June 22, 2007

Top Eight Worst Stock Moves I Ever Made

While the NASDAQ and DOW averages have done alright for themselves in 2007, my eTrade account isn't keeping up. In fact, with almost six full months through the year, I took a look at the online brokerage and it looks like I'm not too far from where I started. This got me thinking about how I had sold my Apple stock way too early this year, and that in turn reminded me of all the missteps I've made financially over the last decade or so. I thought I'd share some of the lowlights. Why only eight and not the typical ten? Let's just say that in this case, eight is enough.

1. My Not Investing in the Google IPO.

Long story short - I had the option to participate in the Dutch auction of Google stock as the company prepared to go public. In fact, I had put in a bid for 100 shares, but seeing the price debut at $85 - $90 made me think there was only one direction for the stock to go... down. Boy was I ever wrong. A quick search in my GMail reminds me of that blunder, with messages like "We are sending this notice to everyone who obtained a bidder ID, regardless of whether you have been allocated shares of Google's Class A common stock in the offering." The $9,000 or so I could have put in at the end of 2004 would be worth more than $51,000 today.

2. Getting Fleeced by WorldCom's Lies

It wasn't just the employees of Enron, Adelphia, WorldCom and others who were hit by the financial scandals that rocked thsoe firms. Years ago, as the shine started to come off the Internet bubble, we were looking for value stocks that looked like they were a cheap buy with possible near-guaranteed returns. As one friend began to hype Worldcom's amazingly low price/earnings ratio, I bought in to the hype. In May of 2002, I started accumulating Worldcom (WCOM) with 525 shares at $2.25, and dove in headfirst with 1,160 more shares a month and a half later at $1.38, as the stock dove downward. Then the scandal hit, and we were left holding the bag. By July, my 1,685 shares of Worldcom were sold away at 20 cents apiece, getting me a loss of nearly $2,500. That money loomed much larger for me five years ago, but still sticks in my craw.

3. Getting Ownage from Vonage

In June of 2006, after publicly questioning my own sanity, I opted to play the Vonage IPO. Still hurting from my missed opportunity at the Google IPO (see above), I jumped into this longshot, which was a dead duck from day one. In a week's time, I saw my 600 shares drop from a value of nearly $10,000 to just under $7,000, costing me almost $3,000. (I already chastised myself publicly here)

4. Rack 'Em Up, Stack Up the Losses

See a trend? I think I can outsmart the market by buying low and selling high. The trick is that everybody else keeps selling, and usually what goes down, must go down some more. Earlier this year, I fell for that trap again. In the first half of this year, I bought into 500 shares of Rackable at 21.15. By the end of April, I was out entirely at 12.72 a share, and it's even lower now. My total loss? More than $4,200 by the end of April. That's worse than taxes for a mid-April surprise.

5. Burst My Bubble

In January of 2006, I thought I could buy low and sell high again by riding the hype around a small stock with shaky but potentially profitable ambitions. I purchased 6000 shares of Burst (BRST) around $2 and sold for $1.60. I thought the company might actually make some cash off its suing Apple for patent infringements, but the stock had already jumped and I lost my shirt to the tune of about $2,500 in the space of 2 days. I'd rather I lost that money playing slots in Vegas somewhere.

6. Sun Rise, Sun Set

While the total value lost here wasn't tremendous, around $1,000, it sure is embarrassing for my setting a record in bad timing. From July to September of 2002, I was accumulating Sun Microsystems stock at low, low prices, first at $4.75, and later at $3.65. But the stock was in freefall after nobody wanted "the dot in dotcom". I gave up on the stock on October 4 of 2002, selling all 655 shares at $2.50 apiece. Not only is the stock more than twice as high now, nearly five years later, but $2.50 was just about as low as it ever went. (Reference: Google Finance)

7. An Apple a Day Keeps Debt Away

At the end of April, following delays in Apple's Mac OS X Leopard operating system, and concerns around iPod sell-throughs, I thought the best thing was to get out of Apple altogether. Very publicly, I sold my 200 shares of Apple stock at $94 apiece, making about $1,600 on the deal. But if you take a look at Apple stock now, just two months later, you'll see the stock is around $124 a share. Quick math says I left $6,000 on the table. (This wasn't my first wrong guess on AAPL)

8. A Half Hour Will Cost You a Grand

On September 28, 2005, Incyte Corporation had taken a big one-day dive, from the $7 range to just under $5. Looking for the inevitable bounce, I put in for 1,500 shares, with a stop loss that would prevent me from getting too fleeced. I literally took a shower, and came back to find my sale executed at $4.25 a share. All told, I had lost $1,000+ from 6:49 a.m. to 7:12 a.m. and I hadn't even had breakfast. That's a horrible way to start the day. The stock now trades around $6.38 a share.

So that's about $20,000 in real losses and $60,000 in unrealized gains. They say you're not supposed to have buyer's remorse or seller's remorse, but I just can't help it. What are some of the worst stock trades you've ever made?

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