Friday, November 21, 2014

Out of Stock

When I was younger, my father worked for a company that owned an assortment of other companies. These companies made a wide variety of things, from cereals to food for pets to snacks for humans to flashlights and other small electronics. Around about 2000, the company was acquired by a larger company and my father, a part of the now-redundant management structure, was moved along the path towards retirement.

As a part of sorting his affairs, he divested himself of a small amount of stock for each of his three sons. I ended up with twenty shares of The Company. They were valued at about $20 a piece, for a total gift of about $450. I never saw the shares, as they were spirited away into the Safety Deposit Box, a mystical gyre that sweeps up all manner of important documents and items from my parents' lives. Birth certificates live in this disconnected realm, along with stock certificates, deeds to property, coins, jewelry, and a small mountain of Spanish Doubloons, if the novels of my childhood are to be believed.

But over the years, I've had the knowledge that I had twenty shares of The Company somewhere in my name. I put the amount into various financial tracking software, and I always mentioned it to financial advisers when they asked if I had any "holdings."

"Why yes! I own twenty shares of The Company."

But that would invariably provoke the response: "That's good. We don't need to worry about those," in a sort of dismissive tone that I never cared for.

Did they not know that I owned a share of stock for each of my fingers and toes? It turns out that the advisers were more concerned if I owned 20,000 shares. A measly 20 was largely a rounding error.

Still, it was always fun to know that I was a stockholder. It would come up every now and then, if I saw something that was made by The Company. True, friends were largely unimpressed. No lovely ladies ever wanted to have me explain equity trading to them over a bottle of wine, a heaving bosom, and a copy of the Wall Street Journal. The most common response was "gee, that's weird."

And it is weird. I knew more of the statistics about the stock than I did about any runners of sportsball that I saw on television. Stuff that mattered, as some friends put it. They weren't even impressed that the stock often kicked out random dividend payments. Maybe it was because it was usually on par with a dollar per year... per share. So twice a year, I'd receive a check for $10. Ahh, the lure of high finance!

*** *** ***

But all things must come to an end.

Today, I pressed the button that sold those shares. What with the brass band heading to New Zealand in July, the money is needed to help pay for the trip. I took the paper share to my local budget stock trader, opened an account, and passed the paper across the desk to the officer.

And like that, I passed over a sheet of paper that had surprising sentimental value, despite the fact that I'd only ever seen it for a few days (my father had recently removed it from the Safety Deposit Box at my request). A link to my father's place of employment. A thing that represented effort and work on his part. A very small part of the magnificent whole that he put together to help keep my family fed, sheltered, entertained, and healthy.

I'll admit a certain amount of reluctance on my part. The stock had increased in value over $100 in the last 14 years, so the net amount of my dad's "gift" ended up being over $2000. I'll use it to fund a trip overseas and back. It's the sort of thing that would make me terrifically weepy if my dad had died. Luckily, my father is still alive, so I can hear him say things like, "Make sure to take extra socks." Which is the sort of dad-thing that people feel obligated to say.

And what if it would have been a more sound idea to hold onto that? Maybe it would have risen again! The stock had already reached it's all-time high in the last few weeks, it could probably rise again! But while I don't need the money now, *now* was as good a time as any. I don't know anything about The Company anymore. I don't know if they're making good long-term decisions or anything about their corporate governance. But the stock is high, and it's time to sell.

But even so, I hesitated. Today, the stock is worth $30 more than yesterday, because it's up a percent. What a savvy investor I am! I agonized over each cent, clicking refresh time and again.

$125.50: no, not yet.
$125.48: ARGH, my life is over! I should have sold at .50!
$125.51: AHA! I was a fool to worry. But now it may rise higher....
$125.51: COME ON
$125.50: ARGH!
$125.52: Now's the time!
$125.52: For real this time!
$125.51: Ack! Panic sell, panic sell!
$125.53: BAH! I was a fool! Stupid market!

Remember that I own twenty shares. Each penny of movement in the price nets or costs me twenty cents. I was agonizing over less change than I've accidentally dropped at the drive-through window.

I had been granted a minor insight into what I'd be like as a serious investor. Obsessed over the tiniest possibility of "what if?," watching the prices rise and fall like strokes from an artist's pen. I'd be terrible as an investor.

No. The important thing is to know when to walk away from the game. I've purchased myself several extra minutes of relaxation by just deciding. The sale is $2000 -- why worry about pennies?

Oh, but it's $125.56 now. Ahh, if only I'd had the patience to wait.

Good thing I've still got the shares from the company I worked for after grad school! I can obsess over them all day long.

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