"Most people are not going to have adequate retirement," BlackRock CEO Larry Fink said recently. "Most people are too invested in bonds; they need a comprehensive equity portfolio."
If you've got 10 years or more, says Fink, bonds won't get you anywhere. "You own a 3% asset [bonds] because you're frightened of today."
He couldn't be more right. Here's one way to think about this. Assets compete against each other for investors' attention. When bonds are more attractive than stocks, favor them. When stocks look better, lean toward them. When cash looks like your best bet, do what you gotta do. In any case, the attractiveness of one asset depends on the value of another.
For now, let's focus on the trade-off between stocks vs. bonds.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury note is about 3% right now. The average dividend yield for the 30 stocks in the Dow Jones Industrial Average is 2.8%. That spread -- 0.2% -- is absolutely pitiful. Since 1970, the spread between the dividend yield on large-cap stocks and 10-year Treasury bonds has averaged more than 4 percentage points. Today it's virtually nothing.
That's insane. Think about it. The yield on bonds, of course, is fixed (at least in theory ... let's see if we can raise the debt ceiling). Dividends have grown by more than 4% annually for the past decade. The former doesn't even compensate you for inflation. The latter grows faster than it.
For the benefit investors obtain from bonds -- they don't wobble to and fro -- investors have resigned themselves to negative real returns. You don't own that kind of asset to make money. You do it, as Fink says, because you're frightened of today.
And the numbers are actually crazier than they look. Today's dividend payout ratio on large-cap stocks is about half of its long-term average. If companies simply reverted to paying the historic average percentage of profits out as dividends, dividend yields on stocks would be substantially higher than the yield on 10-year Treasury bonds.
Nothing's certain, but that's about the strongest indicator you'll get that stocks will outperform, even slaughter, bonds over the next decade. History backs this up.
Still, does the fact that stocks should crush bonds mean stocks will perform well? History has a word on this, too: The likely answer is yes. Even so, a world where both broad stock markets and bonds do nothing for investors isn't unthinkable. Smart stock picking is still vital. Here are four companies I own that make me excited to be an investor over the next few years.
Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT )
Less than nine times forward earnings, still growing a healthy clip, pays a 2.7% dividend, and could (and should) pay a substantially higher dividend if it wanted -- the company generates more free cash flow than it knows what to do with. It's staggering how many people think Microsoft is a dinosaur because it only has a 90% market share and grows 10% a year.
Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-B )
Berkshire now trades at about the lowest valuation it ever has. The worst you can say about the company is that Buffett is old. But whatever "Buffett premium" shares held in the past is now effectively gone. This is a collection of some of the world's best businesses trading at a price appropriate for a decidedly average company. Exploit that.
Philip Morris International (NYSE: PM )
Scared of the U.S. economy? Worried about inflation? Doesn't get much better than this. PMI generates all of its business outside the U.S. and has a history of being able to raise prices faster than inflation. For better or worse, smoking rates in other parts of the world are substantially higher than the U.S., putting PMI in a similar position former parent Altria (NYSE: MO ) was several decades ago: set up to generate massive returns for shareholders.
Paychex (Nasdaq: PAYX )
This is one of my favorite companies. The business is simple -- processing paychecks for small- and medium-sized companies -- but it's uniquely profitable for two reasons. First, switching costs are high. Once customers join Paychex, they tend to stick around. Two, Paychex holds cash for customers before checks are cut. It earns money on these funds in the meantime by sticking them in short-term debt securities. This side business could become quite profitable if interest rates rise -- an almost certainty going forward.
What do you think? Drop a thought below.