ALEXANDRIA, VA (Oct. 26, 1999) -- The Rule Breaker Portfolio didn't do much of anything today, losing a fractional percentage of its value, about in line with the markets.
Then, after the closing bell, eBay reported third-quarter earnings. At the time of this writeup the full news wasn't out, so I just see a few headlines, like:
EBAY HAD 7.7 MLN REGISTERED USERS
EBAY HOSTED 36.2 MLN AUCTIONS IN Q3 VERSUS 9.2 MLN YR-AGO
What is interesting to me is that Reuters sees fit to intersperse these same headlines with two others:
EBAY INC SHRS DOWN 5-1/2 TO 146 IN AFTER-HOURS (4:38 PM ET)
and, 13 minutes later:
EBAY INC DOWN 10 TO 142 IN AFTER-HOURS (4:51 ET)
Which gives me the opportunity to say, very bluntly:
OH NO, FOOLS!
THE STOCK IS SINKING! THIS AFTER-HOURS ACTION IS DISASTROUS! IT IS PROBABLY ONLY THE BEGINNING! GET OUT NOW! NOW, I TELL YOU! AIEEEEEEEEEEE!
So Foolish of me, I know.
Are we really moving into a world where after-hours trading action merits multiple ALL-CAPS news headlines within 13 minutes of each other? Not only is after-hours trading notoriously illiquid, it is in many cases not at all reflective of where a stock will close the next day. To say nothing of its breathlessly short-term outlook.
Certainly there are instances in which after-hours trading points you in the right direction as to where a stock price will open the next day. Amgen, last week, announced earnings and Fools on the AMGN board were pointing out that after-hours trading was down in the face of that report. In fact, the next day Amgen ended up closing down $6, or 7%, versus its 4 PM ET close the previous day. Then again, I recall numerous instances in the past -- AOL a couple years ago comes to mind -- when the report was that the stock was getting killed in after-hours trading and then lo and behold, as the smoke cleared after the bombs were finished bursting in air, AOL closed up from its previous day close.
What do I mean when I say after-hours trading is "notoriously illiquid"? I mean very simply that the amount of shares (and therefore money) changing hands after hours is a tiny fraction of the amounts that will be traded the next day. So while after-hours may provide some indicator, it is by no means authoritative.
And really, this all gets away from the primary point. Which is, very simply, what are you doing following after-hours trading? Are you Foolishly invested in a stock as a part owner of a long-term franchise, one that you believe will succeed over the next 25 years? I hope so. And if so, some hyperkinetic Reuters board posts in big capital letters with after-hours trading results every quarter hour has very little to say to you.
A great test of Foolishness is which headlines at the top of this report caught your eyes more -- the ones about the number of registered users and auctions, or the ones about after-hour quotes? Do you find your own intellectual curiosity stimulated to ask questions like, "Well, what were their registered users like last year, at this time?" or do you fixate voyeuristically on peeking at the secret nighttime quotes? The difference between Fools and fools is sometimes as simple as that.
For my own part, whether eBay rises $10 or falls $10 tomorrow is of little concern. Stock prices fluctuate -- sometimes wildly -- but businesses and their intermediate-to-long-term prospects rarely do. From the little additional info I'm now seeing about eBay's report, I don't find anything here that changes my impression that this company is the well-branded leader of an incredibly high-margin business with a sustainable advantage for at least the foreseeable (2-3 years) future and strong future opportunity with global scope.
Foolish investors do well to remind themselves of a few maxims in the face of the constant day-to-day overfocusing that many media outlets provide. One of them is "buy and hold." It doesn't mean "never sell." It means you sell when you need the money, or when you find a better opportunity. But as investors, we focus on the business, not the movement of the stock price or the graph that describes it. I said as much in this post to our eBay message board last night.
As a final note, if you aren't reading the message boards (http://boards.fool.com) pertaining to your own stocks, you're missing one of the best opportunities to ask questions, hear opinions, and just plain LEARN that is available in the investment world today. I've posted over 1000 times to our message boards, and have learned far more than I've ever contributed. So whether it's the eBay board or Ask a Foolish Question (to get started) or Getting Out of Credit Card Debt of Buying and Maintaining a Car, I hope you'll join in our community conversation. Every message-board posting (and we receive thousands every day) is a statement, in so many words, that "I am making my own financial decisions and I want to contribute to helping you do so, as well."
Till tomorrow... Fool on!
As always, share any thoughts about tonight's recap in our Rule Breaker Strategies board. And if you are looking into, or for, any new Rule Breaker prospects, the conversation always continues on our Rule Breaker Companies message board.
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