By Justin Spittler, editor, Casey Daily Dispatch
Short the S&P 500.
That’s not something most investors would consider right now. After all, US stocks have been rallying for eight straight years. At this point, it’s hard to even remember what a down market feels like.
But that’s exactly what Jeff Gundlach thinks you should do.
Gundlach, as you may know, is one of the world’s brightest investors. He manages more than $100 billion at his firm DoubleLine Capital.
On Monday, he told a room full of investors at the Sohn Investment Conference in New York to short (bet against) the SPDR S&P 500 ETF (SPY). This fund tracks the S&P 500. It’s the most heavily traded ETF on the planet.
• It’s a bold call, to say the least…
But Gundlach has a history of nailing calls like this.
At last year’s Sohn Conference, he told investors to short the Utilities Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLU) and buy the iShares Mortgage Real Estate Capped ETF (REM).
If you had taken Gundlach’s advice, you’d be up 40% on this trade today.
Gundlach was also one of the few people to predict that Donald Trump would become president of the United States. In June, he told CNBC:
People aren't getting along, they're not happy because of technology taking jobs, and sort of this long, slow grind of a new economy. And so they're looking for change, and I think Trump is going to win on the basis of that.
• In other words, it pays to listen to Gundlach…
But here’s the thing.
Gundlach doesn’t think you should get out of stocks completely. Instead, he thinks you should “go long” emerging markets.
These are countries that are on their way to becoming “developed” countries like the United States. Brazil, Russia, India, and China (also known as the “BRICs”) are the largest emerging markets.
On Monday, Gundlach told investors at the Sohn Conference to buy the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (EEM), which tracks over 800 emerging market stocks.
It’s one of the safest and most diversified ways to play emerging markets. Of course, you would have already known that if you’ve been reading the Dispatch.
• After all, I’ve been pounding the table on emerging market stocks for months…
In February, I outlined the bullish case for emerging markets. A month later, I told investors to “forget about US stocks” and consider emerging market stocks. I even recommended checking out EEM, just like Gundlach.
Not only that, Gundlach likes emerging markets for the same reasons we do. I’ll share those with you in a moment. But let’s first look at why the “Bond King” thinks you should short the S&P 500.
• US stocks are incredibly expensive…
Just look at this chart.
It compares the total market value of the S&P 500 with the annual economic output of the United States, as measured by gross domestic product (GDP).
This key ratio is now at the highest level since the dot-com bubble.
• US stocks aren’t just expensive from a historical perspective, either…
They’re also much more expensive than emerging market stocks. Gundlach explained to CNBC on Monday:
The valuation of emerging markets is half the valuation of the S&P 500 when you look at things like price to sales, price to book, [and] Dr. Shiller’s CAPE ratio.
Dispatch readers know CAPE stands for cyclically adjusted price-to-earnings. It’s the cousin of the popular price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio. The only difference is that it uses 10 years’ worth of earnings instead of one. But just like the P/E ratio, a high CAPE ratio means stocks are expensive.
You can see below that the CAPE ratio has surged to 29.5. That’s 76% higher than the S&P 500’s historical average. US stocks have only been this expensive two times in history: just before the Great Depression and during the dot-com bubble.
Meanwhile, the CAPE ratio for EEM is floating around 14, meaning it’s 52% cheaper than SPY.
• To be fair, emerging market stocks have been cheaper than US stocks for years…
And they’ve still underperformed them.
But that’s starting to change. Just look at the chart below.
It compares the performance of the S&P 500 with EEM. When this line is rising, it means US stocks are doing better than emerging market stocks.
You can see that’s been the case for years. But this key ratio just broke a long-term upward trend line.
This tells us that emerging market stocks should outperform US stocks for years to come.
• If you haven’t already, I recommend you pick up some emerging market stocks today…
The easiest way to do this is with EEM or another major emerging market fund.
These funds will give you broad exposure to emerging markets.
Once you build a core position in emerging markets, you could consider investing in individual emerging markets. Right now, three of our favorite emerging markets are Poland, Colombia, and India.
As for US stocks, I wouldn’t encourage everyday investors to short the S&P 500 like Gundlach recommends. Instead, I suggest you be very selective about what US stocks you own.
Avoid stocks trading at nosebleed valuations. Own companies with resilient business models and little debt.
Delray Beach, Florida
May 12, 2017
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