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Contra Guys: Finding attractive beaten-down stocks are hard to find right now

Benj recently did his review of all of the stocks on the TSX using Globe Investor’s stock filter tool. He only found three companies that were listed for a decade and had been beaten down in price.

© Mark Blinch / Reuters

What should investors do when market conditions are such that the system they use is less valid? That is what we are facing to some degree now as markets have skyrocketed to record levels. That makes our ability to purchase out-of-favour stocks at enticing valuations much more difficult.

Benj recently did his review of all of the stocks on the TSX using Globe Investor's stock filter tool. Based on his criteria, only three new companies passed the initial screen of having been listed for 10 years and being badly beaten down in price, while having traded at much higher levels for a good part of the preceding decade. Normally, the research unveils 20 to 30 candidates. Evidently, there are slim pickings out there. Worth noting is that we follow up with further screens, which winnows down the playing field further.

This does not mean that the Stock Watch List is devoid of potential acquisitions. There are many enterprises that were previously on the roll, some for only six months or so, but many for years. Alas, numerous previous entries that were once of interest have lost their draw as they increased in price, thereby being deleted from consideration for procurement. Some other corporations have become so woebegone or filed bankruptcy, and therefore no longer attract attention.

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Of course, at various times other systems fall out of favour, or certainly should. For example, we have difficulty fathoming why people would use a buy-and-hold approach for mutual funds and ETF's that focus on particular sectors. At certain points in time, all areas lose their attraction and value. That is why wise investors should consider that when a sector is hot, perhaps it is shrewd to take some money off the table or get out altogether. Think technology in 2000 or oil in 2008 or gold in 2012 or…you get the idea.

The system that we deploy to choose companies is effectively a compilation. Value is at its base and that is in short supply now. But our methodology also includes fundamental and technical analysis, and there are numerous other items on our checklist. Momentum is also a key factor, especially when looking to sell. In our perfect world we will buy a stock under $5 and when it goes above $10, institutional buying will kick in and perhaps the company will join an index that forces buying by mutual funds, ETFs and institutions, shooting the stock price up further. Of course, momentum is a two-edged sword and when stocks swoon, the systems with "mo" as a central ingredient also fall out of favour.

What is the solution for us at this point in time? Since we are very selective in buying and normally do not purchase many positions in a year, cherry picking some beauties from a smaller pool always remains a real possibility. And being at an age where we have done this for decades, we do live by the adage that another "train" will arrive as another downturn is always in the crystal ball, presenting ripe opportunities. At the end of the day, "patience" remains our watchword.

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