1/25/2013 3:45 AM ET|
Dear Diary: Should I buy or sell?
How do you keep your trading on track in a go-go market that could turn down at any time? Use a simple trading diary to record your reasoning, and use that to guide your next move.
We've got a momentum market right now. And it's a particularly tricky one, since investors have to follow two momentum trends in their buy/sell/hold decisions.
That's why I'm finding the investment diary I keep especially valuable right now.
Let me start by telling you about the two kinds of momentum I see driving global stock markets right now. Then I'll explain what kind of investment diary I keep and how it's useful in this environment.
The first kind of momentum is your everyday, garden-variety momentum. Investors and traders buy stocks, which drives prices higher, because they see stocks moving higher.
On Wednesday, the Standard & Poor's 500 Index ($INX) stock index rallied for the sixth trading session in a row. The index had set new five-year highs over four days. For the day, new highs on the New York Stock Exchange outpaced new lows 357 to 7.
I remember checking in just before noon and being stunned at the list of stocks that had already set new 52-week highs: BlackRock(BLK +0.14%, news),, Cree (CREE), WaltDisney (DIS), Lennar (LEN) Marathon Petroleum (MPC), Monsanto (MON), National Oilwell Varco (NOV), Novartis (NVS), Southern Copper (SCCO), Stryker (SYK), and Weyerhaeuser (WY), to name just a few.
I remember scanning the list and thinking, “What should I buy? I don't want to be left behind.”
And the run continues. On Thursday, the S&P rose slightly for a seventh straight up day, briefly trading above 1,500 for the first time since Dec. 12, 2007.
That is the sort of run that drives momentum rallies. Everything is going up, it seems, and everybody is making money, so it's time to jump on board. Sentiment indicators, such as the American Association of Individual Investors survey, have been moving in a bullish direction since November. Last week's AAII survey was the seventh in eight weeks to show bullish sentiment over 40%. (The historical average is 39%.)
And while, from a long-term perspective, the time to buy is when this survey is bearish and the time to worry is when it is bullish, in the shorter term, numbers like these indicate an upward trend still in place.
The urge to jump in because stocks are rising can be an especially powerful fuel for a market rally when there's a lot of money that can move into stocks. That seems to be the case now, with cash flows into equities soaring as the stock market climbs.
To cite one indicator: According to the Investment Company Institute, back in November investors took a net $23.2 billion out of mutual funds that invest in stocks. That was up from an outflow of $16.4 billion in October and continued a pattern (which had held for much of 2012) of money flowing out of stock funds. Those outflows slowed in December and reversed in January.
For example, in the week that ended on Jan. 16, $9.32 billion flowed into equity mutual funds. That followed inflows of $14.3 billion into equity funds for the week before. The money flowing into equity funds seems to be coming from the sidelines, where it was in cash or cash equivalents, or from bonds and bond funds.
When stocks are going up, investors want to put more money into stocks. That's a pretty good description of a momentum market.
The big-picture mojo
But this is only one of two kinds of momentum at work right now.
I call the second kind macro momentum. It goes like this: If stocks were moving up when we were all afraid of the collapse of the euro, the U.S. fiscal cliff and a paralyzing fight over raising the U.S. debt ceiling, doesn't it follow that stocks should move even higher now that we're no longer afraid of those things? Particularly when we've also seen moves from the Bank of Japan and the Federal Reserve that support the prices of financial assets?
You can think of this kind of momentum as equivalent to an extended relief rally. If you were reluctant to put money into stocks with the fiscal cliff looming, well, that's no longer a risk. Nor is the debt ceiling, at least not immediately. The eurozone crisis is on a back burner as well. China's economy isn't headed for a hard landing. Japan is going to try to stimulate its way out of another recession.
Suddenly, what's to worry about?
I can make a case that all this absence of worry is already priced in and that growth of the gross domestic product and earnings don't support a move higher from here. Didn't the World Bank just cut its growth projections for 2013 for pretty much every economy from the United States to China? (That's a rhetorical question. Yes, it did.)
And isn't earnings growth looking kind of anemic? On Dec. 31, the projected earnings-growth rate for the S&P 500 stocks from Wall Street analysts was just 2.6%. That follows on a drop in S&P 500 earnings of 3.6% in the third quarter of 2012.
But that's looking back. What counts now is projected earnings for 2013. As of the beginning of January, the Wall Street consensus forcombined S&P 500 earnings per share for 2013 was $113.88. (That would be earnings growth of somewhere between 10% and 13% for the year, depending on where earnings for the S&P 500 in 2012 come out when the fourth quarter is completely in the book.) That would put the forward projected price-to-earnings ratio at 13.13 on Wednesday's closing price on the S&P 500. That's slightly above the five-year average forward price-to-earnings ratio of 12.8, but not so far above that that its flashes a red light to momentum investors (who don't want to see warning signs anyway).
Adding all this up, I see a momentum market where the momentum could run for a while -- until, say, the next round of the debt ceiling battle in April, or a return of the eurozone debt crisis in June, or evidence of faltering growth in the United States and a deeper-than-projected recession in the eurozone at the end of the second quarter. (I think the projections of S&P 500 earnings for 2013 will turn out to be too high.)
This creates a quandary that's all too familiar to investors from the volatile markets of 2011 and 2012: How do you stay in the market to profit from the momentum without losing touch with fundamentals and winding up with big losses when the momentum stops?
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This is where I find my investing diary so useful. In my diary (actually an Excel spreadsheet), I record not only when I bought a stock and the price, but how and why I calculated the target price. The "why" is critical, because reviewing my reasoning tells me if anything fundamental has changed that would justify a higher target price. This analysis tells me if I'm simply riding momentum (in which case, I should watch out and sell sooner rather than later) or if I've still got some solid reasons for holding onto that stock.
A lot of investors keep this kind of diary, and I highly recommend it to you.
But I like to take it a step further and keep notes on how I set the target price for each stock. This isn't so much a rehash of the method I used as a note on how I felt about the assumptions I used to make the forecast. Was I reaching for the most positive assumptions in order to get to a target price that produced a 15% potential gain in the stock? (I use benchmark rates of return that go higher as my estimate of the risk in the stock increases.) Or did I set my target price based on relatively conservative estimates and decide that the stock had plenty of overhead above that target?
How is this kind of diary useful? Take the example of Nestlé (NSRGY), a current member of my Jubak's Picks portfolio. When I bought it for the portfolio on Sept. 21, 2012, I set a 12-month target price of $69 a share. Share appreciation to that target plus Nestlé's dividend would give me a 10.5% potential return on this pick. Not great, I wrote then, but good enough for a very tough market and good enough for a stock that carried very little risk. I would have set the target higher if the numbers had been there, but they weren't. In my diary I noted that I thought $69 a share was an aggressive target.
The stock closed at $68.61 a share on Wednesday. That's almost my target price. And from my diary entry -- and after checking to see if anything fundamental has changed -- I don't see raising the target price as justified. If I'm going to hold Nestlé from here, I'm counting on gains from the market's momentum and not from fundamentals. That doesn't mean I'm going to sell immediately. But it does mean that I'm not going to delude myself that Nestlé is anything more than a momentum play above $69. A buy/sell/hold decision on Nestlé here is a judgment call on the market's momentum.
I'd contrast my Nestlé diary entry with one from another member of my Jubak's Picks portfolio: Home Inns & Hotels Management (HMIN). This entry noted that the stock might have considerable headroom above the $34-a-share target price that I'd set -- but that it was very hard to tell. Key fundamental metrics such as occupancy rates and RevPAR (revenue per available room) were difficult to read at the moment because of a big acquisition and the effects of the Shanghai special exposition. If those metrics picked up with an acceleration in economic growth in China in the last quarter of the year, an increase in the target price would be justified, I noted to myself then.
With that note in mind, even in this momentum market, I'd know to take a look at any changes in fundamentals before making a buy/sell/hold decision.
Keeping these kinds of notes about decisions to buy, sell or hold won't assure that you don't sell too early in a momentum market or hold on too long. They should, however, help you tell when a position is still based on fundamentals and when it's purely a momentum play. Making sure you know the difference is a critical step in making the most profit and taking the fewest losses in a momentum market, especially one that combines two different types of momentum.
Nobody said that a rising market didn't present any challenges.
Updates to Jubak's Picks
These recent blog posts contain updates to the stocks in Jubak's market-beating portfolios:
- McDonald's can't match year-ago growth
- Why Intel's on a spending binge
- Investors welcome China's market moves
- MGM sees progress on Macau casino
- Wait to buy Yum Brands
- Statoil expands its global reach
- Abbott spins off AbbVie. Which to buy?
- Time for a commodity rally?
Meet Jim Jubak at the World MoneyShow
Is it time to give your portfolio its annual checkup? Then join thousands of investors like yourself at the World MoneyShow Orlando, which runs from Jan. 30 to Feb. 2 at the Gaylord Palms Resort in Orlando, Fla. At the world's largest investor and trader gathering, you'll hear from MSN Money columnist Jim Jubak and dozens of other top investment experts. Registration is free for MSN Money users; sign up on the World MoneyShow website.
At the time of publication, Jim Jubak did not own or control shares of any company mentioned in this post in his personal portfolio. The mutual fund he manages, Jubak Global Equity Fund (JUBAX), may or may not now own positions in any stock mentioned in this column. The fund did own shares of Home Inns & Hotels Management as of the end of September. Find a full list of the stocks in the fund as of the end of September on the Jubak Global Equity Fund website.
Jim Jubak's column has run on MSN Money since 1997. He is the author of the book "The Jubak Picks," based on his market-beating Jubak's Picks portfolio; the writer of the Jubak's Picks blog; and the senior markets editor at MoneyShow.com. Get a free 60-day trial subscription to JAM, his premium investment letter, by using this code: MSN60 when you register at the Jubak Asset Management website.
Click here to find Jubak's most recent articles, blog posts and stock picks.
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I have watched the guru's and the charts and determined that none of it matters. How is it possible that RIMM could come back up just because of a promise of a new toy in a crowded market that pushed RIMM down before ? How could Boeing be up when the new jets catch fire and are grounded ? I believe they are up because the shorts and the street want them up !
How could Apple, the largest company in the country, drop 36% on a fairly good and honest report ? What has Google got that the street values almost twice as high as Apple? Fundamentals mean nothing now, just watch the sentiment from the street, and the pullbacks.
Market sentiment is currently positioned to the upside, but as Mr. Jubak explains the two reasons aren't enough to entice those who got burned before. The Fed policy of easy money and the resultant 0% or negative rates of return on money fund investment are; "an attempt to flush the vast sums of savings left into risky investments". Go there if you want but all the things listed in the article are still unresolved. The market will continue to go up until the next economic crisis pops up.
Expect to see more articles in rapid succession like this from the Doom and Gloom crew at MSN Money because when the market is in a bull market frenzy short-sellers don't get paid. An analyst at Credit Suisse said that the eurozone stock markets could surge 50% in the next three years. I bet they surge 50% in the next 12 months because after 12 months the world will slow down as the United States is faced with huge budgets cuts to pay off the debt. All this time the U.S. was pointing the finger at everyone else to plug their holes while our Congress did absolutely nothing here. This is the worst Congress in history and marks the collapse of the Republican Party. Watch weekly as these fanatics put all their time into abortion bills instead of budget-reduction bills. The Federal Government should have a rule that excludes religious activity on the job but they don't. It's actually legal to bring your bible to work, preach and avoid doing the job you were hired to do. So, I expect the rest of the world to surge for 12 months then be held back once again by this failed behemoth, the U.S., being held barely together by a progressive President who will never get a deal done with the religious fanatics who have overtaken Congress. This is why Germany is the world's number one producer and manufacturer of goods in the world, not the United States anymore. The GOP has failed us.
I`m not a bear but I`m expecting a slight correction.It`s been a long time since we`ve had
a 10% correction.Of course, the bears love it when there`s a correction.They`ll say
"it`s time to buy gold".After 6 straight down weeks with gold they`re crying like pigs
that get their tails cut off.
Wall street wants your money,when the drop comes,they will be laughing all the way to the bank....
Step 1 : Buy Gold while it is cheap.
Step 2 : Nuke N. Korea and Iran
Step 3 : Enjoy your profit
The real question is how many negative articles will Jim write this year to get the market to sell off?
answer: a lot.
Why don't you do a story about why Congress is so intent on spending 100% of their time addressing abortion instead of the budget, if they really are the party of small business? Reagan opened up the government floodgates to religious fanaticism a long time ago and now we are all paying for it. He never should have allowed kooks like Jerry Fallwell into the White House. What religion says it is ok to use our tax dollars to pay off dictators to live a life of luxury while we stand by for 40 years and condone them torturing their own people and doing nothing to improve their lives? Is this how low the GOP is willing to go to keep us dependent on oil??
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