To Do in 2004: Join the Crowd

Each turn of the calendar gives us a chance to turn over a new leaf, to grab a rung on the ladder and pretend that the one from the year prior is no longer relevant. What's done is done, and hey, I'm a new person now, so why not?

Bags of ConAgra Foods' (NYSE: CAG  ) David brand sunflower seeds are emblazoned with a motto: "Eat. Spit. Be Happy." I like this almost as much as the home beer brewers' motto: "Relax, grab a homebrew." After seeing the stock market take off based on spending patterns that I believe are ultimately destructive (anyone watching the demand for the dollar drop like a stone?), I'm absolutely certain that the vast majority of investors do not share my sense of foreboding over what the result of all this spending will be.

I'm out of step, I'm not with it. My concern over such antiquated measures as debt levels has caused me to miss out on the party, and darn it, that's got to stop.

I haven't completely missed out on the party. BuyingHome Depot (NYSE: HD  ) at $20 this past January was just too blinking obvious. McDonald's (NYSE: MCD  ) has doubled, ditto White Mountains Insurance (NYSE: WTM  ) and R.J. Reynolds (NYSE: RJR  ) . And little Lakes Entertainment (Nasdaq: LACO  ) ! Ooh la la!

But with the possible exception of Lakes, none of these companies is involved in the really cool, really pie-in-the-sky stuff where the huge returns rolled in. Damn the fact that they're still pie-in-the-sky, just with even more risk. Too many people investing too much money into too many things that are virtually certain to provide too small gains or too substantial losses.

See, there I go again, being Mr. Negative. So, for 2004, I'm going to get in step with everyone else. Here are my resolutions:

1. When someone asks whether I think a company is good, I'll first ask the following: "Has the stock gone up?" Because a rising stock price nearly guarantees that the company is good.

2. I'm going to come up with neato measures that will "prove" the wisdom of my selections. I'm thinking that the "price-to-zip code" ratio might be good. It works like this. Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL  ) is $13 per share. Its zip code is 94065, for a ratio of 0.000138. See how cheap that is? Makes me wonder what those fools holding Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK.A  ) are thinking. They've got a price-to-zip code ratio of 1.23! I'm thinking that price-to-phone number might be even better.

3. If I'm going to get in step with the folks who made the most money in 2003, I've got to talk like I know what I'm doing. This one comes in sub-resolutions:

a) Whenever someone has a negative opinion on a company I hold, I'll immediately accuse them of either being bought off, being short the stock, or -- best of all -- attempting to push it down so they can buy it lower. I have to remind myself that the only reason someone could possibly come to a different conclusion from me is that he actually really likes my company, just at a cheaper price, unless of course he's got an interest in just bashing. I mean, otherwise why bother? Contrary opinions based on dispassionate analysis? Yeah, like that happens.

b) I must learn to communicate in code. The market rewards people who can speak and write using nothing but stock symbols. "I was looking at RIMM, NEM, WEN or MAN, but then the MMs started painting the tape, and then I saw something shiny and it distracted me."

c) I must remember that nearly everything bad that ever happens is due to the MMs. Apparently, this means "market makers." In the event that my stock drops because of an analyst downgrade, then I must see 4a.

d) Everything not described using initials must get another nickname. You're sure to make millions if you refer to the Nasdaq as the "Nazz," or more ambitiously the "Naz-dog." Analysts who downgrade my stock I must call ________ [insert scatological reference here].

5. I've got to remember that a $5 stock is 10 times as expensive as a $0.50 one.

6. The P/E is everything, unless the company doesn't happen to have one, then it's meaningless. At any rate, it makes no sense to look at measures that no one else considers. Debt loads? Whatever, dude! That's why this zip code thing is so brilliant.

7. "Did the stock go up?" Just practicing.

8. Risk assessment is for losers. If China stocks are going up, it's because China's the next big thing. Period. It works this way every time. Those folks warning about poor shareholder protections or speculative excesses or whatever, they're just trying to make the stocks go down so they can buy them at a lower price. See, consistency!

Yessir, I'm all ready for 2004.

Watch what you say, they'll be calling you a radical. Bill Mann holds shares in Berkshire Hathaway, Lakes Entertainment, R.J. Reynolds, McDonald's, and White Mountains. Bill is the editor of Stocks 2004, a collection of The Motley Fool's best stock ideas for the upcoming year.


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