With the Facebook IPO show hitting the road, a lot of people are asking: Will Warren Buffett invest? And how about Achenbach? Of course not. I don’t run in that crowd (successful people). And I’ve developed a rule of personal finance that is incontrovertible: It would be stupid for me to make any financial move that I perceived to be intelligent.
The moment I think something’s a good investment, it isn’t.
This is an ironclad law of the universe, like the Second Law of Thermodynamics. This is why I’m worried about Twitter: I now have a Twitter account (@joelachenbach) and have started to tweet more regularly, so THAT’S over, a dead technology.
I’m the guy who bought WorldCom at $55 a share, just as the company had stepped off the cliff but before the forces of gravity had yet exerted their effect. I am STILL the proud owner of bought-at-the-peak Lucent stock, which now has some other name, having emerged from the mulch pile of corporate collapse.
Why not sell my old, failed, miserable stocks? Partly because I forgot my username and password for my online trading account. Partly because it would probably require paperwork and some complex tax write-off that I just don’t know how to do. More importantly, I don’t touch the stock market anymore. Burn me once, that’s your fault. Burn me twice, that’s my fault. Burn me about 17 times, that’s the fault of the people who raised me wrong.
I just don’t go near the market anymore, having been suckered into that game in the late 1990s, when I discovered that the Internet connection at my desk enabled me to invest — with the merest touch of a button, and after reading what seemed to be credible ratings reports by analysts — in companies that were just seconds away from evaporating into nothingness.
I tried to invest in solid companies, not the dot.com wonders. I picked stocks in companies that did good, old-fashionged stuff — established companies that made whale-bone corsets, and top hats, and wagon wheel spokes, and mustache wax, and quill pens, and papyrus. How could I have known these were bad investments?
I hope the Facebook IPO goes well, since I have a connection to the company via my FB page and the Washington Post Social Reader. But I wouldn’t know how to participate in an IPO — I assume they screen investors and I would not pass muster in some fashion. The wrong shoes, the wrong tie. They might refuse to let me pay with loose change (I have a bowl of change — surely enough coins in there for some serious FB stock.)
The Facebook IPO story on our site this morning contains this ominous, buzzkilling quote from an analyst, Anthony Valencia: “It’s generally agreed upon amongst investors that the Facebook IPO will be very successful and Facebook as a company will be very successful....What is not agreed upon is how much upside there will be for new investors.”
In other words, this IPO is going to be a very good thing for the people who are already rich beyond belief and driving sportscars capable of achieving geosynchronous orbit, but will offer nothing to those of us who are condemned, simply because of the misfortune of being financially moronic and having forgotten our online trading usernames and passwords, to be mired in the humdrum middle class.
There’s a larger issue afoot that needs to be addressed as we enter this new world of apps and platforms and digital doodads and instant billionaires and 24-year-olds who are personally worth more than General Motors: We shouldn’t send a message to our young people that success relies on picking the right horse.
Let me say this in my Dad voice: Success isn’t a trick. It’s not luck. Success doesn’t require a gimmick.
Here’s an idea: Get up every day ready to work hard. Surround yourself with good people. Be honest. Be of good cheer. Put in the extra effort. And whistle while you work.
I bet that’s what Warren Buffett does.