First Quarter Comes to a Close

For me it’s very tough to be disappointed in any way with the market’s performance in the first quarter. I have been pleasantly surprised at how well stocks have acted throughout 2006 thus far. The S&P 500 index rose by 3.7% for the period, even as 10-year bond yields jumped substantially, from 4.40% to 4.85%.

It was an excellent backdrop for stock pickers, and the performance of my 2006 Select List echoes those sentiments. The 10 stock list has posted a gain of 12.2% since the beginning of the year. The group was led by 4 stocks that jumped more than 30% each, including Lionsgate (LGF), the movie studio behind Crash, the Oscar winner for Best Picture.

Heading into the second quarter, my outlook remains as it was on January 1st, cautiously optimistic. I still think we are set for mid-to-high single digit returns on the S&P 500 in 2006. Earnings should continue to be strong, but without multiple expansion, huge gains in the indexes are unlikely. Low double digit gains are not out of the question, but we would need many things to fall into place, including a Fed that stops raising rates soon and oil prices that are subdued. Possible, but not probable in my view.

Given that we got nearly a 4% gain in Q1, I can’t help but think we are overdue for a market correction. We haven’t seen a 10 percent drop in more than 3 years, which is very unusual. Market momentum is very strong here and first quarter earnings reports this month will likely be solid, but as we enter a seasonally weaker period for stocks, I am still expecting a pullback even if it doesn’t seem like the market wants to go down right now.

That said, there are still many individual stocks that are attractive. As share prices have rallied the list of undervalued names has undoubtedly gotten smaller, but values can still be found by those who look hard enough. And I would suggest holding some cash because when a correction comes, the list of bargains will once again expand.

Best of luck to all of you in the second quarter.