Wien Sees Reasons for Optimism

Blackstone Advisory Partners’ Byron Wien predicted before the year began that the S&P 500 would rise above 1,400 in 2012. Now that it has, he sees it climbing even higher.

Wien tells Barron’s that he thinks the index will climb above 1,500 by year-end. He thinks the U.S. economy is doing better than many think. “That doesn’t mean it is growing at 5%,” he said. “But it does mean it is probably growing at better than 2%, and they haven’t reported a number better than 2% this year. The fourth quarter will be better. Ninety-two percent of the people who want a job are working, and they are going to spend money at Christmas. Retail sales have been pretty good all year, and they are going to be better during the holiday season, and housing is going to turn next year. We aren’t going to get much out of capital equipment or exports. But everybody complains about job creation. In the private sector, we’ve really created quite a lot of jobs, and it is just in the public sector that we’ve cut back.”

Wien says that, generally, “the world usually ends up better than the pessimists think. We wouldn’t have gone this far if the pessimists had always been right, so history is on my side. But that doesn’t mean disasters don’t happen. It means, by and large, that we work our way out of them.”

Wien does say that the U.S. is in “terrible trouble” if it keeps running huge deficits. But he thinks that, regardless of who wins the presidential election, progress will be made on that front. That doesn’t mean gangbusters growth is around the corner, though. “We’ll see many years of not-better-than-3% growth,” he says. “It will create jobs and absorb the new workers coming into the workforce. But, look, we have more people unemployed for 27 weeks or more than ever before in our history. If you lose your job for any reason and you are over 40, it is pretty hard to find another one.”

In terms of particular areas where he sees opportunity, Wien likes the pharmaceutical and technology arenas, and he thinks gold is going to go higher (though he doesn’t see an accompanying increase in inflation). He also thinks at least 5% of an investor’s portfolio should be dedicated to agricultural commodities and natural resources, which he’s bullish on, and 15% should be in non-traditional high-yield securities like leveraged loans, mortgages, and mezzanine financing.