Key Indicators

As we enter the tenth year of the bull market, stocks are no longer cheap. The market has risen significantly since the financial crisis, pushing valuation ratios above their long-run averages. Corporate earnings remain strong and continue to propel stock prices. If the economy continues to grow at a steady pace, the market could also continue to generate single-digit returns.

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Performance


Major Indices

S&P 500

The stock market has generated spectacular returns since it bottomed on March 9, 2009. Few investors expected this type of market recovery at the time. After all, there have been many causes for concern over the past eight years including the U.S. debt ceiling, the Eurozone crisis, China’s economic imbalances and Brexit.

Through all this, U.S. economic growth has been steady, allowing corporate profits to grow and stocks to appreciate despite these macroeconomic and geopolitical concerns. While we are probably in the later stages of the cycle, there aren’t clear signs of an end just yet.

S&P 500 Index
Short run chart
Source: Standard & Poor's
S&P 500 Index
Long run chart
Source: Standard & Poor's

Valuations



Valuation ratios are well above average for the broad market. The P/E ratio is now at its highest level since the dot-com bubble. This suggests that the market is no longer cheap, and by the same token, we should expect lower long-run returns.

Other valuation ratios are above their historical averages as well. For instance, the price-to-sales ratio (PS) is two standard deviations above average. This is because profit growth has outpaced sales growth as companies have cut costs and increased their profit margins.

Stock Market P/E Ratio
Price divided by estimated next-twelve-month earnings per share
Source: Thomson Reuters

Stock Market Valuations
Valuation ratios for the S&P 500 index, since 2003
Sources: Thomson Reuters, Clearnomics

Earnings



Corporate earnings have grown rapidly since the financial crisis, driven by two factors. First, companies cut costs in the wake of the recession which increased profit margins. Second, companies have used excess cash to repurchase their shares, which boosts earnings-per-share. These developments have been positive for investors.

S&P 500 Earnings-Per-Share
Trailing 12 month EPS
Source: Thomson Reuters

Investor Sentiment


AAII Investor Sentiment Index

The standard sign of a stock market bubble is “irrational exuberance.” Investors begin to bet on future increases in stock prices based on past momentum or the promise of new technologies.

Indicators of investor sentiment picked up after the presidential election but have moderated this year. Many investors are unsure how to feel about a stock market that continues to reach new highs this late in the economic cycle.

AAII Investor Sentiment Survey
Bull-bear spread and neutral responses
Source: AAII

Volatility


Volatility Meter

Stock market volatility is extremely low by historical standards. While this isn’t unprecedented – volatility can be low for long stretches of time – it could mean the market isn’t properly pricing in risk given the current economic environment. So while the VIX is not a market-timing tool, it does suggest that the market could be fragile to unforeseen shocks.

Volatility
CBOE VIX Index
Source: CBOE