What Recession? Investors Go Shopping for Bargains

Jeff Cox, |Special to

While the rest of the country worries that a recession is finally here, some investors are...well,  shopping for bargains.

"We love markets like this because they create tremendous amounts of value for investors, and the problem is people just freak out and say, 'I'm not buying no matter what,'" says Jim O'Shaughnessy, founder of O'Shaughnessy Asset Management. "If you look at all the cash that's out there on the sidelines -- huge amounts of cash on the sidelines -- we love this market."

While the buy-happy sentiment is far from unanimous among analysts and money managers, there is a widely shared view that the stock market generally recovers from a recession faster than the economy. And there's the belief that we rarely know a recession has hit until it's about halfway over.

In fact, timing seems to be everything when it comes to this recession, which emerged into clearer view with Friday's dismal jobs report.

Bulls see Federal Reserve interest rate cuts as having a lagging impact of six to nine months, meaning that the moves which began in September should begin to take hold right about now.

"If we go into this recession, it will be a recession with easy money, so it won't be very tough," former Dallas Fed Chairman Robert McTeer said on CNBC Friday.

And the buying opportunities should abound.

Michael Kresh, president of M.D. Kresh Financial Services in New York, believes technology will be one of the key sectors to lead the stock market away from its recessionary view.

"What you always see as you come out of a recession is that areas that have a high probability of growth are those that will stimulate the market," Kresh says. "We're going to see technology spending start improving."

Kresh and McTeer are among those who believe the Fed did a good job in spreading bread crumbs along the path out of recession. But Kresh sees financials continuing to struggle even as other areas show vast improvement because of ongoing fallout from the subprime collapse and credit crunch.

"I personally don't think the Fed could have done any more than they did," he says. "But we also have to keep in the back of our minds that so many of these products were designed in a way that they cannot be easily understood. We cannot assume that all of the bad news from the credit derivatives is off the table."

Looking to areas that have been beaten up is a common strategy for a down market. This one is likely no exception.

Mark Travis, of Intrepid Capital Funds, recommends consumer stocks including shoe retailer DSW as well as discount retailers Wal-Mart and Family Dollar, which reported quarterly earnings Friday that beat analyst estimates as the company nevertheless lowered its forecast. DSW shares gained Friday even as the company was downgraded by Oppenheimer from "market perform" to "perform."

Finding the Fallen, Then Capitalizing

Likewise, Tiffany, Carnival cruise line and Toyota got a thumbs-up from Charles Bobrinskoy, vice chairman and director of research at Ariel Capital Management, who recommends those stocks while expressing the opposite view for commodities and Treasurys.

"Treasury notes are dramatically overpriced here, so we would advise people to be getting aggressive on consumer stocks, maybe some higher-quality financials, but avoiding anything with a commodities feel to it," Bobrinskoy says.

For those holding the view that the market is still laced with peril, the continuing bad economic reports, like the jobs numbers, and the dark clouds hanging over financials continue to raise concern.

"Some of the leading-edge economic numbers are showing we haven't made a turn," says Mike Larson, an analyst at Weiss Research. "We still need some technical validation, in my opinion, that this is more than an oversold rally."

For Larson, a decrease in Treasury prices and an increase in yields, which move in opposite directions, would increase his confidence. He believes the market has yet to "prove itself" and will face its next significant test when the rebate checks for the congressional stimulus package come out. How well the economy holds up after those rebates are spent will be a key sign, he says.

After that, it will be up to financials to serve as the final piece of the puzzle, a sentiment broadly shared  in the market.

"People are beginning to think, gee, maybe the worst of it on the financial side is over, and the bargain hunters are going to restore some order and get some bids coming back into the market," says Art Cashin, director of floor operations at UBS. "We'll get to see how this recession evolves. If it's conventional wisdom, it will be short and shallow. If it begins to look like anything over than that people will reconstruct their views and we could have another test of the January lows."

In the meantime, Kresh and others are continuing to buy into the recession.

"We expect to reduce our cash positions by 50 percent over the next probably 30 to 45 days. I'm in the buying mode," he says. "I see that we have very probably gotten to the point where there are more bargains out there than bad opportunities."