The halcyon days of the 1960s may be long gone but they aren't forgotten, at least not by me. It would be nice if we could have the kind of investment climate we had then. The political parties put country ahead of party. The Fed (astutely chaired by William McChesney Martin) cut interest rates in 1961 and sparked a recovery from the recession that began a few years earlier. There was good balance in the robust capital spending boom that ensued. The employment rate was high and discretionary income grew steadily. Inflation was modest. Interest rates were steady until the Fed increased them in 1969 because of inflationary pressures caused by heavy government borrowing needed to finance the Vietnam War.
In 1962, I could have hung the financial page on the wall of my office, thrown a dart, and picked a winner. As a securities analyst, I didn't do that (at least not when anybody was watching) when deciding which stocks I would recommend. Figuratively speaking, picking a winner was almost as easy as shooting a fish in a barrel.
I sure as heck wouldn't throw a dart at the financial page today unless, of course, I was looking for a stock I could sell or short. Nowadays we see politicians putting party ahead of country. And, we see the extremist among the politicians acting as if they are mercenaries for vested interest groups. We also see the Fed stumbling as it uses an unproven QE theory about economic stimulus (it's nothing more than a bailout or rescue). There is little need for corporations to launch capital expansion programs despite low interest rates. We have high unemployment and little growth in discretionary income. The Fed is more concerned about fighting deflation than inflation…. That, by itself, tells us the underpinnings of the economy are fragile.
For all intents and purposes, it looks like Bernanke is throwing in the towel on his ineffective QE policies. I'm sure there are some bankers, corporate executives, and operatives on Wall Street who, having axes to grind, would disagree with me. Self-interest directs the world so such disagreement is understandable and it should be expected. Nevertheless, tapering by the Fed should put pressure on the politicians in Washington to quit squabbling and put country ahead of party. It should do that but it may not, because it looks like John Boehner will not bring the immigration bill to the floor unless a majority of the Republican caucus is in favor of passing it. In other words, the hard liners among the Republicans have veto power over any legislation that the Senate passes. And, therefore, there is little chance that bills can pass if supported by Democrats and a minority of Republicans. This is a sad state of affairs, especially when you consider that the Republicans control the House (due to gerrymandering) even though incumbent Democrats got over a million votes more than them in the last election. Boys act like boys and so do a lot of congressmen. So, there is no indication that the political divide will be ended.
We live in troubled times and they aren't likely to get much better in the months (or maybe even years) ahead. Therefore, slow growth, if any, is indicated for the near-term future. And with things being in a state of flux at the Fed and in Congress, it is anybody's guess (and therefore speculative) how things will turn out. Investors should make their investment decisions with that in mind.
Because of the fragile nature of economies around the world, it would not be surprising to see very severe problems in a few countries. We know about riots in Greece and Brazil and the news coming out of China shows that country is under financial stress. Japan is desperate for growth. Various countries in Europe aren't basket cases yet. We won't know if the current setup is a house of cards until after the event and, if and when we know that it is, it will be too late to do anything about it. That's a frightening thought but I didn't want to do an ostrich act and bury my head in the sand by not mentioning it.
When the stock market is going up investors want stocks that will produce capital gains. When the market is moving sideways, investors want high dividend income. And when it is going down, they want safety of principal. It's hard to find a stock that will score high on all three counts even at the best of times. But these are not the best of times and the investor's top priority should be safety of principal followed by dividend return. Capital gains should be pursued but only when the risk-reward ratio is favorable. Even in down markets, some stocks can perform well. What I advocate is easier said than done. I wrote what I did to provoke thought and understanding of the risks the investor runs by being in the market. I am not averse to trading the market for short term gains and I expect to be doing some of that in the weeks ahead.
Instead of expressing my thoughts in vague generalities, let me be specific and tell you what I am actually doing on a real time basis to cope with the market dynamics occurring right now: I have a core position in one stock, which is the RAIT Financial Trust (NYSE:RAS). Its size is about 60% of what I would consider to be a "full" position. I also have a lot of cash that I intend to use for trading purposes. Last Friday I sold shares of RAS at $7.55 which I bought on Monday with a low-ball bid of $7.11, so my gain on the trade was 6.2%. In early trading yesterday (Monday July 1) RAS is priced at $7.67, up from where I sold on Friday. That's great news because I accomplished what I wanted to do with the trade and now paper profit on the core shares in my portfolio is increasing.
RAIT is a turnaround situation resulting from the wreck that it was in following the real estate debacle in 2008. There was a complete revamping of its business base, frequent dividend increases, and analysts are currently projecting large increases in its AFFO for 2013 and 2014. The current dividend yield is 7.1% and I expect the quarterly rate to be increased again this year and next. So I am comfortable holding the stock in my portfolio and I will continue to trade new positions in it, and probably other stocks, until the correction taking place in the general market is over.
And until the correction is over, I won't bid up for a stock I want to trade but I will try a low-ball bid or even buy with a limit order at or near the market. I intend to hold newly purchased shares for short-term trading purposes and cut losses short if the price drops about 2% below that which I paid. And if I see things happen that give me cause to conclude the market is going to drop significantly, I am ready to buy shares in an inverse ETF like SDS or SPXU for downside protection of my over-all portfolio. I prefer the SPXU because it is 3X the change in the SPY and I can buy it for a lesser amount of money and get the same protection as the SDS which is 2X. When the correction is over I will go back to taking what I regard as "full" positions in my portfolio.
Investors should stay informed about the equities in their portfolios. Seeking Alpha and Yahoo Finance are excellent sources for investment information. Since you are reading this on SA, I assume that you are well versed on what it has to offer. There are two features about Yahoo Finance that I would like to tell you about. I use both fundamental and technical analysis in doing what I do. I doubt that many of you are well versed on technical analysis, but that should not deter you from doing it. Anybody can do a credible job when it comes to technical analysis of a stock. But before proceeding, I want to warn you that what works for a stock doesn't work very well when it comes to the general market because there are other considerations that are of overriding importance.
Just follow these instructions:
(1) go to Yahoo Finance and type in the ticker symbol of interest.
(2) From the menu on the left select "Basic Tech. Analysis."
(3) From the menu on top, compare your stock with the S&P Equal Weight Index (NYSEARCA:RSP) or the S&P Industrial index (NYSEARCA:SPY). That will show you how your stock has been performing in comparison to the overall market. You want your stock to be a leader in the market and not a laggard.
(4) Then from the moving averages, select 10, 20, and 50 (they must be selected one at a time). These aren't the time intervals I use but they will do.
(5) Having done that, you are now ready to render an informed opinion as a "market technician." If the stock's price is above the trend lines, the indication is that it will go higher; if below, it is likely to go lower.
(6) Trend reversals are difficult to forecast in advance but they don't have to be. They occur when the trend lines as indicated by the moving averages are newly broken. In order for the reversal to be complete, all three of the moving averages have to be broken. Once broken, you either have a "durable" reversal or a "false" reversal. With lots of practice, you can learn how to (NYSE:A) make decisions early in the reversal process and (NYSE:B) distinguish between durable and false reversals.
(7) Technical analysis is a continuing process and it doesn't forecast anything by itself. It shows you the up-to-date end of the stock's price history. With that as guidance you can be the forecaster and make an informed guess regarding the stock's price action beginning with the next trading day which is, of course, the growing edge of the future. Try it. You'll like it.
(8) Technical analysis is an art and not a science. Stay up to date and you'll take the mystery out of stock price movements. Become self-reliant and you'll chain the wheel of fortune and never have to sit in fear of its rotation as far as the stock market is concerned.
Another technique that could be used to keep up to date on stocks of interest to you is as follows: (1) go to Yahoo Finance and click on the "Portfolios" tab. (2) Create a portfolio by listing the your stocks as directed. (3) Create a shortcut so it appears on your desktop. It's that simple. When you want to see your portfolio, click on the shortcut. You will get up to date quotes on the stocks chosen. Furthermore, below those quotes you will see a list of current news items on each stock in the portfolio.
Yahoo and Seeking Alpha are truly excellent sources for investment information, and you can't beat the price. It's zero with a double your money back guarantee (not valid on rainy days) if you are not satisfied for any reason whatsoever. If you have any trouble with the people at Yahoo or Seeking Alpha just tell them that Tom sent you.
Disclosure: I am long RAS. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.