Tuesday, August 16, 2011

What To Do?

If I were a Tweeter I'd be retweeting these two links. I've mentioned Barry Ritholtz's The Big Picture blog before. He has a measured view of the markets, and politics, not a raving bull or bear. And I've also mentioned John Hussman's Monday morning entries published in The Hussman Funds site. He has been criticized as a "Permabear" which is unfair as he looks at long economic cycles and he has been spot on long-term. His analysis can be technical and hard to follow for us lacking a PhD in economics, but well worth reading.

The recent gyrations of the market, Dow up 400, down 500, up 200, down whatever seems to signal that we are in uncharted economic and investing waters. The Fed's zero interest rates feed the fire of uncertainty. No longer is there the opportunity of having a "balanced" investment portfolio of stocks and bonds as the latter yields nothing. In fact the zero yield is adding fuel to the gold market as there is no longer an alternative cost (loss of interest) holding the yellow metal.

Hussman's recent write up makes two interesting points and then his very long piece elaborates: The reason we are facing a renewed economic downturn is that our policy makers never addressed the essential economic problem, which was, and remains, the need for debt restructuring. There are two one-way lanes on the road to ruin, and these - in endless variation - are unfortunately the only ones on the present policy map:

1) Policies aimed at distorting the financial markets by suffocating the yield on lower-risk investments, in an attempt to drive investors to accept risks that they would otherwise shun;

2) Policies aimed at defending bondholders and lenders who made bad loans, which they now seek to have bailed out at public expense.

Ritzholz writes a "slightly" lighter piece, with a list, A Decade of Punditocracy, Pathetic Edition. It shows how some policy makers and prognosticators drive with a rosy rear view mirror. I love the first on the list, George W. Bush, June 17, 2002: “Now, we’ve got a problem here in America that we have to address. Too many American families, too many minorities do not own a home. [...] Freddie Mac will launch 25 initiatives to eliminate homeownership barriers.”

So what is one to do? I still believe that well chosen dividend stocks held through thick and thin is part of the answer. This week's Barron's gives some valuable information on this topic, citing S&P's Howard Silverblatt's screen: Silverblatt has provided a substantial list of companies as a starting point for dividend investing. It's not a buy list but a screened set of stocks meeting certain criteria. It's available at www.marketattributes.standardandpoors.com. At the site, click S&P 500 Monthly Performance Data and then Dividend Starting File, at the bottom of the menu. Again, it's merely an interesting place to start.

Chances are that AAA firms such as Johnson & Johnson, Exxon, and Microsoft will survive, no matter what the economy might do, and one is paid to wait. Balance that with some Treasury Inflation Protected securities, and perhaps gold, and even cash, and wait out the market turmoil (it may be a very long wait). The key is to buy any of these on weakness and make the mix appropriate for one's own investment needs and risk tolerance.