Twenty-five Rules of Investing:  1  |  2  |  3  |  4  |  5  |  6  |  7  |  8  |  9  |  10  |  11  |  12  |  13  |  14  |  15  |  16  |  17  |  18  |  19  |  20  |  21  |  22  |  23  |  24  |  25 

 

 

Be Flexible

 

 

Rule 18

The most important rule of all is:

 

Be flexible.

 

You have to be flexible because business, by nature, is dynamic, not static. Things change. Markets change. Competitors start new price wars to win share. Companies execute poorly. Customers cancel orders. Events happen that make buying decisions more difficult or postpone them.

Of course, our buy-and-hold brainwashing totally precludes many of us from ever thinking like this. We have made up our minds that things are great for Coca-Cola (KO - news), say, and we don't want the facts to get in the way of the story. Or we decided in 2000 that Cisco (CSCO - news) was a winning stock and we are not going to be dissuaded by the change in the fundamentals to sell it. Our "love" for stocks is so misplaced in this rough-and-tumble world of business.

Let me tell you a story of what happened to me a couple of years ago by way of illustration. I thought that Charter Communications (CHTR - news) would be a terrific stock if the largest shareholder would simply pony up more money with the rest of us to improve the balance sheet.

Instead, the largest shareholder took a powder and the company went to hedge funds and offered them the right to short as much common as they wanted to in return for lending them money. The hedge funds obliged. If the company had adopted my funding method, or if the company simply had done a huge equity offering, we would be looking at a win, not a loss. But the company made the wrong move and the stock went from being a good stock to a bad one.

Many people thought that I had gone from being a good stock picker to a bad stock picker because of Charter. Frankly, I think that management and the largest shareholder made moves that weren't rational. It's hard to invest with someone who exhibits irrational behavior after that person had not exhibited such behavior before. So I had to cut my losses and run. I mention all of this because the unwillingness to recognize this turn for the worse, as bad as it was, would have led to much larger losses than I already had accrued in the stock. This is what happens if you are inflexible (see Rule No. 18), too, if you believe too much and don't shift when it's clear that management doesn't care.

Stay flexible and recognize the vicissitudes of the market and of individual businesses. Or, own bonds.

Your call, as always.