For several months I have been holding elevated cash levels (above 10%) in most client accounts, due to the fact that the stock market appears overbought and has gone a very long time without a standard 10% correction. In fact, we have now gone more than a year without a 10% drop which is a long time historically. I decided to look at the data to see exactly how overbought this market is relative to other bull markets.
It turns out that the current streak of more than 400 days without a correction represents only the 14th time this has happened since 1928. Of those instances, the current bull market (up more than 80% from the March 2009 intra-day lows) places fourth on the list. The three stronger bull market streaks (1953-1955, 1990-1996, and 2003-2007) ranged from +97% to +131%.
Depending on your time frame, the current streak could be either alarming or unimportant. One could argue that the fourth longest streak in 82 years indicates near term problems on the way, but one could also conclude that the last streak of this length was only a few short years ago, so maybe it is becoming more and more common.
I prefer to look at the longest set of data we have, which is why I continue to hold above-average cash levels. The fewer data points you consider, the less reliable the data will actually be. This can explain a lot of things in various topics, including why there is such a heated debate about global warming right now. If you look at the last 5 years you might conclude that global warming is no longer happening. Conversely if you look at the temperature trends over the last 100 years, it is pretty obvious that global warming is occurring.
Looking at historical stock market data tells me that the current bull market is near the top of the list historically, but of course that does not mean stocks are going to fall anytime soon. Just three years ago the S&P 500 went 4 years without a 10% correction. Today it has only been a little more than 1 year. As a result, I prefer to hold extra cash to use should the correction come, but still have most of my clients’ capital invested in attractively-priced stocks.