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Meanwhile in the rest of the world . . . .

For what seems a lifetime -- actually, only since we started dealing with the European debt crisis, the slowdown in Chinese economic growth and the Federal Reserve-led wave of global central bank intervention -- price trends in global financial markets have been driven by macroeconomic trends.

That action has been dominated by swings between fear -- that, for example, the U.S. economy is about to slip back into recession -- and hope -- that, for example, China's new leaders will launch a big, high-profile economic stimulus package to fend off a hard economic landing.

Although it's been hard for individual stocks, industries, sectors or countries to buck the macro trends and the big swings they've produced, that doesn't mean nothing has been happening at those levels. Big changes have been going on off the radar while traders and investor have been obsessed with the "will we/won't we" questions of going over the fiscal cliff, breaking up the eurozone or sinking below 7% growth in China.

Maybe the best way to think about it is this: While current prices are being driven by macro events, the power of fundamental changes at the individual company, industry, sector or country level to drive prices up or down is simply being stored. When the market is ready to pay attention to these types of fundamentals again, that power will kick in.

That means, I think, that if you can divert some of your attention from the big macro trends and figure out what changes are taking place at other levels, you've got a chance to pick up part of that stored-up power and stash it in your portfolio. When the day comes that prices move on these company- and country-specific changes, your portfolio will move, too.

Gearing up for the grand switch

Some very disciplined long-term investors are at work doing that now. Warren Buffett, for example, has been buying shares of DaVita HealthCare Partners (DVA), a provider of kidney dialysis services. In late October Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.B) bought 63,928 shares of DaVita at somewhere in the vicinity of $110 a share. That was Buffett's fourth buy of DaVita shares in less than a month; the purchase brought his holdings to nearly 10.55 million shares.

Jim Jubak

Jim Jubak

For Buffett, the domestic and global growth in the number of diabetes patients requiring dialysis services at one of DaVita's clinics is a long-term fundamental story that will eventually drive the stock price higher -- no matter what macro trends do to the overall financial markets. Not that Buffett has done too badly with DaVita: The shares are up 40% in the past year. (For more on the global plague of diabetes, and on diabetes stocks such as Novo Nordisk (NVO), see "Excitement in drug stocks? Yes" at

5 trends to watch

OK, let's say you have the patience, discipline and foresight of a Buffett. (Don't we all?) What other trends are developing beneath the radar in this macro-dominated market? 

Let me point out five. Some of these are barely off the radar; you may be aware of them but hesitant to commit cash while the market is so volatile. Some are much more obscure, and you may not be following them at all.

1. Continued capital-spending cuts in the mining sector say it's still too early for Joy Global (JOY), Caterpillar (CAT) and other equipment makers. Brazil's Vale (VALE), for example, is expected to announce a reduction in capital spending to $15.3 billion in 2013. In September, projections put the 2013 budget at $16.8 billion. Either figure would be a big cut from the $21.4 billion budgeted for 2012.

And Vale isn't alone. Last week, Rio Tinto (RIO) said it would cut spending on exploration by $1 billion in the remainder of 2012 and in 2013. The company would also look to reduce operating and support costs by $5 billion by the end of 2014. I think this argues that any optimism about a turnaround in mining-equipment sales in the first half of 2013 is jumping the gun.

2. The mining story for the next year is country- and commodity-specific. Mining companies in Australia, for example, have been hammered by soaring costs. In announcing its budget and operating cuts, Rio Tinto noted that support costs in Australia have become the highest in the world. Five years ago, they were among the lowest. The coal sector is Australia has been hit especially hard by rising costs. That's put pressure on BHP Billiton (BHP) and Peabody Energy (BTU), which had aggressively expanded its presence in Australia. On the other side of the ledger, copper miners, faced with a shortage of supply to meet existing demand -- in the first half of 2012, anyway, and quite possibly longer -- continue to press ahead with expansion projects and acquisitions. The indicator deal here is First Quantum Minerals' (FQVLF) $4.9 billion (rejected) bid for Inmet Mining (IEMMF), the owner of the undeveloped Cobre Panama copper resource, projected as the second-largest undeveloped resource of its kind in the world.

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