Why Do Good People Invest in Bad Companies? A Robin Hood Redux Explaining Meme Stocks

Meme stocks have pitted heroes against villains over good and bad companies

Stephen Foerster
9 min readAug 7, 2023

--

Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne, woodcut print, Thomas Bewick, 1832; source: State Library of New South Wales, DSM/821.04/R/v. 1

I was recently asked by a student if I could review a short essay she wrote. It was for a first-round interview for a summer internship at an investment firm. I was intrigued by one of the questions: “Is XYZ a good or bad company? Why?” I’m not a philosopher, but it got me thinking: what do we really mean by a good or bad company? And I imagine that was the point — to make you think.

Around this time a reporter reached out asking my view on what was happening Tupperware’s stock price, “which has been on a wild tear recently.” Tupperware’s stock price had increased by over 500 percent in the past 10 days. Yet by the company’s own admission a few months earlier, there was “substantial doubt” that it would stay afloat. Wasn’t Tupperware clearly a “bad” company? What investor would be crazy enough to invest in it? And if they did, were they “bad” as well?

Tupperware: Let’s party!
First, some brief Tupperware history. It was founded in 1946 by Early Tupper. The main product was cutting-edge polyethylene plastic containers used for food storage. Brownie Wise, Vice President of Marketing, brilliantly created the at-home Tupperware party sales model that swept the U.S. in the 1950s and 1960s. The parties were a way for women to connect with old friends, make new ones, and have fun while earning money as a host. The parties not only drove Tupperware’s tremendous sales growth, but became an iconic cultural phenomenon, allowing stay-at-home women to balance family responsibilities while becoming entrepreneurs under the Tupperware umbrella.

Good and bad financial metrics
So, had Tupperware become a bad company, from a business valuation perspective? I figured I’d look at key financial metrics or ratios gleaned from their balance sheets and income statements. I considered four categories: liquidity, working capital, debt capacity, and profitability.

Liquidity ratios compare what a company needs to pay over the next year with assets that can be turned into cash fairly readily. More current assets than current…

--

--

Stephen Foerster

I’m a Finance prof, CFA, and author of In Pursuit of the Perfect Portfolio (with Andrew Lo). I write stories about investing. (I don’t give financial advice.)