I was asked this week about stock in Tesla, the next-generation automaker whose shares have been the talk of the market for the last year, when they went from roughly $300 to about $800.

Tesla, I said, is a stock that I’d love to own but would hate to buy.

That, by the way, is why Tesla stock isn’t in my portfolio now and isn’t likely ever to get there.

Conversely, right now, ExxonMobil is a stock that I hate to own (and, yes, I do own it), but would love to buy.

It’s a confusing world for investors right now, and many of them fall precisely on the sides of investing exemplified by these stocks, looking at stocks that are facing divergent market forces leaving investors somewhere between those concerns, between the proverbial rock and hard place.

For investors trying to navigate current markets – which beyond heightened volatility feature a small number of stocks that are the issues lifting the indexes back to record highs – it’s a good time to consider the potential differences between issues that are difficult to buy versus hard to hold.


The difference is not semantics.

Clearly, anyone who has been riding along in Tesla stock has a lot of reasons to be happy. The stock has defined gravity, has bounced back from every bad-news headline and from the severe pressure of short-sellers and has re-ascended to its heights every time it seems headed for a fall.

A year ago the stock was trading at about $310 per share. The stock lost about 40 percent of its value down to roughly $177 in early June before going on a seven month run that pushed shares past $900 and that currently sit below $800.

That’s the kind of investment gains that can be life-changing. Frankly, everyone would love to own a stock that has done that well.

Yet, those characteristics make the stock difficult to buy and hold. As a long-term investor, I question whether I could have accomplished those gains with the stock, meaning the decline last spring might have shaken me out, the trade war with China and resulting headlines and impact would have made me nervous, and the short sellers would have made me hesitant.

Yes, Tesla has plenty going for it, at least if you drink the Kool-Aid.

I’ll leave it for someone else to make that case; the point is that given what I look for in investments, I couldn’t bring myself to buy it, even if I love its potential.


Disagreement makes a market, and the market around Tesla is frothy, thanks to those short-sellers feeling very different from the company’s fans.

Then we get to ExxonMobil, a stock which traded in the $80 range 10 months ago but which is now trading closer to $60. That’s a 25 percent decline, roughly, and plenty of studies show that investors start bailing out on stocks when declines reach 15 percent. You can’t blame investors for blanching in the face of a loss.

ExxonMobil also faces a large group of short sellers, though the stock is so much bigger that the shorts have less influence and effect. It’s in an industry that has been unloved by the market and that is likely to stay that way for a while.

Even as a dividend-income stock, ExxonMobil has been a disappointment, because the losses have been several times bigger than the stock’s dividend.

But it’s the dividend payout and the fundamentals which suggest that it could someday return to last year’s highs, which would mean that the beaten down stock is on sale. While I suspect the stock’s decline isn’t over, at some point, a long-term investor might see a dragged down ExxonMobil as a bargain.

And that would be the case for a value investor, someone looking to purchase securities that are undervalued, expecting the market to eventually recognize the value in the company and to bring the shares back to a fairer price.


For nearly a decade now, value investing by most measures has lagged growth investing. Traders and momentum investors have been all-in for the growth stocks and bragging about the death of value investing.

And yet they miss the real point, which is not how much the style works in the market in general, but how it works for the individual trying to use it, typically someone whose investment personality is starly different from that of a short-term trader.

Most value investors have a tough time sleeping at night when they try to extend to more volatile momentum-driven issues.

When they pursue a stock like a Tesla, they often buy in after a big run – the exact opposite of a normal value buyer – and then get out when the action gets too frothy. It’s why their investment results typically lag the stocks and funds they buy and the market in general.

This is where investment results come down to knowing yourself better than you know stocks, controlling your emotions rather than succumbing to them.

We all could hold any stock if we knew with some measure of certainty that it would be up significantly in the future. But since the market doesn’t give us that certainty and the biggest opportunities often come wrapped in the most dubious investment scenarios, you have to know what you can own, and accept the difference between what you are able to buy-and-hold and what traders, stock jockeys and sharpies are pushing to news-making highs.

Know the difference between what you’d love to own and the issues you truly want to buy. Look for the ones you most want for the long-haul, even if that means passing up on the hot names.

It may not result in a portfolio filled with high-flyers and over-sized results, but it will have stocks you can live with and that are likely to live up to your expectations over time.