Janet Yellen calls stock market, real estate valuations 'high' in last interview before exit as Fed chief

Key Points
  • Janet Yellen, whose last day at the Fed was Friday, told CBS that stock market valuations are "high," though she's not sure if they're in a bubble.
  • The comments came amid an aggressive market sell-off that saw the Dow industrials lose 666 points Friday.
  • Yellen has ended a 14-year career at the Fed, the last four as chair.
  • During her tenure, the S&P 500 surged 53 percent and the Fed hiked its benchmark interest rate target five times.
CNBC Fed Survey: Janet Yellen's tenure at Fed graded a 'B'
CNBC Fed Survey: Janet Yellen's tenure at Fed graded a 'B'

Janet Yellen ended her long career at the Federal Reserve with concerns over how high the stock market has surged under her watch.

The has soared 315 percent since the March 2009 bear market lows and about 53 percent since she took over as chair of the central bank in 2004.

Yellen said in an interview with CBS News that market valuations are the source of some concern as she headed into private life following a 14-year Fed career, the last four as the chair. She spoke as the market finally took a breather from what has been a breathtaking move higher, with the Dow industrials falling 666 points Friday.

"Well, I don't want to say too high. But I do want to say high," she said. "Price/earnings ratios are near the high end of their historical ranges."

In addition to elevated equity prices, Yellen also said commercial real estate is "quite high" compared with rents.

"Now, is that a bubble or is too high? And there it's very hard to tell. But it is a source of some concern that asset valuations are so high," she said.

Fed critics say the central bank purposely pushed up the stock market in an effort to create a wealth effect that officials hoped would spill over into the broader economy. The Federal Open Market Committee, the bank's policymaking arm, took its key overnight interest rate target to near-zero in late-2008 and left it there for seven years.

In addition, the Fed expanded its bond portfolio, also called its balance sheet, from just shy of $800 billion at the end of 2007 to more than $4.5 trillion. Under Yellen, the FOMC approved five quarter-point rate hikes and began a program to shrink the balance sheet gradually.

Yellen told CBS that while she is concerned about asset valuations, a drop — she did not specify by how much — "would not unduly damage the core of our financial system."

Yellen's successor, Jerome Powell, was sworn in Monday morning.

See the full report on Yellen's exit interview here.