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In the investment field, people are attracted by confident, unequivocal advice. People like gurus who are willing to go out on a limb with unhedged recommendations. Problem: The market stories with romance, the ones that fire the imagination, are usually long on promise and short on earnings.
In the stock market, no one has a perfect formula. All investment newsletters pick winners and losers. As Peter Lynch, the very savvy chairman of the Magellan Fund, has said: ':If you are terrific in this business, you are right 6 times out of 10."
Among the qualities that impress me in a newsletter are lucidity, clarity and logic-and restraint. Watch out for words like incredible, overwhelming, unbelievable and other hype adjectives. They have no place in a useful, sensible market letter. There is no place where understatement is more appropriate than in the emotional climate of the stock market. I recommend that you ask for free samples of a newsletter before you subscribe to it. Look for articulate restraint and logic as well as a good track record.
Some newsletters are short-term oriented and concentrate on market timing for trading purposes. Others are more long-term oriented. Although there are specialized newsletters that focus on commodities, the credit markets or options, I think the basic difference among newsletters is whether they are long term or short term.
Short-term oriented newsletters usually have a telephone hotline to accompany the subscription. Instant access can be very important to traders who may want to get flash signals for very short-term moves rather than waiting until the publication reaches them. Fine short-term newsletters are put out by Martin Zweig, Robert Nicholson, Stan Weinstein and Heinz Petrol. All use hotlines and sometimes suggest very short-term trades. However, although short-term trading may provide challenge and excitement, it is far too tricky for most investors. The vast majority of individual investors who really want to make money are far better off with a long-term investment strategy. Reason: The odds of making a profit are against the average investor to begin with, and short-term trading requires discipline the average investor lacks. See stock newsletter for more information.
Some of my top choices:
I recommend Charles Almond's Growth Stock Outlook, which has compiled an excellent track record. He looks for dynamic growth situations that are reasonably priced, and he keeps them in his portfolio for a long time. So does Al Frank, the publisher of The Prudent Speculator. He also looks for value and stays with his holdings. Some other top newsletters are Charles Allegis's Special Situation Report, Richard Russell's Dow Theory Letters, Stephen Loeb's Investment Strategist, and The Chartist and Market Logic.
For those who are more partial to technical analysis of stocks, good choices might be Bob Murdock's The Astute Investor, Stan Weinstein's The Professional Tape Reader, Martin Zweig's The Zweig Forecast and Robert Preacher's Elliott Wave Theorist. They all recommend specific buys and sells. They tell you at exactly what price to buy your stock and give specific stop-loss prices.
One of the biggest mistakes the typical investor makes is to take a big loss. Investors fall in love with stocks and tend to hang on to their losers until small losses have become very big ones. The only way to prevent a big loss is to put in a stop-loss order when you purchase the stock. Ranges for a stop-loss will be different if you are a short-term trader than if you are a long-term investor. Most long-term investors would use a big gap, perhaps a 30%-40% loss from purchase price. For a short-term trader, a 15%-20% loss would be more appropriate. Essential: At some point you must draw the line, and a newsletter can provide a stop-loss guideline.
The immediacy of a newsletter is not as important as its giving you original ideas and a good overview. Contrary to popular belief, speed in receiving financial information has nothing to do with the performance of long-term investors. Some of the world's best money managers live far from Wall Street. The media are always trying to find a news story that makes sense out of daily market moves. But it is all presumption and guesswork, and it can result in panic selling, even if the long-term outlook for a stock is quite rosy. A disciplined investor should not be swayed by the news on the electronic and daily media.
It's very important to discover contrary opinions in the stock market because, in general, the investor who goes against the herd is most likely to succeed.
How To Pick An Investment Newsletter
Investment letters aren't for everybody. If you don't know how to read them, or if you believe everything you read, they can get you into trouble. In 1985, about 65 % of newsletter model portfolios underperformed the market.
Guideline: Decide first, without looking at a single letter, whether you are a short-term or long-term, big-risk or little-risk, specific sector or general market investor. Narrow the options by knowing your needs. Then look up the letters that fit your profile. Request sample copies (two or three consecutive issues for comparison) of a couple of the best ranked ones.
Warning: Investment letters are ranked by past performance, and that performance good or bad-can be in large part due to sector or industry performance rather than quality of advice or portfolio management. That's why track records alone can't tell you much. To pick a good letter:
* Look for good, common economic sense.
* Other things being equal, opt for a consistent record rather than a peaks-and-valleys one.
* Beware of letters that attempt to bolster predetermined opinions with seemingly irrelevant facts. Example: A bullish letter may say "buy" and give a plunge in interest rates as the reason. But when interest rates start to climb back up, they may still be saying "buy" ... and this time an upswing in the number of sunspots may be the reason they choose to justify remaining bullish.
* Don't be fooled by "assured" statements.
Example: If a newsletter refers to "October slump" as if it were a regular occurrence, check the October Dow averages for the last 30 years (a half-hour job in any library) to see if there really is a regular slump in October.
* Expect specific advice and detailed instructions on how to follow it. Example: If it recommends an international stock, the letter should tell you how to handle such a purchase yourself.
* Check for simple slip-ups, such as a recommendation to buy a new stock when a letter's portfolio is already fully invested and no sell has been suggested. The letter should deal with all aspects of constructing a portfolio and handle its model just like a real one. Brokers vs. letters:
To decide whether to use a money manager or a discount broker plus a newsletter, use one criterion ... how much time and interest you have. Some newsletters follow the market closely for you, providing new information dail y (through a telephone hotline). If you have the time and the interest to play the market that often, they can be great. Others are monthly, general trend-gaugers that also include stock picks-fine for people with less time to devote to their investments. Remember: A newsletter's information can hurt you if you don't act on its advice promptly.
Newsletters may seem expensive (prices range from under $ 5 0 to over $ 400 for a year's subscription), but compared with hiring a money manager, do-it-yourselfing can be a bargain.
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