This article, “Dreadful Stocks to Avoid,” explains a few good rules of thumb for conservative stock picking (also applies to mutual funds since they can own stock too!).
Stocks to avoid:
- Businesses that bet the farm – “In some industries, companies periodically have to make critically important decisions. If the company makes the wrong choice, it will be dealt a crippling blow.” As an example, “. . . Boeing is betting the farm against the superjumbo, opting instead to develop the 787, a smaller, long-range jet that it expects to better address the market’s needs. But if Boeing’s analysis is incorrect and the market moves toward the superjumbos, it will lose customers.”
- Businesses dependent on research – “. . . there is a downside to research. Often, innovative companies are required to do research simply to maintain their competitive position. And if the research dries up, the company suffers.” Although it was not for lack of innovation or good ideas coming from research, this rule would have prevented the majority of Canadians from buying Nortel and preventing a lot of pain.
- Debt-burdened companies – “In general, Buffett avoids companies with a lot of debt. This makes sense. During the best of times, large amounts of debt mean that cash that could be put toward growing the business or rewarding shareholders is instead servicing the debt.” This seems like a no-brainer.
- Companies with questionable management – “Some clues to look for here include excessively optimistic press releases, overly generous compensation or options grants, or the constant use of external circumstances to excuse operational shortcomings.”
- Companies that require continued capital investment – “Over the long term, shareholders make spectacular returns by buying businesses that are able to achieve extraordinary returns on capital. This leads to excess capital that the company can use to repurchase shares, pay a dividend to shareholders, or reinvest in further growth.”