With stock prices declining and fears of hurricanes and other calamities increasing, it's understandable that people are feeling somewhat uneasy this summer. In investing, as in life, there are no guarantees of smooth sailing. But what often separates the successful from the unsuccessful is how one copes with adversity. In that spirit, we have chosen "Plan for All Seasons" for our theme this month. Far from being a bunch of Chicken Littles, we're optimistic in our overall outlook, and we recognize that planning for difficult times is best done before a disaster strikes. To kick off our monthly theme, we've chosen an inspirational message from Fool co-founder David Gardner. This comes from a recent post to the boards of David's Rule Breakers investment service.
Thus woe succeeds a woe, as wave a wave.
-- Robert Herrick, "Sorrows Succeed"
Robert Herrick (1591-1674) was a poet I studied in my junior year of college. He was a poor man's John Donne -- a 17th-century man like Donne, a clergyman like Donne, a sensualist like Donne, with metaphysical leanings, but he just didn't quite have the distribution, or the marketing, or the business partners. Donne Incorporated has had a higher market cap ever since.
OK, I'm somewhat kidding. While helping to run this Fool business thing, I'm very much an English major at heart, and I know as well as the next English major that more than distribution, marketing, or business partners, Herrick just didn't quite have Donne's PRODUCT.
But they're both great poets.
It's appropriate to lead off with a bit of R.H. in this post, because yesterday's continued market sell-off was indeed a tale of woe. I pulled my epigraph from an uncharacteristically downbeat Herrick quotation, as it allows us something of an insight into woe.
And Monday was once again woeful! Six of our stocks got whacked 5% or more, including a 12% shellacking given to my most recent re-up, American Science & Engineering
This wouldn't be particularly sickening if the past few weeks hadn't been so depressing in themselves. It wasn't much more than a month ago that the Rule Breakers scorecard's average stock was outperforming the S&P 500 by 28 percentage points, looking like Tiger Woods stepping off the first or second green. Now picture Tiger hitting the next ball into the water; teeing up again, sand trap; shot out of the trap hits a tree; shot out of the trees strikes a spectator; and (why not?) a four-putt, and you have an idea of Rule Breakers' most recent performance. Our lead over the S&P 500 has now shrunk to a comparatively mere 6 percentage points. That's a very sizeable whacking.
Fortunately, it's only one hole.
As R.H. says, "Thus woe succeeds a woe, as wave a wave." Those words should speak eloquently to stock market investors like you and me. If you were to look at the history of my investment approach, I expect you'd find that the typical way we lose 22 percentage points of our market outperformance is quickly, a few-weeks job, much as we've just witnessed. I haven't done any scientific study of this, but it certainly feels that way, at least. An old investor from whose wisdom I used to draw once said to me, speaking of stocks, "They always go down faster than they go up." Quite true. Also true, fortunately for you and me, is my own corollary to that point: "... but they always go up more than they go down."
Robert Herrick gave me my theme tonight, but fortunately for Robert and for us, it's an uncharacteristic theme. Herrick's poetry is about youth and beauty; sorrow arises only in the context that "this, too, shall pass." He's full of life. Our shtick is similar. We'll certainly acknowledge that there are bad stocks (we'll always have ours), there are disturbing times in the stock market, and there are difficult periods in our long lives. But overall? Long-term? Taken all and all? A combination of ongoing business growth and great companies makes the stock market an amazingly good entity. And life is about joy, else we wouldn't all be making such a go of it!
Just takes a little poetry to step away from it all and think, from time to time.
-- David Gardner, Feb. 5, 1997
P.S. As you can see from the dateline, the piece above was originally penned almost 10 years ago. I pulled it from our archives because it's so here-and-now apropos. Obviously, I added in recent data for the Rule Breakers service and scorecard, updated for 2006. I think it's certainly worth noting that shortly after this column was written, the market resumed its rise, resulting in a huge bull-market move over the succeeding three years. It's all about time -- and perspective. -- DG
For more articles in this series:
- When Animals Attack!
- A Retirement Plan for All Seasons
- Forget It in July
- The Summer of Our Discontent
- Planning for the Unthinkable
- Terrorism and Market Preparation
- Disaster-Proof Your Prized Possessions
For related articles:
The above article was posted on the Rule Breakers discussion board a few weeks ago. Subscribers have around-the-clock access to the boards as well as the monthly articles and various stock-picking tools and resources that are available on the dedicated site. You can learn more about joining David there with a free 30-day subscription.