Jeremy Grantham: ‘It May Well Be Necessary To Our Survival That We Become More Realistic’

Continuing yesterday’s discussion on investing, last night I finally got the chance to read the latest quarterly investment letter from “crash prophet” Jeremy Grantham, the British-born investment strategist and founder/former chairman of Grantham, Mayo, Van Otterloo & Co. (currently oversees $104 billion in client assets). Here’s what December’s installment (covering the third quarter of 2015) consisted of. From “Give Me Only Good News!”:

I have noticed how hard it is to effectively pass on a warning for the same reason: No one wants to hear this bad news. So a while ago I came up with a list of propositions that are widely accepted by an educated business audience. They are widely accepted but totally wrong. It is my attempt to bring home how extreme is our preference for good news over accurate news. When you have run through this list you may be a little more aware of how dangerous our wishful thinking can be in investing and in the much more important fields of resource (especially food) limitations and the potentially life-threatening risks of climate damage. Wishful thinking and denial of unpleasant facts are simply not survival characteristics…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Grantham discussed those “propositions” and went on to conclude:

This is more or less the best I can do to prove the point. We in the U.S. have a broad and heavy bias away from unpleasant data. We are ready to be manipulated by vested interests in finance, economics, and climate change, whose interests might be better served by our believing optimistic stuff “that just ain’t so.” We are dealing today with important issues, one so important that it may affect the long-term viability of our global society and perhaps our species. It may well be necessary to our survival that we become more realistic, more willing to process the unpleasant, and, above all, less easily manipulated through our need for good news

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

While an interesting read, I was a little disappointed that Grantham (who’s individual clients have included former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry) didn’t talk about the following in his latest letter. From an August 9, 2015, post:

However, Grantham has now offered up a potential timeframe for a “major decline” in equities.

Robin Wigglesworth reported on the Financial Times (UK) website Thursday:

A well-known fund manager who foresaw the Japanese crash, the dotcom bubble and the global financial crisis has predicted that markets will be “ripe for a major decline” some time in 2016, potentially triggering government bankruptcies.

Jeremy Grantham , founder and chief investment strategist of GMO, a $118bn investment house based in Boston, expects the stock market to continue to march higher in the coming year, eventually sucking in retail investors and setting up a serious decline around the time of the US elections in late 2016.

The famously bearish and often prescient money manager said this could trigger a “very different” type of crisis, because many governments had become considerably more indebted and much of the liabilities had shifted to the balance sheets of central banks.

Given that central banks were able to create money to recapitalise themselves, this “could be a crisis we could weather”, Mr Grantham said. “If not, then we’re talking the 1930s, where you have a chain-link of government defaults.”

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

And from a May 4, 2015, post about his first quarter 2015 letter:

On the Federal Reserve and asset bubbles, Grantham noted:

In the Greenspan/ Bernanke/Yellen Era, the Fed historically did not stop its asset price pushing until fully-fledged bubbles had occurred, as they did in U.S. growth stocks in 2000 and in U.S. housing in 2006. Both of these were in fact stunning three-sigma events, by far the biggest equity bubble and housing bubble in U.S. history. Yellen, like both of her predecessors, has bragged about the Fed’s role in pushing up asset prices in order to get a wealth effect. Thus far, she seems to also share their view on feeling no responsibility to interfere with any asset bubble that may form. For me, recognizing the power of the Fed to move assets (although desperately limited power to boost the economy), it seems logical to assume that absent a major international economic accident, the current Fed is bound and determined to continue stimulating asset prices until we once again have a fully-fledged bubble. And we are not there yet

To remind you, we at GMO still believe that bubble territory for the S&P 500 is about 2250…

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Two things I’m dying to know from Mr. Grantham right now:

1. Does he still expect “the stock market to continue to march higher in the coming year, eventually sucking in retail investors and setting up a serious decline around the time of the US elections in late 2016”?

2. Does he/GMO “still believe that bubble territory for the S&P 500 is about 2250”? The S&P was really marching towards 2,250 for a while before the index went south.

You can read the latest Grantham letter over at the GMO website here (.pdf format).

Christopher E. Hill
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

(Editor’s note: A qualified professional should be consulted prior to making a financial decision based on material found in this weblog. If this recommended course of action is not pursued, then it must be understood that the decision is the reader’s and the reader’s alone. The creator/Editor of this blog is not responsible for any personal liability, loss, or risk incurred as a consequence of the use and application, either directly or indirectly, of any information contained herein.)

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