As the stock market indices are flirting with key charting levels and we are waiting for Mr Market to show his hand, it is useful to get an update on the outlook from Jeremy Grantham.

Grantham, chairman of Boston-based GMO, was a great skeptic between 1999 and October last year when he started propagating “hesitant and careful buying”. His latest thinking has just been reported in an interview with CNN Money as quoted below.

“Meanwhile, GMO chairman Jeremy Grantham is more upbeat – though he does expect more pain to precede any recovery.

“Looking back at historic bear markets, Grantham draws comparisons to 1974 and 1982, when the S&P 500 lost roughly half its value. Since he estimates the current S&P 500 fair value at 900, Grantham puts his worst-case bottom at a hair-raising 450.

“‘That’s fairly scary, but on the one hand we look at the massive stimulus, and then on the other we try to work out the fact that the global economy is in worse shape than it was in ‘74 or ‘82,’ says Grantham. ‘I’d say there are three-to-one odds that we go to a material new low. We should count on [the S&P 500] hitting 600 for a little while, and we should hope like mad it doesn’t get deep into the 500s.’

“Patience rules. Another looming threat is that the market may enter an extended period of drops and rebounds that flatten long-term returns and strand buy-and-hold investors for decades.

“Japan’s stalled stock market is one recent example, but the U.S. has had its shares of quagmires, too. Grantham likes to point out that investors who bought at market crests in 1929 and 1965 had to wait 19 years each time just to break even.

“Still, Grantham says buy-and-hold still makes sense for long-term investors when stocks are trading below fair value. He especially favors U.S. blue chips, and his fund is on a strict, slow schedule to invest as valuations dip even lower.

“‘If you don’t have a schedule for investing, you will not do it,” he says. “When the market goes down, it reinforces the hoarding of cash. By the bottom, you suffer what we called in 1974 terminal paralysis – you cannot pull the trigger. Almost everyone who avoids the great pain is very slow to get back.’

Source: Eugenia Levenson, CNN Money, February 25, 2009 (hat tip: Investorazzi).

Related posts:
Jeremy Grantham: Obama and the Teflon Men, and other short stories
Jeremy Grantham: Obama and the Teflon Men, and Other Short Stories (Part 2)
Forbes Interview: Jeremy Grantham – the bear buys stocks

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