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Howard Marks is a legendary investor at Oaktree Capital. In his latest memo, he sees heightened risk:

Certainly risk tolerance has been increasing of late; high returns on risky assets have encouraged more of the same; and the markets are becoming more heated. The bottom line varies from sector to sector, but I have no doubt that markets are riskier than at any other time since the depths of the crisis in late 2008 (for credit) or early 2009 (for equities), and they are becoming more so.

He says caution is appropriate, but we aren’t in the danger zone yet:

Is This a Sell Signal? If Not, Then What?

No, I don’t think it’s time to bail out of the markets. Prices and valuation parameters are higher than they were a few years ago, and riskier behavior is observed. But what matters is the degree, and I don’t think it has reached the danger zone yet.

First, as mentioned above, the absolute quantum of risk doesn’t seem as high as in 2006-07. The modern miracles of finance aren’t seen as often (or touted as highly), and the use of leverage isn’t as high.

Second, prices and valuations aren’t highly extended (the p/e ratio on the S&P 500 is around 16, the post-war average, while in 2000 it was in the low 30s: now that’s extended).

A rise in risk tolerance is something that should get your attention and focus your concentration. But for it to be highly worrisome, it has to be accompanied by extended valuations. I don’t think we’re there yet. I think most asset classes are priced fully – in many cases on the high side of fair – but not at bubble-type highs. Of course the exception is bonds in general, which the central banks are supporting at yields near all- time lows, meaning prices near all-time highs.

The whole memo is worth a read:

Howard Marks: The Race Is On