First, Break The Rules...

Cover Story, by Mark Robertson, Managing Partner

Posted on April 1st, 2016

This month, we take a look at the track record of Motley Fool founder and rulebreaking leader, David Gardner.

David Gardner, Motley Fool is a native of Washington, D.C., graduated as a Morehead Scholar from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1988. With many ideas, no regrets, and a solid handle on fifth grade math, he founded The Motley Fool as a humble printed newsletter in July 1993 with his brother Tom. In 1994, was born. Today, the Fool offers financial solutions to millions of individuals worldwide seeking to make better financial decisions and improve their overall quality of life.

Tom and David have co-authored several bestselling books. David serves as co-chairman of the board of The Motley Fool. He enjoys hanging out with his family, following Tar Heels basketball, and reminding younger brother Tom that, though he is older, he has more hair.

… and it’s possible that the records (in the form of exceptional results) will follow. This month, we take a look at the track record of Motley Fool founder and rule-breaking leader, David Gardner. His monthly selections since 2002 have featured a generous dose of technology, entertainment and consumer brand leaders. He is also willing to invest in early stages of a company’s life cycle — you know, before earnings stabilize.

Hugh McManus is the leading knight in our Round Table series and he shares much in common with David. There are times when P/E ratios are uninformative and special situations can be, well … special. Educate, Amuse & Enrich.

“Stay hungry. Stay Foolish.” — Steve Jobs

The title is from Marcus Buckingham’s book of a similar name. The quotation was used by Steve Jobs during his commencement address at Stanford a few years ago. Many think of it as one of the finest graduation speeches ever. It was also a last message from The Whole Earth Catalog as they signed off with their final issue.

We last reviewed the exploits of the Motley Fool’s Stock Advisor newsletter a few years ago as one of our Dashboard Diagnostics features. David and his brother Tom and their respective teams each select a stock every month with the recommendation issued on the third Friday. We’ll cut straight to the bottom line.

$100 invested in the Wilshire 5000 via Vanguard Total Stock Market index (VTSMX) each month since February 2002 would now be worth $30,795. The total amount invested would be $17,100. This represents a rate of return of 7.9% (annualized) over the trailing 14 years.

David’s Stock Advisor selections are now worth $37,000. This is an annualized rate of return of 15.1% — beating the Wilshire 5000 by a +7.2% relative return. Several positions have been closed and the “proceeds from sale” total $6413.

Super Investor: David Gardner, Motley Fool. Excess/Relative Returns vs. Total Stock Market. The annualized relative return of David Gardner’s Stock Advisor selections is 7.2% placing him in some stratospheric company after 14 years of monthly stock selections. Graph modified from Superinvestors of Graham-and-Doddsville. (via Warren Buffett)

Another way to look at it is that David has a net investment of $10,687 (effectively $62.50/month vs. $100) and he is a closed transaction or two from “playing with the house money,” a moment that we’ll share and celebrate when it comes to fruition. At that point, he will have withdrawn more than has been invested in the tracking portfolio and will likely still have a balance greater than the passive index fund we’re benchmarking against. So it’s not “just” $37,000 but the $6413 is added to the result.

53.8% of his selections have beaten the market. The absolute annualized rate of return of 15.1% versus 7.9% for the Wilshire 5000 qualifies David for Super Investor status for the trailing 14 years.

Stock Advisor: Rule Breaker Leaders (2002-2016). $100 are invested into the decisions/ ideas at the time of publication. Priceline (PCLN) has been selected twice. $200 invested is now worth $5877! Amazon (AMZN) is another favorite, also selected twice. Disney (DIS) is a 6-time selection — with many of the decisions made back in 2002-2004.

All-Of-The-Above Investing. It works. The Stock Advisor Rule Breaker tracking portfolio is fairly evenly divided among the rapid growth smaller/younger companies, the medium-sized workhorses and the larger slower-growing blue chip stalwarts. Sweet.

David Gardner, Technology Groupie. How much is too much in a given sector? David likes technology and has no fear of roller coasters. Successful long-term investing is a journey. Discovering companies that blend technology and consumer satisfaction rules the day.

Morningstar identifies 1404 mutual funds with 15-year track records. How many of them performed better than David’s Stock Advisor selections? ZERO. NADA. Goose egg. That’s right. The top performing fund is CGM Realty (CGMRX), a formidable fund that checks in at 14.9%. It’s not an accident that Mark Hulbert features the Stock Advisor newsletter as one of the best.

Portfolio Design: Success

The return forecast is designed for success. We don’t see this very often with mutual funds or institutional portfolios. The current 10.5% return forecast is nearly in the sweet spot. Quality matters. The average quality ranking is Good/Excellent. Perhaps most significantly, the overall average growth forecast is 11.3% and the Rule Breaker clearly qualifies as all-of-the-above investing, a blend of small, medium and large companies that provide sufficient overall growth. Earnings stability is not required. But financial strength is. Like many investors who blend a non-core or special situations component in the mix, Gardner recognizes that some superior opportunities are to be found among companies with less stable earnings, particularly when they’re in the early stages of a successful life cycle.

Bring Your Weary, Your Disgruntled

Social media is unkind to investing demonstrations like the Stock Advisor Rule Breakers these days. Yes, that’s sugar coated. Skepticism reigns. I was reminded of Hugh McManus and his selection of Amazon a few years ago during a live Round Table at the national convention. When the sizeable audience was polled, Hugh and Amazon received zero votes, matching the number of mutual funds that have outpaced David Gardner over the last 14 years. Hugh’s non-core selection of Amazon is the top-performing all-time active selection in our Round Table tracking portfolio. Hmmm. Stay hungry and stay Foolish, David. Fool on!


Mark Robertson

Mark Robertson is founder and managing partner of Manifest Investing, a source for research and portfolio management focusing on strategic long term investors.

Join Manifest Investing

Manifest is an easy to use resource for your investing.

Create dashboards, research companies, discuss your ideas on the forum, and get insight into long-term investing.