"Dear Motley fools: Yuck. You sound like what you are, which is a bunch of liars and cheaters caught in the act. In summary, [expletive redacted] you." -- Reader email, April 1, 2011
After 18 years of being one of the most vocal advocates of buy-to-hold investing, has The Motley Fool completely switched gears in favor of short-term trading? Have we been running a secret boiler room hyper-trading operation with Fool.com writers making hundreds of trades a day? Is the company really selling a short-term trading platform for individual investors?
Well, yes. But that was yesterday.
As many of you guessed, yesterday -- April 1 -- we celebrated The Motley Fool's de facto annual holiday, April Fool's Day. Every year we take a time-out from our regular programming in an attempt to amuse (as well as educate and enrich) individual investors.
This April 1, it was all about becoming "richer than your wildest dreams in just seconds, without even having to lift more than a finger!" by reserving your copy of The Motley Fool's proprietary day-trading platform -- ZippyTrade2000™. We received more than 2,000 ZippyTrade requests, but before we get to that, here's a rundown of how the "events" of yesterday unfolded:
- Tom and David Gardner announced that, because of a series of private and confidential company documents made public on "WikiLeaks," The Motley Fool was coming forward to acknowledge the truth about our company's underlying business. You know, in the interest of honesty and transparency. (Ahem.)
- It was revealed that our entire editorial department has been systematically disseminating misleading investing advice to capitalize on short-term movements (initiated by our coverage). (Here's the leaked "writer/trader daily writing and trading schedule.") In fact, the joke claimed, Fool.com articles contain encrypted trading information for our fake "Elite Fool members." One of the leaked memos revealed the translation key.
- Indeed, while for years we have espoused these virtues of long-term investing, we've been privately testing, deploying, and perfecting our internal short-term trading platform, ExcelsiorSpeedTrade900LX™. Several images were leaked that showed the abhorrent "trading desk" conditions, the amount of paperwork generated by our "hyper-trading" activities (and the Enron-ish cover-up), and a snapshot of our "after-hours trading operation."
- With "WikiLeaks" revealing our secret scheme, we figured, heck, we might as well make a buck or two off the publicity. So we scrambled to roll out a "consumer version" of ExcelsiorSpeedTrade900LX™ called ZippyTrade2000™ so you, too, could "hyper-click your way to wealth" alongside us.
- After the news was made public, a series of ugly press incidents ensued: We were fined by the IRS, snared in an SEC probe, sued by a consumer auto-products company, and exposed by an open-source software-development company.
Some Fools caught on to the hoax -- and even played along. Many were mystified and (rightly) disappointed in us, and even offended by the tenor of our internal email exchanges: "I find this revelation to be very disappointing. I am starting to get the feeling that your company is no different than all the telemarketer types that you constantly criticize."
But the vast majority of respondents wanted a piece of the action, sending emails requesting a copy of the ZippyTrade2000™ software we said we were giving away free to the first 100 respondents: "Sure I'd like to get a free copy of the software and learn more about short trading. Does it work on a Mac?"
On Monday on Fool.com, we'll publish some of the best responses we received, including some zingers from Tom Gardner's impromptu live chat with readers to discuss ZippyTrade.
We haven't lost our way -- and neither should you
We promise that we believe in the power of long-term investing just as much as we ever have. Investing success is not measured in seconds, minutes, months, or even a year or two. It's not for nothing that the world's greatest investor -- Warren Buffett -- has said that the key to successful investing is timeline and temperament.
As Buffett once said, "Our favorite holding period is forever." However, the ability to tune out the noise -- to put down the newspaper, turn off the TV, and stop refreshing our screens every 45 seconds -- requires discipline. And that is why people continue to look for magic-bullet "programs" like ZippyTrade -- products that promise individual investors a shortcut to instant, easy riches. What they don't tout are the huge trading fees, taxes, and (frequently) investment losses their products really generate.
Timeline and temperament are what separate investors from speculators. As investors, we:
- Buy stock in solid businesses: Remember, when you buy a stock you're buying a living, breathing business, not a ticker symbol or a line on a daily chart. Here's more on what we think makes a business an attractive investment.
- Don't time the market. We certainly don't speculate when we buy stocks. Speculation is what Wall Street traders do. Instead, we expect to be rewarded over time through share-price appreciation, dividends, or share repurchases. We try not to fixate on the day-to-day movements in stock prices. If we're unsure of when to pull the trigger, we pull it lots of times (through dollar-cost averaging or buying in thirds). And, finally …
- Buy to hold. We buy stocks with the intention of holding them for long haul. That said, we don't hold on just for the sake of holding. Buy-TO-hold is a better descriptor of the long-term investment mindset. As we explain here, there are plenty of reasons to sell a stock. But selling it because the trading button on ZippyTrade2000™ suddenly turns red is not one of them.
We hope you enjoyed our April Fool's joke. While The Motley Fool loves a good prank on the first of April, we hope we haven't offended any Fools in the process. Again, we'll share some of our favorite responses to this year's joke on Monday. Until then, Fool on!
And in case you missed it …
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