Excerpt from the Hussman Funds' Weekly Market Comment (12/13/10):
In recent weeks, the U.S. stock market has been characterized by an overvalued, overbought, overbullish, rising-yields syndrome that has historically been hostile to stocks. Last week, the situation became much more pointed. Past instances have been associated with such uniformly negative outcomes that the current situation has to be accompanied by the word "warning."
The following set of conditions is one way to capture the basic "overvalued, overbought, overbullish, rising-yields" syndrome:
1) S&P 500 more than 8% above its 52 week (exponential) average
2) S&P 500 more than 50% above its 4-year low
3) Shiller P/E greater than 18
4) 10-year Treasury yield higher than 6 months earlier
5) Advisory bullishness > 47%, with bearishness < 27% (Investor's Intelligence)
[These are observationally equivalent to criteria I noted in the July 16, 2007 comment, A Who's Who of Awful Times to Invest. The Shiller P/E is used in place of the price/peak earnings ratio (as the latter can be corrupted when prior peak earnings reflect unusually elevated profit margins). Also, it's sufficient for the market to have advanced substantially from its 4-year low, regardless of whether that advance represents a 4-year high. I've added elevated bullish sentiment with a 20 point spread to capture the "overbullish" part of the syndrome, which doesn't change the set of warnings, but narrows the number of weeks at each peak to the most extreme observations].
The historical instances corresponding to these conditions are as follows:
December 1972 - January 1973 (followed by a 48% collapse over the next 21 months)
August - September 1987 (followed by a 34% plunge over the following 3 months)
July 1998 (followed abruptly by an 18% loss over the following 3 months)
July 1999 (followed by a 12% market loss over the next 3 months)
January 2000 (followed by a spike 10% loss over the next 6 weeks)
March 2000 (followed by a spike loss of 12% over 3 weeks, and a 49% loss into 2002)
July 2007 (followed by a 57% market plunge over the following 21 months)
January 2010 (followed by a 7% "air pocket" loss over the next 4 weeks)
April 2010 (followed by a 17% market loss over the following 3 months)
We certainly are aware of trend-following models that are positive here, but these things are testable, and when we do so, we find that they have performed less well over the long-term, and with much larger drawdowns, than our Market Climate approach (if that wasn't the case, we would be using them instead). As I noted in recent weeks, we've introduced robust modifications that broaden the number of Climates we define, and will allow us to take moderate, transitory exposure to market fluctuations much more frequently. So despite our present defensiveness, we expect to have more sensitivity to short and intermediate-term fluctuations as we move forward. Clearing the overbought and overbullish components of the present environment, without a significant breakdown in overall market internals, would be the quickest way to prompt a more constructive stance, even in what we view as an overvalued market. All of that said, we are hard defensive here.