Saturday, February 25, 2012

Selected Exerpts from Jeremy Grantham's 4Q Letter: "The Longest Quarterly Letter Ever" "

A couple pull quotes.
First up Credit Bubble Stocks:
Grantham on Natural Gas
"At the opposite end of the resource spectrum to record-priced Iowa farmland is natural gas. Natural gas is, for most purposes like home heating and electric utility plants, a better and cleaner fuel than oil or coal, but is for technical reasons in distress: there have been several recent decades in which the BTU equivalent price for natural gas did, at least for a second, reach parity with oil. But now it is at just 14% of BTU equivalency, the lowest in almost 50 years. Everyone who has a brain should be thinking of how to make money on this in the longer term."
And from Value Investing World:
Inflation Hedges
Finally, via Scribd: GMO 4Q Letter
The 800-pound gorilla (the one that prefers bond holders to bamboo) is not in the room yet, but you can hear him thumping his chest up in the hills. He will come eventually, and before he does, you should remember that stocks are underrated inflation hedges. The underlying corporations have real assets, employ real people, and sometime even make real things, although a good idea embedded in a small thing (like an iPad) or a service is just as good. Equities have been tested over and over again in different places and in different decades and they have always been found to be very effective hedges. Serious resources – oil and copper in the ground and forestry and farmland – will almost certainly also be good and very probably much better than broad stocks in the short run. Gold may be good too. Who knows? But for stocks to work dependably as inflation hedges one has to have a several-year time horizon: in the short term, rising inflation can hurt stocks badly, for as mentioned last quarter, inflation is usually a powerful negative behavioral input. Investors hate jumps in inflation because they sharply raise the levels of uncertainty. Fairly quickly, though, earnings always catch up, and after multi-year surges in inflation (as in Brazil in the ’80s) we end up with the total market value in its normal range as a percentage of GDP while regular bonds if they exist, get destroyed.

Exhibit 2 shows the co-incident 5-year relationship between the return for stocks, bonds, and gold, respectively, against the CPI since 1919 in the U.S. As inflation picks up, the real price of gold goes up, the real price of bonds declines a lot, and equities decline also, but significantly less. Exhibit 3 looks at exactly the same inflation data but adds the next 5 years of real returns for the three assets. Now, over 10 years, there is only a very slight relationship between either gold or equities with the original 5 years of change in the CPI. In the case of bonds however, there is still a strong tendency for bonds to continue to lose ground. The conclusion from that time period is that surges in inflation have been a very slight issue for holders of equities (and gold) on a 10-year basis, but a very serious one for bond holders. We must also remember that previous inflationary periods in the U.S have mostly followed a pattern of rising several years to a single peak and then falling. The next one may be different. It may move up and then fall back several times, creating more of a range of hills than a single Himalayan peak like 1981. In such a bumpy ride, stocks are likely to adjust more quickly each time while long bonds will see their values steadily eroded.

The short-term correlations between stocks and inflation in the past have been quite high, but short-term correlations are for traders, not investors. I’d advise not getting too carried away with them. In general, I also much prefer to have stocks and other real assets in a longer-term approach than to have complicated hedges and options. Murphy’s Law of complexity is powerful: things will go badly if they can and when you least need them to, but complex things will go bad first, and worst given half a chance, as we saw in the mortgage market a few years ago. Keep it simple when you can. And owning stocks is very simple indeed....