That which humans collect, we have a natural urge to categorize. Books, rocks, baseball cards, whatever -- and stocks are no different. Some we classify as "growth stocks," because their revenue -- and, hopefully -- earnings are rising relatively rapidly. Others are viewed as "value stocks," because based on the fundamentals, they look underpriced. If the business has been in the habit of distributing solid, often rising dividends, it might get called an "income stock."
And then there are "story stocks" -- the ones that are trading less on their current numbers, and more on the narrative that investors and the media have built to describe why eventually, the revenue and earnings will surely arrive. Paint a compelling enough picture, and investors will bid your company up on hope and faith.
But Motley Fool co-founder David Gardner sometimes takes a different view of the "story" concept -- he prefers to think about the way occasionally, an addition to your portfolio creates a story that's unique to you, and that clarifies a specific nugget of investing wisdom.
In this episode of Rule Breaker Investing, he invites several of his colleagues into the studio to share some of their favorite "stock stories" and the lessons they learned from them. For this segment, though, he tells tale of his own: The backstory of The Motley Fool's foray into Priceline, which is now known as Booking Holdings (NASDAQ:BKNG). The investment has done OK since the Fool recommended it in 2004 and also since its rerecommendation in 2010. But the original investment thesis did prove to be a bit off the mark.
To catch full episodes of all The Motley Fool's free podcasts, check out our podcast center. A full transcript follows the video.
This video was recorded on May 1, 2019.
David Gardner: All right, stock story No. 5. This one's mine. The company is Booking Holdings, ticker BKNG. The title of my story, "I'd Rather Be Lucky and Good." Booking Holdings, not a company name that comes trippingly off the tongue. Not one of the better-sounding corporate names. I think it doesn't conjure up images like Disney or Apple for many of us. But if you remember Priceline, which is certainly still a going concern, an important one today, but this is the company that ultimately, buying out booking.com, which was the Priceline, the travel booking platform for Europe, ultimately, Priceline decided to take on Booking's name. So today, we say Booking Holdings for a company that has ownership interests in similar platforms in the United States, in Asia, and in Europe. A substantial and remarkable American company.
Well, my story begins on May 21st, 2004. Yep, that was the first day that we published our recommendation of Priceline. I picked it that day. What I want you to know now is, I had the thesis completely wrong. At the time, I was thinking that this company, which was coming off of the ruins of 2001 -- it was one of those dot-com dot-bombs. You may remember William Shatner singing in its ads. Priceline was a big deal in the late 1990s. An early mover in the travel space. But 2001 hurt everything. I remember Amazon.com went from $95 to $7 that year. Priceline was no exception. It had been devastated by the stock market, and perceptions about the internet, and really the staying power of the internet. Like, will this whole internet thing even work? Yeah, people were still wondering that in 2004, when we found Priceline.
Now, my wrong thesis at the time was, it was the third player in its industry at the time, and I was thinking, "This company probably will get bought out." So, that's what we wrote up at the time. In fact, since I'm a board gamer, I know many of you know that, I was likening it to the game of Acquire, for those who know. I'm not going to teach the rules of Acquire right now. But suffice it to say that one of the ways to play the board game, the classic board game, the Sid Sackson board game Acquire, is to buy little spaces on the board, little companies, little hotel chains, that you then hope will get eaten, bought out by the bigger hotel chains that are growing on the board in front of you as we lay tiles, because you're investing in each of these chains that we're building together on the board in front of us as we play the game of Acquire. And I thought Priceline was one of those little companies that you want to own the shares of in the game of Acquire because it's going to get bought out. Instead, what ended up happening, history will show, is that it became the biggest company and began to acquire others.
So, while I'm tempted to already give you my one-line takeaway, I'm even more tempted by the notion of giving you a few different takeaways from this one, because I think it's so instructive and rich. But from $23.71 in 2004, the price meandered. It didn't do much. Then, all of a sudden, it started skyrocketing in the late 2000s. By 2010, the stock had hit $193. It was from $23 to $193 as it became the world leader. It was at that moment that we rerecommended the stock. I remember at the time, people were saying, "Hey, guys, it's already up eight times in value. You think that we should be buying this one here?" I'm really happy to say that now, nine years later, it's gone from $193 to about $1,866.
Now, I could tell more about the story, but A, we're late in this podcast anyway; and B, a lot of you already know the business and the nature of what Priceline and Booking are doing. But I do see several lessons I want to share. The first one is, of course, add to your winners. One of the big themes of this podcast in 2018. Say it with me: winners win. It is our very nature as Rule Breaker investors to look for companies that are doing well and add to them. While I'm certainly proud that we recommended the stock way back then, 15 years ago, at $23 a share; in a way, weirdly, maybe, I'm even prouder that we added at $193, seeing where it is today. I think it reminds us how to invest that way. And in fact, one of my favorite podcasts we did in 2018 was the "Six Hows of Rule Breaker Investing." You can go back to September 19th, 2018, and hear me go through the six traits that each of us should exhibit as investors, ourselves. One of them, No. 2 specifically, is don't double down, add up, add to your winners, in a world where other people seem to want to double down on their losers. That was clearly here.
A second quick takeaway: Names change over the course of time. When you tend to hold stocks for long periods of time, the names will change. What started as Priceline is now a different ticker symbol and a different company name. In some ways, it's hard to follow long-term stories when the names change. Investors have a hard time seeing the full graphs on certain sites that'll only show it from BKNG, not back in its PCLN days. Or, I think of one of our better stock picks, Marvel, which was an amazing stock pick for us in Stock Advisor. Today, that's Disney. We see that as Disney. So some of the names start to change, especially from those of us who are long-term oriented, by definition, Foolish investors. So there's one.
Two more quick lessons. First is: Foolish investing will often, especially when practiced properly over time, blow away your expectations. I had no idea when we picked this stock at $23.71 that it would be anything like what it is today, let alone have a different name and have done as well as it did. But when you stick with our principles, and you find the great companies, and you exhibit the "Six Hows of Rule Breaker Investing," you should be prepared to have your expectations blown away.
But the one caveat to that is: It really takes time. The classic thing about trying to get rich quick, we have gotten rich, but we haven't done so quickly. But it's a really steady and wonderful way to watch these numbers compound and roll up over time. Foolish investing can blow away your expectations.
But the real takeaway I want you to get is that you can get the story wrong. I really did. I misread Priceline. But with good habits, your returns can still be oh, so right!
All right, there you have it: five stocks and five stock stories. We lead off with Aaron Bush, Under Armour. Think for yourself and stay ready to evolve, Aaron taught us. Second, Rick Munarriz, Planet Fitness. Rick said sometimes the best way to step up as a disruptor is to take a step back. Yep. Some of the companies that are the most powerful today don't make our lives more complex when they disrupt an industry; they make our lives, especially as consumers, simpler. Story No. 3 came from Karl Thiel, Intuitive Surgical. Arguably a little bit of a TMI story, but we're OK with that on this show. Karl did a great job illustrating that one expert opinion is still just one data point. Story No. 4, Emily Flippen brought us New Oriental Education. History repeats itself. And she's right. What people were saying about Chinese stocks 15 years ago -- that they're dodgy -- sounded true 10 years ago as well, and then five years ago, and it's still an argument often made today. It's not to say that Chinese accounting is, in every case, blameless; or that every company in any country is worthy of your investing. But when you're looking for the Rule Breakers, the companies that are out front leading new industries, whether it was Baidu, which is one of our best Rule Breaker picks ever -- a Chinese company -- or the quiet New Oriental Education that Emily brought for us, history repeats itself. Pay attention! And finally, I closed it all out with Booking Holdings, ticker BKNG. You can get the story wrong, but with good habits, your returns can still be oh, so right!