Legendary investor Jeremy Grantham sees trouble ahead for stocks, housing, oil, and cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. In a new interview, the co-founder of asset management firm GMO shared his outlook and top predictions across markets and the economy.
Grantham warned the overvalued S&P 500 could plunge 50% or more in the next bear market. He thinks a recession is likely in 2023 as higher rates weigh on consumers and corporations. The Russell 2000 index of small caps looks especially vulnerable with minimal earnings for many companies, he said.
Grantham also expects house prices to slide after a historic run-up, though he notes this bubble peaked at even higher multiples of income than in 2007 before the Great Financial Crisis. He advises against real estate investing for now.
The renowned value investor slammed bitcoin as an “elaborate scam”, though he sees promise in emerging technologies like artificial intelligence over the long term. He remains skeptical on commodities as well, expecting the typical boom-and-bust pattern to continue.
Grantham Floats 50% S&P 500 Crash, 3,000 Target in Severe Selloff
The S&P 500 is in a bubble after quadrupling from its 2009 lows, Grantham said. He sees the benchmark potentially plunging over 50% from peak to trough if the unraveling turns severe.
“If everything works out badly, I would not be amazed if the S&P went to 2,000,” said Grantham. “That would require a couple of wheels to fall off, and wheels tend to fall off in the great bubbles’ unraveling.”
Even a more moderate decline could take the S&P 500 down to around 3,000, representing a roughly 50% drop from its January 2022 high above 4,800.
“The simple arithmetic suggests you’ll either have a dismal return forever, or you’ll have a nice bear market and then a normal return,” explained Grantham.
Systemic Risks Build Before a Bubble Bursts
According to the legendary investor, bubbles swell to the breaking point before letting go.
“You increase the pressure on a very complicated system until a few things snap,” Grantham said. “That is the pattern — something breaks and nobody seems to know what it is. It’s always a surprise, but you always have a surprise, so the idea of a surprise is totally unsurprising.”
Rising rates, inflated valuations, and deteriorating fundamentals for many companies indicate risks are elevated. While Grantham doesn’t know exactly when or how the bubble will pop, he believes trouble is brewing that will eventually manifest.
Recession Likely as Rates Rise, Consumers Pull Back
With the Federal Reserve hiking interest rates aggressively to combat inflation, Grantham sees recession risks spiking. He expects an economic downturn to strike in 2023.
“My guess is we will have a recession,” said Grantham. “I don’t know whether it will be fairly mild or fairly serious, but it will probably go deep into next year.”
Higher borrowing costs hit consumer spending as well as business investment. Rate-sensitive sectors like housing are also feeling the pinch as affordability declines.
Meanwhile, global growth is slowing as Europe faces an energy crisis and China contends with a property slump. The strong dollar also drags on exports and foreign earnings for US multinationals. These mounting headwinds make recession more likely in the coming year.
Small Caps Most Exposed with Minimal Earnings, Heavy Debt Load
Within US equities, Grantham sees particular risk in the Russell 2000 index of small-cap stocks.
“The most vulnerable area in my opinion is the Russell 2000,” said Grantham. “It often has no collective earnings at all. It has a very high density of zombies — companies that really can only pay their interest payments by issuing more debt. They’re vulnerable on the debt front, vulnerable on the financial front, and vulnerable on a broad economic front.”
With shaky fundamentals and less access to financing, small caps tend to underperform in recessions. Their earnings are also most sensitive to the economic cycle compared to their large-cap counterparts.
40 Years of Falling Mortgage Rates Drove “Overpriced” Housing Market
After four decades of declining mortgage rates inflated housing valuations, Grantham expects home prices to decline in the period ahead.
“An over 40-year period of driving down mortgage rates, of course you drove up house prices all over the world, pretty much,” said Grantham. “And now the rates have gone up, of course it will drive down.”
The Case-Shiller national home price index has roughly doubled since 2012 as low rates fueled demand. But with the 30-year fixed mortgage now back over 7%, affordability has taken a hit.
Grantham notes this housing bubble actually surpassed the 2007 peak by other measures. “In terms of actual long-term vulnerability posed by overpricing, this housing market was more overpriced, and it was accompanied by a much more overpriced and classically bubbly stock market than 2007,” he said.
Don’t Invest in Real Estate or Broad US Market
Given the historic valuations, Grantham advises against investing in real estate or US stocks at current levels.
“Don’t invest in real estate, don’t invest in the US,” said Grantham. “If you have to invest in the US, quality has been the mispriced asset for 100 years. They outperform in bear markets. They underperform in bull markets, because you want to own Tesla, you want to own meme stocks, you want to own what’s flying. You don’t want to own Coca-Cola, it’s just too boring.”
High-quality companies with strong balance sheets and stable earnings growth can offer resilience in downturns. Grantham notes they carry multiple advantages including lower risk across the board.
Bitcoin an “Elaborate Scam” Unlike True Innovation of AI
Grantham dismissed cryptocurrencies like bitcoin as hollow speculation without fundamental value.
“Bitcoin is, of course, an elaborate scam, really,” said Grantham.
Proponents claim digital coins offer a store of value, inflation hedge, or decentralized payments network. But volatility, development hurdles, and structural issues around mining and scalability cloud the outlook.
While skeptical on crypto, Grantham believes innovations like artificial intelligence represent transformative technologies.
“Artificial intelligence is absolutely for real,” said Grantham. “Is it big enough, soon enough to stop the deflating? No, I don’t think it is. It’s a 10-, 20-year, multi-decadal effect going off into the distant future, and it will be potentially vast in its effects.”
Commodities Subject to Boom-Bust Cycles
Grantham also remains cautious on commodities, despite inflationary pressures across raw materials from energy to metals.
“Commodities break your heart because just as they’re doing well, they have a wipeout for 18 months, and then they go roaring back to a new high,” Grantham explained.
Supply gluts after periods of high prices often crater commodity markets in violent cycles. While they can hedge inflation, buying at the wrong time leads to poor returns over the long run.
Economists “Lost the Plot” on Their Core Job
Grantham pulled no punches in his assessment of the economics field either.
“I’m not a great believer in economists,” said Grantham. “They’ve lost the plot for the last 70 years. They’ve forgotten their job description, which is to be useful. They drown in assumptions and closed systems, which are largely irrelevant for everything except their reputation inside their industry.”
He believes academics have grown disconnected from the real world needs of policymakers and market participants. Their models steeped in theory make too many simplifications to offer useful guidance on financial markets or macro trends.
Oil’s Demise Will Come as Alternatives Scale Up
As for oil, Grantham expects a secular decline over the long term even if prices spike in the near future.
“You should not be surprised if the price of oil doesn’t go over $100 maybe once or twice in the next five years,” said Grantham. “You should be amazed if the price of oil does not then have a long-term crutch, and it will run down to a level where the Saudis or somebody will be able to grind out $45 oil into the setting sun. That’s how I think the game will end.”
While demand may remain robust in the next decade, alternatives like renewables and electric vehicles will eventually displace hydrocarbons. Supply could also exceed consumption in the outer years, fulfilling Grantham’s prediction of lower oil prices for the long term.
Grantham made several provocative claims about frothy markets and what may lie ahead. While only time will tell if his dire warnings come to fruition, the investment legend makes thought-provoking arguments grounded in history and experience.
Investors may be wise to examine their portfolios with the potential risks in mind. Diversification, value screens, and risk management could help weather the storm if Grantham’s projected 50% stock collapse materializes.
Alternatives like cash, Treasuries, gold, and other uncorrelated assets may also buffer volatility when valuations revert in equities, real estate, and risk assets.
Meanwhile, technological innovations like AI, automation, renewable energy, and more efficient batteries could reshape industries and redefine productivity in the decades ahead. Some emerging fields may warrant attention despite Grantham’s overall caution on crowded trades.
Of course, predictions even from experts like Grantham are hypotheticals. His provocative outlook serves more as food for thought than investment gospel. Still, reviewing exposure through a defensive lens could help safeguard portfolios against projected risks ahead.
As Grantham himself would advise, maintaining realistic return assumptions and disciplined diversification remains key in these unprecedented times. We may not know exactly what the future holds, but we can take sensible steps to prepare for stormy weather after the longest bull run in history.
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