If it's the final week of the month, then it's time for Motley Fool co-founder David Gardner to give his listeners what they want -- literally -- by responding directly to their questions and comments.
In this episode of the Rule Breaker Investing podcast, he fields an entertaining array of queries. Among other things, he and his many guests explain how they define "strong past price appreciation" and why it's a characteristic he looks for in a stock buy; why the right level of portfolio diversification is a moving target; why so many biotech companies seem to be priced at a premium compared to their revenues; and how to handle it when it's time to sell a stock because you have a more pressing need for that money.
A full transcript follows the video.
This video was recorded on March 27, 2019.
David Gardner: All right, it's the last Wednesday of the month. That means on Rule Breaker Investing, it is mailbag! As I've always said, it is your mailbag, because we do this for you. You send us questions and we -- and it's not just I; I always bring in a cast of all-star Fools, which I've done once again this week -- we do our best to answer your questions. Get ready, get started! Rule Breaker Investing mailbag this week on Rule Breaker Investing.
Welcome back to Rule Breaker Investing! Happy Wednesday! This podcast tends to come out on Wednesdays, Eastern U.S. time around 04:00 PM or 05:00 PM. You might be in a different time zone, a different day altogether. Or perhaps you don't listen to this podcast when it comes right out on the wires. Perhaps you wait a day or two, or it's your jog on Friday, or maybe we're a weekend pleasure for you. Well, we're here once a week to educate, amuse, and enrich, as we've said from the very first days of The Motley Fool; or, as we articulate our company's purpose today, my podcast does the same to make the world smarter, happier, and richer. I hope we can do all three of those for you this week.
Well, it's been a motley month of March. Looking back over the podcast, we kicked off the month with our Mental Tips, Tricks and Life Hacks, Volume IV. The second week, we talked about ESG investing -- environmental, societal, governance. People focused on socially responsible investing. Does that work? I tried to speak to that fairly emphatically on the podcast that came out on March 13th. Last week, it was The Market Cap Game Show, episode seven; always fun, once a quarter here on Rule Breaker Investing. Emily Flippen starring once again in this month's Market Cap Game Show.
I've got a few hot takes to share from Twitter before we get into our mailbag points. One comes from Austin Lieberman @AustinLieb on Twitter. Austin, you wrote, "Hoping I'm secretly playing and beating DavidGFool or Tom Gardner or my other Motley Fool friends in their new investing mobile app game that's in beta. It's lots of fun. TMFRoger has been a blast to work with." Well, thank you very much, Austin!
Regular listeners of this podcast know that we are building a mobile game to make investing more popular, a little bit more mainstream, but really, at its heart, it's not trying to be an investor simulation or anything like that. It's trying to be a really fun game. I've had a lot of fun playing the game. Austin, I'm not sure I saw you on the other end of any of my duels over the past few weeks. But a lot of you listen. A couple of months ago, when I put out a beta invite through this podcast, we had over 100 beta testers. I hope you had a great time. Austin, I'm glad you did. We're even still discussing what the name of our game is going to be. I know we'll have a chance to put out another beta invite in a couple of weeks as we take in the feedback that we got from you all a few weeks ago, tweak things a bit, and try to make it better as we keep developing what I think we might call Investor Island, but we'll see. We've talked about Stock Star, Stock Gods. There's different names that we have in play here at The Fool. I kind of like Investor Island because that's what we're doing. We're on an island. We're having some battles with fireballs. There's a tiki god statue in the middle, and it's all powered by stocks and the stock market. Anyway, thank you, Austin!
Philip Silveira, @PhilS1021 said, "Just heard the life hacks pod. Great stuff. Wife and I like to mentally double the cost of any new purchase to account for foregone savings opportunities. Worked well when we still had student debt to pay off. Example: Is that $150 coat worth $300 to you?" Fool on! I really like that. I love Mental Tips, Tricks and Life Hacks, especially, Phil, things that help us think better about money. I really like that one! Cheers! Thank you for contributing!
Those are a few hot takes from Twitter, reacting to the month that has been March 2019.
Now, now without further ado, let's get into it. Mailbag item No. 1. This is from Randy Stevenson, writing from Venice, Florida. He said, "Hi David. I've been following Motley Fool since the AOL days." I have to add before we go on, #awesome. "I've been a subscriber to Hidden Gems, and currently to Rule Breakers and Stock Advisor. Thank you for enriching my family these decades." That always means a lot. Thank you, Randy! "One of the characteristics of Rule Breakers is strong past price appreciation. Please explain what this is and what metrics or sources of information are used to find these companies. Thank you again, Randy Stevenson."
This is a quick one for me, Randy. Yes, you're right. One of the six attributes that we look for finding Rule Breakers is strong past price appreciation. Back in the day when I was first dreaming up this approach, before we even wrote it in our first book, Rule Breakers, Rule Makers, where I really first talked about Rule Breaker Investing in book form -- back in those days, I was using Investor's Business Daily, the newspaper, which for years has, I think it's still present tense, but I don't really use IBD that much anymore, has printed what's known as a relative strength score, which is a 0 to 100 indexed view of how well that stock has done over the last three months. For example, if it was a 94, that means that stock has done better than 94% of all other stocks on the market. It's like if you're really good in your math SATs, and you were 94th percentile. It's the same thing for judging price movements of stocks. I like to look back around three months and just see how stocks are doing, which stocks are doing well.
More broadly, though, Randy, primarily for this attribute of Rule Breaker Investing, I just look for a stock that is doing well, that's going up. I think the winners keep on winning. I know you know that from me. I don't necessarily use IBD's relative strength ratings anymore, I just look at the stock and I say, "Has that beaten the market over the last three months?" Maybe, in some cases, it's doubled over the last year.
Again, I think the key point here is, a lot of people look at that and say, "Well, I'm not going to buy it now. Look how well it's already done. I missed that double over the last year." We as Rule Breakers generally feel the opposite way. This trait is there to teach you and to train you to think -- in a winning way, I think -- about Rule Breaker Investing, where we look for stocks that are doing really well, because that's the market telling us that this company is onto something good and doing great stuff.
Randy, I hope that's helpful. There's no hardcore metric I use. In fact, when I googled "relative strength," which you can do from the comfort of your own home computer or mobile phone, you'll see a lot of sites that have it, define it differently. A lot of them are about charting and technical analysis, which are so-called tools -- I do that a little bit with a smile on my face -- that I never use and actively try to avoid. I don't look at charts. I don't believe that there are patterns that tell us where stocks are about to move. I realize there's a whole industry dedicated to that, but that can bedevil people. So don't necessarily start googling relative strength and using those sites, at least in my experience, to guide you toward good investment decisions, because often, I don't think that they will.
All right, Rule Breaker mailbag item No. 2. This comes from Luke Joseph, writing from Sydney, Australia. Luke, thank you for being a Rule Breakers member! And, yes, I do tend to prioritize questions from members on this podcast. Now, we welcome all questions here at The Motley Fool. We truly are trying to make the whole world smarter, happier, and richer. But when somebody tells me -- Randy Stephenson -- that he's been a member since our AOL days, or -- Luke Joseph -- that he's from Sydney, Australia, you're a Rule Breakers member, there's a little bit of me that pushes you closer to the top of the queue.
Anyway, Luke, great question! You said, "I'm fully on board with the Rule Breakers style of investing. I've done well with many of your recommendations over the past three years. Like you, valuation is not usually a primary consideration for me when selecting whether or not to buy a stock. I usually prioritize a company's revenue growth rate, total addressable market, and proportion of recurring revenue." I like all three of those. Those are good things to look for, Luke. "I have no problem with paying upwards of 10X or even 20X revenue." So, the market cap of a stock would be 20X the sales, which is quite a high number. It looks high even to us, but we have similarly, Luke, had no problem, in some cases, doing that, "For a fast-growing enterprise software business. However, I've noticed that some of these fast-growing biotech companies can sit on a much higher valuation than this for a very long time. I'm thinking specifically of Guardant Health, Abiomed, and Mazor Robotics before its acquisition, which often had a price-to-sales ratio above 30X.
"I seem to have a problem paying this much for a business because I don't know why biotechs seem to be able to levitate on such high valuations for so long. Is it because they often have monopolies? Or is it because investors know that patients will have no choice [but] to buy their products eventually? I would appreciate if you could assemble a dream team of Karl Thiel, Aaron Bush, and yourself to explain why this is the case. Kind regards all the way from Sydney, Luke Joseph."
Luke, delighted to have your question! It is my pleasure to bring together the very dream team, Aaron Bush, that he just called out.
Aaron Bush: I'm so humbled to be on a dream team, period. Thank you! [laughs]
Gardner: So am I! I've never been before until now. This is why we have a podcast, so we can make ourselves a dream team.
Bush: Yeah, we should do this more often!
Gardner: And I want to say hello to Karl Thiel, calling in from his home somewhere in around Austin, Texas! Karl, how are you doing?
Karl Thiel: I'm doing well! Thank you!
Gardner: Good. Karl, you have made some great biotech selections for Motley Fool Rule Breakers over the years. Aaron, you have done a wonderful job picking stocks, many different types of stocks, both in Motley Fool Rule Breakers and other services, too. Luke wants to hear from you guys. I want to hear from you guys. Aaron, I'm going to kick it to you first. What do you think about when you look at a stock that's trading at a really high multiple of sales?
Bush: I would say everything is relative. A high multiple of sales probably indicates that the company is growing quickly, that people have high expectations. That's typically a very good thing, actually. It means the company is doing things right. It probably means that they're in a large market. In some cases, it's actually a reason to look deeper. Sometimes there's a difference between when a stock is overvalued and when people say it looks overvalued. I think a lot of times when you start seeing a lot of people say that a company is overvalued, that's almost the typical sentiment at any given time, even when a stock is trading at 20X sales, it often shows -- just based on what I've seen, learning from David and Karl and seeing lots of Rule Breaker picks over the years -- it often shows that, if that company does turn out to succeed and continue growing at fast rates for longer than people realize, some of those people who think that it is overvalued, they might change their minds. In some ways, the act of them changing their minds is what can push that stock up even higher.
Gardner: That's why attribute No. 6 of Rule Breaker Investing is: When people call out a stock as overvalued, that makes us bullish.
Now, Karl, you've specialized a lot in biotech. Do you have any particular biotech thoughts for Luke?
Thiel: Yeah, absolutely. Stepping back and being a little more basic about it, one of the reasons is because biotechs -- and it's not just biotech, but they're a good example -- have extraordinarily high margins. They're always going to have a higher price-to-sales multiple. Just an example of, say, a grocery store chain that tends to get a ton of revenue but makes very little profit on it, they're going to trade at probably less than 1X sales. A company with extraordinarily high profit margins is always going to trade at a higher multiple sales. That's just a very basic reason.
Another reason is, ultimately a company is worth what the market thinks it's worth. It's been shown time and time again that biotechs, particularly smaller and mid-cap biotechs, will command take-out prices that are at these kinds of price to sales multiples. That's a real grounding in reality of what something is truly worth to somebody else. You see that happen particularly with companies that are also expected to see those sales grow very quickly. That's why you'll tend to see these multiples be higher for, like I said, smaller and mid-cap companies.
Bush: Yeah, I would say, you do see similar attributes in the software industry as well. It's probably less explosive, less binary, in a lot of ways. But there are some similarities in the sense that this is a trend that is taking over workplaces. A lot of these companies are adapting these technologies very quickly.
Gardner: In enterprise software, you're talking about.
Bush: Yes, in enterprise software. Lots of companies are jumping on board very quickly. It's very sticky. Once they're in, they're staying in. And what we're seeing a lot nowadays is what we consider a net expansion rate. These companies literally are spending oftentimes 20% or 30% more the next year just on upgrades and all sorts of things. When you look at these software companies at scale, they also are very profitable -- potentially 30% of their revenue turns into cash flow.
So I think we're seeing high price-to-sales ratios not because of what the company's economics look like today but what they will be many years from now. So instead of thinking about that one ratio, I think it's more interesting just to look at the market cap itself. Think about what could that market cap be at some point in the future. Hopefully, if you can think of a much bigger number, then today's ratio is less important.
Gardner: That's why we play The Market Cap Game Show. We've even made that into a game show on Rule Breaker Investing! I agree with you, Aaron, that market cap is a really helpful guide for us.
Karl, I also have a second question I'm going to thread into this same point. Colin Anderson wrote in, and he was talking about how he also loves Rule Breaker Investing, but he does look over his portfolio, and he sees a number of his companies, companies like MongoDB or Square or, at different stages, Shopify, with negative earnings; companies that do not have a price-to-earnings ratio because they do not have earnings. Is this the same consideration again? A multiple that in this case doesn't even exist? Should we feel comfortable owning these companies? Which companies with no earnings would you prefer to own over the other ones that you wouldn't want to own?
Thiel: Right. Obviously, a company that never earns money is not a worthwhile investment. Every time you see a company that has negative earnings, and is positively valued, that's on the assumption that it will eventually start earning money or producing cash flow for its investors. The numbers can be tricky, right? A company that just turned profitable, produced three or four pennies of profit during the last year, might have a price-to-earnings ratio in the hundreds all of a sudden. But what you're looking at is, how quickly is this going to grow into something? Particularly as a company first steps into profitability, that can happen extraordinarily quickly, which is why it's good to look a good ways ahead and think about, not what are earnings today, but what are earnings going to look like.
Bush: One topic that venture capitalists particularly pay attention to is the idea of unit economics. Less of what are the economics of the entire company at one point, but what are the economics of acquiring one user, and then their lifetime value and the value that they bring to the company?
Gardner: That's unit economics, where you take a single customer, you see, what is the economic dynamic around that customer? Then you project it out to others.
Bush: Right. It's just another way of looking at what could this company, what could their economics be in the long run, once those unit economics start becoming the norm for everybody?
Gardner: People do that with retail stores. You might look at a single Potbelly or a single Starbucks back in the day and go, "Hmm, what if there were a lot more of these? We could maybe make some better projections about the value of that entity."
Bush: Right. There are different ways to slice and dice the numbers, but I do think unit economics is particularly helpful when companies are losing money.
Gardner: All right, so there's some thoughts from three different Rule Breakers. One man's dream team, if you will. Aaron, Karl, thank you very much!
Bush: Thanks, David!
Thiel: Thank you!
Gardner: All right, Rule Breaker mailbag item No. 3. This one comes from Bill Halsley, who's written this podcast a number of times. Bill, it's my pleasure to feature your latest question. I love this one! In fact, I've pulled my friend in, Bill Mann here of Motley Fool fame. Bill, welcome!
Bill Mann: How are you, David?
Gardner: I'm doing really well! You and I have both looked over this question from Bill. It's one of the more interesting ones that we've gotten. We're going to speak to that in a sec.
But, Bill, I want to mention, I said on my podcast to my listeners a few weeks ago that I taped early because we went skiing. One of the things about that ski trip in Snowmass, Colorado, for me this year is that my son, who had broken his leg, a compound fracture, got back up on skis for the first time in three years. It was pretty great to see him out there. Bill, I believe my son Zach is not the only one who had a compound fracture from skiing in the last couple of weeks?
Mann: It wasn't so much the skiing, it was more the falling that did it. But yeah. I was going 62 miles an hour when I fell. This was the day before the Atlanta-New England Super Bowl. I was so doped up during the Super Bowl that I thought that I was actually controlling the game.
Gardner: [laughs] Oh, my gosh!
Mann: I don't know if you remember all the weird things that happened in the game --
Gardner: I do. It was an incredible second half.
Mann: Yeah, you might wonder where that came from.
Mann: Yeah, it was my magical powers.
Gardner: [laughs] All right, so, Atlanta vs. New England. This all runs together in my head. Bill, what month was that?
Mann: February of '17.
Gardner: So, here you are, two years later. How long did it take you to convalesce? Are you back?
Mann: I am. I started really exercising again about October of this last year. Maybe I waited a little too long to start exercising again. But it hurt. Doctor finally said, "Look, it's going to hurt." And maybe your son's gone through the same thing. It's going to hurt, but you have to just need to play through to the other side. And he was right.
Gardner: It didn't affect your stock-picking skills, though.
Mann: [laughs] Yeah, that's right. Unfortunately, I didn't quite have the same prescience. I pretty much nailed that Super Bowl. [laughs]
Gardner: [laughs] Are you going to ski again?
Mann: Yes, I'll ski again. I didn't ski this year, simply timing and nervousness. But I love the sport and will look forward to doing it again.
Gardner: Awesome! Well, Bill, thank you for joining us on Rule Breaker Investing. So, Bill Halsley's question, he said, "Dear David, This is short. This belonged to my great uncle. I've discovered this company was eventually sold to Union Pacific. I don't know what to do with it." Bill includes a picture of a stock certificate. The company is Chicago and Northwestern Railway Company. Like a lot of these certificates, this is a beautiful piece of art.
Mann: It's gorgeous! Yes. This is from the 1930s, 1937 is when it was executed. So, obviously, the company doesn't exist anymore. But there are plenty of places where this stock certificate itself, particularly if it's in good condition, could net Bill a lot of money.
Gardner: Is that right?
Mann: I would take it to any coin and stamp store. One of the things that they also will do is, they will deal in old certificates. It's called scripophily.
Mann: Yeah. Scripophily.
Mann: Yeah, scripophily.com. It's the collection of stock certificates. I actually recently on scripophily.com bought a share certificate just like this from my grandfather's company, which was called Cannon Mills, which is a textile company from Kannapolis, North Carolina. So yes, I can speak to this both as someone who loves collecting these kinds of things and just loves old stock certificates, but also, as someone who has recently been on the other side of this transaction.
Gardner: That is a great reminder, because truly, as I read Bill's question -- first of all, I haven't had this experience, so I was like, "I have to have an expert in from The Motley Fool," and we got Bill Mann this week, which is awesome. But I was just thinking, "Maybe Union Pacific paid something for this company that's decent. Union Pacific is still around. Maybe this is worth a lot of money." But you're pointing out that whether or not that's true -- and it might be -- the artwork itself, and collectors, there's a whole market out there for these kinds of certificates.
Mann: Yeah. There's something called escheat rules. Probably, if there's been sitting around -- what escheat is, it says that after a period of time, the company might consider the shares abandoned. He should absolutely check with Union Pacific. I'm guessing that they have long ago struck the shares from the register.
Gardner: I see. So you're not going to find out that you're a millionaire.
Mann: You could!
Gardner: This is 1937. We're 82 years later right now. So, probably there's no stock market value to this. You can't claim 1% ownership of Union Pacific at this point.
Mann: Highly unlikely. But it's worth checking. Union Pacific might want to get their hands on this stock certificate. They might think that that's a pretty cool thing. But it would be fabulous. I hope Bill lets us know what happens. But, yeah, because of the escheat rules, I think of this as what a collector would do with it. I guarantee you that's not worth zero.
Gardner: Really cool! Last question for you, Bill, before I let you go. I'm not asking you how much you paid to buy that certificate. But typically, I'm sure a lot of us are wondering, what is the typical price for a handsome piece of art and actual stock certificate from 80 years ago? Are these $500? $1,000? Are we talking a lot more than that, or less?
Mann: It certainly can be. What Bill has in his hands is something that's very special, because there are railroad collectors. Railroads and power companies and things like that, but especially the railroads. The other one that tends to be worth a lot is old Disney certificates. They can be upwards of $500. I'm really curious to know what comes of this.
Gardner: Awesome! Thank you, Bill!
Mann: No problem, David! Good to see you!
Gardner: All right, Rule Breaker mailbag item No. 4. Oh, my gosh, is this Emily Flippen in the studio?! Is she here to give a tip up to Market Cap Game Show players? Emily, welcome!
Emily Flippen: Thanks for having me again!
Gardner: Emily, I'm looking at some of the hot takes we got from Twitter. A number of them said something about along these lines. This was from Don Karping @TokyoBoiler. "Emily Flippen is amazing. #ILostToEmily." [laughs] Or, Fusko @Fusko4Real says, "Considering that one of Emily's stock recommendations is the best performer in my portfolio this year, I bet y'all going to lose to Emily in this game. By the way, just listened to yesterday's Market Foolery podcast with Emily on. Always delivers the goods."
Emily, I thought, the people are calling for this. I had to have you back for an encore this week. Thinking about your outstanding performance in the first two episodes that you've been on The Market Cap Game Show, I thought maybe you could just share a tip or a pointer to somebody who wants to up his or her game at The Market Cap Game Show.
Flippen: You mean somebody who wants to beat me next time?
Gardner: Yeah. There was at least one person who did go, "#IBeatEmily, can I be on the show?"
Flippen: [laughs] Well, I've said it on the show before. When you're looking at market caps, I think the most important thing, and the thing that's helped me the most, has just been to internalize whether or not that stock is a small cap, a mid cap or a large cap. Honestly, if you own the stock, and if you're somebody like an analyst here at The Motley Fool who spends their entire day looking at companies, you probably already have a good idea about your investing thesis. That investing thesis probably depends on how much growth that company has ahead of it. You may already have a sense about the size of the company, even if the market cap to you is just some vague number. But you know, "This company is a small company operating in a growing area." That means a lot. That actually gives you a great starting point.
I will say, a 20% range is generous. But when you're looking at companies all day, every day, it's an unfair advantage.
Gardner: I guess that's probably true. That is your job. Most of us are just playing at home, as we have other jobs. It's understandable. But that's a great point, Emily! I guess my only follow up there is, personally, what numbers to use for small, medium, and large? I realize there's different ways and different parameters people use. How do you frame things up?
Flippen: When I'm looking at companies with the intent of going on something like The Market Cap Game Show, anything below a $5 billion company I say is a small cap. Anything under $100 billion, mid-cap.
Gardner: That's a big range. $5 billion to $100 billion.
Flippen: It's a huge range! So, there's a big difference between a company, maybe like Match, and it's closer to $15 billion and something closer to $70 billion.
Gardner: T-Mobile, or something.
Flippen: Exactly. You can also think about those companies, using Match and T-Mobile as an example -- you, as a consumer, probably have a sense about how big those companies are just using them in your everyday life.
Gardner: Who advertises more on TV, on Super Bowls? I would say T-Mobile, probably more than Match, right?
Gardner: I love it! I'm going to go on to the next mailbag item. Would you hang around for that one, Emily?
Flippen: Yeah, of course!
Gardner: Before we go to No. 5, I do want to mention one other thing. This might have been my favorite tweet to us in the past month. This comes from Fergus Cullen @FergusCullen. This hooks right into The Market Cap Game Show. Fergus wrote, "Played the game using marketcapgameshow.com with high school investing club I work with. Educated ✓, amused ✓, enriched, working on it. High score got 6 out of 10."
Why do I love that tweet so much? Because it reminds me that Clay McKinney, one of our listeners and a talented programmer, created, inspired by our podcast game show, marketcapgameshow.com. Anybody who wants to up their game, just go to that site. Clay created it for you. I love to think that Fergus is there with his high school kids that he's coaching using marketcapgameshow.com. What a world!
All right, mailbag item No. 5. Speaking of what a world, love this one! Is this my favorite mailbag item of the month? Close. Maybe. Really close. Awesome!
"Hi, my name is Jeff Pew. I'm an actor in New York City currently performing in Frozen on Broadway. I've been a subscriber to Stock Advisor and Rule Breakers for a few years, and an avid listener to all of The Fool podcasts. Over the past year, I've been successful at converting two of my friends in the show to The Motley Fool way. We've enjoyed discussing stock picks, following The Fool's guidance, forming strategies on how to best position ourselves for the future. We are all currently beating the market thanks to you."
Well, Jeff Pew and friends, and really the whole cast of Frozen and frankly, all of Broadway, thank you! Awesome!
Jeff goes on. "Here's my question. Do you ever sell a position you've been holding for a long time to free up capital for a big purchase like a down payment on a house, down payment on a weekend house, investment property, renovation, new landscaping, college tuition, or helping a family member in a time of need? Ideally, we'd all have enough savings on top of our investments to pay for these types of big purchases. But what if we don't? Is it OK to be holding some of our biggest positions with the intention to sell when we have enough money to achieve a goal we've been working toward for a long time? When do we use the money we've been earning?
"I love The Motley Fool. I've been listening to you and your colleagues long enough now that I almost feel like I know you. Thanks for the fantastic advice and education. Sincerely, Jeff Pew."
Now, Emily, I know that we're of different generations, we've established this. You are younger than I am, I would say by about a generation. I have kids that are about your age. In fact, you were once a summer intern at The Motley Fool, and I believe at least one of my kids was that same summer. We probably each have different perspectives, which is why I wanted to have you on. I'm assuming you haven't had a lot of big lump-sum kinds of payments or needs for your investing portfolio thus far?
Flippen: No. Have not been buying myself vacation homes just yet.
Gardner: Yes, I appreciate that. But do you have any take on this? Your thinking as an investor, in terms of, if you have larger positions, should you be actively thinking about harvesting them near the time that you might want to buy that house, or not?
Flippen: It's twofold. In general, I think it's fine to cut back on your larger positions or your portfolio as a whole if you need that money to make a planned purchase. That's what that money, for many people, is there for. The flip side of that is, you really shouldn't be doing it right before you need to buy a house, for instance. If you're planning to buy a house in three years, and you have all of that money invested and a lot of it into a handful of stocks, if the market goes down --
Gardner: Like fourth quarter of 2018, for example? A lot of our stocks lost a third of their value, even though a lot of them are back.
Flippen: Exactly. So it's important not to be withdrawing your money when the market could be going through a downtime. You should ideally plan to slowly transition that money out from whatever stocks, whatever holdings you choose, into a safer vehicle for when you need that money in the future.
Gardner: Thank you! Very well put! And I'll just add, Jeff, that yeah, in a lot of ways, this is why we invest. It's not just a game -- well, it is a game, it's fun, and you should try to win. But this is a game that has real-world consequences. Often, the reason that we invest is to do the things that you talked about. For me in my own life, I bought a house. I've done that a few times. I usually have sold off stock in order to buy that house. That's why I was investing. Really, looking backward, it was some of my arguably worst financial decisions, because some of the stocks that I sold have done far better than almost any piece of real estate could. So, sometimes you're paying an opportunity cost for transitioning money that was in great stocks into a house that probably won't grow at the same rate as Netflix. Regardless, this is why we invest. I don't think anybody should be shy about selling a large position in order to fund any one of those key life goals that you articulated.
But as Emily said, I do want to echo that as I approached buying that house, I knew it was going to be a house I was going to be buying in the next year or two, so I began to sell down positions. If it is going to be selling stock, you start doing it in advance so that you don't set yourself up for a really bad surprise last second, as you hoped to fund something big and the market cowed.
Now, I probably should move on to Rule Breaker mailbag item No. 6, but Jeff included a couple of postscripts, and I thought, I have to speak to these, and I have to have my friend Cheryl Palting back to this podcast. Cheryl, welcome back to Rule Breaker Investing!
Cheryl Palting: Thank you so much! I love it!
Gardner: Thank you! You totally get it, Cheryl. That's why I keep having you on. Let me just remind our listeners again, Cheryl, what do you do here at The Motley Fool?
Palting: Yes! Hi, everyone! So happy to be back! I am on the recruiting team here with Motley Fool. I also work very closely with our org dev Fools, our learning and development Fools -- anyone basically on the people team, which includes communications, health and wellness, onboarding. A lot of fun stuff. We say that we're the fun side of human resources.
Gardner: You sure are. We do it right at The Motley Fool thanks to amazing people like Cheryl. Speaking of amazing, Emily, I don't know if you were there during Pi Day when Cheryl began to recite digits of pi?
Flippen: Yes! Extremely impressive! We had a couple of people go before Cheryl, who did a great run. Then Cheryl happens to get up. She got actually cut off before she could finish all of the digits of pi.
Gardner: You had 60 seconds to do as many digits of pi -- how many did you do?
Palting: 113. I think I said 115. But 113 before time.
Gardner: Which is amazing. I'm definitely not going to ask you to replicate that. But how about just give us the first 20 or so like you did in front of our employees?
Palting: Yeah! I'll try and do it fast. 3.14159265358979323846264338327950 --
Gardner: I'm going to cut her off because at a certain point, it's not interesting radio even though it was amazing to see at Fool HQ.
Palting: Someone listening will be like, "Let's google this, let's check this!"
Gardner: [laughs] Well, I do remember, Cheryl, you were asked afterwards by a fellow Fool here. How could you possibly know so many digits of pi? And your answer was something about your family?
Palting: Yes. I have a very competitive family. Whenever anyone says something like, "I'm going to go do this," and they hear, "You can't do that," it turns into a competition and it gets out of hand. So, here we are now! [laughs]
Gardner: I love it! It's beautiful! I wanted to continue with this remarkable email from Jeff Pew. He went on to say this. "PS." This is our friend acting in Frozen on Broadway. "I'm going to be applying for an internship at The Motley Fool this summer. I've asked my superiors at Frozen if I could be granted a leave of absence. They've said it's possible. As there are a few logistical issues to work through, I'm wondering if I could be so bold as to ask how long it would take to hear back from the team at The Fool, etc. If I submit this week, would I hear back in 10 days, a month, six weeks?" He's literally trying to gauge the timing of his potential temporary replacement on stage at Frozen against the hiring time frame of our Motley Fool summer intern program.
Cheryl, you are integral to that program, so I thought we had to feature Jeff's question. He does say, he thinks Frozen may be is his last hurrah in show business. He's ready to begin a new adventure.
So, Cheryl, two questions for you about that. First of all, what is our summer internship program? Should people still apply? How many people apply? Give us some statistics and perspective.
Palting: I just want to comment on this email super quickly. Jeff, this email is amazing, incredible. I can't wait to talk to him. We've actually already connected with Jeff. Very, very exciting there!
Our summer internship program is closed to new applications at this time. However, if anyone has any questions, they can always email us at email@example.com, and we'll get back to you as soon as possible.
For our internships, it's very, very, very competitive. We always try and convey that in all of the communications we send out. Just as an example, from the top of my head, I know we received just for our software developer roles -- we tend to have three to five, maybe -- we received over 550 applications.
Gardner: Which is ridiculous! In fact, it made me wonder, I heard sometimes Chris Hill on Market Foolery will put it out there, "Hey, apply for the internship!" Like, almost, we shouldn't tell people that because we're going to be turning away hundreds and hundreds of people. It's amazing!
Palting: Another thing to keep in mind with our summer internships is that if we find someone who's really, really amazing, we may have eight people that summer, but who knows, we might say, "This person is really incredible! We need them here!" and all of a sudden we have nine interns this summer. One summer, we had 12 interns. The following summer, we had 15. I think for us, it's important to just get really incredible people in the door, show them our Foolish ways, and then also learn from them.
Gardner: Did Emily Flippen grade out well as a summer intern in 2016?
Palting: Oh, my goodness, Emily Flippen is a game-changer!
Gardner: I know she's here, so don't feel like you have to be nice. You said game-changer?
Flippen: She's a game-changer! Emily from day one we knew was going to be special. We're so, so lucky that she's now here as a full-time, not an intern, full-time, beating records, telling our members everything they need to know to invest better, become happier, smarter, and richer. It's an opportunity for us to learn from her. I think that's one of the best things about our internships. No matter how old you are, no matter what your experience looks like, you can learn, you can form bonds with people, and really come out the other side as so integral to the company. We're so happy she's here!
Gardner: That's great! Now, Emily, I do think you have to up your pi game! You're pretty good at The Market Cap Game Show, but I think we've all seen we could up our pi game. Cheryl, before I let you go, let's broaden it briefly. Yes, our summer internship program -- where I'm regularly turning down kids I coached in soccer and members of our family because we have hundreds and hundreds of applications for maybe 12 to 15 positions each summer -- let's talk about, maybe I applied, maybe I got turned down, but I love it. Maybe I go through another year or two of school. Now I'm an adult. Maybe I'm going to apply for a job for real at The Motley Fool. Let's talk briefly about that. I know we're hiring more this year than the last five years maybe combined, almost.
Palting: Yes. We're growing like crazy. We're hiring people. We need people to come help us expand our knowledge bubble. Anything from marketing to editorial to investing to software development. I keep going back to software development. We're growing. I encourage people, if you're interested in working with us, helping us help the world invest better, become smarter, happier, richer, please visit us, visit our careers website at careers.fool.com. There, you'll see a page for openings. I think there's over 40 open positions right now. Definitely check it out. If there's nothing that really speaks to you, at that point, you can always submit a general application.
Gardner: Now, let's say I'm sitting at home and I'm awesome. Would you encourage me to apply?
Gardner: Let's say I'm sitting at home and I'm really way below mediocre.
Palting: I would say still apply.
Gardner: So, we take applications from everybody? Even not-awesome people?
Palting: I think if you have a passion for what we do here at The Fool, go ahead and apply. You don't have to have all of the credentials listed on the job description. Jeff, for example, he's an amazing person on Broadway. We don't focus on musical theater here, at least to my knowledge. But here he is, applying for one of our internships. We're excited to talk to him!
Gardner: All right, good! So all are welcome! You might even have better odds getting a job at The Motley Fool than getting a summer internship at The Motley Fool, but I wouldn't know. Anyway. To Emily, and to Cheryl, thank you both for joining us this week on Rule Breaker Investing!
Palting: Thanks, David!
Flippen: Thank you!
Gardner: All right, now for something completely different. "Hello, David," Brett Wham writes, "As you probably know, The Motley Fool scorecard," that's our online tool on The Motley Fool site, "has not reflected the vs. S&P column for a few weeks now. That's like playing Monopoly without keeping score." Let me just insert briefly that, certainly, it's always been true for us at The Motley Fool that we think you should be comparing your returns against the S&P 500. I like to use the market as the level set index that I'm trying to beat. I think a lot of us have that mentality. We've coached our members to think that way over the years. That's why Brad says that's like playing Monopoly without keeping score. "No fun," he goes on.
"Anyway, since I add to positions every week -- thank you, $0 commissions -- it's been difficult to determine and add to the true winners every week. Can you talk to what happened and when we can expect to keep score vs. the S&P again? Thanks, Brett Wham."
Thank you, Brett! My friend, Tracy Dahl -- talk about this ongoing cavalcade of all-star Fools this week! Tracy, welcome!
Tracy Dahl: Thank you, David! Brett, I do apologize that this has been a problem for you for so many weeks. The timing of your question and the taping of this podcast is spectacular, or horrible, depending on how you look at it.
Gardner: I know that you're really busy on this, Tracy. I almost felt guilty pulling you away to ask you to be on our podcast this week. I know you're working on these things.
Dahl: Yeah. I work with our tech team, and they are working on everything member facing on our websites. They understand this is a big problem. Frankly, a lot of our data feeds haven't been as great as they could be for some time, especially as our business is expanding to other countries. We have Fools in Singapore now, which is tremendous, but we weren't able to get those global Fools great returns data, or other fundamental data through the provider that we had been using. So, right now, as we're talking, my tech friends are outside the studio working really hard to update our quotes provider.
Unfortunately, this is going to require a little bit of downtime on some of the data that you guys are used to seeing on the sites. I like to think it's always darkest before dawn. So, yes, that data piece on your returns vs. the S&P 500 has been missing for a bit. More stuff will actually be missing for a tiny little bit. And then everything will become better.
Gardner: Tracy, I really appreciate, again, you and the work that you're doing, and your team, because you've got a large team working on this that you're helping to lead. Basically, The Motley Fool changed data providers. That's the big story here, right?
Dahl: That's the big story. I was in a meeting about this earlier this morning. It turns out our data provider has a data provider. We're totally out of our depth here, David, you and I. We're relying on a lot of third-party helpers. Some of this stuff is not anything that we have control over. So we're partnering with a new organization, and we're just trying to work out all the kinks.
Gardner: I know we're going to get there. But we're not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel right here as we publish on Wednesday, March 27th. Is that fair to say?
Dahl: I think that's fair to say. I don't have a hard and fast ETA for you. Everybody is working tirelessly to get this right for you guys. I know that data point in particular, so you guys can follow along with your own personal returns at home, that is No. 1 in terms of data, we want to clean up and fix for you as soon as we're able to restore all of those columns that you're used to seeing on our site.
Gardner: Great! So, maybe Brett Wham and his Foolish ilk can use a spreadsheet temporarily or something like that to log your data in between the time we had one data provider and then transitioned to another. It's not a decision we ever make lightly. I know that, Tracy. We don't do it very often at The Motley Fool. We've probably changed our corporate purpose, our mission, more often than we've changed data providers over 26 years.
Dahl: That's probably true.
Gardner: But that is what we're doing right now. Tracy, keep up the great work! I hope the team will, too. Brett, thank you for writing in! We know one thing, we're going to hear from you, our members, whatever we're doing, whether we're doing something really well like a good stock pick or a bad stock pick of mine, or whether the tools on our site are working or not. Stay tuned! We're working on it. Tracy, I want you to go back and get back to work again. Don't be on this podcast anymore!
Dahl: OK! OK! I'm leaving! Thank you, Brett! Hang tight!
Gardner: Rule Breaker mailbag item No. 7. Is that David Kretzmann joining me here on Rule Breaker Investing?
David Kretzmann: Yes, it is! Great to be back!
Gardner: All right, Rule Breaker mailbag item No. 7. We're about to go to the Gardner-Kretzmann Continuum, which recurs on this podcast from time to time. I'll have you explain that in a sec. Let me just go ahead and read this lovely note from Paul who wrote -- he actually compartmentalized a few different sections. I'm not going to read them all. There was a sucking-up-to-David one, which I'm not going to read. There is, though, this one, which was entitled Sucking Up to Rick. I would like to read this before getting to the meat of the question coming up.
This is to my producer, Rick Engdahl. Sucking Up to Rick, this section is called. He writes, "Also, as somebody who just recently started a podcast with some friends and is solely responsible for editing it, I wanted to give a special shout out to Rick as I have a better appreciation for the thankless work that editing can be. When done right, it seems like nothing was done at all. But when a mistake is made, it's out there for all to hear, much like a kicker or offensive lineman in football. Your work only tends to get noticed when something bad happens."
Well, Rick Engdahl, I sure hope that that's not true on this podcast. I don't know that you've ever made a mistake. I'm not sure you would have been called out like an offensive lineman is for holding. Rick, did you feel emotional at any point during that read from Paul?
Rick Engdahl: My condolences, Paul. Good luck!
Gardner: [laughs] Time to pull back the curtain just a little bit. Rick, one of the things I do frequently on this podcast is I stop, deciding I could say it better, then I start again. I say something like this. "Three, two, one." And I just retake, sometimes in the middle of a sentence. Rick, roughly how many times on an average Rule Breaker Investing podcast will I stop and then restart to deliver this final product that you bring out every Wednesday?
Engdahl: I don't know of a solid number of restarts --
Gardner: Give a range.
Engdahl: I usually have about 150 edits in any show.
Gardner: OK. I like to think I'm not 3-2-1-ing a hundred times, but I might be doing it dozens and dozens, possibly up to 150 times. Anyway, that's pulling back the curtain on the onerous work that Rick Engdahl and his ilk do as podcast producers. Paul, you know it because you're doing a podcast and you're editing it, too. Anyway, I love the Sucking Up to Rick section. We had to share that moment. Thank you for making that possible!
Now, to the question at hand, David Kretzmann. Paul writes, "I had a question about the Gardner-Kretzmann Continuum. I'm 38 years old with a GKC score of around 0.7. If anything, I would like to make it lower. I had read in the past that individual investors tend to perform best when they stick with their highest conviction ideas. Expanding beyond that tends to dilute performance. That makes sense to me, and it's why I've always tried to stick to between 20-30 companies. That also seems to go with the Rule Breaker philosophy to me. Why would I want to invest in my 31st best idea when I could just add more to my two or three best ideas? Can you tell me where I might be wrong, why more positions are better? Thanks again for all that you do." Fool on, Paul.
Kretzmann: Awesome question! I think it's something that we repeat a lot of times on this podcast and other podcasts: Your mileage will vary depending on your own situation, your own preferences, risk tolerance. There's not necessarily anything wrong with having a GKC score below one, which Paul in this case has. I think most individual investors should shoot for a GKC score of about one, just to be thinking in terms of broad diversification within your individual portfolio.
Gardner: Let me pause you right there, David, because I know we have some new listeners since we last talked about the GKC, which we seem to do every month or two on this podcast. Could you briefly define our term, the Gardner-Kretzmann Continuum? What does 0.7 mean?
Kretzmann: Sure. The Gardner-Kretzmann Continuum, it's probably lapping its one-year anniversary at this point, if I'm not mistaken.
Gardner: I've heard rumors that it's being considered for the Nobel Prize in Economics.
Kretzmann: Oh, excellent!
Gardner: It puts Gardner and Kretzmann in a position -- I'm not going to say a pole position, but potentially, to win the big bling, that hunk of metal that I always imagine the Nobel Prize must be. Obviously, modesty can sometimes escape us. David, what is the Gardner-Kretzmann Continuum?
Kretzmann: This is a simple score. You take the number of stocks that you own in your portfolio and you divide it by your age. As an example, let's say you own 50 stocks and you're 25 years old. Your GKC score is calculated by dividing the number of stocks that you own -- in this example, 50 stocks -- divided by your age -- 25 years old. So in this case, your GKC score would be 2.
Gardner: Well above 1. That's remarkable! You have a lot of stocks, given your age.
Kretzmann: A lot of diversification for your age. If you're 50 years old and own 50 stocks, your GKC score is 1. Generally on this podcast, over the past year or so, as our GKC score has evolved, David, you and I have thought that you don't need to aim for just 1. But ideally, 1 or higher.
Gardner: 1.0 is kind of the golden mean. A way of thinking about it is, if you're 25 years old, maybe you should have 25 stocks. I'm 52, I have about 52 stocks. There's no one way to go here. That's why it's called the Gardner-Kretzmann "Continuum."
Kretzmann: Some people will be below 1 and they'll be perfectly comfortable with that.
Gardner: Like Paul!
Kretzmann: To Paul's point, the question of, is it OK to shoot for 20 to 25 stocks, there's the Warren Buffett adage or quote that's out there, he says you should really treat buying stocks like you're punching a card where you only have 20 boxes to punch or check. Essentially meaning that over the course of your life, invest as if you're only going to buy 20 companies. I think the meaning behind that quote is to really focus on buying quality, great businesses that you want to own for a lifetime, which is something we aspire to do as Fools.
On the flip side, in our recommendation services like Stock Advisor or Rule Breakers -- or really, since The Motley Fool launched with you and Tom over 25 years ago -- the focus has really been to continue following and recommending stocks week by week, month by month, really trying to continually explore the world of business out there and try to find all the quality businesses out there. I think now in Stock Advisor and Rule Breakers, we've probably recommended over 300 companies over the past two decades or so.
Gardner: Many of which remain active recommendations. But yeah. In my experience, David, now in our third decade of The Motley Fool, and having been there at the very start, having met so many individual investors of all stripes in many different countries -- David, you're now head of Motley Fool Asia, so you especially know that better than I -- in my experience anyway, the mistake most people make is they are not diversified enough. They do not have enough stocks. So it makes me far happier to see somebody with a lot of stocks than with just a few stocks.
Paul, I think zero 0.7 is just fine. You sound like a savvier guy at the age of 38. You've got less than 38 stocks. If that's working for you, that's great. If you want to keep adding to your winners, we like that too.
Kretzmann: Yeah, absolutely! This is all directional more than anything, trying to think in terms of more diversification, not less, especially for beginners. I think a common mistake is to only buy one or two or three stocks. That way, you're just so emotionally invested in those companies. You're more likely to follow short-term movements in that case and potentially get spooked out of the market or just get the wrong idea if, "Hey, one of my stocks jumped 30% this month! I'm really good at this! I'll just keep doing this! Rinse and repeat."
I think one of the benefits also of owning more stocks is, it encourages you to pay attention to the world maybe a little bit more closely. Your portfolio doesn't get stagnant. Even if the new stocks you're adding represent less than 1% of your portfolio, you have a little bit of skin in the game. You can follow along. Especially with the year like this. You have a lot of new companies coming public. You have Lyft, Zoom, Uber, a bunch of different companies --
Kretzmann: -- Airbnb, hitting the public markets. Having skin in the game, I think, encourages you to follow long like an owner. And it can make it a little bit more fun.
Gardner: Absolutely! So, again, thank you, Paul, for a great question! There is no one-size-fits-all. That is why it's the Gardner-Kretzmann Continuum. We of course have fun with that, but we're deadly serious about the point. Each of us should be maintaining a well-diversified portfolio. That phrase can mean different things for different people at different stages of their life.
All right. The last two points on mailbag this month, David, please hang around.
Gardner: I have a poem to share, and then an inspirational story. That's how we're closing it out. David, if you're moved to tears by the poem, I want you to let people know that.
Gardner: Or, if you love the story at the end, maybe you'll have an insight.
Rule Breaker mailbag item No. 8. This comes from Alden Dyer, who wrote a very thoughtful note as a younger guy talking about perceptions about capitalism and business among people his age, reacting to some of what we've been talking about in the last few weeks on the podcast. What about socialism, what about capitalism. Alden, I don't have time to share your very thoughtful and well-articulated arguments here. But I did have time to share the poem that you wrote at the end, because we like poetry on this podcast. Thank you for a great long note, Alden! Let me share your creation with David Kretzmann and all of our fellow Rule Breakers. You wrote, "I've also written an investing poem.
it's the best.
You might not beat all the rest,
but build up that egg to bring back to your nest,
bring up that leg and get a leg up.
With just one sip and with just one sup
you are off with a zip
and you're doing quite fine.
You've built up a treasure from pennies and dimes.
It gives you great pleasure and compounds over time.
Security is achieved for yourself and your kin.
Our posterity are relieved,
although not that quick.
A Foolish whim, helping them through thick and through thin.
Saving up money not only helps you.
At first it seems funny, but it helps others, too.
It helps us help others like we want to do
so that you may help others not just one or two,
I say it helps us have fun and get through."
Thank you, Alden, for your poem, Invest!
Kretzmann: Alden? Or Dr. Seuss? I'm not moved to tears, but I am moved!
Gardner: [laughs] There was a little bit of Oh, The Places You'll Go. Maybe it's how I read it. I think I've established before, I don't even like the book Oh, The Places You'll Go. That's my least favorite of Dr. Seuss' works, even though I know for many people, it's their favorite, and they give it away as a graduation gift. Anyway, I think we both love Theodor Geisel's creations. I love that you saw Seuss in Alden's work, early Geisel.
All right, and finally this month, mailbag item No. 9. This one comes from Christian Belko.
"Hi, David! I wanted to thank you for stressing the importance in holding onto stocks, even your losers, as a part of your portfolio strategy. I listened to your methodology and I kept holding a small position in the company that I thought would do well. I did my homework; the company had a good balance sheet as well as some promising things on the horizon. But, because I'd bought the stock at the higher end, it had never recovered back to where it was at its high cost basis. Nevertheless, I decided just to keep this position and ride it all the way down to zero if it came to pass using it as a lesson learned.
"Imagine my surprise when I looked at my "loser" stock on a Monday morning only to find that it was up over 120% from its close the previous Friday. That stock for me was Spark Therapeutics, ticker ONCE. It not only made back my original investment, but the $114.50 a share buyout allowed me to cash out this at an all-time high and have new money to reallocate for other investments on my watch list.
"So, thank you for helping me learn this lesson. I've learned that with time, patience, and a willingness to let your losers run, your biggest loser can turn into one of your bigger winners. I look forward to seeing what my other 'losers' will do in the future. Thank you and Fool on, Christian Belko."
Kretzmann: Patience is a powerful thing. Not all losers turn into winners, and not all winners are guaranteed to be future winners. I know David, your style is really built on the idea of actually adding to your winners, not just holding them but actually adding to them. Especially in the world of biotech, sometimes you'll see these wild short-term movements when there's a buyout announced or a drug gets approved or a drug doesn't get approved. You see some really volatile short-term movements.
Gardner: Yeah. I think what happened to Christian, none of us should expect that would happen to us. At least for me, I've invested for a long time and I'm happy to say we've got some winners there in our Rule Breakers and Stock Advisor portfolios, but I don't think I've ever had a 120% premium buyout for any stock that I've ever held here at the age of 52. For it to be, in Chris's case, a significant loser, and flip to a truly magical winner, I don't think that's something I would expect to happen again anytime soon, Christian. But, David, your point to Christian's point patience and being willing to hold, sometimes it can all come up roses.
Kretzmann: I would look at Chipotle as a recent example. You had the share price over $750 back in 2014. Then you had the health scare with E. coli. It seemed like there was constantly pessimism surrounding the company. The share price went down to below $250 a share. Today as we tape this, I think it's at a new 52-week high at $680 a share. It can pay to be patient. Certainly, there are some investors who I would say specialize in looking at some of those beaten-down situations. Sometimes you can find a gem in the rough. But I think at the very least, it's worth being patient, especially when there's a company there that has a demonstrated long-term track record of success like Chipotle had for many years and even decades, to stick with it even if it takes a few years to recover.
Gardner: David Kretzmann, well put! Thank you for being my final guest star on this week's Rule Breaker Investing mailbag!
Next week, well, every 10 episodes or so, I pick stocks. I call it my five-stock samplers. I'll pick a theme, put five stocks out there, say, "These are going to beat the market the next one, two, three, five years." That's exactly what we're going to be doing next week. In the meantime, have a great week! Fool on!
As always, people on this program may have interest in the stocks they talk about, and The Motley Fool may have formal recommendations for or against, so don't buy or sell stocks based solely on what you hear. Learn more about Rule Breaker Investing at rbi.fool.com.