Welcome to Giddyville. A year ago, we were swooning over bitcoin. Today, we’re mooning over pot stocks. Not since the dotcom bubble have so many investors been so eager to grab a slice of the next big thing.
Exactly why gullibility has roared back into fashion isn’t entirely clear. Maybe it’s the natural side effect of low interest rates and rising stock prices. Or maybe it’s the dearth of enough critical voices.
In hopes of boosting the level of ambient skepticism, let me offer a suggestion. Before you pour your money into any of today’s trendiest investments, ask yourself one key question: Why are people so willing to sell you a piece of the action? If bitcoin were really headed to a million bucks, or if pot stocks were actually a sure bet to double from here, why are the current owners eager to stand aside and let you in on those future riches?
Great investing opportunities usually get snapped up long before they reach public markets. Venture capitalists, private equity firms and pension funds have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into promising businesses such as Airbnb, Uber and WeWork. The smart money hasn’t been nearly so willing to finance pot producers or blockchain entrepreneurs. That should tell you a lot.
So where should you look for better prospects? As always, I’m a fan of low-cost, balanced portfolios. However, if you want something with a bit more return potential, I suggest hunting for what asset manager Research Affiliates has dubbed “anti-bubbles”—places where valuations have fallen below levels any reasonable scenario would justify.
One area that qualifies is emerging markets. On average, they’re trading at barely 12 times earnings, roughly a third cheaper than stocks in the U.S. or Canada. Yet their growth prospects seem just as good as their developed-market counterparts.
Compared to the alternatives, emerging markets “are the best investment opportunity today by a substantial margin,” according to Ben Inker of asset manager GMO LLC in Boston. Another fan is AQR Capital Management, a widely followed quantitative-investing shop in Greenwich, Connecticut. It sees emerging-market stocks thumping their Canadian and U.S. counterparts over the next five to 10 years.
But what if you really don’t like venturing too far from home? Another promising place to look for value is in, um, value. Stocks that sell for low multiples of earnings, book value and so on have had a rough decade. They’ve lagged their faster-growing, more expensive counterparts. But historically, value hunting has been one of the best performing investing strategies, and it should rebound at some point.
One no-fuss way to play the value game is through exchange-traded funds offered by the likes of First Asset or Vanguard Group. Both companies have ETFs that attempt to locate promising value stocks using by-the-numbers approaches.
If you prefer to pick stocks, or believe in the value of human judgment, try plucking some ideas from the quarterly reports published by the respected U.S. value-investing firm Longleaf Partners. Recent top holdings in its flagship Partners Fund included familiar names such as Mattel, FedEx and Canada’s Fairfax Financial.
Finally, consider a small investment in gold. Full warning: Precious metals don’t thrive at times like this, when inflation appears tame, interest rates are rising and the U.S. dollar is strong. However, everyone knows how unpromising the current environment looks for bullion, so gold and gold-mining companies have plunged to the point where any flicker of renewed interest would send their values soaring.
Will that flicker happen next year or a few years from now? I have no idea. But I am sure that a basket of emerging-market stocks, value stocks and gold miners is a more attractive proposition for long-term investors than today’s pipe dreams.
Ian McGugan is an award-winning Globe and Mail writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @IanMcGugan