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.
The Biggest Tech Talent Hubs in the U.S. and Canada
6.5 million skilled tech workers currently work in the U.S. and Canada. Here we look at the largest tech hubs across the two countries
The Biggest Tech Talent Hubs in the U.S. and Canada
The tech workforce just keeps growing. In fact, there are now an estimated 6.5 million tech workers between the U.S. and Canada — 5.5 million of which work in the United States.
This infographic draws from a report by CBRE to determine which tech talent markets in the U.S. and Canada are the largest. The data looks at total workforce in the sector, as well as the change in tech worker population over time in various cities.
The report also classifies which metro areas and regions can rightly be considered tech hubs in the first place, by looking at a variety of factors including cost of living, average educational attainment, and tech employment levels as a share of different industries.
The Top Tech Hubs in the U.S.
Silicon Valley, in California’s Bay Area, remains the most prominent (and expensive) U.S. tech hub, with a talent pool of nearly 380,000 tech workers.
Here’s a look at the top tech talent markets in the country in terms of total worker population:
|🇺🇸 Market||Total Tech Talent||% Talent Growth (2016-2021)|
|SF Bay Area||378,870||13%|
|New York Metro||344,520||3%|
|Salt Lake City||55,930||29%|
America’s large, coastal cities still contain the lion’s share of tech talent, but mid-sized tech hubs like Salt Lake City, Portland, and Denver have put up strong growth numbers in recent years. Seattle, which is home to both Amazon and Microsoft, posted an impressive 32% growth rate over the last five years.
Emerging tech hubs include areas like Raleigh-Durham. The two cities have nearly 70,000 employed tech workers and a strong talent pipeline, seeing a 28% increase in degree completions in fields like Math/Statistics and Computer Engineering year-over-year to 2020. In fact, the entire state of North Carolina is becoming an increasingly attractive business hub.
Houston was the one city on this list that had a negative growth rate, at -2%.
The Top Tech Hubs in Canada
Tech giants like Google, Meta, and Amazon are continuously and aggressively growing their presence in Canada, further solidifying the country’s status as the next big destination for tech talent. Here are the country’s four tech hubs with a total worker population of more than 50,000:
|🇨🇦 Market||Total Tech Talent||% Talent Growth (2016-2021)|
Toronto saw the most absolute growth tech positions in 2021, adding 88,900 jobs. The tech sector in Canada’s largest city has seen a lot of momentum in recent years, and is now ranked by CBRE as North America’s #3 tech hub, after the SF Bay Area and New York City.
Vancouver’s tech talent population increased the most from its original figure, climbing 63%. Seattle-based companies like Microsoft and Amazon have established sizable offices in the city, adding to the already thriving tech scene. Furthermore, Google is set to build a submarine high-speed fiber optic cable connecting Canada to Asia, with a terminus in Vancouver.
Not to be left behind, Ottawa has also taken giant strides to increase their tech talent and stamp their presence. The country’s capital even has the highest concentration of tech employment in its workforce, thanks in part to the success of Shopify.
The small, but well-known tech hub of Waterloo also had a very high concentration on tech employment (9.6%). The region has seen its tech workforce grow by 8% over the past five years.
Six out of the top 10 cities by tech workforce concentration are located in Canada.
Evolution of Tech Hubs
The post-COVID era has seen a shifting definition of what a tech hub means. It’s clear that remote work is here to stay, and as workers migrate to chase affordability and comfort, traditional tech hubs are seeing some decline — or at least slower growth — in their population of tech workers.
While it isn’t evident that there is a mass exodus of tech talent from traditional coastal hubs, the rise in high-paying tech jobs in smaller markets across the country could point to a trend and is positive for the industry.
While more workers with great talent, resources, and education continue to opt for cost-friendly places to reside and work remotely, will newer markets like Charlotte, Tennessee, and Calgary see a rise of tech companies, or will large corporations and startups alike continue to opt for the larger cities on the coast?
Animation: Visualizing U.S. Interest Rates Since 2020
U.S. interest rates have risen sharply after sitting near historic lows. This animation charts their trajectory since 2020.
Visualizing Interest Rates Since 2020
In March 2020, the U.S. Federal Reserve cut already depressed interest rates to historic lows amid an unraveling COVID-19 pandemic.
Fast-forward to 2022, and the central bank is grappling with a very different economic situation that includes high inflation, low unemployment, and increasing wage growth. Given these conditions, it raised interest rates to 2.25% up from 0% in just five months.
The above visualization from Jan Varsava shows U.S. interest rates over the last two years along with its impact on Treasury yields, often considered a key indicator for the economy.
Timeline of Interest Rates
Below, we show how U.S. interest rates have changed over the course of the pandemic:
|Date||Federal Funds Rate (Range)||Rate Change (bps)|
|July 27, 2022||2.25% to 2.50%||+75|
|June 16, 2022||1.50% to 1.75%||+75|
|May 5, 2022||0.75% to 1.00%||+50|
|March 17, 2022||0.25% to 0.50%||+25|
|March 16, 2020||0.00% to 0.25%||-100|
|March 3, 2020||1.00% to 1.25%||-150|
In early 2020, the Federal Reserve cut interest rates from 1% to 0% in emergency meetings. The U.S. economy then jumped back from its shortest recession ever recorded, partially supported by massive policy stimulus.
But by 2022, as the inflation rate hit 40-year highs, the central bank had to make its first rate increase in over two years. During the following Federal Reserve meetings, interest rates were then hiked 50 basis points, and then 75 basis points two times shortly after.
Despite these efforts to rein in inflation, price pressures remain high. The war in Ukraine, supply disruptions, and rising demand all contribute to higher prices, along with increasing public-debt loads. In fact, a Federal Reserve estimate suggests that inflation was 2.5% higher due to the $1.9 trillion stimulus, an effect of “fiscal inflation.”
Impact on the Treasury Yield Curve
The sharp rise in interest rates has sent shockwaves through markets. The S&P 500 Index has steadily declined 19% year-to-date, and the NASDAQ Composite Index has fallen over 27%.
Bond markets are also showing signs of uncertainty, with the 10-year minus 2-year Treasury yield curve acting as a prime example. This yield curve subtracts the return on short-term government bonds from long-term government bonds.
When long-term bond yields are lower than short-term yields—in other words, the yield curve inverts—it indicates that markets predict slower future growth. In recent history, the yield curve inverting has often signaled a recession. The table below shows periods of yield curve inversions for one month or more since 1978.
|Yield Curve Inversion Date||Number of Months||Maximum Difference (10 yr - 2 yr bps)|
*Data as of September 9, 2022
Source: Federal Reserve
For example, the yield curve inverted in February 2000 to a bottom of -51 basis points difference between the 10-year Treasury yield and the 2-year Treasury yield. In March 2001, the U.S. economy went into recession as the Dotcom Bubble burst.
More recently, the yield curve has inverted to its steepest level in two decades.
This trend is extending to other countries as well. Both New Zealand and the UK’s yield curves inverted in August. In Australia, the yield spread between 3-year and 10-year bond futures—its primary measure—was at its narrowest in a decade.
What’s On the Horizon?
Sustained Treasury yield inversions have sometimes occurred after tightening monetary policy.
In both 1980 and 2000, the Federal Reserve increased interest rates to fight inflation. For instance, when interest rates jumped to 20% in 1981 under Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, the U.S. Treasury yield inverted over 150 basis points.
This suggests that monetary policy can have a large impact on the direction of the yield curve. That’s because short-term interest rates rise when the central bank raises interest rates to combat inflation.
On the flip side, long-term bonds like the 10-year Treasury yield can be affected by growth prospects and market sentiment. If growth expectations are low and market uncertainty is high, it may cause yields to fall. Taken together, whether or not the economy could be headed for a recession remains unclear.
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