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Researching Pilgrims’ Banquet

George C. Fisher

Uncle Stephen unexpectedly stopped by on Thanksgiving to wish us a happy holiday. We had not seen or heard from my not-so-younger brother since his return last month after cruising around the world in a cargo freighter. As a traditionalist, Uncle Stephen prides himself with authentic re-creations and one of his hobbies is a part-time Pilgrim re-enactment player at the Plimouth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts (www.plimoth.org). Thanksgiving to Uncle Stephen is like Christmas to the mall Santas.

The discussion turned to our Thanksgiving menu. Uncle Stephen was somewhat aghast that our soon-to-be served banquet included yams, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie.

"According to my research, the three-day celebrations in the late fall of 1621 included lobster, clams, and cod," Uncle Stephen informed us. "For generations, the Wampanoag Indians feasted in the fall, and it was called Keepunumuk, the time of the harvest. There were plentiful catches of seafood right off the shores of Plymouth, in addition to their harvests of corn and berries. Few families today properly celebrate Thanksgiving, as the Pilgrims had no flour, no potatoes, and no sugar. Fish should be replacing the likes of processed jelly."

A short while later, Uncle Stephen left as it was time for him to re-enact Thanksgiving at the Plimouth Plantation. However, he made me think about what the Pilgrims really did have at their first harvest celebration banquet. I researched the question on the Internet, and found an interesting answer.

The only foods specifically mentioned by the Pilgrims concerning their three-day celebration are: fowling and deer, in addition to their harvest. According to writings dated around the same time, the harvest was most likely corn, barley and peas. Uncle Stephen could have been correct as fish was a common staple. But, there is no written confirmation of this, and their inclusion into the Pilgrim’s and Indian’s celebration would be mere conjecture.

Uncle Stephen’s opinion of the Pilgrim’s menu is probably based on incomplete and insufficient research. Not unlike many investors, it seems as if Uncle Stephen wants the outcome to include lobster and other shellfish, and constructs his research accordingly. Sometimes, investors don’t begin their research with an open mind, but rather are looking for justifications for a predetermined purchase or sale.

To make sure my mind is open to new ideas, I investigate a few competitors prior to buying into a new company position. By incorporating competitors into my research, sometime I find a better value than my original stock idea. Finding lists of competitors is easy. Finance.yahoo lists a few competitors as a basic research option. ValueLine segregates their research by industry, making comparisons effortless. Researching the holdings of industry and sector specific Exchange Traded Funds and indexes may provide interesting additional companies to research.

For example, I may decide to research shallow water oil-rig driller TODCO (THE). Three companies are listed competitors at finance.yahoo: Global Santa Fe Corp (GSF), Parker Drilling (PKD) and Pride International (PDE). TODCO falls in the oil well services industrial sector. According to information at the Industry Center at finance.yahoo, the largest companies in the sector are Schlumberger Ltd (SLB), Halliburton Co (HAL), and Baker Hughes Inc (BHI). Researching the holdings of Fidelity Select Energy Services ETF (FSESX) offered the opportunity to add Smith Int’l (SII), National Oilwell (NOI) and FMC Technology (FTI) to the list of prospects. Before I would make a final decision on TODCO, I would a least review the detailed company profile and calculate current stock valuation of each of these alternative investment options. This analysis allows me to reflect on the positioning of TODCO, as a company and as an investment, among its peers.

Conducting non-biased due diligence is critical to successful long–term investing. An inquisitive approach during the process may produce a few interesting and unexpected investment jewels. Incomplete research, or research that merely justifies a decision already made, is a sure path to investment underperformance.

By the way Uncle Stephen, according to my research, the following is an excerpt from a Dec. 11, 1621 journal entry by one of the Pilgrims and is the only known written description of the first Thanksgiving bill of fare:

"Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, among other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed upon our governor, and upon the captain, and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty."

Edward Winslow, Dec. 11, 1621, in A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth (Mourt's Relation: A Relation or Journal of the English Plantation settled at Plymouth in New England, by certain English adventurers both merchants and others.) Dwight Heath, ed. New York: Corinth Books, 1963, p. 82.

George C. Fisher is a 30-year veteran in DSP/DRIP investing. He is author of All About DRIPs and DSPs (McGraw Hill, 2001) and The StreetSmart Guide to Overlooked Stocks (McGraw Hill, 2002). Mr. Fisher is an avid dividend reinvestment advocate and utilizes the strategy with all dividend paying stocks, both at the broker and direct with the companies using their DRIP programs.