Juggling the recent debt crisis in Dubai, reports of a growing asset bubble, the latest unemployment data, and last Thursday’s turkey leftovers can present a formidable task for even the most seasoned of investors. During times like these, why not sit back, loosen up the belt, and digest an admittedly ‘lite’ version of market commentary? Jeffrey Saut, Chief Investment Strategist and Managing Director of Equity Research at Raymond James & Associates, as well as Bill Gross, Managing Director at the Pacific Investment Management Company (PIMCO), recently weighed in, releasing their own market thoughts.
Saut’s November 30th commentary is titled, “Don’t Worry About the Dollar!” Citing a previous occurrence during the 1970’s, he believes that stock market investors’ worries about inflation are largely overblown. Most notably, he predicts that any continued weakness in the US Dollar will be more-than-offset by rising stock prices. As he explains,
Nevertheless, the dollar’s weakness has clearly been very positive for our “stuff stocks” (precious/base-metals, agriculture, energy, cement, timber, etc.), as well as stocks in general, and we have been bullish. Most recently, we have suggested, “that with credit spreads below their pre-Lehman bankruptcy levels there should be no reason why the equity markets can’t ‘fill up’ the downside vacuum created in the charts by said bankruptcy… That gives the S&P 500 an upside target of 1200 – 1250”…
Saut goes on to support his bullish theory with a myriad of facts. In particular, he points to recent decreasing jobless claims, dramatic increases in labor productivity, rising corporate profits, and lowering inventories as potential catalysts for an economic rebound. More specifically, after initially cutting back on labor, he expects that businesses will soon look to reinvest profits, hire new workers, and replenish those declining inventories. Such a move could reinvigorate consumer demand and jump-start our ailing economy.
Furthermore, he views last week’s Dubai debt crisis as a symptom of the previous real estate bubble, and not a sign of another pending systemic crisis. Finally, as he has suggested over the previous few months, he is near-term bullish large cap stocks.
Meanwhile, in Bill Gross’s November commentary, titled, “Anything but .01%,” he points out the depressingly anemic returns generated by most of today’s money market accounts. Indeed, although maintaining low interest rates may be in the economy’s best interests, they are also forcing investors to flee supposedly “riskless” investments in order to chase more attractive returns. This has sparked a considerable rise in asset prices.
Nonetheless, Gross does not foresee the Fed raising rates any time soon. As we have seen, the private sector has shown little traction this year, with government spending largely assuming the role of oiling the gears of this economy. Until GDP picks up considerably, unemployment shows signs of reversing, and private sector demand replaces the need for government stimulus, rates are likely to remain low. As Gross notes,
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.
Looking forward, Gross has a few ideas for skittish investors to consider. First, long term investors must ready themselves for a “New Normal” economy to take effect. In essence, they should expect that as companies continue to deleverage, corporate growth slows, and the government’s role in the economy expands, corporate profits will take a hit. As a result, dividend and interest payments are also likely to suffer; end result, investors may need to lower their expectations when it comes to returns.
According to Gross, part of the reason why Warren Buffett recently invested in the railroads was to simply put his money to work, rather than let it languish in a low-yielding account (I covered this subject in more depth in my previous blog). Like Buffett, Gross believes investors would be wise to follow suit. In this “New Normal” economy, he suggests targeting low-growth, high-yielding companies like utilities. Although utilities may not excite investors from a return standpoint, they do offer reliable cash flow (dividends), and normally grow in line with the broader economy.