Editor's note: In the original version of this column, we implied that Hurco executives in aggregate had sold 80% of their combined stake in the company. This is incorrect. In actuality, while several executives have sold the majority of their stakes, it's inaccurate to imply that they have done so as a group. We regret and apologize for the error.
Months ago, I came across a stock with some unbelievable numbers. Sales looked good. Income was up. And the valuation metrics were out of control. Its name? USG Corporation
Based on what I knew -- which wasn't much -- I gave it a lot of consideration, but did I pull the trigger? First let me say that even thinking about making an investment without weeks of research is alien to me. I come from a value-focused hedge fund. We had all day to analyze stocks, and we used it, often burning the midnight oil. Hedge funds have a reputation as the gunslingers of the market, but I assure you mine was anything but. We held just a handful of stocks, and we knew them cold. But staying abreast of them -- and finding new ones -- took a lot of time. That kind of thoroughness is what The Motley Fool is all about, too. When it comes to burning the midnight oil, Tom Gardner -- Motley Fool co-founder and editor of the Hidden Gems newsletter -- could give the hedge fund crowd a run for their collective money.
No, I didn't buy USG. It turned out it had substantial asbestos liabilities -- liabilities that a stock screen or cursory browse on Yahoo!
Regardless, those risks still exist, and with any investment it's important to know what you're betting on. No screen or quick peekaboo would have clued you in to the fact that PetroKazakhstan
Bottom line? Time management is a make-or-break factor in investing, encompassing both investing success and, especially, the avoidance of potential blowups.
The "Are you kidding me?" formula
There's more. Years ago I read a book about theories underlying accounting and financial statements. It spent a lot of time on a common solvency formula: earnings available to pay fixed charges divided by those fixed charges. Via several chapters of buildup, it replaced the everyman's simple version with a "corrected" formula, one that added several tweaks to the numerator and denominator. Was it right? Yes -- it eliminated a lot of flaws in the raw accounting numbers. But that accuracy was expensive in that an everyman might need to set aside days to calculate it.
Time: The investor's albatross
I remember in sixth grade when the school embarked on what would become a systematic blackmailing of neighbors and parents' friends. We were given the task of selling a combo of trinkets and fudge, and the kid who strained his or her relationships the most got a turn in "the money booth." You probably already know what I'm talking about, but for the uninitiated, it's a phone-booth-like enclosure with a fan blowing dollar bills around. The not-as-lucky-as-he-thinks kid is momentarily surrounded by what seems to be a small fortune, but in his frenzy to grab everything, ends up with maybe $6 or so.
Lack of time tends to pull investors in one of two ways. The first is the situation above: making futile grasps in a blizzard of information overload. The second is a tunnel vision, nose-too-close-to-the-grindstone scenario, one that gives the feeling of thoroughness at the expense of a life full of opportunities whizzing by unseen. This creates an additional liability, as the expenditure of time, along with that of mental and emotional capital, tends to unduly magnetize investors toward already-researched stocks.
Having time troubles with your investing?
Then the best investment you can make is an investment in your time management. And I've got ideas for you. The first is simple, at least in spirit. Spend some time -- as much as you initially need -- honing your criteria for investments. For a live example, check out Rich Smith's 7 Steps to Finding Hidden Gems article. With 10,000 stocks and a day job, you absolutely have to develop efficient methods for cutting to the ones you're likely to bite on. Second, spread the load -- among trusted company. Got a group of like-minded, like-ability investor friends? Start an investing club. It's that simple. And clubs are a great way to keep yourself honest and efficient.
Still pressed for time? Why not take a free trial of the Motley Fool's Hidden Gems newsletter? The harried will like that two stock recommendations come floating their way every month (along with buy-in prices), while the detail-oriented will appreciate the investment theses, complete with counterpoints, provided behind each selection. Hands-on or hands-off, it's your choice. And you're never far from an investing club of sorts, since Hidden Gems membership comes with access to exclusive discussion boards, where members can share thoughts, insights, and questions with like-minded investors without the plague of profane and inane comments typical of boards elsewhere.
Whether you pick and choose or buy them all, you'll likely lose money on some of the recommendations. That's investing reality. But I'll say that since its July 2003 inception, editor (and Motley Fool co-founder) Tom Gardner's picks have collectively returned 43.6%, compared to an 8.3% return for corresponding investments in the S&P 500.
Even if you don't sign up for the newsletter (although I do hope you'll at least take a no-obligation, 30-day trial), I suggest you take a few moments to think about how time has affected your investing. If the answer is "negatively," consider taking some sort of action to get a better handle on your future. Investing is a critically important task -- one that shouldn't get neglected as often as it does.
Claiming your totally free 30-day trial subscription to Hidden Gems won't take long at all -- we promise. Simply click right here.
James Earlydoes not own any of the stocks discussed in this article. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.