It's hard to believe, for me at least, that I've been a Motley Fool member for a decade now. Some of you might have passed that milestone a while ago while others might be just getting to know us here at the Fool. Either way, I thought I would reflect back at three of the most important lessons I've learned from hanging around other Foolish investors these past 10 years.
Dividends are dynamic
When I first discovered the Fool a decade ago I was a broke grad school student looking to get my financial future started on the right foot. I didn't have a lot to invest in those days; in fact, my first stock purchase was $50 worth of Sun Microsystems. While that purchase didn't end up making me as rich as I thought it would, it started me on a very profitable journey.
It was in sitting and watching Sun do nothing that the Fool taught me about the wonderful world of dividend-paying stocks. Not making a whole lot of money at the time, I loved the idea that my money could make money for me. I got hooked on buying dividend-paying stocks and seeing the income credited to my account every few months.
Two of my early investments have really stood out in my mind. Early on in my income investing days I discovered the dynamically high-yielding MLPs that could be found in the energy sector. After much research I chose midstream operator Enterprise Products Partners (NYSE:EPD), and not that long after found oil and gas producer LINN Energy (NASDAQOTH:LINEQ). Both paid very well, and in listening to the management teams on conference calls I felt like they could be trusted. Best of all, each had a solid business plan that even I could understand.
Both companies have produced excellent returns for me over the years by consistently raising distributions and prudently growing. I have little doubt that both companies will still be in my portfolio a decade from now having provided substantial income along the way. The lesson here is that holding dividend payers for the long term is a winning strategy.
Growth is great
While I love income, I'm still a young investor and need to grow my portfolio if I ever desire to retire. Finding great growth stocks and holding them despite the pull to cash out has been a really interesting endeavor. I don't want to count how many great growth stocks I've owned but sold way too early.
I, like many investors, have an Apple story. I watched and waited and finally couldn't take it anymore so I bought shares at $90 each. I promptly sold a week or so later when those shares hit $100. It's one of many stories where I sold a great stock way too early and didn't earn as much as I should have.
In listening to my fellow Fools, I decided that I was going to let my winners run, meaning that I wasn't going to sell a great growth stock again, unless the fundamentals really start to deteriorate. That's served me well and I'm proud to say that's led to a near 1,000% gain in shares of pharmacy benefits manager Catamaran and high-triple-digit gains in a number of other great growth stocks. The lesson I've learned is that growth is great, but you have to hold on to it.
Options give you, well, options
Like many investors I've made my share of mistakes, but few as costly as those I've made with options. Like many eager option beginners I was drawn to the outsized gains possible by purchasing calls. More often than not I lost every penny.
More than anything I wanted to learn how to use options prudently, and I discovered that writing options to buy stocks cheaper or sell them dearer led to much more frequent profits. Today you'll often find me writing puts on stocks like Heckmann (NASDAQOTH:NESC) or Seadrill (NYSE:SDRL) in order to buy shares cheaper. I want to own a piece of Heckmann's business because I can get behind its model, which is dedicated to solving the environmental issues surrounding fracking. Meanwhile, Seadrill is perfectly positioned to benefit from the amazing growth of deepwater drilling.
While I think both will outperform over the long term, neither traded at prices I wanted to pay, and having been through my share of corrections over the years, it wouldn't have surprised me to see shares fall the day after I bought them. In both cases I chose to write puts in an effort to buy shares cheaper, or at least earn income while trying. The lesson I've learned with the Fool's help over the years is that options really do give you options when buying a stock.
Final foolish thoughts
It's taken a while, but I've discovered the type of investor I am. I've learned that for me it's hard to hold on to growth and not take some money off the table, that's why I prefer to earn healthy income from dividends and options so I'm not tempted to cash in too early on a great growth stock. It's been quite the experience but one that's put me on solid financial footing.