The stock market, with all its uncertainties, has scared off many individual investors and perplexed many professionals in the year since the crash. That one-day loss of billions of dollars in stock values, coming in the midst of insider-trading scandals, has left many investors fearful and nervous.
Yet, professionals continue to find pockets of value in the stock market. They have isolated industry groups and individual stocks that appear likely to perform better than the market.Stocks have historically outperformed other forms of securities investments. Between 1926 and 1987, the average annual return for stocks was 9.9 percent, compared with 4.9 percent for long-term bonds, according to Ibbotson Associates, a Chicago consulting firm.
Salomon Brothers reports that stocks have led all other investments over the past 10 years, producing an average annual return in excess of 15 percent.
Still, some experts warn that the stock market may be at a dangerous point - or at least a frustrating one. They note that since the beginning of the year the stock market has not been able to break out of its narrow trading range, although recently it has been buoyed by several giant merger deals.
"Fear and disinterest are keeping a firm lid on the stock market," said Barry Sahgal, managing director of research at Ladenburg, Thalmann & Co. "Investors have let the bulls and bears battle it out while they sit on the sidelines."
Edward P. Nicoski, chief technical analyst at Piper, Jaffray & Hopwood, in Minneapolis, said investors have shifted their priorities away from performance, so that "the new game in town" is safety and asset allocation.
"The fear is clearly left over from the crash last October," said Jack Rivkin, director of research at Shearson Lehman Hutton Inc. "Such a downward move in the market normally predicts economic decline or some other financial disaster. Instead, we have an economy that is as strong as it has been since 1984 with a booming export market, a higher dollar, rising profits and a rather benign inflationary environment."
He added, "If investors could overcome their fear of the stock market specifically and focus instead on those variables that typically move the market, they would be buying stocks and, in fact, over the last year they should have."
Rivkin noted that for the first 10 months of the year the stock market has risen about 12 percent as measured by the Dow Jones industrial average. The Nasdaq composite index of over-the-counter stocks has gone up about 16 percent.
"Given the current level of interest rates, the market still looks slightly undervalued," he said. "There are attractive stocks, many of which are well-known names such as Aetna Life, Borden's, General Mills, Inco, Warner Communications and Brunswick."
Phil Goldsmith, a partner in the investment management firm of Goldsmith & Harris, is more bearish. "By any measure, it's getting late in the business cycle," he said. "As a result, we are advising investors to begin moving out of all but the most resilient of the cyclical stocks and into companies with businesses that are likely to hold up or even prosper in a down economy."
Goldsmith likes the Union Corp., an accounts-receivable management company that is growing 15 to 20 percent a year. "As delinquencies rise, the demand for Union's services will accelerate," he said.
Goldsmith also favors Blue Arrow PLC, which he believes should do well in a poor economy. Blue Arrow is the British temporary employment agency and its stock trades on the New York Stock Exchange in the form of American depository receipts. The company is growing at better than 20 percent a year, Goldsmith said.
Arthur Kirsch, director of research at Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc., said the sector that "makes sense going into an uncertain economic environment is the tobacco group with its strong predictable cash flows, abating litigation and social issue pressures and continued diversification into non-tobacco areas."
"These companies should exceed S.&P. profit growth in 1989 and 1990," he said. "We like Philip Morris, Loews and B.A.T."
Sahgal, of Ladenburg, Thalmann, said the market would not be able to move higher unless interest rates declined and investors became more optimistic. But, he said, "steady, predictable growth companies are likely to start attracting attention."
Sahgal also favors tobacco companies, as well as those involved in packaged foods, beverages, pollution control, textiles, gas distribution, petroleum refining and civilian aerospace. "Among the better-known quality names we like are Kellogg, Philip Morris, Pepsi-Cola, Waste Management and Boeing," he said. "More aggressive investors can buy Unifi, Vishay Intertechnology, Ashland Oil, A&W Brands and Atlanta Gas Light."