Of Tortoises and Ground Hogs

Thriving on the Backs of Our Shell-Bound Colleagues

This is a modified version of a post from the March 2001 issue of Better Investing magazine.  As our Groundhog celebration continues — and even as it winds down — we’re reminded of a heritage of long-term investing success, steeped in patience, discipline and yes, rituals.

 Mark  Robertson

Punxsutawney, PA. (Population: 6,782)– February 2, 2001

On this day, a small town just northeast of Pittsburgh finds its way to the hearts and minds of people worldwide. The principal inhabitant of Gobbler’s Knob, Punxsutawney Phil, plays host to the likes of presidents, news anchors and talk show hosts. In the chilly morning breeze, thousands gather to see whether Phil will observe his shadow — immediately following his stretching exercises, breakfast and morning coffee. For the record, he’s seen his shadow some 90 percent of the time over the last 100 years or so. I doubt that there’s much correlation between his shadow and wintry durations — but the masses gather anyhow.

Saturday Morning

Rituals occupy an important place in our lives. One of the endearing features of monthly investment club meetings is that they encourage a discipline of regularity. Invest regularly. Monthly meetings reinforce. They make it difficult to ignore the prodding that we should regularly contemplate and explore our investment efforts.

When I first started investing, one of my rituals was to make the sojourn to my local bookstore every Saturday morning. The itinerary included a stop for a cup of coffee and a saunter next door for that weekend’s edition of Barron’s. Like all newbies, I watched CNBC and checked my stock prices far too frequently.

Too frequently? How much is “enough?”

On the Backs of Roaring Tortoises

It’s a good question. In fact, it’s a great question. It was presented to me by a reporter from Forbes not so long ago. It stirred the memory of a question to Ed Finn, publisher and editor of Barron’s, delivered from the floor of Congress 1999, after Mr. Finn had concluded his keynote remarks. (Those memories were recently rekindled while listening to Mr. Finn’s keynote remarks at last week’s MoneyShow in Orlando)

“How do we reconcile the apparent reality that investment clubs achieve strong performance levels despite the fact that most of them only meet for an hour every month or so?” Mr. Finn suggested that the investment professionals might want to think about that — and consider becoming a little less active in their execution of transactions.

The Forbes reporter’s question tiptoed up to the question again. “Once you develop a solid comprehension of the modern investment club approach to investing, and your portfolio is in place, how much time would you say you dedicate to the management of your personal assets?”

I thought about it. There’s an element of “hobby” and certainly entertainment to the things that we do as investors. Clearly, some of us spend more time than others exploring and learning. But this question had a deeper nature to it. How much was essential? I thought about it some more and said, “8-10 hours per year.” That may stagger some of you. But I’m convinced that my impressions are correct in this regard. My thoughts drift to conversations with national event attendees. These discussions are a distinct privilege. “You’ve done well, very well — for decades — what’s it take?”

With a twinkle and a smile, several answer the question with stories of cruises and their best days on the golf course. With a wink, others confide that much like Punxsutawney Phil, they drag out their portfolio once a year to see whether the sun is still shining. With regard to my personal holdings, it’s no exaggeration whatsoever. Following a recent investment conference presentation, I was discussing a mutual holding with an attendee and was pleasantly surprised to learn of a large increase in price that had occurred in the last month or so.

Eight, maybe 10 hours per year? It’s more than possible. For many, it’s an absolute reality. Many practitioners spend a couple hours every quarter — checking in on how the management of the companies that they own are performing. Are they pursuing opportunity? Are they doing so profitably? Is the sun shining? How’s their shadow?

Our obsession with tortoises in this issue has a basis in a time-honored heritage. Listen for the roar. Invest regularly, in leadership enterprises, at good prices. Don’t hurry, but don’t wait, either.

Join us at Manifest Investing and Expecting Alpha as we build resources that make sense for your Saturday morning sojourns. We hope our community resources will become a favorite destination for your 8-10 hours per year and beyond.  At Manifest Investing, we’re committed to remaining focused on what really matters: the growth, profitability and valuation characteristics of your holdings and potential holdings — and any threats or opportunities to both.  We’ll do our best to sound the bell of opportunity or the clarion of a threat.  And we know that our collective community will be vigilant and do its best to watch for shadows.

You can’t have a shadow without some sunshine.

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