01.26.2012
By Terry Flanagan

Buy-Side Contrarianism

Out with the emerging markets, and China, and in with the U.S., touts investment manager.

Legendary hedge fund manager and founder of short-sell firm, Kynikos Associates, Jim Chanos is known to most as the perpetual bear on investing in China. He’s been quoted as stating the country’s banking system has been built on “quicksand,” and poo-pooing Chinese business practices.

He’s not alone. On the other side of the investment spectrum, some long managers are also feeling lukewarm about China.

“I don’t think China is the place to invest; they’re slowing in growth and easing on credit and valuations are not cheap there,” said Richard Bernstein, chief executive of $660 million Richard Bernstein Advisors, a top-down macro shop. Bernstein listed that unemployment and inflation are on the horizon for China, but that hasn’t stirred any alarm from Chinese policymakers.

“The Chinese are saying we won’t have inflation and unemployment…I don’t think the data supports that,” Bernstein said, mentioning that pending monetary tightening could cause another stock market sell off for the country.

For Bernstein, hidden investment opportunities will be largely derived from the markets’ “new story” even though participants are looking towards the “old story.” That new story is Bernstein’s positive outlook on investing in the U.S.

“The S&P 500 has outperformed the BRIC (Brazil, Russian, India, China) countries for the past four years…U.S. municipal bonds have outperformed gold in 2011, which discounts the market fear we felt this year about munis,” Bernstein said.

In 2002, people were wondering when the markets would once-again favor technology stocks, according to Bernstein. Yet, over the past ten years, it’s been the emerging markets, commodities, and REITS (real estate investment trusts) that have performed well.

Similarly, Bernstein told Markets Media that investors will look back to today’s market climate in ten years and realize that the U.S. was the place to go long.

Cynics that frown upon the U.S.’s prospects point to a high unemployment rate, wavering housing market, and inflation—all catalyzed by the 2008 financial crisis. Yet Bernstein noted that these are lagging indicators, which contrasts what he deemed should be investors’ focus—leading indicators, such as the stock market itself.

“The 2008 credit bubble was posed as bad news for the U.S, but it was impactful on a global scale…even worse for Europe and China,” Bernstein said.

Richard Bernstein Advisors offers open-end mutual funds through Boston asset management firm, Eaton Vance, an ETF (exchange traded fund) through UBS, and an income portfolio through First Trust.

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