Searching For Sustained Growth

Searching For Sustained Growth

As the U.S. economy attempts to recover from hurricane damage and economic doldrums, Randell Cain Jr. is playing it safe. As a principal and portfolio manager at Atlanta Life Investment Advisors, an institutional money management firm, Cain sees how investor concerns have been heightened by the stagnating effects of rising interest rates and higher energy prices, which have exhausted the operating expenses of many companies. And the devastating effects of hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma haven’t helped matters.

Cain believes that, under the current circumstances, the best strategy is to identify individual stocks that can withstand a downturn on their own merits. He is targeting companies in the oil industry and the housing market — sectors that have been experiencing growth for some time and still have more room to grow. His goal is “to create portfolios that will give us a better-than-average chance at achieving outperformance.”

Atlanta Life Investment Advisors manages $470 million for pension funds and institutional clients in the public and private sectors. Cain, who is responsible for the large-cap value strategy at Atlanta Life, says the economy will experience moderate growth over the next 12 to 18 months. He is betting that his five stock picks will capitalize on that growth.

His first selection is Marathon Oil Corp. (NYSE: MRO), a firm that explores, produces, markets, and transports crude oil, natural gas, and petroleum products. “Marathon will benefit from the higher commodity price of oil as well as the continued restructuring of its financials,” predicts Cain.

Owens-Illinois Inc. (NYSE: OI) is a stock that has recently suffered from high production costs, but Cain thinks the setback is temporary. He sees Owens-Illinois, which manufactures glass containers and plastic packaging products, as a stock with long-term growth opportunities. “The company has a high percentage of costs that are associated with energy-related products, and earnings have been hit with a near-term setback,” Cain explains. But “the company has challenges that we think will be mitigated over time, making the most recent pullback a good entry point.”

On the housing front, two companies are riding the wave of their sector’s strength: Countrywide Financial Corp. (NYSE: CFC), which provides residential mortgage banking and related services, and NVR Inc. (AMEX: NVR), a home building and mortgage banking business. According to Cain, Countrywide continues to be one of the leading mortgage lenders in the country, keeping a high percentage of loans on its books. Cain says he likes NVR’s shareholder-friendly policies, including its aggressive buying back of shares, which gives investors a higher return on equity. “Both Countrywide and NVR are benefiting from the continuing low mortgage rates, improving demographics, and positive business dynamics associated with land restrictions on local builders,” Cain says.

The final stock in Cain’s portfolio is Altria Group Inc. (NYSE: MO), formerly known as Philip Morris Cos. Inc. The company manufactures and markets various consumer products, including cigarettes, snacks, beverages, and convenience meals. Cain says consumers in the U.S. and oversees will continue to purchase Altria’s well-known products even in the face of tobacco litigation