Week of 10/09/2008

Bargains Are Starting To Appear
A Bottom Fishing Check List
The Bear Isn't Finished Yet
Big Drops Lead To Big Rebounds
Financial Stocks Attract More Attention
There Is One More Shoe To Fall
The Biggest Question: Will The Bailout Work?
The Bottom Line This Week

Wall Street's thrill ride continued over the past week as investors made king-sized moves after every drop in the economic outlook. By the time the closing bell rang on Friday, the Dow and the Nasdaq were down 7.3% and 10.8% respectively. A good time was definitely not enjoyed by all.

Once again, investors saved their biggest gyrations for the following Monday when the market plunged some 800 points. Fortunately, the market regained 430 points before the end of the day. Stocks resumed their slide on Tuesday and Wednesday when they fell a total of 689 points.

Bargains Are Starting To Appear

It is encouraging to see that most of the big market drops are starting to attract bargain hunters, including big hitters such as Warren Buffett. That's not surprising since many stocks are clearly oversold when measured against their long-term potential.

We were delighted to see that one of the stocks Mr. Buffett picked for a multi-billion dollar investment was General Electric, a company we started to accumulate in February. Other stocks the value investors are buying include Burlington Northern, Cisco Systems, Coca-Cola, IBM, Kraft Foods, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Procter & Gamble, and Pfizer – all of which have been recommended in The AIA Advocate.

A Bottom Fishing Check List

In times like these when the bear is still raging, successful bargain hunters don't take undue risks. Although they venture into the storm, they only buy stocks when the odds of winning appear to be solidly in their favor.

The first thing the bottom fishers look for is lots of cash and very little debt. With a strong balance sheet, a company can make it through a tough period even if it lasts quite a bit longer than expected.

The odds of success rise higher if the companies provide products and services that people need even when times are bad. Food, drug, and basic retailers are favorite choices.

Of course, stock fundamentals must also be right. A good rule of thumb is to find companies with price to earnings ratios that are close to their historic lows. For example, the P/E for SuperValu (SVU) is currently an attractive 7.3. By contrast, the P/E for Amazon.com (AMZN) is a stratospheric 42.6.

It's also highly desirable to get some income while waiting for the big payoff. Comparing SuperValu and Amazon again we find a 3.3% dividend and none at all, respectively.

The Bear Isn't Finished Yet

With all the fear we see in the market today, we doubt that stocks will turn around any time soon. First there needs to be a stomach churning washout, an ugly process Wall Street calls capitulation. It occurs when investors become so discouraged they keep selling stocks no matter how cheap they are becoming. When the last of the stragglers are out of the market, stocks will finally stop sinking.

Once a floor has been reached, smart money will begin to come in from the sidelines where it was waiting patiently for months. The influx of cash will solidify the market bottom and lay the groundwork for a recovery.

Currently, the market's partial rebounds after every drop indicate that the capitulation phase of the downturn is still to come. When it finally arrives, we hope you look beyond the carnage and remember the event marks the end of the bear market.

Big Drops Lead To Big Rebounds

Although the final stock market shakeout is still on the way, we continue to think you should begin to do some cautious value buying. Dr. Steve Sjuggerud of DailyWealth (www.dailywealth.com) looked at 150 years of stock data and found that over the past 70 years, there was only one time that the market turned in a worse 12-month performance than the period that's currently ending. (Assuming that stocks finish October about where they are now.)

Dr. Sjuggerud also found that when stocks had a terrible 12 months, they usually followed up by having 12 very good months. The only exceptions were after the dot-com bust and the Great Depression. However, stocks were at record highs during those two times, which is certainly not the case today.

There is one caveat: the relationship between year-long declines and recoveries only applies for the worst 12 months in a bear market. We may not be there yet.

Financial Stocks Attract More Attention

We were pleased to see the article, Financial Stocks, Yes Financial Stocks, To Consider in Barron's this week. As you undoubtedly recall, we have been recommending the group since the meltdown slashed their prices over the summer.

The only place we would differ with the Barron's article is with the stocks that were mentioned. Since many additional banks and S&L's are likely to fail before the blood bath is over --and it is impossible to know with certainty which ones they will be-- we think picking individual issues is not the best way to proceed.

Instead, we continue to recommend the Fidelity Select Financial Services Fund (FIDSX). http://finance.yahoo.com/q/bc?s=FIDSX When the sector rebounds, so will the fund, no matter how many firms don't make it through the shakeout.

There Is One More Shoe To Fall

Right now, the world is understandably focused on the financial service industry. In its shadow, however, another giant sector is starting to look weak: consumer spending. Because consumers account for about 2/3 of our economic growth, if they curtail their spending significantly the downturn will intensify.

Unfortunately, Joe and Sally MidAmerica are starting to grip their pocketbooks more tightly. The big three automakers saw their sales decline about 30% last month. Most shopping malls are also seeing sharp reductions. If the trend continues through the winter holidays, we could see the first quarterly drop in consumer spending in nearly two decades.

The bright spot in the consumer picture is most Americans are being frugal because they are scared, not because they don't have the means to buy what they want. If the federal rescue program appears to be working, millions of Americans will breathe a sigh of relief and go shopping again.

The Biggest Question: Will The Bailout Work?

We believe the government's efforts to turn the credit crisis around can work, but only if it is greatly expanded. Here's what most economists think should be done:

First, the big banks aren't the only financial service firms that are in trouble. Many regional banks, credit unions, savings & loans, and hedge funds are also on shaky ground. Collectively, they are worth more than the giant firms that are in the news every day, and they also need a lifeline.

In addition, the collapse of subprime, no-document, and ninja (no income, no job, no assets) mortgages started the credit crisis, but they aren't its only problem. Also at risk are countless short term loans that individuals and businesses make to each other. Bank to bank loans are also drying up. All these sources of capital are essential to the smooth functioning of our economy, and must resume.

It appears the government is starting to include additional financial service firms and types of loans in its rescue program. On Tuesday, Fed Chairman Bernanke announced a plan to buy large amounts of short-term debt in an effort to get lenders to make credit available again. On Wednesday, the Fed also lowered interest rates ½ point. Other measures are undoubtedly on the way.

The final bailout cost, of course, will be well above the initial $700 billion allocated for the rescue effort. In fact, the language in the law clearly states that $700 billion is the limit that can be spent "at any one time." Some economists think the total bill could be three times the initial figure. By this time next year we should know what the final tally is likely to be, and whether the massive spending is having the desired effect. Keep your fingers crossed.

The Bottom Line This Week

The financial service crisis appears to be moving faster than the government can keep up. One analyst referred to the rescue program as a "whack a mole" strategy. However, the money that Washington is spending should begin to take effect within a few weeks.

Meanwhile, some stock bargains are appearing. We think investors should start to make some cautious purchases over the next several months. Financial, food, drug, and basic retailers look the most attractive now.


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Copyright 2010 The Association for Investor Awareness, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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Posted 10-09-2008 9:47 AM by Research & Editorial Staff