Are you a believer in the “Sell in May and go away” axiom? If so, now’s the time to start hunkering down, selling out or whatever it is you do when things are less than bullish.
The numbers certainly support the decision. On average, the market makes only a tiny gain between the beginning of May and the end of September. And with three out of four stocks doing the same thing the market does for any given time frame, why bother, right?
Yet, there’s something just not right about throwing in the towel. Chalk it up to my ego if you have to, but I’d rather look for that one of four stocks that actually overcomes the marketwide lethargy during the summer months. The trick is finding names that trade very, very independently of the rest of the market.
With this in mind, here are some names I think have a very good shot at doing well for the next few months, even if the market flounders.
If you’re looking for a name that’s well removed from the U.S. stock market yet is still available to North American investors, Nestle (PINK:NSRGY) is it. Not only is it a Swiss-based company, it also trades as a pink sheet stock — an arena that doesn’t attract too many U.S. investors in the first place. So, by default it’s at least somewhat shielded from the marketwide nap most equities are about to take.
Contrary to popular belief, Nestle isn’t just a chocolate-milk-mix manufacturer. In fact, its ‘Quik line is only a small drop in the revenue bucket. It’s got products ranging from bottled water to dog food to pasta to weight management, and most recently, baby food. The company spent $12 billion to acquire Pfizer’s (NYSE:PFE) baby food business, where it will likely be in much better hands. All of its lines, though, are relatively recession-proof and will avoid any major seasonal sales slump.
Above all else, however, Nestle is a strong summertime investment because it’s a strong company. Per-share earnings are expected to rise from last year’s $3.41 to $3.67 this year, and up to $4.03 next year. It’s not heroic growth, but all we’re looking for in the summer is reliable growth. NSRGY fits that bill.
SPDR S&P Biotech ETF
Not that all biotech exchange-traded funds are built the same, but for the purposes of a summertime play, SPDR S&P Biotech ETF (NYSE:XBI) will pretty much do as well as any another.
Anyway, why is the biotech sector gearing up for a strong few months? It’s hardly a rational reason to dig biotechs in the summer, but there is a goofy logic to it. More important, the results speak for themselves: Biotech stocks gain an average of 8% in the summer and early fall because that’s when the bulk of biotech investor conferences happen. These expos drum up excitement for bunches of these names, and attendees walk away from them stoked, in a euphoric (read “buying”) mood.
That said, a couple of observations are in order about that average 8% return for the biotech sector between the end of April and the end of September.
One of them is, if we’re in a bull market, you can actually raise your expectations. If you removed 2001’s and 2002’s big biotech losses during that bear market, the average summertime return for the sector jumps up to 12%.
The other observation (and on the flipside), the sector has been anemic during the last two summers, so maybe the tendency is losing its potency. Still, it could be worth a shot.
In a similar vein as the biotech sector, utility stocks tend to do well in the middle of the year. There’s a difference though…. a couple of them, actually. If it’s a particularly hot summer, folks run their air conditioners more and rack up those billable watts. In other words, utility revenues really do ramp up in the summer.
The other reason utility names tend to be decent summertime plays is (and this is 100% serious) so few other stocks feel attractive during the summer doldrums.
It’s a testament to just how important psychology and perception are to the decisions investors make.
The sector-rotation tendency could work out well for those who made a move as simple as scooping up the Utilities SPDR ETF (NYSE:XLU). Given how slow the sector moves though, an individual stock may pack the needed punch to get the most out of a utility-based position for the next few months.
My pick would be PPL (NYSE:PPL), which is actually a wholesaler of electric power. The stock’s been beaten down all year long and has made little progress since early 2010 to boot. Earnings have still been growing that whole time though, and as a result, the stock’s P/E is a rather low 10.10. Add in the fact that PPL has topped estimates in three of the past four quarters, and what you have is a stock that’s ready rebound in a hurry. The bullish sector tide will only accelerate that effort.
Common sense still applies if you’re taking on one or more of these ideas: Stay diversified, don’t get greedy and prepare for curve balls. With a little attention and forethought, the summertime doesn’t have to mean your portfolio’s progress gets put on hold. Just think outside the box, and off the radar.