Blackrock portfolio manager and chief equity strategist for fundamental equities Bob Doll says that, despite the formidable challenges the U.S. faces, “overweight positions in U.S. equities are more than warranted” right now.
In an opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal, Doll acknowledges several problems facing the U.S. — including a weak housing market and rising debts and deficits. But, he says the country is in “reasonably good shape” compared to the rest of the world, and says the economic recovery seems to be evolving into self-sustaining mode. “Our economic fundamentals are sound: Manufacturing levels are up and interest rates and inflation are low,” he writes. “The broader economy’s recovery is also finally translating into meaningful employment improvements — recent employment reports show increases in average hourly earnings and hours worked — and I believe this trend will continue.”
The U.S. economy is also faring much better than those of other developed nations, “creating an important tailwind for our stocks,” Doll says. Unlike many companies in other countries, U.S. firms went into cost-cutting mode and became much more efficient when the financial crisis hit, Doll says. As demand rebounds, that has them in very good shape. Cash on the balance sheet is close to 11% of assets — a 60-year high, he says, adding that “high cash levels are already generating dividend increases, share buybacks, capital investments and M&A activity — all extremely shareholder friendly.”
“Improving productivity, a strengthening currency, and rising equity markets are linked,” Doll says. “We saw that synchronization 15 years ago, and we are seeing it today.”
Doll says the U.S.’s recovery has actually been quite remarkable. Nominal GDP reached an all-time high in the first quarter of this year, and he says real GDP should do the same in the second or third quarter. He says that after the Great Depression, it took the U.S. 15 years to do that, and Japan took almost as long to recover from its “lost decade” in the 1990s. “But in just a few quarters, our economy has taken monumental steps toward health,” Doll says.