By Joseph Ciolli
(Bloomberg) --Here’s another way of thinking about how far stocks have come in nine years. Relative to balances in money market funds and cash among mutual fund managers, the value of global equities is the highest in almost two decades.
That observation courtesy of Ned Davis Research, which framed the comparison as an indication “cash is underweight” in Planet Earth’s asset portfolio. Another way of describing it is that equities have risen so much from the depths of the financial crisis that their value is blotting out everything else to an extent not seen since the dot-com bubble.
That stocks are at a 20-year high against anything isn’t hugely surprising considering the S&P 500 Index has closed at records 13 times in 2017. Like much valuation research these days, though, the Ned Davis study serves to illustrate exuberance among investors, showing that stocks keep levitating relative to a touchstone like cash that’s less given to volatility.
“It’s a way of showing stocks are pretty stretched, but that’s not to say they’re going to go down tomorrow,” Ed Clissold, chief U.S. strategist at the Venice, Florida-based firm, said by phone. “It just means there’s not a lot of cash to act as a shock absorber. This measure does tend to mean revert over time, and we’re near the low-end of the range, so this ratio will go back up again.”
At the end of January, the ratio of global equity values to money-market assets sat close to 10, the lowest reading since 1998, Ned Davis data show. Since peaking in 2009, the multiple fell sharply throughout the bull market, with much of the slope reflecting the inflation of share prices. They’ve more than tripled to $26 trillion, while money market assets have fallen 31 percent to $2.7 trillion.
In a Ned Davis calculation that treats the global investment portfolio as an amalgamation of stocks, bonds and cash, the latter now makes up about 17 percent of investor portfolios, less than half of its allocation in 2009 and close to the lowest since 1980. While bond holdings remained relatively steady over the same period, surging equity values pushed its share to about 60 percent, well above the long-term average.
As a sentiment gauge, the study is a distant relation of popular studies of investor and newsletter-writer optimism or even price-earnings ratios. In the options market right now, the CBOE Equity Put/Call Ratio fell to 0.53 last week, tied for the lowest since Dec. 9 and 20 percent below the measure’s one-year average.
Wall Street has also doubled down on bullish calls, with Stifel Nicolaus chief equity strategist Barry Bannister raising his year-end S&P 500 target to 2,500 from 2,400 on Thursday, the second-most bullish estimate out of 19 strategists surveyed by Bloomberg. One day before, Bank of America’s Savita Subramanian increased her forecast by 6.5 percent, citing ongoing investor euphoria.
Still, not every strategist is on board. While Tom Lee of Fundstrat Global Advisors recognizes that “ animal spirits” have helped lift U.S. stocks, he says investors aren’t paying close enough attention to conflicting signals from the Treasury market. Lee is currently the biggest bear on Wall Street according to Bloomberg’s survey, calling for a 4.5 percent decline from Thursday’s close with a year-end price target of 2,275.
“The spread between the 30-year and 10-year government bonds has narrowed,” Lee wrote in a client note on Friday. “Prior market declines were preceded by a flattening curve. The bond market is not necessarily embracing the pro-growth rise in expectations reflected in equities. ”
To contact the reporter on this story: Joseph Ciolli in New York at [email protected] To contact the editors responsible for this story: Arie Shapira at [email protected] Chris Nagi, Richard Richtmyer