On Speculating Properly

 | Jun 21, 2012 | 2:27 PM EDT
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When you speculate, you are going to lose some money -- fact of life. It's just what happens.

The concept is alien to many people who speculate, though, and some do nothing but speculation. Unlike most others who talk and write about stocks, I have been adamant that speculation can be part of anyone's portfolio. I think it should be a part of it if you want to stay engaged.

But it can't be your portfolio.

Right now I am taking heat on four different speculative situations that have not panned out: Heckmann (HEK), Key Energy (KEG), Magnum Hunter (NGAS) and SandRidge Energy (SD).  People want to know why I have abandoned them, or why don't I buy them for my charitable trust, or why can't I push them on my venues.

To all of these questions I say: These stocks are all calls on oil and gas. They are options on crude going higher. They are the most leveraged way to play the complex. If oil and natural gas go higher, these stocks soar. If it goes lower, they get crushed.

Oil's gone lower, alright -- much further than anyone I know thought could happen, and much further that I thought it could go. I figured it would stop at $80 to $85. I didn't see the collapse of all commodities coming because I kept hearing supply was tight for oil, and that China was a voracious user and that, as a result, oil had to go higher -- endlessly higher.

I believed it could come down partly because the Saudis don't want it to be as high as it was, as that encourages both alternative energy and drilling in the U.S.

Magnum Hunter and Sandridge aren't just calls on oil and gas. They are leveraged calls with gigantic drilling budgets, relative to their size, and each company has a desire to get big fast.

Key and Heckmann, meanwhile, support that growth. The former is an incredibly aggressive oil-service company, and the latter works with oil-and-gas companies that frack for natural gas, although it has tried to shift aggressively toward crude.

I can't think of better businesses to be in when crude is going higher, and I can't think of worse businesses to be in when it's heading lower.

That's why these are speculations. They are sink-or-swim, go-or-stop, homerun or strike-out, just like biotech companies with one product that might pan out or might not.

Right now these are among the biggest losers in the market, thanks to the collapse of crude. As long as you'd recognized that risk going in -- as long as you'd realized these weren't Chevron (CVX) or ConocoPhillips (COP) or Exxon Mobil (XOM) -- I think that you would have been a little more accepting of the losses.

If this was all you'd owned, you are upset, but not justifiably so. If this is the case, in fact, I wonder whether you just didn't buy them because they were single-digit stocks of which you could buy a lot more shares than, say, Apple (AAPL).

Even wise speculation can produce horrific losses, but as long as they are contained to a piece of your portfolio, you should be able to handle these declines. Plus, it ain't over until it is over. I like Devon (DVN). It's been atrocious and horrible, but it will come out just fine when oil bottoms.

These four will do better than fine.  

Right now I think all of these are near the threshold at which everyone will give up on them. Yet, unless the world is headed toward a serious depression -- which I don't think is the case -- I think it is unrealistic to presume that oil can keep going down at this pace.

It's a terrible thing to lose money, but with speculation it comes with the territory. Sometimes the territory is miserable. This, unfortunately, is one of one of those times.

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