Addicted to Porn

Looking for hot trades? Do you get your tips from CNBC's Fast Money crew? Is Mad Money's wild man Jim Cramer your trading guru? And speaking of trades, did you know that earlier this year, CNBC's Maria Bartiromo, aka the "Money Honey," actually filed to trademark her nickname?

The airwaves are awash with real-time coverage of the markets. I could spend my entire waking life toggling between CNBC, Bloomberg, and now Fox Business News. If I'm watching Squawk on the Street but need to run to the store, no problem! I can catch the broadcast on XM Radio. Off to the gym? Every treadmill at my fitness center has a personal LCD TV attached. I can pace myself to streaming live quotes from the New York Stock Exchange.

The program formats for these business channels feature the same basic routines. They alternate between interviews with fund managers -- "What are you buying in this market?" -- and showdowns between financial pundits on hot topics -- "Are we heading for a recession? Is it time to nibble on financials? Will we get a January rally?"

The phrase "financial porn" was coined in 1998 by Jane Bryant Quinn, the Newsweek contributing editor for personal finance. Almost a decade later, my Google search scored more than 1,500 hits on the phrase. It even has an Investopedia entry, which carries an explicit warning: "Short-term focus by the media on a financial topic can create excitement that does little to help investors make smart, long-term financial decisions, and in many cases clouds investors' decision-making ability."

Monkey see, monkey do
Trading in Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) offers convincing proof that the fast-money fetish has caught on. The company has about 875 million shares outstanding, and according to Nasdaq, the stock trades nearly 20 million shares daily. This means that in the course of one year, the equivalent of the entire share count changed hands nearly six times over. That's about once every 50 market days.

Actually, the trading mania is worse than that. Since long-term investors own some unspecified number of shares, this example significantly understates the issue. Yes, there are still some smart Apple investors with a buy-and-hold strategy, and they were rewarded with a 136% gain over the past 12 months. I wonder how many trigger-happy day traders came anywhere near that return.

During the same 12 months, Radian Group (NYSE: RDN  ) , Akamai Technologies (Nasdaq: AKAM  ) , Sirius Satellite Radio (Nasdaq: SIRI  ) , Rambus (Nasdaq: RMBS  ) , and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) turned over approximately 8, 4, 3+, 3+, and 3 times, respectively. Together with Apple, these stocks had a combined 12-month return of (trumpet fanfare) 12.4%.

In contrast, ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM  ) , which was largely ignored by traders, substantially outperformed the S&P 500 with a 26% return.

Stock

Annual

Turnovers

Market

Days

Total Gain

or (Loss)

Radian Group

7.9

32

(78.2%)

Apple

5.0

50

135.5%

Akamai Technologies

4.0

63

(33.5%)

Sirius Satellite

3.4

73

(13.6%)

Rambus

3.4

72

11.6%

Google

2.9

87

52.6%

ExxonMobil

1.1

226

26.0%

Trailing 12-month data as of 12/28/2007.

The Foolish alternative
If smart investing is one of your 2008 goals, and you share my disdain for the financial porn that is madcap trading, Motley Fool Stock Advisor is for you.

Brothers David and Tom Gardner ignore the fast money guessing game in favor of a long-term strategy based on accurate buy and sell guidelines. Their performance speaks for itself. Since the inception of the service in April 2002, they've outperformed the S&P 500 by 45 percentage points on average.

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Fool contributor Doug Short (TMFDoug) does not own shares of any company mentioned. Akamai is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. The Motley Fool has a strict disclosure policy.


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