Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Why I Hate Stocks With Debt: Learn From My Mistake

How many investment blogs write about their mistakes? Now you get to read about one of mine, and hopefully learn from it. If you have read my blog for the last year, you will know that the one trait I look for in stocks is being debt free. As a matter of fact, during the last three months, I have written six articles about stocks that don't carry any debt. Of course, I've written about Apple (AAPL) numerous times, which is a debt free company, but primarily I look for stocks selling for under $10 per share, has a lot of cash per share, hopefully sell at or below book, but most important, it should be debt free. There are also other secondary criteria that I look for.

So here is what happened when I violated one of my rules. In December, I looked for low priced stocks that really tanked due to tax selling. I thought I found an interesting company called Constar International Inc. (CNST), a manufacturer of plastic containers. The stock traded as high as $20 a share back in April and had dropped below $2 a share in December. I thought that was a pretty good drop which I assumed was due to tax selling, possibly making it a great buy. So I looked further into the stock. The company had $1.42 in cash per share, and was trading way below the reported book value of $2.48 per share. But there was one little hitch; the company had debt, a lot of debt for its size. Its debt to equity ratio was stratospheric.

But I thought, I am just buying it for the very short term, the tax selling rebound, so the debt shouldn't mean anything (first mistake). I bought a bunch around $2 a share on December 28. The first week of January, the stock traded between 1.80 and 2.00, and I kept waiting for it to pop (second mistake, if the trade doesn't work in a reasonable number of days, get out). So on January 11, I checked my portfolio and noticed that it was down big time, even though the market was up at the time. I searched down my list of stocks and discovered that Constar had plunged by almost a buck from a previous close of 1.75 to 79 cents. That's a drop of 55% in one day! I scrambled to find the cause of the drop and eventually discovered that the company had filed for bankruptcy.

So in exactly two weeks, I lost around 60% on that one stock, all because I violated my one primary rule, choose stocks with low or no debt. Yes, I'll probably miss out on plenty of rising stocks with lots of debt, but I will have less downside risk, and less of a chance of getting downside shocks from bankruptcies.

The takeaway is, if you have a stock trading system that works, be disciplined and don't waiver from your own rules. In my case, I had plenty of other stocks to choose from. As a matter of fact, has several lists of debt free stocks, including Debt Free Stocks Selling At Or Near Cash, High Cash No Debt High Yield Stocks, No Debt High Yield Stocks, No Debt Low Price To Cash Flow Stocks, and Stocks Selling Near Cash Per Share and Debt Free.

Disclosure: Author owns AAPL.


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