3 Last-Chance Opportunities for 2009

No one could possibly have predicted the crazy events that marked 2008. As hard as the year has been, it has also brought some amazing opportunities -- opportunities that investors should still be able to capitalize on in 2009.

But three of those opportunities aren't going to last long. So if you're planning to take advantage of these unusual market conditions, don't wait -- get to it soon before your chance is gone for good.

1. Get low rates before they rise
In an all-out attempt to avoid deflation, the Federal Reserve has cut interest rates as far as they'll go. Having pushed the short-term Fed Funds rate down to near zero, the Fed is now looking at alternatives to keep monetary policy loose, including injections of liquidity in longer-term Treasury securities. Prospects for this so-called quantitative easing have brought Treasury yields down to incredibly low levels, with 10-year Treasuries paying just over 2%.

Those yields have filtered into the mortgage market, as rates on fixed mortgages have fallen to multi-decade lows. 30-year fixed mortgages are available for 5% in some areas, and the average for 15-year fixed mortgages is now below 5% nationally.

The irony here, of course, is that many borrowers may not be able to take advantage. Banks such as Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC  ) and US Bancorp (NYSE: USB  ) have kept lending standards tight, and in combination with falling housing prices, many borrowers who initially got mortgages will find it difficult to refinance at favorable rates.

If you own a home and have the credit to get a better mortgage, look closely at how much refinancing can save you. You may never get a more favorable opportunity.

2. Investing at huge discounts
I've written before about using closed-end funds to pick up big discounts on many different kinds of investments. Yet while these unusual investments almost always trade at some discount to the value of the stocks they hold, the big bargains that investors have enjoyed recently won't last forever.

Some funds have already seen narrowing discounts in recent months. I track one fund, Adams Express (ADX), particularly closely because it holds commonly held stocks like Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG  ) and Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL  ) . It still trades at nearly a 16% discount -- but just a month ago, the discount was over 20%. High-yield bond funds have seen discounts narrow from 30%-35% a month ago to just 20% or so today.

One reason why big discounts persisted as long as they did was that the credit crunch made it difficult for institutional investors to take advantage of them by using arbitrage strategies. At some level, however, these discounts represent free money to big institutions -- and as soon as cash becomes available, they grab shares, and discounts narrow as a result. So if closed-ends interest you, the clock is ticking.

3. High dividend yields
The bear market has been a dream for income-seeking investors. Even blue-chip stocks offer huge payouts. Consider a sample:

Stock

Current Dividend Yield

Pfizer (NYSE: PFE  )

7.4%

Verizon (NYSE: VZ  )

5.6%

BP (NYSE: BP  )

7.4%

Source: Yahoo! Finance as of Dec. 30.

That doesn't even include the huge payouts offered by companies in distressed industries, such as financials and real estate.

As nice as these yields are for investors, they're not going to last. Here's why:

  • With rock-bottom bond yields, the only thing keeping many investors away from these stocks is fear. Eventually that fear will dissipate, and stock prices will rise, lowering the yield.
  • In some cases, high dividend yields result from speculation that a company's dividend is unsustainable. Within a year, that speculation should resolve itself one way or the other -- either the company will cut its dividend, reducing its yield, or the stock will recover to reflect increasing stability.

So if you've been waiting on the sidelines hoping for even lower entry points into the stock market, realize that you're working on borrowed time -- and don't be surprised if you end up waiting too long to get the best deals.

Finally, in reading these and anyone else's predictions for 2009, keep in mind that as unpredictable as the markets have been over the past year or two, they could continue to defy expectations. So be prepared for anything -- but don't count on the opportunities you're seeing now to stick around forever.

For more on what 2009 will bring:

To learn which stocks offer the best opportunities for dividend seekers, take a look at our Motley Fool Income Investor newsletter. Every month, we give you recommendations for promising dividend-paying stocks, along with analysis of past picks and news about current market conditions. Best of all, you can try it out absolutely free with a 30-day trial.

Fool contributor Dan Caplinger has capitalized on 2008's opportunities as much as he can. He doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. US Bancorp and Pfizer are Motley Fool Income Investor recommendations. Pfizer is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. The Fool owns shares of Pfizer. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Fool's disclosure policy predicts that you'll learn a lot in 2009.


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