When should you invest in a stock vs. an index?

My friend is very pro index while I am more pro buying stock. But, there are times when indexes are better than buying stocks.

Stock Buying Diversification
Some argue that diversification is “safer” or a better practice when buying stocks. The S&P crashed by about 60% in 2009 and there is nothing “safe” about losing 60% of your money no matter how diversified it is. You are not safe in a fund, because you do not know what you are getting or how badly it will crash. Additionally, many of the companies you are getting might have PE ratios that are far too high to be a suitable investment and might have unsound financial practices as well, not to mention inefficient business practices. I like to invest in the best and forget the rest. I once had a safe mutual fund and lose more than half my money in 2002 when the market crashed. I learned a valuable lesson. Know what you are buying and see how hard it crashes when it crashes. Now, that we have had a 2002 crash and a 2008 crash and a 2015 reset or perhaps two resets, I am familiar with checking stocks to see how badly they crash.

My Stock Algorithms
I created a clunky, but suitable algorithm for picking stocks. I use it along with my basic judgment as no algorithm is perfect — at least no algorithm that I am smart enough to create. In any case, I didn’t want to invest in too many stocks as it becomes too much work to track. So, I decided to have four main stocks where 85% of my stock money would go and then have a handful of others each having a smaller investment of about 2-3% of my total stock expenditures. It took a few days for me to decide on my lucky four, and I made sure they were all in different industries as well. I made sure that three of the four stocks were stable in previous crashes because I don’t want to lose my money. Having four stable stocks that don’t crash is a lot safer than a mutual fund with 100 stocks that all crash every time there is a stock market crash. Additionally, my big money is going into companies that are roughly 100 years old, and they survived the Great Depression making them very stable, not to mention their stable financial and managerial practices.

When are Indexes Good?
For older companies that have been around since the Great Depression, there are so few of them, and they are such large conglomorates, that I don’t think you need to diversify so much. Coca-Cola owns 500 different beverage companies. They have more diversification within that one stock than most mutual funds. I can analyze each older company by hand since there are so few around. But, newer companies that don’t have a stable track record, don’t have stable income and engage in innovation require diversification. It is possible that an industry with 300 players could be reduced to two players after the others get weeded out. Innovation is a risky game and the minute someone beats you innovating a popular product, then you could lose most of your business.

For Biotech and Tech, indexes seem like a better idea than buying stocks with the exception of IBM which is a much more established conglomorate that does not engage in innovation. Between Apple, Verizon and Samsung, how can you know which company will out do the other one in a few years. I suspect Apple will win the game, but the Koreans might surprise us all as they are pretty smart over there. Between the various biotech companies, how do you know which one will have the next breakthrough? Most of those companies are less than 25 years old. It is so unpredictable and none of the companies have a solid track record. For these types of unpredictable industries a fund is better. Additionally, for utility companies, their margins are so low and their debt is so high, it might be safer to buy a fund.

So, for me, I’ve decided to get both stocks and indexes. But, probably more stocks than indexes. I will be investing in a biotech index in the next few weeks. That is one of the fastest growing market segments. I don’t know if they’ll continue to grow, but I suspect they will until they can figure out how to clone us.

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