The One and Only Us

graphic shows a framed picture on a wall with a collage of all six 228Main.com employees smiling

Clients, I’m one of a kind. I’ve worked many years and traveled many paths to be the person I am today.

Even though I’m the one and only Mark Leibman, I get to do what I do as part of an amazing team at 228 Main. I notice this truth now more than ever.

The enterprise has three core activities:

  • We talk with you about your plans and planning, to sort out how best to connect your money to your life—your goals.
  • We research and manage investments, striving to grow your long-term buckets.
  • We take care of the logistics and paperwork you need to try to get where you are going.

I sometimes say I am in business to talk all day, but as you can see from these notes, it takes the whole team to make that possible.

Four of us here in the shop contribute to our communications. Three of us collaborate on investment research and analyze portfolios. Two focus on logistics and paperwork, taking care of details.

While I spend the most time with you, Caitie Leibman directs our communications, which really is just another way to talk to you, with contributions from Greg Leibman, and Billy Garver, and me. Greg, Billy, and I work on research and portfolios. And Patsy Havenridge and Larry Wiederspan take care of service—the paperwork and logistics.

The buck stops with me, of course: I take responsibility for investment decisions and trading and recommendations and everything, but I could never accomplish by myself the things we are able to do as a team. We are working with more than $100 million for clients in twenty states.

I’ve often said that if there were three of me, we’d all be busy. But the world does not need any more copies of me. Every member of the 228 Main team knows that the better off you are, the better off we will be—and they each contribute skills and abilities I don’t have.

I couldn’t be more proud of them.

Clients, is there anything for which you could use our team’s perspective? Call or write, anytime.


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Probabilities Versus Possibilities

photo shows a goldfish with a shark fin strapped to it swimming with the fin above water

Our energy is a finite resource. Sure, we consume food and we sleep to replenish our bodies, but they too don’t last forever. The basic formula for kinetic energy requires velocity—movement. But we don’t always direct our movement in the most skillful ways.

For instance, we humans are great at focusing on low-probability events. After all, these are the events that catch headlines: “if it bleeds, it leads” the saying goes. (I mean, how do you think the world ended up with Shark Week?)

We wrote recently about bear attacks, among all things, and now we’re thinking more deeply about these ideas. What if instead of placing so much energy into unlikely (albeit scary) events, we limit our focus a little: what if we focused more instead on what’s probable?

In the markets, we hope to see at least the typical patterns of probability. Some ups and downs every year, a general trajectory of more up than down across almost any stretch of five or more years. No guarantees. But these are the general probabilities of the long-term proposition.

We don’t lock into losses by treating drops like the end of the world. Of course fatal shark attacks do happen, they are real, but we don’t stay out of the pool because one time somebody got eaten out in the open sea. That just wouldn’t make a ton of sense, huh?

The possibilities are endless, and they could consume us until our last breath. Let’s direct more energy toward what’s probable.

Clients, want to discuss what’s probable and suitable for your situation? Reach out anytime.


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The Twenty Stock Concept: A Deep Dive

Clients, you know that our communications are you-centric: we prefer to focus on the situations, challenges, and concerns facing you. But from time to time it makes sense to talk about the tools and techniques we use to meet those issues. Let us give you some background and then introduce a strategy that’s become an important tool in portfolio reviews: the Twenty Stock Concept.

There are many ways to invest for the long haul, and we strive to participate in the growth of the economy over time. Many people’s financial objectives require the growth of capital, whether to improve their financial position, build toward retirement, or preserve purchasing power.

We manage individual stocks for people (which, by the way, is one of the services that sets our shop apart). Because we prefer to invest in the ownership of carefully chosen companies rather than buy investment products made of hundreds of holdings, it’s become more and more important for us to develop a systematic and efficient way to monitor and adjust portfolios over time.

At any given time, our Buy List includes 30 to 35 equity opportunities, which we supplement with more diversified ballast holdings. Client accounts may then wind up with even more names in them, as sometimes positions are held even after they’ve rotated off the Buy List. Doing it this way creates a lot of moving parts…

… which is where the Twenty Stock Concept comes in! This strategy helps us pare things back to only those parts of our investment philosophy that we feel are most fundamental. This list of holdings becomes the template from which we work for new portfolios and for reviews of existing portfolios.

The foundation of the Twenty Stock Concept is great companies trading at fair prices. These are usually blue-chip companies that dominate their sectors. They are our first picks, and we expect to hold them for a long time. We usually have 10 to 12 of these blue chips on our list.

To round out the list, we select what we perceive to be the best opportunities from the rest of the Buy List. These will include cyclical companies that we hope and believe we are purchasing at favorable points in the cycle. The rest of the opportunities may include other bargains from anywhere else in the investment universe.

Because the Twenty Stock Concept is a starting place, a template, not all of our holdings are fundamental enough to make the cut.

What gets left out? Our main investment approach also includes a handful of speculative growth-seeking holdings. Some of these may be smaller, unproven companies that we see explosive potential in. Others are regional or sector plays in areas that may or may not pan out. We think there is a place for these holdings—otherwise we would not have them to begin with. But some clients may not need or want the turnover and volatility they bring.

As an in-house system, the Twenty Stock Concept serves two functions for us: it allows us to provide a focused offering for those who prefer to own a smaller number of names, and it gives us a consistent approach that we makes our services available to smaller accounts than we would otherwise have the capacity to manage.

No guarantees, of course. We base our work on our opinions; no matter how carefully we do our research, sometimes the future confounds us.

But it is intensely interesting, and often rewarding. Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email or call.


Investing involves risk including loss of principal.

No strategy assures success or protects against loss.


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Minding the Bears

photo shows a rocky mountain trail

One recent morning, I was lucky enough to be hiking on a mountain trail with my sister. The air was crisp and clear, the smell of the pines was thick—a beautiful day.

We came across animal tracks, then more animal tracks, on the muddy parts of the trail.

We knew before we started that there were bears in the neighborhood. (In fact, one might say we were in the bears’ neighborhood!) The tracks seemed to have the shape of claws, with a size and depth that impressed me with a desire to avoid a meeting.

It seemed as good a time as any to turn around, so we did. My senses were on high alert as we began to descend. We reached the trailhead without incident.

Later, I looked up the facts about bear attacks. Only one out of 175 million people worldwide is the victim of a fatal bear attack each year, fewer than two in the whole United States.

The danger I perceived was far larger than the actual risk involved.

This reminds me of where we are in the investment markets. It seems to be the economic equivalent of a beautiful day: the market has had a sharp rebound from the pandemic lows of 2020. Yet some are concerned about the bear (a bear market meaning, of course, a big decline).

Just as there are plenty of bears in the wooded mountains, there are regular declines in the stock market. Some estimate that 10 to 15% declines are routine each year. But fear of the bear often seems to be greater than the actual damage a bear market might do to long-term investors.

Learning to live with the ups and downs, one may benefit from long-term growth in value. But fear of a decline that proves to be temporary—and rarely truly catastrophic—may lead one to sell out long before money is actually needed, with future gains foregone.

Clients, thank you for inviting us to hike the trails of your life with you. If you would like to talk bears or mountains or markets, please email us or call.


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Sinking Fund, for the Win (Again!)

photo shows jars full for coins with labels for things like travel, education, house, etc.

Some time back, we wrote about the benefits of a “sinking fund” to make for a smoother life, financially speaking. This is a way to set aside money systematically for unpredictable-but-likely expenses, long-range spending plans, and lumpy annual expenses. (When businesses or other entities use sinking funds, it’s usually to lower the level of debt over time.)

My home is (was?) in good shape, but I knew maintenance and repairs were bound to be needed. Furniture and appliances do not last forever, either. My vehicles are in good shape, but someday I will need to pay for a new one.

To meet these needs and more, I arranged an automatic deposit into my brokerage account each month, calculated to—hopefully!—handle whatever might come up.

So far, eight monthly deposits have been made. And wouldn’t you know it, an unexpected home expense has hit.

It might have been the air conditioner or a washer or a dryer. Termites could have popped up or the insurance deductible for storm damage. But the money in my sinking fund can be spent on what is needed, when it is needed.

I don’t know precisely how much it is going to take to fix the problem, but the important thing is that it won’t stress me: the sinking fund has more than enough to cover the issue. Next year when I think about replacing some windows, and many years from now when the roof needs replacing, I’m sure I will feel the same way.

The examples mentioned here aren’t exactly emergencies, but they are sudden. They are part of the fabric of modern life. If you own a home or a car, if you have one of those fragile human bodies, if you live somewhere weather happens… this fund may help you avoid tapping into your emergency fund or resorting to expensive credit to cover something that always could-have-been coming.

So one of the best things about the sinking fund is that I spend less time worrying about the sudden expenses the fund is intended to cover. It took just a bit of thought to set up, then it flies on autopilot. I review it from time to time, and I can always adjust the monthly deposit.

Clients, if you are ready to talk about reducing the stress of unexpected expenses in your life, call or email us.


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Working What We’ve Got

One investment supersedes all others: an investment in yourself. It adjusts for inflation. It helps you have a more interesting life. When we invest in ourselves, we are seeking to improve our value to others. The more valuable we make ourselves, the more an employer or customer will pay us.

The collection of attributes that create this value are called human capital. Many aspects of human capital are free. Years ago, I became acquainted with a senior officer of a large publicly traded company whose most obvious superpower is kindness. After they moved on to a leading role elsewhere, people familiar with them always remembered that trademark feature—and how they had helped them in the past, how they made them feel.

Kindness is free. So are dependability, punctuality, enthusiasm, diligence, and all the other traits we seek when we deal with others. (Others desire those same traits in us.)

Some aspects of human capital require time and money, sometimes lots of both. Think of the education and training required of surgeons, for example. Educational paths and career planning are beyond the scope of this essay, but the value and wisdom of all of your choices ultimately comes down to whether you figure out how to add value to the rest of society.

We have heard the idea of “follow your passion” debated back and forth. Understand the difference between doing what you are passionate about and being passionate about what you do. One of them has a wider range of opportunity than the other.

The source of our wealth is our earning power, which arises from our human capital. It all starts here.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email or call.


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