Invest in Stocks That You Know

Buying Shares in Familiar Companies Can be a Road to Riches

Stock quotations under magnifying glass.


Achim Sass / Getty Images 

As investors, we believe it is possible to estimate a range of intrinsic value for a company based upon its financial statements and filings. That cannot be done, however, if you do not understand how a company makes money. If, for example, you know nothing about drug manufacturing, then maybe you shouldn't invest in Merck. Why? Unless you understand the company's products, market, and competitive strengths and weaknesses, you won't be able to project the future cash flows.

Key Takeaways

  • You should invest in your circle of confidence, which involves the companies or industries you are very familiar with.
  • Finding a stock isn't only about research; it is also about listening to consumers you know to see what they want and like.
  • Price and shareholder-friendly management are still as relevant when picking stocks as they have ever been.

Warren Buffett's Circle of Competence

In his lectures and writings, famed investor Warren Buffett often discusses the concept of a "circle of competence." It consists of all the businesses that the investor is familiar with and thoroughly understands. An investor who has spent the last 10 years as a checker at a supermarket might have an advantage when analyzing the financial statements of a grocery store chain. They might be able to pinpoint the strengths and weaknesses of the business, evaluate the competitive climate of the industry, and compare the performance of a prospective investment against that of an excellent grocer.

The size of an investor's circle of competence isn't as important as clearly defining the borders. If you are unfamiliar with the insurance industry, don't even attempt to evaluate the performance of a property and casualty company. Likewise, if you don't understand the internet, don't bother ordering the annual report of an internet stock. Straying from the circle of competence leads a would-be-investor into the land of speculation.

Discovering Stock Investment Ideas

How do you find companies you can understand? Take a trip to your local mall, and scout out the stores to see what is popular. Pay attention to where your kids want you to take them back-to-school shopping. Peter Lynch, one of the most successful money managers in history, got some of his best investing ideas from listening to his wife and kids after they came back from running errands. In fact, Lynch bought stock in Hanes after his wife brought home the newly introduced L'eggs she had discovered while in the checkout line at the grocery store. The investment made millions.

Another way to get investment ideas is to go through your pantry, cupboards, laundry room, and garage to find products you use regularly. Most labels contain information on the product's manufacturer. You may be surprised at what you find.

What do Tide, Pampers, Always maxi pads, Pantene Pro V, Charmin Toilet Paper, Bounty Paper Towels, Crest Toothpaste, Downy fabric softener, Oil of Olay, Bounce, Cascade, Fixodent, Mr. Clean, Pepto Bismol, Old Spice, Febreze, Head and Shoulders, Herbal Essences, Gain, Ivory, Luvs, Joy, Scope, and Tampax have in common? They are all made by Proctor and Gamble (PG).

Price Still Matters

Finding companies that are easy to understand is only the beginning. The circle-of-competence test should merely be a starting point to generate a list of investment possibilities based on an investor's strengths and insights. A company must still display excellent economics, an attractive price, and shareholder-friendly management. When discovered, these holy grail investments are just might produce stellar returns for the investor.