Market strategy now: aim for quality

By , Staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Moving into the 14th month of its rally, the stock market is undergoing a structural shift in emphasis from its high-growth, high-profit days to steadier appreciation.

At least that's what market analysts are saying. With concern over the nation's money supply and interest rates abating, these analysts are cautiously optimistic about a continuation of the rally well into 1984. At present, the Dow Jones industrial average, near its all-time high, has been alternately sliding and climbing. Last week, this average closed at 1,233.13, down 22.46 points.

Some of the larger brokerage firms have been noting that the market downturns are brief and serve as opportunities to buy quality securities at lower prices.

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Citicorp economist Peter Crawford, looking at the US economy, sees declining interest rates, increasing inflation, and decreasing unemployment lasting into 1984. Mr. Crawford is concerned, however, that in late 1985 and '86 there could be a recession because of a need to tame inflation once again. He therefore counsels ''prudent hedge strategies in managing both portfolios and financial assets and portfolios of brick and mortar.''

That emphasis on quality in stocks is echoed by other economists and analysts.

The best performance in the next few years will be in the high-grade stocks of the large workhorse companies, which can ''come through with consistent gains in earnings in what we expect to be a climate of steady economic gains and moderate inflation,''says Anna Merjos, Merrill Lynch securities research division vice-president. These companies typically hold lead positions in their markets, are well managed, and lately have concentrated on increasing productivity and paring costs.

Institutional investors the past several weeks have produced ''disproportionate strength in the quality segment of the market,'' notes analyst Newton D. Zinder at E. F. Hutton & Co.

The emphasis on quality in stocks does not necessarily carry with it a belief that the stock market is going to rocket ahead. Joseph A. Feshbach of Prudential-Bache expects continued rotational corrections in the market and says this will keep movement of the Dow Jones industrial average relatively moderate. Energy-sector and basic-industry stocks should remain relatively strong at present. The first year of the bull market saw an emphasis on speculative, new-issue stocks, especially in high-tech companies. But these have suffered major setbacks due to a computer shakeout.

''Because technology was the most overexploited area in the first phase of the bull market, this sector demands extreme selectivity,'' Feshbach says.'' He looks to such stalwarts as IBM and Hewlett-Packard.

At Kidder, Peabody & Co., Richard R. Schmaltz, chairman of his firm's stock selection committee, has this as his primary criterion for portfolio building in the coming weeks: Companies must be the biggest and best and must be capable of reshaping their respective markets. Kidder, Peabody is putting the most emphasis on consumer services, technology, and health care.

So, while market analysts have a fundamental faith in the strength of the market, they are not notably aggressive in their recommendations. High-capitalization, high-value stocks are best, they seem to be saying.

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