2010’s coming stock market crash: 1987 all over again

Tuesday, May 18, 2010
By Paul Martin

By Shawn Tully
CnnMoney.com

In two tumultuous weeks in October 1987, the stock market shed nearly one-third of its value in perhaps the second most notorious crash in U.S. history. It could happen again. Don’t be deceived by the rebounding economy, any more than the bulls should have been misled by the balmy climate during the late Reagan years. Right now, stocks are extremely vulnerable to the same scenario. The reason: The market is even more overpriced than when thunder struck on that distant Black Monday.

That doesn’t mean that a giant correction is inevitable; far from it. But the quasi-bubble that followed the big selloff in late 2008 and early 2009 makes the probability of sudden downward swing far more likely. And today’s high prices make it practically certain that investors can, at best, expect extremely low returns in the years ahead.

In two tumultuous weeks in October 1987, the stock market shed nearly one-third of its value in perhaps the second most notorious crash in U.S. history. It could happen again. Don’t be deceived by the rebounding economy, any more than the bulls should have been misled by the balmy climate during the late Reagan years. Right now, stocks are extremely vulnerable to the same scenario. The reason: The market is even more overpriced than when thunder struck on that distant Black Monday.

That doesn’t mean that a giant correction is inevitable; far from it. But the quasi-bubble that followed the big selloff in late 2008 and early 2009 makes the probability of sudden downward swing far more likely. And today’s high prices make it practically certain that investors can, at best, expect extremely low returns in the years ahead.

In two tumultuous weeks in October 1987, the stock market shed nearly one-third of its value in perhaps the second most notorious crash in U.S. history. It could happen again. Don’t be deceived by the rebounding economy, any more than the bulls should have been misled by the balmy climate during the late Reagan years. Right now, stocks are extremely vulnerable to the same scenario. The reason: The market is even more overpriced than when thunder struck on that distant Black Monday.

That doesn’t mean that a giant correction is inevitable; far from it. But the quasi-bubble that followed the big selloff in late 2008 and early 2009 makes the probability of sudden downward swing far more likely. And today’s high prices make it practically certain that investors can, at best, expect extremely low returns in the years ahead.

Let’s gauge where the market stood just before the shock of October ’87. For this analysis, we’ll use the price-to-earnings multiples developed by Yale economist Robert Shiller, who smoothes the erratic swings in profits by calculating PEs based on a 10-year average S&P earnings, adjusted for inflation.

In the fall of 1987, stocks were on a tear. The Shiller PE had doubled to 18.3 in just four-and-a-half years. That’s far above the historical average of less than 14 (though pales in comparison to recent giant PE numbers). The dividend yield was also an extremely narrow 2.6%, well below the norm of around 4.5%. That’s important to remember, because over long periods, dividends are by far the biggest source of investor returns from equities. Then the bottom fell out of the stock market.

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