Forget the philosophizing for a while. This blog is about how I handle my personal finances. That takes so little of my time that rarely do I have anything definitive to post. I said goodbye to a stock last month. It was a ride with highs that ended in lows. Oh how sad to see it end this way.
Yes, this blog is about my personal finance. I’m not an accredited investor anymore, or a certified financial planner or advisor; so, by my understanding of SEC rules I can only talk about myself. Talking about myself is a stretch for me because I’d rather listen unless I’ve been asked to speak in front of a group. My style of personal finance is to spend less time thinking about money and more time living. The last three years have not been conducive to ignoring personal, my business, corporate, or global finances. At least it hasn’t been boring.
It has also been a tough time to be invested in the stock market. Personally, my portfolio has had very high highs that could still be exceeded, and unrealistic and unreasonable lows that I imagined but never expected.
Last month I sold the last of my shares in Gaiam (GAIA), a healthy lifestyle and media company that I bought shares in four years ago. They sell products that help people live healthier lives, and sell products that help people lessen their impact on the planet. Everything from solar power converters to yoga mats are in their catalog, online, or at their subsidiary Real Goods Solar (RSOL) which I also bought stock in. I thought that they were nicely positioned to be a leader as people became more frugal and more conscious about new and better ways to live. As long as they didn’t get bought out they had a lot of promise. Economic hardships and ecological impacts could both actually lead to a broader reach, and even allow the company to challenge conventional consumer options. At least so far it hasn’t worked out that way.
My style of investing is called Long Term Buy and Hold (LTBH), which some investors measure in months but I measure in years. I owned GAIA for four years, which is about average for me. LTBH takes less effort than day trading and can be more sedate in more stable markets. The markets haven’t been stable. In that time GAIA went from about $13 to about $30 and dropped to about $3. I sold some on the way up. I sold the rest on the way down. In the end it came out about even, probably with a small loss. I’ll work the numbers later when I estimate taxes.
I sold because I had to. The main components of my portfolio were slammed in a triple whammy, with the worst of it coinciding with the general collapse at the beginning of August. Bills don’t wait though, and eventually they chewed through my cash. The mortgage must be paid. (Hey, this is the first house I can really call my home.) None of the stocks in my portfolio have market caps that approximate my valuations. An unreasonable market does not listen to reason or rational analyses. I had to pick something to sell. Rational valuations weren’t appropriate so I went to my next criterion: the company’s future. Again, I like everything I have. That’s good news. But I needed to find something to sell. Ah, but which company would be least likely to succeed?
There is no way to know for sure if a company will succeed or fail, but I was least impressed with Gaiam’s strategy. Instead of emphasizing alternative energies, lower-impact products, healthier products for the home and such, they seemed to be emphasizing DVD sales in an age of streaming media. Maybe they had a grander plan, but I couldn’t find it even after I called Investor Relations. I lost my confidence in the company’s future, but not in the need for their products.
The stock looks undervalued. Price to sales is less than 0.3 where I think a number over 1.0 is more appropriate for innovative retail. Price to book is less than 0.5, which means that the company’s net worth is twice the market cap instead of the other way around. This is not the kind of stock I’d want to sell. Those numbers would encourage me to consider buying. Unfortunately, many stocks are in the same situation. The market is not acting rationally. It is scared and hiding under a blanket.
My shares of GAIA were enough to cover one mortgage payment and one health insurance premium. My frugal lifestyle is enough to help me wait out the market’s panic attack. My best tactical tools are a bit of time, some active promotion of my art and services, some job applications, and maybe a windfall (Hello lottery!) in some combination with my patience and perseverance.
I prefer to live my life with only side excursions into financial considerations. I’ve always followed stocks because they are fascinating stories that exceed the drama and impact of any movie or television show. The last three years though have been exceptional. This is not the norm. I look forward to getting past the soap operas, crime thrillers, and intense dramas and getting back to romantic comedy, light documentary, and some tasteful art programming – basically continuing my version of a lifestyle that’s healthier for me, my community, and my planet. There’s probably a demand for supplying people interested in such a lifestyle. I wonder if any company is going to step up to the task.