We are still in a bull market. It’s an old one, and on a global scale not everything is exactly firing. Bigname stocks like Apple and Google are getting knocked around, and the money you plowed into Chinese stocks a few months ago is losing ground. But on a risk-adjusted basis, we are in a place to make some decent money. You just have to know where to look.
The “where” is the part giving investors fits lately.
By taking a top-down look at long-term market moves, it is easy to identify broad themes that truly defined past leaders. We had the nifty 50 in the early 1970s-where brokers told clients all they had to do to make money was to buy the biggest 50 stocks. Names like Xerox and IBM were all you had to buy to get to the promised land.
The late 1970s ushered in easy money in commodities, as oil and gold took their first moon shot. From 1995 until 2000, any stock with a four-letter symbol-meaning it was on NASDAQ-probably was making an earth-shattering move, especially if it had anything to do with technology.
Of course, it’s simple to find the themes when you look back. When you are in the middle of it, and actually trying to figure it out, discovery gets a little more difficult. OK, a lot more difficult. But if you find the groups that are going to be leading the way, especially if you find them early in the move, it’s like poetry.
The current market, though, seems to be lacking a theme. Since the middle of November, some sectors have been moving sideways while others have inched higher. Housing, energy or foreign markets are not charging the way they were. The markets that are lagging don’t seem in danger of falling apart, despite loads of stocks that look entirely uninteresting now.
There are some areas, like real estate investment trusts, that are doing well. But scratch the surface there and you’ll find more than a handful of dogs. It’s more like walking into a crowded antique store. Unorganized, lots of junk, but plenty of good stuff if you are willing to work a little.
If you’ve read this column only once before, you most likely caught on that I have a different way of skinning the market cat.
I don’t believe in modern portfolio theory (there are times when the losses are so deep, it takes years to recover). I don’t like too much diversification (diversification is a sure ticket to mediocrity). I like to keep risk front of mind, and I take what the market gives me.
Sometimes that means concentrating in a few sectors. Other times, it is holding the big indexes and going along for the ride. Today, the market is offering opportunity, but you have to be selective. I own stocks like GM (and to my surprise I am making money on it) and Jack in the Box Restaurants.
A sector and perhaps a few industries eventually will emerge as a truly leading area, either to the upside or downside. But until that happens, take what the market gives you. Don’t bring your biases into this market (which almost kept me from buying GM). Spend some time looking around the store until you find some gems. Believe me, they’re out there.
Hauke is the CEO of Samex Capital Advisors, a locally based money manager. Views expressed here are the writer’s. Hauke can be reached at 829-5029 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.