Facebook Twitter

MAKING MONEY HAS BEEN EASY DESPITE TURMOIL OF PAST 6 MONTHS

SHARE MAKING MONEY HAS BEEN EASY DESPITE TURMOIL OF PAST 6 MONTHS

The year is half over. Have you made any money?

If you dig through your portfolio, you might be surprised by what you find. Despite the turmoil in financial markets in the first six months of this year - as investors struggled with alternating inflation-deflation fears - it has actually been tough to lose money, on the average.-The typical growth stock mutual fund, for example, gained 4.2 percent from Dec. 31 to last Friday, as a strong second quarter made up for a weak first quarter.

-A second-quarter rebound also helped push junk bonds to a 2.1 percent average return for the half, as the bonds' high yields compensated at least somewhat for the decline in their principal value.

-The only real losers this year among the most popular investments: gold and silver, down 11.1 percent and 6.1 percent, respectively. But for most people, those are minor components in the investment mix, and they're typically there for insurance only, anyway.

Hold on a sec, though. If you just left your money sitting in a one-year bank certificate of deposit, you earned about 4.2 percent in the first six months (half the 8 percent-plus typical annual yield). That was a no-risk return, yet it was better than what most stock or bond investments earned.

When a CD's return beats the competition like that, a lot of investors start asking a basic question - which is, "Why risk bothering with stocks and/or bonds, when I can do as well or better in plain old cash investments?"

The simple answer to that question is that you may be right in the short term. Continuing economic worries might make the second half of this year a rerun of the first half.

But the mistake that plenty of investors made in the 1980s was to think of cash investments as long-term growth vehicles. They aren't. Over time, stocks and bonds are going to deliver higher returns. If they didn't, some basic capitalist maxims would be invalidated.

Where your long-term investing plan is concerned, cash should be thought of only as a temporary parking place. From there, you can play the game any way you choose. But your eye should always be on putting that money to work in long-term investments just as soon as you're comfortable with the markets.

Right now, Richard Carney of Los Angeles-based money manager Cramblit & Carney isn't very comfortable with stocks. His firm, which runs more than $900 million, has only about 40 percent of that in stocks - "about as low as we've ever gone," Carney says. The rest is in cash and bonds.

In a slow economy, Carney doesn't see the corporate earnings outlook for the rest of 1990 justifying many stocks' current prices. As an example, he says, "We own a lot of Bristol-Myers Squibb. But I don't want to walk out now and buy a lot more at 22 times earnings," which is where the stock is trading vs. 1990 earnings estimates.

Stocks don't necessarily have to go down from here. But they could stall until earnings come back strong, perhaps in 1991. Which means a bank CD might be a fine investment for six more months.

But Roger Engemann, who runs the Pasadena Growth Fund in Southern California and other investment funds (total: $800 million), believes the first-half performance of stocks was just a prelude. Many high-quality companies continue to post healthy earnings despite the economy, he notes. What investors showed in the first half of the year is that they're willing to pay for growth, Engemann says - which was reflected in the chart-busting performance of high-tech stocks.

Engemann favors such longtime growth stocks as Philip Morris, Wal-Mart and Eli Lilly. "Our stock list trades for an average of 17 times this year's earnings (per share)," he says. He's betting that those price-to-earnings multiples are going to expand dramatically in the 1990s, as investors disdain slumping real estate and other investments for stocks. People who wait to buy stocks will lose, Engemann says.

The worriers "will be (doing) that for the next five years as stocks go higher and higher," he says.