I cut the corner a little close, and dropped the inside wheel of the feed wagon in the ditch. The Minneapolis Moline 670 was past its prime, by about twenty years, and I was stuck. I hiked back to the pickup, fetched dad, and he started up another tractor and pulled me out. He wasn’t happy. “Blake,” he says, “you’ve got to concentrate on what you’re doing. The money is here, not Wall Street.” I guess maybe I’d been talking a bit too much about my portfolio, which at that time consisted of a utility stock and 100 shares of Texaco.
I’d just finished a class in investments in college, and had opened an account with an old gentleman on Broadway in Columbia. Julie and I would go into his office and watch stock prices on the ticker that ran around the room. We’d sit there, entranced by every ⅛ change in our fortunes, and I was lost, forever lost.
The professor who taught the class was in a wheelchair and had a dry sense of humor. He taught that it was impossible to forecast stock prices or beat the market, spending most of the semester on something called the efficient market hypothesis. For those of you who follow the market, this theory has led to the development of index funds, which don’t pick individual stocks, but rather replicate the market. I think the theory is largely correct, but absolutely no fun, so I’ve ignored it for more than 40 years. To my detriment, I’m sure, but I’m having too much fun to change.
I subscribed to the Wall Street Journal and Forbes Magazine when I couldn’t afford either one, and have spent countless happy hours picking out stocks that meet my rather eclectic requirements. I once read in Forbes that the only way to beat the market was to follow Value Line. I couldn’t afford the subscription price, so as soon as the introductory offer ran out, I’d be without for the year I had to wait to qualify for the cheap price again. I also heard about Warren Buffett in Forbes, which leads to a story.
When my two oldest, who are a year apart in age and both girls, were about 12 or 13, I bought a share of Berkshire Hathaway. I told the girls it was their car fund, and we’d sell the stock when they were 15 and 16 so they could buy a car. Buffett didn’t, and still doesn’t, believe in stock splits, so one share was all we could afford. I paid $2500 for the share, and we waited. I kept the girls informed on their car fund, and they pretended to be interested in the ups and downs of Berkshire Hathaway. When it came time to pull the trigger, after my oldest daughter had driven our ten year old dualled up diesel pickup for a year, Warren had come through. The stock was trading for better than $13,000 when we sold it and we bought two cheap used cars for the girls. They were unimpressed with my stock market acumen, but glad to have wheels.
There was still the problem of the younger brother, who was a never ending source of embarrassment as they were forced to taxi him around. Years later we found out that his sister made him duck down when they were close to where the cool high school kids might be hanging out.
I’ve had my ups and downs over the years, but the stock market has been strong for a very long time, so my refusal to listen to the experts has been a lot of fun, and I’m pretty sure my hobby hasn’t cost me too much. As it turns out, there was money to be made in Wall Street, contra Dad, but I’ve tried to concentrate on farming when there was farming to be done.
Oh, by the way, that share of Berkshire Hathaway stock we sold? It’s now trading for $444,654.