My Two Cents

Intriguing investment advice

Chris Farrell Jan 13, 2009

Here are excerpts from two investment giants. They differ, although both agree that Treasury Inflation Protected Securities or TIPS are attractive.

First, today’s Wall Street Journal has an interview with David Swensen, the invetment maven for Yale University. He has a terrific long-term track record, although like everyone Yale’s endowment is down. I’m a big fan of his investment book for the average person: Unconventional Success. Here’s a highlight from the interview with the Wall Street Journal. (You need a subscription to the WSJ to read the whole article):

Distressed securities are one of the most interesting opportunities for institutional investors. But returns won’t come right away because the credit markets are fundamentally broken. TIPS [Treasury-Inflation Protected Securities] are pretty attractively priced. They promise reasonable returns, and protection against inflation is really important. We may not see it in the next year or two, but the government’s massive fiscal stimulus can’t help but produce massive inflationary pressures. Stocks also look a lot more attractive than they have for a long time. We prefer higher-quality companies with low leverage.

Bill Gross of Pimco runs the world’s largest bond fund. He’s the Warren Buffet of fixed income securities. I liked his book, Everything You’ve Heard About Investing is Wrong. You can read his monthly newsletter here:

PIMCO’s view is simple: shake hands with the government; make them your partner by acknowledging that their checkbook represents the largest and most potent source of buying power in 2009 and beyond. Anticipate, then buy what they buy, only do it first: agency-backed mortgages, bank preferred stocks, and senior bank debt; Aaa asset-backed securities such as credit card, student loan, and auto receivables. These have been well-advertised PIMCO strategies over the past 6 months but there are others in clear sight. An Obama administration will quickly be confronted by the need to provide those hundreds of billions of dollars to states and large municipalities. Their requests total nearly a trillion dollars and to think California or NYC would be allowed to fail is, well – unthinkable. Municipal bonds then, selling at historically high ratios relative to U.S. Treasuries, offer attractive price appreciation potential, or at the very least a defensiveness with high carry that a 2½% 10-year Treasury cannot.

Here’s another thought. While TIPS or inflation-protected securities cannot logically be a recipient of Uncle Sam’s checkbook over the next 12 months, they can benefit if and when the government’s efforts to reflate begin to take hold. 2½% real yields cannot possibly be maintained unless deflation as opposed to inflation becomes the odds-on favorite. What bond investors know as “breakeven inflation rates” are currently signaling a future where the U.S. CPI averages -1% for the next 10 years. Possible, but not likely. As an additional strategy, global bond investors should recognize the value in high-quality investment-grade corporate bonds in many markets. Yields of 6%+ for intermediate maturities are still common and readily available.

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