STOCK ON WOOD You'd expect hard assets to do well in a down market, so here's a suggestion: 2-by-4s. Companies that harvest trees for lumber are amassing impressive records on the Street. Returns on timber investments were up 4.2% last year, while the S&P sank 9.1%. In the past 30 years, the annual average return on timber was 15.2%, against 13.2% for the S&P 500 index. Behind the strong performance: a resilient home-building sector. If housing stays strong, so will timber. As there's no mutual fund that's a pure play on timber, investors need to seek out specific companies, like Plum Creek Timber (PCL, up 10% this year) or Rayonier (RYN, up 13%).
HOT TIPS Inflation-protected Treasury Securities (TIPS) introduced four years ago were supposed to safeguard a Treasury-bond holder against inflation, which they did, and cut the Treasury's cost of financing, which they didn't. TIPS bonds have a lower interest rate than conventional Treasuries, but TIPS principal is adjusted annually for inflation. Interest is then paid on the higher principal amount. Result: TIPS gained 8.5% a year in the past three years, trouncing the 6.8% return of regular Treasuries. A committee advising the Treasury says TIPS investors got $1.5 billion more than under traditional bonds and recommends ending this program. Consider a buy while the Treasury is mulling it over.
TIPS vs. conventional Treasuries, total percentage return, Dec. 31, 2000-Aug. 30, 2001
Merrill Lynch U.S. Treasury Inflation Link Index 8.51% Merrill Lynch U.S. Treasury Master 5.87%
SOURCE: Merrill Lynch
--By Bernard Baumohl