A few months back, we joined several of our Motley Fool Rule Breakers teammates on a week-long "innovation tour" through Silicon Valley, where we met with executives at Exelixis, VMware, and several other Rule Breakers companies.
We also had the pleasure of meeting with Silicon Valley legends Guy Kawaski -- an early software evangelist for Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) -- and venture capitalist Bill Gurley -- who served as lead analyst on the Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN ) IPO.
But perhaps our most interesting meeting was with another man who is no doubt familiar to just about everyone in the business world ...
We watched him work his magic on a touch-sensitive PC that we're still salivating over. We got a closer look at one of the two local eateries that he owns. We even got firsthand details on his new book.
Then we struck a nerve
Little did we know, his passion for personal finance is matched only by his utter disdain for stocks. You see, this keen observer of business and management trends believes that most people, himself included, cannot beat the market buying individual stocks, especially when the companies behind those stocks are run by drunken chimpanzees.
It's a fair point: Drunken chimps can't do much. Yet according to finance professor Kenneth French -- one-half of the team that revealed the market-beating potential of small-cap value stocks such as Hansen Natural -- investors paid $99.2 billion in fees trying to beat the market during 2006, and were on pace to spend more than $100 billion in 2008.
Confusing the confusopolies
And that doesn't even address today's business climate. After meltdowns at Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Fannie Mae (NYSE: FNM ) , and Freddie Mac (NYSE: FRE ) , as well as a record year for dividend cuts -- investors in Pfizer (NYSE: PFE ) and Fifth Third Bancorp (NYSE: FITB ) were among those affected -- it's easy to see why Dilbert creator Scott Adams quips that Dogbert, CEO of Confusopoly Corp. (TICKER: HUH), could convince the world's bankers that an active market for commercial paper would melt Greenland. Or that ritual cat sacrifices are the key to saving America's auto industry.
Laugh all you want, but bankers at Merrill Lynch, Citigroup, and elsewhere are the same Harvard-stupid morons who thought that credit derivatives weren't all that risky. Who's to say they wouldn't believe a cartoon character? Or that they wouldn't find synergies between CDOs and cat sacrifices? They're eerily similar, after all -- both begin with the letter "c."
Bottom line, Adams told us his severe distrust of weasels -- er, management -- is the main reason for his swearing off individual stocks. Makes sense to us. Investors were right to distrust the optimists at Developers Diversified Realty (NYSE: DDR ) .
So what should you do?
Adams gave us nine steps that he says, when performed in order, can help you to generate (and protect) wealth. We think his suggestions are pretty Foolish, and thus, with his permission (thanks, Scott), we publish them here:
- Make a will.
- Pay off your credit cards.
- Get term life insurance if you have a family to support.
- Fund your 401(k) to the maximum.
- Fund your IRA to the maximum.
- Buy a house if you want to live in a house and can afford it.
- Put six months' worth of expenses in a money market account.
- Take whatever money is left over and invest 70% in a stock index fund and 30% in a bond fund through any discount broker, and never touch it until retirement.
- If any of this confuses you, or you have something special going on (retirement, college planning, tax issues), hire a fee-based financial planner.
You're not in Elbonia anymore, Dilbert
Adams' nine steps look pretty familiar to us Fools; we've always advocated paying off debt, saving for retirement, and having a substantial emergency fund. But avoid stocks altogether? We respectfully disagree.
But we do agree that if you're going to try to beat the market with stocks, you need to know what you're buying -- and you need to be able to trust the management of the companies you own.
That's why our Motley Fool Rule Breakers team traveled across the country to meet with management at many of our recommended companies.
If you'd like to get the full story on what we discovered, read in-depth write-ups of each company we visited, and gain full access to all of our growth-stock research – including every recommended stock on our scorecard -- we invite you to take a free, 30-day trial of Motley Fool Rule Breakers.
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This article was originally published on Oct. 23, 2008. It has been updated.
Austin Edwards owns shares of Apple, which is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Tim Beyers also owns shares of Apple and is a member of the market-beating Rule Breakers team, which counts Exelixis, VMware, and Hansen Natural among its recommendations. Amazon is a Stock Advisor choice. The Motley Fool owns shares of Exelixis. Its disclosure policy is thinking up new torture devices for Catbert, evil HR director, who just took a gig consulting to some of Wall Street's biggest firms.