Bill Gross’s latest market update proposes an interesting view — as the U.S. moves towards an increasingly regulated economy, businesses will start to resemble utilities, that is, heavily protected (by regulations that muck up new entrants) yet with capped returns (earn too much, the government comes after you).
Given the very low interest rates that are available today for money market funds, and the fact that bonds don’t offer much and stocks have already run up quite far, perhaps investors should go for high dividend yields, primarily via protected high-cash flow companies such as utilities. Telling advice given that it comes from the Bond King:
Bill Gross: [emphasis added] The Fed is trying to reflate the U.S. economy. The process of reflation involves lowering short-term rates to such a painful level that investors are forced or enticed to term out their short-term cash into higher-risk bonds or stocks. Once your cash has recapitalized and revitalized corporate America and homeowners, well, then the Fed will start to be concerned about inflation – not until. To date that transition is incomplete, mainly because mortgage refinancing and the purchase of new homes is being thwarted by significant changes in down payment requirements. The Treasury as well, has a significant average life extension of its own debt to foist on investors before the Fed can raise short-term Fed Funds.
First, as emphasised in prior Investment Outlooks, the New Normal is likely to be a significantly lower-returning world. Diminished growth, deleveraging, and increased government involvement will temper profits and their eventual distribution to investors in the form of dividends and interest. As banks, auto companies and other corporate models become more regulated and therefore more like utilities and less like Boardwalk and Park Place, they will return less.
If that’s the case, I figure, why not just buy utilities if that’s what the future American capitalistic model is likely to resemble. Pricewise, they’re only halfway between their 2007 peaks and 2008 lows – 25% off the top, 25% from the bottom. Their growth in earnings should mimic the U.S. economy as they always have, and most importantly they yield 5-6% not .01%! In a low growth environment, it seems to me that a company’s stock should yield more than its less risky debt, and many utilities provide just that opportunity. Utilities and even quasi-utility telecommunication companies now yield between 5 and 6%, whereas their 10- and 30-year yield less and at a higher tax rate to you the investor.