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Leaders for the Next Bull Market

By Bill Smead of smeadblog.com.

Paul Lim, a business writer for The New York Times had an interesting thesis in his article on July 19, "Picking Winners in the Next Bull Market."

He correctly acknowledged that it would be highly unusual for the leading sector of the previous bull market to lead the next one. For this reason, he advised hesitation on an urge to chase the emerging markets and those companies (like oil) which benefitted most from the last bull market. We can give you numerous examples from our 29 years in the investment business which back up his thesis.

From the 1974 low of 550 on the Dow Jones Industrial Average to the 1983 high around 1200, technology companies with fast earnings growth were popular. This wave crested soon after Apple (AAPL) and Genentech> (DNA) went public.

Investors wanted fast growth to offset double-digit inflation rates and handed out high P/E ratios to those fast growers. When Paul Volcker broke the back of inflation through tight credit and President Reagan stood down the air traffic controllers in late 1981, the game changed.

Inflation began to decelerate and investor interest moved away from these popular names. Technology stocks spent seven to eight years in the dumper during a roaring bull market which took the Dow to 3000 by 1990. The high P/E ratios came back to haunt investors.

Lim used the example of the tech stocks leading the bull market which peaked in early 2000. The next bull market started in late 2002 and just like today, some of the best early gains came from the last bull market's leaders -- technology. It was a head fake. Energy and emerging markets turned out to be the big winners. Microsoft (MSFT - Get Report), Cisco (CSCO - Get Report) and Intel (INTEL) skipped the last bull market for the most part.

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