Thursday, October 14, 2010

The End of the Equity Cult?

Robert Buckland, Citigroup’s global equities strategist, published an article on September 2, 2010, entitled “The End of the Equity Cult?” He was openly bearish on the long-term outlook for global stock markets.

He pointed to the popularity of stocks in US pension funds: “U.S. pension funds allocated just 17 percent to equities in 1952, according to Citigroup. By 2006, those same funds were putting 69 percent in stocks and just 18 percent into fixed income.” He described this 50-year invest-ment style change as an “equities cult.”

Those who follow my Fridge Notes ( will see the similarity between Buckland’s views and my own. There is a big problem in stock market investing: the long-term up-trend is over. More precisely, it was over ten years ago. We are in a different era now. For the past ten years, stocks have not been good long-term buy-and-hold investments. They provide great returns when they go up and big losses when they go down. The Golden Age of Mutual funds is over.

But there’s a big difference between Mr. Buckland and me. He is the chief equities strategist for the biggest bank in the world. I am some obscure financial philosopher in a small investment management firm in Canada. Buckland has credibility ― big credibility.

Hold that thought. Hold the thought that one of Wall Street’s giants has openly discussed the high level of risk associated with the stock market at these levels.

The following quotation is from my article on financial hangovers, which appeared in the June 2010 issue of The MoneyLetter):
“In June 2010, the investment manager Gluskin Sheff released their calculations of the 10-year rates of return of a variety of US investment classes. The 10-year rate of return for the US stock market was -2.3%. Big American pension plans have lost money in the stock market over the past ten years.
“What about the bond market? The ten-year return for US bond portfolios has been 11%.
“Based on the math, it’s clear that the big US pension funds should be heavily invested in the US bond market and only slightly invested in the stock market. On the surface, it seems simple and logical.”
I was warning MoneyLetter readers to lower their expectations toward stock-market investing and to sell a significant percentage of their stocks and replace them with government bonds because that is what America’s big pension funds will be doing until they get their giant portfolios in line. The stock market has a huge overhang of stocks waiting to be sold and replaced with bonds.

Question: When Ken Norquay writes his Fridge Notes, who pays attention?
Answer: His mother, a few clients, and a few followers.

Question: When the global equities strategist for the biggest bank in the world declares the end of the equities cult, who pays attention?
Answer: The biggest financial institutions in the world.

Does Buckland’s pronouncement mean that the bearish case for the stock market is receiving more and more credibility in big-money management circles? Will this result in an acceleration of the pension funds’ desire to reduce exposure to stocks and increase exposure to bonds? Is the jig finally up? Is the next stock-market sell-off imminent?

On August 13, 1979, Business Week published a famous article entitled “The Death of Equities.” It made the point that stocks were no longer a viable investment ― similar to Buckland’s view. Business Week is a credible resource in US investment circles. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 875 that day. Exactly three years later (August 13, 1982), the 16½-year-long bear market finally ended. Long-term bear markets end with a huge wave of selling, moving prices even lower. Pessimism has taken over completely and investors, especially professional fund managers, have finally give up on the stock market. Those who once believed no longer believe.

Is this what’s ahead for today’s stock market? Will the long-term bear market that began in the year 2000 end in three years, now that big-money management can accept the obvious truth about their unfortunate situation? Will the secular bear market end in autumn 2013?

Academics and theoreticians can continue grappling with this interesting conundrum. But what should an ordinary investor do today?

Sell stocks. Buy even more government bonds. Whether you call it an equities cult or an overhang hangover, the game is over. The long-term up-trend in American stocks ended ten years ago. And the long-term bear market isn’t over yet.

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1 comment:

Yarrawonga real estate said...

Hi Ken,

you certainly raised some interesting points here that will hopefully help people make some wise decisions when investing in any market. There are just so many varibles to think about when it comes to investing and I would suggest geting a mentor, someone with real experience to anyone who is going to get into some sort of investing.

Thanks for sharing.