Big opportunities possible during a time of little growth in the stock market
Can you make good returns in a lousy market?
If you believe a few respected money managers, there’s opportunity aplenty in stocks now. If you find that surprising, wait until you hear where they think the bargains lurk: in big blue chips that almost always fetch premium prices.
A legendary bear, Jeremy Grantham of GMO LLC in Boston, says the nation faces “seven lean years’’ of meager growth, but he has been pounding the table about blue chip bargains with big dividends. Steven Romick of FPA Crescent predicts rising taxes and an economic malaise but is singing the praises about “bigger is better’’ stocks now, too.
“If you’re worried about a feeble economy, you want to own companies with strong balance sheets,’’ says T2 Partner’s Whitney Tilson. “The beauty today is those companies are on sale.’’
Blue chips are always in the news. They’re widely owned by pension funds and by individual investors in index funds and are heavily covered by Wall Street analysts. They’re the companies that sell beer and medicine, the banks where people put their money. They make tractors and software.
And they typically trade at premium prices, so sometimes are shunned by contrarians like the three above, who have been bearish when others are bullish.
Better to troll in “more obscure waters’’ to find cheap stocks, Romick explained to investors in a recent letter.
But now the bargains are staring them in the face — no trolling required.
Tilson says Microsoft Corp. is a steal. Its stock has lost 4 percent in the past year, while the rest of market has risen. Yet the company has little debt, $37 billion in cash, and dominates the operating system and software businesses. Translation: Customers won’t flee if it has to raise prices in an inflationary environment or decide not to cut them as wages fall along with everything else in a deflationary environment.
Tilson also recently bought Pfizer Inc., Kraft Foods Inc., and Anheuser Busch InBev, the world’s largest beer company. As it turns out, the latter is a holding of Romick’s, too. He notes in his letter that the company’s big presence overseas means it can grow even when the United States is not.
Tempted? The Dow Jones industrial average of 30 big stocks, a proxy for blue chips, rose for a second straight week on Friday. But jitters over European debt troubles and slowing US economic growth have taken a toll. The index is down nearly 7 percent from April.
Of course, even if the pros are right that some stocks are cheap, they may get cheaper still.
“The stock market has jerked people around so much, they don’t want any part of it,’’ Tilson says. “But that’s music to my ears. To be a successful investor, you have to buy things that aren’t popular.’’
Bernard Condon writes for the Associated Press.