This weekend we mentioned the latest Barron’s cover, which is about the paper’s professional investor survey, which shows record high bullishness and a widespread belief that the Dow is going to go to 16,000.
John Hussman, the famously bearish mutual fund manager, sees this as screaming sell signal, as he invokes the ol’ contrarian magazine cover indicator.
The Barron’s Big Money Poll is typically bullish, on balance. This is Wall Street, after all. But variations in the tone and extent of that bullishness can be informative, especially when the consensus is extremely optimistic at new highs of mature bull markets, and defensive at new lows of mature bear markets. I can’t really throw stones about 2009, as I had my own concerns at the time (relating to the need to stress-test against Depression era outcomes, despite our favourable views of valuation). But it’s worth noting that the 2009 Big Money Poll questioned the advance from the March lows, noting “good reason not to jump in with both feet yet.” The 2003 Big Money Poll – already well into a new bull market – was bullish on balance, and up from just 43% bulls in an October 2002 poll near the market lows. Still, the 2003 poll noted “the bulls’ views have been tempered by the market’s losses in recent years. Consequently their expectations for the Dow, the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index, and the Nasdaq Composite have been ratcheted down from past surveys.”
This certainly isn’t a criticism of Barron’s itself. I grew up on Barron’s Magazine, and will remain a devoted reader at least as long as Alan Abelson provides a worthy counterbalance to the more short-sighted views of Wall Street and the Market Lab section remains in print. Still, the Big Money Poll is most useful as a contrary indicator.
Rule o’ Thumb: When the cover of a major financial magazine features a cartoon of a bull leaping through the air on a pogo stick, it’s probably about time to cash in the chips.
Anyway, this chart from Hussman says it all.