Fool.com: Confronting Contradictions [Fribble] May 30, 2000

Fribble Confronting Contradictions

By Selena Maranjian (TMF Selena)
May 30, 2000

The Internet is an amazing thing. It seems to offer something new and unusual every day. At one site you can peer into people's homes and watch them sleep (among other things). At another, with the click of your mouse, you can fight hunger. You read that right. Here -- try it:

www.hungersite.com

If you're so inclined, bookmark the site and try to visit it every day. Each day that you click the "Donate Free Food" button, some food will be sent to those who need it. And the marvelous aspect of this is that advertisers are paying for the food! (Consider clicking on and checking out some of them. In cyberspace, many sites are supported by advertising revenues, especially when readers click on interesting ads.)

Think about the Internet and you'll eventually notice an intriguing dichotomy. The Web is full of such nasty stuff -- but such good stuff, too. Is it an evil new development in society, as some people think? Or is it a great boon to humankind? Hmm.... (scratching head)

Unfortunately for me, I seem to go through life usually seeing two sides of each issue. Even in investing, I routinely find myself torn between seemingly contradictory perspectives. For example:

1) Don't waste your time trying to time the market. Always remain invested in stocks.
2) Don't be afraid to stay out of the market, at least partially, for a while. Wait for the fat pitches.

I see the logic in both statements. I can't make myself pick just one to live by. Some more examples:

1) Don't add money to a falling stock position.
2) Dollar cost average, investing regularly in a stock whether it's up or down.

1) Buy and hold forever (or at least for a very long time).
2) Sell when something much better comes along.

1) Let your winners run.
2) Rebalance your portfolio when one or more stocks grow to dominate it.

1) Buy high quality at whatever price you need to.
2) Pay a good price for whatever stock you buy.

See what I mean? I've seen all of these dicta offered as guidance here at the Fool (and elsewhere). I know it must confuse many people. At times, some of these contradictions certainly confound me.

You might wonder whether it means that the Fool doesn't know what it believes. Well, that's the wrong way to look at it, because there is no single, monolithic "The Fool." Instead, the Fool is all of us -- all us staffers and all our readers and community members. There are some points on which most Fools will agree (penny stocks are bad, technical analysis is dubious), but many points on which we differ. Furthermore, scratch the surface of a Fool and you'll likely find that many of us are a little contradictory even within our own attitudes.

I think that's fine. It just means we're complex, and that investing can also be complex. In some situations, buying and holding for decades might work well. In others, it might make sense to sell when something much more promising comes along. I suspect that investors who abide by one of these rules may end up faring as well as others who stick to a different one.

Also playing a part in these contradictions might be learning. The Fooliest of Fools are constantly questioning, examining, thinking, and rethinking. They're continually changing their perceptions of investing, perhaps after making some regrettable moves and pondering how they came to pass.

Here's another frustrating pair of sentences:

1) Investing is easy.
2) Investing is complicated.

I actually think they're both true. For newcomers to Fooldom, we try to get across the message that investing isn't as hard as you think. At least it's not so hard that you should avoid tackling it. We point out simple beginning strategies, such as getting out of debt and investing in index funds. Up to this point, things aren't too complex.

But once you begin studying and selecting stocks on your own, things do get a little more... involved. Do you invest in Rule Maker companies or Rule Breakers -- or neither? When do you buy? When do you sell? What do you look for in a company? There's no simple solution. What's best for one person might not be good for someone else. (But it's probably fair to suggest that no one should be invested solely in Rule Breakers, as that's very risky.)

The most Foolish solution is to do your own due diligence. Read widely. Consider many options. Experiment -- perhaps in a mock portfolio -- for a while. Learning to invest effectively is very much an evolutionary process. Our fearless co-founders David and Tom have been working at it and learning for quite a while (despite their young ages). Their outlooks have evolved into Rule Makers and Rule Breakers. Perhaps in 25 years they will have tweaked their thinking further, and will be managing the Rule Weaver and Rule Stretcher portfolios.

If you're skeptical of Rule Breaking investing, good! Consider it from all angles, feel free to debate it with its supporters and critics on the Rule Breaker discussion board, and perhaps conclude that it's not for you. Instead, you might end up devising an investing methodology that you think is more effective -- at least for you. (If so, share it with us on the discussion boards!) Our portfolios are not meant to be blindly copied, anyway. They're just examples of some investors' thinking, modeling how real people can manage real money. The underlying portfolio strategies contradict each other at times, but that's OK. I think the Fool would be an uninspiring place if we all stuck to one system and never varied.

1) Life is simple: eat, drink, breathe, sleep.
2) Life is complicated: prepare a tax return, study physics, raise children.

Wherever you go, even in investing, there are always contradictions. But that's OK.

Let me close with one last pair of sentences (and a change of topic):

1) Spend every day in jeans or shorts, sitting at a fast computer, chatting with smart people about investing, the latest computer games, your children, or whether it's a pizza-for-lunch day.
2) Be employed by a company where you work hard and make a big difference in the world, helping people take control of their financial futures.

If you think these are mutually exclusive, you're wrong. Come work for us! We're looking for, among many other people, writers and analysts. The best candidates are those who not only have experience evaluating companies in depth, but who also understand and believe in what the Fool is all about. Those who spend a lot of time discussing and analyzing stocks on our discussion boards might give the possibility of working for the Fool some extra consideration -- after all, you'd end up getting paid to do what you do already.

Fool on!

[This Fribble originally ran as a Rule Breaker Portfolio report, on 9-20-99. For more of Selena's musings, check out her Fribble archive. And hey -- consider submitting a Fribble of your own. More details here.]