Bill Gross' conundrum talk has been grabbing headlines, but this year's Morningstar conference delivered a potentially more important message: Big growth stocks aren't dead.
Gross, the bond bigwig who runs
, electrified the investment conference last week by saying his huge Treasury buying was at least part of the explanation for
Chairman Alan Greenspan's interest rate puzzle.
But for mutual fund investors, more pressing news came out of a forum called The New Old Thing. There, three growth fund managers -- Dana Serman of
, Jim Callinan of
RS Emerging Growth and Walter Price of
RCM Global Investors
-- offered up a view that there's much untapped value to be found in once-highflying tech stocks.
Sure, you may just have heard this one before. But don't be so fast to write off these guys. After all, the Morningstar conference often sets the tone for how mutual fund mavens approach the second half of the year. The gathering gives fund managers and financial advisers a chance to get their stories straight in terms of investment trends.
"When I hit a stock that hits the 30 multiplier, it sells off, and in the 1990s, that was the buy point," says Callinan, portfolio manager of RS Emerging Growth. "I am not arguing that we need to go back to that line of thinking, but things are skewed to other areas, and the values in tech are good -- especially when you take long-term growth rates into account."
RCM's Price echoed Callinan's sentiments, saying that the valuation gap between growth and value stocks has narrowed to the point where "you will see growth having a good chance of outperforming over the next three to five years."
Among Price's top picks are tech heavyweights
because they are cutting back on stock option grants and aggressively buying back stock, a combo "which spurs a self-perpetuating increase in earnings."
All three panelists saw bright skies ahead for the current king of the hill, search giant
, but Serman, vice president of JHC Capital Management and a subadviser to the
Royce Technology Value Fund, also offered a warning about how quickly the reigning monarch can get knocked off the throne.
"Google is here to stay, but the sector's leadership has changed several times, said Serman. "There was a time you will recall in which Alta Vista was crowned the winner of search."
Growth and tech stocks were not the only prodigal children making a comeback. Morningstar also arranged a panel called "Big Stocks, Big Opportunities" to promote the long-awaited return of large-cap stocks. Their returns have been thoroughly bested by small- and mid-caps for the past five years.
"A lot of stories played out over the last couple years where investors were finding opportunities in the more moderate growth stocks," said Tim Cohen, portfolio manager of the
Fidelity Export and Multinational fund. "They are now finding those opportunities in large-caps."
Cohen counts mega-cap names like
among his largest holdings in his "go anywhere" styled fund.
Famed contrarian investor Brian Rogers also offered attendees tips on turmoil. The chief investment officer of T. Rowe Price and portfolio manager for the $19 billion
T. Rowe Price Equity Income fund loves to go against the grain. He recently added to his positions in troubled behemoths
The New York Times
Low, Low Yields
Meanwhile, much ink was spilled here and elsewhere on Gross' latest thoughts. He kicked off the festivities by resuming his campaign to persuade investors that bond yields will remain low for the foreseeable future.
"Until May, we were in the neutral to bearish camp," Gross told an auditorium jam-packed with fund managers and financial advisers. "But now we think
that over the next three to five years, disinflation ultimately triumphs."
Gross' comments arrived as investors grapple with Greenspan's oft-cited bond market conundrum. The Fed has spent the last year pushing short-term rates higher, but long-term rates have confounded economists by dropping.
With the U.S. economy looking weak, Gross says he -- along with the rest of the world -- will be a buyer of Treasury bonds.
"As long as the trade deficit increases, more dollars will go into Treasury bonds," said Gross.
Gross' bullishness on Treasury prices (bond yields move inversely to prices) ultimately will be bad news for stocks and the U.S. economy. Bond yields this low "assume a recession," he said. Gross expects that profit growth will slow to 4% to 5% and that stock prices ultimately will reflect that.
Gross may have been the biggest bond manager on the agenda -- Pimco oversees $450 billion, mostly in fixed-income assets -- but he was not alone in his low-yield vision. In a separate conference called "The Elephant in the Corner: Rising Rates," mega-bond fund managers from Fidelity,
Western Asset Management
said they shared Gross' outlook.
Perhaps the organizers were looking in the wrong corner when they came up with the idea for the panel.
To view Gregg Greenberg's video take on the Morningstar conference, click here.