For fixed income, most strategists believe Treasury returns will plunge as the economy strengthens and investors take on more risk and move away from the safe haven.
“If confidence improves for investors, I think you could have a 3.5% (10-year) Treasury rate quickly,” which would damage valuation, Mr. Paulsen said. Investors “will look at equities as more of a bargain than a risk, and see bond yields as (unattractive) low yields rather than as a safe haven. ... The best friend of the 10-year Treasury bond has been fear,” pushing yields down. Also, Mr. Paulsen said, “I think there is a pretty severe risk for high-quality bondholders” for similar reasons as confidence buoys.
Treasury bond rates will go up, said Mr. Ezrati. The economy will continue to grow and the European situation, although it won't go away, will be less intense in 2012, “so this flight to quality that has driven everyone into Treasuries will begin to reverse.”
The 10-year Treasury rate — 2.02% as of the Jan. 5 close, up from 1.89% at Dec. 30's close — “could easily rise to as much as 3%” in 2012, Mr. Ezrati said. Such a move “would destroy any return anyone had in that instrument.”
Mr. Ezrati said high-grade corporate bonds will also be hit. “The highest-grade corporate bonds have enjoyed the same interest (attraction) that people have had in Treasuries as a safe haven. They (corporate bonds) should not do to as well as” lower-rated bonds.
“Lesser-grade credits, whether it is junk bonds or intermediate-grade credit quality corporate bonds, should do very well,” Mr. Ezrati added, because investors will be willing to take more risk of rising economic prospects. “They should pay at least the yield. So with junk bonds yielding 7% or 8% or even more, they should give you at least that much” return.
Mr. Morris looks for a 10-year Treasury rate of 2.5% to 3%, while Mr. Shilling foresees a bull market in Treasury bonds and thinks the 30-year Treasury bond yield, at 3.06% as of the Jan. 5 close, will fall to 2.5%. “That's where we got at the end of 2008 after the Lehman collapse,” Mr. Shilling said. The 10-year Treasury rate will fall to 1.5%, he said.
For overall investment, Mr. Paulsen favors emerging markets and U.S. equities, especially small caps and large industrial, material and financial companies.
Mr. Ezrati sees stocks as the best-performing asset class in the U.S. “I think investors should avoid Treasury and agency bonds and they should buy low-grade credits,” such as junk bonds and intermediate-grade correlate credit.
“Right now may be an especially good time to become a contrarian,” said Mr. Hammond. “The markets have been so choppy, it's basically all volatility all the time and in the equity markets it's hard to find a trend. So maybe the contrarian thing these days is to take a longer-term view.”
Stocks are attractive “if you think there are things like mean reversion or laying the groundwork for better economic growth,” Mr. Hammond said. “Bonds have had a spectacular 10 years,” but “the long-term growth prospects for bonds maybe they aren't as good as the last 10 years.”
He also suggested long-term investments. “We have been very interested in ... natural resources, buying the natural resources themselves,” not commodity futures, such as farmland and oil and gas, Mr. Hammond said.
Mr. Morris cast his lot for higher-yield debt over equities, “because if you look at high-yield debt, it is 720 basis points over Treasuries now for a 9% yield. The low default rates on high yield are going to go up a little but we don't think a lot. If you have got GDP growth of 2% to 2.5%, you're not going to have a big increase in default rates ... so you are getting paid for default risk several times more” than it needs to be.