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As the S&P 500 approaches a fresh all-time high, what's a timid investor to do? If you're still on the sidelines, economist Robert Shiller thinks that you can still buy in to the market. He would just advise you to take it easy on the bullish enthusiasm.
"I'm not really saying don't invest in stocks," the Yale economist said Thursday on CNBC's "Futures Now." But "don't expect miracles."
After all, stocks might be more expensive that you think. The commonly used 12-month trailing price-to-earnings ratio shows that the market is currently valued at about 19 times earnings—which is only slightly higher than the historical average of 15. But Shiller's cyclically adjusted price-to-earnings ratio (or CAPE) casts things in a different light. CAPE compares the price of the market to inflation-adjusted returns from the prior 10 years, and shows that the market is now valued at 24 times earnings. That is well above CAPE's average reading of 16, and according to Shiller, that means that stocks are now somewhat expensive.
The current reading is "high by historical standards, but it's not super-high," Shiller said. "I'd say it's suggesting—based on historical evidence—real returns of something like 3 percent a year for the next decade."
Shiller says CAPE is "a better measure of price earnings, and it predicts the stock market better than the traditional" P/E ratio. But his metric has recently come under some fire.
In an August piece in the Financial Times ("Don't put faith in Cape crusaders"), Wharton professor of finance Jeremy Siegel wrote: "I believe the CAPE ratio's overly pessimistic predictions are based on biased earnings data. Changes in the accounting standards in the 1990s forced companies to charge large write-offs when assets they hold fall in price, but when assets rise in price they do not boost earnings until that asset is sold."
Instead of using S&P earnings data, Siegel suggests using the after-tax profits reflected in the government's national income and product accounts (NIPA) data. "When NIPA products are substituted for S&P reported earnings in the Cape model, the current market shows no overvaluation," Siegel writes.
In many ways this is a complicated academic argument, but the economists' dueling models have serious ramifications for the average investor. Shiller's belief that the market is relatively expensive leads him to predict that stocks won't move much higher. On the other hand, Siegel's call that stocks are reasonably priced supports bullish calls like the one he made on Aug. 6 on "Futures Now," when he argued that the Dow could easily hit 18,000 by the end of 2014.
(Read more: Siegel: Keep buying—you 'can't lose')
Dennis Gartman told CNBC's "Futures Now" on Thursday that his gold call last month couldn't have been more off the mark.
"I think the stock market has a little bit further to go on the downside, perhaps another 25 or 30 S&P points," Gartman said on the Aug. 22 episode of "Futures Now." "So if I had 'X' amount of money to put to work, I'd put it to work in the gold market."
What's happened since then? To put it bluntly, that turned out to be dead wrong.
From Aug. 22 to Sept. 12, the S&P added 30 points, while gold slid $40. Overall, the metal underperformed the S&P by about 5 percent.
"Clearly I'm wrong on the gold, and there's no reason to be anything other than truthful about it," Gartman said.
(Read more: 'Pre-emptive selling' pushes gold to 4-week low)
"What's happened? Peace, or whatever, has broken out. And peace—or at least a lessening of the discord—is always bearish of the gold market," Gartman said.
Whereas U.S. military action once seemed likely in Syria, the emergence of a credible diplomatic option has changed the odds completely. And since war-based uncertainty tends to boost gold, the smaller chance of a strike took a serious toll on it.
(Read more: More 'innocent victims' if US strikes Syria: Putin)
Gartman also pointed out that gold had been a crowded trade, saying, "A lot of people were bullish, a lot of people were long."
Now that the Syria situation has been moved to the back burner, market participants are refocusing on the same old question: What will the Fed do?
This question is more pressing than it's been in a long time. The Federal Open Market Committee will make its next policy statement next Wednesday. And many expect that when it does, the Federal Reserve will announce a reducing, or "tapering," of its quantitative easing program.
(Read more: Retail investors shrug off fears of Syria, Fed taper)
So will the Fed taper? In my view, yes, a taper is coming—and the better question to ask ourselves is, what will the taper look like? Will it be a $20 billion to $25 billion reduction, or will the Fed take a more cautious route, and only taper down $10 billion or $15 billion?
I believe that the Fed will taper somewhere between $10 billion and $15 billion, and I also believe that this number will mostly be factored in to asset prices already.
It's been quite the run for rates. The 10-year yield has nearly doubled since the beginning of May, and it recently touched 3 percent for the first time in over two years. But according to one top technician, the spike is over—at least in the short term.
MacNeil Curry, head of global technical strategy at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, does think that yields will eventually rise much higher. In fact, on the Aug. 15 edition of "Futures Now," he made the prescient prediction that the 10-year yield was headed to 3 percent. But after that called played out perfectly, Curry has switched.
"We're stuck in a 3 percent to 2.7 percent range" on the 10-year yield, Curry said on Tuesday's "Futures Now."
(Read more: US Treasury yields edge down; focus still on Syria)
After all, he noted that sentiment has gotten remarkably one-sided. Investors have gotten unabashedly bearish on bonds, which move inversely to yields.
"If you look at a whole host of external sentiment providers, by pretty much every metric, we're at bearish extremes which historically lead to a pause, if not a reversal," he said.
Curry sees the same thing when he simply looks at the chart. After all, one needn't be a technical genius to appreciate that the bond market has moved very far, very fast.
Crude oil is sliding on Tuesday, as a U.S. military strike of Syria appears less likely. Russia has proposed that Syria hand over its chemical weapons stockpile, and President Barack Obama has agreed to a U.N. discussion of the proposal.
(Read more: Oil hammered as Syria strike odds fade)
The market is beginning to realize that Obama has an out. At this point, I don't believe there is much of a chance that we bomb Syria, and the market seems to agree with me. We have to remember that this administration ran on an anti-war platform. So does the president really want to go directly against public sentiment and enter into a third conflict? I believe the answer to that is no, and that the crude market will now begin to remove the Middle East premium.
Coffee futures may have gotten roasted over the past two years, but don't expect to pay less for your morning latte. Instead, the drop is seen as a boon for coffee sellers like Starbucks and Green Mountain.
Since hitting a high in May 2011, coffee futures have lost almost two-thirds of their value. In fact, the futures recently hit a four-year low of $1.15 a pound.
Largely to blame has been Brazil. The world's biggest coffee producer and exporter, Brazil produced a record crop in 2012. While the harvest is expected to be slightly down this year, it is still expected to be very large, and another record is expected in 2014.
If there's one company that's been helped by the price decline, it's been Green Mountain Coffee.
The slide in coffee prices has had an "enormous impact" on Green Mountain, said Jonathan Feeney, who covers the company for Janney Capital Markets. "You've seen nothing but top-line misses and enormous beat on the bottom line," because of the increased profits from lower coffee costs.
(Read more: Green Mountain earnings beat, revenue falls short)
And according to research released by Feeney on Monday, Green Mountain's commodity costs are down by 11.3 percent in September, compared with the year prior. "That alone would be inflationary to gross margins by 250 basis points," he said. In other words, Feeney expects the decline he's measuring for the month of September to add 2.5 percent to the company's profits.
After all, Green Mountain is in a "commodity-oriented business," Feeney explains. "It's a product that you just roast and put in a can."
How many more clowns can fit into the car?
The Nasdaq 100 printed another 13-year high on Monday morning, as we continue to see investors get into the outperforming index. But just like a clown car at the circus, it is amazing how many people can be squeezed into one vehicle.
(Read more: Trading will get crazy! 3 ways to stay sane: Pro)
In August, the Nasdaq outperformed again, as the Nasdaq futures drove near the flat line while the Dow Jones swerved by more than 4 percent. Nasdaq traders now wait in anticipation of the Apple announcement on Tuesday.
After all, Apple is the heavyweight of the Nasdaq index, and with the stock doing flips around the $500 level, hopefully the event will provide some clarity.
With a gigantic event for gold coming next week, we expect to see the metal stay in a range over the next few days. But if gold somehow falls below $1,352, it could mean big trouble for it..
Gold used a disappointing employment report on Friday to trade $25 from its low on Friday morning, and to reach a high of $1,393.60—just shy of resistance at $1,395.20. Meanwhile, on the downside, Friday's low of $1358.20 kept gold away from the $1,352 make-or-break line in the sand.
(Read more: Why bad news for workers is great news for gold)
As we head into this week, the major focus is the FOMC meeting that begins a week from Tuesday. After all, it is the announcement from this meeting (which we will get on Wednesday, Sept. 18) that will finally give us some clarity on when the Federal Reserve will begin to taper its easing program, and by how much.
Ahead of this event, we are looking for the market to stay range-bound into next week, and we will continue to trade the levels.
(Read more: Top technician is sure that gold's going to $1,200)
As soon as the jobs number came out on Friday morning, gold immediately shot $20 higher. This is a clear reflection of the number's weakness.
Nonfarm payrolls data showed that 169,000 jobs were added in August, compared with estimates of 180,000 jobs. And at this point in the recovery, 169,000 jobs is simply not good enough.
And while the unemployment rate dropped to 7.3 percent, that was because fewer people were looking for jobs. Incredibly, the labor force participation rate dropped to 63.2 percent, which is the lowest it's been since 1978.
(Read more: Gold has become a 'Humpty Dumpty' trade)
While I don't think this weak number takes a Federal Reserve tapering of quantitative easing off the table, it could certainly lead the Fed to taper at a slower rate.
Again, after five years of stimulus, these numbers are simply not where they should be. So why would the Fed scurry for the exit now, instead of tapering down its bond-buying program at a more manageable rate?
Forget Friday's bond rally off of the weaker-than-expected jobs report. Because while the 10-year yield dropped below 2.9 percent on Friday, Brent Schutte, market strategist at BMO Private Bank, says we've hardly seen the start of the rate rise. That would mean that bond prices, which move inversely to rates, have much further to fall.
"For all the talk of a cult of equities, I think there's a cult of bonds," Schutte said on Thursday's "Futures Now." "We had this great 30-year bond bull market that made people think there was no reason not to buy bonds, and that things were going to be OK."
But in Schutte's view, "4 percent (on 10-year Treasurys) somewhere around the end of the year to early next year would be a good intermediate-term level. And if you look over the longer term, I don't think that 6 or 7 percent is out of the question."
Schutte presented three reasons why a 7 percent yield wouldn't surprise him.
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