Is it time to panic? The Dow Jones industrial average is up 75 points one day, down 91 points another day. The stock market looks and feels like a roller coaster. You're losing money on your bonds as interest rates climb, and you wonder whether it's time to sell everything and get out of the market.
So you call your broker and ask for advice. And what does he or she tell you? Probably something like this: Don't panic, stay calm and think about long-term investing.
Wondering what local brokers and investment advisers are telling their clients these days, I made a round of calls and found that, for the most part, the professionals are hanging tough. They are wary and they are moving into defensive positions, but they are not yet ready to declare the bull market dead.
Here is what the brokers said:
Michael S. Roberts, vice president, Prudential-Bache Securities, Bethesda. "I'm telling clients not to sell their stocks and to the extent they are inclined to buy, this is a good time to buy," he said.
Reflecting on his firm's belief that the downturn in the market is a pause, not a deep retrenchment, Roberts said he would buy the kinds of blue-chip stocks that make up the Dow Jones industrial average or the Standard & Poor's 500.
Even though these are the stocks that have been hammered the hardest -- because they have risen the most -- Roberts thinks they will continue to get the biggest ride from U.S. institutions and from foreign investors.
Roberts would not buy bonds at this time, based on the view of his firm's analysts that rates will go to 11 to 12 percent by the end of the year but, after that, will fall to the 7 to 8 percent level. If the forecast is correct, bond prices thus will be lower at the end of the year, offering a buying opportunity.
Roberts also is telling clients who have losses in bonds or government income funds to hold on and ride out the interest rate cycle.
Robert A. Radano, investment broker, Legg Mason, Washington. "I don't think the bull market is dead," Radano said. "But you can't have a true correction without scaring some people." The correction under way now is, indeed, scary. But it's been long overdue, he said.
Radano is telling clients to take partial profits in stocks in which they have large gains. He would restrict any investments in bonds to 10-year maturities and would look for stocks with good basic value, such as Sears, Roebuck and Commercial Credit Corp.
E. Joseph West, first vice president, Drexel Burnham Lambert, Washington. "I've experienced a great deal of nervousness from investors," West said. But he is telling his clients the stock market may yet go to new highs.
His basic reasons: The economy looks strong and corporate profits will be up 30 percent this year and 20 percent next year.
"We're fully invested in our common stock portfolios but hedged on bonds, staying under two-year maturities," he said.
In a balanced portfolio, West holds 60 percent of his funds in stocks, 25 percent in short-term bonds and 15 percent in cash.
West advises clients to stick to stocks of companies with good growth prospects, a dominant position in their markets and good cash flow. High on his list are Kellogg Co., Loews Corp., Johnson & Johnson and Advanced Micro Devices. Reina M. DuVal, assistant vice president, Thomson McKinnon Securities, Washington. "If you are positioned well, you should use the downswings to double up on the good performers and use the upswings to get rid of those stocks that aren't doing well," DuVal said.
Either way, DuVal believes the investor needs to be prepared to survive a period of market volatility, higher interest rates and possibly, sometime in the next couple of years, a recession.
"When that hits, I'm not going to be caught with unhealthy companies," DuVal said.
Thus, her emphasis is the big blue chips, companies such as General Electric, Bristol-Myers, Boise Cascade and Abbott Laboratories. In the industrial area, she wants stocks of companies that sell to other companies or drug companies whose products are in demand, good times and bad.
"I don't want to be in consumer-related anything," she said.
DuVal has taken profits in growth companies and she's gotten out of all long-term bonds, preferring five- to 10-year bonds. She advises investors who are truly nervous to opt for a 50-50 stock and bond allocation. But she thinks a 75-25 allocation between stocks and bonds is better.
Marilyn W. Lowen, vice president, E.F. Hutton & Co., Bethesda. Lowen suggests to clients who have losses in government securities mutual funds that they may want to take losses for income tax purposes. The best way to do it, she said, is to switch within a family of funds, thereby keeping the money invested. For instance, an investor could go from American Capital's government securities fund to American Capital's Ginnie Mae fund. The switch can be made for $5 and will create the loss, part of which the investor may be able to recoup on his taxes.
Investors with individual retirement accounts (IRAs), which accumulate tax free, should hold onto their investments, getting the benefit of dollar cost averaging and waiting for the climate to change, she said.
Lowen said that despite interest-rate gyrations, municipal bonds, especially the sometimes scarce Maryland housing issues, are good investments with good total returns for the investor interested in tax-exempts.
James C. Doyle, vice president, Moseley Securities Corp., Washington. "Put on your water wings and stay afloat," Doyle told clients last week.
The Dow is going higher, Doyle believes, "because there are not a lot of investment alternatives." And he thinks that despite the general forecast for rising rates, interest rates will soon turn down.
Doyle likes Navistar International and Allied Signal, two Dow stocks that have shown improving fundamentals but have not enjoyed the gains of other Dow stocks, he said. As for bonds, Doyle has been buying high-quality paper with three- to 10-year maturities. He advised investors who had losses in government securities funds not to sell but to hold on. One option, he said, was for investors in these funds to take their distributions in cash so they can invest the proceeds elsewhere.
Jean R. Roche, vice president, Ferris & Co., Washington. "I'm basically a believer in equities," said Roche, noting that investment success had been enjoyed by a number of funds that held strong stocks over a long time. He said he also tends to prefer stocks over bonds because the behavior of bonds depends on the ups and downs of interest rates, which are difficult to predict.
Roche, who has a special interest in high-tech stocks, said he liked Reuters Holdings, the news agency, and Telerate, the financial information network. The two companies are deeply involved in the computer linkages that make global trading a reality, he said. While the stocks are selling at high price-earnings ratios, Roche said, "I'm convinced that kind of stock will do well."
Roche said he was basically bullish. "I go along with the people who think the market is going to 3000 by the end of the year."
T.J. Atkinson, investment executive, Paine Webber, Silver Spring. "Helmets on!" advises Atkinson, who suggests that clients will have to take some flak from the market before the turmoil eases. Investors should hold onto their stocks, he said. "They shouldn't sell out." And they shouldn't start churning their own accounts, he added. "I personally feel that people should adopt a long-term view."
Atkinson thinks that on fundamentals, the market can perform well. But he believes that the dollar "is the wild card." If it continues to decline, it could do serious damage to the market, he believes.
Until then, Atkinson is telling clients to ride out the ups and downs of the interest rate cycle on bond holdings and to buy stocks with good dividends that can cushion them against a possible market decline. Among stocks he has bought with this in mind are USF&G, an insurance company, Potomac Electric Power Co. and AT&T.