Here are my notes and takeaways from the GMO Quarterly Letter for Q1 2016, released May 10th, 2016. I always pick up something educational when reading these letters (previous editions may require free registration.) I already discussed their Q1 2016 Asset Class Forecasts with the previous Q4 2015 letter, but in the future I’ll try to align the same quarterly information into one post.
GMO investment philosophy is that asset prices will eventually mean-revert back to their historical valuation levels. However, “eventually” can mean prices moving in the opposite way for a very long time periods. Right now is one of those periods:
It’s no secret that the last half decade has been a rough one for value-based asset allocation. With central bankers pushing interest rates down to unimagined lows, ongoing disappointment from the emerging markets that have looked cheaper than the rest of the world, and the continuing outperformance from the U.S. stock market and growth stocks generally…
Of course, such deviations are exactly the source of potential excess returns for such value investors. GMO still believes in long-term value-based asset allocation.
A quick primer on how future returns work for bonds. Excerpt:
It is universally understood (I hope) that a 10-year Treasury note yielding 1.84% held for 10 years will give a return pretty close to 1.84%. It is not quite so widely known that the rate of return of a dynamic portfolio of such bonds – a “constant maturity strategy” – is also pretty well fixed for certain time horizons.
To take the Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond index (Agg) as an example of a dynamic portfolio, with a duration of a little over five years and a current yield of 2.17%, the range of possible returns over the next seven years is not very wide. We are not guaranteed to get 2.17%, but the return if the yield were to gradually drop to zero over that period would be about 2.9% per year, and if the yield were to gradually double, it would be about 1.5% per year. No matter what happens to yields over the next seven years, returns are going to be something pretty close to 2.17% on the Agg.
Wrong prediction on oil prices. In 2005, Grantham made a rough 10-year prediction that rising oil prices were not in a bubble, but instead actually a “paradigm shift” where oil prices would stay high permanently. He also predicted that we would start to run out of other finite resources, resulting in higher commodities prices. As it turns out, we saw that oil prices have crashed along with other commodities. Grantham outlines again why he made the prediction, what he got wrong, and of course goes ahead and makes another set of predictions:
– Oil stocks should do well over the next five years, perhaps regaining much of their losses. But, after 5 years, prospects are more questionable, and, beyond 10 years, much worse.
– Mineral resource stocks are unlikely to regain their losses, but from current very low prices they will probably outperform based on historical parallels following similar major crashes.
– Farmland is likely to outperform most other assets. It is still my first choice for long- term investing.
– Forestry should perform above aggregate portfolio averages and be less volatile than equities.
Why should we listen to this new forecast when his last one was wrong? It all goes back to the first point of the letter. These are all long-term calls based on history and a bit of common sense. Grantham is telling you to buy exposure into finite resources – oil, minerals, farmland, and timber. Sooner or later, if you have something that everyone needs like oil and is also selling at historically very low prices, prices are going to go back up eventually.
The problem is “eventually” could be this year, or it could be another 10 years or more.
High US housing prices are more worrying than high US stock market prices. Housing prices are certainly bouncing back…
…the threshold for a bubble level for the U.S. market is about 2300 on the S&P 500, about 10% above current levels…
… Thus, unlikely as it may sound, in 12 to 24 months U.S. house prices – much more dangerous than inflated stock prices in my opinion – might beat the U.S. equity market in the race to cause the next financial crisis.
Climate change warning.
Let me just make the point here that those who still think climate problems are off topic and not a major economic and financial issue are dead wrong. Dealing with the increasing damage from climate extremes and, just as important, the growing economic potential in activities to overcome it will increasingly dominate entrepreneurial efforts in future decades. As investors we should try to be prepared for this.
You read this letter for Grantham’s opinions, and you definitely get them. Personally, I don’t see anything that would change my boring portfolio. If anything, I would make sure to have some international exposure to emerging markets stocks as they have low historical valuations and are also correlated with commodities.