Profitable Moves in Lousy Times

It's been a rough few months for the markets. While the Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI) posted a solid gain in October, it still hasn't made up the ground it lost in its hard summertime plunge. Lots of stocks are still near their 52-week lows, and that means lots of portfolio balances are still looking grim. And uncertainties in Europe could send the whole thing spiraling down further.

Meanwhile, it's not like the economy is doing much better. Unemployment remains high, and the sluggishness of indicators like auto sales suggests that even employed consumers are still feeling strapped. It has been three years since the peak of the economic crisis, and we still haven't seen a whole lot of recovery.

But here's the thing: Tough times create some great opportunities.

Using hard times to your advantage
Some of those opportunities aren't hard to see. Adding the stocks of great recession-resistant consumer businesses like PepsiCo (NYS: PEP) or McDonald's (NYS: MCD) to our portfolios will pay off both now and in the long run, thanks to good growth prospects and solid, rising dividends. ­And hard times can create good long-term entry points for everything from recovering auto stocks like Ford (NYS: F) and General Motors (NYS: GM) to pharmaceutical superstars like Johnson & Johnson (NYS: JNJ) .

But there are plenty of opportunities that might be a little less obvious, at least to investing-focused folks like us. For instance, how about trading in your car for a new one? This is a particularly good time to buy a new car if you need one, because there are a few forces at work that could end up saving you thousands of dollars.

First, used cars are at a premium right now. The "Cash for Clunkers" program in 2009 reduced the supply of used cars, meaning there are fewer available today -- and with more cash-strapped households buying used instead of new, demand is high and prices have followed. That means you could see more money for your trade-in.

This is especially true if you own a well-maintained Toyota or Honda, because there's another dynamic at work with those brands. Both had serious inventory shortages in recent months, a consequence of the March tsunami in Japan. Dealers have been buying up good used examples to keep sales going, and that has driven up prices as well.

Not only could you get more for your trade-in right now, but if you're financing, other deals might be available. Interest rates are still low, and this is the time of year when automakers offer extra incentives to help make room for next year's models. (If you're paying cash instead of financing, some of those incentives can be taken as big discounts.) Add it all up, and you could save big on your next ride.

That's just one example. There are others that are even less obvious, but depending on your situation, could be considerably more lucrative.

Some less obvious opportunities
In the new issue of the Fool's Rule Your Retirement newsletter, advisor Robert Brokamp outlines several great financial moves that are made possible by the current tough economic times. Some of them, like the car-buying opportunity I outlined above, might have already occurred to you. But others are surprising -- and taking advantage of just one or two could be worth thousands.

For instance, if you have stocks in a taxable brokerage account that are still down big from what you paid for them, you can sell them and take the loss on your taxes. That can offset other capital gains and as much as $3,000 of your taxable income -- that's an instant $750 in savings right there, if you're in the 25% tax bracket. If your losses are greater than that, you can carry them into next year. And if you want, you can buy the stocks you sold right back, as long as you wait at least 31 days to do so.

Robert's got a bunch of other intriguing and profitable ideas, including a terrific suggestion if you've recently converted a traditional IRA to a Roth (or if you've been thinking of converting one). Rule Your Retirement is a paid service, but you can check out Robert's article -- and everything else in the brand-new issue -- right now with a 30-day trial. Sign-up is completely free and takes just seconds -- simply click here to get started. There's no obligation to subscribe.

At the time thisarticle was published Fool contributor John Rosevear owns shares of Ford and General Motors, but he holds no other position in any company mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Johnson & Johnson, PepsiCo, and Ford. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of General Motors, Ford, PepsiCo, Johnson & Johnson, and McDonald's, as well as creating diagonal call positions in PepsiCo and Johnson & Johnson. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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