I'm not a math guy.
I became a journalist in no small part because all the other degrees at my college required scary-sounding courses such as multivariable calculus or linear algebra or Fourier Analysis and Partial Differential Equations. The school of communications was willing to award me a degree for successfully completing Math for Mutants.
I'm also not really a finance guy. The Fool hired me to be the managing editor of its newsletters to ensure that the finance guys got their stories across in a way you'd want to read.
As for my investing history, I loaded up on FuelCell Energy years ago because I was a believer in alternative energy, not because it had a strong balance sheet or particularly inspiring management. The company now accounts for a much smaller portion of my portfolio, in part because I've bought many other stocks, but also because its shares have plummeted since my initial purchase. In hindsight, I would have been better off investing in companies like ExxonMobil
In last year's Fool-wide stock-picking game, I went with Fannie Mae, believing that things couldn't get any worse for the mortgage lender. Yeah, that was right before things got worse for Fannie.
To be honest, I'm not even sure what kind of investor I am. On Monday, I'm solidly behind the idea of investing in companies that pay dividends, reinvesting, and enjoying the fairly reliable long-term returns of a giant conglomerate like Fortune Brands
I tell people that my scattered approach is an intentional effort at diversified asset allocation, but that's pretty much a crock. It's investing schizophrenia.
Let growth stocks grow your portfolio
The smart people here assure me there's nothing taboo about this lack of stylistic focus, and it's not like I'd be able to pick a single approach even if they told me I had to. Not every investor meshes perfectly with an investing approach. No biggie.
But for some, the match is obvious. My daughter, Leah, is much more single-minded in her approach to stock picking -- she's a Rule Breakers girl, through and through. The oversimplified idea behind Rule Breakers is to examine companies that might not be a Big Deal yet but very well could be some day. The newsletter service -- led by Fool co-founder David Gardner, the always-eager borderline zealot whose enthusiasm carries through the halls of Fooldom (and sometimes requires headphones) -- tries to identify companies with competent management, sound balance sheets, and above all, great ideas. Not just great ideas, but ideas that have the potential to fundamentally move markets. These picks don't always make sense to the masses, but a few years ago Activision
Archipelago Holdings, now part of NYSE Group, is another example. Like many of the picks from David and his team, this company took a different approach to an existing situation -- in this case, trading stocks electronically instead of relying on a bunch of screaming maniacs in a pit. The company, and its selection in the newsletter, raised some eyebrows and garnered some ridicule. The stock floundered for a while until the layers of conventional wisdom surrounding it were chipped away, and it gained the ultimate acceptance -- a merger deal with the venerable New York Stock Exchange, whose leaders saw the virtue of this radical (and eminently logical) new business model. Shares are up more than 180% since it was recommended in February 2005.
Of course, not all of the picks are going to prove David's visionary qualities that quickly -- and yes, I think it's safe to call someone a visionary if he invested in AOL, Dell, etc., etc., before those companies were the industry stalwarts they are today. (And no, he's not looking over my shoulder right now.) Some of the industry rebels on the Rule Breakers Scorecard -- such as organic light-emitting diode expert Universal Display
That's just fine for Leah. She's about 760 months from retirement.
Big returns require big ideas
The risk is that Universal Display won't be the big winner -- it could bomb -- and that's a real risk with any Rule Breaker. Leah agonizes over those kinds of investment decisions for days; she didn't want to become a burden on her retired parents down the road because of a few failed investments.
But as Leah tells it (she's very loquacious for her age), there are two secrets to ultimate growth stock investing: a stomach for volatility and lots of patience. My colleague John Reeves made a great point in a commentary that really grabbed Leah's attention. He took us back to the summer of 1992 and gave us a $100,000 inheritance and had us invest equally in four companies, including Starbucks. Even if the other three companies went under in the first year of operation, John showed, that initial $100,000 investment would now be worth just north of $1 million. We're looking at a 916% overall return with a .250 batting average.
Granted, Starbucks is a pretty nice example, but it's exactly the type of disruptive, market-changing company that David and his team are scouting and recommending over at Rule Breakers. Full disclosure: This is the sales pitch portion of the program. But I suggest you take a free, no-obligation 30-day trial only because it makes sense. I believe in Rule Breakers and all the other Motley Fool publications -- I wouldn't work here if I didn't -- and I believe a subscription will make you a better investor. I completely believe it will make you money. Click here to learn more.
Leah's already doing well on her Rule Breakers investments -- she's itching to buy a new tricycle, but I'm committed to teaching her the logic of a buy-and-hold approach -- but the best is still down the road. And you don't have to be a math or finance genius to figure that one out.
This article was originally published June 15, 2005. It has been updated.
Roger Friedman is the managing editor of newsletters and the author of Nipple Confusion, Uncoordinated Pooping and Spittle: The Life of a Newborn's Father . Fannie Mae and Dell are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. Activision, Dell, and Starbucks are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. The Motley Fool isinvestors writing for investors.