There are a few similarities between dieting and investing. There are no shortcuts or panaceas to achieving success in either endeavor – they both require plain old hard work. Any winning investment process will have some sort of mechanism to generate new stock ideas, whether done quantitatively through a screening process or more subjectively through other avenues (e.g., conferences, journals, investor contacts, field research, or Investing Caffeine – ha). As many investors would agree, discovering remarkable stock picks is no effortless undertaking. A lot of meaningless rocks need to be turned before a gem can be found, especially in an age of information overload. I believe investing guru Peter Lynch said it best:
“I always thought if you looked at ten companies, you’d find one that’s interesting, if you’d look at 20, you’d find two, or if you look at hundred you’ll find ten. The person that turns over the most rocks wins the game.”
Depending on the duration of your investment time horizon, stock gems can be more abundant in certain time periods relative to others. The shorter the timeframe, the more important timing becomes. Looking at a few major turning points illustrates my point. Although hindsight is 20/20, it is clear now (and for a minority of investors 11 years ago) that the pickings were slim in March 2000 and virtually endless in March 2009 –practically anything purchased then went up in price.
Investing is not a game of certainty, because if it was certain, everyone would be sipping umbrella drinks on their personal islands. Since investing involves a great deal of uncertainty, the name of the game is stacking probabilities in your favor. If you have a repeatable process, you should be able to outperform the markets in the long-run. In the short-run, a good process can have a bad outcome, and a bad process can have a good outcome.
Macro vs. Bottom-Up
Gaining a rough sense of the macro picture can increase the probabilities of success, but more importantly I believe a bottom-up approach (i.e., flipping over lots of stock rocks) is a better approach to raising odds in your favor. The recent volatility and pullback in the market has left a sour taste in investors’ mouths, but great opportunities still abound. That’s the thing about great stocks, they never disappear in bear markets and they eventually flourish – more often when a bull market returns.
Characterizing the macro game as difficult is stating the obvious. Although there are only about two recessions every decade, if you watch CNBC or read the paper, there are probably about 20 or 30 recessions predicted every 10 years. Very few, if any, can profitably time the scarce number of actual recessions, but many lose tons of money from the dozens of false alarms. You’re much better off by following Lynch’s credo: “Assume the market is going nowhere and invest accordingly.”
Land Mine or Gold Mine?
Not everyone believes in the painstaking process of fundamental analysis, but I in fact come from the COFC (Church of Fundamental Research), which firmly believes fundamental research is absolutely necessary in determining whether an investment is a land mine or a gold mine. Others believe that a quantitative black box (see Butter in Bangladesh), or technical analysis (see Astrology or Lob Wedge) can do the trick as a substitute. These strategies may be easier to implement, but as well-known money manager Bill Miller indicated, “This is not a business where ignorance is an asset; the more you work at it, the better you ought to be, other things equal.”
By doing your investment homework on companies, not only will you gain better knowledge of your investment, but you will better understanding of the company. Regardless of your process, I’m convinced any worthwhile strategy requires conviction. If you have loose roots of interest in a stock, the wind will blow you all over the place, and ultimately rip the roots of your flimsy thesis out of the foundation. I contend that most lazy and simplistic processes, such as buying off tips, chasing winners, or letting computers buy stocks might create short-term profits, but these methods do not engender conviction and will eventually lead speculators to the poor house. If simple short-cuts worked so well, I think the secret would have gotten out to the masses by now. Rather than trading off of tips or questionable technical indicators, Peter Lynch advises investors to do their homework and “buy what you know.”
There is no single way of making money in the stock market, but I’m convinced any worthwhile process incorporates a process of pulling weeds and watering new flowers. But to generate a continuous flow of new stock idea gems, which are necessary to win in the investment game, you will need to turn over a lot of stock rocks.
Wade W. Slome is a CFA and CFP® at Sidoxia Capital Management.
Disclosure: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in TROW, or any other security referenced in this article.
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