Many investors focus on the constant swings of the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) to judge the merits of buying or selling stocks on any given day. But long-term investors think in terms of decades, rather than days. Instead of dwelling on what's shaping up to be a strong 2013, they're looking at whether stocks in 2014 will continue their winning streak or finally give way to a long-awaited correction.
The futility of timing the market
The argument against stocks in 2014 is pretty easy to understand intuitively. The bull market has roared higher than ever since the financial crisis, with 2013 likely to become a fifth straight year of gains that have collectively sent the Dow up more than 125% since its March 2009 lows. In that light, expecting further gains for stocks in 2014 seems almost greedy.
But that logic has proven wrong in the past, and following it would have left you out of the market at a key moment in its history. From 1990 to 1995, the Dow almost doubled, with a huge jump of 33% in that final year seemingly marking the entry of inexperienced speculators, which in the past might have suggested an end to an aging bull market. Yet stocks followed up with four more years of huge gains of between 16% and 26% annually, and by the end of 1999 the Dow had more than doubled again.
Of course, we've seen the other side of that story play out as well. After 1999's final gain, the Dow plunged almost 30% over the ensuing three years. After the market's climb to new records over the five years from 2003 to 2007, the disastrous drop in 2008 wiped out almost all of the progress the average had made.
The smarter way to buy stocks for 2014
As a result, it's anyone's guess what returns on stocks in 2014 will look like on the whole. But when you start to dig into the market, you can find that certain companies look more attractive than others for those trying to pick stocks for 2014 that will continue their winning ways no matter what the market does.
Which companies you'd pick as the most attractive stocks for 2014, however, depends on your investing temperament. Consider these ideas:
- For those who prefer strong dividends and attractive valuations over fast-paced growth, the Dow's own Chevron (NYSE: CVX ) could fit the bill as a smart stock for 2014. Currently fetching less than 10 times earnings, Chevron faces the same challenges as many of its Big Oil peers in keeping production levels growing despite an ever-aging asset base. Yet by moving aggressively with initiatives ranging from liquefied natural gas production and transport to worldwide development of oil and gas finds even in little-tapped regions, Chevron stands to benefit as long as oil prices remain near current levels. Investors can rely on more than a quarter-century of rising annual dividends to help cushion any unexpected problems for the stock in 2014.
- At the other end of the spectrum, priceline.com (NASDAQ: PCLN ) recently surpassed the impressive $1,000-per-share milestone, and few would argue that it isn't aggressively priced. But Priceline has consistently used its strong reputation and its well-established international networks of airlines, hotels, and other travel-related service providers to bring customers in the door. In turn, its loyal customer base gives Priceline better negotiating power with its travel partners, creating a positive feedback loop that has kept its rivals guessing and could lead to further gains for the stock in 2014.
What you should take away from this, though, isn't that these two companies are the best picks among stocks for 2014. Rather, the important thing is first to identify what type of stock you want to own. Then you can do more research and come up with the right stocks for 2014 and beyond that will meet your needs.
Don't miss out!
More than anything else, though, you should keep in mind that even when stocks have risen several years in a row, it shouldn't lead you to cash out of the market entirely. Whether 2014 proves to be a winning or a losing year isn't important for long-term investors. What's more important is realizing that owning the best stocks in 2014 and in the years to come will make a massive difference to your financial future.
Sadly, millions of Americans have never learned that lesson. Instead, they've waited on the sidelines since the market meltdown in 2008 and 2009, missing out on the huge gains that could have rescued their financial prospects. In our brand-new special report, "Your Essential Guide to Start Investing Today," The Motley Fool's personal finance experts show you why investing is so important and what you need to do to get started with a portfolio of stocks for 2014 and beyond. Click here to get your copy today -- it's absolutely free.