“Sloppy.” That’s how JPMorgan (NYSE:JPM) CEO Jamie Dimon characterized his firm’s $2.3 billion loss on bad derivatives bets.
Sloppy would also characterize Facebook’s (NASDAQ:FB) May initial public offering, which saw tech’s glamour company and its investment bankers take a bath, partly on sloppy execution by the NASDAQ.
Sloppy is how the European markets are looking right now, with Greeks thinking they’ll simply refuse to go along with austerity measures their prior government agreed to and force Germany’s hand—or not.
And finally, sloppy is how the markets were trading over most of the past month. After hitting a new post-crisis high on May 1, the Dow Jones Industrial Average went into a free-fall along with other market indicators. For the month, the Dow index lost 6.2%, while the S&P 500 index fell 6.3%.
U.S. stock markets and many foreign markets remain positive for the year, with the Dow index up just 1.4% and the NASDAQ 100, which is not only tech-driven, but Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL)-driven, up a more massive 10.8%. But both London’s and Brazil’s markets are in the red for 2012, down 4.8% and 4.0%, respectively.
With risk “off” and investors seeking shelter in more staid stock and bond funds, the aggressive front-runners have come back into the pack, while those in the rear have begun to catch up. This has served to compress the spread in returns between the best and worst in the market.
With stock markets having come back in, it’s only natural that investors have begun to wonder if we’re in for another summer swoon, and of course, whether that swoon will be long-lasting or simply a reminder that stocks don’t only go up. As you can see in the chart below, it looks as though the stock market is following a pattern seen in both 2011 and 2010, when the Dow fell by double digits before regaining its composure, and its prior heights.
I can’t tell you what the markets will bring over the next few weeks or months, but I’m reminded of something that Joe Rosenberg, a savvy investor who served as consigliere to the Tisch family, said recently: “You can have cheap equity prices or good news, but you can’t have both at the same time.” He’s absolutely right.
And he isn’t alone in thinking that this could be a good time to be a buyer rather than a seller. A host of portfolio managers weighed in with cautiously optimistic assessments in the latest crop of semiannual fund reports. The portfolio managers at PRIMECAP Management say U.S. stocks are good values, with some techs and health care companies looking particularly appealing.
Ford Draper at Kalmar Investment Advisers (Morgan Growth and Explorer) says he is optimistic about 2012, and that with good growth stocks no longer cheap, he favors high-quality businesses. Yet, Marathon Asset Management’s team (Global Equity) warns, as I have, that with profit margins at records, “the market may be out of juice from this source.”
Companies with still-depressed profit margins, such as those in the financial or housing sectors, may be the only ones left to show good margin expansion, they say. John Keogh, the bond manager at Wellesley Income, favors U.S. corporate bonds (as do I) and cautions there are too many uncertainties to make a big bet one way or the other on the direction of interest rates. Finally, Vanguard’s internal stock group, in comparing the stock market’s earnings yield to interest rates, says that the relative value in stocks is at a level unseen since the 1970s.
This flies in the face of investors’ steady sales of most stock mutual funds and purchases of bond funds. But most investors—not you, of course—are lemmings who invest based on what’s worked recently. Pouring money into bonds makes sense to them—but it doesn’t to me. I’ll keep my investment-grade bonds as both portfolio stabilizers and income generators, and use High-Yield Corporate (which Vanguard closed this past month) as a total return diversifier.
But Treasurys? Forget it. And if you’ve got some extra cash to deploy into your portfolio, consider putting it to work in this year’s laggards, like Dividend Growth. Don Kilbride’s battleship balance-sheet stocks will protect you and help your money grow in all but the most torrid markets.
May wasn’t all bad news, of course. We even got a small gift as Vanguard stripped the front-end and back-end loads off of virtually all of its funds, citing reduced concerns over quick trading and the costs such trading engenders.
You know that I am a skeptic when it comes to gold. Yet, while it’s hard to discern exactly where they stand on the issue, Vanguard says it’s “interesting,” according to analyst Christopher Philips. “We don’t believe gold is a sure thing, but we do believe that investors … can consider it.” That’s hedging with a capital H. With gold selling off despite its supposed status as a safe haven, Precious Metals & Mining is the year’s worst performer, off 17.3% through the end of May.