Distracted by headlines, financial advisors and other U.S. investors may be missing the best investment opportunity for the next decade, even if it is staring them in the face. It's right here at home, according to Richard Bernstein, CEO of the eponymous advisory firm and former chief investment strategist at Merrill Lynch.
Bernstein reminded advisors at the second annual Innovative Alternative Investments conference in Chicago that ten years ago they would have been asking when will tech stocks recover. "You wouldn't be asking one question about emerging markets, commodities or gold," he said.
How many advisors or other investors know that the S&P 500 has outperformed equities in the BRIC nations-Brazil, Russia, India and China-for three and one-half years now? They all are focused on emerging markets, commodities and gold, Bernstein said.
"Investors have become too myopic about where the risks are," he explained. Who doesn't know that the U.S. has lots of problems?
"We've been surprised that investors are surprised by the recent slowdown" in the global economy, he remarked. Mediocre jobless claims numbers, high gas prices and the Japanese tsunami that threw a wrench in the global supply chain made a slowdown inevitable. Still, Bernstein doesn't think the data supports a double-dip recession.
"Things are actually starting to improve," he told attendees. Equities move on better or worse, not good or bad.
It should be noted that Bernstein was a persistent pessimist during his last ten years at Merrill Lynch, which he left in 2009. According to some sources, his tepid outlook for U.S. equities did not sit well in some quarters at that firm, even though he finished first or second on Institutional Investor's All-American Research team for 20 out of 22 years.
If everyone in America is focused on the myriad problems in the domestic economy, they may be overlooking all the warning signs that are surfacing in the developing markets. In particular, Bernstein thinks the yield curve tells a story that strongly favors investing here.
Yield curves tell us a lot. The U.S. has the steepest yield curve, a major positive, and strongest corporate profits among major economies. Bernstein acknowledged that the corporate sector has benefited disproportionately from the recovery, and the fact that much of Main Street has barely participated may explain some of the pervasive gloom. But U.S. companies are leading the world in revenue surprises even if much of the sales are coming from abroad.
All the hand-wringing about Fed policy, QE2 and potential inflation is misplaced, Bernstein said. Printing money and using it to create credit causes inflation, but simply printing money does not. Yes, the Fed is printing a lot of money, but it is not resulting in significant credit creation.