8 reasons why fears of a stock-market bubble are overblown, according to Goldman Sachs

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Goldman Sachs said that fears of a bubble were overblown. Johannes Eisele/Getty Images
  • Goldman Sachs said that fears of a bubble in markets were overblown, despite a few concerning signs.
  • The analysts gave eight reasons, including lower levels of leverage and risk-taking.
  • They also said the boom in tech stocks had a firmer basis than in the dot-com bubble of the 1990s.
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With retail traders driving up stocks like GameStop, blank-check companies booming, and bitcoin soaring, many investors are worried about bubbles in financial markets.

But Goldman Sachs analysts said in a note on Monday that fears about bubbles were overblown. There are a few worrying signs, but markets now appear much safer than they were during the dot-com crash or the 2008 financial crisis, they said.

Here are the eight key reasons investors should not be overly concerned about the recent market frothiness, according to Goldman analysts including Peter Oppenheimer and Sharon Bell.

1. The stock-market rally is driven more by fundamental factors.

In bubbles such as the dot-com boom of the late 1990s, investors drove up asset prices with little rational basis, and the fear of missing out triggered buying frenzies.

The rise in stock prices over the past few years, particularly in tech, “has been impressive” but “is not nearly as extreme as the explosive rise that accrued during the late 1990s,” Goldman said.

The rally in tech firms can mostly be justified by “superior growth and fundamentals,” the note said, with earnings far outstripping the rest of the market.

2. The “equity risk premium” measure does not look worrying.

Goldman said that much of the market frothiness could be explained by record-low interest rates around the world.

The bank’s analysts pointed to a key measure of stock value, the equity risk premium, or the extra return investors get on stocks compared with holding risk-free bonds.

Goldman said that in the bubble of the late 1990s, investors were so confident about growth that they were prepared to buy stocks offering a dividend yield of 1% when they could make 6.5% holding bonds.

But record-low interest rates and better prospects today mean the equity risk premium is higher, suggesting investors are much more justified in bidding up stocks.

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3. Market concentration has increased – but is not dangerous.

Goldman said Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Google were increasingly dominant, with a market capitalization nearly three times the annual GDP of India.

But the bank’s analysts said that such a concentration “has reflected strong fundamental growth, rather than the hope, or promise, of returns far into the future.” This suggests it’s far more sustainable than in previous asset rallies.

4. A big jump in retail trading has followed years of outflows from equities.

The GameStop saga in January brought the power of retail investors to the attention of Wall Street.

Goldman said that the rise in amateur investing had been “breathtaking” and that one of its key measures of risk-taking had hit a level associated with a 10% drop in stock markets.

But the analysts said that “while flows have been significant of late, we have come from many years of outflows from risk assets like equities.”

5. Credit is cheap, but investors aren’t being overly risky.

Central-bank interest rates are at record lows, as were bond yields until recently, making borrowing very cheap.

But Goldman said that speculative bubbles are associated with banks and companies funding risky activities through debt and with a collapse in household savings, which “is not the case today.”

Banks are very strong thanks to reforms, the note said, adding that US households had accumulated about $US1.5 ($2) trillion in savings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

6. Mergers and acquisitions are booming from a low base.

The excitement about special-purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs, has many investors worried about frothy markets.

“Booming M&A activity and equity issuance are reminiscent of activity rates in previous cycles,” Goldman said.

But it added that the activity did not appear excessive “when adjusted for the market capitalization of equity markets.”

7. The surge in certain sectors is driven by profitable companies.

Market bubbles are often driven by an enthusiasm for new technologies, such as the internet in the dot-com era.

Goldman said that while tech and green stocks had indeed boomed, a fall in these stocks should not lead to widespread company collapses, as most of them are profitable.

8. Stocks are rising as economies recover from a slump.

The Wall Street bank said the powerful rally in stocks from last March to September was typical of a “hope” phase of a bull-market run after an economic slump.

“This phase is generally followed by what we call the ‘growth’ phase,” when earnings pick up, it said, though there could be bumps along the way.

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