Jeremy Grantham: Avoid U.S. Stocks, ‘Heavily Overweight’ Emerging Market Equities

When I last blogged about “Crash Prophet” Jeremy Grantham right after Thanksgiving, the British-born investment strategist and founder/former chairman of Grantham, Mayo, Van Otterloo & Co. (currently overseeing $74 billion in client assets) had just mentioned in a Wall Street Journal interview that although U.S. stock prices were high, profit margins were also are unusually high, lending support to high valuations. In addition, low interest rates make equities more attractive than fixed-income investments. As a result, he didn’t forecast a crash is stock prices as much as a decades-long reversion to anywhere near the long-term average.

Now, regular readers of Survival And Prosperity know I like to read and pick apart Grantham’s quarterly letters on the GMO website. And his third quarter letter has just been released. Grantham, whose individual clients have included former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, penned the following about U.S. equities in “Career Risk and Stalin’s Pension Fund: Investing in a World of Overpriced Assets (With a Single Reasonably-Priced Asset)”:

The trend line will regress back toward the old normal but at a substantially slower rate than normal because some of the reasons for major differences in the last 20 years are structural and will be slow to change. Factors such as an increase in political influence and monopoly power of corporations; the style of central bank management, which pushes down on interest rates; the aging of the population; greater income inequality; slower innovation and lower productivity and GDP growth would be possible or even probable examples. Therefore, I argue that even in 20 years these factors will only be two-thirds of the way back to the old normal of pre-1998. This still leaves returns over the 20-year period significantly sub-par. Another sharp drop in prices, the third in this new 20-year era, will not change this outcome in my opinion, as prices will bounce back a third time

Near-term major declines suggest a much-increased value of cash reserves and a greater haven benefit from high-rated bonds.

My assumption of slow regression produces an expectation of a dismal 2.5% real for the S&P and 3.5% to 5% for other global equities over 20 years, but also a best guess of approximately the same over 7 years.

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Grantham’s thoughts on where one might invest?

My conclusion is straightforward: heavily overweight EM equities, own some EAFE, and avoid US equities.

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Referring to an exhibit, he pointed out:

1) developed ex-US is well below its 20-year average and 40% below the US; and 2) Emerging is 65% below its high in 2007.

There were also these nuggets from the letter:

Pension funds should brace themselves for a disastrous 1% to 3% return in the next 10 years.

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

And:

My view on Resources is that the cycle has turned, global economies are doing quite well by recent standards, and oil prices are likely to rise for three years or so.

(Editor’s note: Bold added for emphasis)

Yet another insightful letter from Grantham, which you can read here in its entirety on the GMO site.

By 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. Christopher E. Hill, 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 presented on the site.)

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