For Risky Stocks, 'Right' and 'Wrong' Are Relative

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Being right and being wrong are relative terms for investors. You wouldn't know that from the comments on my articles, but it's true.

When I worked in talk radio, we kept this statistic in mind: Less than 1% of our audience actually called into the show. As both a host and listener, this data has allowed me to keep my sanity. If every whacked-out "first-time caller, long-time listener" was somehow representative of the wider audience, I would have checked into Bellevue.

Same goes for comments here. Based on the numbers I have seen, far less than 1% of the readership comments on the typical stock market/business-related article. I know that most of TheStreet's audience are bright, articulate folks. I wish more of them wrote comments.

In any event, I write my articles for that larger audience we rarely hear from. They, as well as the excellent "diamond-in-the-rough" commenters, keep me going.

That said, there's a recurring theme in the comments' sections of articles: An obsession with being right or wrong. Because it repeats, I have to think that a meaningful portion of the larger audience shares the obsession.

I guess that's a stock market thing, a sports thing and, as such, a guy thing.

In relation to the stock market, I refer to being right or wrong as "a fleeting proposition," for several reasons.

First, on the most practical level, an Apple ( AAPL) bear, at the moment, is "right." If what most of the world thinks will happen actually happens and Apple blows the doors off of its holiday quarter, they'll be, suddenly, "wrong."

Today, I am so dead "wrong" on Zynga ( ZNGA) that I had people on Twitter offering me free shots. Even though the late Elliott Smith might have been correct when he wrote -- Whiskey works better than beer -- I would prefer several bottles of Molson to help take away my pain.

The AAPL and ZNGA examples also help illustrate several key points.

Consider finance and investment articles and discussions an exchange of ideas and perspectives, not stock picks or a macho battle over who is "right or wrong." It's pretty imprecise, anyhow, to assign the same stock selection to such a diverse group of people.

Thursday I wrote an article on bullish pre-earnings AAPL trades that did relatively well despite the bad report. The strategies that article illustrates -- writing covered calls and selling cash-secured puts -- have several goals.

Taking the speculation out of what is a wholly speculative situation -- the pre-earnings directional bet on a potentially volatile stock amid uncertainty -- tops the list.

If you put one of those two basic options strategies on ahead of Apple's earnings, you were still speculating, but not with quite as much risk. On both trades, the income you collected helped hedge your risk whereas you're not covered by a thing on a straight and solo long or short trade via stock or long call or put via options.

Investment Perspective

Now, consider ZNGA. Short-term, I could not be more wrong. In some respects, I am angry that I got burned. By and large, however, I remain calm, cool and collected with relation to my long position in the stock.

One thing I stressed more than anything is that ZNGA represents a long-term play, where we measure long-term using years, not weeks or months. As such, I organized it in my portfolio as not only a long-term play, but a highly speculative one.

Instead of focusing on right or wrong, we ought to concentrate a bit more on nuts and bolts.

Each month, I earn a certain amount of money. Like most people, I keep a budget. I do not do it formally via Quicken or some other software; rather, I run informal numbers just before I receive the majority of my cash.

On a Post-It note, I create two columns - one for "bills" and one for "investments."

Roughly speaking, the "bills" column splits in two directions - the bills I must pay (rent, taxes, utilities, etc.) and the variable "bills" I do not have to, but choose to pay (leisure, entertainment, clothing, a new Macbook Pro with Retina Display, etc.). I allocate a chunk of my cash for these purposes.

The investment category splits in various directions.

While it might or might not work for you, this approach helps me keep each investment type, particularly speculative investments, where they should be. In other words, I am not just throwing money at a bunch of stocks each month. I allocate cash on the basis of the level of risk I am OK taking on. I am paying a "bill" to each investment every month - often multiple times - just as I do to the gas or electric company.

Each month, approximately half of my investment budget goes into a standard online savings account. This might sound crazy to some, but it works for me.

First, it helps me sleep at night. Second, it will help me achieve various short- to mid-term goals with limited stress. And I treat it like a bill. Money comes in, x goes to savings.

The remaining 50% gets spread through the investment category in the following order: dividend-paying growth stocks; IRAs with mutual funds and core stocks, including Dividend Reinvestment Plans; a custodial account; and the remaining 10% to 15% a month in speculative stocks such as ZNGA.

I chuckle a bit every single time somebody tells me I "lost" my rear on a position.

I treat my dual budget like a business. And I ration cash in such a way that weakness in one portion of it will not sink the entire ship. I have not always run things that way. I am not sure most people ever do without learning the hard way first.

There was a time -- the years 1999 and 2000 -- when I made a habit of chasing speculative stocks with way too much capital relative to my bankroll. That approach sent me back to the drawing board several times. In other words, I had to work overtime to replenish my funds. Not a good strategy.

Today, I am willing to invest heavily, but reasonably, given their speculative nature, in stocks such as ZNGA and Pandora ( P).

I hedge those most risky plays, however, by allocating cash along a risk spectrum from less speculative growth stocks and less risky, but not-necessarily-tame dividend payers such as Rogers Communications ( RCI), BCE ( BCE), Time Warner ( TWX) and Intel ( INTC) to the relatively conservative IRA positions to DRIPs offered by American Electric Power ( AEP) and Becton, Dickinson and Company ( BDX) to the ultra-conservative savings account.

When ZNGA implodes I do not have to freak out. The on-paper loss, because of how I structure my finances and investments, means very little to me. If it sticks, whatever loss I take ends up being the cost of doing business, just like most other ventures. If I end up being "right," it morphs into a multi-bagger and we forget all about what happened the other night.

Like anything else, investing requires a structured plan, not hysterical rants about being temporarily "wrong" or "right."

At the time of publication, the author was long AEP, BCE, BDX, INTC, P, RCI, TWX and ZNGA.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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