Friday, May 05, 2006

The Only Bear on the High Seas

I haven’t posted to my blog lately because I've been busy traveling about Europe on the Ninth Forbes Cruise for Investors on Crystal Cruise Lines. Although the cruise began near Rome, I boarded several days later in Lisbon. Lisbon, by the way, is a wonderful city. If you've never been there, I highly recommend it. It isn't very big, the seafood is delicious, and the Gulbenkian Museum has a great collection of Islamic, Egyptian, and Chinese art. It also has many interesting modern pieces and outstanding gardens. From Lisbon we traveled to Bordeaux, an old city with many historic buildings made of limestone. Of course, the surrounding region is famous for its vineyards and wines. We also stopped in Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands. We finally disembarked in Southampton and made our way to London where I am right now.

The cruise was great fun and the investment sessions were educational. Forbes Publisher Rich Karlgaard hosted the event and moderated all the panel discussions. He put together a formidable cast of speakers included Steve Forbes, and Forbes columnists Marilyn Cohen and Ken Fisher. Other speakers included portfolio manager Gottfried Heller, Louis Navellier of Navellier & Associates, Ken Shea of Standard & Poor’s, Forbes senior editor Elizabeth MacDonald, and Josh Wolfe of the Forbes/Wolfe Nanotech Report. I was honored to be included in the group.

Because I boarded late, I didn’t hear all of the talks. However, I was fortunate to see some excellent presentations. Ken Fisher was bullish on the markets, but tried to temper expectations. He pointed out that in this business, beating the benchmarks by just a few percentage points per year is considered outstanding.

Gottfried Heller is an emerging markets specialist, but cautioned against buying individual stocks. Investing in emerging markets can be risky and requires a certain degree of expertise. He recommends emerging market funds instead.

Louis Navellier is a growth stock investor and focused his discussion on that sector. He talked quite a bit about his stock-grading system, which he said is available to all investors on his website.

Josh Wolfe is extremely enthusiastic about nanotechnology. He co-manages a venture capital fund and invests only in non-public firms. He says great technology is necessary, but not sufficient for success. Success also requires a strong management team who can communicate with investors and customers. He believes nanotech stocks will soon have their day.

Marilyn Cohen likes municipal bonds right now. She thinks the spread on junk bonds is too small for the risks. She also likes closed-end municipal bond funds.

My presentation focused on data analysis and investment strategies. I explained that equally smart people can reach different conclusions when studying the same data, and I discussed which investment strategies work best under certain situations.

All of the speakers took part in panel discussions. I was a little surprised, however, to learn during these sessions that I was the only bear in the group. I’m grateful to Rich for pointing out that my stock recommendations have been doing great according to the Hulbert Financial Digest. That’s why he found it odd that I wasn’t more bullish. I explained that I’m getting increasingly concerned about high energy prices. Add to that rising interest rates and the end of the housing boom, and I see no reason to be bullish on stocks right now.

Tonight I will be dining with one of Google's top European executives. As I've explained in the Forbes Growth Investor, I love the company, but consider the stock overpriced.