The Bubble That Could Break the World

The Bubble That Could Break the World by Jim Rickards – Daily Reckoning

The key to bubble analysis is to look at what’s causing the bubble. If you get the hidden dynamics right, your ability to collect huge profits or avoid losses is greatly improved.

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Based on data going back to the 1929 crash, this current bubble looks like a particular kind that can produce large, sudden losses for investors.

The market right now is especially susceptible to a sharp correction, or worse.

Before diving into the best way to play the current bubble dynamics to your advantage, let’s look at the evidence for whether a bubble exists in the first place…

My preferred metric is the Shiller Cyclically Adjusted PE Ratio or CAPE. This particular PE ratio was invented by Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Shiller of Yale University.

CAPE has several design features that set it apart from the PE ratios touted on Wall Street. The first is that it uses a rolling ten-year earnings period. This smooths out fluctuations based on temporary psychological, geopolitical, and commodity-linked factors that should not bear on fundamental valuation.

The second feature is that it is backward-looking only. This eliminates the rosy scenario forward-looking earnings projections favored by Wall Street.

The third feature is that that relevant data is available back to 1870, which allows for robust historical comparisons.

The chart below shows the CAPE from 1870 to 2017. Two conclusions emerge immediately. The CAPE today is at the same level as in 1929 just before the crash that started the Great Depression. The second is that the CAPE is higher today than it was just before the Panic of 2008.

Neither data point is definitive proof of a bubble. CAPE was much higher in 2000 when the bubble burst. Neither data point means that the market will crash tomorrow.

But today’s CAPE ratio is 182% of the median ratio of the past 137-years.

Given the mean-reverting nature of stock prices, the ratio is sending up storm warnings even if we cannot be sure exactly where and when the hurricane will come ashore.


This chart shows the Shiller Cyclically Adjusted PE Ratio (CAPE) from 1880-2017.
Over this 137-year period, the mean ratio is 16.75, media ratio is 16.12, low is 4.78 (Dec 1920) and high is 44.19 (Dec 1999).
Right now the 33.68 ratio is above the level of the Panic of 2008, and above the level of the market crash that started the Great Depression.

With the likelihood of a bubble clear, we can now turn to bubble dynamics. The analysis begins with the fact that there are two distinct types of bubbles.

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