How bad is the market today?
One of the few stocks flashing green on my screen is tobacco and insurance company
. Loews is up 2 1/16, or 3.4%, to 62 3/8. Since 1997, when the markets have gone wild, Loews has actually
Why is it moving higher today? The company's fundamentals are improving: tobacco litigation is looking less confiscatory for cigarette makers and the insurance business has been quietly improving in the last 12 months.
And the stock's cheap: it sports a single-digit P/E and is about 45% off its all-time high reached in late 1997. The company even has puts on Dow bellwether
that have undoubtedly gained in value today. GE shares are down 2 1/2 to 49 3/8.
You probably don't own Loews. Up until recently, you, or your mutual fund manager, probably would not have wanted to own it. You were right. The question of the hour, however, is: are you still right? Is the bull market in growth stocks still intact?
No one knows. Not even
Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette
strategist Tom Galvin, who has been among the most bullish analysts. Galvin thinks the market is being driven down by investor uncertainty about how much tighter the
Fed will screw short-term interest rates.
In a conference call with investors late this morning, Galvin said that we are in the "eighth inning" of the Fed's move. Galvin said that the market is "close to an inflection point" and predicted a 20% gain on the
and a 30% gain on the
between now and year-end.
But Galvin held out the possibility that he could be wrong and said he will be carefully watching the June 13
retail sales announcement as well as other economic indicators scheduled to be released before the
Federal Open Market Committee meeting on June 27-28. There was the sound of caution in his voice.
It's time for caution. If you don't understand this, according to professional investment managers, you don't belong in the market.
"This is no time to be a hero," said a 30-something hedge fund manager who is up slightly on the year. "I just don't think you can buy until you see stocks stop going down. I am not one of the big boys who drive the market, and neither are most investors. I would prefer to give up some potential gains...by buying at the absolute lows in exchange for some greater knowledge that they are not going too much lower. It is just gambling to say that the companies that are down big on the day -- just about everything -- but especially tech and growth -- are 'good buys.' I never buy just because things are down. I don't fight the tape. I don't fight the Fed."
Another young hedge fund manager was even more bearish. "I think we are in a bear market. We are over 40% off the Nasdaq's record high. That is not a correction."
This guy expects the pain you may be feeling to continue. And he does not think it will be limited to tech. He says that GE may be more vulnerable than
. His logic? Both companies sell at many multiples of their growth rates, but Cisco has a better chance of maintaining its growth than GE. GE sells at about 40 times this year's earnings, or nearly three times its estimated 15% growth rate. If GE misses some numbers going forward, its P/E could easily compress. He foresees the possibility that GE stock could, over the next several years, go nowhere. Nowhere, of course, implies that the stock price goes down from today's level.
Wall Street analysts who follow GE disagree. Of the 20 analysts who follow GE, 18 have buy recommendations. The question for investors on a bloody day like today: Is their optimism a bullish or bearish indicator for GE, or the market in general?
The buy signal on GE may come when 18 of 20 have "holds" on the stock.