My $700 Billion Solution

For today’s Cabot Wealth Advisory, I was all set to give you a long-planned column on our country’s health care challenges, complete with a surprisingly optimistic scenario as a conclusion.  I was TRYING to stay away from the topic of the government’s rescue of major financial firms.  But in the end I failed.  An email I received from a reader late on Friday afternoon pushed me over the edge.  So here you are, his letter first and then my answer.  The health care column can wait.

Questions About the Bailout

“I have questions on the bailout–and I don’t know where to find answers.  I would appreciate it if you could help explain to me–or to any reader if you want.
 
“To start it is only fair to say I do not like the bailout proposals I have seen no matter what the merit, but based on section 8 alone–no one man should have so much absolute authority. I thought AIG was prudent (though I cannot understand why it’s called a loan when 79.9% equity stake is exchanged).
 
“But it seems to me that a lot of the problem is the mark to market system. Highly levered institutions are seeing their equity positions eroded as the underlying values are falling. While I would normally agree with the soundness of this principal–in this extreme case why not allow mark to historical prices or final payment? This way banks could slowly absorb the inflated mortgages. Equity positions wouldn’t have to take such a huge hit at one time. Some portion of people will default–probably higher than normal, but some portion may be unlucky to have bought a house at the most inopportune time, and it may be worth 20% less today than when they purchased–but they intend(ed) to live in the house for 5-10-20 years–either paying down the full amount or being around until some recovery.
 
“How are the ‘toxic’ CDOs and MBS going to be valued? Don’t we need to know this before we can get any estimate as to how severe the problem is? IF over-leverage was the cause, is it possible to de-leverage with government support at a reasonable rate? Can the markets support this? What in the plan addresses holders of the CDOs that are not banks–state, local, foreign governments, bond insurers etc.? If we don’t address them, are we not just putting off the next crisis?
 
“What happens to the bond market and interest rates if we pump another trillion into the market? I’m no economist, but wouldn’t rates rise dramatically? If the goal is to make funds available to companies for the economy–it seems to me that the implied idea is to make ‘reasonable funds’ available. What good is it to have liquidity if you can’t afford to access the funds?
 
“Sweden went through a similar problem in the 90s and they helped provide liquidity to only the strongest banks and encouraged the weaker banks to merge or go ahead and fail. Is this part of the plan? We still may have a credit crunch–so expand the SBA, even expand its limits–but make reasonable loans. I understand this doesn’t address the Fortune 500–but it would start freeing some capital.
 
“Why not use a big portion of the money to shore up the FDIC and the SIPC?  If you want to see panic, wait until people are told that their bank failed and that the FDIC ran out of money.
 
“I’ve not heard anything about what is to be done with the commercial and the derivatives markets. If excessive leverage and a devaluation of the underlying asset caused this problem in the residential mortgage market–what about these other two? What is going to stop players from acting in their own self-interest with a feeling of ‘we are too big to be allowed to fail’–instead of ‘how can we unwind reasonably to avoid collapse”? I don’t understand the derivative markets enough–and that is my next question–what would need to happen to cause the derivative markets to start to panic?
 
“My last question has to be how can we position ourselves to gain from these actions? I don’t think its time to buy a farm in Idaho and guns to arm a small army. Eventually the markets will stabilize–maybe with a lot of pain–and as John Templeton proved, times like these can lead to real opportunities. I am trying to understand so I can make good bets at the right time.
 
“I have always tried to do my own research, but there are so many questions that I have which I haven’t seen addressed/asked that I can come to only two possible conclusions: 1) I don’t have the foggiest idea about the implications and inter-workings of our financial system and I need to better educate myself (which is what I am trying to do) or 2) the issue is too huge; no one has any handle on the magnitude of the problem and we are driving blind hoping the road ahead is straight.
 
“I am sorry this is so long–I did not intend it to be–but one question kept leading to another. If it’s too long to answer directly, I fully understand. Maybe a CWA on your thoughts on the implications of the plan.
 
“Thanks,
 
Larry
Wheeling, West Virginia

Larry,

Those are great questions.  I believe 1) that you DO have an “idea about the implications and inter-workings of our financial system,” but also 2) that the issue is too huge–there are too many variables–for anyone to know with confidence what the best solution might be.

Nevertheless, I do have two strong opinions.

First, you should spend as much time as you like learning about the intricacies of our financial system, FDIC, SBA, SIBC, CDOs, MBS and more.  Knowledge is power, and if you enjoy the learning all the better.

Second–and much more critical for you as an investor–you should watch the market, and learn to interpret the messages of the market.  When the market’s message agrees with something you “know” fundamentally, you’ll feel confident acting on that knowledge.  More importantly, when the market’s message CONFLICTS with something you “know” fundamentally, you should trust the market and recognize that it is smarter than you (and me).

Watch the Market

The issue here, and it’s a big one, is that successful investing is not about being wrong or being right, it’s about making money.  And the best way for a growth stock investor to make money is to watch the market very carefully, to understand what its actions reveal about the thinking of the big institutional investors who move the market, and then to act accordingly.

The sad truth about fundamental knowledge, you see, is that it’s only valuable when someone else doesn’t have it.  As a result, everything that’s in today’s news is fairly useless … because many of the big boys knew it before you.  The last guy to act on today’s information is the sucker.

Contrarily, the actions of the market provide a clue about what the big boys are thinking about the future.  This applies to the actions of the major indexes, which are useful in identifying market trends as well as market bottoms and tops.  And it applies to the action of individual stocks.

Consider the market.  Back on July 15, when the SEC announced its protection plan for Fannie Mae (FNM), Freddie Mac (FRE), and 17 banks and brokerage firms, the Dow plunged to a new low for the year, bottoming at 10,732 before closing at 10,963.  And that was the bottom for a couple months; in fact, the Dow rebounded 11% from that low to its early August high.  But on Wednesday September 17, after many more institutions had fallen into trouble, the government announced it would “solve” the problem with a $700 billion takeover.  And the next morning, the Dow undercut that old low–just barely–by falling to 10,404 before closing at 11,020 (above the July close … a good sign).

Technically, that action was a re-test, which is normal action at market bottoms.  But most investors didn’t notice it.  Most were too focused on the headlines … the bad news.  And since then most investors–like the rest of the country–have been too focused on the stories unfolding in New York and Washington, D.C.–and on the presidential campaign trail–to even think of investing.

But the market continues to tell its story, day by day, trade by trade, and the story we read is this:

The worst of the selling has almost certainly passed.  The professionals have been quietly accumulating positions in the stocks they expect to do well in the next market advance.  Homebuilding stocks, for example, reflect substantial buying power; look at Beacon Roofing (BECN).  Select retail stocks look healthy; look at Urban Outfitters (URBN).  And I see a lot of money going into health care, an observation that supports my fundamental belief that health care might power the next big wave of growth in our economy.  Volcano (VOLC) is promising.

Why are these professionals buying?  Well, many of them have to put the money somewhere; most equity mutual funds, for example are expected to be more than 90% invested most of the time.  But more important is that the buyers are looking forward, attempting to discern which stocks will be the winners and losers in the months ahead once the worst of this great financial turmoil becomes history.  Some buyers–like Warren Buffet who purchased Constellation Energy–are confident that they’re getting good value.  And others, like the folks buying Sequenom (SQNM), which I mentioned here last week, are confident that they’re getting in on a great growth story.  The true professionals are focused on their work, recognizing that major market bottoms are an ideal time to acquire great investments

But not the average investor; virtually everyone else is fixated on the problems of our financial institutions.  And this is typical; at market bottoms, fear runs rampant and the last thing the man on the street is thinking about is investing. But that’s when preparation for the next market advance can pay off big-time.

By contrast, no matter how well you understand the intricacies of the problems our representatives in Washington, D.C., are attempting to resolve, there’s scarce opportunity to profit from that knowledge.

In short, spend all the time you want on analyzing the details of this great financial challenge.  But don’t let that activity detract from the work that can truly contribute to your investment success … the analysis and interpretation of the action of the stock market.

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Avoid the Headlines, Find the Next Leaders

Don’t let the headlines distract you. Michael Cintolo isn’t getting sidetracked. Instead he’s busy preparing his watch list of stocks for the next bull market. Mike is the analyst and editor of Cabot Market Letter, which has repeatedly brought subscribers the leaders of every bull market since its inception in 1970.

Mike has guided Cabot Market Letter through the recent stock market storm by using Cabot’s proprietary market timing indicators. Mike’s been advising subscribers to stay largely in cash but he knows the market won’t stay down forever. As it turns around, he’ll be ready with a great list of future bull market leaders. Past winners include:

Crocs – up 307%
Yahoo! – up 316%
XM Satellite – up 396%
Apple – up 746%
Amazon.com – up 1,290%

Click the link below to get on the right side of the market and to start building your list of future leaders today.

http://www.cabot.net/info/cml/cmlim01.aspx?source=wc01

So now, a little more on Sequenom (SQNM), the little company I wrote about last week after it had earned a spot in Cabot Top Ten Report several times in recent months by bucking the broad market’s downtrend.

Sequenom started out as designer and manufacturer of genetic analysis systems … and this business is growing.  The company pulled in revenues of $12.9 million from these systems in the second quarter.  But the big story is that Sequenom has developed a test for Down syndrome that is performed earlier than traditional amniocentesis, that is less invasive (it analyzes a sample of the mother’s blood), and that is extremely accurate.

The size of the amniocentesis market, by the way, is approximately $2 billion!  If Sequenom gets a good part of this market by offering a better test, its revenues could go through the roof.

But it’s still performing tests on patients to prove the test’s accuracy. In the first 201 patients, the company’s test correctly identified all 10 cases of Down syndrome, while recording zero false positives.

Last Monday, I wrote, “The stock has been acting extremely well in the last three months, hovering in the low 20s as the market fell apart.  It’s a very promising pattern.  Short-term, however, the biggest factor is tomorrow’s analyst and investor briefing, in which the company might release information that moves the stock.”

And it did, announcing that of the next 219 patients, the company achieved 100% accuracy with no false positives and no false negatives.  Perfect.  Going on, management said the company expects to test between 3,000 and 5,000 samples before launching the test commercially in the middle of 2009.

And the stock soared, climbing from Tuesday’s close of 20.41 to a high of 29.14 on Thursday.

If you bought before the spike, congratulations; you might want to take some profits here.  Other investors will, and that’s one of the factors that will likely hold the stock below 29 for the next few weeks.

But the long-term profit potential argues for keeping most of your investment, and for looking for buying opportunities in the weeks ahead, perhaps on pullbacks toward 24.

Editor’s Note: Sequenom may not appear here again but it will be mentioned in every issue of Cabot Top Ten Report until Editor Michael Cintolo recommends selling.  If you’re looking for the leaders of the next bull market, I suggest you try a trial subscription to Cabot Top Ten Report.  It brought subscribers Hansen Natural, Crocs, First Solar and many more leaders, and it’s guaranteed to bring you the leaders of the next bull market as well.  To get started with your no-risk trial subscription, simply click the link below.

http://www.cabot.net/info/ctt/cttib01.aspx?source=wc01

Yours in pursuit of wisdom and wealth,

Timothy Lutts
Publisher
Cabot Wealth Advisory

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