#DigitalSkeptic: Investor Sees Pandora as Dumbest Way to Double Your Money

THOMASTON, Maine ( TheStreet) -- Rick Tonge has this to say to Bank of America Merrill Lynch's ( BAC) Nat Schindler, Goldman Sachs' ( GS) Heath Terry or any one of the dozens of Wall Street analysts who cover red-hot online streaming service Pandora Media ( P).

"There is not one thing about the company that makes any sense," the owner of Tonge Investments told me from this rocky, mid-coastal Maine town. "But that has not stopped me from doubling my clients' money by buying the stock."

Tonge is my kind of investment professional. He doesn't have some stuffy office in the World Financial Center. Rather, he works out of his rural hometown of Waterville, Maine, near his alma mater of Colby College.

Despite his central Maine roots, Tonge -- who pronounces his name to sort of rhyme with the french pronunciation of "orange" -- grew up in the financial markets. He took his Series 7 exam back in 1974 to work in his father's and grandfather's brokerage business while still in high school.

And he's made his living making his clients' money ever since.

"I have directly participated in every crash of the modern era," he told me, nibbling on pizza during a reception here. "If you're going to be a sole proprietor like I am, you learn a thing or two about protecting your clients' money."

Not even a subscription to The Wall Street Journal
What Information Age skeptics will love about Tonge is how he has little room for the supposed must-haves of the information era. He does not use sophisticated risk management models or complex, real-time, computer-driven trading algos. He keeps CNBC turned off during the day and struggles to keep up with the pile of Barron's magazines in his office.

"I'm not looking at my stupid computer all day. I can't remember the last financial statement I studied," he said. "That's all noise. The trick actually is cutting down on those inputs. Instead, I use my brain."

Tonge relies on a simple mix of throwback technical, so-called "point and figure" charting and a seat-of-the-pants value investing style, a la Fidelity Investments' Peter Lynch, to manage $33 million in a mix of stocks, bonds, electronically traded funds and the occasional covered call. A handful of his 100 some-odd clients with whom I spoke confirm that their returns are worth the between one-half and one-percent annual fees he charges.

"My wife and I have been very pleased with his performance," said John Allan, president of Chase Associates, a stainless steel door manufacturer in Edgecomb, Maine, who says he has invested with Tonge for three years.

"He manages about 15 people's money here and nobody has been complaining," said Dr. David Staples, partner at the Garrison Family Dental practice in Dover, N.H. Tonge has managed money for him for more than a decade, Staples said.

Not singing Pandora's senseless upside
What really makes Tonge a national investing treasure is his city-slicker-be-damned, Yankee common sense when it comes to new age tickers such as Pandora. On one hand, he's a bull's bull on Pandora the stock; but on the other, he's got the backbone to not pander to the nonsense that passes for Wall Street fundamental analysis on Pandora the company.

"All these big fundamental analysts like to believe that the market is efficient," he said. "But the market is not even remotely efficient. The fundamentals of the company have a place, but the only fundamental that matters is people are buying this stock."

This integrity gives Tonge the guts to admit openly that Pandora's 72 million listeners may not actually correlate to profits for the company. He agrees that deep limits exist in both ad revenue and in sales for the company's paid offerings. And he fully understands the risk Pandora is running with its current dangerous royalty battle with musical artists.

"All I care about is that the buyers are in charge. When that changes and the sellers take over, I will step out of the way and sell," he said. "But until then I bought Pandora at $9 and I just want to thank Goldman for piling in at $18 with a $27 price target. I have no plans to sell."

When I asked Tonge what is it about mainstream Wall Street these days where its get taken in Information Age logic that is often anything but logical, he could not answer fast enough.

"All the hedge fund people get sucked into making the money," he said. "There is not a fund operator I've met that has even met one of their clients. I visit their homes."

"I am the odd person out here," he said. "I am interested in my customers."

This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.

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