Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Market imbalances

Last weekend, I built a model using the Dow Industrial stocks (^DJI) to determine what the market risk premium is for stocks.  The results weren't exactly what I expected.  I have, from time to time, estimated the market risk premium using some "back-of-the-envelope" calculations to get a feel for whether market valuations in general were high or low.  The last time I did that, I estimated a market risk premium that was, on an historical basis, relatively low, perhaps 4 or 5%.  So, I was somewhat surprised to find that using this model revealed that the risk premium is currently (as of last weekend) about 7 or 8%, or about average for the last few decades.  And this result implies that current stock valuations are, in general, about average.

Knowing this, an investor might think that the stock market isn't accurately reflecting the risk of default on U.S. debt, and I have to agree with that, especially given the other global risks that we are facing.  These are not average times, and being that the risk premium should be a reflection of investor fear, the risk premium should be high.  It isn't.

In fact, one other surprising result from this model was that low beta stocks tended to be undervalued relative to high beta stocks.  It's as if investors are not looking at beta as a measure of risk, but rather a measure of reward.  Both of these are somewhat true, since a stock with a beta of 2 would be expected to rise twice as much as the market, but it would also be expected to decline twice as much, and it appears investors are ignoring that second part, perhaps because no one really believes the market is going to correct, or crash, any time soon.

And the result of this thinking, for whatever reason it is happening, is that there are some imbalances in the stock market, resulting in a better risk/reward ratio for lower beta stocks in general.  It's important to keep in mind that this is just a general statement and should not be taken as a recommendation to start loading up on low beta stocks.  But, perhaps, it does provide a good starting point for where to look for value priced stocks.

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