Wednesday, July 28, 1999

Playing "What If?"



I stared blankly, mouth open, brain scrambling to comprehend the number in front of me. I have had a brokerage account for almost three years, trying to build a little financial security for my future retirement. I had paid attention to the Wise, and tried to build a portfolio on my own, following their various nuggets of advice. Diversification. Mutual funds with good track records. Market timing. Hot stock advice focusing on the next three months of growth. I saved $10,000 to start out on this great adventure, and was hopeful about my chances.

Three years later, and, consistent with the warnings of the Wise, my "future performance" has not equaled the past results of the so-called experts. The equity has changed very little in my securities account during that time period.

The number above? That's what I would have now if 14 months ago I took my ten thousand and invested equal values in Microsoft, Amazon, Yahoo! and AOL.

Of course, I say to myself, it's too easy to play "what if?" Hindsight is 20/20. You're not a fortuneteller, you're an investor. Blah, blah, blah. Still, the number mocks my ineptitude as an investor, while it sits there on my monitor. Was it really unforeseeable that these four companies would do so well? All of them were well established by May '98. Bezos was written up in every major financial during that spring. Despite the threat of the antitrust suit, Gates's machine was still humming along. The market share of AOL over the other ISPs was dominant. Other people managed to grab on for the ride. How could I have missed the boat?

Sadistically, I start tinkering with the numbers, figuring out how my life would be had I struck the mother lode. If I had cashed out 40% in October, I could have owned my town home. Heck, I could have bought a single-family home. My wife's loans would have been paid off, I could have gone back to school, I could have gotten the New Maxima I had always wanted.

I finally catch myself. "Snap out of it, man. Money isn't everything -- it's just a thing to get other nice things with. You got a lot of good stuff in life already, though, so count your blessings. Think of your new wife, your good friends, your health, your brains. So what if you haven't got a lick of investor savvy? You got a lot."

After chastising myself, I settle back down, a lot more humble and a little more content. Of course, if I had just given Jill an IOU for the engagement ring, and bought Cisco instead...

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