Why It's OK to Sell a Great Company

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I'm a big fan of viewing stock ownership as more than just owning a virtual piece of paper. I like to think of it as owning a living, breathing organization that is constantly adapting. Not only is this a realistic way of viewing the situation -- shareholders are, after all, owners of publicly traded companies -- but it also helps me keep the long-term view I need to have any chance of beating the market.

So it was with surprise that I recently decided to sell a part of my stake in one of my favorite companies, lululemon athletica (NAS: LULU) , for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with a change in the company, its potential, or its corporate culture.

Explosive growth
Back in 2010, I started doing some research on lululemon. As an avid runner, I started to see more and more women wearing the lulu brand. I thought that lulu could become to female athletes what Under Armour (NYS: UA) has become to many male athletes: the athletic retailer of choice.

With less than 100 stores in the United States, a smart growth strategy, a unique advertising approach (the company provides its gear to yoga instructors for free), and plans to be in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, the Philippines, New Zealand, and Australia in the near future, lululemon still has a ton going for it.

The company is also one of the few in the high-end retail sector that can claim to generate positive cash flow from its operations throughout the calendar year, appearing very resilient to seasonal trends.

Company

Q3 2011

Q2 2011

Q1 2011

Q4 2010

Under Armour($42.4)$1.8($85.5)$82.0
Deckers (NAS: DECK) ($143.9)($82.0)$3.6$201.8
Columbia Sportswear (NAS: COLM) ($154.0)($24.4)$36.4$131.6
Wolverine World Wide (NYS: WWW) ($19.4)$63.0($82.8)$60.2
lululemon athletica$53.4*$13.9$5.6$92.1

Source: Yahoo! Finance. All numbers in millions.
*Numbers for Q3 2010, as the company has yet to announce Q3 2011 figures.

An aside: If those numbers leave you wondering how the rest of these companies manage to stay afloat, remember that the fourth quarter tends to be their largest, and cash flow is expected to grow during the current quarter.

So what's the problem?
With so many things going in lulu's favor, you might be wondering why I parted ways with some of my shares. The answer is quite simple.

When I bought shares last year for a split-adjusted $26, I rounded it out to a little over 5% of my portfolio. Given the company's explosive growth over the past 12 months, lulu was approaching a full 10% of my portfolio and was one of my largest holdings.

I have no problem placing large bets on companies when I believe they have "multiple futures"; these are companies that don't fit nicely into one industry because they effectively have their hands in many at one time. My favorite example of a company with multiple futures is Google (NAS: GOOG) . Sure, it's a search and advertising business, but it also has its hands in mobile telephones, YouTube, its Chrome browser, even alternative energy!

The best of both worlds
When it comes down to it, I don't see lululemon as an example of a company with multiple futures. As such, I simply didn't feel comfortable having it occupy such a dominant part of my portfolio.

Does that mean I sold all my shares? No way! Too often in investing, we think we need to place big, make-or-break bets on certain companies. This certainly isn't Foolish, nor is it good for our health. By selling a portion of my lululemon shares, I made it easier for myself to sleep easy at night, knowing I wasn't relying on the company to continue growth at a breakneck pace.

By the same token, I'm proud to still have it as part of my portfolio. I love what the company has done and what it stands for. Should it one day usurp the likes of Nike (NYS: NKE) in the athletic world, I won't do as well as if I'd held on to all of my shares, but that's just fine. I'll still end up with more money than I put in, and in the end, I think that's what we all hope for.

A stock with great opportunity for multiple futures
As I said, though I reduced my position in lululemon because it had grown too large, I have no problem allowing certain companies to run unabated for years. Those companies, though, need to have multiple futures. If you want to hear about one company that could be rewriting the rules of how we pay for things for years to come, I encourage you check out our special free report: "Your Credit Card May Soon Be Worthless ... Here's Why." Inside this video report, you'll find out all about near field communications (NFC) and what company stands to benefit from the many ways in which this technology could change the way we do business. The report is yours today, absolutely free!

At the time this article was published Fool contributorBrian Stoffelowns shares of lululemon athletica, Deckers and Google. You can follow him on Twitter at@TMFStoffel. The Motley Fool owns shares of lululemon athletica, Google, and Under Armour.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Columbia Sportswear, Nike, Google, lululemon athletica, Deckers Outdoor, and Under Armour, creating a bear put spread position in Deckers Outdoor, and creating a diagonal call position in Nike. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.

Copyright © 1995 - 2011 The Motley Fool, LLC. All rights reserved. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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