Consistency is the Key

By
A A A

Fore!!

Master One Method

Two Internet Stocks to Watch

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I was able to get away for a few days to Michigan last week, where my in-laws reside; as always, we had plenty of fun and kept busy, with a BBQ, trips to the pool and generally way too much food and drink. 

Also, despite weather that was humid and around 90 degrees every day, I made it out to play 27 holes of golf (nine holes each time to keep the heat at bay). Now, I am basically a beginner at the game-I picked up my first golf club just three or four years ago, and my playing during the last couple of years has been sporadic as my family's bundle of joy has morphed into a full-fledged toddler (terrible twos!).

Even so, I like to think I've improved a good amount, mainly through work at the driving range and sporadic trips to play nine holes with my wife. Gone are the days where I top the ball on every other swing and really have no idea how far or what direction most balls will go.  Don't get me wrong-I've got countless holes in my game that I'm sure will take years to fix. But I'm good enough to register a few bogeys each round and even nail the occasional par.  It's good fun.

However, as I think about what area of my game needs improvement, I don't think of a specific club I don't hit well (2-iron, etc.), a specific part of the course that causes me trouble (though I still get the yips off the tee at times) or a common characteristic of my swings (like a slice or hook). Instead, to me, getting better revolves around one major theme: Consistency.

To me, it's not like I can't ever hit a straight drive, or chip the ball well, or hit some solid approach shots. I do all of those every time I play … but the problem is that I rarely do them on the same hole! If you're a golfer, you know what I'm talking about-one hole you unleash a beautiful drive and set yourself up to make the green on the second shot, only to bury yourself in a bunker. The next hole you slice your drive way into the rough but, man oh man, your second shot is a beauty and rolls just short of the green. 

Golf is very exacting in that, to get a par or even a bogey, you generally have to do just about everything well-solid off the tee, good second shot and, of course, chip and putt well. You can't do one or two of them well and expect success, and you also can't fall into the good drive/bad drive/good drive/bad drive trap and think you'll have a good round. Like I said above, consistency is the key.

"Gee, Mike, that's great and all … but why did you just make me read a few paragraphs about your middling golf game?!?" 

Because it's the same with investing-I regularly talk with other investors (including professionals) whose lack of consistency costs them money. As with golf, it's not as if these people are totally hopeless or that they can't make some money here and there. In fact, I would say all of them do decently (otherwise, the market would have wiped them out long ago and they wouldn't be calling me in the first place). 

But my experience is that most investors lack consistency in one or two areas. Either they are inconsistent when it comes to market environments-i.e., they do very well when the market is, say, range-bound, buying low and selling high, but they have brutal losing streaks when the market enters a strong trend. Or they are inconsistent within their system; for instance, they'll cut most of their losses short, but the few that they refuse to sell because they love the story (or whatever the reason) end up falling through the floor and damaging their portfolio.

Looking at the first problem, it's not so much the investor's system as the investor's understanding of his system. What I mean is that no system is perfect in all environments. None! If you're a growth stock investor like me, you generally need a supportive market uptrend to make big money. The worst environments are choppy ones, similar to what we saw in most of 2011 and since April of this year. Buying breakouts then led to a string of losses.

So what should you do when the market environment isn't in agreement with your system? Don't play! Or at least, play more lightly, taking smaller positions, booking profits quicker.  Instead, I see many investors plowing ahead with the same strategy in all environments, which leads to overtrading and poor results. The solution is relatively simple-establish a system that tells you when the environment isn't going your way.

At Cabot, we do that mostly through our market timing indicators, but you can also do it by watching your own equity curve. The goal isn't to come up with some black-box method of identifying the exact turning point of the market, but to have a backstop that tells you to slow down. For instance, if you have three losing trades in a row, your next trade might be two-thirds your normal size; if that's a loss, the next might be half-sized; and if that loses, you'll stop all new buying completely until you figure things out. That's just an example but something to chew on.

As for the second problem (being undisciplined), all I can really say is … don't be! Actually, one suggestion is to reward yourself for the process and not the event-that is, don't allow your self-worth to be determined by your day-to-day equity curve. If you're hesitant to cut your loss because your last two trades were losers, think of the process and not the money loss. The same goes for selling a winner too early-it's fine to do, but it's better to follow your plan.

The bottom line is that the big winners in the market are consistent. You don't hear about some great investor who made big returns one year by playing growth stocks, then switched to a value system the next year, and then followed an overbought-oversold strategy the next. Similarly, it's not likely that investor buys strength one year, then sells winners quickly the next, and then goes ahead and averages down in price in the third year. 

Instead, while tweaks and improvements are always necessary, it's better to stick with a set of rules and tools over time. 

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As for the current market, I have mixed emotions-on one hand, the major indexes seem to be bottoming in recent weeks, with a couple of sharp shakeouts since their major low in early June.  And more than a few stocks I'm following have used these volatile times to etch constructive launching pads.  Said another way, the market needed some time to repair the damage from a terrible April and May, and it looks like it's done just that.

However, to this point, most of the "action" has been in defensive-type names, things like food and beverage, tobacco, insurance, discount retail and big telecom stocks-big companies that have steady businesses and dividends. That's all well and good, but these stocks are not going to lead a major market uptrend; most of these companies are growing sales and earnings around 5%, if that. And, besides, defensive stocks aren't where big money is made-growth stocks are, and few have made any sustained moves of late.

 Even so, it's important not to rule anything out-just because growth stocks haven't kicked into gear yet doesn't mean they can't or won't. In fact, I've been writing for a while that I believe earnings season, which is just revving up, will tell the real tale; if some resilient growth stocks react well to their earnings reports, it could be the impetus needed for institutional investors to begin putting money back to work.

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With that in mind, two stocks I think you should watch (both from the Internet group) are TripAdvisor ( TRIP ) and Zillow ( Z ).  

TripAdvisor is the leading online travel information site, with millions of user reviews (and another few dozen every minute) on hundreds of thousands of hotels, B&Bs, inns and even restaurants. What we like best here is that the firm serves a real mass market and it's the hands-down leader in the field-despite potential competition from others like Google, TripAdvisor has a huge head start and is benefiting from the network effect (more reviews = more traffic = more advertising). 

TRIP was spunoff from Expedia in December and the stock has performed well since-it's actually been gyrating higher in recent months, nosing out to a new high today. It reports earnings next Tuesday (July 24) evening, and while I think you could nibble here (maybe buying half of what you'd normally buy, dollar-wise), I'm more interested in seeing if the stock can extend its gains following its quarterly report.

Zillow is the leading online real estate website.  The big idea here is that real estate agents spend about $6 billion per year in advertising, and most of that is off-line; Zillow itself has just 1% of the total! Given its booming traffic (especially from mobile devices), it's a matter of time until more agents pay higher prices to place ads ... and in these cases, the "ads" are actually content from a user's perspective, connecting them with an agent with knowledge of a property.

Z is a very volatile stock and is somewhat hard to handle-shares sank from 44 to 31 during the market correction. But the company is growing sales and earnings at triple-digit rates, and Z has stormed back toward its old peak. I wouldn't plow in here, but a low-volume pullback toward 40 could be worth a nibble, with the real test coming August 7, when the company will report earnings.

There are a lot of uncertainties, of course, but I think both of these stocks have big potential if the market gets going. 

All the best,

Michael Cintolo  
Editor of Cabot Market Letter 



The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The NASDAQ OMX Group, Inc.



This article appears in: Investing , Stocks

Referenced Stocks: TRIP , Z

Cabot Heritage Corporation

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