The only good thing about a flight to Australia or New Zealand is that you can get a lot of reading done. I read Jim Cramer's book, Real Money: Sane Investing in an Insane Word, on a recent trip to the land down under, and it is the best book I have read on stock picking. It reminded my of a few things I knew but haven't practiced often enough. Stock picking has to be an emotionless practice. This is the only way to accurately put a value on something. I knew this, but last week after spending some time with some hedge fund friends of mine, it was put in plain and simple terms to me again. I have owned and recommended GE ( GE), Vodafone ( VOD) and Dell ( DELL) for some time. They have been dead money for me, yet I held on to them. One of my friends finally told me, accurately, that I was holding on to them against my better judgment. He was right; I wasn't being objective. I was holding on to losers because I didn't want to admit defeat. Now on to some spring cleaning and some crow eating. Vodafone is the number one cell phone company in the world with over 180 million subscribers. It received negative calls when it overpaid for 3G licenses, but I thought that it would be able to make those acquisitions profitable. The knock against the company did prove to be true, however, when it overpaid for Telsim, an unprofitable Turkish cell phone company. I think Vodafone will remain profitable, I just believe it is a slow growth company and it's not where I want my money to be. I sold the rest of my Vodafone shares last week, when it announced that revenue growth would slow to between 5% and 6.5%.
Vodafone also expects to record a $48 billion charge to write down the value of goodwill acquired in various acquisitions, as reported
here. The charge reflects new European accounting rules and "a lower view of growth prospects, particularly in the medium- to long-term, than those it had used previously," the company said. GE is a conundrum. It has grown earnings every year, yet the stock has been dead money with a flat price. The rumors of former chairman Jack Welch being "creative" with accounting are without basis in my opinion. However, the stock has not moved with earnings growth, and I don't see a driver in the near future. I sold my shares of GE last week as well. I am a big fan of Michael Dell and think he has a great company. However, the fact is that Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ) is doing a great job and actually hurting profit growth at Dell. I thought it would be the other way around. Dell is being hurt by a low-margin PC business and the inability to make significant inroads in the printer business. I still like Michael Dell, but I sold my shares of his company's stock last week because it's not where I want my money to be.