What Is The Buffet Indicator And Why It Matters In business

The Buffet Indicator is a measure of the total value of all publicly-traded stocks in a country divided by that country’s GDP. It’s a measure and ratio to evaluate whether a market is undervalued or overvalued. It’s one of Warren Buffet’s favorite measures as a warning that financial markets might be overvalued and riskier.

Buffet IndicatorThe Buffett Indicator, also known as the Market Capitalization-to-Gross Domestic Product (GDP) Ratio, is a financial metric popularized by renowned investor Warren Buffett. It is used to assess the overall valuation of the stock market relative to the size of the economy, specifically the GDP.
CalculationThe indicator is calculated by dividing the total market capitalization of all publicly traded stocks by the country’s GDP. The formula is:
Buffett Indicator = Total Market Capitalization / GDP.
InterpretationWhen the Buffett Indicator is high, it suggests that the stock market is overvalued compared to the economy’s size. A low value indicates undervaluation. Warren Buffett has referred to this ratio as “the best single measure of where valuations stand at any given moment.”
Historical SignificanceHistorically, a high Buffett Indicator has often preceded market corrections or bear markets, indicating that stocks may be overpriced. Conversely, a low indicator has signaled potential buying opportunities. However, it’s essential to consider other factors and economic conditions when making investment decisions.
Use as a ToolInvestors and analysts use the Buffett Indicator as a tool for assessing the overall market valuation and making informed investment decisions. It provides a broad perspective on market conditions and can help in asset allocation strategies.
LimitationsWhile the Buffett Indicator is a valuable metric, it has limitations. It doesn’t provide specific information about individual stocks or sectors. Additionally, changes in accounting standards and the global nature of markets can affect its accuracy. It should be used in conjunction with other financial indicators and analysis.
Global ApplicationThe Buffett Indicator is not limited to a particular country and can be applied to any economy with a stock market and GDP data. It has been used to assess the valuation of stock markets worldwide.
Investment InsightsInvestors should consider the Buffett Indicator alongside other fundamental and technical analyses, as well as their own risk tolerance and investment goals. It can serve as a warning signal in periods of high valuation but should not be the sole basis for investment decisions.

Understanding the Buffet Indicator

Developed by billionaire investor Warren Buffet, the indicator is a broad measure of whether a given stock market is overvalued or undervalued. It rose to prominence after Buffett once noted that it was “probably the best single measure of where valuations stand at any given moment.”

In the United States, most experts use The Wilshire 5000 Total Market Index which represents the value of all stocks in all U.S. markets. At the end of June 2020, the U.S. stock market was valued at approximately $35.5 trillion. The estimated GDP at this time was $19.41 trillion.

Therefore, the market value to GDP ratio is calculated by dividing 35.5 by 19.41 and then multiplying by 100 to express the value as a percentage. In this case, the Buffet Indicator is 182.9%.

Interpreting Buffet Indicator values

Broadly speaking, Buffet Indicator values describe stock markets that are:

  • Undervalued near 50%.
  • Modestly undervalued in the range of 50-75%.
  • Fairly valued in the range of 75-90%.
  • Modestly overvalued in the range of 90-115%.
  • Overvalued above 115%.

Returning to the example in the previous section, we see that the U.S. stock market is currently overvalued. However, there has been much conjecture over whether this stock market is overvalued given its sustained increase in value over recent decades.

Implications of the Buffet Indicator for investors

When the total market value of a stock market is less than GDP, investors see an opportunity to buy. Conversely, when the total market value is worth more than GDP, investors are more wary and likely to sell.

Corrections in overvalued markets – where investors sell en masse – have also historically preceded recessions. The dotcom crash of 2000 and the global financial crisis of 2008 are two such examples of the Buffet Indicator correctly predicting a correction and subsequent stock market devaluation.

Potential flaws of the Buffet Indicator

The Buffet Indicator has some potential flaws, including:

  • Misleading data. While the Buffet Indicator is a great broadscale metric, this can make its calculations relatively crude. In other words, the indicator does not take into account the profitability of a business – only its revenue.
  • Lack of flexibility. As previously mentioned, the Buffet Indicator is perhaps less useful in positively trending markets such as in the U.S. that has enjoyed a sustained increase in value. The blanket categorization of 100% equating to an overvalued market may no longer be relevant as baseline levels of valuation shift.
  • Lack of scope. Since the Buffet Indicator only tracks publicly listed companies, it does not take into account private companies when assessing whether a market is over or undervalued according to GDP.

Case Studies

  • Dotcom Bubble (2000):
    • Buffet Indicator Reading: During the dotcom bubble in the late 1990s, the Buffet Indicator for the U.S. stock market soared to historic highs, well above 100%.
    • Outcome: This high reading of the Buffet Indicator was seen as a warning sign by Warren Buffett and others. Shortly after, the dotcom bubble burst, leading to a significant market correction and a recession in 2001.
  • Global Financial Crisis (2008):
    • Buffet Indicator Reading: Leading up to the global financial crisis, the Buffet Indicator indicated that the U.S. stock market was overvalued, with a reading above 100%.
    • Outcome: The Buffet Indicator’s warning was validated as the financial crisis unfolded in 2008, resulting in a severe economic downturn and a major stock market crash.
  • COVID-19 Pandemic (2020):
    • Buffet Indicator Reading: In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Buffet Indicator dropped below 100% as stock markets experienced significant declines.
    • Outcome: The indicator signaled a potential undervaluation of the market during the pandemic-induced economic uncertainty. Subsequently, stock markets rebounded as governments and central banks implemented stimulus measures.
  • Japanese Stock Market (Late 1980s):
    • Buffet Indicator Reading: In the late 1980s, the Buffet Indicator for the Japanese stock market reached extremely high levels.
    • Outcome: This elevated reading was a precursor to the bursting of the Japanese asset price bubble in the early 1990s, resulting in a prolonged period of economic stagnation in Japan.
  • Emerging Markets (Various Years):
    • Buffet Indicator Reading: The Buffet Indicator has been used to assess emerging markets’ valuations at different times.
    • Outcome: It has helped investors identify potential investment opportunities in undervalued emerging markets and exercise caution in overheated ones.

Key takeaways

  • The Buffet Indicator is the ratio of total stock market valuation to GDP, most commonly associated with the US stock market.
  • The Buffet Indicator gives the degree of over or undervaluation according to the exact percentage value obtained.
  • The Buffet Indicator has several disadvantages owing to a lack of scope and flexibility in calculating its values.

Key Highlights

  • Definition: The Buffet Indicator is a measure developed by Warren Buffett to evaluate whether a stock market is overvalued or undervalued. It compares the total value of all publicly-traded stocks in a country to that country’s GDP.
  • Warren Buffett’s Favorite Measure: Warren Buffett, a billionaire investor, has called it “probably the best single measure of where valuations stand at any given moment,” making it a significant tool for assessing market conditions.
  • Calculation: The indicator is calculated by dividing the total market value of publicly-traded stocks by the country’s GDP and multiplying by 100 to express it as a percentage.
  • Interpretation: The Buffet Indicator can be interpreted as follows:
    • Undervalued (near 50%)
    • Modestly undervalued (50-75%)
    • Fairly valued (75-90%)
    • Modestly overvalued (90-115%)
    • Overvalued (above 115%)
  • Investor Implications: When the indicator suggests that the market is undervalued (below 100%), it may be a buying opportunity. Conversely, when it indicates overvaluation (above 100%), investors may become cautious about their investments.
  • Historical Predictive Power: The Buffet Indicator has historically predicted market corrections and recessions. Examples include its accuracy in forecasting the dotcom crash of 2000 and the global financial crisis of 2008.
  • Potential Flaws: The Buffet Indicator has some limitations, including its reliance solely on market valuation and GDP, which may not capture the full financial health of businesses. It also lacks flexibility in rapidly changing market conditions and doesn’t consider private companies.
  • Key Takeaways: The Buffet Indicator is a valuable tool for assessing market valuation, but it should be used in conjunction with other financial metrics for a comprehensive analysis of market conditions.

Connected Financial Concepts

Circle of Competence

The circle of competence describes a person’s natural competence in an area that matches their skills and abilities. Beyond this imaginary circle are skills and abilities that a person is naturally less competent at. The concept was popularised by Warren Buffett, who argued that investors should only invest in companies they know and understand. However, the circle of competence applies to any topic and indeed any individual.

What is a Moat

Economic or market moats represent the long-term business defensibility. Or how long a business can retain its competitive advantage in the marketplace over the years. Warren Buffet who popularized the term “moat” referred to it as a share of mind, opposite to market share, as such it is the characteristic that all valuable brands have.

Buffet Indicator

The Buffet Indicator is a measure of the total value of all publicly-traded stocks in a country divided by that country’s GDP. It’s a measure and ratio to evaluate whether a market is undervalued or overvalued. It’s one of Warren Buffet’s favorite measures as a warning that financial markets might be overvalued and riskier.

Venture Capital

Venture capital is a form of investing skewed toward high-risk bets, that are likely to fail. Therefore venture capitalists look for higher returns. Indeed, venture capital is based on the power law, or the law for which a small number of bets will pay off big time for the larger numbers of low-return or investments that will go to zero. That is the whole premise of venture capital.

Foreign Direct Investment

Foreign direct investment occurs when an individual or business purchases an interest of 10% or more in a company that operates in a different country. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), this percentage implies that the investor can influence or participate in the management of an enterprise. When the interest is less than 10%, on the other hand, the IMF simply defines it as a security that is part of a stock portfolio. Foreign direct investment (FDI), therefore, involves the purchase of an interest in a company by an entity that is located in another country. 


Micro-investing is the process of investing small amounts of money regularly. The process of micro-investing involves small and sometimes irregular investments where the individual can set up recurring payments or invest a lump sum as cash becomes available.

Meme Investing

Meme stocks are securities that go viral online and attract the attention of the younger generation of retail investors. Meme investing, therefore, is a bottom-up, community-driven approach to investing that positions itself as the antonym to Wall Street investing. Also, meme investing often looks at attractive opportunities with lower liquidity that might be easier to overtake, thus enabling wide speculation, as “meme investors” often look for disproportionate short-term returns.

Retail Investing

Retail investing is the act of non-professional investors buying and selling securities for their own purposes. Retail investing has become popular with the rise of zero commissions digital platforms enabling anyone with small portfolio to trade.

Accredited Investor

Accredited investors are individuals or entities deemed sophisticated enough to purchase securities that are not bound by the laws that protect normal investors. These may encompass venture capital, angel investments, private equity funds, hedge funds, real estate investment funds, and specialty investment funds such as those related to cryptocurrency. Accredited investors, therefore, are individuals or entities permitted to invest in securities that are complex, opaque, loosely regulated, or otherwise unregistered with a financial authority.

Startup Valuation

Startup valuation describes a suite of methods used to value companies with little or no revenue. Therefore, startup valuation is the process of determining what a startup is worth. This value clarifies the company’s capacity to meet customer and investor expectations, achieve stated milestones, and use the new capital to grow.

Profit vs. Cash Flow

Profit is the total income that a company generates from its operations. This includes money from sales, investments, and other income sources. In contrast, cash flow is the money that flows in and out of a company. This distinction is critical to understand as a profitable company might be short of cash and have liquidity crises.


Double-entry accounting is the foundation of modern financial accounting. It’s based on the accounting equation, where assets equal liabilities plus equity. That is the fundamental unit to build financial statements (balance sheet, income statement, and cash flow statement). The basic concept of double-entry is that a single transaction, to be recorded, will hit two accounts.

Balance Sheet

The purpose of the balance sheet is to report how the resources to run the operations of the business were acquired. The Balance Sheet helps to assess the financial risk of a business and the simplest way to describe it is given by the accounting equation (assets = liability + equity).

Income Statement

The income statement, together with the balance sheet and the cash flow statement is among the key financial statements to understand how companies perform at fundamental level. The income statement shows the revenues and costs for a period and whether the company runs at profit or loss (also called P&L statement).

Cash Flow Statement

The cash flow statement is the third main financial statement, together with income statement and the balance sheet. It helps to assess the liquidity of an organization by showing the cash balances coming from operations, investing and financing. The cash flow statement can be prepared with two separate methods: direct or indirect.

Capital Structure

The capital structure shows how an organization financed its operations. Following the balance sheet structure, usually, assets of an organization can be built either by using equity or liability. Equity usually comprises endowment from shareholders and profit reserves. Where instead, liabilities can comprise either current (short-term debt) or non-current (long-term obligations).

Capital Expenditure

Capital expenditure or capital expense represents the money spent toward things that can be classified as fixed asset, with a longer term value. As such they will be recorded under non-current assets, on the balance sheet, and they will be amortized over the years. The reduced value on the balance sheet is expensed through the profit and loss.

Financial Statements

Financial statements help companies assess several aspects of the business, from profitability (income statement) to how assets are sourced (balance sheet), and cash inflows and outflows (cash flow statement). Financial statements are also mandatory to companies for tax purposes. They are also used by managers to assess the performance of the business.

Financial Modeling

Financial modeling involves the analysis of accounting, finance, and business data to predict future financial performance. Financial modeling is often used in valuation, which consists of estimating the value in dollar terms of a company based on several parameters. Some of the most common financial models comprise discounted cash flows, the M&A model, and the CCA model.

Business Valuation

Business valuations involve a formal analysis of the key operational aspects of a business. A business valuation is an analysis used to determine the economic value of a business or company unit. It’s important to note that valuations are one part science and one part art. Analysts use professional judgment to consider the financial performance of a business with respect to local, national, or global economic conditions. They will also consider the total value of assets and liabilities, in addition to patented or proprietary technology.

Financial Ratio


Financial Option

A financial option is a contract, defined as a derivative drawing its value on a set of underlying variables (perhaps the volatility of the stock underlying the option). It comprises two parties (option writer and option buyer). This contract offers the right of the option holder to purchase the underlying asset at an agreed price.

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