Bull vs. Bear: Even Jeremy Siegel Admits That Stocks Are Not Cheap

Discussion in 'Wall St. News' started by ByLoSellHi, Jan 30, 2007.

  1. Bull and Bear Served at Fund Manager Dinner


    By Brett Arends
    Mutual Funds Columnist
    1/30/2007 1:33 PM EST

    In the bull corner, as usual, was Jeremy Siegel -- professor at University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, and author of the popular investment tome Stocks for the Long Run. In the bear corner, also as usual, was Jeremy Grantham, veteran chairman of Boston fund firm GMO.

    And if Wall Street takes a downward step in the next few weeks, I think I'll know why. Nearly 600 of Boston's top fund managers and analysts turned up Monday night for the annual Boston Securities Analysts Society's dinner. And when the two Jeremies went head to head about the stock market over coffee, the bearish Grantham probably took it on points.

    He also had the added advantage of speaking second.

    It was generally good-natured, fought with PowerPoint presentations and Bloomberg charts. But it had some pointed moments. Grantham, at one moment, accused Siegel of talking "B.S." and came close to suggesting his opponent was a bit of a shill.

    Grantham, as often, outlined a doomsday scenario. "Everything is overpriced," he said. And he meant everything -- U.S. equities, foreign equities, emerging markets, bonds, housing and commodities. The whole shebang. Even fine art. "This year the cheap asset class is cash," Grantham said.

    He mustered more than a dozen overhead charts to argue that, seven years after the Wall Street peak of March 2000, we are still in an equity bubble. Shares are too expensive compared to profits, he said. And those profits, currently at record levels compared with the national economy, are also artificially high, he said. He gave a 50% chance that profit margins would start to fall again within a year. Within two years, he added, it was "a near certainty."

    Grantham concluded that investors who buy, say, an index fund -- such as Vanguard's Total Stock Market Index fund -- and hold it for the next seven years are likely to lose about 1.8% a year, after inflation.

    Bull champion Siegel came armed with his own presentations but didn't seem to fight with conviction. He also argued that bonds and commodities, including oil, are overvalued. And he didn't claim that Wall Street was a bargain, either. "Stocks are not cheap by any means," he admitted.

    It doesn't exactly make you want to rush out and invest.

    So don't be surprised if a few fund managers pause before throwing more money into the market in the next few weeks. Boston is the home to Fidelity, Putnam, MFS, Evergreen and other big fund companies, and most had people present.

    Yet the most intriguing question of the night went unanswered. And it goes right to the heart of Grantham's case and the small matter of whether you should be putting more money into the market or taking some out.

    Today, from Wall Street to Washington, the debate is raging over skyrocketing U.S. company profits. The statistics appear to show these are now taking a far higher share of the economy than ever before in modern history. Naturally there are lots of cheerleaders who say how healthy this is. But stock market bears, like Grantham, argue it means profits must fall again back to average historic levels. Meanwhile, in Washington, many Democrats argue these record profits prove that ordinary workers are getting a raw deal.