Long-term investors like companies with strong fundamentals. In the words of investing guru Warren Buffett, you want to find “a wonderful company at a fair price,” then hold on for the long term as this wonderful company simply executes on its rock-solid business model. Share prices and dividends will eventually follow suit and reward investors for finding the true gems on the market. Most of the 30 stocks in the Dow Jones Industrial Average (Dow Jones Indices:.DJI) fit this description to a “T” and should be suitable vehicles for investors with long time horizons.
The opposite of this ideal long-term holding would be a so-called “story stock” — you know, the kind of stock that sways back and forth like a candle in the wind. The kind whose price can swing dramatically in response to unimportant or irrelevant news items. The kind where solid balance sheets, generous cash flows, and high-quality execution of the core strategy don’t seem to matter.
And you’ll find a few of these on the Dow Jones Industrial Average (Dow Jones Indices:.DJI) as well. That’s no knock on the Dow itself, or on any of the stocks I’m about to discuss. Story stocks are a vital part of the market, and it makes sense to find a few on the most elite of index rosters. The question is: What should a traditional Dow investor do with these often uncomfortable stocks?
Bank of America Corp (NYSE:BAC) has become one surprising example of story-driven investing. The megabank took the 2008 crisis on the chin, nearly wiping out its formerly rock-solid dividend policy. Share prices plunged as the drama developed and remained more than 90% below peak pricing as recently as 2011.
The bank’s shares have soared recently, rising 88% over the last year. You can certainly argue that some of this surge comes from improved fundamentals, but reading financial statements will not tell you the whole story. One major catalyst here is the idea that Bank of America Corp (NYSE:BAC) might be allowed to increase its dividends again after regulators nixed that strategy for half a decade. Yes, the final outcome here rests on Bank of America Corp (NYSE:BAC) getting its fundamental house in order — but one headline could change the entire investment thesis for a ton of investors, and any hint of moving toward a stronger dividend (or not!) will move the stock by several percentage points.
This uncertainty and story-focused action have turned a boring bank stock into the most volatile ticker on the Dow Jones Industrial Average (Dow Jones Indices:.DJI). It sports a five-year beta value of 2.4, far ahead of the market average of one. The Dow’s second- and third-highest beta values belong to Alcoa Inc (NYSE:AA) and Caterpillar Inc. (NYSE:CAT), at 2.1 and 1.9, respectively.
These runners-up follow the same economic trends as Bank of America Corp (NYSE:BAC). When the global economy seems primed for fresh infrastructure investments, Alcoa Inc (NYSE:AA) will supply materials while Caterpillar sells construction machinery to support the building boom. And Bank of America Corp (NYSE:BAC) will pump capital into the same projects. This volatile trio is waiting for the same macro-level catalyst.