Although I don't agree that stocks and houses are egregiously overvalued, he is correct to point out that Fed policy is in uncharted waters: "we have analyzed data going back two centuries and found that until the past decade no major central bank had ever before set short-term interest rates at zero, even in periods of deflation." It's also the case that no central bank has ever expanded its balance sheet to the extent the Fed has, and excess reserves in the U.S. banking system are orders of magnitude higher (currently about $2.5 trillion) than they have ever been before. He is also correct when he concedes that it is hard to prove that Fed policy has been inflationary since measured inflation remains quite low.
His beef is with asset market prices, something the Fed has never attempted to control, but which he thinks they should pay attention to, if not worry about.
I do think that bond yields are low enough—relative to core inflation—to be considered "bubbly," but as I've noted for some time now, stocks appear to be trading only modestly above what looks to be fair value, and housing prices are still well below their 2006 highs. Furthermore, if money were so easy that as to be artificially inflating asset prices, I should think the dollar would be very weak, and certainly not trading—as it is—at historically average prices relative to other currencies. On balance, I don't think it's at all obvious that we are in the presence of dangerously inflating asset bubbles in stocks and housing. We may well get there, if the Fed fails to tighten monetary policy in a timely and sufficient manner, but we're not there yet.
What follows are some charts that help back up my assertions:
10-yr Treasury yields—the benchmark for most bonds—are indeed very close to their all-time lows.
But looking at nominal yields in a vacuum can be misleading. It's best to compare nominal yields to inflation, since that gives a much better idea of the true "valuation" of bonds. As the chart above shows, when core CPI inflation is subtracted from 10-yr Treasury yields they are still more than 100 bps above their modern-era lows. But abstracting from the period 2011-2013, real yields haven't been as low as they are today for the past 40 years. I think this qualifies as "bubbly," but to be fair it's also symptomatic of significant risk aversion (i.e., the world is willing to pay very high prices for the safety of Treasuries).
Real home prices are still 25% below their 2006 peak. Meanwhile, 30-yr fixed mortgage rates today are just under 4%, while they were 6% or higher in 2006. Housing is therefore much more affordable today than it was in 2006 or 2007. It could take years for housing to return to the valuations of 2006/2007.
At 18.5, the current PE ratio of the S&P 500 is only moderately higher than its 55-year average. It was far higher in the late 1990s. This could arguably be grounds for thinking that stocks are overvalued.
However, as the chart above shows, after-tax corporate profits have been running at record levels relative to GDP for the past several years. Profit margins, in other words, are at record levels and have been for some time now. Why shouldn't PE ratios be trading a bit rich considering how strong profits have been?
The chart above compares the earnings yield on stocks to the inverse of the real yield on 5-yr TIPS (which I use as a proxy for their price). Here we see that TIPS are still trading at very high prices, which means that the market is willing to pay a huge premium for the double safety of TIPS (which are default-free and protected against inflation). Earnings yields are also relatively high, which means the market is not very confident that profit margins will continue at current lofty levels. Together, these are symptomatic of a market that does not believe the economy is going to be very strong for the foreseeable future. In other words, this is a market that is still quite risk-averse—not a market that is over-priced.
As the chart above shows, the difference between the earnings yield on stocks and the yield on 10-yr Treasuries (a measure of the equity risk premium) is quite a bit higher than its historic average. If we grant that yields on Treasuries are "bubbly" and should be closer to 4% than to 2%, then the equity risk premium today would be about normal. So in this sense stocks are not over-priced at all; they are priced to the expectation that yields—and discount rates—will be much higher in the future.
The chart above compares the ratio of the S&P 500 to nominal GDP (blue line) to the yield on 10-yr Treasuries. The two tend to track each other, which is reasonable, since profits are a function of nominal GDP and the value of stocks is the present value of future profits discounted by some interest rate. Higher yields go hand in hand with lower valuations, and vice-versa. By this measure, stocks today have about the same valuation as they did in the 1960s, when bond yields were around 4%. In other words, stocks are not being discounted at current interest rates; rather, they are behaving as if interest rates were 4% instead of 2%. This is yet another sign that stocks are not wildly over-valued. (Note how stocks were indeed very overvalued by this measure in the late 1990s.)
If there is one fundamental reason for why the Sharmas of the world worry about over-priced asset markets but I don't, it is because they fail to understand that the Fed hasn't been super-easy. They start by assuming that monetary policy and zero interest rates are highly stimulative, and have been for years, and that therefore asset markets must be overpriced. They believe that monetary inflation can be found in asset prices, and it will eventually show up in the official inflation numbers.
In contrast, I start with the assumption that the Fed has not been stimulative. The Fed has merely accommodated a very strong demand for money, which in turn is a by-product of the huge degree of risk aversion that has been in evidence around world in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. The Fed hasn't printed massive amounts of money, they've only swapped bank reserves for notes and bonds, in an effort to satisfy a risk-averse world.
I've explained this in greater detail in many posts over the past several years, and you can find some here. Quantitative Easing, huge excess reserves, low inflation, a relatively strong dollar and risk-averse markets all fit together, once you understand the Fed hasn't been super-easy. The equity and housing markets are not cheap, but they are not necessarily overpriced: in fact, I think they're still somewhat cautiously priced.