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Investment Ideas A ‘sure thing’ about investing, BMO’s top stock picks, and an easy portfolio that beat the TSX

I spent a lot of time during my time in the finance industry writing up investing ideas for brokers. We used to joke that you knew you had a great idea when nobody in the audience would read past the headline, whether because it was too contrarian, too boring, or too apparently risky. Uncovering good investment ideas was hard, but finding one that was marketable was even harder.

The Collaborative Fund site described this phenomenon well in a Jan. 8 publication called “Things I’m Pretty Sure About.”

“It is hard to be a good investor and a good investment salesman, because good investing is usually either accepting painful volatility, or avoiding it through dampening diversification. Neither appeals to the emotional part of the brain that marketing targets. What works in marketing – promising something above average and soon – are the two things market gods walk around with sledgehammers trying to destroy. Jason Zweig: ‘The advice that sounds the best in the short run is always the most dangerous in the long run.’ "

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I’ve compared investing strategy to dieting before in the sense that most people know the rules – diversify, avoid risk, eat mostly plants, avoid most food that tastes really good – the challenge is finding the motivation to follow them.

Solid portfolio strategy is also similar to nutrition in that ‘boring is better.’ No matter how you dressed it up for instance, there are few things in life duller than oatmeal, but the human body needs fibre to control cholesterol. Portfolio diversification is similarly yawn-inducing, preventing big gains while protecting against downside risk.

Bacon double cheeseburgers and potato chips are easy to sell to most people and so are stocks with accompanying research reports announcing that the price is set to quadruple in the coming 18 months. In the end, however, the investors who eat their oatmeal usually wind up retiring more comfortably, unexciting as it sounds.

-- Scott Barlow, Globe and Mail market strategist

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Stocks to ponder

MAG Silver Corp. (MAG-T). This stock appears on the positive breakouts list (stocks with positive price momentum). Analysts have positive expectations for the stock with a unanimous buy call and a consensus target price that suggests a potential one-year return of over 86 per cent. A potential near-term catalyst is the announcement of formal development approval for its high-grade silver project located in Mexico with production anticipated to begin in 2020. Headquartered in Vancouver, B.C., the company is an exploration and development silver mining company with a focus on advancing its 44 per cent owned high-grade silver project located in Mexico along with its joint venture partner Fresnillo Plc that owns 56 per cent - its Juanicipio Property. Jennifer Dowty reports (for subscribers).

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Park Lawn Corp. (PLC-T). This security appears on the positive breakouts list (stocks with positive price momentum). The stock price has been steadily firming since late-November. This small-cap dividend stock has a unanimous buy recommendation from nine analysts with an anticipated one-year total return (including the dividend yield) of over 22 per cent. Toronto-based Park Lawn operates businesses including cemeteries, funeral homes and crematoria in five Canadian provinces and 12 U.S. states. Industry fundamentals are positive with high barriers to entry given zoning and permitting requirements. In addition, demographics, with an aging population, acts as a long-term tailwind. Jennifer Dowty reports (for subscribers).

The Rundown

This chart may have you believing in the latest market rally

The U.S. economy and equity markets are in the process of proving a significant dependence on central banks and loose monetary policy for growth. The trend, if confirmed, has substantial implications for North American growth and investment portfolios. Scott Barlow looks at a chart that highlights the close relationship between the postcrisis equity market rally and easy-money credit conditions. (For subscribers).

What portfolio manager Andrea Horan is buying, shorting and thinking about markets

While some investors are calling for a recession in the not-too-distant future, Agilith Capital Inc. portfolio manager Andrea Horan doesn’t see it. Ms. Horan expects growth to slow but believes there’s “significant mis-pricing” in the market. “We’ve seen a shoot first, ask questions later approach,” Ms. Horan says. “The bad news is obvious, it killed our performance in the fourth quarter. The good news is that it presents all sorts of investment opportunities.” Brenda Bouw talked with Ms. Horan to find out whay she is buying, shorting and find out her thoughts about the markets right now (for subscribers).

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Analysts cast a skeptical eye on earnings season about to begin in Canada and the U.S.

With quarterly earnings season set to begin in earnest, the outlook for corporate profit growth has suddenly weakened. Amid signs that the global economy could slip into a synchronized slowdown, earnings estimates for 2018′s fourth quarter and for 2019 have been revised down sharply in recent weeks, raising doubts over one of the market’s key sources of strength. Several large U.S. banks will release their fourth-quarter earnings this week, and markets will be looking for growth signals in financial results and in management comments about the year ahead. Tim Shufelt reports (for subscribers).

Canada’s big pot ETF gets only a few tweaks despite makeover to index it tracks

Big changes in the components of the leading pot-stock index have resulted in only a few tweaks to the leading cannabis exchange-traded fund, as its manager has decided not to sell the shares of several small companies that swooned last year. In a quarterly rebalancing, the German firm Solactive has cut 12 stocks from its North American Marijuana Index, the basis for TSX-listed Horizons Marijuana Life Sciences Index ETF. While Solactive doesn’t comment on specific changes, the stocks seemed to have dropped below Solactive’s minimum market-capitalization threshold of $67.5-million in recent weeks. The deletions, offset by five additions, took the index from 61 companies down to 54. David Milstead reports (for subscribers).

This is a stock market rally to rent, not own

Stocks issuing earnings warnings, a bear market in copper and steel, and yield spreads are giving mixed signals. None of this means that this tradeable equity rally has to run out of steam, says David Rosenberg, but it does mean this is a rally for traders to rent, and not for investors to own. Read Mr. Rosenberg’s view (for subscribers).

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This quick and simple portfolio continues to put TSX Composite returns to shame

A thought for investors who are unnerved by the Canadian stock market’s terrible 2018: Play strong defence in your portfolio and let the offence take care of itself. This strategy is brought to you by the Two-Minute Portfolio, which once again outperformed the S&P/TSX Composite Index in a bad year for Canadian stocks. The index lost 8.9 per cent on a total return basis (dividends plus share-price changes), while the 2MP fell 1.7 per cent. The 2MP is a continuing experiment in bringing quick and simple portfolio-building with individual Canadian stocks as opposed to funds. Just buy the two largest dividend-paying stocks as measured by market capitalization (shares outstanding multiplied by share price) in each of the 11 subindexes of the Canadian market. Rebalance annually at the start of the year to discard any stocks that no longer qualify and add newcomers. Rob Carrick takes a look at the 2MP’s performance (for subscribers).

Cannabis boom masked a shift in Canaccord’s wealth management business

The cannabis boom in capital markets has been a blessing and a curse for investment bank Canaccord Genuity Group Inc. The upside of the two-year bull market in pot stocks that came ahead of the legalization of recreational marijuana in Canada is obvious. Canaccord chief executive officer Dan Daviau and his team saw the potential for financing an emerging industry three years before the federal Liberal government pushed through legislation to legalize recreational use – devoting investment bankers, traders and analysts to the sector. Bay Street’s favourite topic of conversation over drinks is how much Canaccord executives are personally making off cannabis plays. Best guesses run to tens of millions. The downside for Canaccord is that the once-in-a-lifetime run for cannabis companies masked a shift in the structure of its business. While everyone was talking about the next hot pot stock, a slow but steady expansion of Canaccord’s wealth management businesses that also began three years ago started to show up in the company’s financial results. Andrew Willis reports (for subscribers).

More than 50 companies poised to go public, CSE says

There are 55 companies preparing to go public on the Canadian Securities Exchange, a market for upstart companies that has become a popular listing venue for U.S. cannabis companies. The companies, which have publicly disclosed their intentions to list on the CSE, are all in various stages of the process, said Richard Carleton, the exchange’s chief executive. The anticipated listings come at a time when rising interest rates, political turmoil and fears of slowing global economic growth have led to stock market volatility. Market turbulence can often cause companies to put their go-public plans on ice. Alexandra Posadzki reports (for subscribers).

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Others (for subscribers)

Portfolio manager optimism on economic growth and profits has ‘crashed’: Merrill Lynch

BMO reveals its 24 top Canadian stock picks for 2019

Three reasons gold may be about to run with the bulls

Fund managers neutral on crude and fuel outlook

How companies like Apple sprinkle secrets in earnings reports

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After a market swoon, investors are seeking safety

U.S. healthcare stocks seen maintaining momentum after strong 2018

Anonymous trader’s bet on S&P 500 recalls Warren Buffett’s wager, causes flap on options market

U.S. steel prices and stocks are in a deep slump despite Trump’s claims of revival

Canadian ETFs: December’s launches and terminations

Tuesday’s Insider Report: CEO and CFO pile into this rising dividend stock

Monday’s Insider Report: CEO and chairman pocket over $9-million as this stock’s price soars

Tuesday’s analyst upgrades and downgrades

Monday’s analyst upgrades and downgrades

Others (for everyone)

The Globe’s stars and dogs for last week

Jana liquidates two hedge funds, to focus only on activism

Ask Globe Investor

Question: I have a $1.5-million portfolio, with nearly 60 per cent in cash, bonds and guaranteed investment certificates, about 35 per cent in stocks and the rest in gold. I realize this is super-conservative, but I have been in this holding pattern for the past two years or so as I have been anticipating a significant market downturn before I feel comfortable investing in additional new stocks. In the short term, I will likely accept low rates on interest-bearing investments rather than risk losing capital by investing in the current market. I’m about five to 10 years away from retirement. What are your thoughts?

Answer: You said you’re waiting for a “significant market downturn” before you invest, but – news flash! – we just had one: The S&P/TSX Composite’s 11.6-per-cent slide in 2018 was the biggest drop for the benchmark index since 2008, when it plunged 35 per cent.

Here’s another stat for you: Over the past 30 years, the index has fallen 10 times, and in all but one case it rebounded the next year. I’m not saying that the index will definitely rise in 2019 (although we’re off to a good start), but I believe that investors who wait for the perfect entry point – and you’ve been waiting for two years – risk missing out. What if the severe sell-off you’re expecting doesn’t come? Or what if it does come? Will you have the stomach to buy stocks when everyone else is panicking, the economy is in recession and markets are plummeting? It sounds good in theory, but in practice, it might be more difficult than you think.

Regardless of what your gut is telling you, the truth is that nobody knows what the market will do this year or next year. All we can say is that stock prices tend to rise over the long run, with occasional setbacks that range from mild to severe. Learning to live with these setbacks – instead of trying to avoid them – is one of the most important things an investor can do. Volatility is the price investors pay for the superior long-term returns that stocks deliver compared with bonds and GICs. I’ve found that an effective way to cope with turbulent markets is to invest in high-quality dividend stocks, which pay you whether prices are rising, falling or going sideways. And remember: If a company’s sales, earnings and dividends are growing, the share price will also rise over the long run. (See my model Yield Hog Dividend Growth Portfolio for examples of high-quality dividend stocks).

While you seem to be focused primarily on avoiding capital loss, as someone nearing retirement you should also consider the benefits of increasing your exposure to equities: A diversified portfolio of banks, pipelines, utilities, consumer stocks and other dividend-paying equities will generally provide a higher yield than bonds, cash or GICs. And, because many such companies raise their dividends annually, your income stream will grow in retirement, countering the effects of inflation. That’s not the case with interest-bearing securities (that’s why they’re called “fixed” income). I’m not suggesting that you should sell all of your fixed-income holdings – the stability they provide has value – but shifting a portion to stocks would seem to be a prudent move.

--John Heinzl

Do you have a question for Globe Investor? Send it our way via this form. Questions and answers will be edited for length.

What’s up in the days ahead

Manulife and Power Financial may offer juicy dividends, but their share prices have been chronic underperformers. David Berman takes a look at what may change that.

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Compiled by Gillian Livingston

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