Is the market over-priced?

In my last post I concluded that the same factors driving rising inequality — new technologies and access to cheap labor through increased globalization — may also be driving a sustainable increase in corporate profits. While we may be understandably wary of “this time is different”, consider the following:

The rise of China as a trading partner over the last two decades.

US Imports from China

Corporate profits at 11% of GNP suggest a new paradigm when compared to the historic (normal) range of 5% to 7%.

Corporate Profits/GNP

The decline in employee compensation as a percentage of corporate value added mirrors the rise in corporate profits.

Employee Compensation/Value Added

And Robert Shiller’s CAPE, normally used to argue that the market is currently overpriced. If we stood in 1994 and looked at the range of CAPE values for the past century, we would no doubt have concluded that a CAPE value greater than 20 indicates the market is overpriced. In the last two decades, the CAPE only briefly dipped below 20 at the height of the global financial crisis. Now pundits argue that a CAPE value greater than 25 indicates the market is overpriced. Something has definitely changed.

Shiller CAPE

Whether the change is sustainable, only time will tell. But one thing is clear. Of the 466 corporations who have so far reported earnings for the first quarter 2014, 77% have either beaten (68%) or met (9%) their estimates. Corporate profits are not in imminent danger of collapse.