2 Stocks to Buy, 1 to Sell Because the Wealthy Rule America

NEW YORK (TheStreet) --I culled from various sources over the weekend to help support a few recently recurring themes on which most people can probably come to consensus.

  • Apartment rents are rising; vacancy rates are tight.
  • The coolest, close-in urban neighborhoods command rental premiums relative to those on the urban periphery and in suburban locales.
  • Irrespective of the size of the city, this holds true in most large and medium-size places, particularly those with pockets or wide swaths of vibrant city life.

    It's been all over the news lately: The average price of an apartment in New York City is approaching $3,000. It's the tightest market in America with a vacancy rate of 2.2%. San Francisco ranks second in terms price at close to $1,900. The year-over-year increase in San Francisco hit 5.9%, the biggest jump in the nation.

    These averages, however, do not tell you the entire story. Rents vary widely on a neighborhood-specific basis.

    For example, according to a report updated in May by Manhattan's MNS Real Estate, a two-bedroom in TriBeCa fetches an average rent of more than $8,000. In Harlem, that number drops to approximately $2,800. The same phenomenon holds true in San Francisco, where apartments in the Mission and South of Market districts routinely command more than $3,000.

    With so much focus on the finance and tech meccas of New York and San Francisco, many observers fail to acknowledge that this trend exists in cities that receive much less ink.

    For example, Portland, Ore., has the second-lowest vacancy rate in the United States behind only New York City. Some analyses put the two cities neck and neck at 2.2%. Over the last 12 months, average rents in Portland have increased 5%, second to just San Francisco. While the mean rent is $831 citywide, the average heads well into the thousands in 'hoods such as Portland's Pearl District.

    Charlotte, N.C., gets very little hype as an urban hotbed, yet we see the same dynamic play out there. While the average rent in Charlotte comes in just under $800, you'll pay closer to $1,200 in the city's Uptown neighborhood and over $1,000 South of Uptown. In South Carolina, where I have several friends, lots of folks would prefer to live in Greenville's nicely redeveloped city center, but they cannot afford it.

    As somebody who has studied the matter for years, I can tell you that this trend is hardly new. It has only intensified and received more attention ever since the housing market crashed.

    Investors should pay attention to not only where the jobs are, but where the people with money to spend want (and choose) to live. After all, that's why healthy and high-paying jobs end up in these places.

    At day's end, a considerable segment of the population craves the lifestyle that traditionally urban, walkable and mixed-use neighborhoods provide. Many folks who can afford to live in them. Others aspire to live in a great city neighborhood. As vacation destinations, dense cities tend to trump far-flung, carbon copy suburban places.

    I give a second look and feel more comfortable going long stocks of companies that undertake a strategy of targeting affluent and/or urban markets. If that's where the jobs are, that's where the money is. If that's where the people qualified for the jobs want to be, that's where the money ends up.

    If you're going to adhere to a Peter Lynch style of investing in any way, ask yourself why restaurants and bars in high-priced urban areas are always packed. People, carrying bags, stroll shopping streets. And, of course, there's always a lineup at places such as Starbucks ( SBUX) and Whole Foods Market ( WFM).

    Because both companies have experienced considerable runs over the last year (SBUX is up about 29%, WFM about 47%) and report earnings later this month, it makes sense to classify them as cautious buys.

    Investors could pull the stocks back on any hint of earnings-related disappointment. Whether they should or not, people get skittish with perceived high valuations. Plus, there's nothing wrong with taking profits, which is exactly what longs of SBUX and WFM might do over the next several months on strength or weakness. Simply put, a pause in the action would not surprise me in the least.

    That said, both stocks present excellent opportunities for long-term investors, particularly those who employ a buy-write, covered call strategy. For a review of what a buy-write is and how to put one to work, see my recent article, "3 Auto Stocks to Buy Instead of Ford and GM." I would consider writing an out-of-the-money call for every 100 shares of SBUX or WFM purchased, as a partial hedge against weakness and source of income.

    As a long-term investor, I can live with near-term weakness in these two stocks, particularly with the cover of a hedge, because I'm confident in sustained upside once any dust settles. Quite the opposite holds true for a stock like Teavana ( TEA), which I would sell or not buy.

    As I noted in an article for TheStreet back in May, like other core urban holdings, Tesla Motors ( TSLA) and Lululemon ( LULU), Whole Foods employs a sound geographic strategy:
    It's no surprise that Whole Foods locates no less than three stores from my not-all-that-affluent home in very affluent Santa Monica and a total of seven stores within five miles. Manhattan counts six stores and another under development on 57th Street. The same strategy applies in San Francisco where Whole Foods has five locations and is set to add two more. If you survey Tesla showrooms and Lululemon outlets, you'll see the same type of approach.

    Teavana, meantime, focuses its stores in malls across the country.

    Granted, Starbucks pervades suburban environments as well, but it keeps a massive urban presence. Teavana, given that its product is right up the urbanities' alley, particularly price-wise, should consider doing the same.

    Instead, it sticks to an unimaginative, purely retail model in relatively sterile environments, while Starbucks morphs itself into something more than a retail coffeehouse. It has begun experimenting with beer and wine sales, it continues to expand its food offerings and, if it extends its new tea bar concept, it could further crush the barely-public Teavana. Maybe they'll prove me wrong, but the one thing that probably keeps Starbucks from making Teavana an offer is the latter's weak location strategy.

    Since I wrote the above-cited article (May 11), TEA is off 33%, while SBUX is up 29% and WFM has added 46%. So, again, proceed with caution, but don't think for a second that stocks with an urban focus cannot continue to proceed higher.

    Don't fight the trend.

    The affluent will continue to line up at ever-evolving places such as Starbucks and Whole Foods, regardless of the broad economy. Starbucks and Whole Foods not only locate where the affluent live and roam, they, like TSLA and LULU, do a masterful job of identifying with their lifestyles.

    At the time of publication, the author did not hold a position in any of the stocks mentioned.

    This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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