Blast from the Past: Walmart Dividend Letter from 1985

I was digging through an old file cabinet that had belonged to my grandfather, and I found this little blast from the past: a Walmart (WMT) letter to shareholders from 1985, signed by Chairman and company founder Sam Walton.

As a child in the 1980s, I actually remember my grandfather proudly showing me a paper certificate for his shares of Walmart stock, and I remember the day he went electronic by handing the paper certificates to the trust department at the bank. He wasn’t sure he trusted the system and made sure to photocopy his certificates before handing them over…just in case.

Paper stock certificates seem so anachronistic today in this age of online trading and instant liquidity. It makes me wonder how different the world of trading and investment will be when my future grandchildren are going through a drawer of my personal effects.

1985 Walmart Dividend Letter

The truth is, I’m not sure how beneficial instant liquidity is in building long-term wealth. In fact, it’s probably downright detrimental. When my grandfather bought his shares of Walmart, the high cost of trading discouraged him from short-term trading. As a result, he was a de facto long-term investor, which ended up working out to his benefit as Walmart grew into one of the largest and most successful companies in history. Long after my grandfather passed away, the cash dividends from the Walmart stock he accumulated in his lifetime continued to pay for the retirement expenses of my grandmother–and for my college tuition! Had my grandfather had access to the instant liquidity of today, he might have been tempted to sell far too early.

My grandfather also practiced his own version of Peter Lynch’s advice to invest in what you know long before Peter Lynch became a household name. He was an Arkansas boy–born and raised not far from Fort Smith–and he liked to invest in local companies that he could observe firsthand. Walmart was one of those local companies; its headquarters in Bentonville is less than an hour and a half from Fort Smith by car.

I remember fondly my grandfather taking me to Fort Smith’s Walmart and buying me an Icee at the snack bar. He liked to walk the aisles personally to see what Mr. Walton was doing with his money. That might seem a little old fashioned today, but then, it’s still the approach taken by Warren Buffett and by plenty of long-term value investors. If done right, it works.

Charles Lewis Sizemore, CFA, is chief investment officer of the investment firm Sizemore Capital Management and the author of the Sizemore Insights blog.

Worthless: Thoughts on Investing in Collectibles

My favorite historical anecdote—and one that every investor should be forced to acknowledge reading before opening a brokerage account—dates to the era of the South Sea Bubble. A charlatan whose name is lost to history, published a prospectus forA company for carrying on an undertaking of great advantage, but nobody to know what it is.” 

Yes, some 18th-century two-bit hustler launched an IPO for a company with a “top secret” business plan, and British investors actually gave him money.  If contemporary accounts are true, he took the money and fled to Europe, never to be seen or heard from again.

As a student of market history, I’ve come away with one enduring observation: investors can be phenomenally stupid.  Whether it is profitless social media stocks, Miami condos, or, if you want to go old school, decorative tulip bulbs, there seems to be no limit to the force with which otherwise sane people will suppress rational thought in order to throw away their hard-earned money.

But as crazy as stock market bubbles can be, they really don’t compare to collectibles crazes. A share of stock represents a claim of ownership in a business that, however implausibly, could someday generate real profits.  A collectible’s value, on the other hand, rest entirely on your ability to someday sell it to a greater fool.

In some cases—think Renaissance paintings—collectibles have maintained their value over time and proven to be fantastic investments.  Others…well, let’s just say that Star Wars Happy Meal toys might not be as good of investments as Old Masters.

Let’s take a look at two high-profile collectible bombs of recent decades, and then I’ll offer a little guidance on how not to fall victim to the next collectible fad.

Baseball Cards

I’ll start with one that I myself fell victim to in my late childhood: baseball cards.

I loved baseball as a boy and would subject my poor father to hours of inane player statistics. (He showed remarkably patience…a virtue I hope I can repeat when my own sons get old enough to badger me with meaningless statistics from the hobby of their choice.)

In the days before the internet, baseball cards were the perfect way to access years’ worth of player statistics, and I legitimately enjoyed organizing my cards into albums…and spending hours thumbing through the albums.

Then, somewhere around the late 1980s, it all got adulterated.  Baseball cards ceased to be a little boy’s objects of adoration and become “investments.” I stopped touching my “valuable” baseball cards for fear of degrading their mint condition, choosing instead to encase them in hard-shell plastic cases. I subscribed to Beckett Baseball Card Monthly, the authority on baseball card prices, and read it religiously.  I also stopped buying packets of cards as prices rose, choosing instead to buy individual cards of the most valuable players.  Not my favorite players, mind you, but rather the players whose cards were the most valuable at that time.

In Mint Condition, Dave Jamieson tells the story of the Great Baseball Card Bubble of the late 1980s and early 1990s, and The Slate published a fantastic excerpt here, which I quote below.

By the ’80s, baseball card values were rising beyond the average hobbyist’s means. As prices continued to climb, baseball cards were touted as a legitimate investment alternative to stocks, with the Wall Street Journal referring to them as sound “inflation hedges” and “nostalgia futures.” Newspapers started running feature stories with headlines such as “Turning Cardboard Into Cash” (the Washington Post)…

Precious few collectors seemed to ponder the possibility that baseball cards could depreciate. As the number of card shops in the United States ballooned to 10,000, dealers filled their storage rooms with unopened cases of 1988 Donruss as if they were Treasury bills or bearer bonds. Shops were regularly burglarized, their stocks of cards taken as loot. In early 1990, a card dealer was found bludgeoned to death behind the display case in his shop in San Luis Obispo, Calif., with $10,000 worth of cards missing.

It was a full-blown speculative mania.  And like all speculative manias, it didn’t end well.  High prices encouraged a massive increase in supply of the “investment,” no different than in the internet mania of the 1990s or the South Sea Bubble I mentioned at the beginning of this article, when companies couldn’t dilute their stock fast enough to meet investor demand .  As Jamieson continues,

Unfortunately for investors, each one of those cards was being printed in astronomical numbers. The card companies were shrewd enough never to disclose how many cards they were actually producing, but even conservative estimates put the number well into the billions. One trade magazine estimated the tally at 81 billion trading cards per year in the late ’80s and early ’90s, or more than 300 cards for every American annually.

At some point, something just clicked in my mind and collecting baseball cards lost its appeal. There was nothing enjoyable about having to elbow my way past sweaty, bearded, middle-aged men to bid for a piece of cardboard encased in glass.  The massive influx of new “premium” card series were hard to keep track of and, in any event, out of my price range.  And frankly, as I entered my teenage years, I discovered girls and pretty well lost interest in anything related to baseball statistics. The baseball card bubble crashed soon thereafter, and my “valuable” investments became all but worthless.

New baseball card sales were a $1.5 billion industry in 1992.  Today, the number is closer to $200 million, a drop of nearly 90%, and that does not include the effects of inflation.  The number of baseball card shops has shrunk from over 10,000 to less than 200.  And the value of all of those premium Upper Deck baseball cards?  You’d be lucky to get a couple cents for them.

Beanie Babies

I was thankfully too old to have ever played with a Beanie Baby and too young to have ever purchased one for my kids.  But I remember the Beanie Baby Bubble well, and it is as baffling to me today as it was in its mid-1990s heyday.

Beanie Babies were adorably cute bean-bag toys for babies and small children, and I understand their appeal—as toys for children.  How this became an investment fad for otherwise sane adults is something sociologists are no doubt still studying, but one family famously lost $100,000 when the bubble burst about 25 years ago.  And that’s $100,000 in late 1990s dollars.  Tack on another 30%-40% to get an estimate in today’s dollars.

John Aziz gives a nice telling of the Beanie Baby Bubble story here.  Beanie Babies were originally marketed as affordable toys for children, usually priced around $5.  But because they were originally sold at smaller stores and had a certain aura of exclusivity about them, they quickly became an object of speculation.  And the enabling tools of speculation soon followed: baseball cards had Beckett Baseball Card Monthly; Beanie Babies had Mary Beth’s Bean Bag World, which at one point had a circulation of 650,000 readers.

What made people believe that Beanie Babies had value?  Part of it was artificially constrained supply.  The manufacturer intentionally kept production down to create an air of exclusivity (yes…in a beanbag toy). Beyond this, it was a case of rising prices begetting rising prices.  The high prices attracted new speculator, who in turn sent prices even higher.

At some point, there were not enough new buyers to keep prices rising, and the bottom fell out.  Today, “investment grade” Beanie Babies that once sold for hundreds or thousands of dollars can be had for less than $10.  Which, after all, is a fair price for a cute toy made to be played with by young children.

So, how can you know ahead of time if a collectible is an enduring masterpiece or a ridiculous fad that will make you an object of ridicule among your closest friends and family?

There are no hard and fast rules here, but I would give two broad guidelines to consider:

  1. The rarity of the object in question, and
  2. What drives its perception of value.

I’ll start with rarity.  Rarity is not a guarantee of high prices, but it is definitely a precondition.  The mass-produced baseball cards from the late 1980s are all but worthless, but truly rare baseball cards have actually held their value surprisingly well.  A 1909 T206 Honus Wagner card can be expected to clear well over $1 million at auction.

This brings me to perception of value.  Rarity alone does not make the Wagner card valuable; there has to be something that makes the object special.  Among baseball aficionados, Wagner was considered to be one of the all-time greatest players.  And there is a mystique about the card itself because Wagner ordered its production stopped; he was uncomfortable with the fact that his image was being used to sell tobacco to children.

The same is true of paintings.  And Old Master is priceless because of its rarity but also for its beauty, the quality of the artwork, and legendary status that the painters have acquired with the passing of time.

So, before you consider investing in collectibles, ask yourself: Is the object sufficiently rare, and has its perception of value withstood the test of time?

But beyond this, I would offer one last piece of advice.  Don’t view a collectible as an investment at all or you lose that “special something” that make it valuable to begin with. Buy it because of the way it makes you feel, with the assumption that, even if its monetary value fell to zero, it’s still something you’d proudly display in your home.

 

 

The Biggest Mistake of Warren Buffett’s Career

Warren Buffett is a hero to many investors, myself included.  His record speaks for itself: 18.3% annualized returns in Berkshire Hathaway’s ($BRK-A) book value over the past 30 years compared to just 10.8% for the S&P 500.  And his returns in the 1950s and 1960s, when he was running a much smaller hedge fund, were even better.

Mr. Buffett is also quite generous with his investment wisdom, sharing it freely with anyone who cares to listen.  But as with most things in life, failure is a better teacher than success.  And Mr. Buffett has had his share of multi-billion-dollar failures.

You want to know the biggest mistake of Buffett’s career?

By his own admission, it was buying Berkshire Hathaway!

Everyone assumes that Buffett’s decision to buy Berkshire Hathaway was a typical Buffett stroke of genius.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

We like to think of Warren Buffett as the wise, elder statesman of the investment profession, but Buffett too was young once and prone to the rash behavior of youth.  And Berkshire Hathaway was not always a financial powerhouse; it was once a struggling textile mill.

Buffett had noticed a trading pattern in Berkshire’s stock; when the company would sell off an underperforming mill, it would use the proceeds to buy back stock, which would temporarily boost the stock price. Buffett’s strategy was to buy Berkshire stock each time it sold a mill and then sell the company its stock back in the share repurchase for a small, tidy profit.

But then ego got in the way.  Buffett and Berkshire’s CEO had a gentleman’s agreement on a tender offer price.  But when the office offer arrived in the mail, Buffett noticed that the CEO’s offer price was 1/8 of a point lower than they had agreed previously.

Taking the offer as a personal insult, Buffett bought a controlling interest in the company so that he could have the pleasure of firing its CEO.  And though it might have given him satisfaction at the time, Buffett later called the move a “200-billion-dollar mistake.”

Why?  Because Buffett wasted precious time and capital on a textile mill in terminal decline rather than allocate his funds in something more profitable—in his case, insurance.

By Buffett’s estimates, had he never invested a penny in Berkshire Hathaway and had instead used his funds to buy, say, Geico, his returns over the course of his career would have been doubled.  Berkshire will still go down in history as one of the greatest investment success stories in history, of course.  But it was a terrible investment and a major distraction that cost Buffett dearly in terms of opportunity cost.

What lessons can we learn from this?  I’ll leave you with two quotes from Buffett himself:

“If you get into a lousy business, get out of it.”

“If you want to be known as a good manager, buy a good business.”

In trader lingo, cut your losers and let your winners ride.  Holding on to a bad investment wastes good capital and mental energies that would be better put to use elsewhere.

Thank you, Mr. Buffett, for sharing your failures with us.  Your willingness to do so is one of the reasons we love you.

Charles Lewis Sizemore, CFA, is chief investment officer of the investment firm Sizemore Capital Management and the author of the Sizemore Insights blog.

Is Sears the Next Berkshire Hathaway?

I originally penned this articled in December 2011.  Given Sears’ stock action in the year that has passed, it’s worth another read.

A well-respected value investor buys an old American company in decline, promising to restore its fortunes.  Alas, the recovery never comes.  The economics of the industry have changed, and the company cannot compete with younger, nimbler rivals.  The company ceases operations, but the value investor holds onto the shell to use as an investment vehicle.

Could this be the future of Sears Holdings (Nasdaq: $SHLD) under Eddie Lampert?  Maybe; maybe not.  But it was certainly the case for Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: $BRK-A).

Unless you’re a history buff or a dedicated Buffett disciple, you might not have known that Berkshire Hathaway was not always an insurance and investment conglomerate.  It was a textile mill, and not a particularly profitable one.  It was, however, a cash cow.  And after buying the company in 1964, Buffett used the cash that the declining textile business threw off to make many of the investments he is now famous for, starting with insurance company Geico.

So, when hedge fund superstar Eddie Lampert first brought Kmart out of bankruptcy in 2003, the parallels were obvious.  With its debts discharged, the retailer would throw off plenty of cash to fund Lampert’s future investments.  And even if the retail business continued to struggle, Lampert could—and did—sell off some of the company’s prime real estate to retailers in a better position to use it.  Lampert sold 18 stores to the Home Depot (NYSE: $HD) for a combined $271 million in the first year.

That Lampert would use Kmart’s pristine balance sheet to purchase Sears, Roebuck, & Co.—itself a struggling retailer—seemed somewhat odd, but his management decisions after the merger seemed to confirm that his strategy was cash cow milking.   Lampert continued to talk up the combined retailer’s prospects, of course.  But his emphasis was on relentless cost cutting, and he invested only the absolute bare minimum to keep the doors open.  Sears Holdings didn’t have to compete with the likes of Home Depot or Wal-Mart (NYSE: $WMT). It just had to stay in business long enough for Lampert to wring out every dollar he could before selling off the company’s assets.

The strategy might have played out just fine were it not for the bursting of the housing bubble—which killed demand for the company’s Kenmore appliances and Craftsman tools—and the onset of the worst recession in decades.  With retail sales in the toilet (and looking to stay there for a while), there was little demand among competing retailers for the company’s real estate assets.

It’s fair to blame Lampert for making what was, in effect, a major real estate investment near the peak of the biggest real estate bubble in American history.  But investors  frustrated by watching the share price fall by more than 80 percent from its 2007 highs have no one to blame but themselves.   Anyone who bought Sears when it traded for nearly $200 per share clearly didn’t do their homework.  They instead were hoping to ride Lampert’s coattails while somehow ignoring the value investor’s core principle of maintaining safety by not overpaying for assets.

Lampert is a great investor with a great long-term track record, and there is nothing wrong with paying a modest “Lampert premium” for shares of Sears Holdings.  If you like Lampert’s investment style but lack the means to invest in his hedge fund, Sears may be the closest you can get.  But at $200 per share—or even $100—the Lampert premium had been blown completely out of proportion.  The same is true of Buffett, of course, or of any great investor.  As the Sage of Omaha would no doubt agree, there is a price at which Berkshire Hathaway is no longer attractive either.

This brings us back to the title of this piece—is Sears the Next Berkshire Hathaway?

I would answer “yes,” but not necessarily for the reasons you think.

Everyone assumes that Buffett’s decision to buy Berkshire Hathaway was a typical Buffett stroke of genius.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  In fact, Buffett revealed in an interview last year that Berkshire Hathaway was the worst trade of his career.



If you cannot view the video above, please follow this link: “Buffett’s Worst Trade
 

We like to think of Warren Buffett as the wise, elder statesman of the investment profession, but Buffett too was young once and prone to the rash behavior of youth.  He had been trading Berkshire Hathaway’s stock in his hedge fund; he noticed that when the company would sell off an underperforming mill, it would use the proceeds to buy back stock. Buffett intended to sell Berkshire Hathaway its own stock back for a small, tidy profit.

But due to a tender offer that Buffett took as a personal insult, he essentially bought a controlling interest in the company so that he could have the pleasure of firing its CEO.  And though it might have given him satisfaction at the time, Buffett called the move a “200-billion-dollar mistake.”

Why?  Because Buffett wasted precious time and capital on a textile mill in terminal decline rather than allocate his funds in something more profitable—in his case, insurance.  Berkshire Hathaway will still go down in history as one of the greatest investment success stories in history.  But by Buffett’s own admission, he would have had far greater returns over his career had he never touched it.

So, in a word, “yes.”  Sears probably is the next Berkshire Hathaway.  And investors who buy Sears at a reasonable price will most likely enjoy enviable long-term returns as Lampert’s plans are eventually realized.   But Mr. Lampert himself will almost certainly come to regret buying the company—if he doesn’t already.

Charles Lewis Sizemore, CFA, is chief investment officer of the investment firm Sizemore Capital Management and the author of the Sizemore Insights blog.

Review of Nassim Taleb’s Antifragile

We all know what “fragile” means.  But what is the opposite of fragile?

If you are like me, your instinctive response would be “robust” or perhaps “durable.”  But you would be wrong.

Something that is fragile is damaged by an unexpected shock, whereas something that is robust or durable is able to withstand it.  To be robust is to be neutral to shocks.

But what do you call the true opposite of fragile—something that actually benefits from shocks?

As Nassim Taleb points out, there is no word in English (or in any other language, ancient or modern) that conveys this idea.  So he invented one—antifragile—and wrote an entertaining and enlightening book around the concept.

Taleb is at times playful and even self-effacing in his writing and at other times insufferably arrogant (“non-meek” in his words).  But he is always—and I mean always—thought provoking.

Years ago, before Taleb become something of a celebrity, I picked up his original Fooled by Randomness and had something of a “eureka” moment.  Taleb put into words (and numbers) many of the abstract ideas about risk and randomness that I instinctively felt yet couldn’t articulate (he had that effect on a lot of people, it would turn out).  In particular, I had always mistrusted the Value-at-Risk metric and its offshoots that had been crammed down my throat as an undergraduate finance student.  It registered on my “bulls_t detector”, to borrow one of Taleb’s earthy phrases, and history would vindicate this gut reflex with implosion of the financial system in 2008.

I still consider Fooled to be his best book, and if you have never read Taleb’s work that is where I would recommend you start.  But Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder expands on the concepts in Fooled and its follow-up The Black Swan and goes far beyond financial markets into a more general theory of randomness and volatility and their importance in life and nature.  “Living things are long volatility,” he emphasizes often.

Perhaps Taleb’s greatest gift as a writer is his ability to speak in metaphors, the best of which is his analogy of the Procrustean Bed (see my review of Taleb’s The Bed of Procrustes).

Procrustes was a nasty little fellow from Greek mythology who would invite guests into his home and then either stretch or amputate parts of their legs to make them fit just right in his guest bed.  In Taleb’s analogy, much of the modern world is a Procrustean bed of sorts.  People, markets, and economic systems are contorted to fit tidy theories.

But in Antifragile, Taleb goes beyond this “square peg in a round hole” argument to a larger critique of “soccer moms” (both figurative and literal) who naively attempt to make the world safer by “sucking randomness out to the last drop.”  Doing this provides the illusion of safety while actually making us less resilient and more fragile.  In other words, not only are scraped knees and bruises ok, they are an essential part of growth.

Many readers misunderstand Taleb’s core message.  They assume that because Taleb writes about unseen and improperly calculated risks, his objective must be to reduce or eliminate risk.  Nothing could be further from the truth. 

If anything, Antifragile is a celebration of risk and randomness and a call to arms to recognize and embrace antifragility.  Rather than reduce risk, organize your life, your business or your society in such a way that it benefits from randomness and the occasional Black Swan event.

Taleb’s own life is a case in point.  He had the free time to write Fooled, The Black Swan and Antifragile because—in his own words—he made “F___ you money” during the greatest Black Swan event of our lifetimes, the 1987 stock market crash.   And to demonstrate that Taleb’s trading style is antifragile, had the 1987 crash never happened, Taleb would not have been materially hurt.  His trading style puts little at risk but allows for outsized returns.

In what may seem somewhat disturbing to some readers (and Taleb himself is disturbed by it as well), what makes a system antifragile is that its individual pieces are perishable.  Natural selection—the survival of the fittest—requires that the unfit are allowed to fail.

Using the example of restaurants, the restaurant sector is robust because the failure of any one restaurant does not affect the others.   And the restaurant sector is antifragile because the remaining players actually learn and grow from witnessing the mistakes made by the failed restaurant.

Now, compare this to the banking system.  The world banking system is inherently fragile because the failure of one bank leads to contagion that can cause the failure of other banks and of the system itself.

The importance of failure to an antifragile system is a recurring theme to the book.  As individuals and as a collective, we learn more from mistakes than from successes.  In a capitalist system, you need a replenishable  supply of entrepreneurs willing to take risks.  For every failed business idea, our knowledge base expands.

Taleb goes so far as to advocate we treat ruined entrepreneurs in the same way we honor dead soldiers, “perhaps not with as much honor, but using the same logic.”

As Taleb explains, just as “there is no such thing as a failed soldier, dead or alive (unless he acted in a cowardly manner), likewise there is no such thing as a failed entrepreneur  or failed scientific researcher.”   Their sacrifice makes the system stronger.

I commend Taleb on another book well written, and I recommend Antifragile along with Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan.

Investing Lessons: Avoiding the Peter Lynch Bias

The single most important lesson I’ve learned about being a successful investor is the need to maintain emotional detachment.  Any feelings you may have towards a stock are unrequited.  If you love a stock, it will not love you back.  And if you hate a stock, it will not give you the satisfaction of responding in kind.  (As tragic as unanswered love may be, unanswered hate is often more damaging to your pride.)

A stock is like that unattainable cheerleader you had a crush on in high school.  She neither loved you nor hated you; she was completely unaware you existed.

No matter how much you love a stock (and write favorably about it in MarketWatch) it will not reward your loyalty by rising in price. And heaven help you if you allow your emotions to cloud your judgment in a short position.  I know of no surer way of losing your investment nest egg than to short a stock or other investment you hate.  Alas, I know from experience; I shorted the Nasdaq 100 in the fall of 2003.  In an outbreak of moral high-horsing that has (thankfully) now been purged out of me, I decided that tech stocks were overpriced and needed to fall further.  The Nasdaq had very different ideas, and I was forced to cover that short at a 20% loss with my tail tucked between my legs.

A closely-related investment mistake is succumbing to what I call the “Peter Lynch bias.”

Peter Lynch ran the Fidelity Magellan fund from 1977 to 1990 and had one of the best performance records in history for a mutual fund manager—an annualized return of over 29% per year.

Unfortunately, he also offered some of the worst advice in history when he recommended that investors “invest in what they know.”

On the surface, it seems like decent enough advice.  If you stumble across a product you like—say, a particular brand of mobile phone or a new restaurant chain—then it might be reasonable to assume that others will feel the same way.  If the stock is reasonably priced, it might make a good investment opportunity.

Unfortunately, “investing in what you know” tends to create muddled, emotionally baggaged thinking.  The fact that you like Chipotle (NYSE:$CMG) burritos and are intimately aware of every ingredient used in the red salsa does not automatically make Chipotle a good investment any more than your liking of Frappuccino makes Starbucks (Nasdaq:$SBUX) a good investment.   Rather than give you an insightful edge, liking the product causes you to lose perspective and see only what you want to see in the stock.

How do we mitigate our emotional impulses?

In a prior article, I noted that “brain damage can create superior investment results.”  But short of physically re-wiring our brains, what can we actually do?

I try to follow these basic guidelines and recommend them:

  • If you like a company’s products, try using one of their competitors before seriously considering purchasing the stock.  If I had really taken the time to learn how to use an Apple (Nasdaq:$AAPL) iPhone or Google (Nasdaq:$GOOG) Android device, I probably wouldn’t have gotten sucked into the Research in Motion (Nasdaq:$RIMM) value trap. Yes, RIMM was one of the cheapest stock in the world when I recommended it last year.  But I cannot deny that my decision to recommend it was biased by my ownership of a BlackBerry phone.  Likewise, many iPhone owners are probably buying Apple for similar reasons today.
  • To the best extent you can, try to follow trading rules and use stop losses.  What works for one investor will be very different than what works for another.  Perhaps you use a hard stop loss of, say, 10% below your purchase price.  Or perhaps you use a trailing stop or 20-25%.  If you are a value investor, perhaps you base your sell decision on valuation or fundamentals rather than market price.  But in any event, my point stands.  Lay out the conditions under which you intend to sell and stick to them.  Stock ownership is a marriage of convenience with quick, no-fault divorce if your situation changes.  Don’t make the mistake of falling in love.
  • Unleash your inner Spock.  For readers who are not Star Trek fans, Spock is an alien from the planet Vulcan who is incapable of feeling emotions.  When talking about a stock or watching its price fluctuate gets your heart racing, take a step back and try to look at the investment through Spock’s eyes.  Is it logical?  Do the numbers make sense?  Are the growth projections based on reasonable facts or on optimistic hope?  Would you buy a different company if it were trading at the same price multiple?

Admittedly, these are not precise guidelines.  But then, another lesson I learned is that it is a mistake to try to be too precise in this business.  Follow the lead of great value investors like Benjamin Graham and Warren Buffett by making sure you have a wide margin of safety in your assumptions.

Disclosures: Charles Sizemore has no positions in any securities mentioned. This article first appeared on MarketWatch.

Charles Lewis Sizemore, CFA, is chief investment officer of the investment firm Sizemore Capital Management and the author of the Sizemore Insights blog.

What to Read: The Best Financial Newspapers and Magazines

I’m often asked where I get my investment ideas and what sources I read to keep abreast of financial news.  The fact is, you can’t read everything that comes across your desk; there is simply not enough time in the day to get through it all.  You have to prioritize and organize your reading list, or you’ll waste your entire working day reading information that is irrelevant to your investing.  Let us not forget that time is money!

I created the list below to highlight some of my regular news sources.  I hope you find them as valuable as I have in my investing career.

If I could only read one publication, it would without a doubt be the Financial Times. The FT is the premier global financial newspaper for serious investors, and it covers the entire globe.  Most newspapers, even the good ones, are at least half full of trivial fluff and local interest.  Not the FT.

I started reading the FT when I was a graduate student at the London School of Economics, and I haven’t stopped reading it since.

If you want to know what is happening in the world, laid out in a clear, concise manner, you need to be reading the Financial Times.

For American financial news, it’s hard to beat The Wall Street Journal.  I must admit, I am very partial to the Financial Times, but I do consider the Wall Street Journal a worthwhile read as well.  In a typical morning, I read the FT cover-to-cover, whereas I skim the Journal for any relevant points that the FT might have missed.

Barron’s is my favorite weekly financial publication.  Much of the news will be repeated from daily sources like the FT and the Journal, but Barron’s has a lot of original reporting that makes it a staple part of my weekly reading.

Barron’s routinely polls money managers about their favorite sectors, and this is a contrarian indicator I use to watch for herding behavior.  I also find the annual Barron’s Round Table to be a good source for investment ideas, and I enjoy the interviews that the magazine routinely does with fund managers.

The magazine is also busting at the seams with financial statistics.  Barron’s is probably the best source I’ve found for data on closed-end funds.

My only complaint with Barron’s is that its overall tone tends to be quite bearish, but this is also a source of credibility.  If the editors were a bunch of glassy-eyed optimists, they wouldn’t be adding a lot of value.

If you don’t have time to read the Financial Times daily (or even if you do), reading The Economist weekly is the next best thing.

I like The Economist for two primary reasons:

1. It is an excellent source for global news and analysis.

2. I find value in seeing American domestic news through the eyes of a foreign publication.

This magazine is certainly worth including in your weekly reading routine.