Jeremy Grantham: Obama and the Teflon Men, and other short stories
In October last year perennial bear Jeremy Grantham, chairman of Boston-based GMO, said: “We are reconciled to buying too soon, but we recognize that our fair value estimate of 975 on the S&P 500 is, from historical precedent, likely to overrun on the downside by 20% to 40%, giving a range of 585 to 780 on the S&P as a probable low.
“The world faces unavoidable declines in economic activity and profit margins, so this overrun is unlikely to be much less painful than average, although you never know your luck.”
Given Grantham’s forecast, it was with keen interest that I have been awaiting his latest quarterly newsletter entitled “Obama and the Teflon Men, and Other Short Stories. Part 1“. The following paragraphs are a summary of his investment recommendations from this report:
“The current disaster would have been easy to avoid by making a move against asset bubbles early in their lifecycle. It will, in contrast, be devilishly hard to get out of. But, we are deep in the pickle jar, and it seems likely that, in terms of economic pain, 2009 will be the worst year in the lives of the majority of Americans, Brits, and others. So break a leg, everyone!
“Slowly and carefully invest your cash reserves into global equities, preferring high quality US blue chips and emerging market equities. Imputed 7-year returns are moderately above normal and much above the average of the last 15 years. But be prepared for a decline to new lows this year or next, for that would be the most likely historical pattern, as markets love to overcorrect on the downside after major bubbles. 600 or below on the S&P 500 would be a more typical low than the 750 we reached for one day.
“In fixed income, risk finally seems to be attractively priced, in that most risk spreads seem attractively wide. Long government bond rates, though, seem much too low. They reflect the short-term fears of economic weakness and the need for low short-term rates. We would be short long government bonds in appropriate accounts.
“As for commodities, who knows? There were a few months where they looked like a high-confidence short, but now they are half-price or less, and are much lower confidence bets.
“In currencies, we know even less. It is easy to find currencies to dislike, and hard to find ones to like. There are no high-confidence bets, in our opinion.
“For the long term, research should be directed into portfolios that would resist both inflationary problems and potential dollar weakness. These are the two serious problems that we may have to face as a consequence of flooding the global financial system with government bailouts and government debt.”
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