But what can investors learn? The best thing you can do for your portfolio is to keep it simple. In today's issue, I'll tell you the three reasons a simple portfolio will improve your returns and help you avoid the fate of too many hedge funds.
Keep It Simple
My phone is an old Nokia about the size of a brick.
It doesn't take pictures, tell me the weather or connect to the Internet. That's the way I like it.
In a world that has grown increasingly complex, I feel like a throwback to a different era. I like things to be as simple as possible — and that includes my investing.
The Damage Done By Complexity
As a chemical engineer at IBM in my former life, I used to deal with complex problems...and solutions...day in, day out. That's when I started to understand just how damaging too much complexity can be — no matter where it pops up.
Nowhere is this more obvious than today's market.
For example, home mortgages were packaged and repackaged into mortgage-backed securities time and again until even the banks that invested so heavily in them weren't sure just what they contained. The result was our government having to bail out the financials.
Meanwhile, complicated derivatives led to sky-high leverage around the investment community — bringing hedge funds to their knees.
Bernie Madoff even hid behind a curtain of complicated scheming to commit fraud on an unprecedented scale. But no one could really tell what was going on because of its complexity.
Is it any wonder that I like to keep things simple in my day-to-day life, but also my investment portfolio?
The Most Important Place to Keep It Simple — Your Portfolio
Judging from the investment landscape, many investors equate complexity and secrecy with smart investing decisions. How else can you explain the rise of hedge funds over the past several years?
These funds have very little regulation, usually use complex derivatives and futures contracts and are generally tight-lipped about their investing decisions. To me, that doesn't sound like it is in the best interest of investors.
In fact, in 2008 1,471 hedge funds shut down, according to Bloomberg. That is fully 15% of all the funds in the industry. In the first quarter of 2009, investors pulled $103 billion from hedge funds.
So much for outsmarting the stocks market of 2010.
My investing style is just a little bit different. Like I said, I keep things simple.
In fact, you could sum it up in one sentence: "Find one stock a month that will beat the market."
The Straightforward Way to Healthy Returns
There are several reasons I like this "Keep it Simple" approach, and think all investors should follow it —
1. It allows investors to be experts on their holdings.
You've heard the phrase "Jack of all trades, master of none." To me that describes a lot of investors. Portfolios with dozens — even hundreds — of securities run an extreme risk of having more than you can handle. But keeping a very focused portfolio allows any investor the time to go in-depth into a handful of select companies, making them experts on their operations.
2. It lets your winners work and cuts the losers.
We all have at least a couple of top stocks to buy in our portfolios that we don't really like. For whatever reason it's tough to let go of some holdings — even if we're not hot on their prospects right now. But if you limit your portfolio size to just 10 or 12 holdings and use a "pig at the trough" game plan (if you add a new pick to an already full portfolio, you have to get rid of one current holding) you'll solve this problem.
As a result, the dogs that you've always wanted to get rid of will stop wreaking havoc on your portfolio, and your holdings will consist only of those top stocks to buy for 2010 you like the most. As Warren Buffett says, "It's crazy to put money into your 20th choice rather than your 1st choice."
3. You can't beat the market if you are the market.
A funny thing happens as you add more and more picks to your holdings — your returns suffer. Experts will always tout the benefits of diversification. And I agree with them...but only if you want to track the market. I'm more interested in beating the market, especially considering the S&P was off -36% in the last year.
The more holdings you own, the closer you are going to come to matching the market's moves. That makes sense — you can't beat the market if your portfolio is the market. If you want to beat the Street, you need to pick your very best investment ideas and use them to power your portfolio.
Investing Simple is Second Nature
The "Keep it Simple" approach is one that I've been practicing day in and day out for all my life. That's why it comes as second nature to my investing. It's also one of the reasons I was selected to head up StreetAuthority's Stock of the Month newsletter.
Each month I practice what I preach — I pick only one pick that I think is poised to beat the market. And I don't stop there. I'm actually putting $50,000 of StreetAuthority's cash to work in these picks with my real-money portfolio.
In my June issue I profile a best stock for 2010 that I think is right on target. Thanks to fear that a Democratic majority in Congress is going to restrict gun rights — and as such the nation is seeing a boom in ammo sales. So much of a boom that there are shortages around the country. But this ammo company stock hasn't kept pace with its gun-producing peers — despite announcing a +20% increase in earnings per share, still working 24 hours a day, seven days a week to get supply to market, and just paying its 330th consecutive dividend.
I think investors are going to catch their mistake and start piling into the best stock to buy — but I plan to put my money there first.