FROM INSIDE SILICON VALLEY: Sorting the truth or likely truth from the noise is a key attribute of the successful investor. My commentary is a distillation of some of this effort relative to particular stocks and investment areas. My publishing at this point in time is limited to the blogsphere, Stocktwits as a Tweeter (@RobertinGatos), and Seeking Alpha posts as both an author (one article and trying to find time for more) and frequent commentator. I have no doubt that this truth seeking effort has been a great aid in my own efforts to be a successful high tech stock investor, which now goes back over 30 years.
Professionally, I was an Engineering Manager in two pioneering Silicon Valley high technology companies, Intel and Fairchild Semiconductor. Some will recall that Fairchild was formed by the group that William Shockley, co-inventor of the transistor of Bell Labs fame. had brought together at Shockley Labs to commercialize this device. I joined Fairchild Semiconductor R&D Labs in Palo Alto in 1973. It was at the time affectionately called "Fairchild Tech" due to its propensity to create spinoffs including National Semiconductor, AMD and Intel.
I joined Intel in in 1977 as Manager of their Analytical Lab start up and retired from Intel's senior management ranks in 1998. I joined a startup called Metara as a BOD member and ultimately as VP and Chief Technology Officer. I facilitated the generation of 17 automated mass spectrometry patents and became an expert on analytical technology patents as a result. I retired a second time in 2006 due to the fact that Metara ran out of capital before the first product was fully debugged. Venture caps can be fickle people.
Through out this time, I was surrounded by high tech business activity including management and ultimately startup financing. I stayed familiar with the high tech business press throughout this time and attended relevant Silicon Valley events including many Valley technology investment conferences and shareholder meetings beginning well before the Santa Clara Valley area was called Silicon Valley.
My start as a high tech investor occurred in 1981 when my first Intel stock options became exercisable. I used margin to exercise, buy and hold my Intel stock while I added margin to buy companies like MSFT, CSCO, ORCL, JDSU, SUNW and QCOM from the 80's forward. Needless to say the returns were outstanding. I had the luck of being exposed to long term LEAP call investing by a follow Intel manager and used this technique as additional leverage for most of my tech investments since the very beginning.
I used to love to bet against Merrill Lynch'sTom Kurlak who was known as THE Intel analyst of the time. He would make a negative call on Intel that I knew was way off the mark and use this opportunity for entry into my next set of Intel LEAP calls. That taught me to take advantage of Wall Street whenever possible rather than be their victim.
My original investment specialty was tech stocks however I have expanded my expertise in many key sectors. I follow high tech trends and business activity on a daily basis. I have added Financials to this tracking in particular since the bad behavior of the Investment Banks and now regular Banks (derivatives and lending practices) has led to multiple ugly stock market crashes. Notable examples include the crash of 2008 and the 2000 dot.com bubble with more yet to come, at least in the absence of better regulation.
I am a firm believer in understanding the business model, the business fundamentals and competitive environment for any company that I invest in. I look for competent management and high performance financials that demonstrate a strong possibility of on-going earnings and revenue growth. I read CEO pronouncements with my competence and BS detector on high (for example Ballmer pegs both needles - I'll let you guess which end of the scales). Drilling into a company’s financial fundamentals is a downstream step. Excessive debt is a red flag even if it is for so called good reason -- it limits company margins and business options, and can be representative a poofly performing business segment a company is in. I avoid those kinds of businesses in spite of what may be labeled as strong positive cash flow. Debt leads to sluggish earnings growth and limits company flexibility. It can also lead to ugly surprises, stock dilution for example. Technology company stock buybacks leave me cold. If they cannot make more money by growing their own business with the money, they will flatline or worse.
When the opportunity permits, I try to be ready to buy good companies that I believe have been beaten up inappropriately or are under appreciated (the Tom Kurlak example). I also try to buy companies that I know and understand inside and out or work on getting to there if I invest. Fewer companies,