It's a new year, Fools. So you can bet your bottom dollar that Wall Street strategists, economists, and analysts will be letting you in on their hot market predictions for 2007. But should you really pay attention? Should you even care?
After all, it's no secret that the track-record of professional forecasters is less than impressive. OK, fine -- it's downright ugly.
For hard evidence of Wall Street's ineptness over the years, simply glance at some of the graphs in the Survey of Professional Forecasters, published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. The divergent squiggly lines you'll see represent the fact that, historically, Wall Street's market calls have been out of whack with market reality.
Whether they're too conflicted, too optimistic, too caught up in protecting their jobs, or too wrong, professional analysts don't inspire as much awe as they once did.
But that doesn't mean they're all bad. Many analysts are savvy stock pickers. In fact, The Wall Street Journal celebrates the best analysts and the best calls across industries annually.
Even so, there's simply not enough transparency in the industry to know just who the best and worst analysts are. That's bad for the good analysts; they're unwittingly protecting the sheep.
Until now ...
Enter Motley Fool CAPS, our brand-new community-intelligence database, which tracks the outperform and underperform ratings that both individual investors and pros put on stocks. In turn, every stock and every investor earns a rating.
Yes, you read that correctly: Every investor is rated. That means we can finally answer the age-old question: Which analysts are better stock pickers than my grandmother?
For example, James O'Shaughnessy, the managing director of Bear Stearns' Systematic Equity, may not be. We're tracking his real-life picks in CAPS, and according to our data source, he is among the bottom one-fifth of all portfolios currently participating in our service.
However, a number of firms have proved themselves exceptional stock pickers since Briefing.com added their data to CAPS last year. Take for example, Roth Capital, which we recently highlighted as one of Wall Street's best players in the game.
Bet with the best
Another one of them that we're tracking is Janco Partners, a Colorado-based firm that focuses its research on the telecommunications industry and specific companies of "special interest."
As of this writing, Janco is currently ranked 219th overall in CAPS (and 13th among professional analysts), having crushed the market since last August with more than 65% accuracy.
A ranking of 219 probably won't be good enough to bring home the bacon on the professional bowler's circuit, but with more than 19,000 participants in CAPS, Janco has a performance that puts it ahead of close to 99% of other investment portfolios. Not too shabby, eh?
The sweetest calls
The firm's recent big winners include Charter Communications
If you're looking for newer selections, however, know that Janco also recently rewarded outperform ratings to Regal Entertainment
Street wisdom worth using
By simply examining these top picks, we'll be able to learn some key investment lessons from one of Wall Street's best.
For example, you might have noticed that Janco's portfolio is concentrated within just a small handful of sectors -- primarily the telecom, media, and entertainment-software industries. According to the company's website, Janco's objective is to add value by identifying investment opportunities only within its area of expertise. In fact, Janco has earned its CAPS All-Star status with a relatively modest 24 stock picks -- but most of those calls have been right on the money, literally.
This proves, yet again, that investing isn't necessarily about the number of stocks you choose to analyze, but rather how well you've got your stocks figured out. The key to superior returns is being patient enough to "bet" only when you have some kind of unique investment edge. (Legal ones, please!)
Of course, the simplest and most surefire way to gain that edge is by sticking with businesses that you completely understand while ignoring the ones that make your brain go numb.
Focus! Focus! Focus!
For Janco's analysts to reward a "buy" rating to a given company, they've got to believe that the shares are undervalued by at least 20% or more. Additionally, they have to identify specific catalysts that should "unlock" the hidden value over a reasonable period of time.
Obviously, meticulous research of this nature would be nearly impossible to conduct on thousands of companies in various industries. That's why Janco doesn't even try. By staying well within its "circle of competence," Janco has been able to identify some profitable investment opportunities with an impressive degree of accuracy.
Even John Maynard Keynes, the great economist, advised investors not to worry about the market and its thousands of different stocks. He essentially said, "Figure out a business you understand, and concentrate." It's for that reason that Janco Partners is at least one Wall Street firm -- uh, I mean, Rocky Mountain firm -- that might be worth concentrating on as well.
Warning: Past performance does not guarantee future results!
Of course, the caveat here is that we've been tracking Wall Street picks for only a few months now. While we can't yet call the data predictive, it's at least very interesting to examine.
If you'd like to take a look at the rest of Wall Street's best and worst analysts and their stock recommendations, you can join the CAPS community absolutely free. You can also get all kinds of opinions on the stocks you're looking to buy, sell, or hold.
And hey, you might even find yourself surpassing some of Wall Street's best and brightest in no time.
The financial community has been opaque for too long. CAPS can change all of that.
Fool contributor Brian Pacampara favors Main Street calm over Wall Street commotion and holds no position in any of the companies mentioned. XM Satellite Radio was formerly a Rule Breakers pick. Daktronics was once a Stock Advisor choice. The Fool's disclosure policy is always crystal clear.