Selected energy stocks, corporate and municipal bonds and smaller companies will provide the best investment opportunities next year, say specialists for T. Rowe Price Associates, a Baltimore firm that manages $6 billion in investments.
At their annual economic outlook seminar recently, executives of the company projected a better investment climate in 1978 than this year.
Donald E. Bowman, president of the investment research and counseling firm said, "1978 is expected to be another transitional year."
"It will be a year when the investor will continue to be able to acquire high grade fixed income securities with yields probably a shade higher than in 1977 and to obtain real value in the equity market place."
Declining to partcipate in "the guessing game" about what the Dow Jones Index will do next year, Bowman said, "we do believe some of the best values in equities exist since the early 1950's."
Bowman cited electronics and electrical equipment companies, business and office equipment, pharmaceutical and health, and energy services as the kinds of companies that will be favored by T. Rowe Price's portfolio managers for next year.
From offices overlooking Baltimore's revitalized Inner Harabor area, T. Rowe Price manages about $4 billion in private accounts, mostly retirement funds, and six "no load" mutual funds with assets of $2 billion. It is the largest sponsor of no-load funds.
Thomas C. Barry, a vice president who runs a mutual fund specializing in stocks of small, rapidly growing in stocks of small, rapidly growing companies, predicted next year will see "mostly renewed interest in stocks of emerging growth companies."
"The disenchantment with small company stocks apparently has waned," Barry said. "For the first time since 1972 there is legitimate investor intrest in small company stocks."
The recent trend toward acquisition of growing small companies by larger firms is a major factor in renewed interest in lesser stocks, he said.
He predicted the acquisition trend will continue and individual investors will move faster than institutions toward investing in growth stocks.
Barry said the two largest concentrations in the firm's growth stock fund's portfolio are specialty retailers, which amount to 14 per cent of invested funds, and electronics and instrumentation, another 10 per cent.
Specialty shop chains, usually operating in shopping centers with closely defined lines of merchandise, and regional merchants with a major impact in their markets will outperform generalized companies, he said.
He predicted that the continued innovation of new consumer and business electronic products will provide new investment opportunities in that field.
Saying energy investments are made difficult by the "lack of comprehensive national energy policy," Russell E. Miller, the company's energy specialist, stressed that not all energy companies will perform well.
He predicted oil company earnings next year will average 12 to 15 per cent above 1977 profits, but half the total increase will be concentrated in companies with investments in Alaska and North Sea oil and natural gas.
"We continue on behalf of out clients to favor companies who have or who are likely to find low-cost energy reserves (Arco, Getty and Phillips).
"We also like companies that provide equipment or services which help increase the supply of energy (Slumberger and Halliburton)."
Noting that "interest rates and bond prices have been more volatile in the past few years than in any time in our history," George J. Collins predicted "a gradual rise in both short and long-term interest rates" in 1978.
Collins, vice president and manager of Rowe Price's fixed income group, offered these specifics: 90-day certificates of deposit, up from the present 6.6 per cent to 7.4 by the end of the year; intermediate AA-rated industrial bonds, up from 7.7 per cent to 8 long-term AA industrials up from 8.07 per cent to 8.47 per cent.
"We expect the municipal bond rate to also increase as state and local governments will continue to borrow heavily, and the rates are expected to rise in sympathy with other higher interest rates," said Collins.
He suggested the Bond Buyer Index, now at 5.54 per cent, could be in the 6 to 6.25 per cent range by year end.
Mathematical models of the bond market indicate "higher total return cna be gained in the shorter maturities as opposed to intermediate or long term bonds," he added.
T. Rowe Price's 1978 outlook is based on economic projections that were defined by Dr. Ben E. Laden, the firm's chief economist and a former Federal Reserve researcher.
He projected real gross national product will grow by about 4.5 per cent next year, while inflation will remain relatively stable in the 5.5 to 6 per cent range.
"Our concerns about the 1978 economy include the prospects, for a slower rate of growth by the second half of the year unless there are substantial tax cuts," Laden said.
He also warned that massive increases in Social Security taxes could slow the economy severely by cutting into consumer spending unless they are offset by cuts in other taxes.