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March 2, 2017 Printable Version Printable Version

Diverging Market Opinions (aka The Bears vs The Bulls)
By Jeffrey Hoffmeyer, CFA, Analyst

This week’s Chart of the Week examines a recent phenomenon seen in valuations for both bonds and equities. U.S. stock prices rose quickly over the last year and a half with the S&P 500’s P/E ratio climbing to 21.8, surpassing its 20 year average. Meanwhile the Bloomberg Barclays Aggregate Index saw its option adjusted spread (OAS) fall below its 20 year average to .43%. OAS is a primary metric for evaluating bond prices and this tightening suggests that bond prices are relatively expensive.

This is a rare situation as it is counterintuitive for both indices to be valued highly at the same time. Highlighted in the brown bars on the chart are the months when this occurred. During the late 90s equity valuations hit historic highs with the tech bubble. Treasury rates during this time were as high as 7%, so even though spreads were low the total yield on the Agg was still relatively high. Today’s environment is much different with Treasury yields around 2%. Excluding a transitory period in 2003 this was the only other time when this happened.

What makes this so unusual is bond and equity prices typically move in opposite directions of each other. Stock valuations increase when investors are confident in the markets and want to take advantage of a strong economy. Bond prices typically rise during “risk off” periods when investors look to be more defensive. The fact that both are rising seems to suggest there is increasing polarization of opinions in the financial markets. Since there is so little precedence for this situation it is difficult to know what to expect, but something almost certainly will have to give. Only time will tell who will win: the bulls or the bears.

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