The terrific bull run of 2013 has just hit my first target from the beginning of the year: S&P 1750. And now we are headed to my revised target from June: 1850 in the first quarter of next year.
But the path will not be a straight line and, more importantly, not all boats will rise with the tide. Many stocks will be mercilessly shorted at these valuations, while select industries and companies will shine bright as institutional investors - those with at least $100 million in assets under management (AUM) - continue to put money to work in their best ideas.
These big money players are often called "the whales" of the market. Below are 5 currents to follow them in -- plus an inside peak at a powerful "whale" strategy I've used for over a year now to more than double the return of the S&P 500.
1) In a Market of Stocks, Winning = Following the Big Money
What drives stocks higher? Earnings growth. Investors buy companies or shares to capture a future stream of growing cash flows at some discount today. Earnings matter as the primary motivation, but really it's the actual buying of a stock that is required to move its price higher as demand outstrips supply.
And who does the kind of buying where demand outstrips supply? Institutions like mutual funds, pension funds, insurance companies, endowments, hedge funds, private equity, and sovereign wealth funds. All these bigger players are also "fed" money by smaller ones like banks, brokerage and independent wealth managers, and family offices.
When you pick a good stock, you are rewarded when what you saw as a growth or value opportunity is slowly (or suddenly) recognized by these "whales" of the investing ocean.
More . . .
Big in-the-know funds and pension plans try hard to keep others from spotting their key moves too soon. They need time to go all in, drive up the prices, and make big profits in any market condition.
Before now, you could only catch early hints of their moves if you had the time, will, and expertise to comb through obscure SEC filings. Today, a Zacks strategy serves them up to you at the first sniff so you can get aboard for the full profit ride. Since inception less than 1-1/2 years ago, this approach has virtually doubled the S&P 500 and gained more than +60%.
2) Go Where No One Has Gone Before
As the whales search for stocks they want to gobble up, they like to do it under the radar. After all, they are spending a lot of time and money researching companies with the best prospects.
So when they decide to take a significant position of 1-20% in a name, they want time to buy their shares before others notice the opportunity they found. And this is especially true with one of their favorite targets: the growing small or mid-cap company.
This is where the earnings growth is to be found. And it's also where the undiscovered opportunities often lie. But as the whales seek to accumulate 500,000, 1 million shares, or sometimes much more, they have to do it slowly over time so they don't attract attention.
I have a way to track some of the best investment opportunities while they are still under accumulation. I'll share it with you in a moment after we cover the other "currents."
3) They Have to Buy, and They Don't Have to Sell
One thing you have to realize about the whales is that they are continuously given money that is earmarked for one thing: buying stocks. In a sense, "they have to buy." It is their job. This is why the bull market is so amazingly strong in the past few years after roaring back from the 2008 meltdown.
Another "secret of Wall Street" is that "they don't have to sell." Often it's not the portfolio manager's money and while year-to-year returns matter to many investors, a lot of the money in their hands has a longer-term focus on finding extraordinary opportunities.
Since I've been running a portfolio this year that tracks institutional buys and sells every day, I've come across some interesting whales with deep focus, lots of cash, and long time horizons.
Of course I see BlackRock and Fidelity just about every day in my screening. But what is often more interesting and rewarding is the names I see that the average investor probably won't recognize: TPG Capital, GTCR, or Baker Brothers, who specialize in biotech with Tisch family money.
4) They Do Deep Homework and Hang On
Since lots of whales do their own research, they get to know companies inside and out. After a starter position of 1-2% of a company they really like, they'll make another trip to visit with the CEO, walk the facilities, and talk to suppliers and customers.
Then they plunk down another 1-2%, what we call the "follow-on" investment. When they break above the 5% mark of ownership in a company, a special SEC document must be filed and that information is made publicly available. I pay close attention every day to those SEC filings and a few others.
And if you think about it, you can see why the whales are true investors and not "swing traders" or even "position traders" with time horizons measured in months. They take significant stakes in companies at early stages because they know that small and mid-cap enterprises are the ones with the biggest growth potential, where they can ride the opportunity to double or triple in value.
We just want to take a piece of that growth trajectory. And we make sure our timing is sound with the Zacks Rank on our side. Whale-sized interest plus earnings momentum is a big win-win.
5) The SEC Data Mountain and Its Secret Money Trail
There are thousands of SEC institutional filings published every month. There is no humanly way to sort through all the 13F, 13D, and 13G filings and find whales to follow. If you took the time to scan over a few forms, your eyes would soon start to glaze over. I think the SEC purposely makes these forms hard to interpret, even cryptic.
The solution is having an automated screen that can receive all the filings from the SEC and then filter and sort all the data into the essentials we want to see: the who, what, when, and how much of every big money acquisition or sale.
We have such a screen and I run it every day, looking to see what the big money is up to. And we also built our screen to match significant buying or selling against the Zacks Rank. This has given us nice winners this year like Zillow, Lions Gate, Conn's, Medivation, Jazz Pharmaceuticals, Triangle Petroleum, Valeant Pharmaceuticals, and Synaptics.
Who's Buying Your Stocks?
But our screen doesn't just spit out stock picks for us. We still have to do our homework once we have some names. I always want to know who the whale is and what he or she is up to. Is it a big-name activist investor like Carl Icahn or Bill Ackman - what are they really after and do we want to be a part of it?
And I also like to know what the size [AUM], overall goals, and investing history is of the whale. Many times I find big "under the radar" private equity players like TPG with excellent research processes and results. Other times I find the smaller institutions like GTCR or Baker Brothers with unique expertise, focus, and remarkable success.
What's always rewarding is when I start to see more than one whale coming to nibble on a stock. Then I know good things are going to happen. In fact, some little whales specialize in following the giants of the market ocean.
Add it all up, and combining our earnings momentum model with "whale watching" is a killer deal.
A Market-Doubling Approach
Of course, you can track those whale investors from their earliest filings if you have the time and resources. If not, our Zacks Follow the Money Trader can do it for you. This strategy monitors a vast, ever-changing database to detect the best trades before funds and plans fully build their positions and before other institutions join in and drive up the prices. Then we filter down those moves even further through our proprietary indicators. Right now, only 7 stocks make the grade as FTM recommendations.
That is how we have virtually doubled the already robust gains of the S&P 500. Since inception May 24, 2012, FTM has boomed more than +60%. Starting today, for a full month, I'm inviting you to see its real-time buys and sells along with those of all other Zacks services for only $1.
In fact, I just added a stock that one of my favorite institutional investors has been quietly nurturing. It recently jumped to a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy) and its Thursday night earnings report was excellent. I am planning to make a bigger move on it after the market opens Monday, so this is a particularly good time to look into this strategy.
Kevin, a Senior Stock Strategist at Zacks, is a recognized authority in global markets and noted for predicting and tracking the movement of smart money. He provides commentary and recommendations for the Zacks Follow the Money Trader.
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.