Here are the best ways to reap huge returns when stocks are going nowhere

Brian Belski
Brian Belski Bloomberg TV

The fact that stocks are going nowhere does not mean there’s no opportunity.

In a note to clients on Tuesday, BMO chief investment strategist Brian Belski recalled his 2016 outlook note, where he forecast a correction in the S&P 500 to 1,800. It dropped close to that level in February.

Now that the index is above his year-end target of 2,100 — where it was in December — he wrote that the same big themes — uncertainty about the Fed, earnings, and commodities — will continue to dominate markets, keeping stocks range-bound.

Belski’s research found that across all periods since 1990 when the S&P 500 was roughly flat for six months or more, about one-third of the index had double-digit gains.

“We also identified a common theme amongst these stocks: they tend to exhibit growth-at-a-reasonable-price (GARP) properties, with forward P/Es below and forward earnings growth above market levels,” he said.

Here’s more from Belski (emphasis added):

Unfortunately, many investors are not accustomed to this sort of environment, in our view, since market price action has been very “directional” for quite some time. Nonetheless, we caution investors not to confuse our indifference regarding market direction as a recommendation to avoid adding exposure to US stocks. Indeed, our work shows that plenty of “alpha” opportunity exists in these sorts of environments. The trick is to employ a disciplined approach when searching for such opportunities — which is a far cry from the momentum-laden strategies that have seemingly dominated the investment decision making process ever since this cycle began in 2009.

Some of the stocks on his list included Citigroup, Home Depot, and Monsanto.

By quantitative factors, Belski found that low risk, value, and estimated growth delivered the biggest double-digit gains, and an average of at least 5%.

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The best-performing sector with double-digit gains during rangebound markets was energy, with 44.5%.

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