When it comes to investments, there are no stupid questions, just reasonable queries about bad ideas. Today, Stupid Investment of the Week looks at some questions generated by recent columns, creating a chance to rubberneck at the car wreck of bad ideas once again.

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When it comes to investments, there are no stupid questions, just reasonable queries about bad ideas.

Today, Stupid Investment of the Week looks at some questions generated by recent columns, creating a chance to rubberneck at the car wreck of bad ideas once again.

Q: Once or twice, you have written about how it’s bad when small companies pay for publicity, but big companies do it all the time and you don’t say that’s stupid. Do you just hate small stocks?

A: Ordinary publicity is a lot different from paying to hype your own stock; I have no problem with the former and big issues with the latter.

Established stocks on rock-solid financial ground and with sound business prospects typically do not divert a mass of their revenue stream to shill for the stock in the name of “investor awareness,” as described in my recent column about Striker Oil & Gas.

Moreover, everyone involved knows the effects of such hype are just temporary; the special newsletter comes out, the stock takes a quick jump, and then everything settles back down. (In fact, every stock that has qualified for the column as a result of junk-mail, voice-mail, junk fax and e-mail spam hype — whether they paid for it or a stock promoter did — has been dramatically devalued in weeks or months after the hype effect waned.)

I’m no fan of independent stock hustlers, who can do the exact same thing without company management even being aware that they’re being pumped-and-dumped. But at least they’re not wasting the company’s revenues.

There’s a big difference between a small company making real, legitimate news and one that’s buying its place in the public eye. For the average investor — who is not necessarily equipped to tell the difference and who isn’t likely to read all the fine print — the company focusing its business efforts on investor bulletins rather than adding assets or reducing debts is a bad bet.

Personally, I like small companies to be a “field of dreams” — where if you build the business, they will come — as opposed to a “field of screams,” where you simply make noise and hope that investors show up.

Q: David L. Smith has a point about your work when he says that if you know you’re picking the Stupid Investment of the Week, you start by assuming that a stock is a dog and then work back until you make it bark. Doesn’t your defeatist attitude invalidate your column? Can’t there ever be a Smart Investment of the Week?

A: Smith is the newsletter editor who hyped Striker, and he made his comments in the commentary forum attached to my column at MarketWatch.com. His premise is fine in theory, but it’s not the way the column is practiced.

The point of Stupid Investment of the Week is to identify trouble — the things that would lead an “average investor” astray and persuade them to make a purchase that’s “less than ideal” — so investors can more easily recognize the traps they might otherwise step into.

As a general rule, the column avoids the most dreadful investments, because the worst mutual funds — the freakish ones with double-digit expense ratios and losses spanning the past 15 years or more — are so bad that even the most scatterbrained novice could figure out that they were bad deals.

It’s much tougher to see the bad idea masquerading as a good one, where there’s a distinct case to be made for a purchase — a case that might lure the average person — and then to point out where the case falls apart.

I found out about Striker, for example, from Smith’s own publication and read the buying case Smith made for the stock. Had I come away thinking it was a good investment, the stock would have dropped off my radar as quickly as it came on.

One thing five years of this column has convinced me of is that there is no shortage of fodder out there vying for the honor of Stupid Investment of the Week.

As for a Smart Investment of the Week, it feels too much like market-timing to me, and while I respect people who try to do that, I personally have no skill there. “Smart” can be a fleeting quality, but the things that can turn an investment stupid for an average investor generally seem to last forever.

Q: I like everything you write except for Stupid Investment of the Week; only suckers fall for the kind of thing you write about there.

A: Products sold by infomercial, multilevel marketing business ideas and many other things may not appeal to you, but there’s no denying that consumers spend billions of dollars on this stuff every year. Some percentage of that money goes into the problem ideas. And there have been plenty of big-name stocks and mutual funds with billions in assets that have been on the pointing end of my weekly effort to say “I’m with Stupid.”

The North American Securities Administrators Association recently warned of a new rash of financial frauds and scams based on any number of hot topics.

I’m thrilled for those people who don’t fall victim to that kind of stuff, but whether it’s that activity or someone simply having valuation issues on a stock that looks to be overpriced, the hope is that the column gets people thinking and helps them avoid some pain.

Mind you, over the five years of this column, I have included investments — sometimes unknowingly — held by my father, my late father-in-law, the best man at my wedding, my mentor in journalism, and all kinds of others whom I would never characterize as “suckers.”

That said, in your case and based on your feelings about the rest of my work, the answer is simple: Just keep reading everything else I write … and keep those cards and letters coming.

Chuck Jaffe is senior columnist for MarketWatch. He does not own or hold short positions in any securities covered by Stupid Investment of the Week. If you have a suggestion for Chuck Jaffe’s Stupid Investment of the Week or a comment about this week’s column, you can reach him at jaffe@marketwatch.com or Box 70, Cohasset, MA 02025-0070.