Less than a decade ago, financial journalists such as myself used to chat with market analysts about why the Dow Jones industrial average went up or down a few points on a given day. Some relatively obscure government report, a bad corporate earnings announcement or a burst of profit-taking might have been the typical ho-hum response. Dramatic moves were infrequent.
In these days of Operation Desert Storm, however, it is different. Word of air attacks, missile launchings and harsh diplomatic exchanges can have sudden impact on world markets. Honest concern about the state of our planet has pumped high emotion into investment strategy, and volatility is triggered in minutes.Forget initial euphoria. Forget down days based on negative intelligence reports. Instead, if you choose to invest, carefully examine the stock market to find what long-term value still lies in specific equities. Trying to be a clever short-term trader could have disastrous results during this war period.
"While the Persian Gulf crisis has created temporary disruptions, all of 1991 will be a down cycle in inflation and even the war won't buck that basic downward inflation trend," said James Moore, editor of the Minneapolis-based Your Window into the Future investment letter. According to the Hulbert Financial Digest, which tracks investment letters, Your Window into the Future was the top-performing publication last year with a gain of better than 80 percent in its model portfolio.
Other strategists are more optimistic and aggressive in regard to the market.
"Average investors, if they've already taken care of the mortgage payment and have most of their long-term money in a money-market account to weather the storm, should begin putting some of that money to work in stocks," advised Jay Tracey, senior vice president of Founders Asset Management, investment adviser for the Denver-based Founders family of no-load mutual funds. "Although we're still retaining a cautious 20 to 30 percent cash position in our funds, a great many stocks have exciting prospects and prices."
Market negativity is often a boon to investing, some experts believe.
"The right time to own stocks is when people feel the least comfortable owning them," said Greg Smith, chief portfolio strategist for Prudential-Bache Securities. "I believe this is a good time to be buying stocks, particularly those of companies where the long-term future looks fairly bright."
Moore currently recommends the preferred stock of Commonwealth Edison, Centerior Energy or Consolidated Energy as recession-proof choices. In his mutual fund portfolio, he likes the Benham Target Maturities Trust 2020 Portfolio, which invests in zero-coupon bonds. Among utility mutual funds, he suggests United Services Income Fund or Rushmore American Gas Index Fund. Because he expects the stock market to decline in coming months, Moore suggests buying a put (a right to sell) option on the stock market index.
Smith believes that, following the war, there will be considerable rebuilding of oil fields and also new field development, with stocks such as Halliburton and Fluor Corp. likely beneficiaries. As fuel costs subside, stronger air carriers such as Delta Air Lines, UAL Corp. and AMR Corp. should prosper, he believes. Finally, some of the predictable growth companies should continue to do well, among them Johnson & Johnson and Bristol-Myers Squibb, Smith added.
Tracey is confident about the market, especially health-care stocks such as Bristol-Myers Squibb, National Medical Enterprises, U.S. HealthCare Inc., United Healthcare and Medical Care International. Other picks are Medco Containment Services, New England Critical Care and Elan Corp.
Specialty retailing is another Tracey favorite, with Costco Wholesale Corp., Gap Inc., the Limited, Toys "R" Us and the Merry-Go-Round his favorites. Other choices are Leslie Fay and Phillips-Van Heusen. Restaurant chains offer potential, with Chili's Inc. and Cracker Barrel Old Country his prime choices. In technology, he likes Microsoft Corp. and BMC Software.