Your Top Priority When Investing in a Record-High Market

What to Prioritize with Stocks at an All-time HighStocks are going to gyrate around second-quarter earnings, but that’s exactly what this market needs—the corporate bottom line and expectations for the rest of the year.

With so many stocks trading at their all-time record-highs, I view investment risk in equities as being high at this time.

This is actually a tough environment in which to be an investor looking for new positions. There’s not a lot of value around and good businesses have already been bid.

It’s been years now since the stock market was first in need of a material price correction, and the next one will probably come out of nowhere.

It could be a shock from the Federal Reserve, but the central bank has been extremely delicate in how it effects and communicates monetary policy. More likely, stocks will be vulnerable to an unforeseen shock like a geopolitical event or a big derivative trade gone bad.

The risks are out there and stocks are long overdue for a reckoning.

With this in mind, I’m still a fan of the market’s existing winners, especially dividend-paying blue chips. In the absence of a shock, I think they’ll just keep pushing new highs going right into 2015.

3M Company (MMM) is an enterprise worth following and owning as a long-term, income-seeking investor.

The company’s earnings are material and offer good market intelligence, even if you aren’t interested in owning the stock.

The position has tripled in value on the stock market since the beginning of 2009, while also paying some great dividends.

The stock is still strong in the current environment, and the company represents exactly the kind of stocks that institutional investors keep accumulating in an uncertain economic recovery.

3M’s earnings report is a couple of weeks away, but that hasn’t diminished the fervor that investors have for these shares.

The stock is at an all-time record-high of approximately $150.00 per share. It was about $114.00 this time last year, which is a very big move for such a mature Dow Jones stock.

In any case, the position is fully valued, but it can still move nicely higher if it meets or beats Wall Street consensus.

Stocks like 3M aren’t that plentiful, and big investors still want to buy the market’s safest names. (See “Two Steps to a Solid and Profitable Portfolio.”)

Portfolio risk is something that investors often don’t spend enough time on. Equity investors typically want to focus on which stocks to buy/own, but when positions do well like in the case of 3M or another potential holding, overall portfolio risk goes up because weightings get skewed.

There is very little value in the stock market today. There was good value recently in select oil and gas transmission stocks, but it’s virtually gone now, as big investors just bought the yield.

This stock market is one big hold, and I wouldn’t be a buyer of investment-grade companies until they report their quarterly numbers.

Strong risk management should be the core of investment portfolios, especially with stocks, because no matter what the enterprise, equity securities are inherently full of both company-specific and market-related risks.