Colossal Columns

While searching for a topic for this column, my mind drifted back to some of the great articles that have appeared on this site and elsewhere. Here's a catalogue of some of my favorites.

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By Rex Moore (TMF Orangeblood)
May 20, 2002

It's always nice, when writing an article, to be able to illustrate a great Foolish lesson. One that educates, amuses, or enriches. When my mind wanders back to the most memorable columns I've read, each invariably touches upon one of these three bedrocks of The Motley Fool mission. While searching for a topic for today's column, my mind wandered, and then wondered about wandering (and wondered if anyone would remember "The Wandering Vagabond" episode from Gilligan's Island).

Some of those memorable columns highlight what we do best here, and that's to help demystify some of the complexities of investing. For instance, if the extent of your analysis of a cash flow statement is to read three words and move on, then The Most Important Financial Statement is just what you need. In one column, Matt Richey turns a mysterious jumble of numbers into something that makes real sense. "If you take away nothing else from this article," wrote Matt, "remember this: Net income is a fiction; cash from operations is reality." He goes on to explain the concept of Operating Cash Flow Margin ("how much real cash is earned for each dollar of sales"), which is a forerunner to Cash King Margin.

Readers who are excited to make sense out of the cash flow statement will also want to check out How to Value Stocks in Fool's School, which includes the classic Liquid: A Journey Through the Balance Sheet (73 weeks on the Times bestseller list, if memory serves).

There's more to investing than just crunching numbers, of course. There's meditating, for instance. Even meditating about Twinkies. If you don't believe me, you'll have to read Does Price Matter? by David Gardner. David is one of the best writers out there, financial or otherwise (and I'm not just saying that because he's a powerful company co-founder; I'm saying it because I feel sorry for his lack of Foosball skills). Whether you agree with him or not, this particular essay is extremely entertaining and it will give you a good idea where he's coming from in the ongoing debate about price and valuation.

You've no doubt heard the "buy what you know" phrase many times. It can be misinterpreted; certainly you shouldn't rush out and buy stock in 20th Century Fox (NYSE: FOX) just because you thought Stars Wars: Episode II -- Attack of the Clones was really cool. That kind of "knowing" may lead you to further research of Fox, but really knowing a business means really understanding what it does, how it makes money, and what kinds of trouble it may be heading for. Tom Jacobs explains this concept extremely well in Yes, We Have No Tech Stocks: "In short, the reason we like consumer businesses is not because they're inherently better or worse than tech, but because we have a better shot at knowing when and why 'things go wrong,' and how well management responds. Life is simpler."

Some of the best columns on our site deal not with investing, but handling your personal finances. Money can be one of the most contentious topics in a relationship; indeed, many marriages have failed because of it. That's why I think How to Handle Money With Your Honey by married Fools Elizabeth and Robert Brokamp is particularly helpful.

There are other awesome, free resources out there in Fooldom. How about The Top Investing Books of All Time -- a column inspired after a knock-down, drag-out brawl among editorial members. When the dust cleared, seven books had made the cut. And our customer service staff put together not one, not two, but three different specials answering the most frequently asked questions from our loyal Fools. Some of it is already out of date (ignore the Foolish Four stuff, and refer to this instead), but all in all it's a very helpful three-parter.

Of course, our site doesn't have a monopoly on great writing. James K. Glassman wrote one of my all-time favorite columns, Foolishly titled The Trouble With 'Timing': It Doesn't Work. If anyone ever tells you they can time the market, just point them to this article. It contains a wonderful quote from Vanguard founder John Bogle: "After nearly fifty years in the business, I do not know of anybody who has done it successfully and consistently. I do not even know anybody who knows anybody who has done it successfully and consistently."

Another outsider with a Foolish bent is the The Wall Street Journal's Jonathan Clements. In May, he wrote a column called Want a Pen Pal? that revealed sentences that were sure to draw a stream of hate mail, especially from the Wise. You'll need a subscription to access that link, but among his thoughts are:

  • "Most folks can invest successfully on their own, without the help of a broker or financial planner."
  • "No-load funds outperform load funds."
  • "Buy term [life insurance] and invest the difference."
  • "When investors in actively managed funds lag behind the market, they are getting their money's worth."

Bravo, Mr. Clements. How very Foolish!

Finally, some of the most memorable columns deal with financial topics in strange and wonderful ways. Faith and Probability -- Kansas, evolution, investing, and Foolishness was David Gardner's response when the state of Kansas passed a law to remove questions about evolution from its public school curriculum. That one is almost three years old, but I'll not soon forget David telling the Kansas lawmakers: "You shame yourselves." And yet, a few words later, "I celebrate your decision." Only David could make that make sense to me.

There are scores of columns that I simply don't have the space to mention... from Friday Rants to gnomes' underpants to nearly every edition of The Motley Fool Take. I'm proud of what my colleagues have offered thus far, and I'm excited about all the memorable columns yet to be written. Finance and investing can be frustrating and complicated topics. You can't learn it all overnight, or even in a lifetime. But I think if you stick around with us long enough you'll see some of the mysteries unravel -- and you'll have a hell of a lot of fun along the way.

Rex Moore has never been to Spain, but he kinda likes the music on the road to Shambala. He owns no companies mentioned in this column. The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.