All Ords at 17,000? Just rally round this forecast

Try to find someone who believes the benchmark All Ordinaries Index will be sitting at 17,000 by the year 2030? Most people would consider it more likely Australia could top the gold medal tally at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Try to find someone who believes the benchmark All Ordinaries Index will be sitting at 17,000 by the year 2030? Most people would consider it more likely Australia could top the gold medal tally at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Despite the robust rally in shares since June, a heavy dose of scepticism remains about the long-term ability of equities to perform.

To rise 260 per cent and hit the 17,000 mark in 17 years, the Australian sharemarket needs only to clock up its long-term average capital gain of 7.2 per cent per annum. If we include dividends over the same period, the overall increase would be about 490 per cent, or 11 per cent a year.

What about getting someone to forecast 37,000 for the Dow Jones Industrial Average by 2030? This lofty target also seems a pipedream, given the trauma investors have faced since 2000. The index has to rise by only 6.5 per cent per annum - its long-term average - to take out 37,000 by the year 2030.

Over the holidays I have been drowned in commentary about why shares are on the brink of disaster. Bond king Bill Gross continues to tell us the "cult of equities" is dying, while his Pimco partner, Mohamed A. El-Erian, has coined the term the "New Normal", which refers to a low growth environment.

This smacks of US president Calvin Coolidge declaring a new era of prosperity in the late 1920s.

Meanwhile, legendary equities manager Jeremy Grantham has forecast next to no economic growth for many years to come and very little earnings growth.

The lucidity of these pessimistic forecasts includes too much debt in the system, a lack of productivity improvements, an ageing Western world, rising medical costs and inflated valuations.

These luminaries have fabulous records and should not be ignored. They also represent a pervasive bear attitude over the sharemarket. The reality is, though, that after more than a decade of poor returns it is typically a buying opportunity. During the early 1950s people believed the world would sink back into depression or lapse into another international conflict. Neither happened and sharemarkets around the globe marched higher for 15 years.

Being a contrarian for the sake of it is a naive way to play the market. We all know there are going to be some rocky years on the market, but what is going to drive equities at the same pace as the past 113 years?

For those searching for a balanced view, some insight may be gained from a report last month by the US National Intelligence Council titled Global Trends 2030.

The report attempts to identify several global mega-trends that may take place between now and 2030. The first of these points to a major reduction in poverty and the rapid expansion of the middle class. The report estimates the world's population will grow from 7 billion today to 8.2 billion in 2030.

In this time it suggests the 1 billion people who are now living in poverty will decline by about 50 per cent, while those in the lower middle class will double to 2 billion. Many of those in the emerging lower middle class are expected to come in China and India.

Another positive economic trend is that the Western middle class will double from today's 330 million to about 660 million.

The report also foresees a change in the global balance of power with the US surrendering its hegemony and sharing the super power role, initially with China, and then possibly with India. This tilt has more to do with the emergence of Asian nations rather than a decline of the US. At the same time, European Union countries and Japan will continue to fall down the ladder of world economic rankings.

These mega-trends would be a mighty fillip for world equity markets. Net wealth of the world's population is on the rise and the demand for goods will continue to grow. Investors will be forced to think outside country boundaries and search for companies that can take products and brands to global markets. These companies should prosper.

Such positive mega-trends should gradually overshadow negatives such as the US fiscal cliff and the gradual decline of Western Europe and Japan.

For Australia this represents a major opportunity as the main engines of global growth will be in our hemisphere. This should support our resources industry, but the moment will arrive when Asia's turbo-charged demand for metals will be superseded by the need for consumable items and tools that support a burgeoning middle class, such as education and training. Whether Australia is up to this challenge, only time will tell.

But if we continue to evolve and our domestic population grows at a similar rate to previous decades, there should be no reason why the All Ordinaries Index can't at least clock up the average returns produced for more than 100 years.

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