Time to Invest

Early in 2005, I came across a stock with some unbelievable numbers. Revenue was up nearly 40% per year for the past three years. Income had grown 50% over that same time. Return on equity was a robust 27%, and net margins were close to 70%. And it was a major player in the strengthening housing market.

Based on what I knew -- which wasn't much -- I gave this stock 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 we used 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 keeping track of them, and finding new ones, took a lot of time. That kind of thoroughness is what The Motley Fool is all about. When it comes to burning the midnight oil, David and Tom Gardner -- Motley Fool co-founders and lead analysts of the Motley Fool Stock Advisor newsletter -- could give the hedge-fund crowd a run for their collective money.

Hidden risks
The stock, in case you're curious, was Doral Financial, and no, I didn't buy it. And I'm glad I didn't, considering the company has dropped 90% since that time because of some aggressive valuations (since restated) on its mortgage-backed securities and management infighting that a cursory browse on Yahoo! Finance wouldn't have revealed beforehand. But I'm not really here to criticize Doral; it could still rebound.

Regardless, risk exists, and with any investment, it's important to know what you're betting on. No screen or quick peekaboo would have warned you of the current credit market crisis or that problems with subprime loans would cause Washington Mutual (NYSE: WM  ) and First Horizon (NYSE: FHN  ) to cut their dividends. Or that companies as diverse as Pediatrix Medical Group (NYSE: PDX  ) , Sepracor (Nasdaq: SEPR  ) , and Power Integrations (Nasdaq: POWI  ) would get caught up in the options backdating whodunit.

Granted, these risks may all be on the obvious side, but have you ever been burned because you missed a material piece of information? Having the time to do some diligent digging is crucial in avoiding potential blowups.

The "Are you kidding me?" formula
There's more. Years ago, I read a book about theories underlying accounting and financial statements. It spent a lot of pages on a common solvency formula: earnings available to pay fixed charges, divided by those fixed charges. Via several chapters of buildup, it replaced the simple version with a "corrected" formula that made several tweaks to the numerator and denominator. Was it right? Yes -- it eliminated a lot of flaws in the raw accounting numbers. But that accuracy came at the expense of a formula so complex that individual investors would need days to calculate it.

Lack of time tends to pull investors in one of two ways. The first: making futile grasps in a blizzard of information overload. The second: tunnel vision toward stocks you've already researched. Let's face it, either one can burn you.

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. The first is simple: Develop screens and hone your criteria for investments. With 10,000 stocks and a day job, you absolutely have to develop efficient methods for cutting to the ones you're likely to like. Second, spread the load among trusted compatriots. Start an investing club with like-minded investor friends.

If you're still pressed for time, consider a free trial of 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 42 percentage points. You're never far from an investing club of sorts, since 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, 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.

Claiming your free 30-day trial subscription to Stock Advisor won't take long at all. Simply click here.

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

James Early does not own any of the stocks discussed in this article. Washington Mutual and First Horizon are Motley Fool Income Investor recommendations. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy with regard to such interests.


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