Excerpt from the Hussman Funds' Weekly Market Comment (6/4/12):
Since late-February, our estimates of the market's prospective return/risk tradeoff (over a set of horizons from 2 weeks to 18 months) have persistently held in the worst 0.5% of all historical observations. It's always important to emphasize that we try to align ourselves with the average return/risk profile that has historically accompanied the particular set of investment conditions we observe at each point in time, but that the outcome in any specific instance may not reflect the average return, and may even fall outside of what we view as the likely range of outcomes. That said, the awful behavior of the market in recent weeks is very run-of-the-mill in terms of how similarly unfavorable conditions have usually been resolved historically, and there is no evidence that this awful prospective course has changed much. The chart I included three weeks ago in Dancing at the Edge of a Cliff presents similar periods for historical perspective.
It's probably needless to say that last week's decline improved valuations modestly - we presently estimate prospective 10-year total returns (nominal) for the S&P 500 about 5.5% annually, based on our standard methodology. Most bear markets have historically ended only after prospective returns moved above 10% (including bear markets in periods of very low interest rates, and also including 2009). Moreover, regardless of whether interest rates have been high or low, extended secular bear markets have ended - and secular bull market advances have begun - only when prospective 10-year returns have reached about 20% annually (see Too Little To Lock In for a chart on this). So it won't come as a surprise that we don't view a 5.5% annual prospective total return as having much investment merit. You don't "lock in" prospective stock market returns - you ride them out, and holding on for the expectation of a 5.5% prospective annual return is likely to involve a very bumpy 10-year ride.
Investors with most of their assets already invested and unhedged should hope that prospective market returns move no higher than about 8% through the completion of the present cycle, since even touching a prospective return of 10% in the interim would require an S&P 500 in the mid-800's. Though I think it's plausible that we'll establish prospective returns consistent with the start of a secular bull market at some point in the next few years, actually quoting the associated level for the S&P 500 would only strain credibility here. Investors have forgotten so much after just 3 years time that it seems fruitless to talk about secular lows that only occur every 30-35 years (even if the last secular low was all the way back in 1982).