Next year should be a winning year of investors, if one of the country's hottest brokers is as adept in calling the stock market as he is in building a solid reputation with a skyrocketing commission business.
His happy scenario: The market's next major move will be up. But beware, friends. Our fearless forecaster, 33-year old Michael Laub, a super-aggressive broker out of the Philadlphia office of brokerage biggie Drexel Burnham Lambert, tells me you'll need a strong stomach to play since the first new months of '70 are likely to be hell.
In brief: violent and emotional roller coaster moves in stock prices that will leave most investors in a state of utter bewilderment.
In fact, he thinks these sickening periods of market chaos are now likely to be more frequent in view of the recent shocker from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) - a hefty 14.49 percent boost in oil prices by next October.
Whatever next year holds for the rest of us, Laub is concluding '78 on a glorious note-his entry after nine years as a broker into a select Wall Street club of million-dollar producers. (The $1 million refers to the amount of commission business).
If you've ever thought of praying that you should only do as well in the market as Laub, then maybe you ought to do just that-pray. That's what he does-at bedtime, he doesn't go right to sleep; instead, he lies in bed meditating for the next 15 to 20 minutes, praying for, among other things, good fortune in the market. "I'm not sure the praying helps me in the market, but I'm covering my self in case it does," he says. "To stay on top, you can't afford to miss any angle..."
Laub's methods may be unorthodox, but he's worth listening to. He's racked up more gross commissions than any other broker on the Drexel Burnham payroll (about 550 all told) for the past five years in a row. And then there's his ability as a stock picker to outrun the pack in '78's sloppy, do-nothing market.
Of his 160 retail and institutional clients, two-thirds of them-105, to be precise-are wrapping up the year with gains. More important, if one were to tally up the gains and losses of all 160 clients, they'd average about a 15 percent increase for the year. Laub's speciality, though is trading, and here his '78 batting average is even better-a robust 20 percent rise.
Laub sees the Dow Jones Industrials (around 800 at presstime) gyrating in a reasonably narrow 750-900 trading range over the next year four to five months.
Laub believes there's no way the market can take off with interest rates high and a recession staring us in the face.
He thinks the market will also suffer in early '79 from the high level of margin debt and brisk competition from those secure money-market instruments, such as Treasury bill, with enticing 9-to 10-percent.
Sounds dismal. But wait. By the end of the first quarter, Laub says, interest rates should have peaked and most of the bad news (such as propects of a recession) will have been discounted. And at that point, the market should mount an offensive and start moving up, ending the year Laub guesses, at about 950 in the DJI.
"With record-low stock prices (compared to book values), extremely low price-earnings multiples, and excellent dividend yields-plus the tremendous institutional buying power on the sidelines in both domestic and foreign hands-I've got to believe the next big move in the market will be on the upside." he says.
As for that wicked price hike from OPEC, Laub goes along with a widely held view on Wall Street that it's a serious blow to Jimmy Carter's anti-inflation package; also, that it's apt to create new instability for the dollar.
But Laub expects the administration to counter-punch by defending the dollar and remaining though in its anti-inflation fight.
"I don't think the OPEC action will have any telling effect on the economy for any long period of time ... and it's something the stock market will eventually learn to live with and absorb," he says. (Many analysts, however, strongly disagree on this score.)
Those beaten-down quality growth stocks lead Laub's buy list on the theory that in a year of uncertain corporate profits, the most visible earnings power is in proven growth companies, "and that's why I think big money will go into these stocks."
His top choices: Black & Decker, IBM, Kodak, Merck, Disney, National Semiconductor, and Polaroid. Laub also favors several smaller speculative growth companies-namely Camco, maker of oil-recovery machine tools; Documation, producer of on-line printing systems; Porta Systems, manufacturer of telecommunications equipment; and Teleflex, mainly because of Teleflex's new coating process taht keeps airline engines warmer, resulting in savings on fuel costs.
One big reason for Laub's '78 success was his skill playing the corporate takeover game-a craze he sees continuing in '79.
His strategy: "When I buy a stock on a takeover story, I go on the premise that 98 percent of the time it's bull ... But if you get the story early enough and you think enough people will believe it and it's a marketable security (in terms of liquidity), then I buy it. But the secret is to sell quickly once the story begins to attract widespread buyings."
Del Monte and Pebble Beach - two takeover stories that turned out to be real-paid off big for some Laub clients. So did the rumored acquisitions of Ferro, Cooper Laboratories, Houdaille Industries, Bucyrus-Erie, and Western Publishing.
Acquisition stories aside, Laub's major success stems from his ability to trade, which, he believes, "is a gut feeling you're born with."
Says Laub: "I watch the tape, and I believe I can tell what a stock's going to do. I can swim with investor psychology, change quickly, and, most important, if I-m wrong-which is about 30 percent of the time-I sell right away."
Trading savvy, as Laub sees it, is the ability to capitalize quickly on any edge you can perceive - even, for example, the timing of news release by Dow Jones and Reuters.Laub finds Reuters will frequently beat Dow Jones on an important release. (Recent examples include earnings reports of IBM and General Dynamics and Sear's announcement of a program to buy 10 million of its own shares). Laub's strategy is to buy (or short) instantly the stock or options after the Reuters release and then sell (or cover) when the more influential Dow Jones follows with the same news and causes an additional flurry of buying or selling interest.
"It happens often enough that I really should be giving Reuters some of my commissions," Laub says.
Interestingly, Laub never really wanted a career on Wall Street. A University of Miami graduated in 1967 who majored in sociology and philosophy, Laub wanted to be a sociology professor. "But there wasn't enough money with a child on the way, so I went into Wall Street (as a trainee in December of 1968)," he tole me.
And now, 10 years later, he's talking of getting out even though his growing success is bringing him many of the good things in life-a $180,000 home in Huntington Valley, Pa., a $12,500 Corvette, and a $19,500 Jaguar.
But that's not what Laub is angling for. "I want to make enough money to leave and teach sociology in Vermont or Colorado," he says. (Laub loves to ski.) "Wall Street is a rat race . . . and no one wants to live in a rat race forever."