Well, I was shut out in last month's record Powerball lottery drawing, Ed McMahon hasn't shown up lately to declare me the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes winner, and I fell one property short from winning a fancy prize in the last McDonald'sMonopoly promotion. But luck may still be on my side. Several days ago, an unusual email appeared in my inbox promising exclusive investment advice that is "powerful enough to put $500,000 in your pocket in the next 12 months."
Wow, with an ironclad investment strategy that delivers profits like that, who needs Ed McMahon anyway? However, the advertisement didn't specify how much money I needed to start with today in order to have a portfolio worth $500,000 12 months hence. $1,000? $100,000? $1 million? I decided to overlook that curious aspect. Who would let a trivial matter like actual rates of return stand in the way of a system capable of producing such tremendous rewards?
Too good to be true
Now, some might dismiss such a claim as hype, but the letter reassured me that a paid membership would provide access to the same techniques that have unlocked one triple-digit win after another for existing readers. To drive home that point, the email then spotlighted an impressive list of recent winning trades, including a 214% gain on a chemical company in just one week.
Apparently, the key to earning such stellar returns lies in uncovering the raciest momentum stocks with the strongest growth rates and the highest relative strength. While I had thought such companies were often overvalued and volatile, the invitation went on to explain that they were actually "exceptionally safe." Better still, the invitation elaborated, it only takes two of these high-fliers to accumulate $1 million. Simply invest $10,000 in a single stock that surges 10-fold and then parlay the proceeds into a second one that does the exact same thing. That sounds easy enough, right? If only we had known this sooner.
Finding a needle in a haystack
Forgive me for being cynical, but these types of advertisements are all too common, circulating throughout cyberspace and preying on inexperienced investors seeking legitimate guidance. Though the service could possibly be reputable -- at least the math checks out -- I'm not willing to pay them my hard-earned money to find out. Why? Because the logic behind it is, at best, highly optimistic and, at worst, dangerously misleading. While clever marketing and persuasive writing might suggest otherwise, 10-baggers don't exactly grow on trees.
However, while it is good to approach any unsolicited investment offer with a healthy degree of skepticism, being overly cautious can also be a mistake. For whatever reason, I used to believe that most investing newsletters were like tip sheets at the racetrack and couldn't be trusted, and those that could were geared for much more sophisticated investors with a larger bankroll to work with. I've since learned that there are exceptions, but only because I was fortunate enough to have someone else subscribe to Motley Fool Income Investor on my behalf.
I'll skip the glowing testimonial and the list of reasons why I look forward to reading each new issue every month, which may or may not mean a thing to you. Instead, I thought it might be more interesting to peek in on several previous Income Investor recommendations and see how they're doing. For the skeptics out there like me, I know what you're thinking: anyone can cherry-pick a few past winners. However, sometimes the most effective measure of a service is found in its weaknesses, not its strengths. With that in mind, the three stocks below are among the portfolio's worst performers to date:
The world's second-largest provider of packaged foods from macaroni and cheese to Oreo cookies is one of the newest members of the Income Investor portfolio, added back in September at $31.10. Like many companies, Kraft has been battling the erosive effects of soaring commodity costs, and rising expenses related to transportation and packaging have kept a lid on margins.
Last month, Kraft announced that third-quarter sales increased 4.4% to $8 billion. Unfortunately, the cost of those goods rose at an even faster clip of 7.2%, which weighed heavily on margins and caused earnings to sink 11% for the period. This difficult environment has pushed Kraft stock to new lows and forced management to shave a nickel off its full-year earnings guidance. However, another round of price hikes is on the way. And with an enviable portfolio of well-loved brands and an array of promising new products expected to produce $1.5 billion in sales this year, the company is still on track to generate copious full-year free cash flows of $3.1 billion.
This has enabled management to raise Kraft's quarterly dividend by 12% to $0.23 per share (which has risen nearly 80% since the company began trading in 2001) and to repurchase approximately 13 million shares last quarter alone. Those snacks should help satisfy shareholders' appetites while the company works through these challenging conditions.
Like other manufacturers of home furnishings, La-Z-Boy has been stuck in a protracted slump, plagued by rising raw material costs, a sluggish retail sales environment, and the proliferation of cheap Asian imports. Last October, an earnings warning triggered a sharp 17% sell-off in the shares, prompting chief Income Investor analyst Mathew Emmert to take advantage of the pessimism and lock in a yield north of 3%. In the months since, though, the well-known furniture maker has continued to lounge.
Things began to deteriorate in August, when the company issued weak second-quarter guidance (and a head-scratching excuse) that didn't sit well with investors. Two months later, management toned down its outlook even further, citing an industrywide foam shortage and tornado damage to a key manufacturing facility. By mid-October, the stock had sunk to a new 52-week low of $10.13, well below our purchase price of $14.90.
La-Z-Boy, however, has sprung back to life in recent weeks. On Nov. 15, the company posted better-than-expected second-quarter numbers. The shares immediately rallied more than 18%, finishing with their biggest one-day gain in more than six years. Better still, management released an upbeat third-quarter earnings forecast that was comfortably ahead of estimates. With the foam shortage behind and a stronger outlook ahead, La-Z-Boy should continue to rebound.
This company's stock ticker says it all. Cedar Fair is one of the nation's largest amusement park operators, with a well-rounded portfolio encompassing six water playgrounds and seven traditional amusement parks, including the flagship Cedar Point property along the banks of Lake Erie. Together, those parks attract more than 12 million thrill-seeking visitors every year. As a master limited partnership (MLP), Cedar Point funnels the bulk of its tax-advantaged profits directly through to unitholders every quarter.
The stock has seen its ups and downs lately and has currently dipped around 7% below our purchase price. However, the company itself is worth lining up for, with a stellar return on equity (ROE) in excess of 35, attractive operating margins north of 20%, and one of the industry's most affordable price/cash flow ratios (8.5). By comparison, struggling rival Six Flags
And if you act now...
The Income Investor newsletter launched in August 2003. Two years and more than 50 recommendations later, it is inevitable that some of those companies such as the three profiled above -- and a few others such as Merck
But the good news doesn't end there. "Losers" such as Kraft and Cedar Fair are greatly outnumbered by those that have already delivered solid gains. Thirteen selections have handily outpaced the S&P 500 by more than 14%, leaving the overall portfolio safely ahead of that key benchmark -- with less volatility.
A free trial will pull the curtain and unveil all of Mathew's recommendations, which have been culled from every corner of the high-yield universe -- from REITs to MLPs. You may even discover that the timely market commentary and in-depth (but still entertaining) research is ultimately worth even more to your portfolio, even if it doesn't put $500,000 in your pocket over the next year.