On July 28, 1997, The Motley Fool's Drip Port launched. Randy Befumo and I (the port's co-founders) had been planning it behind the scenes for months in advance.
Given that, you would think that the first column would have been written well ahead of time. Well, it wasn't. It was written at the last minute. All of the port's supporting content was written ahead of time, however, and much of it (for better or worse) remains unchanged today. And our inaugural column will never change. It stands just as it first went up, a testament to last-minute writing.
Thinking about the last four years, I'm proud of what the Drip Port has accomplished. We have, so far, met our goals. We have purchased a small handful of companies that we have detailed knowledge of, we grew our portfolio to $5,900 as of one year ago, when our goal was $5,000, and we are handily topping the comparable S&P 500's return from inception through July 26. We've returned 13.06% while the comparable S&P 500 has returned only 0.51%.
That is a four-year, dollar-cost average return. If you've been buying the S&P 500 at the start of every month in your retirement account, for instance, the S&P's return listed above will mirror your return since late 1997. Yes, small. It has been a very difficult stock market to average into without losing money. We couldn't know it, but we launched this portfolio and began to buy stocks during the last few years of one of the strongest bull markets in history. The Nasdaq rose 40% in 1998 and 85% in 1999! The S&P soared as well, and we were buying all along.
It is only because we paid attention to valuation and company fundamentals that we haven't been slapped across the face as stocks came tumbling back down. We began to buy Intel (Nasdaq: INTC) while it was universally disliked in late 1997, as earnings faltered and new low-cost chips stormed the market. We bought Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) while everyone thought its drug pipeline was weak and its medical products business cooked. Those problems, like most problems at great businesses, have largely evaporated.
We bought Campbell Soup (NYSE: CPB) as it soared to all-time highs and since then we've lost 50%. Okay. We're far from perfect. Campbell is our most obvious mistake so far, of many smaller mistakes.
After Campbell, we began to buy Mellon Financial (NYSE: MEL) while financial stocks were out of favor in 1998. Technology stocks were the rage, friends. Financial stocks? Boring! So we began to buy Mellon while it traded at 15 times earnings estimates.
Finally, nearly two years later, we started to buy Pepsi (NYSE: PEP). My main concern is that we're paying too much for Pepsi, as we did with Campbell, but our price on Pepsi is still much more reasonable than the 50 earnings multiple that we put up for Campbell Soup. (What were we thinking? Ah, those were the glory bull-market days, when eyes and the brains behind them turned into mushy stars, or dollar signs.)
All in all, we're doing well so far. But mainly, I hope that we've helped a thousand times the number of people who have sent in emails and posted on the boards saying that we've helped them. This portfolio's main and even sole purpose is to help teach investors how to invest inexpensively, even free of charge, and to show that very small amounts of money can compound into wealth. We began with $500. We only invest $100 a month. In 20 years, we want to have stock worth $150,000, for a 15.5% annualized return. That's no small feat, especially in this stock market. So far, annualized, we're at 5.5% and the S&P is at 0.2%.
The big story here: "It's working out"
Even seeking 15.5% annual returns, sometimes it seems that our goal and our portfolio are too modest, for it doesn't get much attention in the press (not that that's important, but there's a point to make here). When The Motley Fool in general is written about, almost all of the attention goes to the Rule Breaker and Rule Maker portfolios, two ports started, of course, by the company's affable founders. Those strategies deserve attention for various good and bad reasons. But Drip Port certainly deserves a mention, too.
Most investors in this country are small investors, starting with next to nothing, and this portfolio is meant to show them one good way, outside of index funds, to cheaply buy stocks each month. It's ironic, then, that the Fool portfolio that is probably most applicable to most beginning investors is the least mentioned when journalists write about The Motley Fool to presumably new audiences.
The story of Drip Port isn't big enough for most journalists. It's too practical. It seems too basic. It isn't exciting, really. It hasn't taken big belly flops and it isn't up 300% in a short time. It appears simplistic (though of course successful investing in individual stocks isn't easy, even when the index fund is). This portfolio is just, you know, working out so far. Where's the angle for a reporter?
Reporters usually aren't out to help others, per se. They're out for a good, interesting story. Bad news. Failures. Scandal. Sometimes really good news. But not just "working out."
Well, working out and helping people start to invest smartly is all that we want to do. And this is all the more reason why I view The Motley Fool so differently from other content producers. The Fool isn't just about reporting, or having a story. The Fool, from day one with Tom and David's Fool Portfolio, has been about helping readers and facilitating ways for readers to help each other, too, on discussion boards and in other ways.
So, congratulations on four good years, Drip Port and its many participants! Many presidents don't last any longer than four years; many students don't last four years in school; many investing strategies and portfolios fail well before four years; but Drip Port is only beginning.
Our next investment
We're not sending our $100 for August to any company. We've saving it with the aim of choosing our new high-growth company during August, and then sending the money to that new company. If you have any suggestions or questions that we might be able to help you with, post them on the Drip Basics or Drip Companies board.
Wow. Four years is about 13% of Jeff Fischer's life so far. The Drip Port is his real money, so he has beneficial interest in each stock owned. The Fool has a full disclosure policy.