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Opportunity lying in plain sight

As Motley Fools, we champion the individual investor. We are people who love shares and have fun testing their mettle against Mr Market. 

Getting the best, most accurate information before pulling the trigger on an investment decision is a must. Today, you’ll hear about where one investment manager — who nearly aced predicting asset class returns during the last economic cycle  — thinks the best chances for investment success lie today and some examples of specific stocks that fit this bill.

Too easy to miss
Many investors probably already know of endowment manager GMO, shorthand for Grantham, Mayo, Van Otterloo. And if you have them on your radar, you probably know the firm best for co-founder Jeremy Grantham’s quarterly letters to investors. Full of wit and wisdom, Mr. Grantham has a well-deserved reputation as one of the most fundamentals-oriented investors in the biz.

GMO, where Grantham serves as head of investments, routinely issues projections, with alarming accuracy, of the prospective long-term returns of most major asset classes.

For the period spanning from July 1998 to June 2008, the firm predicted the order of returns, from greatest to least, for 10 major asset classes with impressive accuracy. Emerging market equities led the pack, followed by U.S. REITs, emerging market debt, international small caps, and on down the line.

Even more impressively, in all but one case, the company predicted the actual percentage return for each asset class within 2 percentage points of its actual return. The firm also forecast a negative 1% return for the S&P 500 during the period. It returned essentially nothing over that 10-year stretch. Might as well be a bull’s-eye.

Suffice it to say, these guys know their stuff. So how does that benefit you? The company continues to issue its asset class forecasts. And where do you think they see the best opportunities today? Let’s find out.

Think big
As of the end of last month, GMO liked high-quality U.S. stocks and international stocks as well. It predicted 7.2% real annual returns for international large caps and emerging markets. U.S. high-quality stocks are forecast to produce returns in the neighborhood of 6.6%. It should be noted that GMO also provides an estimated range (e.g., plus or minus 6% for U.S. high-quality). However, given their prowess as detailed above, using these predictions as the starting point for stock-specific research seems pretty reasonable.

The firm also puts its money where its mouth is. The firm’s top 10 holdings all come straight out of the U.S. high-quality category.

Company

Dividend Yield

Price-to-Earnings

1-Year Expected EPS Growth Rate

Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) 2.97% 10.01 6.39%
Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) 3.54% 15.41 4.12%
Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL) 0.77% 17.61 8.84%
Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) 4.23% 17.63 0.75%
Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO) 2.81% 12.46 10.32%
Philip Morris (NYSE: PM) 4.66% 15.13 22.92%
Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO) 1.40% 14.61 5.00%
Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT) 2.66% 12.42 10.37%
Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) 0.00% 15.38 83.26%
Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) 0.00% 19.38 19.84%
Unweighted Average 2.31% 15.01 17.18%

Source: S&P Capital IQ.

A portfolio comprising these kind of large, safe U.S. stocks has a lot of advantages, especially in today’s investing climate. In terms of risk, these companies are relatively safe. Thanks to their size, they stand a great chance of weathering the likely challenging economic situation going forward, in no small part thanks to their ability to access capital markets more easily than smaller firms.

If you purchased equal dollar amounts of each stock, you’d have a relatively cheap portfolio with a decent dividend yield and solid growth prospects. Not flashy or terribly creative, but a portfolio of relatively cheap large-cap stocks, with pretty limited downside potential and a surprisingly attractive return profile, looks like a pretty compelling value proposition in today’s perilous market.

In investing, avoiding big losses matters just as much as generating adequate returns, and a portfolio of these types of stocks (with adequate diversification, of course) should be reasonably well-suited to getting you safely along the road ahead, while putting a little extra cash in your pocket at the same time. For all investors, especially those nearing retirement, safe feels a heck of a lot better than sorry.

The Motley Fool has recently released its latest free report, The Motley Fool’s Top Stock For 2011-12Click here now to request it whilst it’s still free and available.

This article, written by Andrew Tonner, was originally published on Fool.com. Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

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