For the past few months, as frightened investors have scurried to find something that isn't losing value, numerous writers, pundits and analysts (including yours truly) have advised so-called vice investing. Basically a euphemism for betting one's money on immorality, vice investing runs on the basic premise that, recession or no recession, humans are weak, flawed animals that will ultimately pony up the dough to feed their addictions.
On the surface, vice investing is a pretty sound idea. After all, many vices are directly tied to insecurity and stress. When the market starts going belly up, insecurity increases, and the vices come out. While there is unlimited evidence of this trend, one need look no further than the coy statements that the White House has recently made about President Obama's smoking habit. I can personally attest that it's hard to stay off the cancer sticks when the bill collector is knocking; one can only imagine how hard it is when Wall Street is in the process of self-immolation.
There is even a mutual fund, the Vice Fund, that puts all its money in defense, gaming, alcohol, and smoking. Ideally, if investing in sin stocks was a foolproof idea, the Vice Fund would going crazy right now. However, it is doing somewhat poorly, and is currently down 46% from its 52-week high.
In fact, most of the big sin investments are having a difficult time. Anheuser-Busch Inbev, for example, is currently trading at 25% of its 52-week high, while Altria (nee Philip Morris) is going for 63% of its top price. Even that is better than RJ Reynolds, which is 48% off its high.
Given the ever-increasing taxes on tobacco and the extreme competition in the brewing industry, perhaps some of the losses in those particular vices could be ignored. However, even chocolate addiction isn't proving an effective hedge against the market. Nestle is currently trading at 24% of its top price, and Hershey's, which seems about as strong as they come, is down 25% off its 52-week high.
Maybe we need to redraw the boundaries on vice. After all, while alcohol and tobacco are today's most popular boogeymen, there's no substitute for the classics. Lust, for example, should be a constant seller, which makes it hard to explain why Playboy enterprises is currently selling for 11% of its high price. Even gluttony isn't an absolute hedge: Coke is currently going for 34% off its high price, while PepsiCo is down 37%.
Of course, as horrifying as all these numbers may seem, it is worth noting that almost all the stocks that I just mentioned are outperforming the S&P 500, which is currently down 51% off its top price. Perhaps there's something to vice investing after all.
On the other hand, if you'd rather just avoid the market for the time being, there's always AdultVest, which touts itself as "The world's first and only investment community designed specifically for the adult industry." Pushing direct investment in the sin industry, the fund's CEO, Francis Koenig, claims that his company is up 50% for the year.
As Koenig is incredibly tight-lipped about his fund, it's hard to verify his claim. However, as far as corporate webpages go, his bears a remarkable resemblance to a porn site. Still, if he's up 50% in this market, there might be something to his version of vice investment.
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