Years ago I was a junior sportswriter for a small-town newspaper in Southern California. It was an interesting gig, but I ultimately gave it up because, let's face it, there are only so many ways you can describe the events of a Little League baseball game. And you can only hear how proud Little Johnny's parents are so many times before you go bonkers.
The endless stream of sameness didn't help, either. Seriously, if you think politicians are bad, go spend an hour watching ESPNews and count how many times athletes and coaches use the same exact quote. It might even make for an interesting game:
COACH: "We'll take 'em one day at a time... "
PLAYER: "We'll take 'em one day at a time... "
Everything is a competition
I stuck with the job for a year because in my soul I couldn't deny that I loved sports and competition. Even after I left sports journalism for good, I was still convinced I'd make my living in sports PR. Obviously, that didn't turn out as expected.
But don't think for a second I've lost my taste for combat. Far from it. The very idea of giving the indexes a bloody nose drives my will to invest, which is why, in almost everything I do, I'm looking for an edge over Mr. Market.
The shopping trip that turned into a right hook
Let me explain. Some time ago I was at my local T-Mobile store to replace a mobile phone that had been accidentally dunked in the toilet. (Don't ask.) I ended up with Palm's (Nasdaq: PALM ) Treo 600. But I was also struck by how little uptake there was for Nokia's (NYSE: NOK ) products.
The visit was made more interesting by the fact that the editors at Fool HQ had recently asked if I'd be interested in contributing to a report on blue-chip stocks. They needed a turnaround story. I wondered if Nokia would fit the bill. After running more than a few numbers and reading report after report about the company's global dominance in smartphones, I concluded their poor showing here in the U.S. had made the stock unfairly oversold. So I wrote up my thesis and bought shares. So far, that insight has brought me a return of better than 20% in less than six months. And that's before a 2% + dividend yield.
Improve your jab
Such alertness is, in my experience, the best way to find market-beating stocks. That can mean anything, though. Let's narrow it down to two specific activities:
- Read. This morning (it's Monday as I write this) I picked up a copy of Investor's Business Daily. Page A8 had an interesting story on tech trends that caught on in 2005. But "caught on" in the world of high tech is a very relative term indeed. Contrary to popular wisdom, information technology managers are as conservative and spendthrift a lot as you'll find. This means the minor progress made in so-called Web 2.0 technologies -- which make it possible for websites to behave like desktop applications -- is just that: minor. My guess is it will be many, many years before all the investing profits related to this trend are found and claimed. Yet for investors bent on crushing the market, now's the time to start tracking the firms participating in the uprising -- from stalwarts like Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO ) to riskier young'uns like Keynote (Nasdaq: KEYN ) .
- Browse. My morning surf -- the digital kind, of course -- often takes me to the site of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). That's because the SEC's EDGAR database tracks all required filings for public firms. On this particular morning, I discovered that SpaceDev's (OTC BB: SPDV.OB) president and chief financial officer, Richard Slansky, owns roughly 8.4% of the firm, with most of that coming from 2.1 million vested options. I may increase my position in the stock if he and other members of management continue to tie their own wealth to the firm's future.
Get in the middle of a backyard brawl
But these are just two tools. There's plenty more you can learn to use. After all, there's no point investing in stocks if you aren't going to play to win, and win big. Index funds are simply too cheap and easy.
If you'd like to invest to beat the market, consider a free trial to Motley Fool Stock Advisor. Fool co-founders David and Tom Gardner recommend two stocks each month, and they'll show you the ropes so you can find superior stocks on your own. So far, their competing approaches have delivered: Tom's three-year return is beating the S&P 500 by more than 50 percentage points while David is up on the market by more than 27 percentage points. Care for a ringside seat? It's yours, free for 30 days, just for asking. Besides, isn't it time your portfolio got into fighting shape?
Fool contributor Tim Beyers was huge at Super Punch-Out in the '80s. Today, he settles for the heavy bag in his garage. Tim owns stock in Nokia and SpaceDev. You can find out what else is in his portfolio by checking Tim's Fool profile. Palm is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. The Motley Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy.