# STOCK SPLITS AND SWEETS

Arithmetic is important in our line of work, but its lessons can be found all over.

My older brother gave me one such lesson when I was very young. There was a particular joy in convincing any of my siblings to share candy or treats with me. One day, my brother offered to split a piece of taffy.

“Mark,” he said, “how would you like a fourth of this piece?”

“Yes!” I said.

“If you think that sounds good, what about a tenth of this piece?”

I didn’t know much then, but ten was definitely bigger than four, so this development was promising. I nodded.

“Great! But how about a twentieth of it?”

I could barely contain my excitement. What a deal!

By the end of this process, we settled on a figure. My brother tore me off the tiniest corner of the taffy, and I learned a valuable lesson about math.

At the risk of oversimplifying, we thought of this story again with this news of some major companies executing stock splits.

A stock split is what it sounds like: a company increases the number of shares issued to holders by splitting each existing share into some fraction. Apple recently split four-for-one; Tesla just split five-for-one. (Unlike the taffy lesson, they don’t keep the other pieces! Shareholders went from owning one share to owning four or five, respectively.)

Why split stocks? In years gone by, the idea was that soaring prices made some companies out of reach for smaller investors. A stock split on an expensive company made a single share more affordable, and in theory more investors could get a piece of the action.

Today, many trading platforms allow investors to purchase “fractional shares,” which are also just what they sound like: even if you can’t afford a whole piece, plenty of platforms will still sell you a corner of it.

So why a stock split? Even if it’s not doing much to make the company more accessible to more investors, the move still communicates that idea. It’s a strong marketing campaign for valuable companies.

What does it mean for us? Not much. Remember, we want a piece of the action: any way you slice it, the ingredients and quality of the piece haven’t changed.

A stock split changes the mechanics of how the company is traded. It does not change the mechanics of the company—its outlook, its output, its fundamentals.

Math will always be important in our work, but in this case, we’re not going to let the numbers complicate the situation. Whether we’re splitting the taffy in two pieces or twenty, we know what we’re getting.

Stock investing includes risks, including fluctuating prices and loss of principal.

# It’s a Market of Stocks, not a Stock Market

In the financial press you hear a lot of talk about “the market”: the market is up, the market is down, the market is jittery, and so on. Sometimes they’ll cite a specific index, such as the Dow Jones Industrial Average or Standard & Poor’s 500, using them as shorthand for the stock market as a whole.

This is a generalization, of course. There is no single monolithic “stock market” that tracks the performance of all publicly traded companies. What happens with one company’s stock price may not be happening with others—even within the big indexes.

For example, the S&P 500 Index rose 19.81% in 1999: the peak of the dot-com bubble. According to Standard & Poor’s sector research, the tech sector of the S&P Index went up a whopping 98.27% that year while boring sectors like consumer staples and utilities actually went down. “The market” had a great year, but a tech-heavy portfolio fared much better than a portfolio invested in old economy stocks. The reverse was true the next year, when the tech bubble popped and S&P’s tech sector dropped over 40% while banks, utilities, and staples went shooting up.

We find S&P’s index to be a useful barometer for the stock market as a whole and are sometimes guilty of using it as a generalization for all stocks. But it’s important to remember that the index is still made up of individual stocks, each with their own story.

Sometimes when you average all of those stocks together some compelling stories can get lost in the mix. Some advisors recommend a broad-based index approach, hoping that overperforming stocks will balance out underperforming stocks. While there is a time and place for indexing, we would really just prefer to own the overperforming stocks and try to leave the others out of it. Obviously this is not really feasible—we cannot know in advance which stocks will do well. However, we believe we can try.

As contrarian investors, we are interested specifically in stocks that look like they have the potential to buck the trend of the market. When there’s a stampede, we prefer to be running the other way. So it’s little surprise that some of our favorite holdings may be up when the indexes are down (or, unfortunately, vice versa.)

At 228 Main, we often deal with generalizations about the market because of the broad scope of our writings. If you want to talk specifics, call or email us and we’ll see if we can help.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. To determine which investment(s) may be appropriate for you, consult your financial advisor prior to investing. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results. All indices are unmanaged and may not be invested into directly.