Depending on how you view things, we either are in heaps of trouble economically or about to emerge from a terrible recession. Personally, I think it's the former. I always like to have a few trades on my watch list to take advantage of possible crises, as uncertainty creates opportunity. So in looking ahead for 2012, I'm looking to exploit other people's woes like the good capitalist I am.
Here are three bets I'd be pretty comfortable researching in greater detail and possibly pull the trigger on:
Bill Gross, of the famed PIMCO funds, has been a bond guy all his life, and he went bearish on bonds earlier this year. Hell froze over. You can see this either as capitulation or an ominous warning. I am very wary of municipal bonds. Our own country's debt crisis has reached all the way down to municipalities.
When it was revealed that the bond insurers did not have nearly the capital necessary to make payouts on defaulted collateralized debt obligations during the mortgage crisis, I lost all faith in bond insurers. To me, there is an equivalent risk and higher reward with preferred stocks. By purchasing a basket in an ETF such as iShares S&P Preferred Stock Index Fund (NYSE:PFF), you give yourself a 7% yield with minimal volatility. Get out if interest rates rise significantly, though.
Underfollowed and under-read fund manager Robert Rodriguez is a genius. He thinks we're headed for more recession next year, and Congress has been inept in its handling of fiscal policy. I agree. He hates bonds right now, except for very short-duration bonds, and so do I. Prices are near a double-top. I think bond prices will get hit next year, so I might short the iShares Barclays 20+ Treasury Bond Fund (NYSE:TLT).
Going hand-in-hand with our economic crisis has been the decline of the dollar. That trend will continue. That means you can short the dollar via PowerShares DB US Dollar Index Bearish (NYSE:UDN).
The real question at hand is this: Why the heck is the market doing so well in the face of really bad economic times? If you read my recent series on the Dow Jones Industrial Average, you know about several Dow stocks that would make for good long-term additions to a portfolio. That is the key to understanding investment in the market going forward - careful individual stock picking. Go with large-caps in general, and only go with small-caps that are directly benefiting from the situation. As for other systemic shocks that might or might not happen, have your trigger finger ready for these possibilities.
I expect some trigger event to knock the market down 20%. Perhaps it will come from Europe. Or, if Obamacare is upheld by the Supreme Court, expect the market to correct significantly. It will be a sign that overreaching regulation and legislation is acceptable to the High Court, and that's bad for business. However, if it is overturned, then go long Health Care SPDR (NYSE:XLV). Likewise, should Obama be re-elected, the market will react badly. So look at ProShares Short S&P 500 (NYSE:SH). If Obama is kicked out and the GOP takes over Congress, I expect a market surge, so you could go long the market with SPDR S&P 500 ETF (NYSE:SPY).
Stay far away from financials. There might be another big shock coming to the system. I am wary of Bank of America's (NYSE:BAC) stability, and certain sources tell me that the bad behavior of bond insurers, reinsurers and investment banks hasn't changed a bit. If you want to make an aggressive bet on this arena, double-short financials via ProShares UltraShort Financials (NYSE:SKF).
Finally, if you really want to bet against improvement in the global economic situation, believe Obama will be re-elected, that Europe will crater, that commodity prices will once again skyrocket, and that the dollar will crash, then you can short the market big-time via ProShares UltraPro Short S&P 500 Index Fund (NASDAQ:SPXU) and ProShares UltraPro Short Nasdaq 100 ETF (NASDAQ:SQQQ). These babies give you 3x leverage on your short bet.
Of course, all of these are highly speculative plays based on highly speculative crises of 2012. As always, do your own research and, for Heaven's sake, use stop-losses.
Lawrence Meyers does not hold a position in any securities mentioned but may have a position in several stocks the ETFs own. Check out InvestorPlace.com's other looks back at 2011 and ahead to 2012 here.