If we look back at some of the great investors of our time, for many of them you can attribute timing to their success. For example, if Warren Buffett and Carl Icahn started their careers in a different era, they would not have likely achieved the same level of success they have in investing. Warren Buffett has said it himself.
Of course, given the right time and the right place, you still have to act, have skill, take smart risk and be good at what you do.
Though rare, we have these “right times and right places” throughout history. And I think we are standing right in the middle of one, right now.
First, if we think about the long term performance, opportunities and risks of the U.S. Stock market, first we should acknowledge that the U.S. stock market is unmatched. It represents the largest, most sophisticated capital markets in the world, in the largest and leading economy in the world, one with advanced corporate governance, investor protections and fueled by a relationship with the economy that is self-reinforcing.
Now, let’s consider that stocks over the past 15 years have produced just 3.8% annualized returns for investors, an extreme weak level compared to historical rolling 15-year periods (see chart below). That’s an even weaker 15-year period than that of the bear market that ended in 1974. With that, the next 15-years are likely well above average returns for stocks. You can see in this chart from Barron’s below, the rolling 15-year periods that followed that ’74 bear market were in the mid to high teens, roughly doubling the long-term average return of the S&P 500. This argues for very good times for stocks in the years ahead.
Additionally, there are a slew of fundamental reasons that support this scenario. To name a few, U.S. stocks have global capital flows working in their favor. The Fed is on a path to remove emergency policies (rates higher), the ECB and BOJ continue to be well entrenched in aggressive QE programs (rates lower). That creates weaker currencies in QE countries, which creates capital exit, and the best home for that capital is the U.S. — an economy performing better on a relative basis, and with prospects for rising rates (a primary driver of currency appreciation and capital flows). Add to that, given the record low base rates will be moving from, there is no incentive to put capital into bond markets — the bond market alternative is stocks (winner stocks).
From a historical perspective, the record cash levels sitting in the coffers of institutional money managers argue for much higher stocks to come, as that cash gets put to work. The go-to valuation metric for Wall Street, P/E, is very low on next year’s earnings, especially when you consider what valuation tends to look like in historically low interest rate environments. In those cases, it tends to trade north of 20. Of course, we are in the mother of all low interest rates environment (ZERO). The P/E on next year’s earnings is now 15.1. That’s on earnings estimates of $127.62. If we multiply next year’s earnings estimate of $127.62 by 20 (where stocks tend to be valued in low rate environments), we get 2,552 for the S&P 500 by next year – almost 30% higher than current levels. We did this analysis last year and early this year, when P/E was closer to 17 and sure enough, given low rates, and given weak alternatives, stock valuations gravitated toward and above 20x on trailing 12 month earnings.
Add to this that we are at 15-year lows in market sentiment (a contrarian indicator). So we digest all of this within the framework of an environment where the central banks continue to promote growth, and respond to any shocks that can knock the global economic recovery off path.
With that, remember back in the middle of 2012, when Europe was on the brink of collapse and global markets were quaking because of the potential of European debt defaults and a break-up of the euro. The head of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, stepped in, and in a prepared speech said that they will do “whatever it takes” to preserve the euro. That comment turned the sentiment tide, not only for Europe, but for global markets that day. If you bought German stocks on that comment, you never saw a day in the red – the DAX rose 20% by the end of the year and has risen at a 45 degree angle ever since, nearly doubling those “pre-comment” levels earlier this year.
Same can be said for U.S. Stocks. If you woke up and bought stocks on the back of the Draghi comment, you never saw a down day and enjoyed as much as a 60% run since.
Throughout the entire global economic crisis, there has been no better example of the impact of sentiment on markets and the global economic outlook, and no better example of how that sentiment can successfully be managed.
With this in mind, there was a very symbolic stand made last week by the very important figure heads of the developed world, all standing in front of podiums and speaking. We’ve seen Yellen attempting to temper the uncertainty about the Fed rate path and their view on the economy. Japan’s Prime Minister Abe (the orchestrator of Japan’s big stimulus policies) spoke in NY on Tuesday of last week and said some very magic words … he vowed that he and the BOJ would do “whatever it takes” to return Japan to robust sustainable growth. And this past Thursday night, the head of the ECB, Mario Draghi, also spoke in the U.S. He emphasized the importance of the return to health of the European economy, saying “it’s in our interest, in your interest, and that of everybody, everywhere.” And he said “we will not rest until our monetary union is complete.” So we have the two major central banks/administrations that have taken the QE torch from the Fed, standing up and telling us that they will continue to do what it takes to fuel growth and promote stability. To top it off, Bernanke, the ex-Fed Chairman and architect of the global economic recovery, did a one hour interview this morning to kick off the new week on CNBC, has done an Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal and is scheduled to do Bloomberg tomorrow. Under the guise of a book promotion, he has spoken very candidly about current monetary policy, something ex-Fed heads don’t typically do, as it can draw attention away from the current Fed and potentially muddy and already muddied picture. Clearly, global policymakers are stepping up communications, which is key in curbing fear and uncertainty — and the ex-Fed Chair seems to be part of it.
Looking back, we could see this simple coordinated PR campaign to be enough to turn the tide of sentiment. And from there, the fundamentals take over.
When we consider this “rare opportunity” where we are in the right place at the right time, what comes to mind is the meteoric rise of billionaire Bill Ackman, and how he took advantage of the financial crisis to kick off one of the best 10-year runs of any investor in the world.
Back in late 2008, at the depths of the global economic crisis, Bill Ackman, one of the great billionaire investors we follow, stepped in and bought 25% of one of the largest real estate companies in the country. It was General Growth Properties (GGP). The stock was trading between 25 and 50 cents. And it was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.
So why was the company nearing bankruptcy, and why would Ackman step in and buy it?
Well, as with many companies at that time, in a literal credit freeze, the company was in need of money. Their access to liquidity had been cut off. This was a risk that companies as large as Wal-Mart were facing at the time. From an investor’s standpoint, one that has cash and access to cash, this represented an opportunity. The company had more assets than liabilities. The company was well run. The core business was solid. They needed liquidity. If they don’t get money, they go bankrupt and fire sale assets. Stockholders get wiped out. Debt holders get pennies on the dollar from the fire sale. If they do get capital, not only do they have a very good chance of surviving, but they have the opportunity to dominate coming out of the economic crisis, as their competition (those not as well run and those that can’t access capital) get decimated. That means, a bigger market opportunity. With that, Ackman rode the stock through bankruptcy, helped convince debt holders of the opportunity and helped negotiate a debt restructuring and helped fund and raise the needed liquidity. Not only did shareholders remain in tact, out of bankruptcy, but all stakeholders made a killing.
Ackman sold General Growth Properties in late 2013, early 2014, turning his initial $60 million investment into $1.6 billion. That’s an eye-popping return, but when you look through the history of the portfolios of the billionaires we follow, it’s common to see the presence of huge winners. Take Icahn and Netflix: As we know, there is no better investor in the world than Icahn, but his performance of the past few years has been highly attributed to one huge winner: Netflix. He turned roughly $300 million into nearly $2 billion in three years.
This demonstrates the importance of taking good, calculated risks, spread across enough opportunities, and in situations that can be influenced by a big investor.
With energy and commodity stocks selling at 20-year lows, many at all-time lows, I think we will see another General Growth Properties in this environment – one of those right place/right time opportunities to make 10X, 20X or 50X on your money. The great thing is, we know how to spot these huge winners like GGP by following the best billionaire investors and activists into deeply distressed stocks, where they can influence the fundamentals, and where the potential upside is unlimited and the downside is limited. A number of billionaires have been bottom picking energy stocks in recent months, including legendary investors Carl Icahn, George Soros and Stanley Druckenmiller.
We currently hold a stock in our Billionaire’s Portfolio that represents one of these “right place/right time” opportunities. And it has all of the trappings to be the next billionaire-maker. Consider this: There is a pioneer activist investor that has 100% of his fund in this stock, he controls 100% of the board, he has his hand-picked CEO running the company, and he has a price target on the stock that is 1800% higher than current prices. Join our Billionaire’s Portfolio service now and we will send you all of the details on this high potential activist-owned stock immediately.