How One Stock Changes Everything

Where were you in August 1994, and what were you doing? When I tell you where I was, you won't believe it (scroll down to the end of this article for that gem).

You were at least buying stocks, right?
I wasn't. I sure wasn't gambling $1,800 on a company you'd never heard of. But somebody was, and he was about to make a lot of money. I know this for two reasons.

First, that one trade made this guy a legend. Second, this Fool shouted his intentions before he went long, then tracked his returns online for the world to see.

Five years later, his split-adjusted 46-cent shares crested atop $50. Before you could say "Mad Money," Money.com dubbed him "among the most widely followed stock market advisors in the world," and his $1,800 stake ballooned to $190,000.

Yes, you read that right
That stock was America Online -- and the advisor was Motley Fool co-founder David Gardner. Granted, we were in a massive bull market -- before the disastrous merger with Time Warner (NYSE: TWX  ) -- but David saw a first-mover in the emerging Internet industry that was poised to change the way we interacted online. Yes, the stock has been pounded since, but one thing may surprise you.

David's AOL investment is still up. Way up. If you'd bought AOL with him, you'd be up 4,582%. If you foresaw the digitalization of our society and bought another future tech titan like Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) or Applied Materials (Nasdaq: AMAT  ) instead, you'd be up 987% or 573%.

Even if you rolled the dice on beleaguered Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) or Corning (Nasdaq: GLW  ) , a glass company held up as a poster child for the tech stock bubble, you'd be up triple digits -- ahead of what you'd expect from non-equity investments.

I'm shocked, shocked to hear ...
Maybe that doesn't surprise you, but it surprised me. In fact, it has me revisiting two long-held beliefs. The first brought an affirmation, but the second was an epiphany. First, the affirmation.

As people who want to save for their future approach middle age, they have to invest. For me, that means buying stocks, whether they look overvalued or cheap -- and not selling. That last part goes double whenever we manage to catch lightning in a bottle.

After all, AOL wasn't the only great call in David's original Rule Breaker portfolio. He also recommended Amgen (Nasdaq: AMGN  ) and eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY  ) -- two other companies that have revolutionized our lives -- in 1998 and 1999, respectively. But take away the 4,582% winner, and David looks human, right? More on that just ahead.

But first, the epiphany!
Slow and steady may not win the race. As you know, I typically side with David's stodgy brother Tom -- citing data supporting Warren Buffett's steady-as-she-goes, win-by-rarely-losing value approach.

But I wonder: What if David's right to point out that, most nights, we only need a few big swings to win? Or, put another way: Nine out of every 10 stocks we buy can go to zero and we'll still break even if we find just one 10-bagger.

And that's a 10-bagger -- a solid 1,000% gainer. Now, what if you smack a 4,582% home run? I'll let you run the numbers.

Because I have news for you ...
"The Tortoise and the Hare" isn't a true story. It's not even based on one. Take away AOL, Amgen, and eBay ... and David's pretty average. But that's crazy talk. You don't compare the batting average of a singles hitter with that of a slugger.

The fact is, David's kamikaze style works over the long run. And not just in the '90s. David launched his new Rule Breakers newsletter in 2004 to find this decade's great growth stories. How does he do it? He runs every company through a six-point checklist:

  1. Is it the top dog and first-mover in an important, emerging industry?
  2. Does it have a sustainable advantage?
  3. Does it have strong past-price appreciation?
  4. Is good management in place with smart backing?
  5. Does it have strong consumer appeal?
  6. Has it been called overvalued by the media?

A stock with all six of these traits is a Rule Breaker in the making. In fact, three of David's newsletter picks have already tripled, including one that's up 359%, putting his newsletter ahead of the broader market by nearly five percentage points.

Want to find home runs that can help you beat the market? You can use David's six-point checklist to get started, or you can take a free trial of Motley Fool Rule Breakers. Test drive the complete service for one month without paying a cent. To take your swing, click here.

In 1994, Paul Elliott was writing bad poetry and banging around the Midwest in a Ford Econoline. He doesn't own any of the stocks mentioned. Microsoft and Intel are Inside Value recommendations. eBay and Time Warner are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. You can see all of David Gardner's Rule Breaker picks and his entire scorecard with your 30-day free trial. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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