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The stock market's roughly 60% rebound since this spring has been a much welcome and much needed reprieve from the financial carnage of the past few years. However, this rally hasn't been a tide lifting all boats equally. In large part, 2009's rebound has been primarily focused on lower-quality securities. It was these less stable companies which were beaten up the greatest in last fall's market plunge, giving them more room to climb back up this year. But at some point, market leadership is likely to shift away from lower-quality securities and toward a less-rewarded sector of the market.
Bigger is better
A recent article in Investment News posed the theory that large-cap, blue-chip companies will be the next big winners as the market rally shifts into its next phase. The idea is that investors have focused on riding lower-quality stocks as the economy has rebounded, but will soon shift into well-established, safer companies. If this shift does occur, well-recognized household names like IBM (NYSE: IBM ) and Kraft Foods (NYSE: KFT ) are likely to be primary beneficiaries of this move.
I think there's something to this hypothesis. I've been calling for a large-cap comeback for quite some time now. Over the past decade, small-cap stocks have left their larger counterparts in the dust. While the small-cap focused Russell 2000 Index has posted an annualized 3.8% gain in the past 10 years, the S&P 500 Index has lost 0.6% per year in the same time frame. Big names certainly haven't been in favor in recent years, and are probably overdue for their day in the sun. While smaller names ultimately have more room to grow over the long-run, market leadership does run in secular trends that can last several years. And odds are good that safe, stable, blue-chip companies are due to take the lead in the near future.
Pockets of opportunity
Even if market sentiment generally swings back in favor of higher-quality, large-cap names, there are still certain sectors of that market that have greater-than-average growth prospects. If you're looking to really juice your portfolio returns, consider looking for high-quality names in a few select areas.
One of the biggest corners of opportunity in the immediate future is likely to be health care. With a health-care bill getting closer to passage, prescription drug coverage for millions more of Americans could soon be a reality. That means big-name drug companies like Pfizer (NYSE: PFE ) and Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ ) could end up big winners as the volume of prescriptions filled picks up.
Another segment of the market that is hiding a lot of high-quality, big-name bargains is information technology. Tech spending was one of the first casualties of the current recession as companies cut back to save money. However, old equipment and computers will still need to be replaced.
As the economy picks up, there's likely to be a spurt of spending on technology as companies rush to upgrade and make purchases that they've been putting off for a few years. That means well-capitalized tech companies with dominant market share should be getting a boost. Names like Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO ) , Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) , and Intel (Nasdaq: INTC ) are some of the hands-on favorites to benefit from a revival in tech spending.
Spreading your bets
While I think good things are in store for financially solid big-name players, investors looking to capitalize on this trend shouldn't do so at the expense of the rest of their portfolio. Diversified investors should still maintain a meaningful small- and mid-cap presence, as well as significant international exposure. Of course, the appropriate allocation for each asset class will depend on your risk tolerance and time horizon, but all of these areas should still be represented in your overall portfolio.
Fortunately, most investors won't have to make too many adjustments to their holdings to benefit from a coming resurgence in high-quality large-cap names. Since most folks already have a hefty portion of their assets in large-cap stocks and funds, odds are good you're already pretty well positioned to take advantage of this trend. But you might want to think about directing a decent portion of your new investment contributions into high-quality large-cap or blue-chip-focused mutual funds or stock picks in 2010.
It's been a rough ride lately for top-quality blue-chip names and the investors who love them. But I'm betting patient investors will soon be rewarded as the market shakes off its haze and gets back to the business of rewarding solid companies for solid performance.
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