If yesterday contained something for everyone, today's market was incredibly stingy, providing little guidance for anyone. Perhaps the most telling thing about today's session was how it demonstrated the lack of conviction among either bulls or bears. "There is no conviction," said Sam Ginzburg, senior managing director of equity trading at Gruntal. "You've got to know where the money is flowing and be there ahead of where it's flowing in and out. It's a difficult time for all people -- long-term and short-term players ." Compounding the difficulty is that the market is also thin, he said, as reflected by another session of relatively modest volume of 1.2 billion shares on the Big Board and 1.6 billion shares in over-the-counter trading. Presumably in reaction to the lack of substantial bids and offers, specialists are "widening out quotes," making it tough to find the "real market" and tougher to trade, Ginzburg added. Early on, the bulls took charge as major averages rallied on the heels of better-than-expected earnings from Home Depot ( HD) and raised guidance from Whirlpool ( WHR). But major averages plummeted from their morning highs after the 10 a.m. release of a weaker-than-expected report on confidence by the Conference Board. Stocks were further damaged by reports that U.S. Special Forces already were operating in Iraq, although the U.S. government denied the stories. After trading as high as 10,186.88 in the first 30 minutes of trading, the Dow Jones Industrial Average quickly dropped to as low as 10,033.75. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite produced similar patterns, moving from their intraday highs of 1115.03 and 1788.75, respectively, to intraday lows of 1101.72 and 1750.36 within the span of 30 minutes. Rather than re-establishing their dominance, the bearish forces retreated, and with less than an hour to go in the trading session each of the major averages was sporting modest but respectable gains. But rather than pushing higher into the close -- a move which would have no doubt emboldened the bulls -- the averages weakened again in the final 30 minutes, leaving the Dow down 0.3%, the S&P off a fraction, and the Comp down 0.2%. "If you're trading this market successfully you're either a genius or you're drunk," quipped Jeffrey Saut, chief equity strategist at Raymond James. "It whips back and forth." That said, Saut noted the market "held together well" despite the Iraq attack rumors, the consumer confidence data and the "Skilling grilling," referring to today's Senate appearance by the former Enron CEO. With Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan likely to be "Street-friendly" in his appearance on Capitol Hill tomorrow, "I think we're probably still going to try the upside," the strategist said, noting the Dow closed above its 50-day moving average near 9910 on Friday and eclipsed its 200-day moving average around 10,060 yesterday. While cautiously optimistic about the short term, Saut is far from a wide-eyed optimist, forecasting the Dow will remain in a trading range between the low 9000s and the mid-10,000s for the next 18 to 24 months, "unless real estate implodes." He foresees other major averages being similarly range-bound. "I think it's likely too late to be a bear and too soon to be a bull, so you should be a boar," he said, describing the boar as a "cunning animal" with excellent self-preservation skills and the knowledge of "when to be aggressive and when to retreat." For his own investing, Saut said it's difficult to find stocks that are good long-term buy/hold candidates. "The only thing to do is buy when the odds are in your favor, put in stop-loss orders, and if you get lucky and it rallies, take a gain and move on." Generally speaking, the strategist is more optimistic about mid- and small-caps vs. large-caps and was particularly enthusiastic about "income-producing" stocks such as REITs, utilities, closed-end funds and preferred stocks. "People are scrambling for income," he said, observing that retirees are now seeing their CDs rolling over from 5% rates to 2% or lower. "There's a shortage of unearned income." Among income-producing issues, he owns convertible offerings recently sold by Ford ( F), Motorola ( MOT) and EDS ( EDS).
Home Is Where the Money Is
Separately, Nat Paull, senior portfolio manager at New Amsterdam Partners, recommends "diversified industrials" such as Danaher ( DHR), based on a belief the economy is going to prove stronger than the consensus. Additionally, "we still think the housing area is going to defy expectations," Paull said. "The whole group has had a nice run but valuations are still reasonable." New Amsterdam, which has $1.4 billion under management, is long Pulte Homes ( PHM) and Lowe's ( LOW), which fell today after Prudential Securities downgraded the home-improvement retailer to hold from buy. The argument over whether housing and related stocks are still reasonably valued will have to wait for another time. But I note Paull's recommendations in wake of the fact today's new 52-week high list is littered with housing and related stocks, including Pulte, Toll Brothers ( TOL), Masco ( MAS), Pier 1 Imports ( PIR), D.R. Horton ( DRI), Black & Decker ( BDK), Stanley Works ( SWK) and La Z Boy ( LZA) (and that's just a sample!). Clearly, this is where the momentum is. Make of that what you will.