Hometown stocks: Do not fall in love

By Bill Gunderson | Jul 25, 2012

People fall in love with their hometown stocks. I see it all the time, both as the host of a financial talk radio show and a wealth manager.

Which is OK, as long as you live in the right hometown.

Seattle (or the Seattle area) is not one of those towns.

Investors who choose their stocks like a favorite sports team also like to make late night calls wondering if it is “time to sell everything.”

The answer: It depends on what you own.

Why would you sell your winners and your losers all at the same time? Not every stock behaves the same during times of market volatility.

Let’s take a look at the ‘buy local’ and ‘sell everything’ strategy in Seattle.

When I examine the portfolios of people from this area, I often see the stocks of some of the best companies in America: Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks, Nordstrom, Costco and Alaska Airlines.

Just because they are great companies does not make them great stocks.

Microsoft, for example, has returned 1.2 percent per year to investors over the last five years. That includes the dividend. If it did not, return on this stock would have been negative.

Compare that to Apple: Last November when Apple was trading at $370, I wrote a column for MarketWatch calling it the cheapest growth stock in America. Today it is selling at $606 and heading, in my opinion, for $1,100.

The other retail homegrown favorites may be better than Mister Softie, but not by much. Nordstrom is up 3 percent a year over the last five years; Costco up 10 percent a year and Amazon is up 24 percent a year over the same period.

But the stocks of these companies are stalling: The price earnings ratio of Amazon, for example is a very expensive 178. Compare that to Apple’s 15.

Amazon is good, but not that good.

My favorite retail stock is Dollar Tree. It has delivered 29 percent a year for five years and, unlike Amazon, shows no sign of slowing. Same with Family Dollar, which has produced 17 percent a year for five years.

Starbucks is returning 16 percent a year for five years, and as long as they keep putting them in funeral homes, well, I guess that is a good sign of life. I have that graded out as one of the top 8 percent of stocks in the country.

My favorite Seattle stock is F5 Networks, which has returned 16 percent a year for five years. Compare that with its major competitor, Cisco, which has been returning negative 11 percent a year for five years and you can see why investors outside of Seattle like it too.

Alaska Airlines is showing the world that airlines can make a profit. That is why I also make that a buy.

The life science stocks have been on fire lately. I like to own stocks that are both performing and still make sense from a value proposition. Biogen is just one, even if the CEO does not pick up his mail here.

In addition to hometown stocks, I also see a lot of portfolios stuffed with big, lumbering stocks of yesterday: GE, Cisco, Intel, HP and, sorry about this: Microsoft.

Now matter how lousy these stocks do in the market, few people will fire a broker for buying the hometown heroes or the big, slow giants.

They are a lot safer for the person recommending them than they are for you.

If you own a lot of lousy, non-performing stocks, then selling everything should have been done a long time ago. If current market conditions are a catalyst to finally get you off of your duff, then by all means, use this opportunity to sell everything and start over.

But there are lots of good stocks out there if you know where to look.

Bill Gunderson is a wealth manager and (new) host of Best Stocks Now, a daily radio show at KKOL in Seattle. He is a regular guest on Fox Business and Bloomberg Radio, and is a featured writer for MarketWatch and Seeking Alpha, two of the bigger stock market news websites.

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