Last week, USA Today reported that an unbelievable 359 stocks on major exchanges are now below one dollar, up from 222 just two months ago. To put that number in perspective, twenty years ago only 60 stocks on major exchanges were “hat sized,” or trading for fractions of a buck. At the end of 2008, during the worst depths of the financial crisis, there were only 242 sub-$1 stocks:
A few months ago, I wrote about strong insider buying and how it can be a promising sign for a company’s future stock performance. Last week, JPMorgan Chase’s CEO Jamie Dimon paid $26.6M for 500,000 of the company’s shares at $53/share. That’s about as strong as insider buying gets. The news immediately boosted the bank’s stock. It closed yesterday at $58, though it is still down 12 percent YTD versus a 6 percent decline for the S&P 500 and a 16 percent decline for the S&P 500 banking sector (KBE).
To his credit, Dimon has consistently bought large amounts of his company’s stock over the years, and his investments have always turned out well for him. Many analysts believe his latest purchase could signal a bottom for the financial sector. Does that mean investors should follow Dimon into JPM and other bank stocks?
I have my doubts.
With yesterday’s 300-point collapse, the Dow is now down 7.3 percent since January 1st. Other indexes have cratered as well. The smaller company Russell 2000 has shed over 11 percent. In the midst of this carnage, investors are understandably searching for “safe haven” stocks that generate dividends, are inexpensive, and offer less volatility than the overall market. Unfortunately, these ports in the storm are few and far between at the moment. People are looking for any excuse to sell stocks right now, which means anyone looking to buy has to be particularly sensitive to headline risk.
Today no sector faces greater headline risk than the biotechnology and pharmaceutical space, especially companies that have engaged in price gouging. In this toxic environment, names like Valeant, Shire, Vertex, BioMarin, and others are the financial equivalent of the Zika virus.