the market.
In this week’s chart, we plot the market-cap to GDP ratio for the U.S. by dividing the average quarterly market-cap of the Wilshire 5000 index by the quarterly nominal GDP of the U.S. economy. At the end of 2014, this ratio stood at 122%, the highest level seen since the late 1990s and almost 2 standard deviations away from the 43-year average. Although revered by Mr. Buffett, this indicator should not be relied upon for its predictive power. Instead, it should serve as another data point that urges caution to investors considering outsized allocations to U.S. equity.
Research alerts keep you updated on our latest research publications. Simply enter your contact information, choose the research alerts you would like to receive and click Subscribe. Alerts will be sent as research is published.
We respect your privacy. We will never share or sell your information.
If you have questions or need further information, please contact us directly and we will respond to your inquiry within 24 hours.Contact Us >