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December 1961 (followed by 28% market loss over 6 months)
January 1973 (followed by a 48% collapse over the following 20 months)
August 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% loss over the following 3 months)
December 1999 (followed by a 9% loss over the following 2 months)
March 2000 (followed by a 49% collapse in the S&P over the following 30 months)
The defining characteristics of these instances were:
1) price/peak-earnings multiple above 18
2) 4-year high in the S&P 500 index (on a weekly closing basis)
3) S&P 500 8% or more above its 52-week moving average (exponential)
4) rising Treasury and corporate bond yields
Depending on how we define the interest rate trends, we can include two additional historical instances of these conditions: October 1963 and May 1996, both closely followed by 7-10% corrections.
One more instance completes the list: July 2007.
....It's extremely important to emphasize that I am not making a forecast or a “bearish call.” ....
The point of this analysis is instead to emphasize that based on prevailing market conditions, we have no evidence on which to accept market risk here. There is no need to forecast a decline – it is enough that, on average, the market has lagged Treasury bills in conditions similar to the present (though the skew, depth and abruptness of the historical losses in this case are striking). No evidence to take market risk, no market risk taken. It's that simple. ....
Frankly, I don't know whether investors will drive the market even higher in the weeks ahead. My opinion is that whatever gains emerge (and indeed, much of what has already emerged) will ultimately prove quite temporary. What I do know is that certain factors have reliably identified egregiously bad times to accept market risk, and that every historical instance similar to the present has been a disaster. The current instance may very well prove to be the exception, but I do not invest shareholder assets on the hope that the future will be entirely at odds with all available historical evidence. .....