My shares of American Education were cashed out this morning at 55¢ a share. Including the commision of my purchase, that's a 12.27% gain versus 0.33% if I had invested in the S&P 500. On an annualized basis, that's 78% which easily exceeds the 5% hurdle I use for these relatively safe going-private investments.
This sounds great, but I only made $30. Even if I were able to buy the 1999 shares I wanted to buy and didn't pay a commission, my grand total would have been $199.90, which isn't all that much. On the other hand, now that I've survived a few of these deals, I don't think it will take more than an hour or so to research new going-private situations. Mostly, I just need to read the proxy on the SEC's website and do a little math. If commissions continue to become a less important cost (because of inflation or my broker becomes more generous), these little investments could be even more profitable (though at no larger scale).
I've been reading Warren Buffett's Partnership letters, which provide an interesting "pre-history" to the Berkshire Hathaway letters. (Berkshire first appears in the January, 1966 letter, but Buffett has made purchases of its stock as far back as 1962.) One repeated theme in them is the categorization of investements into "general", "workout" and "control". General investments are purchased because they are cheap (either compared to their liquidation value or relative to similar companies) and tend to move in the same general direction as the market. Workout investments are purchased because some future event (not just rumored, but published in the paper) will unlock hidden value. Control investments are companies that the Partnership had influence over by reason of a large ownership stake. The last two investment types are largely uninfluenced by the general market.
Until this year, 100% of my investments have been in the general category (or cash), so my results ought to have followed the market. This year, I've been working in some special situation investments (workouts), so my results ought to be better in down markets and keep up (maybe) in up markets. (Joy and I do have "control" investments in a sense because of our careers and Joy's Pampered Chef business. It's difficult to assign a value to them, but they will provide far more earnings to us than our retirement accounts for a great many years.)
Here are my results since I opened my self-directed IRA:
Date S&P 500 IRA Difference 12/31/02* -11.37% 30.95% 42.32% 12/31/03 26.38% 24.89% -1.49% 12/31/04 8.99% 6.84% -2.16% 12/31/05 3.00% 6.23% 3.23% 09/29/06 7.01% 23.32% 16.30% Total Gain 34.56% 128.88% 94.31% Annualized 7.20% 21.39% 14.19% * First reporting date is 06/23/02The first "year" (actually closer to 6 months), was entirely the result of a single stock—Oracle. 2003 and 2004 were poor years as Oracle and Canon lost ground. In 2005, the addition of Select Comfort made up for the flat performance of the other two holdings. So far this year, the situation has reversed. In addition, I've purchased Berkshire, which has not done much so far, and some special situations, which have added to the account's returns. Beating the market by 14% a year isn't a realistic goal, but the wild swings are likely for a concentrated portfolio.