NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- It's a stock picker's market. You hear that often when the major indices take a hit.
The categorization makes me laugh because, really, we're always in a stock picker's market. It just a matter of to what degree.
Consider Oct. 6 to Oct. 10, 2008. It was the worst week the market had experienced in 75 years. In hindsight, the obvious choice was to buy into the carnage. But even though "everything" ended up moving higher, you still had to pick the right stocks.
For instance, the SPDR S&P 500 ETF (SPY) closed at $88.50 on Oct. 10, 2008. As of Thursday's close, it trades for $132.44. That's about a 50% gain. The PowerShares QQQ ETF (QQQ) ended Oct. 10, 2008 at $31.32. It closed Thursday's session at $62.69. That's more than 100% worth of appreciation. Not too shabby, particularly when you consider that we're down quite a bit from recent broad market highs.If, however, you picked the wrong stocks from those indices, you could have lost money. Few people would have called you crazy on Oct. 10, 2008, if you viewed Cisco Systems (CSCO - Get Report) at $17.23 and Hewlett Packard (HPQ - Get Report)at $37.00 as bargains. Fast forward to Thursday's close and CSCO fetches $16.92 and HPQ costs just $20.30 per share. Looking back, it's pretty obvious what you missed if you went long one of these stocks. You missed the F5 Networks (FFIV) and Apple (AAPL) explosions. You missed trends that look pretty clear with the benefit of a four-year-long rearview mirror. Going forward, particularly in a topsy-turvy market, it's crucial to spot trends before they fully emerge. That requires a more qualitative approach to investing. How many people do you think bought CSCO and HPQ in late 2008 on the basis of their P/E ratios? Without a firm grasp of a company's story and strategic-competitive future, value investing can get you killed. So, for example, going forward, I would most likely take profits in a stock I have been high on for more than a year -- Tesla Motors (TSLA - Get Report). As much as I appreciate Tesla's unique and innovative approach to selling cars, I would take the 17% the stock returned over the last year and call it a day.