1. Fill up on domestic energy shares.
The search for new energy sources in the USA that can heat homes, fuel cars and power factories is a hot growth industry. The nation is aggressively working to reduce its dependence on foreign energy sources, says Ann Miletti of Wells Fargo Advantage Funds. In a recent report, ExxonMobil said the U.S. will be a net energy exporter by 2025. Says Miletti, "I like exploration and production companies in 2013."
2. Treat garbage as treasure trove.
Hauling waste is more smelly than sexy, but it could boost your bottom line, Miletti says. Garbage — a growth business? The sector is beaten down and smells of opportunity. "It's a quasi housing growth play," she says. "It's not a Lowe's, it's not a home builder, but waste haulers like Republic Services could benefit from any increase in volume."
3. Circle back to China.
U.S. stocks exposed to China did not fare well in 2012. But the world's second-biggest economy is regaining its strength and could see growth pick up next year. These "cheap" stocks tied to China might catch a new bid and climb higher, says Adam Parker of Morgan Stanley. The best way to play it? Buy shares of U.S. industrial companies that do a lot of business with China.
"We want to increase our exposure to China," says Parker. "U.S. stocks that have a lot of Chinese exposure lagged in 2012 and are, therefore, quite cheap based on forward earnings estimates vs. companies with no China exposure."
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4. Don't give up on dividend-payers.
Despite fears that the tax rate on dividends, now 15 percent, could surge to 43.4 percent for the nation's top earners if Congress doesn't extend the Bush-era tax cuts, the odds are low of that happening, says Parker. Don't forget it's still a low-yield world, with cash offering a zero return and the average stock offering a fatter yield than 10-year U.S. Treasuries.
"We are overweight companies that have high dividends or dividend growth," Parker says. "They are compelling investments when you consider the low bond yields that persist due to the Fed's monetary policy," which is designed to keep interest rates low.
5. Cozy up to companies with free cash flow.
In an uncertain world, companies that have lots of cash reserves, and also generate enough cash to have money left after covering their costs, have two things investors love: "flexibility" and "freedom," says Bob Doll of Nuveen Asset Management. "In an uncertain world when you have free cash flow, you can raise your dividend, you can buy back your stock, you can hire a worker, you can expand your business, you can buy the company down the street," says Doll.
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6. Seek stocks with the bulk of earnings from abroad.
In recent years, the U.S. has been viewed as the best house on a not-so-good block. But Wall Street is now expecting the relative change in year-over-year economic growth in 2013 to be stronger outside the U.S. than at home. Says Doll, "You want stocks that generate more of their earnings outside of the U.S. than they do inside the U.S., which is a very different picture than what worked in 2012."