A lot of money managers talk about not following the herd with their investment decisions. They know that a lot of money has been made by those who follow the "contrarian" path.
Trouble is, if the herd turns out to be right, the contrarian can get mighty lonesome out there in the pasture all by himself. That's why so many managers follow the herd: It might not be going in the right direction, but at least there will be lots of company.H. James Darcey, president of First Security Investment Management Inc., is not worried about such things. Despite the looming Jan. 15 deadline that may mean war with Iraq, despite the recession, high oil prices and a Dow Jones Average that is down nearly 500 points since July, Darcey went public Tuesday as a certified stock market bull.
"We strongly believe that the 20 percent drop in stock prices that occurred between July and October of last year dramatically reduced the risks of equity ownership," Darcey told some 1,000 executives gathered at the Marriott Hotel for First Security's 23rd annual Business Outlook Symposium.
In true contrarian style, Darcey pointed out that he was, if not bearish, at least much more conservative in his outlook at last January's symposium, noting that First Security's portfolios all had large cash reserves, shorter term bonds and "defensive" common stocks.
The result, he said, was that First Security was not gored as badly as the overall market after Iraq invaded Kuwait and took Wall Street down with it. For the quarter ended Oct. 31, First Security's equity funds were ranked 7th and 12th of some 300 such funds rated by CDA Investment Technologies, an independent performance appraisal firm.
Also as a result, he said, First Security was poised to step in during the fourth quarter and pick up some blue chip bargains. Today, he said, its equity accounts are almost fully invested.
The key to being a contrarian, according to Darcey, is to recognize that it is the unexpected events that shape financial markets. Once an event is expected, the markets quickly discount them.
That means, said Darcey, that if war does occur, it will have only a short-term psychological effect. Following any conflict, which he believes will be short, the business cycle will then re-emerge as the dominant factor.
Given that scenario, he said, during the second half of this year there will be signs of economic improvement, with the Dow rising to a level of 3,100 to 3,200 before the year is out.
"We should all try to remember the end of the last recession and the gloom and economic concerns that preceded the stock market recovery that began in the summer of 1982. While we don't expect the Dow to nearly double as it did in 1982-83, we do believe the returns from equity ownership will reward the investor who is willing to take the risks."
That's the catch to being a contrarian. It takes courage.