Stocks are pricey but so are bonds and gold. Even Bitcoin has caught a bid after a months long fallow period recently, giving way to a powerful burst higher.
That dynamic has left many investors, strategists and other Wall Street watchers wrestling with some tough questions: What to buy if everything is trading at a relative premium to historic averages and the swiftly changing narrative on trade or the economy could ignite stomach-churning price swings?
And if it feels like the recent tandem asset run-up has the markets on a knives edge, it may be for a good reason. “Things can quickly change on a dime from a [Federal Reserve] perspective, from a trade perspective,” Lindsey Bell, investment strategist at CFRA, told MarketWatch in a recent interview.
The S&P 500 price-to-earnings — a popular way of valuing stocks — on a trailing 12-month basis is at 21.83, compared with a 10-year average of 17.87, according to Dow Jones Market Data. That means the combined price of the constituents of the index was almost 22 times the net earnings produced over the past year. The historical mean is 15.75.
If investors find those valuations rich, so-called haven investments also are pricey. Gold prices
for example, which don’t normally rally alongside assets perceived as risky like stocks, finished not far from their highest level in six-years on Friday at $1,413.70 an ounce, based on the most-active futures contract. That is higher than the one-year ($1,264.87/oz.), five-year ($1,243.19/oz.) and 10-year averages ($1,324.85).
The 10-year Treasury note yield
finished last week’s trade at 2%, about half-a-percentage point below the 10-year average for the benchmark bond at 2.482% — briefly dipping beneath that level to mark a nearly three-year nadir.
Outside of those widely followed instruments, Bitcoin
is trading at around $12,000, despite an end-of-the-week stumble, well above its average over the past three years at $5,253.56.
And a measure of the stock-market turbulence also is relatively richly priced. The Cboe Volatility Index
also known by its ticker symbol VIX, typically rises when stocks fall and for that reason is a common way to hedge against market slumps, stands at 15.08, not far from its five-year average at 15.08 or the 10-year average at 17.34.
The curious state of affairs in the investing landscape is one that some strategists argue is the byproduct of global central bankers who are struggling to sustain a decades-old recovery.
The Federal Reserve is considering easing monetary policy after a series of interest-rate increases that began at the end of 2015. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell has said “cross currents” from a dispute over trade policy and import tariffs between China and the U.S. is at least partly the justification for lowering borrowing costs again. The European Central Bank is similarly considering restarting measures to stimulate the eurozone’s economy.
One possible consequence of this…