What better way to close out the stock market's old year and make ready for the coming one than by turning to the dean of American mutual fund managers and the father of international investing, John Templeton, for some sage advice?
Templeton - who has been outperforming the market for more than 35 years and whose latest fund, Templeton Foreign, was up 26.4 percent on average over the past five years - recently confided his five rules for investment success to Norman Berryessa and Eric Kirzner, authors of "Global Investing the Templeton Way" (Dow Jones-Irwin, $25).Here they are, in essence:
Templeton calls his first rule "The Importance of Price." He never tries to predict whether the stock market will go up or down, he says. "Instead, I search the entire world, country by country, looking for the individual stocks that are lowest in price relative to what our securities analysts estimate their real worth to be. A stock has to be selling for a bargain price or I won't buy it."
Templeton calls his second investment principle "The Good News/
Bad News Rule." He tries always to buy on the latter and sell on the former. He cites his buying of Union Carbide after it plummeted from $50 to $33 shortly after the Bhopal disaster in late 1984 as an example. By late 1986, GAF Corp. offered to buy the company for $69 a share and there was Templeton and company with 3 million shares in its portfolios.
The third of John Templeton's inviolable investment creeds is the "Broaden Your Knowledge Rule" and it entails a little hard work by his adherents. "First and foremost, learn everything you possibly can about the company you are interested in - its customs, habits, social values and mores. When you've informed yourself on how the company operates on a human level, you can turn your attention to the capital markets and the financial system."
Templeton's fourth principle, the "Quantification Rule," is one of his edicts that deals principally with numbers. Unlike his "The Importance of Price" rule, It measures the degree of a stock's undervaluation not by how much it costs but by how much it is earning. And not for the usual reasons, either. "What interests us about earnings," says Tem-pleton, "is that ultimately it determines a company's ability to pay dividends."
Templeton's final investing rule is instructive as much for what it deplores as for what it advocates. He calls it the "Hard Work Rule" and maintains that diligent thinking and endless study are the keys to his bargain-hunting success, not technical indicators, shortcut formulas or, heaven help us, intuition.
Investor's Notebook reflects the opinions of professionals. It does not endorse specific investments, and no endorsement is implied or should be inferred.