Seeking Alpha: Both Good And Bad For Stock Information

Where can you go to get information about stocks? How about ideas about what stocks to buy? There is a site called Seeking Alpha that is both good and bad for each of these tasks.

Seeking Alpha is a website that has become very popular and constantly growing. But anyone can write stock articles for the site and that right there is one of the drawbacks. The barrier to entry for writers is almost nonexistent which means much of what you read on the site is just someones opinion. You, the reader, have to figure out whether the author knows what they are talking about and that can be hard (since you may know very little about the stock you are researching).

Writers get paid per the amount of clicks they get on their articles so clickbait titles are quite common. I find that the comments below each article often are more enlightening than the article itself and they can also go a long way in telling you whether the author knows what he/she is talking about or just full of shit. I also closely look at the number of followers a writer has before I start reading. Authors who have followers in thousands or tens of thousands usually are more credible than those who have only hundreds of followers.

If you are interested in a certain stock, don't just read that one article that is overly bullish on the stock and has you pumped to push the buy button. Make sure you take a look at all the other recently written articles about that particular stock to see what others are saying. I often find that writers have their point of view and depending on whether they are bullish or bearish, leave out the other side of the story. A stock that looks like a no brainer "buy" after reading that first article might quickly change in your mind to "avoid" after reading differing points of view.

Seeking Alpha can be good for getting breaking earnings news as well as some full conference call transcripts and slides for stocks. This is factual information that isn't tainted by a beginner writer just trying to get clicks by writing a controversial opinion of a stock. So, the Seeking Alpha site can be used to get this type of information which might not be readily available anywhere else.

If you use Seeking Alpha, you need to spend time to get acquainted with what types of information is available there and what can be trusted and what can not. Its a free website which is good but it means you have to be extra careful to learn how to use it properly so you are not getting fooled by inaccurate information or analysis. Go slow and use it as an ADDITIONAL source of information....not the ONLY information you use to research stocks!

I've Been Waiting For The Market To Drop For Years!

You hear it all the time: the stock market will correct at some point. There will be a significant downturn. Stocks can't keep going up forever. Corrections are good and they will happen. When everyone else is panicking and selling, that is the time when you should think about buying.

And like a fool (it seems), I have been waiting for this to happen for years now. Waiting for the market to take some sort of a significant drop so that I can buy in and get a lower (maybe better?) price for the stocks I want to buy. But no.....the market seems to just keep going up.

The end result is that I have lost a lot of money. Not money I have actually lost but lost in the sense that I could have made it and didn't.

Its easy to look at any historical stock chart and point to the places where a person should have bought a stock. But in real life we don't have that hindsight. We don't know when the market is going to go up, down, keep going up, or turn around. We can only guess.

With this bull market going on 8+ years now, I have been guessing wrong for a long time and feel a bit like an idiot. There are so many stocks I could have bought and wanted to buy but held off on hoping for a better price. Hoping to get them when the market took its inevitable correction that has never come.

I have lots of cash to invest but the question for years now has been: should I buy here near or at the market's top or wait for that pullback? That pullback that never seems to come but I know is out there somewhere.

Robinhood: Free Is Not The Best Choice

The Internet has created a mentality that everything should be free. People don't want to pay for anything anymore it seems, and that is especially true of millennials.

In the world of stock trading, investors have never had it so good. I guess the vast majority don't remember the time (before the Internet) when you had to physically go into a broker, talk to someone, and hand them a check to open an account. Making a trade meant you had to pick up the phone and again actually talk to a real person who would place the trade. The cost? At least $30 with the cheapest brokers and higher for others.

Full service brokers (which are still around) charge A LOT more than that per trade because you get to talk to your personal financial expert at any time plus you get access to the companies proprietary research. But I assume full service brokers are a dying industry which just caters to old, rich folk.

Online Discount Brokers Made It Very Cheap

Now in 2017 we have had online discount brokers for a good 15 years or longer and the trading fees for those keep going down. Most charge between $4.95 and $9.99 per trade which is dirt cheap compared to prices of yesteryear. Thats significantly cheaper than it used to cost and you can do it all online by yourself and make the trades almost instantly.

But even cheap isn't good enough anymore so Robinhood had to give free trading a go. Free is always better with the younger crowd and so the service is doing well I hear in getting customers. But is Robinhood a real stock broker where you would want to put serious savings and retirement money?

Robinhood Is NOT For Serious Investors!

I hate to break it to you but Robinhood is not a place you should put any real savings that you wish to preserve and grow. Its a site for beginners who want to put a few dollars into the market and who probably have zero stock market experience and want to avoid all fees. Its for people who want to play around in the stock market and buy a few shares here and there. I mean, if you only have $100 dollars to invest I guess avoiding the fees makes sense. 

Anyone serious about investing should stay clear of Robinhood and go with any one of the more traditional online discount brokers (E*Trade, TD Ameritrade, Scottrade, etc). You'll get more services, access to more training, better analytics, more comfort at night knowing your money is really safe, access to more stocks to trade, and better prices with any of the mainstream brokers. 

It can be looked at this way: Robinhood is for kids and the main discount brokers are for adults. 

First Time Investors Who Bought Snap Are Getting Burned

It must suck to buy your first stock ever and have it go down right away. But thats what happens when you buy Snap (the company that owns Snapchat) without doing some real homework to find out whether what you are buying is a smart investment.

I assume that many millennials who had never bought any stock before were a decent percentage of those that chose to buy Snap. Caught up in the hype, they just couldn't stay away from putting their money down on a company who's future is very uncertain.

Anyone who bought Snapchat that first day paid a minimum of $24 and could have paid as much as $29 and change. And after that first day the stock has done nothing but go dow. It now sits at $20 and change which represents a minimum loss of at least 15% in one short month. Not a fun way to start out if you are a first time investor.

But this bad investment could have been avoided if only some research and thought were done:

1) The most fanatical Snapchat users are 12 to 14 year olds and they are NOT the target market most advertisers want because they don't bother looking at ads.

2) Snap itself went out of its way to classify itself as a "camera" company in the initial S-1 documents filed with the SEC. A camera company? I thought Snapchat was a social media company and their unwillingness to call themselves that might have put up a red flag or two.

3) There where dozens upon dozens of articles posted and easily found on the Internet prior to the IPO that detailed why SNAP was a lousy investment. These weren't written by suspect and unheard of websites but by many mainstream financial news outlets like Forbes, Wall Street Journal, Business Insider and others.

What I'm saying is that we have a repeat of what happened with Facebook, Twitter, and Alibaba which were each stocks that brought in a lot of novice first time investors. In Facebook's case, the stock went down initially but turned out to be a great long term investment. Twitter has been a disaster and Alibaba has turned to all right if you were willing to withstand a frightening ride down before going back up. But in each case, investors have had to weather some scary price drops.

Snapchat may or may not end up being a long term investment but with the short attention span and propensity to make frequent trades we see in today's millennials, it is doubtful that many of them will own the stock long enough to make money on it if the stock ever goes go back up.

Some Investors Buy Stocks Only Because They Think/Hope Those Companies Will Be Acquired

Can you predict what companies will get bought out by other bigger companies? Its a hard thing to do and there is a lot of risk because without any insider information, it is unlikely that a normal everyday investor will be able to predict such things. Buying a stock just for the chance that it will get bought out at a higher price is something investors do, but with a low success rate.

Many stocks are periodically buoyed by rumors that they will be bought out and it is one of the main reasons why Twitter's stock keeps going up and down. You see, when a rumor spreads that there is a new buyout investor interested in Twitter, investors pile in hoping that the buyout price will be higher than the stock trades for currently. But with Twitter, those rumors never seem to come to fruition and alas, the stock retreats back down until the next rumor of a potential buyer surfaces.

Some other companies have a history of being talked about as buyout candidates and it undoubtedly helps their stock prices:

1) Netflix is often discussed as a target of Apple as Apple seems to be interested in getting into the content creation game. Buying Netflix would solve that problem in one fell swoop. Google and Disney are two others that could be interested according to the rumor mill.

2) Barnes & Noble is suffering, as all bookstores are, because Amazon continues to grow and gain popularity. Now that Amazon seems intent on opening real stores in select cities, might they just buy B&N and save the trouble of building their own stores? Its possible and some people think it could happen.

3) Lulumon & Under Armour are being bandied about as a possible merger due to neither doing that well on their own. UA especially, is struggling as their most recent earnings report caused the stock to drop more than 20% in one day. Could the two companies decide that together they are stronger than they are separately? (A merger might not make either stock holder any immediate money, unlike buyouts that are usually done at higher prices than the company being bought trades for)

4)  Sears is struggling and has been for years. The stock is a small fraction of what it was 10 years ago. But could some company come in and try to save at least part of the very famous retailer? Obviously what Sears has been doing hasn't worked but the "Sears" name is still a well known brand that could be worth the risk for a company that wanted to save the parts of the business that are still making money.

Buying a stock in hopes that it will get bought out at a higher price is a strategy that is very hard to succeed at. Its something that only sophisticated investors should try and even then, the failure rate will be high. For most investors, sticking with picking stocks of good companies that will go up in the long run is by far the better course of action

ETF's Have Overtaken Stocks In Popularity?

The stock markets in the U.S. (such as NYSE and NASDAQ) used to be where you went to buy individual stocks in the companies you wanted to invest in. While you could also buy mutual funds and ETF's, it was stocks that were the most heavily traded and took in the most dollars.

But now it seems that ETF's have pushed individual stocks aside to claim the number one spot according to this article in Bloomberg. The number of exchange traded funds have exploded in recent years and obviously people like the fact that you can buy and sell them as easily as any stock and get a bit more diversity (depending on what you buy) than individual stocks.

There are now close to 2000 ETF's to choose from and I ask the question: with that many choices, how on earth does an investor go about choosing one? I have always liked individual stocks because they are easy to understand. If you like what Netflix sells, you can buy the companies stock. If you like what Chipotle sells, you can buy its stock. Its relatively easy to figure out what businesses or business models you like and buy the stocks of those companies.

But with exchange traded funds it becomes a bit harder to identify exactly what you are getting. ETF's track different indexes or segments of the market so you will be buying something more diversified than one companies stock. If you want to buy into the technology sector for instance, you will need to decide on one of the many ETF's that track technology. But how do you decide which one to buy? Is it easy to understand the exact differences between all the technology ETF's? I don't think so.

Maybe I am naive but I think its easier to pick one company I like rather than the ETF I want to buy. That's why I'm sticking mostly with individual stocks. Obviously though, many investors feel differently and like exchange traded funds because they are easy to buy/sell and are just as cheap (fee wise) as stocks. You can buy a whole industry and sit back and not worry about this or that particular company like you might feel prone to do with stocks. You might also fell less of an urge to panic sell at every bit of bad news. That makes ETF's a good choice for anyone who doesn't want the hassle of having to look at a portfolio every day or week just to check their stocks to see what is going on with them.