It used to be that when E.F. Hutton talked, people listened.
Now, all ears are trained on Jeff Gundlach, founder of Double Line Capital, because of his uncanny knack for contrarian and market-crushing calls.
Bond king Bill Gross, manager of the $285 billion Pimco Total Return Fund (MUTF:PTTAX), might be the closest thing to a brand name in the world of fixed income, but Gundlach is the real rock star in bonds these days.
Probably no one made a bigger splash last year with such big, counterintuitive calls. When natural gas was plumbing record lows with no bottom in sight, Gundlach not only advised getting long, but doing so with leverage.
Sure enough, natural gas futures went on a tear, essentially doubling from late April through year’s end.
More remarkably, Gundlach paired that long natural gas bet with what was an unthinkable short (at least at that time): Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL).
We all know how that worked out. After peaking out at $705-and-change back in September, Apple has gone on to plummet 25% to about $523.
And, incredibly, Gundlach sees a lot more downside ahead.
With that, here are some of Gundlach’s boldest — and potentially most lucrative — calls for 2013, as outlined in this week’s annual presentation to investors and media:
As noted, Gundlach believes Apple has father to fall — much farther. And given the latest reports out of Cupertino, Calif., he could very well be right. Gundlach sees Apple dropping all the way to $425 at some point this year, which would be another 19% decline from current levels. In an interview with CNBC, he said:
“I’ve been around for a long time, and I know that when something goes vertical like Apple did from $425, once the bubble pops, it goes back down to the point at which it lifted off.”
It sounds crazy, except that one of the (many) things weighing on Apple shares is a concern that its remarkably fat margins are unsustainable. Now, new reports that AAPL is set to launch a cheaper version of the iPhone make that thesis of contracting margins more believable than ever.
For a pair trade — like his long natural gas/short Apple pair trade of 2012 — Gundlach has another contrarian doozy for the months ahead.
Long China/Short U.S.
This is yet another case of buying when others are fearful, and selling when they’re greedy. The Shanghai Composite Index is off more than 60% from its November 2007 peak. (The S&P 500, by comparison, is down 3% during the same span.) And, in the past year, the Shanghai Composite has gained just 2% vs. a 14% rise in the S&P 500.
But Gundlach thinks all that is about to change. The Shanghai has gone meteoric since early December, rallying more than 16% against a 3% rise in the U.S. benchmark.
Bottom line: Gundlach sees more upside ahead for Chinese stocks — U.S. investors can best gain exposure through the iShares FTSE China 25 Index Fund ETF (NYSE:FXI) — and a drop here at home.
Why? For one thing, he thinks that when it comes to risk/reward, the case for U.S. equities is not all that compelling. Gundlach doesn’t expect the relative stability we saw in 2012 to extend into 2013.
Oh, and there’s a possibility that we’ll have a mild recession in the next 12 months or so, “which would be a problem,” Gundlach says.
Given the way the market has developed a nasty annual habit of tanking in the spring and summer, Gundlach’s call to short the S&P 500 could very well prove lucrative. Meanwhile, Chinese stocks do appear to have discounted a slower economic growth rate into share prices.
And as for Apple, only time will tell. It sure looks like a bargain at current levels — but then again, it looked like a bargain at $600 and $700 per share, too.
As of this writing, Dan Burrows did not hold positions in any of the aforementioned securities.