Stock Stories, Vol. 2: When the Short Story Has a Different Plot Than the Novel

In the common parlance of Wall Street, a “story stock” is one for which the numbers may not have arrived yet, but the narrative has — and it’s compelling enough to make investors buy essentially on spec. But from the perspective of Motley Fool co-founder David Gardner, every addition a Foolish investor makes to their portfolio has a story behind it, and on this week’s episode of Rule Breaker Investing, he invites several of our analysts into the studio to share some of their favorites.

But in this segment, he flies solo to talk about the Foolish pick of discount retailer Five Below (NASDAQ: FIVE). It’s a saga that veers from fire ants to giant insurers to blush-worthy faux pas, but in the end, it’s a great reminder that you don’t have to be of one mind — or one investment strategy — when it comes to any particular stock.

A full transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on June 6, 2018.

David Gardner: Stock story No. 5. This one is mine. I want to talk about two stocks, only one of which is presently in the Supernova universe. You may have noticed, the source for all of our stock stories are from our Supernova universe, stocks that we’ve picked in Stock Advisor, Rule Breakers, and Supernova. Thank you again to my previous guests for their stories.

This one is about Five Below, ticker FIVE. This is a company that is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and for quite a while now has sold stuff in stores that costs, generally, $5 or less. It’s a company that is very much in the bricks and mortar of today, which you would think wouldn’t work so well in retail. I’ll talk a little bit about Five Below in a sec.

But first, once upon a time, David and Tom Gardner were invited to give a keynote at a conference that happened to be in Puerto Rico. The year was probably around 1999 or 2000, so, around 20 years ago. We were invited by Aetna (NYSE: AET), the very large and successful insurance company.

Tom and I went and played a round of golf before giving that keynote talk to Aetna. In fact, that was the one round of golf I’ve ever played where I was bitten mercilessly by fire ants in an incident somewhere on the seventh hole, when I decided I would take a digital photo of my brother, Tom, hitting out of the rough just behind a water trap. I think it was on the seventh hole. I remember mocking a disclaimer that was in our golf cart at the time. It said something like, “Beware of fire ants.” And I thought, “You know, it’s sad how the lawyers have even gotten into our golf carts now with their disclaimers on seemingly every product and service around us.” So, I knelt down right near that water trap as Tom took his backswing, and I felt the most ungodly pain on my right knee.

Fire ants, as it turns out, all work together. They crawl up your leg, and then, through some communications device which I don’t fully understand but would be better understood by entomologists, they all communicate at the same moment, “Bite!” And at that moment, I felt a huge amount of pain. And I learned that disclaimer was in that golf cart for a good reason.

Anyway, that was all before we gave our talk to Aetna, which was later that afternoon. As we got there, some of the entourage around the CEO, including the person who was in charge of the event, some of the PR team, and the investor relations team, they said, “Oh, David and Tom Gardner, great! It’s good you guys are here! We almost cancelled you yesterday.” And, since we’d been flying on a plane to the event the day before, we said, “What?! You almost cancelled us?” And they said, “Yeah! You didn’t see the article you guys published on your site? It incensed our CEO.”

For a couple of decades now, if you’re a long-term Motley Fool or follower, you know that we write a lot of articles. Every day in the markets, we try to cover the movers and shakers, the stocks up and the stocks down, as we try to tell the story of global business through the public companies that you and I can invest in. We have a lot of contract writers who write articles on our site about all kinds of different stocks, some of which we’ve picked, some of which we never have. I had never personally picked Aetna.

But, as it turns out, that day before, the very day we flew to Puerto Rico, one of our writers had penned an article with this title: Dial 911, Aetna Needs Help. Again, this is not a viewpoint that I had. I didn’t even know that much about Aetna. It’s not one of my stock picks. But, on our website, the day before we go to speak with the CEO, keynoting at their conference, we wrote, Dial 911, Aetna Needs Help.

So, you can see how that might have upset our sponsor, but we’re happy to say they graciously still had us speak at the conference. I think we did a good job, and I’m pretty confident that Aetna still had a pretty good future, whether it needed help back in 1999 or not.

That’s all a long windup for Five Below. Earlier this year, just a few months ago, one of the things we do at The Motley Fool is, we have an internal university where we have a class of what we call fellows. And with that group of fellows, it’s kind of like a mini business school within The Motley Fool — you have some projects, you work with a team, you learn more and more about business, our business and business at large. And one of the things we’ve always done with our fellows, which we’ve graduated annually or so for some years now, is that we take them on a trip. This one was to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. We arrived at the headquarters of Five Below. Five Below, very generously making time with its CEO and its team to meet with our fellows. Tom and I were there.

And just as we got ready to proceed over to Five Below’s lovely headquarters in Philadelphia, I noticed that Jeff Fischer, our lead advisor in The Motley Fool Pro team, had previously shorted Five Below. And I began to get a Dial 911, Aetna Needs Help vibe to this. I was giggling a little bit as I pointed out to Tom, unbeknownst to both of us, that our company had previously shorted Five Below. Now, I want to mention, this is a stock that we recommend in Motley Fool Rule Breakers. It’s been a good pick, I’m going to provide numbers in a sec. But, there we are, on our way to their headquarters with a previous short on Five Below, wondering if the CEO knew that or not.

So, here are a few numbers. On April 23rd of 2014, I picked Five Below for Motley Fool Rule Breakers. It was at $38.50. I’m happy to say, today, it’s at $79.46. In fact, as we do this taping, it has just crossed the 100% mark. It’s kind of a historic moment for me to tell the Five Below story on this day, because it’s up 100.3%. That’s 41% ahead of the market. That’s over that four-year period, so it’s been an excellent four-year stock.

But, just a few months after I picked it in Motley Fool Rule Breakers, my good friend Jeff Fischer shorted it in July of 2014. I was worried. I didn’t know if he still had that short in, and if so, it wasn’t good advice for our members.

And as I finally got to the headquarters of Five Below, I had looked it up, and as it turns out, Jeff and his co-associate Bryan Hinmon, The Motley Fool Pro team had shut down that short in December of 2015. That was held for 17 months. Amazingly, they shorted at $36 and it went down to $28.

What I love about this story is, not only was there no downside — and, I don’t think the Five Below CEO knew this or ever mentioned it at all. But, simultaneously, two Motley Fool services had different positions on Five Below. I and my team have a four-year hold that’s still in, and we’ve more than doubled our money now, which is really exciting. Meanwhile, Motley Fool Pro rode a $36 stock down to $28 and covered its short from July ’14 to December ’15. I think that’s just a delightful story.

For me, the lesson is, you don’t have to be all long or all short. You don’t have to be single-minded in terms of how you view a stock. In that particular case, as I discovered that morning in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as I nervously got off the bus and stepped into headquarters, as it turns out, both of our Motley Fool services had profited by taking opposite tacks over different time frames.

Sometimes, as a long, never forget that your best friend is the short. Anybody who’s short a stock has to buy that stock back over time, which means they’ll be a net buyer going forward. So, in a sense, Motley Fool Pro helped us out. And perhaps we helped them out, as well. I’m not sure. But, if you’re a member of either of those services, I think you have different views of Five Below, but you did well either way.

One thing’s for sure. Five Below, ticker FIVE, has been a fine company, in part, I think, because it’s pretty Amazon-proof. Amazon isn’t really in the business of sending off $2-3 items, where you’d have to pay for shipping or they’d have to pay it to make it free for you. Somebody has to pay the shipping. And when you’re shipping $2-4 items, it’s not that efficient. That’s why I really like and have liked Five Below as a company. And, having got to know them and their CEO and team, a couple of months ago, a little bit better, I feel really good about FIVE going forward.

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. David Gardner owns shares of Amazon. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon. The Motley Fool recommends Five Below. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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