Investing in Stocks: Ignore the Negatives, Embrace Your Contrarian Side and Buy Stocks Now
by Alexander Green, Investment U’s Chief Investment Strategist
Tuesday, September 7, 2010: Issue #1338

When the Dow bottomed near 6,500 in the thick of last year’s financial crisis, few investors thought it was a good time to buy stocks. Sentiment was overwhelmingly bearish.

So when the market bounced higher, the consensus was that it was a “dead-cat bounce,” a bear-market trap. But it wasn’t.

As the rally gained speed, investors began to think that perhaps the worst of the financial crisis was indeed over and they would buy some stocks on a retracement or when the market tested its lows.

But that didn’t happen either. In fact, the Dow didn’t tire until it crossed 11,000 in May. By then, the market was up over 70% in just 14 months.

That was pretty depressing to investors sitting on the sidelines, earning microscopic yields on their cash. Many were so busy licking their wounds from the sell-off that they made little or no new investments during the rebound.

So what should you do now?

Investing in Stocks: Follow the Earnings

Since the market high four months ago, the Dow has lurched back and forth. But the primary direction has been down. No surprise here. After a rally of this magnitude, a correction is not unusual.

But don’t be like last year’s investors and miss the next rally. Now is a good time to put money to work in high-quality stocks.

In fact, the market is almost as cheap today as it was during the depths of despair in March 2009.

How is that possible when the Dow is more than 3,500 points higher?

Because a stock or index price doesn’t tell you anything about valuation. What matters are earnings and the multiple that the market puts on them.

Three Reasons Why You Should Buy Stocks Today

When measured by profits, the market is almost as cheap today – at 14.9 times trailing earnings and 12.2 times prospective earnings – as it was in March last year.

That’s because earnings are up. Way up. Second quarter profits at U.S. companies hit an all-time record.

A year and a half ago – when investors should have been buying stocks – the media was busy telling them about The Great Recession and how the world was coming apart at the seams.

Today, it provides saturation coverage of home foreclosures, personal bankruptcies and endless political carping. And because we’re blanketed with bad news, few investors see the positives. Consider, for example:

  • The Fed has taken interest rates to near zero. That makes it cheaper for consumers and businesses to borrow. It also makes ultra-low-yielding cash a horrible investment.
  • Inflation – the great bane of both stock and bond investors – is M.I.A. With the consumer price index showing virtually no increase, businesses don’t have to battle rising costs.
  • Around the globe, most stocks are unloved and undervalued. Historically, when the P/E of the S&P 500 has dropped dramatically – as it has since the highs of May – it isn’t long before the market puts on a significant rally.

A Leaner Corporate America Could Drive the Next Rally

I know analysts are saying that earnings won’t be anything great. But they could be wrong – yet again – for two key reasons.

  1. Businesses have tightened up their cost structure, laid off unnecessary personnel and refinanced debt at lower levels. Even a modest uptick in sales could deliver surprisingly good bottom-line growth.
  2. It’s so cheap for businesses to borrow right now that I expect we’ll see many of them issuing debt to buy back their own shares. This could lead to robust growth in earnings per share, even if growth in gross earnings is less dramatic.

The bottom line?

Investing in Stocks: The Ultimate Contrarian Indicator Right Now

Stocks today are almost as cheap as they were when the Dow hit 6,500 18 months ago. And the macro-economic picture – while always cloudy – is a heck of a lot better now than it was then.

As an investor, look at your options. Cash pays next to nothing. Treasuries yield little more and could easily drop precipitously. Real estate is a non-starter, due to illiquidity, a flood of foreclosures and tough new lending rules.

But stocks offer excellent potential. And if you know anything about contrarian indicators, the fact that so few believe it only confirms it.

Good investing,

Alexander Green