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Friday, November 06, 2009

The dash to trash

When the stock market climbs or falls, it's always interesting to see which segments are doing best or worst.

Not surprisingly, the stocks that have done best since the March bottom are some of the junkiest companies out there. This makes some sense because such companies were priced for bankruptcy last spring.

As early investors realized junky companies weren't going under, they jumped at the chance to bag 200%, 300% and higher returns.

The problem with staying with such an approach, now that the trash rally has had its day, is that it's hard to see how it can continue. Junky stocks have junky business models with weak competitive advantages, low margins, too much debt, etc. From here, there isn't a lot of upside, and the downside is becoming more perilous.

In contrast, the best-run companies have hardly participated in the rally since March. Granted, they didn't go down as far, but it's nonetheless surprising that investors haven't turned back to them now that the dash to trash has become stretched.

This is most likely due to the pervasive influence of momentum. Momentum investing is the process of buying what's moving. If it's climbing, buy it. If it's sinking, sell it or sell it short. This process can continue for quite some time...until it doesn't.

Predicting when is impossible, but predicting that it will end is a given. Or, as Herb Stein put it, "If something cannot go on forever, it will stop."

At some point in time, investors will realize that junky companies have problems and aren't delivering. That's when investors will fall over each other trying to buy franchise, high-quality businesses that make money regardless of how well or poorly the economy is doing.

It's no fun to be under-performing as the market makes a continued mad dash to trash. But, I'm not foolish enough to chase the heard, and I know it doesn't work over the long run anyway. Or, as our mothers rhetorically asked us, "if your friends jumped off a bridge, would you follow?"

Nothing in this blog should be considered investment, financial, tax, or legal advice. The opinions, estimates and projections contained herein are subject to change without notice. Information throughout this blog has been obtained from sources believed to be accurate and reliable, but such accuracy cannot be guaranteed.

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