Dear Mr. Berko:

We are nine guys – living in a retirement golfing community – who began an investment club in January 2003. We each started with a $5,000 investment ($45,000), and every January, we invest another $5,000. So far, we have invested $450,000 in capital, but 10 years later we are only worth $466,800.24. We have been unlucky but haven’t lost any money yet.

At one point, we were told convertibles were the way to go. When those didn’t work, we bought drug stocks. Drug stocks fell, so we bought real estate investment trusts at the wrong time, and then we invested in utilities that did nothing. Then we went into tech issues, but they crashed, so we purchased bank stocks that went south.

We tried the investment strategy “Dogs of the Dow,” but it didn’t pan out. A couple of years ago, we got into gold, and we’re back to even with that. A year ago, we got into silver, but we’re down 11 percent. We tried options and European stocks, but lost on both. We bought some stocks for less than $10 a share and got a little lucky. Now we’re told that high-yielding emerging market bonds are where we should put our money.

This has been going on for 10 years, and we’d like to know whether you think we should hire a money manager.

T.R., The Villages, Fla.


Dear T.R.:

According to an article in Audubon magazine, bored Royal Air Force pilots stationed on the Falkland Islands in the mid-1980s devised a new game. Noting that local penguins were fascinated by airplanes, the pilots would find a beach where the birds gathered and fly their planes north very slowly along the water’s edge. Some 10,000 penguins would turn their heads in unison, watching the planes go by. The pilots would turn around and fly south, watching the birds turn their heads in the opposite direction. Then, after a few slow passes, the pilots would fly out to sea, turn directly back to the penguin colony and overfly it. Heads go up and up and up, and 10,000 penguins fall flat on their derrieres. This story reminds me of your investment style.

You guys aren’t investment club members; you’re members of The Old Farts Who Can’t Invest Straight Club! You haven’t followed the wise, time-tested guidelines established by the nonprofit group BetterInvesting, which have worked for thousands of clubs and individual investors. But at your ages and stages, a money manager would be a royal pain in the butt (for him and you) and stifle your fun. Because you can’t teach old dogs new math, either break up the club and distribute the assets or be content to argue and lose/make a few nickels each year.

However, if you had asked me for help 10 years ago, I’d have given you the following advice:

• Always strive to make a slow $20 rather than a fast $10.

• Never try to buy at the bottom or sell at the top.

• Buy a stock as you would buy a home to live in.

• Only buy stocks with long-term rising dividend trends.

• Reinvest all dividends.

• Long-term rising net profit margins are an excellent precursor to capital gains.

• Always sell losers, because they increase your gains.

• If you don’t understand the company’s product, don’t buy the stock.

• Buy issues whose revenues are least affect- ed by inflation and the economic cycle.

• Past performance is the best messenger of future performance.

• Remember: it takes five years for a stock you buy today to be an overnight success.