I ran into my aged mentor Leon Cooperman in New York, where we jointly analyzed and dissected our investment futures.
Leon thinks that at a 17.5X earnings multiple, valuations are OK. He expects a total return for the S&P 500 (NYSEARCA:SPY) of 7-9%, including a 2% dividend. His outlook for all fixed-income investments (NYSEARCA:TLT) is extremely negative.
There are only four possible causes of a recession from here:
- Corporate earnings fall. But they are, ex energy, in fact increasing at a respectable pace.
- Stocks become overvalued. However, 16.5X is in the middle of its historical earnings multiple range. Many of the largest firms are trading at big market discounts. Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is the prime example. It is the most widely owned stock in the world, and sells at a very modest 11X current cash earnings.
During the 2000 dot-com bubble top, Apple sold for 34X earnings (which, today, would value the company at a staggering $2.3 trillion, or 14% of US GDP!).
- A hostile Federal Reserve would certainly take the punch bowl away. With deflation running amok globally, it is unlikely that the Fed moves until later this year. When it does, the action will be modest.
- A geopolitical crisis would certainly throw a spanner in the works. These are unforecastable, and all the current ones (ISIS, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, and Ukraine) are inconsequential.
Cooperman observes that bear markets don't arise from an immaculate conception, but a visible turn in the economic data flow. Given that, of the hundreds of data points Leon tracks on a weekly or months basis, not a single one is pointing towards recession.
That said, he cautions that the market historically peaks an average of seven months before every recession. Stock markets also rise an average of 30 months after the first Fed rate hike, taking in a typical 9.5% in the first year, which brings us to his two-year upside target.
Don't get too excited. The high returns of recent past years are now firmly in the rear-view mirror. The years ahead are more likely to bring a couple of yards forward and a cloud of dust, much like we witnessed in 2015.
Leon is urging his clients to take the most negative stance possible regarding their bond holdings. That means shortening duration (maturities) and moving up the credit curve. Shorter and safer is the way to go. Avoid junk bonds like the plague, which are among the most overvalued in history.
A 2% GDP growth rate and a 2% inflation rate should give us a 4% yield on ten-year Treasury bonds, not the lowly 1.89% we see on our screens today. Look out below!
Cooperman is one of the few individuals I drop everything to listen to. He spent 25 years at Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS), eventually rising to the head of research.
He took off to start his own hedge fund in 1991, Omega Advisors, the same year I did, and became an early investor in my own fund. His returns have since been stellar, and Leon is regularly ranked as one of the top ten investment strategists in the country. Ignore Leon at your peril.
Before we parted, Leon gave me his short list of favorite stocks to own, many of which you already know and love from reading the Diary of a Mad Hedge Fund Trader. They include Google (GOOG, GOOGL), GM (NYSE:GM), Citibank (NYSE:C), Priceline (NASDAQ:PCLN), and AerCap (NYSE:AER).
As a ringer, he also threw in Gulf Coast Ultra Deep Royalty Trust (GULTU), a high-yield royalty trade spun off by none other than Freeport-McMoRan (NYSE:FCX), one of my biggest earnings last year.
With that, I thanked Leon for his always sage and prescient advice, and promised to revisit these issues with him in New York next month.
Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.
I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it. I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.