Buffett Indicator at All-Time Highs: A Cause for Concern?
In 2001, Warren Buffett famously described the stock market capitalization-to-GDP ratio as “the best single measure of where valuations stand at any given moment.”
This ratio, now commonly known as the Buffett Indicator, compares the size of the stock market to that of the economy. A high ratio indicates an overvalued market—and as of February 11, 2021, the ratio has reached all-time highs, indicating that the U.S. stock market is currently strongly overvalued.
Today’s graphic by Current Market Valuation (CMV) provides an overview of how the Buffett Indicator has changed since 1950. We’ll also explain how the ratio is calculated, and why things might not be as dire as seem.
The Buffet Indicator, Explained
Before diving into the data, let’s cover the basics—what is the Buffett Indicator, and how is its value calculated?
The Buffett Indicator is a ratio used by investors to gauge whether the market is undervalued, fair valued, or overvalued. The ratio is measured by dividing the collective value of a country’s stock market by the nation’s GDP.
Measuring Total Value
CMV used the Wilshire 5000 index, along with data from the Federal Reserve for the historical component, to measure the collective value of the U.S. stock market. Here’s a look at the nation’s composite market value since 1950:
As the chart indicates, the market has experienced steady growth since 2010. And as of February 11, 2021, its total value sits at $49.5T.
For the data on GDP since 1950, CMV dipped into the archives from the U.S. Government’s Bureau of Economic Analysis:
While the Bureau’s data is published quarterly, it doesn’t provide the latest figures. So to find Q1 2021 GDP, CMV used data from the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, and came up with an annualized GDP of $21.7T.
According to Warren Buffett, “if the ratio approaches 200%…you are playing with fire.”
And with the current U.S. ratio sitting at 228%—about 88% higher than historical averages, it certainly looks like things are heating up.
Will History Repeat Itself?
As the popular investing expression goes, the trend is your friend. And historically, the Buffett Indicator has predicted several of America’s most devastating economic downturns.
Here’s a look at some historical moments in the U.S. stock market, and where the Buffett Indicator was valued at the time:
|Date||Event||Buffett Indicator||Value (+/- Trendline)|
|October 1987||Black Monday||Fairly Valued||-13%|
|March 2000||Dotcom Bubble||Strongly Overvalued||+71%|
|December 2007||Pre-Financial Crisis||Fairly Valued||+18%|
|March 2009||Financial Crisis Bottom||Undervalued||-46%|
|February 2021||Today||Strongly Overvalued||+88%|
As the table shows, the ratio spiked during the Dotcom Bubble, and was relatively high in the months leading up to the 2008 financial crisis. But does that mean we should take the ratio’s current spike as a warning for a market crash in the near future? According to some experts, we might not need to sound the alarms just yet.
Why are some investors so confident in the current market? One main factor is low interest rates, which are expected to stay low for the foreseeable future.
When interest rates are low, borrowing money becomes cheaper, and future real earnings are theoretically worth more, which can have a positive impact on the stock market. And low interest rates mean smaller returns for low-risk assets like bonds, which lowers investor demand and ultimately boosts stock prices further. Meaning that, as long as interest rates are at record lows, the Buffett Indicator will likely stay high.
However, history has been known to repeat itself. So, while we might not need to fasten our seatbelts just yet, this historically high ratio is certainly worth paying attention to.
Ranked: Big Tech CEO Insider Trading During the First Half of 2021
Big Tech is worth trillions, but what are insiders doing with their stock? We breakdown Big Tech CEO insider trading during the first half of 2021.
Big Tech CEO Insider Trading During The First Half of 2021
When CEOs of major companies are selling their shares, investors can’t help but notice.
After all, these decisions have a direct effect on the personal wealth of these insiders, which can say plenty about their convictions with respect to the future direction of the companies they run.
Considering that Big Tech stocks are some of the most popular holdings in today’s portfolios, and are backed by a collective $5.3 trillion in institutional investment, how do the CEOs of these organizations rank by their insider selling?
|CEO||Stock||Shares Sold H1 2021||Value of Shares ($M)|
|Jeff Bezos||Amazon (AMZN)||2.0 million||$6,600|
|Mark Zuckerberg||Facebook (FB)||7.1 million||$2,200
|Satya Nadella||Microsoft (MSFT)||278,694||$65|
|Sundar Pichai||Google (GOOGL)||27,000||$62|
|Tim Cook||Apple (AAPL)||0||$0|
Breaking Down Insider Trading, by CEO
Let’s dive into the insider trading activity of each Big Tech CEO:
During the first half of 2021, Jeff Bezos sold 2 million shares of Amazon worth $6.6 billion.
This activity was spread across 15 different transactions, representing an average of $440 million per transaction. Altogether, this ranks him first by CEO insider selling, by total dollar proceeds. Bezos’s time as CEO of Amazon came to an end shortly after the half way mark for the year.
In second place is Mark Zuckerberg, who has been significantly busier selling than the rest.
In the first half of 2021, he unloaded 7.1 million shares of Facebook onto the open market, worth $2.2 billion. What makes these transactions interesting is the sheer quantity of them, as he sold on 136 out of 180 days. On average, that’s $12 million worth of stock sold every day.
Zuckerberg’s record year of selling in 2018 resulted in over $5 billion worth of stock sold, but over 90% of his net worth still remains in the company.
Next is Satya Nadella, who sold 278,694 shares of Microsoft, worth $234 million. Despite this, the Microsoft CEO still holds an estimated 1.6 million shares, which is the largest of any insider.
Microsoft’s stock has been on a tear for a number of years now, and belongs to an elite trillion dollar club, which consists of only six public companies.
Fourth on the list is Sundar Pichai who has been at the helm at Google for six years now. Since the start of 2021, he’s sold 27,000 shares through nine separate transactions, worth $62.5 million. However, Pichai still has an estimated 6,407 Class A and 114,861 Class C shares.
Google is closing in on a $2 trillion valuation and is the best performing Big Tech stock, with shares rising 60% year-to-date. Their market share growth from U.S. ad revenues is a large contributing factor.
Last, is Tim Cook, who just surpassed a decade as Apple CEO.
During this time, shares have rallied over 1,000% and annual sales have gone from $100 billion to $347 billion. That said, Cook has sold 0 shares of Apple during the first half of 2021. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t sold shares elsewhere, though. Cook also sits on the board of directors for Nike, and has sold $6.9 million worth of shares this year.
Measuring Insider Selling
All things equal, it’s desirable for management to have skin in the game, and be invested alongside shareholders. It can also be seen as aligning long-term interests.
A good measure of insider selling activity is in relation to the existing stake in the company. For example, selling $6.6 billion worth of shares may sound like a lot, but when there are 51.7 million Amazon shares remaining for Jeff Bezos, it actually represents a small portion and is probably not cause for panic.
If, however, executives are disclosing large transactions relative to their total stakes, it might be worth digging deeper.
This Simple Chart Reveals the Distribution Of Global Wealth
Global wealth at the end of 2020 was about $418 trillion. Here’s a breakdown of the global wealth distribution among the adult population.
The Global Wealth Distribution in One Chart
The pandemic resulted in global wealth taking a significant dip in the first part of 2020. By the end of March, global household wealth had already declined by around 4.4%.
Interestingly, after much monetary and fiscal stimulus from governments around the world, global household wealth was more than able to recover, finishing up the year at $418.3 trillion, a 7.4% gain from the previous year.
Using data from Credit Suisse, this graphic looks at how global wealth is distributed among the adult population.
How is Global Wealth Distributed?
While individuals worth more than $1 million constitute just 1.1% of the world’s population, they hold 45.8% of global wealth.
|Wealth Range||Wealth||Global Share (%)||Adult Population|
|Over $1M||$191.6 trillion||45.8%||Held by 1.1%|
|$100k-$1M||$163.9 trillion||39.1%||Held by 11.1%|
|$10k-$100k||$57.3 trillion||13.7%||Held by 32.8%|
|Less than $10k||$5.5 trillion||1.3%||Held by 55.0%|
|Total||$418.3 trillion||100.0%||Held by 100.0%|
On the other end of the spectrum, 55% of the population owns only 1.3% of global wealth.
And between these two extreme wealth distribution cases, the rest of the world’s population has a combined 52.8% of the wealth.
Global Wealth Distribution by Region
While wealth inequality is especially evident within the wealth ranges mentioned above, these differences can also be seen on a more regional basis between countries.
In 2020, total wealth rose by $12.4 trillion in North America and $9.2 trillion in Europe. These two regions accounted for the bulk of the wealth gains, with China adding another $4.2 trillion and the Asia-Pacific region (excluding China and India) another $4.7 trillion.
Here is a breakdown of global wealth distribution by region:
|Change in Total Wealth |
|Change %||Wealth Per Adult |
India and Latin America both recorded losses in 2020.
Total wealth fell in India by $594 billion, or 4.4%. Meanwhile, Latin America appears to have been the worst-performing region, with total wealth dropping by 11.4% or $1.2 trillion.
Post-COVID Global Outlook 2020-2025
Despite the burden of COVID-19 on the global economy, the world can expect robust GDP growth in the coming years, especially in 2021. The latest estimates by the International Monetary Fund in April 2021 suggest that global GDP in 2021 will total $100.1 trillion in nominal terms, up by 4.1% compared to last year.
The link in normal times between GDP growth and household wealth growth, combined with the expected rapid return of economic activity to its pre-pandemic levels, suggests that global wealth could grow again at a fast pace. According to Credit Suisse estimates, global wealth may rise by 39% over the next five years.
Low and middle-income countries will also play an essential role in the coming year. They are responsible for 42% of the growth, even though they account for just 33% of current wealth.
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