This market is not for the meek, but there may be some good buys
To hear the analysts talk, buying opportunities abound in the stock market - but so does fear. Although the market seems to have stabilized in the mid-1,100 range, a number of things appear to be keeping investors on the sidelines. This can be seen in the moderate trading volume the past week.
Eric Miller of the Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette securities firm notes that professional money managers are concerned about the performance of their funds and are taking few risks. Combined with generally poor showings in the final quarter of 1983, performance weakness could show these managers in a bad light with their clients. Slower volume on Wall Street indicates less activity by the professionals, Mr. Miller says.
''Unfortunately most money managers feel they are not judged over the long run but over the short run,'' says Miller, ''and that makes them worry when they have a dead quarter.''
Quite a number of individual investors also appears to have opted for the sidelines, even though blue-chip stocks are cheap compared with the recent past. Miller notes that the assets of money-market funds have been on the increase, showing that a good deal of cash is being held out of the market by individual investors. Yet the recent decline in prices may be bringing many high-quality issues into buying range. The market has lost almost one-third of the gain it posted between its 1982 low and its high earlier this year.
''There's been a lot of sitting on the sidelines,'' Miller says, ''even though I can't find that many people worried about a further decline.''
The Dow Jones industrial average closed Friday at 1,171.48, up 6.38 points for the week. It was the second consecutive up-week after six weeks of declines.
Philip Erlanger of the Advest brokerage of Hartford, Conn., observes that the stock market runs in 41/2-year cycles, with the bullish phase lasting 2 to 21/2 years. By his reckoning, the market is only 15 months into this bullish cycle and still has eight months or so to run. He characterizes the January-February decline as the ''reaction that can occur anytime to the primary bullish trend.''
Mr. Erlanger, too, still detects highly bearish sentiment, but he sees this as good: ''I'd like as much bearish sentiment as possible. The market needs pessimism in order for it to go higher, because the market moves against the majority at risk.''
Wall Street is ''in the process of realigning itself with the primary (bullish) trend,'' he says. ''There are many attractive stocks now.''
Both Erlanger and Miller see blue-chip stocks as being the best buys at present.
''You could do exceptionally well in quality stocks,'' Erlanger says.
''It's a mistake not to be buying some of these,'' says Miller. ''You should welcome quality companies that are at market valuation or at modest premiums.''
One of the hottest corners of the market recently has been the oils. They were the strongest group in January and February. Reasons: intense takeover activity among oil companies; concern about the Iran-Iraq war; greater energy demand due to cold winter weather and to economic growth.
Gulf Oil, in particular, has been extremely active. Its stock is approaching Mesa Petroleum has been attempting to gain control of Gulf in order to restructure it, and the takeover fight has been driving up stock prices.
Gulf has acknowledged talks with several other companies about a merger. Atlantic Richfield is rumored to be arranging $13 billion in bank loans for a ''friendly'' Gulf bid. California Standard has also been mentioned as an interested ''white knight.''
In an odd turnabout, Texaco, which was recently cleared by the federal government to acquire Getty Oil for $10.1 billion, was reported to be the buying target of the Bass brothers of Fort Worth, Texas. Their efforts are being aided by Pennzoil and Getty Oil heir Gordon P. Getty.
The exceptionally heavy takeover activity has prompted some concern that financial fuel is being channeled off into the oil industry, to the detriment of other private-sector needs. There is also concern that this could drive up interest rates.