Most investment newsletters spend all their time telling you which investments to buy but very little time telling you which investments to avoid. That's ironic, notes the newsletter Personal Finance, because "loser investments far outnumber winners, so they're just as crucial to know about."
With this in mind, Personal Finance recently did an extensive survey of various experts in the major investment fields, pinpointing the "most worthless" buys during the next several years. Here are P.F.'s must-avoid list:STOCKS. "With some exceptions," advises Personal Finance, "avoid firms with erratic earnings, declining profit margins, high debt or historically high price-earnings ratios. Focus on stocks with nearly assured growth that are trading at deep discounts to their assets.
"Big-name companies to avoid now include Eastman Kodak, whose profit margins have been declining; Digital Equipment, which is in a major squeeze that shows no signs of subsiding; and The New York Times, a great firm serving a bad market."
An entire stock group to avoid, says P.F., is technology. "Product life cycles are short, and more often than not companies are competing on price, not product. Some technology stocks could go higher in the short term, but it's odds-on they'll be lower 12 to 18 months down the road, possibly much lower."
BONDS. Personal Finance would avoid the high-yielding bonds of companies in slow-growth areas or firms in cyclical or technology industries. It would also steer clear of Macy's debt.
"Though some of Macy's bonds recently yielded more than 20 percent, they're still not cheap. The company reported a much-bigger-than-expected loss for last year. With its most important store wholly dependent on middle-class New Yorkers, prospects are bleak."
Another New York no-no, according to P.F., is Donald Trump.
"Most things with his name on them are vulnerable. Despite all the boasting from the issuer, don't be tempted to buy Trump junk bonds."
MUTUAL FUNDS. Personal Finance tracks fund performance continuously, rating funds from four stars (best) to no stars (worst). In its latest ratings, half the no-load junk bond funds earned no stars at all.
"There's only one thing worse than a no-star, no-load junk bond fund. That's a low-rated junk fund that charges a sales load. Case in point is Van Kampen-Merritt High-Yield. During the past three years, this no-star wonder has done little better than break even. But to partake in its dead-end ride, investors paid a 4.9 percent sales load."
Here are the stock funds with more than $100 million in assets that currently get P.F.'s lowest rating, zero stars: Alliance Technology, CGM Capital Development, DFA Small Company Portfolio, Lord Abbett Development Growth, Mackenzie N.A. Total Return, Massachusetts Financial Emerging Growth, Over-the-Counter Securities, Stein Roe Capital Opportunity, USAA Aggressive Growth, Value Line Special Situation, Vanguard Explorer Fund.
REAL ESTATE. Here P.F.'s advice is quite succinct: "Avoid investing in most urban areas, in areas dependent on military spending, in condos and in limited partnerships."
(Personal Finance, 1101 King St., Suite 400, Alexandria, VA 22314; biweekly, $187 annually).
Investor's Notebook reflects the opinions of professionals. It does not endorse specific investments, and no endorsement is implied or should be inferred. For more information, contact the individual firms cited.