In My First Stock, we talk to Canadians about the first stock they owned and how the experience shaped how they invest today.
Som Seif, chief executive officer of Purpose Investments.
First stock: Sunbeam Products, the home appliance company now part of Newell Brands
I was a 21-year-old engineering student when I bought my first stock, Sunbeam Products, in 1998. I had a summer internship at Petro-Canada, opened a trading account and used some of my earnings to buy about $2,500 worth of shares. I bought it on the dip after the company fired CEO Al Dunlap amid fraud allegations, thinking the company was fine.
I remember that I watched that stock every day; it would go up a few pennies, then down a few. It was exhilarating at first – until it kept going down. Ultimately, it ended up going into bankruptcy in 2001. I sold the company years later, basically at zero, realizing the loss. I learned early on that stocks may not only go down, they can also go to zero.
What else did you learn from the experience?
It was painful but also a good experience in learning how to invest, from opening a trading account to figuring out how you want to invest, including what stocks to buy – and the need to do more research, which I didn’t do enough of with Sunbeam.
An even bigger lesson I learned, which helped to shape what I went on to do later in my career, happened during the tech bubble around 2000. I was working at my first job at RBC Capital Markets and was doing some day trading for myself on the side. One day in March, 2000, around 3 p.m., I placed an online order for $20,000 worth of Commerce One shares [the company was later acquired by Perfect Commerce]. It didn’t look like the order got filled, so I cancelled it – or so I thought – and put in the same order again. When it didn’t appear to go through, I placed the same order a third time. I was watching the screen, but I was also at work so I was distracted. When the market closed, I looked at my account and it turned out all three orders had gone through. The latency on platforms wasn’t as fast as it is today. I was suddenly long $60,000 of Commerce One. To put this in context, I was making a base salary of $45,000. I didn’t have $60,000.
I didn’t sleep that night. I was freaking out. What would happen if the stock opened at a loss? What if I couldn’t sell it? Thankfully, I was able to sell all of it at the market open. I lost a couple of hundred bucks, but it taught me a lot. For starters, I shouldn’t have been day trading while also working a full-time job. It’s not something I, or a lot of investors, have time for. A few years later, in 2005, I started Claymore Investments, bringing exchange-traded funds to Canada.
What’s your advice for others investing for the first time?
The best way to learn about investing is to start early, with your first paycheque if possible. Invest a little bit every time you get paid and use most of it to build a long-term diversified portfolio. But also set aside a small amount and have some fun with it. In both cases, do research on what you’re buying and learn from your experiences.
This interview has been edited and condensed.