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Posts Tagged ‘long-term investing’

Finding Under-Valued Stocks

Find under-valued stocks for high profits. Use the most hated stocks for the best investment returns.Jack Bogle gave us the index fund. Warren Buffett has said most people should put their money into index funds.

Personal finance bloggers—especially in the FIRE* community—spout “index fund” like it’s a nervous tick. And you might have noticed this blogger has the same nervous tick.

Some are worried about all this index fund investing. The concern is index funds will control so much of the market that it will lose its efficiency. I remember the same concerns in the 1990s, when I was a stock broker, about mutual funds in general, most of which were actively managed.

Index funds will not break the market any more than actively managed mutual funds did. For one, there will still be plenty of people investing in individual stocks. And the hedge fund guys will do their share providing liquidity.

Index funds are automatic investing. All mutual funds and ETFs for that matter. You drop in your money (dollar cost averaging is suggested) and let time perform its magic. The broader based the index fund, the better your chances of enjoying the stellar performance of the market averages.

But some people don’t like “average”. And even the most hardened index fund investor periodically finds a company she would like to own a piece of directly.

That is where we come in today.  Finding a gem that can add to your portfolio’s performance isn’t easy, but possible if you know where to dig. Many have made a career out of beating the market with thoughtful investments. 

Index funds should be the home for a good chunk of your money. However, you might have a mad money account or even a serious money account for investing in businesses you feel are under-priced while possessing future growth potential.

Investing in individual companies can be very rewarding, but carry significant risks. I’ve been fortunate in finding great businesses that have performed well over the decades. My individual stock investments have outperformed the market. I’ve also noticed I think differently about an investment than most. 

Today I will share why I buy what I buy, and more importantly, why I pass on so many opportunities that seem so obvious. 

 

Buy the Hated, Be Leary of the Loved

Most people buy the hot stock because everyone is doing it and the recent price action has been tilted steeply up. These are the loved stocks. In the early 1970s they were called the Nifty Fifty; we now call them FANG (Facebook, Apple, Netflix and Google, the parent company of Alphabet) today. 

Buying hot stocks is easy because everyone is doing it. That always causes me to pause. 

For disclosure, I own one share of Facebook and a modest amount of Apple. I never owned any Google stock, but had a brief fling with Netflix.

Most loved stocks are priced accordingly. While I do own some shares of FANG companies, they are not predominant in my portfolio. 

Let’s do a brief rundown of the list. Netflix is sporting a 134 price/earning (p/e) ratio as I write. While NFLX has a dominant market share and there are reasonable barriers to entry from competition, NFLX faces stiff competition from Apple and more importantly, Disney. NFLX doesn’t have to fail to drop significantly. If Disney captures even a small slice of NFLX’s business the stock is in trouble.

Google is also richly valued at over 40 times earnings. Facebook is a company I want to own, but management is concerning. FB has a dominant platform and not much in the way of competition. When FB dropped below 130 in December, the margin of safety was large enough for me to buy. But it was a modest investment. 

Apple is a story we’ll address shortly.

I’m not saying there is never value in popular businesses. What I am saying is they tend to be over-priced. Warren Buffet once said he preferred a great company at a good price than a good company at a great price. Think about that for a moment.

NFLX and GOOG are excellent businesses, but are difficult investments to make at the current price. You don’t buy a great company at any price! You want to buy great businesses at a good price (or better) with plenty of margin for safety. Things do go wrong, you know.

Another area I tend to avoid are the socially acceptable investments. Everybody wants to invest in green companies these days. As a result, all that extra money is pushing these investments to levels too rich for this accountant’s blood. There can be select quality investments in this area, but none of it is cheap.

Since investing is about making money and not some ethical or moral statement, I seek value where others tend to avoid. Think of the most hated stocks: oil, coal, tobacco, processed foods.

I don’t own Exxon-Mobile (XOM), but I did take a look-see. As longtime readers are well aware, I own a lot of Altria stock, one of the largest tobacco companies on the planet. This is a good place to start our research on what makes a business worth buying.

 

Anatomy of a Good Investment

I think it was Warren Buffett who said, “It costs a penny to make and it’s addictive. What’s not to like,” about Altria (MO). In my opinion, Buffett would own a large slice of MO if he didn’t have a reputation to uphold.

Peter Lynch, in his book Beating the Street, shared his wisdom with a set of principles. Peter Principle #14 said: If you like the store, chances are you’ll love the stock. While Lynch is a legend in the investing world with a whopping 29.2% average annual return (better than Warren Buffett’s) when he managed Fidelity’s Magellan Fund from 1977 to 1990, there are times his principles are not hard and fast.

Use the secrets of hedge fund managers to find hidden gems in the stock market. Buy before the stock moves higher.Take, for example, Amazon. AMZN is a great company with great management. I love the company and buy plenty of stuff from the platform. Unfortunately, the stock price is not so great. Buying even a great company with great management at nearly 100 times earning is a serious risk. AMZN is a great company, but probably not the best investment for me.

Which illustrates a point. I don’t smoke. Never smoked. But I do love MO as an investment. Their track record is unbelievable and they are doing it in a shrinking industry. 

Still, my purchases of MO slowed these past few years. The price was a bit high for the situation and the 30 years of a declining cigarette market was starting to look problematic. True, MO has the world’s leading cigarette brand in Marlboro and are one of the best managed companies publicly traded. Management loves rewarding shareholders which is also a good sign.

The declining market size didn’t concern me the most; competition did. Peter’s Principle #16 says: In business, competition is never as healthy as total domination. I agree. And MO was facing serious competition for the first time in decades from a new foe: Juul.

Vaping isn’t exactly the most loved industry either. However, vaping was taking market share from MO and it was starting to move the needle. MO made attempts with their Nu Mark product to no avail. Juul was taking over the vaping market the way MO took over the cigarette market. And the regulatory environment creates plenty of barrier to new entrants.

What turned me the most positive on MO in my life was the 35% purchase of Juul. And the best part is vaping costs less than a penny to make and is also addictive. (MO also invested in a Canadian marijuana company.)

My greatest excitement with Altria is the potential size of the vaping market. When you review the numbers it is not hard to see Juul could be a larger company than MO. And more profitable due to the lower taxes on vaping products. 

Excitement is not a good thing when investing! Boring is best because this is going to be a long slog. Patience is the most important quality when investing. I bought my first shares of the now Altria in the early 1980s. If you reinvested the dividends, MO was one of the best performing stocks of the last 30 years. And you enjoyed a couple of profitable spin-offs along the way. 

Here are the things I looked at when purchasing more MO in December and earlier this year:

Is there an existential threat? 

The massive investments MO made in late 2018 required review. The question has to be asked: If the government shut down Juul today would if put MO at risk of collapse? 

After researching the issues it became clear the answer was “No”. If Juul went out of business MO would lose their $12.8 billion investment. But(!), this would not be enough to cause a dividend cut. Dividends would climb slower, no doubt, but the enterprise would continue. Also, if Juul disappeared, the people using the vaping products would probably turn to cigarettes for their nicotine fix, which MO has a dominant share of the market.

What about debt?

All else equal, I prefer companies with less debt. MO certainly has debt. The debt they issued to buy Juul will increase interest expenses. MO management said cost-cutting would be enough to offset the entire additional interest expense. Very encouraging. 

An over-leveraged company should be avoided as the risks are too high. The balance sheet should provide all you need to determine the debt level the business has.

Everybody hates it!

MO’s stock took it on the chin as investors hated the Juul investment, at first. For a brief moment I was able to buy a great company in a hated industry that was hated by even its own investors. And there was nothing to warrant such a response. Yes, MO paid plenty for Juul. However, looking at Juul’s growth, the price will look like the steal of the century in less than a few years. So I backed up the truck. Now my dividends are even higher.

Financials?

You do not need to be an accountant or tax professional to read a public company’s financials. But you do have to read them. Let’s take a look at MO’s balance sheet.

 

 

The balance sheet is the most important financial to review. (The cash-flow statement is a close second.) Income statements can be cooked, if you will. The balance sheet tells me how solvent the firm is. It also tells me if a recent investment creates an existential threat. 

As you can see, MO has reasonable amount in cash and investments in other companies. If MO sold all investments in other companies they own for the price they paid they would have enough to retire all debt. MO investments in Juul and ABInBev are solid investments so they probably could sell these investment holdings at a profit. But we’ll discount some of these investments anyway to pad our safety margin.

When you review MO’s cash and investments against it’s debt and consider the shareholder’s equity, it is easy to see MO is not facing an existential threat due to their Juul investment.

One thing to note. The reason for the large negative number for Treasury Stock is due to share buybacks.  This is not unusual.

 

A Few More Investments

As I noted in the beginning, I have a large share of my liquid investments in index funds. My retirement funds are almost 100% index funds or cash. My non-qualified monies (money in non-retirement accounts) are partially in index funds; a large portion is also in individual stocks. Buying good companies and holding them for a long time by default will increase the percentage not in index funds.

Apple is one of my newer investments. I will not provide financials as I did for MO. You can see Apple’s financials at CNBC

I prefer buying when a company is on sale. December last year when the market was down ~20% had me buying heavily. APPL has been in my portfolio for years and I added to it. I never used their products so I didn’t know if I’d love them or not, but I am fully aware of the cult status Apple users feel about their Apple products.

APPL is a popular FANG stock so it might be something to avoid. Except, the stock price increase was accompanied by increasing earning, low debt, loads of cash and stellar management. Of all the FANG stocks, APPL has the best management team. 

If you take the cash and subtract all debt, APPL still has ~$35 per share in cash! This means the p/e ratio is lower than listed. In other words, the enterprise has a 13.74 p/e ratio on it as I write. This is more than a reasonable purchase price for a company in a class by itself and a cult-like following. Though, I would prefer it “more” on sale before buying more. 

 

Knowing When to Sell

Selling can be harder than buying. Even the world-renown Warren Buffett, who says his favorite investing horizon is forever, sells investments periodically.

Even your favorite accountant has sold a few shares of his beloved MO in the past.

Let’s take an example of why selling is different than buying. Buffett’s fourth largest holding is Coca-Cola (KO). He bought KO in the 1980s (if memory serves) and has held it since. The dividend is solid and growing. 

Learn the secrets of buying under-valued stocks before they are discovered. Buy your investments on sale for quick profits.If you looked at KO today (a hated stock because they sell sweet drinks bad for teeth and accused of causing obesity) you would probably take a pass. The company is awesome with an awesome product and solid management, however. KO is dominant in their industry. But where is the growth coming from?

KO has a lot in common with MO. People are drinking less fizzy soda water and the world population is no longer growing fast enough to power profits higher. Unlike MO, KO can’t raise prices as easily. 

That said, If I owned KO I might not sell it. (I owned KO from the mid-80s to the late 90s.) The financials don’t excite me enough to buy a piece of the company. However, selling doesn’t make sense either. Selling would cause a serious tax bill if you held the stock a long time. And dividends like that are hard to come by.

When I sell it tends to be early on. If my original premise starts to erode I sometimes exit the investment. I bought Tesla and eventually sold. Of course I look smart because the stock was straight up at that time. However, my investment was more along the lines of keeping an eye on the company rather than a new serious investment position. The issue: Tesla without Elon Musk is in big trouble and they might be in big trouble anyway. I consider that a management issue in a very competitive market getting more competitive by the day.

When Facebook did a Faceplant in December, I bought. After considerable thought I came to the same conclusion about management and sold. 

Like Buffett buying KO, I bought Aflac (AFL) in the B’C.’s (actually the early 1980s) and held it ever since. I haven’t bought more in longer than I can remember. The dividends are climbing and it has been a good investment with a very accomplished management team. I looked at AFL recently (for this article) to see if I should buy more. There are certainly reasons to buy, but not enough for me to add to my position.

Certain things will have me selling fast. Hints of accounting irregularities are usually a sign to exit. If new management is failing, I leave. (I owned GE once upon a time and sold all of it because I had no faith in new management after Jack Welch left.) 

 

Waiting List

Patience is key to winning at investing. You wait for the right deal, then buy and wait forever as the business value keeps climbing. The stock price and dividends soon follow.

Finding a list of “hated” companies is easy. I want big, dominant companies in my portfolio. This reduces the chance of catastrophic failure. A good example is Boeing (BA).

BA is one of two major aircraft manufacturers in the world. (There are some smaller firms, but BA and Airbus control most of the market.) Recent crashes of Boeing 737 Max planes put BA under pressure. I bought a share so all the news stories would populate my feed. The stock started climbing so I thought I might not get a chance to buy at a “good” price. It happens. Most “watch list” businesses never become a real investment. 

BA came down again, but not enough for me to buy. Personally, I like BA more than airlines. Buffett disagrees, but I’m okay with that. 

Another watch list stock is JNJ. I owned JNJ in the past and I forget why I sold. (It was a dumb idea.) The recent asbestos in baby power/talc court ruling drove the price down. A little. Not enough to buy.

I’m watching Microsoft (MSFT) also. They really found their mojo after years where management struggled. I think Satya Nadella is a good leader at MSFT.

 

Of course, I own other businesses not discussed here. The idea is to give you the mindset necessary to win at investing.

Here is my final note: There is no crime is holding cash! Sometimes I catch heck when people realize I’m holding cash instead of investing in index funds. I can handle it. When the market is up I buy less because good investments are harder to find. When the market declines, like it did late last year, some businesses get discounted more heavily than others. Usually I find reasons to put my cash to work at those times. 

Now the market is near a new high again and new money is still looking for a home.

So I wait. Patiently. 

 

* FIRE: Financial Independence, Retire Early

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Credit Cards can be a powerful money management tool when used correctly. Use this link to find a listing of the best credit card offers. You can expand your search to maximize cash and travel rewards.

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Side Hustle Selling tradelines yields a high return compared to time invested, as much as $1,000 per hour. The tradeline company I use is Tradeline Supply Company. Let Darren know you are from The Wealthy Accountant. Call 888-844-8910, email Darren@TradelineSupply.com or read my review.

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

How Small Amounts of Money Grow Very Large

Small investments can grow into mountains of cash. Learn how a backwoods accountant grew an eight figure net worth. #investments #indexfunds #personalfinance #financialindependencePeriodically I get a message from a reader congratulating me on my financial success in life. The topic also comes up in consulting sessions more than I care to mention. The inquiry is always respectful and congratulatory. These people think I did something extraordinary when in fact it was actually a straight forward and simple process.

Part of my financial success is a direct result of living into my 50s. Time does a lot for net worth. Another huge advantage is I spent my entire adult life (except for those 14 months I played janitor at the church after I got married) self-employed. Business allowed me to control my income and taxes thereon more so than if I have a W-2 job at the local mill.

I’ve shared the story you are about to read many times in my office. By writing it down I hope it is easier to grasp the concept and how you can build a very large nest egg in short order. I get the feeling when I speak this concept it goes in one ear and out the other. I get it. However, this is too important—maybe the most important part of personal finance to reach financial independence—to just let it go as is. Once you grasp today’s message you have all the ammo you’ll ever need to control finances in your life and create a massive liquid net worth.

Awesome Results!

The discussion usually begins when a reader checks the Rockstar Finance Net Worth Tracker and notices their favorite accountant floating in the stratosphere. The good news is things aren’t as rosy. It’s been a while since I updated Rockstar (actually, I never updated after providing my original net worth) about my financial condition. A good market and increasing real estate values have my net worth several notches higher than listed.

I say “aren’t as rosy” because people tend to shoot whoever is in first place. (I have bullet wounds to prove it.) People also give me too much credit due to past success. Unfortunately, I’m not right because I have more. (Repeat that last sentence a few times until it sinks in. It will be useful when you want to give me credit when credit isn’t due and in your personal life when you think you’re right because you are so awesome.)

Eight figures is a worthy accomplishment, no doubt. What I did to get there isn’t as hard as you think. Let’s get to the math proving I’m a country accountant who fell into it and came out smelling roses.

Once Upon a Time There Was an Accountant. . .

Explaining how I amassed an eight figure net worth requires we use simple math. (Country accountants can’t think too hard. Hurts the head.)

First, we need to know a bit about the general equity (stock) market. The S&P 500 averages ~ 7% per year, plus inflation. Add it up and you get ~ 10% for an expected long-term return. Jeremy Siegel did the hard math proving these simple final numbers.

Annual returns are all over the map, but time smooths out the bumps and Siegel is right, the market pumps out around a 10% return over most extended period, dividends included. So nobody reaches for their calculator, we will use another simple yardstick: the Rule of 72. Simply stated, the Rule of 72 says you can divide 72 by the rate of return to determine how long it takes to double an investment. In our case things are about as simple as they get. Divide 72 by the 10% average market return to discover your S&P 500 index fund doubles every 7.2 years or so, depending on the market on the specific day.

Want to be a rich fat cat? Then follow these simple rules to build a massive liquid net worth for early retirement. #personalfinance #FIRE #earlyretirement #wealth #fatcatOkay, so we know we double our money every 7 years. Sometimes the market gets behind, other times it races fast forward. In the end we end up doubling our investment every 7 years and a bit.

Mrs. Accountant and I met in 1987, caused the stock market crash of ’87 and then got married in ’88. (Okay, we had nothing to do with the October 1987 stock market crash. It sounded impressive though, didn’t it?)

In 1988 Mrs. A and I decided investing was important for our future. Roth IRAs didn’t exist and traditional IRAs had a maximum contribution limit of $2,000 per person per year. Well, you can guess what Mrs. A and I did. Yup, we dumped $4,000 into our IRAs and got a tax deduction. Capital gains and dividend distributions were reinvested and untaxed because they lived inside a tax sheltered IRA.

Here we need to start some simple math. No need to grab your calculator; fingers and toes should suffice.

We were 24 year old whipper-snappers back then. Your favorite accountant was as sharp as a turnip green. But we did manage to engage the gray matter long enough to fully fund our IRAs and good thing we did.

Everyone, ready your fingers. We need to know how many 7 year periods passed between the ripe old age of 24 and the current age of 54. Let’s count, shall we children. Twenty-four goes to 31, to 38, to 45 to 52. STOP! That will be close enough for rural work. Also, we will double every 7 years and forget about the .2 thingy, okay?

We discovered 4 doublings of our original investment. $4,000 turned into $8,000, then $16,000, then to $32,000 and finally $64,000. For the record, there was nothing Mrs. A and I wanted when we were 24 that would make us feel $64,000 of pleasure today.

We’re not done! Remember we stopped at age 52. Add a few more 7s (52 to 59 to 66) and we discover the account will double two more times before we reach full retirement age for Social Security and nearly a third doubling by the time we reach mandatory distribution age for our IRA at 70 ½! So, $64,000 turns into $128,000 before racing to $256,000. If Mrs. A trips me before collecting income from the IRA we will be looking at north of $400,000 by the time Uncle Sam tells us we must withdraw from our IRA, or else (pay a penalty)!

The current value of that original $4,000 is now around $64,000. Not bad. It’s what we call a 16-bagger (an investment that is 16 times the original value) in the industry.

Reality Check; Isle 4

$64,000 is a far cry from an eight figure net worth. But Mrs. A and I stuffed more than $4,000 away each year. Those first years I worked out of the home (a remodeled basement). Costs were low. No driving, no office building and no additional insurance or utility expenses. We lived on ~$9,000 per year the first few years we were married. We walked all over town as love-sick birds. We had it made!

You don't need to inherit a fortune to be rich! Small amounts of money grow rather large rather fast with three simple rules anyone can follow. In fact, the lazier you are the richer you will get. #retirement #earlyretirement #investing #indexfunds #networth #nestegg #personalfinance #FIREThe first year investment in the IRA rose to the $64,000 level. Then came year two. We added more to the IRA; the maximum again. We kept doing this year after year. Mrs. A and I budgeted the IRA contributions to be made before any discretionary expenses. This was our future and we were serious about it.

More income meant more money in qualified (tax-advantaged accounts, usually retirement accounts) and non-qualified investments (non-retirement accounts with no tax deferral). I went crazy for a decade and a bit buying residential real estate. (I really mean crazy. The number of buildings we owned was obscene.) I tested investments to learn the investment and tax consequences. (Where do you think I got all my financial knowledge from? The School of Hard Knocks. I had skin in the game.)

When alternative investments ran their course the excess funds were plowed into mutual funds; actively managed early on, index funds later.

You may have noticed the top of the net worth list on Rockstar Finance contains older people, usually in their 50s or older. Slide down the list a bit and 40-somthings start making an appearance. It takes time and perseverance. The trick is simple. Invest a tidy sum and watch it double again and again and again and again and again. . .

Secrets of Secrets

Consistency is vital. Starting and adding to your portfolio on a regular basis is the secret. Keeping your paws off the stash is also mandatory! Spend less than you earn, invest in simple and easy broad-based index funds and wait. That sucker starts growing slowly right out of the gate. Then it gathers steam as it accelerates higher. Before long investment gains exceed new money invested during the year! (What an exciting moment in a young man’s (and woman’s) life!)

It doesn’t matter if the market is high or low. You need to get your money in now and swear an oath to never touch the thing until you are retired. Mrs. A and I were lucky. When we got married the stock market hadn’t fully recovered from the crash so we got in somewhere in the middle of the high and low. Still, we had plenty of years where the market was up significantly and we still added to the pile. (Man! If we had just waited until the Dow came down we could have gotten in cheaper than a DJIA of 3,000. Ah, I guess it pays to be stupid.)

To recap: You need to do only three things to have an eight figure net worth: Start early; invest consistently; and wait. Time solves all broad-based index fund problems.

And that is how you turn a small amount of money into a mountain of cash.

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Side Hustle Selling tradelines yields a high return compared to time invested, as much as $1,000 per hour. The tradeline company I use is Tradeline Supply Company. Let Darren know you are from The Wealthy Accountant. Call 888-844-8910, email Darren@TradelineSupply.com or read my review.

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

A cost segregation study can save $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregations studies work and how to get one yourself.

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

 

Increase Your Success at Anything with Warren Buffett’s “20-Slot” Rule

Charlie Munger

The best way to learn is by studying the best. Experience has value as long as it also has a foundation in knowledge. Reinventing the wheel again and again is a fool’s errand and not conducive to personal development.

Studying the best takes many forms. Working for someone at the top of their game is the best way to learn, but the opportunities to do so are limited. Formalized education communicates facts without always presenting the best in your selected field. The number one way to learn from the masters is to study them through intense research of their work. The greatest minds are available like never before. YouTube videos of their speeches and books and news articles on their practices give us massive quantities of material to learn from.

Today we will focus on a simple story shared by Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s friend and right-hand man at Berkshire Hathaway.

Tell Me a Story

Munger gave a talk to the USC Business School in 1994 where he shared a story Buffett told when lecturing at business schools. Here are the exact words Munger used:

When Warren lectures at business schools, he says, “I could improve your ultimate financial welfare by giving you a ticket with only 20 slots in it so that you had 20 punches—representing all the investments that you got to make in a lifetime. And once you’d punched through the card, you couldn’t make any more investments at all.”

He says, “Under those rules, you’d really think carefully about what you did and you’d be forced to load up on what you’d really thought about. So you’d do so much better.”

Buffett’s story is about more than investing; it’s about life. People buzz around trying to do everything and end up doing poorly in each endeavor. Investors trade stocks like baseball cards; people buy home after home believing they are moving up with each new personal residence; employees keep moving from job to job looking for more . . . ; business owners search for new clients endlessly.

Around here we encourage index fund investing. It’s a perfect way to set it and forget. That counts as one punch on the 20-slot card. I have a mad money account where I invest a small portion of my liquid net worth. The account only has a handful of stocks. By limiting how many companies I own I spend more time researching those companies and evaluating their prospects.

I also make incredibly stupid mistakes and pay the inevitable price for such mental lapses. In the late 80s and 90s I was in a partnership with my dad and brother. We bought real estate. A lot of real estate. By the time we were done we had 176 properties to consume our lives. Actually, my dad and brother were not involved so “I” had 176 properties to consume “my” life. I punched my 20-slot card 176 times!

Lack of focus hurt results. I had properties spread out over a 200 mile radius. Multiple property managers were involved. We had the money so we kept on buying. And selling.

Eventually I experienced burnout. The fun, even the desire for profit on it, was gone. The buying stopped and the selling accelerated until there were no more properties. The partnership was done. Countless hours yielded a good, but not great, return. The lust for more for more’s sake cost dearly. Lesson learned. Kind of.

What could I have done better? The money was there and so were the opportunities. Burnout could have been avoided. If I would have heard Buffett’s advice back then it would have saved me from plenty of pain.

The 20-slot rule applies to more than stock investing. Rather than buy so many single-family homes I should have bought fewer multi-unit properties. I toyed with the idea at the time. I reviewed a serious number of apartment complexes and commercial properties. The numbers were compelling. In many cases the profit potential was higher than anything I could earn with my current mix of investment properties. The reason why I decided to pass on multi-unit buildings was because it would be harder to sell such properties and would likely take longer as well since fewer buyers were in the multi-unit market.

If Munger were standing beside me he would have smacked me up behind the head. I can hear him say, “Idiot. Think like an accountant!”

Warren Buffet says you should buy a stock as if the stock market will be closed for five years. The point again is to focus on the investment and invest for the long haul. I didn’t buy fewer large value buildings because it would be harder to sell them. I acted like real estate should be day-traded. SMACK!

The missed opportunities are only talked about now. My choices when I ran LuK Enterprises cannot be changed. It’s in the history books. At least I learned my lesson. Right?

Thinking like an Accountant

This blog is about teaching people to think like an accountant. You would think an accountant with decades of experience could communicate such a message with clarity. You would also think said accountant would walk the talk. Welcome to my fantasy world.

I share my failures in business (and sometimes in life) because that is where the opportunities to learn exist. Plenty of successes brought me to this place. Bragging about the times I knocked it out of the park would waste both our times.

Sometimes a 20-slot card is too many slots and other times too few. For example: In my practice I have more than 20 clients. Most businesses require more than 20 clients to be viable and to reduce risk. One client should not determine the success of a company.

As my business has grown over the years and with this blog, I find myself saying “no” to new clients more often. My practice is small for a reason. I enjoy the work. Expanding to additional locations would not make me happier. Quite the opposite. More locations and more clients would reduce the relationships I have with my current clients. A thousand clients is too many at times already.

My 20-slot card has only one slot when it comes to marriage. Two slots would be too many for me. Even my dating card had fewer than 20-slots. I dated fewer than five women in my life. Two received more than one date and only one became my wife.

I never understood the idea of dating a large number of people to find Mr. or Mrs. Right. The answer is obvious when speaking with a potential mate before it ever gets to the first date. If the answer is obvious, why invest the time? You are not dating to see if this person is right for you; you are dating for the opportunity for a piece of ass. Be honest. You know it’s true.

There is no guarantee a mate will work out. Divorce happens for a variety of reasons. If a young lady doesn’t fit my vision of a life mate we can still talk and be friends. All the emotional baggage is eliminated before it is ever created.

Most people take whatever comes their way in interpersonal relationships. I am no fan of luck. I actively sought out Mrs. Accountant. I would come to the table with a one-slot card and was darn careful about punching that slot.

None of this guarantees success. Limiting the number of stocks you buy, researching to the nth degree an investment does not guarantee it will work as planned. But you do increase the odds by magnitudes of order it will.

Buffett has owned more than 20 stocks in his life. The 20-slot rule is not hard and fast. It is a metaphor to remind you to spend more time focusing on fewer projects.

Multitasking is unproductive.

Iris in my flower garden in front of my home.

Focusing on a narrow group of projects is the only way to maximize profits or pleasure. When I find a good company I keep adding to it. Index funds should be the bulk of more people’s investments. It’s an awesome idea so you can comfortably keep adding to the pile whenever funds are available.

In my practice I add clients selectively. Opening new offices and expanding rapidly might work as long as I accept the greater risks of growing my type of company to such proportions. When there is room I add to an already successful business model. It works and it is profitable.

Even in my marriage I keep adding to the one investment I have made. Having an affair or spreading it around is of no interest to me. There is no doubt I would NOT be happier playing the field or searching for something better.

At the risk of sounding cold, I am not looking for the absolute best stock on the exchange; I’m looking for one I can live with for a lifetime.

My marriage is the same way. I never intended to find the perfect person I would be most compatible with. Heck, she probably lives in Timbuktu. It’s not going to happen. I found someone, Mrs. Accountant, who I knew I could enjoy a lifetime with. No need to punch 8,304 slots on the dating card to come to that conclusion.

Or you can keep chopping your 20-slot card to bits in an attempt to find the ultimate investment or mate. But be warned; you will not be happy with what you get.