BOSTON (TheStreet) -- Building an investment portfolio can be as much art as science. Crunch all the numbers you want, but when all is said and done there's no way to time the market perfectly, predict big winners, foresee disappointing losers or be prepared for unexpected shifts in sector performance.
The task would be so much easier if one could just travel back in time to the start of the year and build a forward-thinking portfolio based on what we now know. A benefit of this fantasy strategy is that decisions exist in a one-year vacuum -- there's no need to worry about whether stellar performances can keep up their pace next year.
Looking back a year, what would have been the base of your best imaginary portfolio? It might start with gold.
Blessed with 20/20 hindsight, we would know interest rates remained at rock bottom and fears of inflation were unfounded. We'd know that even though inflation never crept back upward, a hedge against it -- buying gold -- proved very profitable. We'd know that a rough year was in store for even such corporate stalwarts as
Johnson & Johnson
, that goofy rubber shoe maker
was poised to be a moneymaker and that fleeing anything having to do with
There were plenty of high-flying stocks to fill the equity slot in a successful 2010 portfolio, including a few surprises.
William Shatner's stock options are more valuable than ever with
up more than 85% for the year, trading at $407.50 as of Dec. 29.
There was also the aforementioned Crocs, with a stock price that was up nearly 207% year-to-date. A competitor of sorts,
, maker of the teen fashion rage that is Ugg boots, is up $145%, priced this week at around $83.
Is post-recession frugality keeping people at home for dinner? Not when their restaurant option is
, up 150% for the year.
made a big jump into the pool of media giants with a more than 233% jump this year.
is up more than 80% for the year, currently hovering near $133 a share.
Certain technology stocks would also need to make their way into our portfolio.
nearly 55% boost this year makes it a safe big name to have on board. The lesser-known
, which makes equipment and software maximizing network performance, is priced at about $35 as of this writing, a year-to-date spike of nearly 198%.
Financial services stocks would include some of the smaller names in the space that had great years, including:
Cathay General Bancorp
, up 124%;
, up 91%; and
, up 90%.
's sister site,
, gives us some ideas on how to follow the lead of billionaire investors when using our backward-looking picks to populate a portfolio.
, for instance, gives us a template for how to allocate each sector. His strategy (according to most recent filings): consumer goods, 38.9 %; financials, 40.9%; consumer services, 6.7%, health care, 6.1%, oil and gas, 3.5%, industrials: 2.9%; and utilities, 0.3%
, we had an energy stock suggestion worth including, the gas and oil exploration company
, up 113% this year.
It wasn't that long ago that
warned that the "gold bubble" was about to burst. Nevertheless his portfolio gives us some gilded investment ideas, including
SPDR Gold Trust ETF
iShares Comex Gold Trust ETF
; mining companies
, up 137%;
Great Basin Gold
, up 75%; and
Allied Nevada Gold
, up nearly 80%.
Even though this is merely an academic exercise, we'll resist the urge to let everything ride in our make-believe portfolio on some penny stock that soared 5,000%. If anything else, this year reminded us that too much of a good thing can be dangerous and that change can be sudden and disruptive. Sticking to the old standby of a 60/40 split between stocks and bonds would have been prudent.
"The fixed-income market did very well the first half of the year," says Steven M. Roge, portfolio manager at
and co-portfolio manager for the Roge Partners Fund. "In the beginning of the year, stocks got off to a very rocky start. Then, in the latter half of the year, we were off to the races and kind of the opposite was happening in the fixed-income market."
The trick to crafting a portfolio in a volatile year such as this one was to make sure capital preservation was as carefully considered as returns.
"One pick where we hit the nail on the head was the
IVA Worldwide Fund
a mutual fund focused on absolute value investing and capital preservation," Roge says. "When the market was looking pretty grim at the beginning of the year, their returns were actually still positive and remained positive for the majority of the year."
"They ended up the year pretty much up as much if not more than the
while taking on half the risk, because half the portfolio is invested in very safe securities. If alpha is the name of the game, they certainly hit the ball out of the park. It is certainly one we were glad we owned at the beginning of the year and we'd certainly own it again if we had the chance," Roge says.
Other funds we'd include in our portfolio would also help protect us from the equity disruption from the first half of the year. Although they may not have had triple-digit returns, they did their job and "held down the fort" while making some money.
A spokesman for
said they were pleased by the performance of their taxable bond funds this year, in part because expectations that interest rates would rise never came true.
Fidelity Capital & Income Fund
had an absolute return of 13.40% as of Nov. 30. The
Fidelity Focused High Income Fund
maintained an 11.05% return.
iShares Barclays TIPS Bond Fund
held up well all year, with a 7.6% return thus far.
In revisiting the year's investment choices, Roge does have two regrets he would "redo."
"Small caps in particular did a lot better than large caps throughout the year," he says. "As the economy improved, or there was a perception
it would improve, that drove the share price of these 'distressed companies' through the roof. It went from wondering if they were going to go out of business to 'They are going to be fine and, oh, by the way, they are going to generate enough cash to pay back a lot of their debt and be highly profitable.' The mindset completely shifted and those sea changes are where you can make a lot of money. What exposure we did have to small cap did extraordinarily well."
That exposure included the
Walthausen Small Cap Value Fund
, which focuses on small-cap and micro-cap companies. "In hindsight we would have owned much more of it," he says.
JPMorgan Large Cap Growth Fund
had a good year as well, posting a 22.3% return and making a nice addition to our fake investment wish list.
Roge's other regret counts as a missed opportunity: waiting too long to get in on the rapid rise of
Boston Beer Co.'s
"I was just a little too discriminatory in terms of price," he says. "I was trying to be a little bit too patient, trying to get a little too cute, and instead of buying it when I could have I tried to buy it cheaper. It never went there, and instead went in the opposite direction. I guess the moral of the story is that if you think a stock is a multibagger it really doesn't matter within a couple of bucks when you buy it -- just buy it if you are convinced it really is a unique company."
With a 109% YTD return and a stock price inching toward $100, we'll take his advice and add it to our collection of retroactive assets.
-- Written by Joe Mont in Boston.
>To contact the writer of this article, click here:
>To follow the writer on Twitter, go to
>To submit a news tip, send an email to:
Get more stock ideas and investing advice on our sister site,