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Jan. 9, 2021, 1:26 p.m. EST

Man who called 2008 stock-market top says we are in ‘real humdinger’ of a bubble

By Mark DeCambre

That is Jeremy Grantham, co-founder and chief investment strategist at Boston-based money manager Grantham, Mayo, Van Otterloo & Co., in a research report dated Tuesday after a particularly withering year for his investment outfit in 2020.

Grantham’s bearish view on valuations was reflected in GMO’s investment strategy which trailed the S&P 500 index (S&P:SPX) , according to a report by  Bloomberg News late last year which noted that clients had pulled $2.2 billion from the fund as of November 2020.

Last year was a remarkable year for risk assets in the face of a global viral epidemic that left equity indexes initially reeling in the spring, only to stage a spectacular rebound in the ensuing months as fiscal and monetary policy contributed to an economic recovery.

The S&P 500 (S&P:SPX) and the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DOW:DJIA) posted impressive gains in 2020, despite an initial bear market a decline of at least 20% and a recovery from those March lows of over 60%, while the Nasdaq Composite Index (NASDAQ:COMP) surged more than 80% from its nadir.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished 2020 up 7.25% in 2020, while the S&P500 index gained 16.26% and the Nasdaq Composite returned 43.64%.

Grantham however says that the market’s bubblicious state has accelerated since he last declared values inflated and referenced a quote often attributed to famed economist John Maynard Keynes stipulating that “the market can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent.”

In Grantham’s words “either way, the market is now checking off all the touchy-feely characteristics of a major bubble.”

He also mentions the surge in interest in electric-vehicle makers like Tesla Inc. (NAS:TSLA) as evidence of the market’s speculative fervor.

“The most impressive features are the intensity and enthusiasm of bulls, the breadth of coverage of stocks and the market, and, above all, the rising hostility toward bears,” he writes.

What’s a prudent investor to do with one of the legends of Wall Street signaling caution is warranted?

Grantham says assets considered value, or trading at a discount based on some metric and emerging markets may be better bets in the near term. He said such bets go “along with the greatest avoidance of U.S. Growth stocks that your career and business risk will allow.”

Despite his recent challenges calling a top, Grantham is worth paying attention to due to his prescient calls over the years. He said that stocks were overvalued in 2000 and again in 2007, anticipating those market downturns,  the Wall Street Journal reports . Grantham also signaled that elements of the financial market had become unmoored from reality leading up to the 2008-09 financial crisis.

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