(Dow Jones) Jack Bogle and Chris Davis agree on many things, but they are at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to investing.
The 81-year-old Bogle said that for his personal portfolio he follows an age-based formula. The founder of the Vanguard Group has 81% of his personal assets, including his retirement plan, in bonds and 19% in stocks. Davis, the 45-year-old head of Davis Funds, said bonds are the most dangerous asset in the world, especially since money is pouring in after the returns have been made.
What's amazing, Davis said, given that the dividend yield on stocks is about 3% and the yield on bonds is roughly the same at 3% to 3.5%, is that more money went into bonds in the last 12 months than has ever gone into any single asset class.
"That is a terrifying idea," Davis said. "I think the only real bubble in the world is bonds."
Now, Davis said bonds might be OK for another year or two. "But when you look over a ten-year period, people are going to get killed," he said, noting that the U.S. has a net present value of unfunded liabilities in excess of $42 trillion.
"The idea of financing that enterprise at 3% seems crazy to me when I can get a 7% or 8% earnings yield on Coca-Cola," he said.
Davis and Bogle were among the luminaries who graced the stage at this week's gathering in Boston of some 1,600 investment professionals who hold the chartered financial analyst designation and who are ostensibly entrusted with managing the life savings of millions upon millions of Americans and other citizens around the world.
Too Much Debt
Many of those luminaries fell more in Davis's camp than Bogle's. In fact, if one can sum up the mood and sentiment of those in Boston this week, it would be this: The world is going to you know where. But it will go there in something slightly bigger than a handbasket.
And many of them cited the same concerns: There's just too much debt in the world.
"High and rising public debt levels in many advanced economies today could spell trouble for growth in five to ten years," Kenneth Rogoff, an economics professor at Harvard University, co-author of "This Time is Different," and former chief economist at the IMF, said in his speech.
Despite what some regard as a recovery, Rogoff said the U.S. is still driving down the tracks of a deep post-war financial crisis.
Rogoff was merely echoing the sentiment of many investment experts. Half of professionals who hold the CFA said "fiscal deficits was the biggest geopolitical risk that could affect their investments," according to CFA Institute Market Research.
Jeremy Grantham, chief investment strategist at GMO, and Seth Klarman, president of the Baupost Group, also sounded the drum beat of, if not despair, certainly caution.
This is not to say there aren't any investment opportunities out there. For his part, Rogoff said artificial intelligence just might prove to be the next wave of growth.
Grantham, meanwhile, highlighted his fondness of Treasury Inflation Protected Securities and timber, the latter being one of the best "holders of value" in times such as these. And Klarman, for his part, has bought insurance for his portfolios in the form of out-of-the-money puts on bonds.
As for Bogle, well, he's plenty happy with his age-based investing formula. "I've always had in the back of my mind this incredibly simplistic idea, that your bond position should have something to do with your age," he said.
In his retirement portfolio today, he's got two-thirds of his bond portfolio in the Vanguard Total Bond Index fund ((VBMFX) for Average Joe investors and (VBTLX) for those who can afford the minimum initial investment of $100,000 in Admiral shares) and one-third in the Short-Term Investment Grade bond fund ((VFSTX) and (VFSUX) for Admiral shares).
In his personal portfolio, Bogle's got two-thirds of his bond portfolio in the Vanguard Intermediate-Term Tax-Exempt bond fund ((VWITX) and (VWIUX) for Admiral shares) and one-third in the Vanguard Limited-Term Tax-Exempt bond fund ((VMLTX) and (VMLUX) for Admiral shares). Bogle didn't specify whether he owned Admiral shares or not, but we'd venture to guess he can afford the minimum initial investment.
So what to make of all the doom and gloom in Boston this week? If one thing is certain it's this: It's likely to get worse before it gets better, and there aren't too many places to hide.
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