Don't Date Supermodels

Let's face it: We all love supermodels. We put them on the cover of Sports Illustrated. And the Victoria's Secret catalog. And about a bazillion calendars. We even gawk at them on Fox's America's Next Top Model TV show. We're obsessed.

There could be thousands of reasons for this, of course. I'll venture one: We want a supermodel-sized lifestyle. Glitz entrances us, even when it comes to our portfolios. Read through our discussion boards sometime if you don't believe me. The love letters you'll find there -- penned to dot-com darlings at the height of the go-go days of 1999 and 2000 -- were positively gushing, like the teen who can't wait to get her hands on the latest Tiger Beat. We wanted the Next Big Thing. And we were willing to pay almost anything to get it.

Wow, you look nice in that swimsuit...
Just how ga-ga were we? Very. Below are a few choice excerpts from the boards of some of the more popular dot-commies. Among the list: Akamai Technologies (Nasdaq: AKAM  ) , CMGI (Nasdaq: CMGI  ) , Cisco (Nasdaq: CSCO  ) , Sun Microsystems (Nasdaq: SUNW  ) , and Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) .

First up is this, posted just days before Akamai's 1999 initial public offering: This is the 'Field of Dreams' business. 'Build it and they will come.' (Hot diggity!)

Next we put on the rose-colored glasses that blinded CMGI investors: I have been telling my friends about CMGI because I like to do nice things for my friends. I believe in the company. I believe investing in it is wise (small 'w'). When they press me for a price projection, I tell them I expect the market capitalization of CMGI to double each year for the next four years. That would result in an $80 billion value in January 2003. (Forget lottery tickets! Buy CMGI!)

There's more. Some stocks even had fan clubs, like Cisco: If you consider that the Internet is the biggest development in the course of the last 100 years, and if you consider that CSCO provides the tools to build that development, then the market cap makes sense. Go CSCO! (Woo hoo! Touchdown! Oh, wait, they're reviewing the play...)

Sun, too: I can't say enough about this company. This company is so well positioned for the future. I'll keep buying on dips. My only regret is I didn't buy more last summer. I believe this stock will grow ten-fold in the next 7- 10 years. (What is Sun's fight song, anyway?)

And, finally, Amazon.com: ...GO AMZN, and good cheer to all the AMZN "true believers!!" (Excelsior!)

To be clear: The vast majority of the posts on our discussion boards are remarkably well reasoned, and most of these were, too. Take the Cisco analysis, for example. The Internet is, indeed, one of the most important developments from the past century. And Cisco did, and still does, play a critical role in the development of it. But such an ironclad analysis can never, in itself, justify a stock price. Valuation always matters.

Are those bonbon wrappers?!
We all woke up to that in 2001 and 2002, and the hangover wasn't pretty. It was as if our sexy stock sirens had bulked up on bonbons overnight. Open wrappers were scattered everywhere. Beauty, it seemed, was only ticker deep. And our reactions were visceral.

One even proclaimed Amazon dead on arrival in late 2001: This year dress the sweater men in black; there'll soon be a wake for amzn. (Do we address the condolences card to Jeff Bezos?)

Many of us blamed ourselves, like this CMGI investor: I subscribed to Individual Investor Magazine for years and kept reading about CMGI, which was on their list of touted stocks for years. I finally bought it, although it seemed high. I needed to have worried -- it never got any higher and kept going down... it was all my fault. The minute I bought it, it started to slide. (So that's what happened! Shame on you!)

And some were just plain angry, like this Cisco critic: Look back at the last few quarter ends when Cisco reported great pro forma fiction (nice pop up) and then look at what the stock price did a couple weeks later (tanked big time). I know, I know, it's different this time, right? (It is?)

Wait, you'll pay me to date you?
Naturally, these and dozens of other affairs like them ended. Badly. We left our lovers faster than cockroaches scatter to cupboards in a suddenly lit kitchen. And, in the aftermath, billions in stock market value was erased. It took time but many of us -- including yours truly-- swallowed our shame, learned from it, and parlayed what cash we had left into stocks we knew wouldn't love us and leave us. We sought stability. We sought safety. We sought dividends.

Today, 386 members of the S&P 500 pay a dividend, up 7% from 351 at the end of 2000. Those of us who've invested in these Steady Eddies -- the likes of which include General Electric (NYSE: GE  ) and construction king Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT  ) -- have profited handsomely. Don't be surprised. S&P 500 dividend payers have hammered the non-payers in the index for more than eight decades now.

And they continue to do so. Research issued earlier this month by Standard & Poor's, the keeper of the namesake index, says payers are up an average of 5.29% vs. 3.81% for non-payers. That's a difference of 1.48%, which sounds small till you realize that this would amount to handsome gains over the course of decades. But we don't even have it that good. The annual gulf between payers and non-payers has averaged 2.7% since 1980.

So take a lesson, Fool. Supermodels always look great -- until they don't. Don't let them love you and leave you with an empty wallet and begging for change. Opt instead for a portfolio mate that wants to date you so bad that she'll pay you. I guarantee that you and your portfolio will be happier for it.

Go on, take the money and run. Take a risk-free trial to Motley Fool Income Investor today and you'll have access to all of the picks and research that have helped chief analyst Mathew Emmert beat the market since inception. And there's never, ever an obligation to buy. (Though if you do, the service has our money-back guarantee, no questions asked.) Amazon.com is aStock Advisorpick.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers still thinks his wife is a supermodel. He's lucky if he gets a date every now and then. Tim owns shares of Akamai, which is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick. You can find out what else is in his portfolio by checking his profile. The Motley Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy.


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