Six differences between now and last time Nasdaq was at 5,000

The market isn’t as frothy as it was in 2000, but it’s very expensive

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Though the NASDAQ Composite (^IXIC)  has finally clawed its way back to the 5,000 level it hit at the top the Internet bubble in March 2000, it’s nowhere nearly as overvalued today as it was then — 15 years ago.

Is that good news?

The bulls certainly think so. In fact, however, comparing the current market to the top of the Internet bubble is damning with faint praise. Today’s market is still more overvalued than it was at the vast majority of bull-market peaks of the last century.

It’s indicative of the current market euphoria that many bulls are focusing only on the comparison to March 2000 and conveniently ignoring the rest of history.

Before reviewing the inconvenient truths that this history presents, however, I’ll start with the comparison to March 2000, according to six widely followed valuation measures:

Price/earnings ratio: Based on trailing 12-month earnings, the S&P 500‘s P/E ratio stood at 29.0 at the top of the Internet bubble, versus 20.5 today.

Cyclically-adjusted P/E ratio, or CAPE: This stood at 43.8 in March 2000, versus 27.8 today.

Price/Sales ratio: At the top of the Internet bubble, this ratio got up to 2.1—versus 1.8 today.

Price/Book ratio: This ratio is 2.8 today, in contrast to 4.8 in March 2000.

Dividend yield: The S&P 500’s fell to 1.2% at the top of the Internet bubble; it’s 2.0% today.

q-ratio, an indicator that was championed by the late James Tobin, the 1981 Nobel laureate in economics, calculated by dividing market cap by the replacement cost of assets. Based on data compiled by Stephen Wright, an economics professor at the University of London, and Andrew Smithers, founder of the U.K.-based economics-consulting firm Smithers & Co., I estimate that this ratio currently stands at 1.13, versus 1.64 at the top of the Internet bubble.

In other words, if you use the March 2000 market top as your standard for judging whether equities are overvalued, the current stock market still has a long way to run.

The overwhelming reason to not use March 2000 top as your standard of market valuation: According to most valuation measures, that month’s market top represented the most extreme overvaluation in U.S. history. A far different picture emerges if we instead compare the current market to its valuation at past bull-market peaks.

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