Excerpted from John Hussman’s Weekly Market Comment,

Is this time different? I’ve often characterized our approach to the financial markets as a value-conscious, historically-informed, evidence-driven discipline. In recent years, we’ve often been asked whether the world has changed in a way that makes historical evidence an inadequate guide to investing.

In some cases, those learnable regularities can be derived on the basis of clear theoretical relationships that describe how the world works with reasonable accuracy.

For example, every long-term security is fundamentally a claim on a very long-duration stream of cash flows that can be expected to be delivered into the hands of investors over time. For a given stream of expected cash flows and a given current price, we can quickly estimate the long-term rate of return that the security can be expected to achieve (assuming the cash flows are delivered as expected). Likewise, for a given stream of expected cash flows and a “required” long-term rate of return, we can calculate the current price that would be consistent with that long-term rate of return. The failure to understand the inverse relationship between current prices and future returns is why investors frequently argue that rich equity valuations are “justified” by low interest rates, without understanding that they are really saying that dismal future equity returns are perfectly acceptable.

We also observe the very regular tendency for profit margins to increase during economic expansions (presently corporate profits are close to 11% of GDP), and to contract during softer periods. Corporate profits as a share of GDP have always retreated to less than 5.5% in every economic cycle on record, even in recent decades. Since stocks are most reliably priced on the basis of long-term cash flows, and not simply Wall Street’s estimate of next year’s earnings, we find that valuation measures that are either relatively insensitive to profit margin swings, or that correct for their variation over the economic cycle, are much better correlated with actual subsequent market returns than measures such as price/forward operating earnings that don’t do so.

Our valuation concerns don’t rely on any requirement for earnings or profit margins to turn down in the near term. Valuations are a long-term proposition that link the price being paid today to a stream of cash flows that, for the S&P 500, have an effective duration of about 50 years. In evaluating whether “this time is different,” it should be understood that current valuations are “justified” only if 1) the wide historical cyclicality of profits over the economic cycle has been eliminated, 2) the average level of profit margins over the next five decades will be permanently elevated at nearly twice the historical norm, 3) the strong historical advantage of smoothed or margin-adjusted valuation measures over single-year price/earnings measures has vanished, and 4) zero interest rate policies will persist not just for 3 or 4 more years, but for decades while economic growth proceeds at historically normal rates nonetheless. Believe all of that if you wish. Without permanent changes in the way the world works, on valuation measures that are best correlated with actual subsequent market returns, stocks are wickedly overvalued here.

The chart below show several of the measures that have the strongest relationship (correlation near 90%) with actual subsequent 10-year S&P 500 total returns, reflecting data from the Federal Reserve, Standard & Poors, Robert Shiller, and valuation models that we have published over the years.

As of last week, based on a variety of methods, we estimate likely S&P 500 10-year nominal total returns averaging just 1.5% annually over the coming decade, with negative expected returns on every horizon shorter than about 8 years. The chart above shows the historical record of these estimates (in percent) versus actual subsequent 10-year S&P 500 total returns. What’s notable is not only the strong correlation between estimated returns and actual subsequent returns, but also that the errors are informative.

Given the full weight of the evidence, it should be clear that one can’t just say “well, look, the S&P 500 has done better than these models would have projected a decade ago,” and use that as a compelling argument that this time is different and historical regularities no longer hold. Quite the opposite – the overshoot in S&P 500 total returns since 2004 – relative to the prospective returns one would have estimated at the time – is highly informative that stocks are strenuously overvalued at present. That conclusion has strong statistical support. In fact, when we examine the historical evidence, we find that there’s a -68% correlation between the error in the projected return over the past decade and the actual subsequent total return of the S&P 500 in the following decade. That is, the more actual 10-year S&P 500 returns exceeded the return that was projected, the worse the S&P 500 generally did over the next 10 years. Notably, the “Fed Model” has a correlation of less than 48% with actual subsequent 10-year returns. It’s sad when a valuation measure that is so popular is outperformed even by the errors of better measures.

Last week, however, the market re-established conditions extreme enough to place the present instance among what I’ve often called the “who’s who of awful times to invest.” Importantly, and in contrast to a few similarly extreme conditions we’ve seen in recent years, we presently observe both widening credit spreads and – at least for now – deteriorating internals and unfavorable trend uniformity on our measures of market action.

In short, our views will shift as the evidence shifts, but here and now, the market has re-established overvalued, overbought, overbullish conditions that mirror some of the most precarious points in the historical record such as 1929, 1937, 1974, 1987, 2000 and 2007. That syndrome is now coupled with continued evidence of a subtle shift toward more risk-averse investor psychology, primarily reflected by internal dispersion and widening credit spreads. I’ve often emphasized that the worst market outcomes have historically been associated with compressed risk premiums coupled with a shift toward risk aversion among investors. In those environments, risk premiums typically don’t normalize gradually – they do so in abrupt spikes. We’ll continue to respond as the evidence changes, but under current conditions, we view the investment environment for stocks as being among a handful of the most hostile points in history.

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Original source at: zero hedge - on a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero | http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2014-11-10/do-lessons-history-no-longer-apply