Stock Picking for Higher Returns—Playing Less & Watching More

It’s the best kept secret in the equity speculation business: take as little action as possible. If you have the patience to wait for only the most attractive stories during a period of strong investor sentiment, your odds of making money go up dramatically.

I want to stay on the topic of stock picking for a few more columns, because it really is a game and getting good at it takes discipline, experience, resources, and a measure of good luck. It actually takes a lot more than that and those who have made some decent money from the stock market know that it isn’t easy to pick winners regularly. The question of how to invest in stocks for the greatest returns should absolutely be turned on its head to be more like, “How do I invest in stocks without losing any money?” As I’ve learned over the years, investment risk is as equally important a factor to consider as potential return, if not more important. When you approach stock picking from the risk perspective, not only do you trade less, but you also wait for only the best stock market opportunities to act on. It’s the best kept secret in the equity speculation business: take as little action as possible. If you have the patience to wait for only the most attractive stories during a period of strong investor sentiment, your odds of making money go up dramatically.

I love to review past stock market winners, because the process of reviewing solid moneymakers helps to improve my own stock picking. Consider Amtech Systems, Inc. (NASDAQ/ASYS). It’s one very interesting micro-cap stock.

This company manufactures specialized equipment that is used to automate the handling of silicon wafers and semiconductors used in the fabrication of solar cells and semiconductor devices. Founded in 1981, the company was first known as Quartz Engineering & Materials, Inc. before it changed its name to Amtech Systems in 1987. The company is based in Tempe, AZ.

This is a company that’s experiencing renewed momentum in its business and, because the stock was very reasonably priced, it moved dramatically higher since last August. In fact, the stock more than doubled and it did so easily. The company kept reporting improved financial results, and it would consistently issue new guidance that beat previous estimates. It isn’t rocket science to imagine why this stock went up—the business itself did all the work and the advertising.

Recently, Amtech Systems reported more good news by announcing another record-breaking quarter of solar sales. The company plans to report record quarterly sales of $60.0 million, representing a 273% gain over the same period last year. The company’s total order backlog as of March 31, 2011, was a record $193 million, up from $173 million on December 31, 2010.

Hindsight is always perfect in analyzing past stock market winners, but a position like Amtech Systems was a relatively easy trade. The stock was very unappreciated in the marketplace and was cheaply priced. For several quarters, the company reported much improved financial results; after which the company would announce its plans to beat previous guidance. Amtech Systems was a simple trade with great odds for success because, for a short time, the marketplace wasn’t paying attention to the story.

This is just another example of what a winning stock looks like. As I say, the best stock advice I can give is to spend all your time waiting and watching for only the best trades to come along. Every equity trader experiences losses. It’s part of the game and you have to plan for it. But, if you keep at it and wait for only the most attractive trades that bring together all the right attributes, you’ll improve your odds of outperforming dramatically.