With investors stuck in a disappointing year, the best news is that it is almost half over.

Midyear is an appropriate time to examine a portfolio to see how its allocation corresponds to the way it started the year. Don't rebalance for the sake of rebalancing or to act on your anxieties, but do consider whether change is warranted.

Experts recommend caution. But some also believe it may be time to nibble on downtrodden or promising stock groups through exchange-trade funds or mutual funds, while shortening the duration of some bond holdings.

"The question I get more than any other this year is 'Shouldn't we be more conservative and lighten up on stocks?"' said Richard Salmen, a certified financial planner and president-elect of the Financial Planning Association. "Last year, I had clients asking whether they should buy more equities."

Those steps would have meant buying high in 2007 and selling low in 2008, which is a mistake, Salmen said. The time to buy stocks is when nobody else wants to own them, which means being more aggressive in a down market.

Another consideration is that many individuals holding long-term bonds prospered as interest rates were repeatedly cut by the Federal Reserve, Salmen said. Rate-cutting may be over, so it makes sense to shorten the duration of the bonds in your portfolio.

And it may be time to nibble in downtrodden stocks, he said.

"There will be a recovery in the financial (stocks) area, which has been beaten down the most, so there is investment opportunity," said Salmen, who is also senior vice president with GTrust Financial Partners in Overland Park, Kan. "I also recommend a gradual increase in international holdings, since more of the world's economic activity is now happening outside the U.S."

Investors with a perspective of 10 years or more should have 25 percent to 30 percent of their equity portfolio in international stocks, he said. The iShares Morgan Stanley Capital International Europe Australasia and Far East index (EFA) is an inexpensive way to obtain international exposure in Europe, Australia and the Far East, while the Vanguard Emerging Markets Stock ETF (VWO) provides emerging market exposure, he said. Salmen doesn't recommend single-country funds because of higher risk.

Negative world events can shift the investment outlook.

"The earthquakes in China will require a huge rebuilding task that affects natural resources," said Lee Baker, a certified financial planner and president of Apex Financial Services in Tucker, Ga. "It will impact energy as well, since equipment used to rebuild will be powered by diesel fuel."

An individual can add a modest amount of energy to a portfolio through the iPath Dow Jones-AIG Commodity Index (DJP) exchange-traded note, he said. That investment is a 30-year note backed by Barclays Bank that promises to pay the return of the index, less an annual fee of 0.75 percent.

"The time to buy American stocks is when they're on sale, and they are on sale right now," said Alfred Goldman, chief market strategist for Wachovia Securities in St. Louis. Major indexes, he said, "are all down due to oil prices, home prices, the dollar and gasoline, so people should be looking toward better times and buying selectively."

Focus on technology and economically sensitive stocks, Goldman said. Stay away from pharmaceuticals for now because they are still a political football, though biotechnology is less political and therefore more attractive. For the brave of heart, financial and home-building stocks offer some opportunity, he said.

A typical portfolio allocation for a working middle-aged American would be 15 percent cash and 85 percent invested (75 percent growth stocks and 10 percent fixed-income), he said.

"Remember that one year's dogs are next year's darlings," said Goldman, who believes consumer confidence and gas prices will dictate whether there is a "garden-variety" recession or more significant slowdown. "But if you are willing to look out one or two years, stocks are attractive."

Commodities and basic materials still rule the investment roost, as they did on Jan 1. Paul Nolte, investment director for Hinsdale Associates in Hinsdale, Ill., said it may be time to take some profits from those groups if you were fortunate enough to have them in your portfolio.

It is not that commodities and basic materials lack potential, Nolte said, but that their significant gains may have thrown your overall portfolio mix out of whack.

"We're hearing a lot more now about things to do and change in energy, so we should see more energy action in the second half of the year," Nolte said. "We're also looking toward international funds."

He recommends mutual fund Columbia Energy and Natural Resources Fund (EENAX), as well as Russell Emerging Markets Fund (REMAX) and SSGA International Stock Selection Fund (SSAIX). He is conservative overall, recommending a model portfolio mix of 35 percent to 40 percent stocks and the rest in bonds.

Give your portfolio a good look — even though you can find excuses to avoid it.

"A lot of people procrastinate on financial matters because of the pace of their life, just being busy," said Salmen, who said he runs into new clients in their 50s who never made a will. "What triggers them to finally deal with financial issues is when something happens to a neighbor, a friend or a family member."


Andrew Leckey answers questions only through the column. Address inquiries to Andrew Leckey, P.O. Box 874702, Tempe, Ariz. 85287-4702, or by e-mail at [email protected]