Choosing Stocks from a Consumer Perspective

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Investing in the stock market sometimes boils down to one essential element, namely good choices. No matter how well we do our research, how often we buy and sell, or how much we pay experts for their tips and advice, without choosing stocks that represent value, we won’t succeed
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Investing in the stock market sometimes boils down to one essential element, namely good choices. No matter how well we do our research, how often we buy and sell, or how much we pay experts for their tips and advice, without choosing stocks that represent value, we won’t succeed. Although some are good at predicting the direction of the market and timing the ups and downs, if they don’t purchase the right stocks, they will still meet with difficulties when trying to reap profits.

For that reason, some of the best paid people on Wall Street known primarily for their talent at picking stocks. Financial advisors give talks and write books and newsletters about how to choose stocks that will outperform the market, and most experts echo the same sentiment and agree that one of the best ways to judge a stock is from the point of view of a consumer. By using instincts we have already honed as ordinary shoppers, we can often ferret out information that even the most skilled and software-savvy market watchers miss. While they study analytical charts, earnings reports, and the stock exchange ticker tape, folks just like yourself actually do business with the companies they invest in, because their experience as a customer speaks volumes about the value of the company and its products and services.

Here are the kinds of things to look for as indicators of a company worth:

1) How popular is their product or service? If everyone you know uses it, and is satisfied with such things as price, customer service, and reliability, the company is probably well situated among the competition.
2) Are the employees satisfied? One of the best ways to judge a company is by talking to employees. Many companies put on a good façade, but underneath the fancy marketing is plenty of discontent. But if employees like a company ?especially if they like it enough to buy stock in it ?that a very good sign.
3) How well known are they? You may find a great startup company with all the trappings of success, but discover that it is lesser known. Many small or regional companies are popular in their own back yards, but the rest of the world may not yet know about them. Buying such unknowns can be a great way to invest in the next hot stock. If the fundamentals look good, sometimes being lesser known is a good thing for investors getting in on the ground floor.
4) If they went out of business, where would you go for similar products and services? If you can’t think of a convenient alternative, the company is probably in a niche market that enjoys customer loyalty and repeat business.

Shop around, and notice what you see and how each business makes you feel. Then trust your intuition. Make a list of companies that get your attention, and then call their shareholder relations department and ask for more details. By starting your list with companies you already have a first hand experience of, you raise the chances considerably that you will make smart choices.

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Against The Top Down Approach To Picking Stocks

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If you have heard fund managers talk about the way they invest, you know a great many employ a top down approach. First, they decide how much of their portfolio to allocate to stocks and how much to allocate to bonds. At this point, they may also decide upon the relative mix of foreign and domestic securities. Next, they decide upon the industries to invest in. It is not until all these decisions have been made that they actually get down to analyzing any particular securitie…
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If you have heard fund managers talk about the way they invest, you know a great many employ a top down approach. First, they decide how much of their portfolio to allocate to stocks and how much to allocate to bonds. At this point, they may also decide upon the relative mix of foreign and domestic securities. Next, they decide upon the industries to invest in. It is not until all these decisions have been made that they actually get down to analyzing any particular securities. If you think logically about this approach for but a moment, you will recognize how truly foolish it is.

A stock earnings yield is the inverse of its P/E ratio. So, a stock with a P/E ratio of 25 has an earnings yield of 4%, while a stock with a P/E ratio of 8 has an earnings yield of 12.5%. In this way, a low P/E stock is comparable to a high ?yield bond.

Now, if these low P/E stocks had very unstable earnings or carried a great deal of debt, the spread between the long bond yield and the earnings yield of these stocks might be justified. However, many low P/E stocks actually have more stable earnings than their high multiple kin. Some do employ a great deal of debt. Still, within recent memory, one could find a stock with an earnings yield of 8 ?12%, a dividend yield of 3- 5%, and literally no debt, despite some of the lowest bond yields in half a century. This situation could only come about if investors shopped for their bonds without also considering stocks. This makes about as much sense as shopping for a van without also considering a car or truck.

All investments are ultimately cash to cash operations. As such, they should be judged by a single measure: the discounted value of their future cash flows. For this reason, a top down approach to investing is nonsensical. Starting your search by first deciding upon the form of security or the industry is like a general manager deciding upon a left handed or right handed pitcher before evaluating each individual player. In both cases, the choice is not merely hasty; it false. Even if pitching left handed is inherently more effective, the general manager is not comparing apples and oranges; he comparing pitchers. Whatever inherent advantage or disadvantage exists in a pitcher handedness can be reduced to an ultimate value (e.g., run value). For this reason, a pitcher handedness is merely one factor (among many) to be considered, not a binding choice to be made. The same is true of the form of security. It is neither more necessary nor more logical for an investor to prefer all bonds over all stocks (or all retailers over all banks) than it is for a general manager to prefer all lefties over all righties. You needn’t determine whether stocks or bonds are attractive; you need only determine whether a particular stock or bond is attractive. Likewise, you needn’t determine whether “the market?is undervalued or overvalued; you need only determine that a particular stock is undervalued. If youe convinced it is, buy it ?the market be damned!

Clearly, the most prudent approach to investing is to evaluate each individual security in relation to all others, and only to consider the form of security insofar as it affects each individual evaluation. A top down approach to investing is an unnecessary hindrance. Some very smart investors have imposed it upon themselves and overcome it; but, there is no need for you to do the same.

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