Sonders Offers Counterpoint to Gross

Charles Schwab’s Liz Ann Sonders says she thinks Bill Gross’s contention that the “cult of equity is dying” may be off the mark.

“Rumors of the death of equities may be greatly exaggerated,” Sonders writes in commentary on Schwab’s site. “I remain optimistic longer-term, albeit it with near-term concerns due to the obvious pressures still with us thanks to the ongoing eurozone crisis, the looming US fiscal cliff and related election uncertainty, and slowing global growth.”

Sonders makes a couple key points about stocks and investors. One is that history has shown that bull markets can occur without individual investors being too keen on stocks. Citing research from The Leuthold Group, she says that “the first was the advance from 1974 to 1980, which lasted more than six years and amounted to a 120% gain for the S&P 500, and a multiple of that gain in small-cap stocks. However, US-focused mutual funds enjoyed net inflows in only 15 months during this run. The shallow bear market of 1976-1977 likely shook out many would-be buyers … and contrarians might note the high of that entire move coincided with the first sizable month of net inflows.” The second example is the current bull, she adds.

Sonders says a second key point involves demographics. “In history, few forces have been as strong behind stock returns as demographic trends: movements in population, age, gender and employment status, among others,” she says. And while many have said that the aging of the Baby Boomer generation is bad news for stocks, Sonders thinks people may be underestimating the Millennial generation that follows the Boomers. She offers several reasons this may be true, with many of the reasons coming from a recent report from Turner Investments. Among them:

  • The Millennial generation is huge, including some 85 million people, making it even bigger than the Boomer generation;
  • 401ks and other investment vehicles make it easier and more “automatic” for the Millennials to invest than it was for the Boomers;
  • Macroeconomic headwinds are likely to be temporary for Millennials — Sonders says she thinks the housing market has already bottomed;
  • Data shows that Millennials in their 20s are putting more of their money into stocks at this point in their lives than did 20-somethings a decade ago.