Jeremy Siegel: Treasury Bonds Today Are a Sucker Bet
by Alexander Green, Chief Investment Strategist
Monday, August 30, 2010: Issue #1334

The investment advisory industry is full of gurus – and various charlatans – claiming that they made incredible stock market calls.

But Wharton Professor Dr. Jeremy Siegel made perhaps the greatest call of all time at the right moment and for the right reasons. Those who listened to him saved themselves many thousands of dollars – and untold agony.

Now Dr. Siegel is making another bold prediction. You can only ignore it at your peril. Here’s why…

Siegel Shocks the Market

On March 13, 2000, The Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed piece from Dr. Siegel entitled “Big-Cap Stocks Are a Sucker Bet.” The column shocked the investment community.

Here was the man, author of the investment classic Stocks for the Long Run and who provided the intellectual underpinnings of the greatest bull market in history, claiming that the greatest stock market darlings weren’t just overvalued. They were a “sucker bet.”

Siegel focused on the 33 largest firms based on market capitalization – those with values greater than $85 billion. Of these, 18 were technology stocks. He noted that their market-weighted P/E equaled 126. What’s more, he pointed out that half of the large-cap technology stocks had P/Es over 100. For these stocks, the market-weighted P/E was 208.

These prices were totally unjustifiable. There was no way that these companies could grow fast enough to support such insane valuations.

Are You Heeding Siegel’s Current Warning?

That month, the Nasdaq – home to these tech giants – hit its all-time high of 5,132. From there, it imploded. Many of the stocks he singled out in the column – like Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO) and JDS Uniphase (Nasdaq: JDSU) – plunged over 99%.

Even today – more than 10 years later – the Nasdaq is 60% below its high.

It’s great when a knowledgeable analyst like this rings a clear warning bell at the top. So understand that he’s doing it again today.

Earlier this month, he wrote another Wall Street Journal op-ed piece. This one is called “The Great American Bond Bubble.”

Siegel says: “What is happening today is the flip side of what happened in 2000. Just as investors were too enthusiastic then about the growth prospects in the economy, many investors today are far too pessimistic.”

As a result, they’re plowing money into Treasuries and Treasury mutual funds.

This will almost certainly end badly.

Unless we have a full-blown deflationary depression, these bonds are a horrible bet, offering minuscule yields and huge downside risk. Many investors don’t realize how badly they can get clobbered in super-safe Treasuries when the bond market turns down. (And those holding leveraged bond funds could see 40% or more of their principal vanish in a matter of months.)

As Siegel concludes: “Those who are now crowding into bonds and bond funds are courting disaster… The possibility of substantial capital losses looms large.”

What does Siegel propose that income investors hold instead?

Don’t Be a Sucker: Invest in This Asset Class Instead

Large-cap dividend stocks.

He points out that the 10 largest dividend payers in the United States are:

AT&T (NYSE: T)

Exxon Mobil (NYSE: XOM)

Chevron (NYSE: CVX)

Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG)

Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ)

Verizon (NYSE: VZ)

Phillip Morris (NYSE: PM)

Pfizer (NYSE: PFE)

General Electric (NYSE: GE)

Merck (NYSE: MRK)

And together…

  • They sport an average dividend yield of 4%, substantially more than what 10-year Treasuries are paying.
  • Their average P/E ratio is 11.7 versus 13 for the S&P 500.
  • Aside from the mountain of cash they’re sitting on, their prospective earnings will cover their dividends by more than 2 to 1.

Despite fears of another stock market dip, income investors are wise to switch from Treasuries to high-dividend stocks. It might not feel like the right thing to do, but neither did buying stocks at the market low 17 months ago.

In short, I couldn’t agree with Dr. Siegel more. Treasury bonds today are a sucker bet.

Good investing,

Alexander Green