Where Investors Can Turn For Shelter From Storm
Stocks are tumbling. Bonds yields are falling faster than Hillary Clinton's poll numbers. And fears are growing that the commodities bubble could be ready to burst.
So the inevitable question is: Do investors have anywhere to turn?
Not to fear. The quick answer to this painful question is "yes."
Even in a schizophrenic market that seems to follow little rhyme or reason, there are plenty of plays left to make, even for the risk averse.
Here's a rundown.
Stocks: Play it Safe
In down times the traditional market advice is to go with the tried and true: Large-cap dividend payers that deal in items consumers can't do without, regardless of inflation, unemployment or other constrictive economic factors.
And for this cycle, there are no surprises.
"Our No. 1 philosophy is to look for robust and sustainable growth and look for where that growth is not being fully captured by the market," advises Tom Ognar, of the Wells Fargo Advantage Growth Fund.
"These are troubling times, and so let's take that into account and have a game plan for that, and we've adjusted our game plan as we've gone into this year."
Fred Dickson, chief market strategist at D.A. Davidson, likes to ride economic fundamentals when the market gets loopy.
"We've been playing food, water, energy, commodity metals, and in this volatile market ... we want to be in areas where there is rising demand and limited supply.
Ognar likes St. Jude Medical, which he says has a sound strategy to expand margins, and Hewlett-Packard, which has impressed with its moves towards efficiency.
Dickson favors standbys including Johnson & Johnson, Eli Lilly, Kimberly Clark and Pepsico , companies that have a history of growing their dividends.
Similarly, David Scott, senior portfolio manager at Chase Growth Fund, is favoring large-caps with exposure to international emerging markets, such as Coca-Cola and McDonald's.
Craig Hester, of Hester Capital Management, said he has been looking at technology, health care and consumer stocks.
"We want to run diversified portfolios and find companies that show improvements in their operating profit margins, and that's really where our focus has been," Hester said.
Commodities: Up on the Farm
Commodities across the board, from gold to platinum, from oil to wheat, have hit historic highs over the past weeks, leaving many to wonder how much higher they can go.
Gold, for example, continues its meteoric rise toward $1,000 an ounce, but platinum, which had soared past a stunning $2,000 an ounce, had its first pullback in six weeks this week, though it still stood at a hefty $2,156 an ounce earlier today. Analysts were predicting an additional fall as power outage problems in South Africa continued to limit mining and keep prices well above their January levels.
Wheat and corn, meanwhile, continue to trade at sharply higher levels, as are most other agricultural commodities.
"Commodities are in a growth cycle," says Quincy Krosby, chief investment strategist at The Hartford. "The reason is simple: You have people all over the world changing the way they live, and that requires commodities. But it doesn't mean that along this spectrum you will not see many bubbles."
Energy commodities have been hot as well, with oil riding past $100 a barrel.
Jeffrey Frankel, president at Stuart Frankel, likes coal stocks such as Arch Coal, CONSOL Energy and Peabody Energy.
Sean Brodrick, natural resource analyst at Money & Markets, advocates plays in gold or silver in metals, cotton in agriculture, and oil.
"It wouldn't surprise me to see a pullback in certain commodities pretty soon," says Brodrick, who nonetheless has set a $1,065 target for gold and a $112 target for oil. He expects that after the pullback occurs it will be safe again to go back into the market, and expects most investors to follow that strategy.
Investors who are more risk-averse can play ETFs like the one that mimics gold's movement, streetTRACKS Gold Shares.
Bonds: Safe Havens or Snoozers?
The ultimate safe hiding place during stock market madness has always been bonds, and the trade has been inundated to the point of short-term notes hitting four-year yield lows well below 2 percent, making Treasurys an increasingly less attractive environment.
Municipal bonds have been popular with their usually higher yields, but they too have run into troubles in the form of higher prices and plummeting yields as demand for the auctioned bonds crumbled. February marked the worst month for munis in four years.
And the news for bonds is unlikely to get better as the dollar continues to devalue and the Federal Reserve shows a continued willingness to cut interest rates while recession looms.
"There's a true dislocation in munis, in bank loan bonds. You want to be careful," says Krosby, while also pointing out that in investment trends, nothing lasts forever.
"It's not a question of whether you're going to get back into the (bond) market, it's a question of when."
Krosby says that once recession fears subside and the Fed starts raising interest rates, that will be a better time to get back into bonds.