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Time to Invest

Last year, I found a stock with some unbelievable numbers. Sales looked good. Income had doubled. Return on equity was out of control (in a good way). This company was a player in the growing personal media-player market. Its name? PortalPlayer.

Based on what I knew about the company -- which admittedly wasn't much -- I gave it a lot of consideration, but did I pull the trigger?

First, let me say that even thinking about making an investment without weeks of research is alien to me. I come from a value-focused hedge fund. We had all day to analyze stocks, and believe me when I say we used every minute of it, often burning the midnight oil. Hedge funds have a reputation as the gunslingers of the market, but I assure you, mine was anything but. We held just a handful of stocks, and we knew them cold. But we had to find new stocks, too -- and it all took a lot of time.

Being thorough is what The Motley Fool is all about. When it comes to burning the midnight oil, brothers David and Tom Gardner -- Motley Fool co-founders and lead analysts of the Motley Fool Stock Advisor newsletter service -- could give the hedge-fund crowd a run for their collective money.

Hidden risks
Back to the burning question: No, I didn't buy PortalPlayer stock. And I'm glad I didn't, considering that the company dropped more than 40% of its value after Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) announced that it wouldn't be using PortalPlayer's chips in its new iPods -- a crushing event that a cursory browse on Yahoo! Finance wouldn't have revealed beforehand. And while PortalPlayer was acquired by NVIDIA (Nasdaq: NVDA  ) in January, investors who bought high would not have recouped anything near their original purchase price.

Risk exists in any investment, and with these investments, it's important to know what you're betting on. No screen or quick peekaboo would alert you to the options backdating turmoil that would ensnare firms as diverse as Apollo Group (Nasdaq: APOL  ) , Juniper Networks (Nasdaq: JNPR  ) , Sycamore Networks (Nasdaq: SCMR  ) , and Sanmina-SCI (Nasdaq: SANM  ) .

Granted, these risks may or may not be worth worrying about, but have you ever been burned because you missed a key piece of information? Having the time to do some diligent digging is crucial in avoiding potential blowups.

The "Are you kidding me?" formula
Years ago, I read a book about theories underlying accounting and financial statements. The book devoted a lot of time (and pages) to a common solvency formula: earnings available to pay fixed charges, divided by those fixed charges. The book eventually replaced this simple formula with a "corrected" formula that made several tweaks to the numerator and denominator. Was the formula right? Yes -- and it eliminated a lot of flaws in the raw accounting numbers. That accuracy came at a price. The new formula was so complex that individual investors would need to spend days calculating it.

Time is fleeting. And the lack of time tends to pull investors in one of two ways. We'll make futile grasps in a blizzard of information overload. Or we'll focus solely on stocks we've already researched. Either way, we can get burned.

Having time troubles with your investing?
The best investment you can make is an investment in your time management. And I've got ideas for you. First, develop screens and hone your criteria for investments. With 10,000 stocks and a day job, you absolutely have to develop efficient methods for finding the ones you're likely to snatch up. Second, spread the load among trusted compatriots. Start an investing club with like-minded -- and able -- investor friends.

If you're still pressed for time, consider a free trial to Motley Fool Stock Advisor. The harried will like that two stock recommendations come floating their way every month, while the detail-oriented will appreciate the investment theses, complete with counterpoints, provided behind each selection. To date, David and Tom's picks are beating the market by an average of almost 40 percentage points. Hands-on or hands-off, it's your choice. And you're never far from an investing club of sorts, since a Stock Advisor membership comes with access to exclusive discussion boards, where members can share thoughts, insights, and questions without the plague of profane and inane comments typical of boards elsewhere.

Even if you don't sign up for the newsletter (although you can at least take a no-obligation, 30-day trial), I suggest you take a few moments to think about how time has affected your investing. If the answer is "negatively," consider taking some sort of action to get a better handle on your future. Investing is a critically important task -- one that shouldn't get neglected as often as it does.

This article was originally published on Feb. 23, 2005. It has been updated.

James Early does not own any of the stocks discussed in this article. Yahoo! and NVIDIA are Stock Advisor recommendations. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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