Sometimes they are right in front of you. I am talking about the bargains, the ones created by the hedge funds gone wild and the run up in interest rates -- although the latter doesn't worry me nearly as much as others. It's the former, the trading off the (TVIX) s of the world, that's got me gripped.
Nothing is more front and center in the carnage than the stocks in the Dow Jones Industrial average, all household names that most viewers and readers know and maybe are even itching to get into to take "advantage" of the declines.
So, let's do this. Let's go over the biggest decliners from peak to trough to see if there is anything we want to get started on buying before they come flying back, perhaps like in January 2016, when the market took a huge header, the last selloff before a 10,000 point Dow Jones rally. Don't you wish you bought then? It's every bit as ugly as it is now, maybe worse.
Now, let me say a word about this exercise before we go after the top 10 decliners in the Dow from the top. I do it more to understand what's going on with the market than with an eye to buy unless something really jumps out at me.
I point that out because, in truth, I think that these bigger capitalization stocks are more susceptible to the downside, if only because the hedge funds that are long common stock and short the VIX, and its derivatives (click here for the active ones), the fabled trade that got us in this trouble, will put pressure on all of these stocks until they are done blowing themselves up.
Without further ado, let's start digging.
First is what may be the most problematic industrial of the era: General Electric (GE) . What the heck are we supposed to do with this dog? First, in full disclosure, my charitable trust Action Alerts PLUS owns it, having fallen victim to the wiles of the previous CEO, Jeff Immelt, now the chairman of Athena Health ATHN.
Good luck with that.
Second, let me just say that as burned as I feel, the analyst community is even more enraged.
The negativity here is outrageous and would normally, if the balance sheet were good and the obligations less opaque, lead to a chance at a buy of a real cheap cyclical sock. But who knows what the real obligations are? Certainly not the management.
So, I don't blame anyone for showing scorn on this company. I just want to give new CEO John Flannery a chance even as he has been dealt a real nasty hand of infrastructure, health care, locomotives, turbines and aerospace, kind of an uber busted straight.
The pastiche seemed to make sense when Immelt put it together, but we have discovered that if you overpay for everything as Immelt did, you can't just split the company up. There's too much debt on the balance sheet. If anything, I wish the company had simultaneously eliminated its dividend and sold 100 million shares to raise capital. I believe it would be higher than it is now.
Barring that, GE needs one thing and one thing only to get out of the short-term penalty box: oil going higher. This company benefits tremendously from higher oil and not just because of Baker Hughes, a GE company -- how silly and arrogant is that, who wants to be known as a "GE Company" -- but also because locomotives, turbines and aerospace all package-to-sell better when energy is much higher.
Here's my bottom line: the bears, who have been right, remain bears; until one of them switches, especially Steve Tusa from JP Morgan or John Inch from Deutsche Bank, I say stay away. Oh, and think of the courage Tusa has shown here; JPM would be the natural banker to handle the disposals. Two cheers for him on this one.
The stock of Chevron (CVX) made no sense to me whatsoever when it was at $133 a couple of weeks ago. I mean, for heaven's sakes, what was this stock doing challenging its all-time high of 2014 when oil was about $50 higher?
Then the selloff happened and we realized it was just wrong that it was that high. Here's the problem: down 10% for the year with a 4% yield? Nope: I want it lower and higher, so to speak. Why? Because I have turned on this group, because I think the new breed of money manager has soured on the entire cohort. So I want real immunity if I am going down that path. And because it should never have been so high in the first place.
Third? Intel (INTC) . OK, I am going to say it right now: something is very wrong with the semiconductor stocks if Intel is this low. At 12 times earnings with many different irons in the fire, no longer just the PC but the data center and the connected car, Intel's a buy. The only issue is that Nvidia's (NVDA) been my pick in the group, and I think Nvidia's stock is nowhere near as cheap as Intel's, but it is being kept down by all of this crazy volatility. Nvidia is king; Intel is bishop.
Four is Caterpillar (CAT) , and this is a real difficult one. Caterpillar has become a momentum stock, one that's trading on a presumption that the world is going to get stronger and CAT's going to get leaner. When you hear people say the market went too high too fast, CAT's exhibit A. The stock was at $60 just two years ago. Now it is $145. Yet I reckon it sells for only 16 times earnings.
But here's what worries me about CAT: the chart. When a momentum stock breaks its trajectory and begins to look like it formed a top, there's no stopping the selling. Call me a sideliner on this great debate, as the chartists will pile on to this one, making it even uglier than it is.
I can't recall when I last remember Exxon (XOM) giving you a chance to get in with a 4% yield as it has now. But two comments: one, the fossil fuel intolerance of new portfolio managers and my lack of belief that oil goes above $65 have me on the fence. I think you have to be disciplined on this one; if you have any suspicions, just say no.
I am so sick of watching the unnerving decline of number six, Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) , that I am just front and center saying that this is a very good chance to buy this stock at a discount. Is it the best earnings generator? No, that belongs to AbbVie (ABBV) . But is it the classic portfolio manager's choice? I think it's the second best after AbbVie and certainly better than the seventh biggest decliner in the Dow, Pfizer (PFE) which, to me, has nothing that entices.
Of all the stocks in the Dow, Pfizer has the least of interest to me, because it is neither here nor there and won't be, until it has some fabulous new drugs to boost the price to earnings multiple or it makes a game-changing acquisition.
Oh, while I am at it, can I say that number eight decline Merck (MRK) , doesn't beckon me either. Not enough growth, with a yield of 3.5% that simply isn't enough to fend off the sellers.
How about 3M (MMM) , the ninth on the bedraggled list? Tough: I think the world of the company, but the stock is a little too high versus where I would like to buy it for my charitable trust. That said, I just sat down for a rare interview with CEO Inge Thulin for Mad Money and I came away thinking there's too much new product momentum here to ignore. I bless starting a position right here.
Finally, there's Apple (AAPL) , and what can I say? Apple's stock is down from $180 and it has come back to the mid-$50s, where I said it could go to if it doesn't do everything right on the quarter. It didn't, and now the whole darned evidence seems built on quicksand. All that said? I would buy some here, and then wait until the mid-$140s to buy more.
Why so chary? Because the programs play particular havoc with this stock. My take? It's counterintuitive, but they really whip around the big boys. I say buy some and then wait to see if we get to the $140s to buy more. Will it get there? In this tape, anything's possible as long as the short VIX long common stock trade needs to be unwound.
So, let's see: Intel, JNJ, 3M and Apple all seem attractive right here, and will only get more attractive as the hedge funds that did this VIX nonsense continue to blow out of their stocks as a way to raise capital to meet their ever-burgeoning by the hour obligations.
Remember, there is nothing "wrong" with these stocks, other than they went up too high. That's the chief ailment, and it is being cured by the hour.