The Right Stocks to Sell Now

06/13/2013 4:00 am EST

Focus: MARKETS

Jim Jubak

Founder and Editor, JubakPicks.com

Risk seems firmly in the off position...so what does that mean for your holdings? MoneyShow's Jim Jubak, also of Jubak's Picks, suggests the first place he'd look to sell and where he's looking to buy when the market swings back.

Global markets have swung to their risk-off posture. The drivers are, as usual, global central banks.

Specifically, traders fear that the Federal Reserve will begin tapering off its $85 billion a month in purchases of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities "soon." (More later on what the market action suggests that traders think "soon" might be.)

And the lack of more stimulus from the Bank of Japan at its meeting yesterday could mean (in investors' nightmares, at least) that the bank might be backing away from its efforts to weaken the yen and bolster Japanese exporters.

As usual in the current central-bank driven market, while the fear driving traders to flee risk and pile into safe havens starts with central banks in the developed economies, the biggest damage is in emerging markets. This actually makes sense-the loose/cheap money policies of global central banks create huge cash flows looking for a home.

One home has been emerging-market equities and bonds. These markets, being relatively small, soar on this flood of cash and quickly become overvalued. When rising fears "encourage" traders to move money back to safe havens such as US Treasuries or the Japanese yen, then the decline in the prices of emerging-market stocks and bonds is large in proportion to the previous booms.

So Thailand's stock market fell 5% on Tuesday. Philippine equities dropped 4.6%. And Indonesian stocks declined 3.5%. Yesterday, Thailand was down another 1.32%, the Philippines was 4.64% lower, and Shanghai had dropped 1.33%.

Before the drops, the Philippine stock market had traded at 20 times projected 2013 earnings and Thai shares sold for 2.5 times book value. By both of these measures, these stocks were more expensive than US equities. The Thai baht, the Philippine peso, and the Indonesian rupiah had all also climbed this year to a level near their 1996 pre-Asian currency crisis highs.

I think we're seeing a lot of trading positions unwind. In the US, we're seeing a sell-off in inflation-protected TIPS. The search for inflation protection had driven real yields on TIPS negative. Now money seems to be moving out of TIPS into things such as Treasuries that suddenly pay a real yield again.

In Japan, we're seeing traders pull the string on at least some of the weak yen/stronger Japanese stocks trade. That unwinding has driven the yen from a low of 103 to the dollar to a high of 95. The yen was trading at 95.68 to the dollar Wednesday night.

The problem is that when trades start to unwind, traders looking for an exit may find the only available exit price is lower than they hoped. They are then left with the option of holding on in hopes of a better exit or taking what they can get today.

When everybody is selling, taking what you can get today seems a good option. Especially when you can't put your finger on a catalyst that might create a market bounce. The Federal Reserve does meet on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week, but it's unlikely that the announcement and press conference on June 19 will offer enough to end the market's fear of a sooner-rather-than-later tapering off of Fed purchases.

Moves on fear like the current one always run to excess. I think you can make a case that the market is already at excess—"soon" for the Fed's tapering off is feared to be July, and the market seems to be pricing in an end to the entire purchasing program and actual interest rate increases in early 2014.

That seems really unlikely. The Fed has repeatedly said it will look for data indicating that the US economy is generating enough jobs to cut unemployment to 6.5% or so. That kind of strength just isn't present in the current data. However, I don't think we've run all the way to excess, even in developed markets.

It's important to remember that moves to excess in emerging markets are more excessive than in developed markets. Brazil, for example, has moved close to what would be bear-market territory—a drop of 20% or more—for a developed market, but in an emerging market I don't think that marks a bottom. (The iShares MSCI Brazil ETF (EWZ) is down 17.5% from its March 8 peak.)

Emerging markets have a history of moves that are twice as violent (my rough rule of thumb) as in developed markets. For example, the Brazilian market fell 30.3% from March 1 to June 28, 2012, before bouncing 15.1% by September 13.

That's unfortunately all too typical of volatility in emerging markets. So what do you do?

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At this point, I think we're looking at further drops in the most exposed/overvalued emerging markets. I'd put Brazil in that group because the economy has deteriorated so markedly in the last six months.

I'd also put Indonesia, Thailand, Turkey, and the Philippines in that group, on valuation and because these markets are historically dependent on cash flows from overseas investors. (Mexico is overvalued, but its economy is so closely linked to the relatively strong growth story in the United States that I think it will escape the worst of the damage to emerging markets.)

Within those markets, I'd look for the biggest damage to take place in the big-cap, high-profile stocks that make up a huge share of the ETF portfolios for these countries.

The downside of ETFs is that because they make moving money in and out so easy, and because the indexes that ETFs are built on are by and large weighted by market cap, selling by overseas investors hits stocks such as Brazil's Vale (VALE) hard. Vale represents 8.5% of the iShares MSCI Brazil ETF. Shares of Vale are down 21.7% from May 8 through yesterday.

In the Philippines, the ADRs of Philippine Long Distance Telephone (PHI) are down 13.7% from May 15 to reach $67.35 yesterday in New York trading. That's a significant drop for a stock with a 4.3% dividend yield.

By contrast, a Brazilian consumer stock such as Natura Cosmeticos (Bovespa: NATU3)—which isn't one of the top 25 holdings of the iShares MSCI Brazil ETF, and that trades in Sao Paulo instead of New York—is down only 6.4% from its May 27 high to yesterday in Sao Paulo.

So what do you do? I think cutting positions in emerging markets—especially the most overvalued and weakest on economic fundamentals—is still advisable. I don't think the risk-off trade is done.

In individual stock holdings in these markets, I'd look to cut positions in stocks with the biggest exposure to the global economy, especially global commodities, and that have the biggest representation in single-country ETFs. I'd look to create a significant cash cushion, so that I can buy into emerging markets when this sell-off has sold off further.

If cutting positions in the emerging-market stocks I've targeted above won't give you enough cash, I'd look to sell a few developed-market stocks that have their own exposure to global export markets. (I'll suggest the kind of stocks that you might think of selling to raise cash in a post tomorrow, using the positions in my Jubak's Picks portfolio as an example.)

Doing this selling will give you some protection from a further sell-off—but the major goal here is to enable you to buy into emerging markets when the drop is over. I'm especially interested in adding Indonesian and Thai food stocks on this drop, since I like everything about their stories except their current prices. (I'll give you some names tomorrow.)

Full disclosure: I don't own shares of any of the companies mentioned in this post in my personal portfolio. When in 2010 I started the mutual fund I manage, Jubak Global Equity Fund, I liquidated all my individual stock holdings and put the money into the fund. The fund may or may not now own positions in any stock mentioned in this post. The fund did own shares of Natura Cosmeticos as of the end of March. For a full list of the stocks in the fund as of the end of March, see the fund's portfolio here.

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