Presenting common-sense stock advice in an extremely readable style, Peter Lynch's Beating the Street is a great read for the beginning investor. Lynch, the former manager of the Fidelity Magellan Fund, spent 13 years picking thousands of stocks, so he knows of what he speaks. This expertise, combined with his conversational and at times folksy writing style, gives him the air of a genial college professor and makes for a book that, somewhat to my surprise, was hard to put down.
Lynch's advice is simple: If you want to have more money, you have to put some of your assets into a handful of stocks, in companies that you have researched.
Much of what Lynch says will be familiar to longtime Fools: Buy shares of reasonably valued companies, and when it comes to retail, if you like the store, chances are you'll love the stock. (Of course, in the case of Gap
Lynch also, intentionally or not, provides an interesting sociopolitical background for some of the stock market peaks and lows over the past several decades. He refers quite frequently to the Great Correction of 1987 and the Saddam Sell-Off several years later. His in-depth analysis of The Body Shop and Pier One also make it clear that as new trends -- be they for all-natural face and body products or mid-range home decor -- take hold in society, so do they appear in the market. And the exhaustive chapter and frequent references to S&Ls provide either a refresher course in that chapter of financial history or a perhaps unpleasant memory for some readers.
The focus on S&Ls is one of the major weaknesses of the book. Beating the Street was published in 1994, and while the stock advice remains timeless, the S&L material seems a bit dated. If, like me, you need that refresher course on what exactly an S&L is, then the beginning of the chapter will prove interesting (when Lynch discusses his specific picks, your interest level may wane); otherwise, feel free to skip this chapter altogether.
Lynch's readers would benefit from an updated version of this text; reading, I couldn't help wondering what he would say about Starbucks, Apple, and Amazon.com, as well as the new possibilities in international investing -- a topic Lynch does write about, though mainly with respect to Europe. Still, reading what companies and stocks were strong in the '80s and early '90s presents a fascinating snapshot of that time and proves that, as Lynch is fond of saying, you can't predict the future.
Another weakness? Lynch's "Peter's Principles" are sprinkled throughout the book and include Principle No. 2, "Gentlemen who prefer bonds don't know what they're missing." However, for as folksy as Lynch could be, it's hard to forget that he worked for a major mutual fund. And as a fund manager, he enjoyed unique access to presidents and other highly ranked executives of companies he was interested in. Lynch describes coming into work the day after Christmas, calling the chairman of Glacier Bancorp
Lynch can also be a bit repetitive. By the third or fourth mention of IBM, I could predict the end of his sentence before I read it, and some company names cropped up so much that they literally haunted my dreams that night. But that is a fairly minor quibble and possibly more a reflection on a too-lenient editor than on Lynch himself.
For the beginning investor, Beating the Street is an invaluable guide -- investing advice cleverly mixed in with personal history. The timelessness of the advice becomes even clearer when compared with the companies for which the advice is given -- the fortunes of The Body Shop, Gap, and Chili's may rise and fall, but knowing when to buy and sell will never change.
Few would describe Fool editor Sarah Erdreich as being too lenient, and she has yet to work on the day after Christmas. Sarah does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.