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Bogle: Stocks Poised to Outperform

Christine Benz

Jack Bogle: I would say given the dire outlook for the U.S. economy, unless our Congress can get its act together, that one might want to be a little more conservative than one usually is. If one wants to do anything at all it will be to lean to the conservative side. I am not recommending, you know, all of a sudden go out and do something very conservative. But if you are worried, just take a little bit less risk rather than a little bit more risk thinking there are some advantages here because there are lot of problems down the road that we have no idea whether they will be solved one way or the other.

But we do know that, for example, and this is a really important point, and that is if you look out for a decade, we know pretty much what the return on bonds is going to be. That's your first course in safety; when money market funds are yielding essentially zero, you go to bonds. And the 10-year Treasury is yielding around 2.3%. That means that's what its return will be around 2%- 3% during the next 10 years.

And curiously enough, as I looked in the recent newspaper, the inflation-hedged version of that 10-year bond, the inflation bond, has a yield of zero. So, there are not a lot of great places to move. But over that decade, the way I look at it and nothing is certain in this world, is that stocks could give you a return significantly higher than that. Stocks also have a yield of around 2.3%, the same as the 10-year Treasury, but they have earnings that should grow even if the economy grows a little more slowly than say at 4% instead of 5% in nominal terms, that would be a 6% return on stocks. Maybe they can grow a little faster. That would be a 7% return on stocks for example, unless P/Es change radically.

So in terms of what will do a better job for you over the decade ahead, the odds are very, very much in favor of stocks. But that's not guaranteed. I will be very clear on that because of the problems I have discussed earlier. But if you want to shift around what you are doing, you've got to look at probable returns, however uncertain those probabilities are.

Christine Benz: So, Jack, though it sounds like you think stocks are looking like a reasonable prospect in perhaps the decade ahead, but you also said that people should think about shading maybe a little bit toward conservatism. So, how do they reconcile those two thoughts?

Bogle: Well, that's a great question, and the answer is that, as Pascal reminded us a long, long time ago, that the issue is not just one of probabilities but one of consequences. You know, the probabilities are that stocks will do better than bonds, but if you're wrong, what will the consequences be? If you have a very significant recession or even a depression which is always possible, not likely but possible, you don't want to assume that the probability, while low, will be devastating to investors' portfolios.

So, I'd like to look at potential returns. But I also like to think of the consequences--I don't like to think about them, they are rather unpleasant--but the consequences if things go wrong, so we can call it some dry powder or we can talk and call it a little formula for sleeping better at night when you go through these volatile times. It's just a question of being at peace with yourself as an investor and staying out of speculation.