Financial planning counselors, seminars and published material have proliferated almost as much as types of investments in the last few years. Their recommendations vary with their assumptions about the course of the economy in addition to their areas of expertise or even products sold.
A recent study of stocks touted on a popular television show revealed that they outpaced the market for the two weeks preceding the show and lagged behind the market for the next eight. As many small investors have learned to their chagrin, the best time to buy was often yesterday. Therefore, this article will not mention stock recommendations by name but rather will concentrate on those investments that can be bought the day after tomorrow.
In a nationwide cablecast last week, Merrill Lynch Pierce Fenner & Smith panelists gave clients their post-election advice. Declaring, "We are in the early stages of a bull market," chief investment strategist Richard J. Hoffman recommended interest-rate sensitive stocks such as those involved in housing: builders, forest products, cement and savings and loans. Other panelists expanded the list to include utilities, real estate investment trusts, international oils, foods, health care and telecommunications.
Jim Cohan, the firm's top fixed-income strategist, observed that the bulk of the bond rally has already taken place, but "pockets of opportunities" still exist, with municipal bonds offering high yields compared to Treasury and corporate bonds. Like other brokerage firms, Merrill Lynch offers a number of fixed-income funds for small investors. Its Ginnie Mae unit investment trust, for example, requires a $1,000 minimum, has a 12-year maturity, safety, and pays 13 percent.
For general investors, Hoffman recommended a portfolio composed of 55 percent long-term bonds, 45 percent stocks and 5 percent cash. Merrill's manager of financial planning, Jay Rabinowitz, offered the following advice for special interest groups: Young, dual-income couples should balance speculative stocks with tax shelters and municipal bonds. Parents facing children's education costs should stick to safe investments while shifting as much income as possible to the children through trusts and use of the Uniform Gift to Minors Act. And retirees, concerned with safety and current income, should lock in high interest rates and shift to total return stocks that offer a hedge against inflation as well as good yields.
Barry Goodman, director of financial planning at Leopold & Linowes, certified public accountants, recommends for those who are "willing and financially and psychologically able to take the risks involved" to invest 20 to 40 percent of their long-term assets in "second-tier stocks."
A depressed real estate market will make the next 18 months to three years the time to buy, he advises. On the contrary, other tangible investments, such as gold, are no longer needed as a hedge against inflation.
Goodman is cautious about recommending investments in oil and gas because he believes the current glut will continue for the foreseeable future, short of political instability in Saudi Arabia. For this reason he advises anyone contemplating such an investment to be suspect of programs which assume an annual increase in oil or natural gas prices in excess of 5 percent.
On the other hand, certified financial planner Edward S. Dove III believes the glut is temporary. Therefore, he recommends oil and gas programs both for income and as inflation hedges. Convinced that inflation will soon turn upward, Dove advises retirees on fixed incomes to investigate such growth-oriented investments, rather than relying solely on utilities, bonds or annuities.
Dove is no longer recommending municipal bonds because he believes the Federal Reserve will once again let interest rates rise, depressing bond prices. For the young, aggressive investor -- typically a high-income single person -- Dove recommends putting 50 percent of investable assets into a balanced mutual fund, holding 20 to 25 percent in cash or short-term Treasury obligations, investing 5 percent in gold for insurance purposes and allocating 10 percent each to real estate and energy.
For persons of considerable means who find themselves temporarily unemployed, Dove offers the following advice: If you think you can land a job soon, don't do anything except cut expenses. If a job is not in sight, move out of any speculative ventures and start turning your assets gradually into cash. Begin by borrowing against your whole life insurance policies if you have not already done so, cash in tax-sheltered annuities, liquidate bonds before stocks and hold on to real estate limited partnerships and oil and gas funds until last because you will be able to sell them for only 70 percent of their value. Refinance your house first if you have a high-interest mortgage, last if you have a low-interest mortgage.
Dove believes the wide range of alternatives available today make investing easier. But he has this note of caution: Whatever the majority of people are feeling, you know the opposite is true. Rely on your gut feelings, but don't always stick with the tried and true.
His firm, American Financial Consultants of Silver Spring, charges a fee of $350 for an initial interview and commissions on subsequent sales of products. Clients should have a minimum income of $35,000 and/or $35,000 in assets.
LeCount Davis terms today's investment climate "more difficult" because discretionary funds have been reduced substantially in the past six months. Quite apart from those who have been RIFed, others who relied on government contracts have experienced income cutbacks. He suggests that these people borrow against their assets if at all possible, rather than liquidating them.
For wealthy singles, who used to spend as if there were no tomorrow, Davis counsels keeping three to six months cash on hand or in a money market fund. Whereas six months ago he urged them to place 10 to 15 percent of their funds in short-term bonds, today he believes in putting a quarter of one's assets in intermediate-term (five to seven years) municipal bonds. Another 30 percent should go into real estate-oriented investments, but care should be taken to choose legitimate shelters lest the Internal Revenue Service not allow them.
Davis says the recession, with resulting decreases in income, has caused investors to "panic." "Instead of going to an adviser, they try to double their money. They become vulnerable to speculative deals -- risky tax shelters they don't need and venture capital schemes -- proposed by telephone promoters."