Last week I happened to notice that Fisher Investments' MarketMinder site had picked up one of my articles. Unfortunately, the purpose was to give the article a thumbs-down, saying that it was:
Yet another example of overly bullish and bearish sentiment coexisting simultaneously. We know it seems odd, but this is a good example of prevalent bifurcated sentiment. For more, see our 02/07/2011 cover story, "2011: A Sentiment Tug of War."
It's a good point. My only quibble is that I don't align myself with either the bulls or the bears. In fact, I think the view that the Fisher folks put out in that February report was very on point. They said:
Make no mistake: 2011 can be a perfectly good year. But it's also likely a year requiring much more homework for investors to dig deep below the market's surface to identify underappreciated opportunities favored by strong fundamentals.
Looking at the broad market, Fisher believes that the pessimists still hanging onto their bleak pre-recession outlook have been counterbalanced by a fist-pumping group of optimists who -- inspired by the gains of the past two years -- are still expecting big things. In the end, the pessimists will be disappointed because they're overlooking the actual, fundamental improvements that we're seeing. However, the optimists will probably also be disappointed because they've set a high enough bar that it will be tougher for the economy and the stock market to surprise to the upside.
And as the market tends to do what investors least expect, Fisher thinks this split sentiment means that the market will neither be sharply up or sharply down and instead either "up a little or down a little."
When bears lose and bulls lose...
Who's left? Well, I'm not sure that they have a name.
Charles Schwab recently released results from its survey of independent investment advisors. In the first slide showing results, there's a nice big display for the 56% of advisors that are bullish and a similarly large graphic for the 10% of bearish advisors. What of the other 34%? They're relegated to a footnote noting that they chose "neither."
It would seem that Fisher would fall into this "neither" group. Concerned about the broad market's valuation, it's a camp I'd fall into as well. And similar sentiments have been expressed by my fellow Fools Alex Dumortier and Morgan Housel.
Naming the nameless
Jim Cramer likes to say that "bulls make money, bears make money, and hogs get slaughtered." But where does our "neither" group fit into the picture?
The rallying cry of this group is that being outright bullish or bearish on the market is no longer the play. The markets aren't headed for disaster, but the easy profits from buying pretty much any stocks early in the rally are mostly gone. Instead, investors now have to work a little harder to find opportunities that are still worth pursuing.
Could we call this group lions, stalking their prey? Or are they hunters, tracking down a kill? Or perhaps vultures, scavenging for any remaining worthwhile morsels? Personally, I like the imagery of the lions, but feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below.
In the jungle, the mighty jungle
There's no sleeping on the job for you right now if you're a stock market lion. The name of the game is research, research, research in the pursuit of tracking down stocks that hold better-than-average returns potential.
Where might these opportunities be hiding?
According to the current holdings, it seems that Fisher sees opportunity in the global growth theme. The company's largest single holding is the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets Index Fund and hefty positions in Occidental Petroleum
Alex, meanwhile, has waded against the strong tide of current sentiment by recommending Cisco
Morgan and I have seen value in plain sight among large-cap blue chips. Intel
However, the bottom line for this group of investors may have been best stated by Alex: "Owning stocks is no longer enough."
No matter what we want to call the group between the bulls and bears, all good predators know how to keep a close eye on their prey. You can do exactly that with your Foolish watchlist. Add Intel, Cisco, or Freeport-McMoRan to your watchlist, or set up a new list and add whatever stocks you want. You'll get timely updates and access to a special report "6 Stocks to Watch from David and Tom Gardner."
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