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 (of course, you'll have to read to the end to find out).

I hope you were buying stocks
I wasn't. I sure wasn't betting $1,800 on a company most people had 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 famous in these parts. Second, he announced what he was about to do before he went long. Then he tracked his returns online for the world to see.

Five years later, the stock he bought for a split-adjusted 46 cents crested atop $50. Before you could say "Mad Money," Money.com crowned 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 investor was David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool. True, we were in the midst of a massive bull market -- true, too, this was before the hookup with Time Warner (NYSE: TWX  ) -- but there may have been more at work here than that.

In 1994, AOL satisfied David's No. 1 criteria. The company was a first mover in an important, emerging industry. And this may surprise you. David still owns AOL -- and he's still up. Way up. If you'd bought AOL with him, you'd be up 3,126%.

But what are the chances, right? Well, if, like my college roommate, you saw the tech revolution coming and bought any number of other future tech titans -- for example, Microsoft or Applied Materials (Nasdaq: AMAT  ) -- instead, you'd be up roughly 733% or 500%, respectively.

Even if you rolled the dice on fallen angel Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) or Corning (NYSE: GLW  ) , a glass company since held up as the poster child for the tech stock bubble, you'd be sitting on triple-digit gains -- ahead of what you'd expect from almost all non-equity investments.

I'm shocked, shocked to hear ...
Maybe that doesn't surprise you, but it did me. In fact, it got me rethinking two long-held beliefs -- one of which led to an epiphany. The other was more of an affirmation.

And that's simply that folks like us looking to save for the future have to keep investing. For me, that means buying stocks -- whether the market looks overvalued, cheap, or just right -- and not selling. That last part goes double if you manage to catch lightning in a bottle.

After all, while it's true that AOL wasn't the only great call in David's original Rule Breaker portfolio -- he also recommended Amgen (Nasdaq: AMGN  ) and eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY  ) in 1998 and 1999, respectively -- but if you take away that one 3,126% winner, David looks human, right? More on that just ahead.

But first, the epiphany
Slow and steady may not win the race. Like most Fools, we're well versed in Warren Buffett's rules to investing. You know, "Rule 1: Never lose money. Rule 2: Never forget Rule 1."

But what if David also has a point. What if, most nights, we can get by with just a few big swings? What if nine out of every 10 stocks we buy can go to absolute zero and we'll still break even -- if we find just one 10-bagger.

Forget the "what ifs." It's a mathematical certainty. And that's assuming you own a "mere" 10-bagger -- a solid 1,000% gainer. If you smack a 3,126% home run; well, that changes everything.

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 go-go '90s. In 2004, David launched a new Rule Breakers newsletter to prove he could find this decade's great growth stories. How does he plan on pulling it off? For starters, he runs every company through a six-point checklist:

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

Looking to hit one out of the park?
If you can find a stock with these six traits, you have a Rule Breaker in the making. David Gardner's new Rule Breakers portfolio is proof of that. Four of his team's recommendations have tripled or more. One pick is up more than 500%.

If you'd like returns like that, feel free to use David's six-point checklist to get started. But if you want a shortcut getting rolling, here's an easier idea to consider: Take a free trial of David's Motley Fool Rule Breakers.

You can sample the complete service for one whole month, see every single past pick and read every back issue -- all without paying a cent. There's no obligation to subscribe. This way, you have nothing to lose, and a whole lot to gain. To find out more about this special free trial offer, click here.

This article was first published May 31, 2007. It has been updated.

In 1994, Paul Elliott was writing weird 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 Breakers picks and his entire scorecard with your 30-day free trial. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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