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 twist.
But is it true?
I'm not sure. It was first told by a guy named Napoleon Hill, a friend of Andrew Carnegie, in his book Think & Grow Rich and has been passed down for 71 years.
I think you'll find it offers some perspective to investors like us in this brutal market -- plus, the six words you don't want to say right now. 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 at random and made money.
All told, the S&P 500 surrendered more than 50% from its peak. 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 ran dry. 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 again just three feet from where they had stopped drilling. That's exactly where it was found.
You can guess what happened next. The "junkman" walked off with 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 the S&P was down -- a full 30%. I feel for those who threw in the towel at the bottom.
Just call me a "junk man"
Marty Whitman, Warren Buffett, John Bogle ... the investors I admire most finally agree: It's time to survey the gold mine that skittish investors have left for barren. They're all buyers despite the gloom and doom.
That's why I'm turning to David and Tom Gardner. Like the engineer in our story, they have a proven method, the proper tools, and years of experience -- and they're digging in the right place.
So before you give up on stocks, ask yourself this: Do you really want to risk saying, "I quit three feet from gold?" I don't. Especially when David and Tom are inviting investors to try Stock Advisor free for 30 days. You can get their latest picks, including their top five stocks for new money 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 think we're much nearer the bottom here, and that patient, long-term investors will look back warmly on this market. 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, 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.