Introduction to the Millennium Edition
This book was written to offer encouragement and basic information to the individual investor. Who knew it would go through thirty printings and sell more than one million copies? As this latest edition appears eleven years beyond the first, I'm convinced that the same principles that helped me perform well at the Fidelity Magellan Fund still apply to investing in stocks today.
It's been a remarkable stretch since One Up on Wall Street hit the bookstores in 1989. I left Magellan in May, 1990, and pundits said it was a brilliant move. They congratulated me for getting out at the right time -- just before the collapse of the great bull market. For the moment, the pessimists looked smart. The country's major banks flirted with insolvency, and a few went belly up. By early fall, war was brewing in Iraq. Stocks suffered one of their worst declines in recent memory. But then the war was won, the banking system survived, and stocks rebounded.
Some rebound! The Dow is up more than fourfold since October, 1990, from the 2,400 level to 11,000 and beyond -- the best decade for stocks in the twentieth century. Nearly 50 percent of U.S. households own stocks or mutual funds, up from 32 percent in 1989. The market at large has created $25 trillion in new wealth, which is on display in every city and town. If this keeps up, somebody will write a book called The Billionaire Next Door.
More than $4 trillion of that new wealth is invested in mutual funds, up from $275 billion in 1989. The fund bonanza is okay by me, since I managed a fund. But it also must mean a lot of amateur stockpickers did poorly with their picks. If they'd done better on their own in this mother of all bull markets, they wouldn't have migrated to funds to the extent they have. Perhaps the information contained in this book will set some errant stockpickers on a more profitable path.
Since stepping down at Magellan, I've become an individual investor myself. On the charitable front, I raise scholarship money to send inner-city kids of all faiths to Boston Catholic schools. Otherwise, I work part-time at Fidelity as a fund trustee and as an adviser/trainer for young research analysts. Lately my leisure time is up at least thirtyfold, as I spend more time with my family at home and abroad.
Enough about me. Let's get back to my favorite subject: stocks. From the start of this bull market in August 1982, we've seen the greatest advance in stock prices in U.S. history, with the Dow up fifteenfold. In Lynch lingo that's a "fifteenbagger." I'm accustomed to finding fifteenbaggers in a variety of successful companies, but a fifteenbagger in the market at large is a stunning reward. Consider this: From the top in 1929 through 1982, the Dow produced only a fourbagger: up from 248 to 1,046 in a half century! Lately stock prices have risen faster as they've moved higher. It took the Dow 8 1/3 years to double from 2,500 to 5,000, and only 3 1/2 years to double from 5,000 to 10,000. From 1995-99 we saw an unprecedented five straight years where stocks returned 20 percent plus. Never before has the market recorded more than two back-to-back 20 percent gains.
Wall Street's greatest bull market has rewarded the believers and confounded the skeptics to a degree neither side could have imagined in the doldrums of the early 1970s, when I first took the helm at Magellan. At that low point, demoralized investors had to remind themselves that bear markets don't last forever, and those with patience held on to their stocks and mutual funds for the fifteen years it took the Dow and other averages to regain the prices reached in the mid-1960s. Today it's worth reminding ourselves that bull markets don't last forever and that patience is required in both directions.
On page 280 of this book I say the breakup of ATT in 1984 may have been the most significant stock market development of that era. Today it's the Internet, and so far the Internet has passed me by. All along I've been technophobic. My experience shows you don't have to be trendy to succeed as an investor. In fact, most great investors I know (Warren Buffett, for starters) are technophobes. They don't own what they don't understand, and neither do I. I understand Dunkin' Donuts and Chrysler, which is why both inhabited my portfolio, I understand banks, savings-and-loans, and their close relative, Fannie Mae. I don't visit the Web. I've never surfed on it or chatted across it. Without expert help (from my wife or my children, for instance) I couldn't find the Web.
Over the Thanksgiving holidays in 1997, I shared eggnog with a Web-tolerant friend in New York. I mentioned that my wife, Carolyn, liked the mystery novelist Dorothy Sayers. The friend sat down at a nearby computer and in a couple of clicks pulled up the entire list of Sayers titles, plus customer reviews and the one-to five-star ratings (on the literary Web sites, authors are rated like fund managers). I bought four Sayers novels for Carolyn, picked the gift wrapping, typed in our home address, and crossed one Christmas gift off my list. This was my introduction to Amazon.com.
Later on you'll read how I discovered some of my best stocks through eating or shopping, sometimes long before other professional stock hounds came across them. Since Amazon existed in cyberspace, and not in suburban mall space, I ignored it. Amazon wasn't beyond my comprehension -- the business was as understandable as a dry cleaner's. Also, in 1997 it was reasonably priced relative to its prospects, and it was well-financed. But I wasn't flexible enough to see opportunity in this new guise. Had I bothered to do the research, I would have seen the huge market for this sort of shopping and Amazon's ability to capture it. Alas, I didn't. Meanwhile, Amazon was up tenfold (a "tenbagger" in Lynch parlance) in 1998 alone.
Amazon is one of at least five hundred "dot.com" stocks that have performed miraculous levitations. In high-tech and dot.com circles, it's not unusual for a newly launched public offering to rise tenfold in less time than it takes Stephen King to pen another thriller. These investments don't require much patience. Before the Internet came along, companies had to grow their way into the billion-dollar ranks. Now they can reach billion-dollar valuations before they've turned a profit or, in some cases, before they've collected any revenues. Mr. Market (a fictional proxy for stocks in general) doesn't wait for a newborn Web site to prove itself in real life the way, say, Wal-Mart or Home Depot proved themselves in the last generation.
With today's hot Internet stocks, fundamentals are old hat. (The term old hat is old hat in itself, proving that I'm old hat for bringing it up.) The mere appearance of a dot and a com, and the exciting concept behind it, is enough to convince today's optimists to pay for a decade's worth of growth and prosperity in advance. Subsequent buyers pay escalating prices based on the futuristic "fundamentals," which improve with each uptick.
Judging by the Maserati sales in Silicon Valley, dot.coms are highly rewarding to entrepreneurs who take them public and early buyers who make timely exits. But I'd like to pass along a word of caution to people who buy shares after they've levitated. Does it make sense to invest in a dot.com at prices that already reflect years of rapid earnings growth that may or may not occur? By the way I pose this, you've already figured out my answer is "no." With many of these new issues, the stock price doubles, triples, or even quadruples on the first day of trading. Unless your broker can stake your claim to a meaningful allotment of shares at the initial offering price -- an unlikely prospect since Internet offerings are more coveted, even, than Super Bowl tickets -- you'll miss a big percent of the gain. Perhaps you'll miss the entire gain, since some dot.coms hit high prices on the first few trading sessions that they never reach again.
If you feel left out of the dot.com jubilee, remind yourself that very few dot.com investors benefit from the full ride. It's misleading to measure the progress of these stocks from the offering price that most buyers can't get. Those who are allotted shares are lucky to receive more than a handful.
In spite of the instant gratification that surrounds me, I've continued to invest the old-fashioned way. I own stocks where results depend on ancient fundamentals: a successful company enters new markets, its earnings rise, and the share price follows along. Or a flawed company turns itself around. The typical big winner in the Lynch portfolio (I continue to pick my share of losers, too!) generally takes three to ten years or more to play out.
Owing to the lack of earnings in dot.com land, most dot.coms can't be rated using the standard price/earnings yardstick. In other words, there's no "e" in the all-important "p/e" ratio. Without a "p/e" ratio to track, investors focus on the one bit of data that shows up everywhere: the stock price! To my mind, the stock price is the least usefu...