Have you been thinking about small companies lately? Maybe you've read that small-cap stocks tend to outperform large caps during an economic recovery, and --whether true or not -- thought about adding some to your portfolio. The problem, though, is where to start. How do you learn about small-cap investing, and how do you find out which companies are worth investigating?
One of the best-kept secrets around is the Foolish Eight discussion board. There, small-cap-loving Fools from around the world join together and share their experience, research, methodology, and much more.
If you're new to the game, the term "Foolish Eight" refers to the eight criteria David and Tom Gardner set forth in The Motley Fool Investment Guide to help locate small companies that might be worthy of further research. The eight criteria act as a screen, and very few companies are able to pass through each month. Those that do are not automatic "buys," because the F8 is not a mechanical strategy. But after you've done the proper research, you may very well find companies from the list that are worthy of your investing dollars.
This column and the Foolish Eight discussion board, however, are by no means limited to companies that pass the F8 requirements. Most anything is up for discussion, as long as the company falls into that vaguely defined small-capitalization range -- generally less than $1 billion in market cap.
Just the FAQ, ma'am
The first stop for those learning to think small is the F8 board's Foolish Eight FAQ. Compiled by sleejohnson, the FAQ starts with the basics and works its way into more advanced areas of small cap investing. For example, you may be wondering just what the eight criteria are that Tom and Dave came up with way back when. It's all in the FAQ, from revenue of $500 million or less to positive operating cash flow. A simple click of the mouse on any of these requirements will lead you to a column detailing the thinking behind the strategy.
Once you've come up with companies to evaluate (through whatever means), you'll need to know what to do next, and this column by Brian Graney will nudge you in the right direction. Zeke Ashton wrote a column last year on improving your investing decisions, and I followed up a couple of months ago with a piece about building your investing framework.
Beyond the F8
The FAQ goes far beyond the Foolish Eight, with advice for those who want to run their own stock screens. It also points out those who have expanded their research into methodologies of their own -- Fools such as edmay and Erick Eason (FoolishErik). Yes, if you have the time and inclination, you can learn about small-cap investing the "Ed May way," or discover Erik's "FE" grading system.
The FAQ goes even further, pointing to David Gardner's thoughts on the PEG, or Fool Ratio: "Getting inside the guts of a business, and trying to envision how much it can grow and how strong it can compete, matter much more than the Fool Ratio." There are links to posts about relative strength, debt analysis, reverse scale investing, the working-capital cycle, and various valuation methods.
The FAQ is fabulous, but it ain't the half of it. It provides you with a great framework, but the real case studies are carried out by the F8 board's active posters. In fact, sleejohnson has instituted an "F8 Challenge" whereby anyone who wants to participate can review small-cap stocks and post their analysis to the board.
That challenge has so far led to discussion of such companies as Meridian Medical Technologies (Nasdaq: MTEC), Educational Development Corp. (Nasdaq: EDUC), Wilson Greatbatch Technologies (NYSE: GB), ClearOne Communications (Nasdaq: CLRO), Sonic (Nasdaq: SONC), American Healthways (Nasdaq: AMHC), and Air Methods (Nasdaq: AIRM). Not only do those who read the board learn about new companies such as these, but they also get to see the different ways of analyzing stocks.
By now I hope you've decided to read through the FAQ and all its related links. At that point, I hope you'll be inspired to check out some of the company-specific research on the board. If you do that, you'll be well on your way to understanding small-cap investing. But there's just one last, very important step. After you're comfortable, why not chip in and offer some thoughts of your own? Don't worry, all are welcome, and members enjoy new contributions, no matter how small.
Sharing is one of the greatest research tools of all. This column is a salute to all of the hard-working Fools on our Foolish Eight board, and it stands as an open invitation for you (yes, you) to join in at your own pace. To quote the last paragraph of the FAQ:
"So let's have at it. Talk about the companies. More significantly, talk about how you go about evaluating them. We're all here to learn (as well as be enriched and amused); let's share the lessons on process as well as content."
See you on the board!
Rex Moore also salutes the U.S. soccer team for its 2-0 World Cup victory over Mexico. On to the quarterfinals! At press time, he owned no companies mentioned in this column. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.