RICH BERNSTEIN: Here Are My Big 13 Investment Predictions For 2013

Each December we publish a list of investment themes that we feel are critical to the coming year.

We continue to believe that US equities are in the midst of a major bull market that could  ultimately rival 1982’s bull market.

It is hard to be bearish when one considers the following:

Sentiment — Continued outflows from US equity funds; Wall Street Strategists’ recommending the most bearish equity asset allocation in nearly 30 years.

Valuation – According to our models, the US equity market is presently  discounting 5%-6% inflation for the next 12 months, which seems very extreme to  us.

Liquidity – The Fed has told investors that they will continue to provide liquidity and will be slow or late to tighten.

With that bullish view toward equities, here are our “13 for ’13.”

1) US stocks outperform Emerging Markets, yet again.

Rationale: US corporate profits continue to be the healthiest in the world. EM profits are likely to improve, but the profits rebound might be more muted than many investors  currently expect. 

2) Inflation remains benign. Gold and commodities underperform.

Rationale: China has tremendous excess capacity, and continues to build more. Although slack in the global economy may be reduced in 2013, the global economy is unlikely to experience either the credit creation or the bottlenecks that are traditionally necessary to fuel a late-cycle inflationary environment that typically fosters commodity or gold outperformance.

3) The Japanese Yen weakens substantially.

Rationale: Japan just recorded their first current account deficit. ¥100/dollar should not be summarily ruled out if that current account deficit expands.

4) A cash-financed M&A wave begins in the US.

Rationale: By hoarding cash, larger US companies have under-invested for future growth. They may start buying growth in 2013 if the economy continues to improve. Small or Midcap stocks appear undervalued (based on EV/EBITDA) relative to their larger cap counterparts in seven of 10 sectors.

5) Consensus warms to European stocks in the second half of the year.

Rationale: Relatively easy profit comparisons lie ahead for European companies, and every new cycle begins with easy comparisons. Unfortunately, despite attractive valuations, European corporate fundamentals still appear to be deteriorating. 

6) Long-term treasury rates continue to fall.

Rationale: The long-duration “wall of worry” remains very high. Bond portfolios have been consistently short duration relative to benchmark for seven years despite that the 10-year treasury rate has fallen from above 5% to below 2%. Inflows are incredibly strong to short duration funds. Such overwhelming negative sentiment toward the long-end of the curve argues that long-duration assets are likely to outperform.

7) Non-dollar debt underperforms.

Rationale: Stronger USD might hurt non-dollar returns, and credit spreads might widen as investors realise they have underestimated the risks associated with investing in emerging markets. 

8) Hedge funds continue to experience outflows to traditional asset allocation funds.

Rationale: Hedge funds’ combination of high fees, regulatory headlines, and correlated underperformance make traditional asset allocation funds increasingly tough competition.

9) Volatility begins to increase late in 2013. Rationale: Perhaps the most important factor influencing the long-term trend in equity market volatility is central bank liquidity. Thus, it has not been surprising to us that the VIX has stayed so low because of the huge amount of liquidity the Fed has provided. Our work is starting to suggest that the VIX might begin to increase toward 2014.

10) The American Industrial Renaissance continues.

Rationale: Small and mid-cap US-centric industrial and manufacturing stocks are likely to outperform as the companies continue to gain market share because of the combination of closing wage disparities, lower energy and transportation costs, and political stability. 

11) Small US banks.

Rationale: Smaller US bank stocks are likely to outperform because of the combination of improving household cash flow, continued improvement in housing and construction, improving asset values, and virtually no exposure to the deflation of non-US credit bubbles.

12) The opportunity cost of not owning equities becomes too great for investors to not participate.

Rationale: Equities have outperformed most short-duration fixed-income returns, but the opportunity costs have evidently not been high enough to get investors to move into equities. Given our bullish stance on the equity market, we think that opportunity cost will continue to expand, and investors will finally start to chase equity performance.

13) Short-duration is not a panacea.

Rationale: Investors have flooded into short-duration bond funds believing that these funds offer both high yield AND safety. The basic tenets of investing say that risk and return go hand-in-hand, which means that high yield typically comes only with added risks. It is our guess that investors are quite unaware of the risks imbedded into short-duration funds. Trouble could lie ahead.


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