Last Friday, I found myself thinking about spaghetti sauce and Motley Fool co-founder David Gardner.
The night before, my brother had sent me a link to Malcolm Gladwell talking at a TED conference about a fellow named Howard Moskowitz and his work with PepsiCo's namesake cola, pickles, and, of course, spaghetti sauce.
This isn't a new video -- the talk was given in 2004 and TED posted it online in 2006 -- and I've seen it before. But I'm a big Gladwell fan, so I fired it up.
Moskowitz's contribution to the food industry that Gladwell highlighted was his insistence on the idea that there isn't, for instance, the perfect pickle, there are only perfect pickles (emphasis on the plural). That is, you're not going to find one single pickle that everyone is going to love.
As told by Gladwell, the big breakthrough for Moskowitz came when Campbell Soup hired him for help with its Prego line of tomato sauces. Once again, Moskowitz told Campbell that there's no perfect tomato sauce, yada, yada. The result was the introduction of a chunky tomato sauce that immediately grabbed a huge slice of the tomato-sauce market.
The brilliance of Moskowitz's insight was in recognizing that when dealing with broad group of individuals, you're going to run up against individual preferences that can't easily be met by a one-size-fits-all solution.
But what the heck does this have to do with David Gardner?
I'm glad you asked. I spend a lot of time thinking about David Gardner (don't worry, David -- not like that). David, with the help of some fellow Fools, has put together an impressive track record through his picks in the Motley Fool Rule Breakers and Motley Fool Stock Advisor newsletter services.
However, I would have a tough time getting myself to buy almost any of David's stock recommendations.
Considering the performance of David's picks, that's a pretty lousy position to be put myself in. Even after the "awful" showings that Amazon.com
Overall, the Rule Breakers service has an average return of 54% over its lifetime versus 6% for the S&P 500. David's side of the Stock Advisor scorecard has turned in an average gain 98% against 16% for the S&P.
But, on the other hand …
To bring Howard Moskowitz back into the picture, perhaps there isn't a perfect investment strategy -- only perfect investment strategies.
I consider myself a value investor. I find companies that I like and I buy their stocks only when I'm convinced that they're selling for less than they're worth based on current and historical financial performance. That's what makes sense to me.
David's approach often takes little note of price. In fact, David often readily points out that the very best companies will be valued at huge premiums, and to take part in their success, you have to be prepared to pay enormous prices.
I've never seen Amazon or Netflix at a valuation that I found attractive. Yet David has scored his readers massive returns by encouraging them to pay up for those companies. David's performance is often a frustrating fact for me as I consider whether I could get my curmudgeonly, value-oriented brain to pay the price for expensive favorites like Amazon or lululemon athletica
There are only perfect investment strategies
If the proof is in the pudding, that's some darn tasty pudding that David is serving up, so I'm pretty convinced that David's investment strategy works. If that's not enough to convince you, just think about the success of some venture-capital investors like Sequoia Capital or Kleiner Perkins. In a similar way, they're paying for great ideas, people, and growth, even when prices seem high or profits aren't there yet.
But at the same time, I don't have to look further than Warren Buffett, Benjamin Graham, and Seth Klarmin to know that the price-oriented, value approach that I strive for works as well.
The key, then, is not be to try to jam your square peg self into the round hole of a particular investment approach, but to find a proven, successful approach that makes sense to you. After all, if there's extra chunky tomato sauce on the shelves, why force yourself to choke down thin marinara?
Three picks if you're with me
In the title of this article, I promised three great stocks. I've waited until now to introduce them because they're going to catch your fancy only if you, like me, consider valuation a chief consideration when picking stocks.
These three picks aren't flashy. They're not poised for knock-your-socks-off growth. However, they're all great, well-run companies that are highly profitable and at very buyable valuations.
Trailing Price-to-Earnings Ratio
Trailing Return on Capital
Source: S&P Capital IQ.
Two of these three are currently in my portfolio -- and Exxon has a good chance of joining. If you like the looks of these picks, you can keep a closer eye on them by adding them to your Foolish watchlist by clicking the "+" next to the ticker. In fact, you can add any of the stocks above by doing that. And if you don't have a watchlist yet? You can get one started for free.
The Motley Fool owns shares of Wal-Mart Stores, lululemon athletica, PepsiCo, and Intel and has bought calls on Intel. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Netflix, Amazon.com, lululemon athletica, Intel, Intuitive Surgical, Wal-Mart Stores, and PepsiCo, creating diagonal call positions in PepsiCo and Wal-Mart Stores, and creating a bull call spread position in Intel. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.
Fool contributor Matt Koppenheffer owns shares of Wal-Mart and Intel but has no financial interest in any of the other companies mentioned. You can check out what Matt is keeping an eye on by visiting his CAPS portfolio, or you can follow Matt on Twitter, @KoppTheFool, or on Facebook. The Fool's disclosure policy prefers dividends over a sharp stick in the eye.