John Paulson, the man who made $3.7 billion personally in 2007 by wagering against subprime mortgages, gave out three investing tips last week. Prick up your ears because all three are accessible to the individual investor, in contrast with his earlier bet, which he implemented with credit default swaps. Better yet, these recommendations should do very well under a scenario that the market isn't paying much attention to right now, but that looks increasingly likely to occur.
Tip 1: Buy gold
As I highlighted in April, Paulson has made a big bet on gold; in fact, he seeded a dedicated gold fund with $250 million of his own money at the beginning of the year. At the end of June, his funds had a massive $3.8 billion position in the SPDR Gold Shares ETF
New price targets: $2,400, then $4,000
All this has been public knowledge for a while, but Paulson got much more specific last week. Speaking in front of a standing-room-only audience at the University Club in New York, he said that gold could rise to $2,400 per ounce based on fundamentals alone, and that momentum could carry it to $4,000. He further revealed that fully 80% of his own assets are denominated in gold.
Fiat money and gold: elastic vs. inelastic supply
Looking at the historical data, Paulson found that the price of gold tracks the monetary base closely. The monetary base is essentially the monetary balance sheet of the Fed and the U.S. Treasury. If the monetary base doubles over the next three years -- it has already more than doubled since the financial crisis began -- then gold should do the same, which would put it at approximately $2,400. How, then, do we get to $4,000? In a bull market, gold prices will outrun their correlation with the monetary base, which can add 100% to the predicted price, as occurred in 1980.
Are these numbers reasonable? The first one is completely plausible, since it is almost exactly equal to the price achieved by gold in 1980, once adjusted for inflation ($2,435). Sure, the 1980 high came on the back of seven years of annual inflation exceeding 8% on average, but Paulson sees the same -- or worse -- coming down the pipe. Reasoning that the Fed's experiment in quantitative easing (i.e., printing money) will spur significant inflation, he thinks it could reach the low double digits by 2012.
Tip 2: Switch out of bonds into high-quality dividend stocks
If that inflation scenario comes to pass, long-dated Treasury bonds will prove to be a disastrous investment. Consider a 10-year Treasury currently yielding 2.5%, which yield becomes an atrocious negative 7.5% real return in a 10% annual inflation environment.
When inflation threatens, investors should own real assets (i.e. stocks, real estate, commodities) over nominal assets (bonds). A fixed income stream is highly vulnerable to increases in the general price level, and with yields near historic lows, bond investors have absolutely no margin of safety (in fact, the margin of safety is negative).
Inflation protection at a good price
Meanwhile, you should expect corporate profits and dividends to rise along with inflation. I have been urging investors to consider high-quality dividend stocks for months. If you won't listen to me, perhaps you will listen to one of the greatest investors of his generation. In this category, Paulson mentioned three stocks he owns:
Estimated Long-Term EPS Growth
New Paulson & Co. Position
Johnson & Johnson
Source: Capital IQ (a division of Standard & Poor's), SEC.
Tip 3: Don't own long-dated bonds, sell one!
Once you've determined that bonds are overpriced, is there a way to profit from this? In theory, you could sell bonds short, but I promised you tips that an individual investor can easily implement. If you don't want to buy bonds and you can't sell them short, what can you do? You can sell a bond outright by taking out a mortgage: When you borrow cheaply -- mortgage rates hit a record low last week -- you're effectively selling your lender a very expensive 30-year bond.
Furthermore, if, or rather when inflation takes hold, the real value of your fixed mortgage payment will fall and your home value will rise. Last week, Paulson couldn't contain his enthusiasm for this strategy, gushing: "If you don't own a home, buy one. If you own one home, buy another one, and if you own two homes, buy a third and lend your relatives the money to buy a home."
Two slam dunks, one good speculative bet
As far as these three recommendations go, I consider gold to be a good bet, but a speculative bet nonetheless. The other two, on the other hand, are as close to investing slam dunks as you are likely to find. To be sure, a home is more than simply a financial asset for most people; however, for anyone wavering on the purchase of property, the current environment provides all the incentive anyone needs.
From 1926 to 2000, dividends contributed 40% of stocks' average annual return. Over the next decade, it could be higher than that! Matt Koppenheffer knows where to find the best dividends.