Barron’s annual guru roundtable was unanimous: stocks are going to rise 10%-20% this year. That’s a safe prediction, given that 10% is the average and, after last year’s collapse, we’re due for a bounce. But it still seems a bit too happy.
Bearish (and right) analyst John Mauldin is also sceptical:
10 out of 10 analysts in the recent Barron’s forecast saw stock prices rising 10-20% this year. For reasons I outlined last week, I think we could see a tradable rally in the next few months, but at the very least test the lows this summer, if not set new lows. Earnings are going to be far worse than any analyst’s projections I have seen. And earnings drive stock prices.
Further, this recession is going to be the longest in anyone’s memory. It is going to seem like it is never going to end (it will, I promise), and more and more investors are just going to give up on stocks. The buy and hold for the long run mantra is wearing thin. In inflation-adjusted terms, the stock market is about where it was in 1973! If you reinvested dividends, that gets you to 1991 (again, inflation-adjusted). It takes a lot of buying to make a bull market. It only takes an absence of buying to make a bear market.
Could we get a rally after the summer or fall lows? Sure. And it could be a good one. A lot depends on how fast the stimulus kicks in and whether it really has an effect. Will the Fed really buy large-cap corporate debt? I hope we can see something like a 1974 bottom in stocks develop.
Still holding out hope that the “decoupling” theory everyone used to treat as fact will come to pass? Don’t, says John:
I think the correlation between the US stock market, other developed markets, and emerging markets is close to one. I prefer to stand aside until the US economy has a clear direction and we can see whether the stimulus actually works. And then we can look at the world economy. I won’t embarrass them by naming names, but those who argued for “decoupling” between the US and the rest of the world are not looking good. Someday, but not this decade.
I would be a buyer of quality bonds, both corporate and municipal. The key is to have a bond analyst who knows what they are doing and not just looking at ratings. There are some real values in the bond market today.
I would not be a buyer of US government debt. Treasuries, if not in a mini-bubble, have little upside potential and just don’t yield enough. Why would I hold a 10-year treasury for 2.39%? I like TIPS at these prices. TIPS are pricing in deflation for 10 years and, as I outlined above, I don’t think the Fed will allow deflation to take hold.
With all the massive printing of money, you would think I expect the dollar to crash. I don’t. The question is, what will it fall against? The euro? Really? The pound is better valued, but England and Europe are going to have to cut rates and apply massive stimulus as well. Every developed country will have problems. I can see holding Canadian, Australian, and other commodity-country currencies, but the leverage needed to make it a reasonable investment potential is too risky for individuals.
I can’t see the Japanese letting the yen get too much stronger. China seems to want to halt the rise of the yuan, and the rest of Asia will devalue their currencies to maintain whatever they think of as a competitive advantage. Longer term, I like Asian currencies.
After a year of bouncing around, gold may be poised to rise against all major currencies. We could easily see new highs in the next year.
I think oil is going lower (and maybe much lower — can you say $1-a-gallon gas?) in the near term. As I have written about before, oil is now in the steepest contango on record. That means oil is cheap today and more expensive in a few months. That is not normal. Oil is bidding for storage. You can make 20-25% on your money in a few months if you can buy oil and find somewhere to store it. At least 25 supertankers have been leased to store oil, and sources say another 10 are being bid for. It remains to be seen if OPEC can really cut enough to make a difference in the near term.
As for the other metals, I think it is quite likely copper and its industrial allies will fall in price at least for the near term, until production can be cut and demand in Asia begin to rise again. I would not be a buyer of long-only commodity funds for the near term. Someday the bull market in commodities will return, but not until Asian demand picks up.
The risks to my forecasts are quite clear. The stimulus could happen quicker and be more effective than I think, and the economy and the markets could surprise to the upside. On the other hand, and more scarily, the Fed could be pushing on a string in a liquidity trap and the economy and markets could get hit harder, along with most assets.
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