The stock market may be one of the finest masochistic devices ever devised for those among us who are slightly compulsive. Few things in this world can match the feeling of being absolutely right about a stock and failing to buy it, or being mostly right about a stock and selling it too soon.
While the gut reaction might be to scramble back into the missed opportunity, sometimes the Foolish approach is much better. But in this case, what would a Fool do?
I believe the proper Foolish perspective is to look at the stock market like a 24-hour bus station -- with opportunities coming and going all the time. For those who sit back and calmly wait for the next opportunity to arrive, there's no need to rush out in traffic and chase after a stock that already has too many people jumping on the bandwagon.
Multiple opportunities for one stock
The first reason I don't often see a compelling reason to chase stocks is that most companies inevitably give patient investors a second (or third, or fourth) chance to buy. That follow-up opportunity could be a price higher or lower than the first go-round, but it often proves to be a better trade-off of risk and reward than chasing a hot stock.
Look at the likes of Elan
Since the market can freak out at almost any time, over almost any thing, the possibility of getting second chances on good companies is a very compelling reason to keep a watch/wish list. Do your due diligence, follow the news, and come up with what you believe is an attractive buy-below price based upon your standards and tolerances. You won't always get what you want, but I believe that a carefully tended watch list can put you in a good position to capitalize on occasional freak-outs.
Don't chase stocks
Part and parcel of the bus station concept is that Fools shouldn't chase stocks. Once the stock has left the station and surpassed your reasonable estimate of its value, let it go. Take a lesson from your parents on this one -- if you run out into traffic to chase a toy, you're taking far more of a risk than that toy is worth. Ditto with runaway stocks -- you make a habit of running into traffic, and you're going to get splattered someday.
Think of it this way: The right stock at the wrong price is, by definition, the wrong stock. Paying much more than $40 a share for Motley Fool Inside Value pick Coca-Cola
Fools also need to accept that companies and stocks will run their course, and sometimes there just isn't much left. Chasing after a fundamentally strong, but expensive, stock on its way up isn't really much worse than chasing a cheap, but fundamentally weak, story on its way down. Companies like Iomega or Gateway could have second acts, but why chase them until you're sure they're on solid footing again?
Thousands of choices
This is one of the core reasons that I don't believe in chasing after stocks -- there are literally thousands of choices at any point in time. There are thousands of listed stocks traded on U.S. exchanges and thousands more overseas. Why, then, should you extend yourself beyond a margin of safety for one single idea?
The truth is there are almost always good stories lying undiscovered in every market. Even in the wake of the tech bubble and 9/11, you could have been buying shares of Bank of the Ozarks or Target
And even if you can't find a great new idea right away, be patient. The great thing about the American variety of capitalism is that it all but ensures a steady stream of new ideas and new ventures. People are always inventing a new widget and/or getting sick of working for the man and stepping out on their own. Most don't make it, but some do. Either way, it makes for a continuing flow of new ideas and new opportunities.
Hit your pitch
Not that it did me much good on the baseball diamond, but I remember constantly being instructed to "hit your pitch." You have to ignore all the junk you can't do much with and wait for the pitcher to make a mistake and give you a pitch that you can really nail. Investors should take note. With thousands of "pitches" out there every day, there's no reason to swing at anything that doesn't appear to be in the sweet long-term home-run spot of quality and value.
Every decade brings with it new opportunities. The words "growth stock" have over time meant railroads, plastics, defense, computers, biotech, and communications companies. Like I said before, new ideas are always coming out, so it just doesn't make sense to me to chase after yesterday's glory when you could be looking for tomorrow's currently unknown superstar instead.
Simply put, there's no such thing as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I'm a pretty young fellow, and I've already seen one-time-only companies such as Atari, Apple
The Foolish bottom line
Patience and discipline are crucial behaviors for long-term success, but they don't come naturally to most people. That's probably why our military spends so much effort building them up in basic training. Although I wouldn't go so far as to suggest that enlisting in the military is necessary to make you a more patient and disciplined investor, the skills are still worth learning even in a civilian setting.
Chasing hot stocks often involves paying too much and putting too much emotion into the investing process. Likewise, chasing fallen stars often means that investors have replaced patience and discipline with hope. Take a lesson, though, from those patient types who aren't flustered when the bus leaves without them, for they know another one is going to come along before too long.
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