Think of the huge jump in stocks on Wednesday, September 1, as a dry run for the eventual stock market rally.
I don’t think that rally is here yet. I think the move that began on September 1 was a bounce, a very welcome bounce but still a bounce, as the extreme pessimism of the end of August swings to something like only mild pessimism. Investors had a chance to think about the course of the market over the long Labor Day weekend and returned in a selling mood on September 7.
As we have been for most the summer, I think we’re still in a range-bound market with a top near 1130 on the Standard & Poor’s 500. I think we’re seeing positive signs that the market is getting ready for a sustainable move above that range. The September 1 rally began from a level above the July low. Rallies begin when stocks start making higher lows so I’m guardedly hopeful about stocks as we head into the fall.
But can I tell you that the stock market has bottomed? Can I guarantee that it’s all up from here? No way. I don’t know that even after the big move on September 1.
What I do know after the September 1 jump is what kind of stocks are most likely to outperform the market if the market stages any sustained rally. And therefore which kind of stocks you should look to accumulate this fall if you think that the market is moving toward a sustained rally. (Most probably, in my estimation, after the November elections.)
Not surprisingly the best performers Wednesday were those stocks where worries about global economic growth have weighed most heavily in July and August.
But I think we can go a bit further than that terribly vague observation. To get ready for a rally in the last quarter of the year (or so), I’d also look for the stocks of companies where the swing in revenue and earnings will be particularly pronounced if the global economy grows with even modest strength.
And I’d look especially for stocks with those characteristics that are, in addition, commonly thought of as particularly risky because of their industry and/or their exposure to emerging markets.
Let me give you some examples that popped out at me after September 1. You may not want to buy these specific stocks (now or perhaps ever) but they certainly are good pointers to the sectors and stocks that you do want to buy.
For a stock to get my attention in the September 1 jump, I need a gain that’s way above the 3% gain recorded by the Standard & Poor’s 500 that day.
The best performers on the U.S stock markets fall into very identifiable groups.
As you might expect there are the truly beaten down sectors and industries such as:
Home builders. KB Homes (KBH) was up 11.1%, Beazer Homes (BZH) 9.5%, and Hovnanian Enterprises (HOV) 7.6%. Shares of companies that depend on the health of the homebuilders, such as Lumber Liquidators Holdings (LL) also gained (up 7.1%).
And oil drillers. Rowan Companies (RDC) climbed 9%. Pride International (PDE) was up 7%.
There were a few special situations such as Burger King Holdings (BKC), which received a buyout offer from a Brazilian investment fund.
These patterns are interesting but I don’t find them compelling. In most of these cases the stocks that popped in these groups are companies still fighting their way against huge head winds. Fixing the problems of oversupply in the housing industry, for example, isn’t a matter of a good quarter or two.
But then, and this is where I’d say the most interesting action was on September 1, among the best performers there was the cyclical group, the stocks of companies heavily leveraged to the economic cycle. Cyclical stocks are historically one of the sectors that rise fastest when the economy recovers. If investors got a little more optimistic about the economy on September 1, it’s exactly these stocks that should have soared.
And the fact that they did, suggests that you’d like to be over-weighted in this sector when the real turn in the economy arrives.
What were some of the best performing U.S cyclicals on September 1?
Let me give you a short list.
Cummins (CMI), a maker of truck engines up 7.4% and Titan International (TWI), a maker of tires for construction, mining, and agriculture up 7%
Massey Energy (MEE) and Walter Energy (WLT), two coal companies up 7% and 7.1%, respectively.
Bucyrus International (BUCY) and Joy Global (JOYG), mining machinery makers up 7.9% and 6.1%, respectively.
Rio Tinto (RTP), a diversified mining company up 7.3%.
DryShips (DRYS), an ocean-carrier of bulk cargoes up 7.7%.
I think you get the idea.
Why these companies?
Because, by and large, they fit into a category that I’ve flagged for you more than once in the last few months. (Most recently in my post http://jubakpicks.com/2010/08/31/if-the-economy-is-so-terrible-why-are-machinery-stocks-relatively-strong/ .)
This group is defined by this rule of thumb: The longer the lead time of your customers and their business—the longer, for example, that it takes them to increase production, the more likely those customers are to be buying now.
For example, in its recent earnings report for the quarter that ended in July, Joy Global said that it was seeing stronger than projected orders from its customers in the mining industry. Instead of orders growing by 25% in 2010, it was now projecting 30% growth. And 10% growth for 2011.
That’s not because the mining companies that are Joy Global’s customers are run by wide-eyed optimists who see the U.S. and global economy going into a boom cycle in the next quarter or two. I think in the short term the CEOs of these customer companies are as worried about the economy as everyone else from Wall Street to Main Street.
It’s just that these customer companies can’t think just a quarter or two ahead. A new mine can easily take five years to go into significant production. A trucking company can’t wait until the August trade fairs to order for the holiday shopping season as some retail consumer companies can. Orders for new trucks have to be placed quarters and quarters in advance.
Customer companies in these industries remember all too well the kinds of shortages that hamstrung them at the top of the cycle in their respective industries. Oil sands companies couldn’t increase production because they couldn’t get tires for their big earthmovers, for example. If you’ve been through that recently, you may not want to build up huge inventories of tires, but you are inclined to err on the side of ordering what you need early before shortages get a change to materialize.
And they also know that since the last boom suppliers have cut capacity, merged—or gone out of business. The boom cycle, whenever it comes, will confront a supply chain that has fewer suppliers with less capacity and that are quite probably further away.
It’s only logical to hedge your bets by ordering early.
Early orders don’t have to turn into actual sales. Companies can prepare for better days that never come. Or better days could simply be further away than these CEOs think right now
But if the economy turns, if we get evidence that the better days—even if they’re actually only “better” and not actually “good”—are upon us, thanks to the September 1 dry run at a rally, we know what stocks will outperform.
Under the circumstances, I conservative, risk adverse investor, might—instead of sitting totally in cash on the sidelines—be building apposition or two in some of the soundest of these companies. Cummins and Joy Global come to mind. One is in Jubak’s Picks and the other is in my long-term portfolio The Jubak Picks 50 portfolio. You don’t have to rush out and buy them immediately. I think we’ve got a long, volatile September ahead of us. But you should be thinking about them and other cyclicals to buy on the day that you become convinced that the economy isn’t falling off a cliff.
I think that day may be closer than the macro numbers indicate. On Tuesday I’ll post on why the anecdotal evidence indicates what may be surprising strength in the U.S. economy.
Full disclosure: I don’t own shares of any company mentioned in this post in my personal portfolio.