I'm not entirely comfortable with one-liner market philosophies. Either they're fabled mantras like "buy low, sell high," or they're golden nuggets of ear candy -- from sharp mouths like Warren Buffett's or Benjamin Graham's -- that pack wit and substance but skimp on direction.
The pursuit of the elusive bumper-sticker motto can drive one batty because stock advice is supposed to be malleable. Spooning out a universal elixir in concentrate form, as if some expansive deluge will bring uniform answers to all... well, it's no easy task. However, I think I've finally stumbled on a simple statement that will work if time is of the essence -- if someone on the other side of the elevator door begs for that one morsel of market advice as the doors come together in the kiss that waves floors goodbye. There are five words that I'm willing to lay my hat on.
Invest like you mean it.
It's as simple as that. In favor of the high-octane Rule Breakers, I wrote about the merits of growth stock investing recently, while Philip Durell and Chuck Saletta countered with the Inside Value perspective. Growth? Value? Which is superior? I'm not up for stirring the pot of January's stew. My point is only that it doesn't matter where you stand, as long as you do, in fact, take that stand and do it with conviction and aplomb.
Taking a stand is easier than you think
Why do you think we have thousands of mutual funds out there specializing in either growth or value stocks? If one approach trounced the other with any form of regularity, do you really think the perpetual loser would still be around? There has probably never been much of a Washington Generals cheering section in their "games" against the Harlem Globetrotters, no matter how much we all might love the hapless underdogs.
So you'll find folks -- like David Gardner -- who really know how to pick great growth stocks, just as you'll find more than a savvy few -- like Philip Durell -- who possess an uncanny knack for nailing the undervalued turnaround candidates.
If you can commit to the appropriate investing philosophy and take the time to understand the nuances and mechanics, how can you not beat the market? Somewhere out there in the vast investing universe, there may be someone who will only buy into companies that start with the letter S. Yet with some due diligence and resolve, even this selectively phobic investor can wind up with Starbucks
Our real-money Rule Breakers portfolio trounced the market through the late 1990s on the strength of a group of companies that started with the letter A. One can argue that there are great stocks to be had on both sides of the alphabet-soup spectrum. After all, you probably won't be doing too shabby if your portfolio consisted solely of XM Satellite Radio
Every investor can be a Globetrotter
Investing without research is like riding a bicycle without brakes: Getting started is easy, but you'll often end up in a collision. That means that the person unfolding the grenadine-stained cocktail napkin in an effort to make a killer purchase on the basis of a blurry ticker symbol is as good as a Shirley Temple toast in the market.
If you've been investing for a long time, you probably know that your best investments have likely been in companies that you already knew well. Maybe you were a customer. Maybe you toiled away in the same sector and understood what made the company great. You saw the spark. Early. You kicked the tires. Often. You made the call. Once. For those of you who are relatively new to the market, trust me -- or ask someone you know with a little more market seasoning.
So why waste your time -- and your money -- speculating? Don't fear the educational process just because you think the market is going to toss you a learning curve. Investing is easy. It's investors who are complicated. Yet the only investor you really need to get acquainted with a little better is you.
Tapping into your "inner investor"
Some of my best investments in recent years have been in companies that I knew so well, I thought we would complete each other's sentences. Anyone care to quiz me on the various rides and attractions in all of Disney's
This doesn't mean that your case has to be so compelling that others will have no choice but to nod in agreement. While I have yet to buy shares of fast-growing retailer Build-A-Bear Workshop
So who are you? Do you have Rule Breaker potential? Are you the master of your Inside Value domain? These are questions that only one person can answer, and that person will be staring back at you when those shiny elevator doors come together.
Yet before they reveal this ultimate investor, and while the doors are still cracked open enough to whisper words that will carry, tell me the five words that I long to hear as much as I long to have you understand my advice.
Invest like you mean it.
This article was originally published on Feb. 3, 2005. It has been updated.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz really doesn't condone alphabet-soup investing -- though it may be the basis for another column that ferrets out the most lucrative letter in the investing alphabet. He owns shares in Disney. The Fool has a disclosure policy. Rick is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.