I'll tell you a story, and you tell me what you think.
It's about a young man who "gambled" a fortune and lost -- and in so doing, learned a valuable lesson. Naturally, there's a surprising twist.
But is it true?
I'm not sure. It was first told by Napoleon Hill, a friend of Andrew Carnegie, in his book Think & Grow Rich. It's since been passed down for 71 years.
I think you'll find it offers some perspective to investors like us -- plus, the six words you don't want to say. So here it is…
In the gold-rush days ...
A young man and his uncle went west. The going was hard, but eventually they hit pay dirt. Quietly, they covered up the mine, retraced their steps, and told a few friends and neighbors of the strike.
When they’d raised the money to buy the gear they needed, they had it shipped, and followed it west -- to one of the richest "finds" in Colorado. Just a few carloads worth of ore would clear their debts. Then would come the big killing in profits.
"Down went the drills! Up went the hopes of Darby and Uncle! Then something happened! The vein of gold ore disappeared! ... They drilled on, desperately trying to pick up the vein again all to no avail."
Given the way the market has behaved the past year or so, you probably feel their pain.
And we do, too
There was a time when everything we touched turned to gold. In April 2002, when I helped Motley Fool founders David and Tom Gardner launch their Motley Fool Stock Advisor newsletter, you could have plucked a ticker from the "most actives list" at random and made serious money.
The S&P 500 has surrendered nearly 20% since its October highs. And that's peanuts compared to the pain inflicted on folks who fell into the Ford
It would be easy to give up
After all, that's what our heroes did when their vein of gold ore apparently dried up. They quit -- sold their tools to a junkman for a few hundred bucks and took the train back home. And that should have been it.
But the "junkman" had other ideas. He hired an engineer to survey the abandoned mine. I'll spare you the technicals, but he calculated that the vein would pick up just three feet from where they had stopped drilling. That's exactly where it was found.
You can guess what happened next. The "junkman" took millions of dollars in ore from the abandoned mine.
"I stopped three feet from gold!"
Of course, those are the six words you never want to say. And that's why, when I recently spoke with David and Tom Gardner, they weren't telling their Stock Advisor subscribers to sell. In fact, like most smart managers, they're shopping for bargains.
Earlier, I said that in April 2002, you could have picked a stock almost at random and made money. That's obvious, in hindsight. But for the first six months of that year, the S&P was down a full 30%. I feel for those who threw in the towel.
As for Stock Advisor subscribers, they're glad they stuck with it. According to Hulbert Financial Digest, David and Tom's picks are up more than 18.4% per year since, including 24 that went on to double in value or more. At that rate, your money doubles every four or so years.
Just call me a "junk man"
Now’s the time to start surveying the goldmine investors have abandoned, following David and Tom Gardner’s lead. Like the engineer in our story, they have a proven methodology, the right tools, and years of experience on their side -- and they're digging in the right place.
Do you really want to risk saying, "I quit three feet from gold?" I don't. Instead, why not try Stock Advisor free for 30 days? You get David and Tom's latest picks, including their top five stocks for new money right now. You can even read every single issue instantly online. If you don't like what you see, you don't pay.
I've never had much luck calling market tops or bottoms. But I have a funny feeling that patient, long-term investors will look back warmly on this market. We always do. I hope you will, too. To find out more about your special offer to try Stock Advisor for a month free, click here now.
This article was originally published on Jan. 22, 2008. It has been updated.
Paul Elliott doesn't own any of the stocks mentioned. Amazon.com, eBay, and NVIDIA are Stock Advisor recommendations. You can see all of David and Tom's Stock Advisor picks instantly with your free trial. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy prefers Assateague to the Hamptons.