The Ottawa Citizen
Sunday, November 3, 2002
Contra the Heard newsletter publisher
Benj Gallander has one of the best-known names in the investment world in Canada. He’s one half, with partner Ben Stadelmann, of the Contra Guys, publishers of the leading financial newsletter,
Contra the Heard.
The newsletter has knocked the socks off its competitors by going against the flow since the two Bens started it in 1983.
Contra the Heard is available to clients only by subscription. But now Mr. Gallander, 45, is going to share his stock selections and contrarian wisdom with
Mr. Gallander has been in the investment business 25 years. Most of his investment philosophy is in his latest book
The Contrarian Investor’s 13, published by Viking Canada. (The “13” refers to his 13 investment rules.)
“I have a very disciplined approach and I like companies that have been around for at least 10 years, companies that have a track record,” Mr. Gallander says.
“The only way you can forecast where a company is going is to see where it’s been.”
His Contra approach searches out companies that, well, the rest of the market considers in the dumpster. The Contra belief is that there’s a minimum 50 percent upside and often 300 percent-plus to be earned investing in these wayward stocks.
“When I buy a stock I set a selling target price that the stock has historically traded at,” says Mr. Gallander. “But the target price will be less than the 10-year average.”
Mr. Gallander says he never buys a stock over $25. Most of his buys are companies trading below $5, companies that have fallen on hard times, but which have either real book value or strong potential. These are often big-name companies that have the capability and strength to bounce back.
He focuses heavily on a company’s debt levels for two reasons: the opportunity to make a profit and to preserve his investment. “It’s much more difficult for a company with low debt to get into financial trouble,” he says.
He doesn’t believe in buying and holding in perpetuity. “The longest I held a stock was 14 years. It was
Mitel. My average purchase price was $3 and I sold it at $22.40.”
He doesn’t buy on margin because he doesn’t like risk. But he does like dividend-paying stocks. (“They allow me to be stupid longer.”) He doesn’t set a time-frame in which to sell and he’s prepared to wait for a stock to reach its target price.
Stop-losses are another taboo. “Stocks can boomerang, so there has to be a fundamental reason to sell,” he says.
Is he full of contradictions? Most definitely, but his methods have paid off over the years with a five-year return of 18 percent.
How will he invest his $50,000? He’s still working on that, but the December tax-loss period is approaching. “When others are selling for tax-loss purposes I’m buying. I do 75 percent of my buying in December.”
That’s what being a Contra is all about.