It's looking scary out there - the stock market is plunging, credit markets are seized up, a leadership vacuum exists in Washington, and talk of a potential financial "armageddon" is becoming commonplace. The good news is that such crisis atmospheres always present opportunities for those who keep a level head.
Granted, the problems in the economy and financial markets are real - caused by years of malinvestment and overleveraging by both Wall Street and Main Street fueled by both lack of regulatory oversight and by government programs that encouraged such activity. But at the same time, as painful as it is, the deleveraging that's taking place is taking risk out of the system and laying the groundwork for healthier growth in the future.
Yet large numbers of investors are fleeing out of stocks and other "risky" investments to put their money into "safe" treasury bills. Could this be a mistake? Probably.
History shows that time and time again investors tend to be out of the market at market bottoms (when they should be buying) and fully invested at market tops (when they should be raising cash). This simply reflects the fact that investors tend to make decisions based on emotions - and markets tend to bottom when things look the scariest (and investors want out of the markets), and conversely, peak when everything looks great (and investors can't get enough of stocks).
So is this a bottom? Who knows. Sure, stocks will probably fall further (although anyone who presumes to predict by how much is just guessing). And further missteps by government could prolong or deepen the financial crisis. But I'm seeing more and more interesting investing opportunities (with a three to five-year time horizon, or longer) - many in the industrial sector.
I tend to look for quality dividend-paying stocks, and there are plenty of these in the industrial sector. However, until recently, many were trading at price levels that I wasn't willing to pay - meaning they were still well above their long-term linear regression trendlines and offering relatively low dividend yields.
But that's changed in the last several days, and I've recently initiated positions in several industrial-related stocks (among others) as they've fallen into my buying range. For example, I have an options position on electrical systems and components manufacturer Eaton Corporation that could ultimately result in me owning the stock in the 45 to 50 price range.
I have a similar options position on ProLogis, an industrial real estate investment trust (REIT), which I could ultimately end up owning at a price below 30. Finally, I own shares of General Electric, which admittedly is almost as much a financial company as it is industrial.
I've also recently done some buying in the energy and materials sectors, as price levels there have collapsed as well. In all cases I'm focusing on buying stocks of quality companies at what I feel are reasonable values, and that pay me (through dividends) to hold them.
As a result - since I have no illusions that I'm buying at the precise lows - I'm not too concerned with market fluctuations going forward. And I take further comfort in the fact that, as noted above, as I continue to go about looking for bargains I seem to have so little company!
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