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NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks will remain in a bear market for years as company earnings shrink further, and the S&P 500 could fall by half from current levels even though there could be a sharp short-term rally soon, Robert Prechter, who had forecast the 1987 market crash, said on Friday.
"My long term opinion is that the bear market has several years left to run, and stock prices will go a lot lower," Prechter, chief executive officer at research company Elliott Wave International, said in a telephone interview. "So any rally that happens is going to be a bear market rally."
The S&P this week broke below 745 points -- 19 months after Gainesville, Georgia-based Elliott Wave International had recommended shorting the benchmark index down to that level.
Now, Prechter said, the S&P index could fall by half from these levels over the long term, although he declined to give a specific forecast.
"We are less than halfway through it price-wise," he said. "The market is still overvalued, one reason being that companies continue to lower earnings."
But near term, the risk of a kneejerk rebound in stock prices has risen.
This week Prechter recommended closing out the short position recommended on the S&P 500 back in 2007, because too many investors are now betting that prices will drop.
"The bear side has gotten a bit crowded in the stock market," Prechter said, but said this is a short term strategic view only.
On Friday morning, the S&P 500 fell to a 12-year low around 735 points, mauled by deepening worries about the banking system and government data showing the deepest quarterly contraction in the U.S. economy since the early 1980s.
Prechter now advocates betting on a decline in precious metals, after investors fearful about the safety of their money amid the biggest global financial crisis since the Great Depression have piled into the classic safe haven of gold in recent weeks, boosting its price.
On Monday, Prechter forecast that gold had just peaked, at $1,000 an ounce.
"Gold and silver should go significantly lower," he said. "Too many people now think owning them is a good idea. Remember when everybody thought owning real estate and stocks was a good idea?"
Gold, which briefly topped the $1,000 mark last week on escalating fears about the deeply impaired state of debt-burdened banks, has since slipped to about $950. Gold hit "an important intermediate term peak," at $1,000, Prechter said.
"Again, nothing is certain, but I like betting against crowds. And we have had so many to bet against in recent years: real estate, stocks, subprime mortgages, The New Economy, oil, collectibles, commodities, baseball salaries, and now silver and bonds. It's been a smorgasbord of opportunity," Prechter said.
In addition, Prechter has a pessimistic outlook on U.S. government bonds.
"Treasury bonds have started a bear market," over the longer term, he said.
"Several scenarios could unfold to explain why: one of them is that government borrowing demands could go up and up and creditors could demand higher yields," he said. The U.S. government is expected to issue some $2 trillion of debt this year.
Fixed-income analysts have been stepping up warnings that over recent months that gargantuan government bond issuance to pay for financial rescue efforts may push yields, which move inversely to prices, steeply higher. The 10-year yield traded one percentage point its five-decade trough on Friday, at 3.04 percent.
But Prechter, as he originally urged in his 2002 book "Conquer the Crash," which warned of the dangers of a U.S. debt bubble and deflationary depression, continues to favor safer cash proxies such as Treasury bills.
"It's a deflationary environment. Safe cash equivalents are still where you want to be," he said. "I am still in favor of (U.S.) T-bills," he said. "The dollar bull market has more to run. That is one reason to hold them."
Editing by Leslie Adler