This is a challenging time for individual investors. I get emails from many who wonder what they should be doing.
While I offer weekly updates in my Weighing the Week Ahead series, the advice is general. I am going to share several specific themes that flow from my regular analysis. While I am very careful in offering specific advice to clients, the themes that I am mentioning are worth consideration by everyone.
Worry about Bond Funds
Investors have rushed into bond funds -- mostly because of the perception of safety.
In this article I explained why bond funds are risky, and why those needing fixed income should instead purchase specific bonds.
Doug Kass has a record of some great calls on tops and bottoms, including stocks in early 2009. He now is calling a major top in bonds (from Business Insider and Barron's).
Finally, my favorite short of the next decade is the U.S. bond market, for those that possess deep enough pockets, have the fortitude and the patience. I am long ProShares UltraShort 20+ Year Treasury [TBT], which is the inverse, double-short bond ETF. Over the past 2½ years, bonds have achieved a near 60% total return. A remarkable feature is the consistency of positive returns and the absence of many drawdown years of consequence. Nevertheless, they should be viewed as a return-free asset class that is very risky. The 10-year yields under 1.5%, less than half the yield during the recessions in 2001 and 2008. That means I am paying over 65 times earnings for a 10-year-bond, a rich price even by Amazon's or LinkedIn's standards.
Whether or not you join Doug in trying to profit from a rise in interest rates, you should be wary about absolute losses in your bond fund.
Find a Growth Stock
Oppenheimer's Carter Worth, who has also been getting some well-deserved attention on CNBC's Fast Money program, had a helpful note on Apple last week. (See your OPCO rep for access). He cited a very obscure fact -- the number of times that Apple has declined 4% or more in a single day. (Answer to follow.)
I have frequently noted the difficulty in trying to do short-term trading in Apple. Those who sell have a problem finding a re-entry point. The stock trades on news and psychology, with frequent gaps. Those who choose to sell find themselves faced with "chasing" a rebound or perhaps missing a major rally.
If you subtract the $115 billion cash hoard and look at the P/E ratio on the rest of the stock price, you see a low single-digit multiple on a 20+ growth rate. My own price target is $750, but it keeps moving higher.
(Carter Worth's answer: 92 times in 10 years). I guess these were buying opportunities, as was last week's selling.
It is notoriously difficult to time your entry in Apple.
Find a Cyclical Stock
The current market prices cyclicals as if we were at the peak of the business cycle. This means that the P/E multiple is at a low point, ignoring the strength in earnings. Contrarian investors may choose to reject this notion, respecting the earnings strength of some of the leading companies.
My favorite candidate is Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT). The company announced great earnings, but like most others, refused to puff up future guidance.
I really like this choice. Partly it is company specific, but I also think that we are in the early innings of an extended economic recovery -- slower and longer than past examples. The market has excessive fear of recession and too much emphasis on the "average" length of recoveries, even though there are only a few relevant examples.
The Fed has the pedal to the metal for years to come, so this recovery will be slower and longer.
Find Some Enhanced Yield
For several weeks I have been citing the combination of buying dividend stocks and selling near-term calls as the best deal the market is offering. You should be able to pocket 9% or so without any change in stock prices. Readers have asked what sort of trades I am doing. I have a method that is fussy about entry points, but many alternative approaches would work well. Here is an example trade that I made for clients today.
In BlackRock Inc. (NYSE:BLK), we bought the stock at 171 and sold the September 180 call for $2.00. The stock is trading at a multiple of 13 or so with earnings growth over 20. The dividend yield is (recently confirmed) at 3.5%.
If the stock does nothing in the next two months you will pocket the call premium of $2 and a dividend of $1.50, for a gain of over 2%. If the stock rallies enough to get called away, you will make 9 points plus the call premium, for a gain of over 6% in two months. If the stock declines, you will have a cushion from the call premium and the dividend.
The system requires finding good dividend stocks. Many advisors suggest that this is enough, even without selling calls, so our "enhanced" method is a big improvement.
When I interview new clients I find methods that are just right for them. Each person is different. Despite this, nearly every investor can profitably include the ideas suggested here.