Everything went according to plan today on Wall Street. The April Consumer Price Index numbers came in flat. The Fed raised rates 50 basis points and promised to remain on the lookout for inflation. The market rallied.
Unfortunately, today's action tells us little about the overall market's future. Until the Fed finishes raising interest rates, the market could go in any direction at any moment.
In the meantime, what should an investor do?
Don't try to guess where the broad market is heading, say professional investors. Focus instead on individual stocks. That's what these guys are doing. Some are value investors. Some like growth stocks. Others do tech. Any of these investing styles can work, they say. Gone are the days when tech was hot and everything else was not. Today, for example,
rose 5.4%, but
gained as well, up 4.8%. Farewell to the two-tier market, they say.
"We are up 10% so far this year," said the head of a New York-based hedge fund that made a ton on
last year. "Today went pretty much the way we expected. We made some money, not a lot. But we are trying to position the portfolio for the next several quarters. We are going to try and make money the pre-1997 way, when it was not simply a tech-oriented momentum game."
The CEO of a
500 financial-services company agreed. "There has been a very quiet turn in the market in the past two months," he said. "Many of the tech stocks have been cut in half and a lot of value and traditional growth companies have gone up significantly. Look at
. It hit a low of about 45 and closed today above 71. There is now more than one way to make money in this market."
Even with value stocks up, the pros say they are still finding things to buy.
"There is a fair amount of things to look at," said one investment manager who helps run a $3 billion stock portfolio. "We are finding good companies selling for less than 12 times earnings and good earnings growth. You can buy stocks with a reasonable expectation of getting a materially better return than the Treasury yield." For example, the median price-to-earnings ratio of the thousands of stocks followed by
is still only 13, far below the P/E of the major market indices.
Legg Mason Fund Adviser's
outstanding chief investment officer, Bill Miller, evidently agrees. When presenting his top picks recently at
Grant's Interest Rate Observer's
spring conference, Miller mentioned a wide variety of stocks --
. That is the nature of the market today.
Some tech investors see value in fallen angels. One New York-based investment manager who just returned from the
conference said that he was busy buying today. "We are finding plenty of tech-related stocks selling for less than their growth rates," he said. "We have some cash, and we are putting it to work selectively. People may not realize it, but in the smaller tech names there are very good companies that are down 50, 70%."
So while the Fed does its interest-rate magic, the best investment approach may be simply to ignore the big picture. Find yourself a few good stocks instead. They are hiding in more than one place.