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Early Signs of Winning Stocks

We've all done it -- some of us repeatedly, some of us habitually.

You know what I'm talking about: kicking yourself. One of the oldest pastimes, born from utter self-discontent and a strong case of the should'ves. In this case, I'm talking about applying a boot to your rear end for not buying a monster stock that you spotted years ago, before it rose 10, 50, or even 100 times in value.

Still don't know what I'm talking about? Look at the 10-year returns for these companies:


10-Year Return

Christopher & Banks (NYSE: CBK  )


Daktronics (Nasdaq: DAKT  )


Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM  )


Meritage Homes (NYSE: MTH  )


Returns from Yahoo! Finance, factoring in dividends and splits.

And these returns include drastic drops in some of these stocks this year. For instance, RIM has plunged more than 60% as its stranglehold on the high-end mobile device market has been attacked by device makers such as Apple, Palm (Nasdaq: PALM  ) , and Nokia (NYSE: NOK  ) . Had you jumped on any of these early, though, you'd probably be feeling much better about the current market conditions. Go ahead and kick now. I'll wait.

Which way to the ground floor?
Before I came to the Fool, my backside was so sore from the kicking that I couldn't sit at the computer. Then I realized I was doing a number of things completely wrong. If you were to look inside my brain at the time, these would have been some driving principles of my investing strategy:

1. "Everyone's talking about this company, so it must be a winner!"
By following what every other Joe Investor talked up, I was missing a large trove of quality stocks packed with potential. The popular party stocks in which I invested were often high on hype and low on substance, and that set me up for big losses.

2. "The stock price doesn't matter -- this company's got unlimited potential!"
Every time I failed to recognize that a stock was insanely overvalued, I found out the hard way. Price does matter, and good investors know that there are prices they shouldn't pay, even for the best companies.

3. "Getting in on the greatest stocks is the best way to maximize my returns!"
Basically, I was busy analyzing stocks rather than investing in businesses. I didn't see that investing in companies that continuously create value for their customers and shareholders was (and is) the best way to drive exceptional returns. This has become even clearer in today's market environment.

These faulty notions led me either to buy poor companies, or to invest in good ones well after they had risen substantially in value.

Reform thyself
Now more than ever, there are great prices on fundamentally strong companies, particularly small caps. To improve your chances of getting in early on some of tomorrow's greatest growth stories, consider this approach:

  1. Start looking for high-quality, unknown companies with low market capitalizations (typically less than $1 billion).
  2. Rather than looking at beta values and momentum signals, look for companies with strong insider ownership, robust financial results (profits and cash flow), and evidence of solid management.
  3. Value a stock by comparing the enterprise value (EV) of the company with its growth prospects. In today's decelerating economy, trailing P/E values are often bogus indications of value.

The analysts at the Motley Fool Hidden Gems newsletter are especially excited about the opportunity to nab some small, strong performers at bargain-basement prices today. Small-cap companies have been crushed lately and are giving investors a better chance to buy into some of tomorrow's greatest companies at low prices. But risks and volatility still remain, so it's even more important for investors to seek solid businesses, rather than simply chase cheap stocks.

Getting in early on a solid company can make up for a lot of blunders along the way, too. For instance, restaurants are getting pounded as the economy plummets, but Hidden Gems recommendation Buffalo Wild Wings (Nasdaq: BWLD  ) continues to buck the tide. Since its first recommendation in July 2004, the stock has returned 161%.

If you're looking to improve your chances of spotting early signs of winning stocks, a subscription to Hidden Gems is a great way to do so. It includes a wealth of analysis and a watch list full of great stock ideas. You can even try out the full Hidden Gems service with a risk-free 30-day trial by clicking here.

This article was originally published on July 18, 2006. It has been updated.

Fool contributor Dave Mock still kicks himself occasionally, but much less often. He owns no shares of companies mentioned here. Buffalo Wild Wings is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems recommendation. Nokia is an Inside Value selection. Apple and Meritage Homes are Stock Advisor recommendations. The Fool owns shares of Buffalo Wild Wings. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

Read/Post Comments (4) | Recommend This Article (1)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On March 18, 2009, at 9:45 PM, zinacorona wrote:

    I guess I truly don't understand how a stock that has lost more than 76% of its value over the past 5 years can be projected at a 10 year return of 367%. Am I really that stupid? It just dosen't add up to me.

  • Report this Comment On March 20, 2009, at 6:39 PM, SteveTheInvestor wrote:


    It's not "projected" to return 367%. It has returned 367% over the last ten years. Back in March of 98, the stock was about $1.40/share.... basically a penny stock. Today it's about $4.50.

    For the purpose of this article, it's called "cherry picking", or finding the 1 or 2 stocks out of a thousand that did extremely well over the last 10 years. Of course, if you had also invested in the "other" Hidden Gem stocks, your portfolio would be down overall. Just a little reality check.

  • Report this Comment On March 20, 2009, at 6:43 PM, apoorinvestor wrote:

    There seems to be some stocks that Motley Fool recommends over, and over again -- Marvel Entertainment & Bdubs (Buffalo Wild Wings).

  • Report this Comment On May 29, 2009, at 10:51 AM, tiredmanager wrote:


    a 367% return was over the past 10 years.

    I doubt it will have such a big return when all the managers walk out when this job market opens back up!

    The management teams and associates make or break a business. I guess you can say that about upper management also.

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