Confessions of a Stanford Soldier

By now, most Fools have read or heard about federal regulators last week having charged Texas multibillionaire R. Allen Stanford with a "massive" $8 billion fraud involving high-interest-rate certificates of deposit. At the same time, the feds froze Stanford's assets, along with those of three of his companies.

The three companies involved were Stanford International Bank, Stanford Group -- a broker-dealer -- and Stanford Capital Management. So now comes a confession for my Foolish friends: During 2004 and 2005, I worked as an analyst for the Stanford Group, covering large media companies like The New York Times Co. (NYSE: NYT  ) , as well as now television station operator Belo Corp. (NYSE: BLC  ) and newspaper publisher A.H. Belo (NYSE: AHC  ) .  At the time, the latter two companies were one.

But the Stanford gig just didn't feel quite right. First there was the difficulty of giving birth to a new firm in the days when Lehman Bros., Merrill Lynch, and Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS  ) were all still flying high. And then there was the firm's lack of experienced broker-dealer leadership -- except for a savvy research director -- in a business that presents management challenges even at its best. And so, after less than a year, I bid adieu to the Stanford Group. A decision I clearly haven't regretted for a moment.

Is there a lesson in all this for investors? I believe there is. I left the Stanford Group because the association simply didn't feel right. On that day in 2005 when I tendered my resignation, I'd probably have had difficulty defining precisely why I was leaving, and I have no personal knowledge of any wrongdoing, but I clearly knew I was doing the right thing.

Since then, I've looked for the same visceral feelings in the stocks I buy. A given stock can carry an enviable set of metrics, but if a Fool doesn't have that difficult-to-define solid feeling about the business and its management, the company probably isn't the right investment for you.

Just, for instance, despite the pummeling the energy group has taken of late, I continue to feel good about the businesses and managements of ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM  ) and Schlumberger (NYSE: SLB  ) , the leaders of the oil and gas production and services groups, respectively. And because of those good feelings -- along, of course, with a reasonable amount of research -- I'd have few qualms about building positions in the two stocks and then forgetting about them for a good long time

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Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn’t own shares in any of the companies above. He does welcome your questions or comments. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.   


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