Talk about ironic ... I originally submitted this article to my editor on Aug. 29, after the Dow had fallen "all the way" to 11,500 -- but it never got published.
The plan was to take you back to 1996 -- when the Dow crossed the 6,000 mark for the first time ever -- to a Charlie Rose roundtable that included Jim Cramer and Motley Fool co-founders David and Tom Gardner.
Another crazy call by Cramer
Back then, Cramer argued that the Dow would soar all the way to 7,500 -- despite the fact that it had already more than doubled in just over five years, and that even shares of behemoths like American Express (NYSE: AXP ) and Alcoa (NYSE: AA ) had risen more than 100% from their 1991 lows.
Meanwhile, David and Tom took a much different approach, telling viewers, "We don't care where the market is headed." They explained that they were focused on finding the best eight or nine stocks to grow your wealth over the long haul. Basically, they searched for stocks that:
- Were underfollowed on Wall Street
- Had a net profit margin of at least 10%
- Had earnings and sales growth greater than 25%
- Had insider holdings of 15% or more
I went on to show how, early on, this approach led them to America Online (NYSE: TWX ) and Amazon.com, among others -- not to mention that it landed them on the covers of magazines from Fortune to Newsweek. But I also thought it fair to point out that it was hard not to get rich in that market.
After all, Cramer had been right on the money. The Dow soared to well over 9,000 in 1998 and reached a whopping 11,500 less than two years after that -- which is exactly where it stood on Aug. 29, 2008, when I submitted my article.
Could my timing be any worse?
Sure, we were in the middle of a fierce bear market -- but I pointed out that of the 24 stocks David and Tom recommended to their Stock Advisor subscribers during the last bear market:
- 23 were (or were sold) in positive territory
- Eleven had more than doubled
- Five were up more than 400%
I even added, "I bring this up merely to illustrate that despite what all the talking heads on TV are telling you, you absolutely should be buying great companies right now -- while they are still selling at massive discounts."
I'd almost jokingly insinuated that the Dow could drop to 7,500 ... and then, within six weeks, we were a mere 200 points from seeing it do just that.
And here we are now
In the process, I watched nice double-digit gains in stocks like Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT ) and Intuitive Surgical (Nasdaq: ISRG ) dissolve into gut-wrenching double-digit losses as the panic officially set in.
Now I am left with the same questions that you probably have:
After being so thoroughly humbled by this market, I won't go so far as to suggest that you follow Buffett's lead to be greedy when others are fearful. And I won't even preach what my fellow Fools and I are practicing.
Instead, I'll simply share the advice that Tom Gardner recently gave us at our company-wide "huddle" ...
How you can turn losses into a huge win
Tom pointed out that when things are going well, most of us spend all of our time high-fiving and celebrating, whereas when things go sour, we turn to sulking, worrying, and even panicking.
Meanwhile, when the going gets tough for the toughest, smartest, and most successful people out there, they do something drastically different ... they learn from it. And that's what sets them apart.
Take Benjamin Graham, for example ...
He went bankrupt three separate times as an investor. But each time, he documented and studied his failures, and he was eventually able to impart this investment wisdom to countless others -- including Warren Buffett, who in turn learned from his own mistakes and failures.
Early in Buffett's career, he mistakenly believed he could save a failing textile mill. After being forced to liquidate its textile operations, Buffett learned to pay up for quality and turned that company into a $140 billion legend.
Another great example is Pixar's John Lasseter. After he graduated from college, Disney hired him to captain its Jungle Cruise ride at Disneyland. Later, the company gave him a shot at being an animator, and he quickly recognized the ability of new computer technologies to revolutionize animation.
But Disney was so unimpressed with his first feature that they fired him on the spot. So Lasseter literally went back to the drawing board. After fine-tuning his process, he moved on to the company that would become Pixar, where he's won two Academy Awards and churned out a string of blockbuster hits that included Toy Story, A Bug's Life, and Cars.
Oh, and let's not forget -- he and Steve Jobs later sold Pixar to Disney for a cool $7.4 billion.
Now it's your turn
At the end of August, I never would have imagined that we would see the Dow hit 7,500. But now I know that anything is possible. And if the unthinkable does happen, the best thing we can do is learn from our mistakes so we can make better investments going forward.
I've already learned that companies like Clearwire -- who bleed cash quarter after quarter and are years away from profitability -- may not be the best places for my money, no matter how intriguing their stories are.
I've also learned that I should avoid investing in companies whose business models are a bit too complex for me to fully understand. That's why I recently sold my shares of NYSE Euronext and Goldman Sachs and why I probably won't be buying shares of Bank of America (NYSE: BAC ) or AIG (NYSE: AIG ) anytime soon -- no matter how cheap they get.
Now, I challenge you to use the comment function below to tell all of us what you've learned and how you will use that information to make yourself a better investor.
And if you're interested in what longtime investors like Tom and David Gardner have learned, you can always take a free 30-day trial of their Motley Fool Stock Advisor service -- where you'll get in-depth analysis of every stock they've recommended, including their two top stocks for new money now.
Click here for more information. There is no obligation to subscribe.
This article was first published Oct. 27, 2008. It has been updated.
Austin Edwards owns shares of Clearwire, Caterpillar, and Intuitive Surgical. Amazon is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Intuitive Surgical is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers selection. Amazon.com and Disney are Stock Advisor picks. Disney and American Express are Inside Value recommendations. The Motley Fool owns shares of American Express. Bank of America is a former Income Investor choice. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.