News Column

Stock Market Resolutions to Make for 2014

December 29, 2013

By Ken Sweet, Associated Press

The stock market was great in 2013 but be cautious in 2014. (photo: Associated Press)
The stock market was great in 2013 but be cautious in 2014. (photo: Associated Press)

This year was a great year for the average investor, but few market strategists believe that 2014 will be anywhere near as good. The simple strategy of buying U.S. stocks, selling bonds and staying out of international markets isn't going to work as well as it has, they say.

Some of Wall Street's biggest money managers have come up with a few resolutions to help your retirement portfolio have a good year:

Curb expectations

Few investors expected 2013 to be as big as it was. The S&P 500 index is up about 29 percent for the year, its best year since 1997. Including dividends, it's up about 32 percent.

On average, market strategists expect 2014 to be somewhat tame. Most are looking for the S&P 500 to rise to 1,850 to 1,900 points, a gain of just 2 to 4 percent.

Keep your eye on valuation

Investors bid up stock prices to all-time highs this year, despite a mediocre economy and corporate profits that were less than spectacular.

Investors have high expectations for corporate profits next year, based on the prices they are paying.

"It's hard to believe that this market can go much higher from here without some corporate earnings growth," said Bob Doll, chief equity strategist at Nuveen Asset Management.

Profit margins already are at record highs, and corporations spent most of 2013 increasing their earnings by cutting costs or using financial engineering tools such as buying back their own stock.

Earnings at companies in the S&P 500 grew at an 11 percent rate in 2013. The consensus among market strategists is that profit growth will slow to about 8 percent in 2014.

However, if the U.S. economy continues to improve and corporate profit margins expand, it could justify the prices investors have been paying for stocks.

Don't get caught up in the euphoria

Be wary if your neighbor decides to jump head-first into the market next year.

A large number of investors have remained on the sidelines for this five-year bull market. Since the market bottomed in March 2009, investors pulled $430 billion out of stock funds, according to data from Lipper, which supplies mutual fund information, analytical tools and commentary, while putting nearly $1 trillion into bond funds.

Professional market watchers are concerned that many individual investors, trying to play a game of catch-up, might rush into the market with a vengeance next year. The surge of money could cause stocks to jump if investors ignore warnings that the market is getting overvalued.

Wall Street calls this phenomenon a "melt-up." As you can guess, a "melt-up" could lead to a "meltdown," as happened in the late 1990s with the dot-com bubble.

"I fear people, who sat out 2013, will jump in too fast next year and get burned," said Richard Madigan, chief investment officer for JPMor-gan Private Bank.

Which leads us to:

Don't panic, either

Stocks cannot go higher all the time. Bearish investors have been saying for months that stocks are due for a pullback in the near future.

The S&P 500 is up more than 65 percent since the stock market's last major downturn in October 2011. It has been resilient through several scares this year, including the conflict in Syria, the budget crisis and near-breach of the nation's borrowing limit in October.

In their 2014 outlook, Goldman Sachs analysts said that, while the market has been strong, they see a 67 percent chance that stocks will decline 10 percent or more in 2014, which is known as a stock market "correction."

Goldman analysts still expect stocks to end the year modestly higher.

Cut your exposure to bonds

Fixed-income investors had a tough year in 2013. The Barclays Aggregate bond index, a broad composite of thousands of bonds, fell 2 percent.

Investors in long-term bonds were hit even harder, losing 15 percent of their money since the beginning of the year, accordingto comparable bond indexes.

Next year is not looking good for bond investors, either.

The Federal Reserve has started to pull back on its bond-buying economic stimulus program. That means one of the biggest buyers of bonds for the past year will slowly exit the market in 2014.

That doesn't mean investors should avoid bonds altogether, strategists say.

Instead, investors should reorganize their portfolio to focus more on bonds that mature in relatively short periods of time.

The prices of those bonds tend to fluctuate less than those of bonds that take longer to mature, and are less likely to lose value when interest rates rise, as many expect will happen in 2014.

Madigan said that under normal circumstances, he would advise investors to hold bonds that mature in an average of about five years. This measure is referred to as a bond's "duration."

For 2014, Madigan is advising investors to restructure their portfolios to have an average duration of 2 to 2 1/2 years.

Your stock market alternative in 2014 is ... stocks

Other than stocks, the average investor typically has access to three other types of investments: cash, bonds and commodities such as gold.

None are expected to perform better than the stock market next year.

If bonds had a tough 2013, gold investors got punched in the stomach.

Gold is down 28 percent this year and is on its way to its first annual loss since 2000.

Gold is expected to have another tough year in 2014, with inflation under control and the Fed expected to gradually exit the bond market.

Analysts at Barclays Capital expect gold to end 2014 at $1,270 an ounce, about 5 percent higher than where it is today.

Cash is expected to provide a near-zero return next year, as it has for several years now. Savings and money market accounts are returning less than 0.1 percent on average.

Consider studying abroad

Several market strategists believe international stocks will be the place to be next year.

Asian and European stocks did not perform as well as U.S. stocks in 2013, with the notable exception of Japan, where the Nikkei 225 index soared about 58 percent.

Europe is particularly attractive.

Some strategists say that Europe is a couple of years behind the United States in its economic recovery, and stocks could be relatively cheap in comparison.

"The big debate among my team is whether international markets will play catch-up next year," said Madigan of JPMorgan Private Bank.

For more stories on investments and markets, please see HispanicBusiness' Finance Channel

Source: Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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