Waiting For The Next Train

by on December 18, 2013  •  In Mariko Gordon

Following up our recent article on selectivity standards in an upward moving market, below are some comforting words (and/or coping advice) from Mariko Gordon of Daruma Capital derived from her October 2013 Newsletter.

“My ruminations on regret are of the bull market variety. Whereas bear markets make me regret owning every single stock in the portfolio, bull markets make me regret every stock we flirted with but didn’t buy.

Why? Because it feels like everything we looked at and passed on is up way more than what we own or bought instead. And whether we passed for stupid, the-dog-ate-my-homework reasons or because we thought the price wasn’t right, this is what happens in bull markets:

…the stock gets bought out at a ridiculous premium, or
…activist shareholders announce their position the day AFTER we shut the file for good, or
…the stock simply skyrockets, just out of spite.

As the markets rise, great ideas are harder and harder to find. Everything cheap has so much “hair” on it that it makes Chewbacca look as sparse as Kojak (look him up, youngster). Sorting through the “hair” that makes the stock cheap – and therefore unattractive to other investors – is not only time-consuming, it requires the investment equivalent of a hazmat suit.

On the other hand, if a new idea has a timely and compelling investment case, it will be anything but cheap. Even if other investors haven’t discovered ALL of its charms, it will be 30% higher just because of the rising tide of the market. We then hesitate to pay up – because we all know what happens when the tide goes out.

Most days, therefore, you’re faced with either loading down the portfolio with broken down junk that, while cheap, doesn’t represent real value and will sink further or, chasing stocks that have gone parabolic, leading to multiple compression when the inevitable market melt-down happens.

In short, bull markets make you want to grab the nearest bottle of whiskey and listen to Edith Piaf songs until the market rolls over and dies.

Here is how I keep the hounds of bull-market frustration at bay:

  • I work on what look to be great businesses, regardless of valuation, figuring that one day we may get our chance.
  • I look to see which insiders are buying their stocks, because most of them are now selling faster than you can say hot potato.
  • I look to see where there’s a management change, because maybe the force will be strong with them, and a piece-of-junk of a business will start to deliver and the stock will levitate.

And, most important of all, every day, without fail, as sacred to me as a bedtime prayer, I think of the following advice: One morning, years ago, I scrambled down the subway steps, only to find the train leaving the station, a pissed off woman cursing up a storm and a homeless guy sitting on a bench. After watching the temper tantrum unfold for a minute, the guy finally said: “Lady, relax. Trains are like men. Another one will come along.”

So whenever I think of Piaf songs and of the frustration of the hot stock that got away in this bull market, I remember that patience is needed to get over those heartbreaks. Because another new idea, like trains and men, will come along soon.”

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