Making Money in a Rigged Casino

Tickers in this article: AAPL AFL AIG GE IBM KO

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Over Christmas I got a kind note from someone who wants to be a better Santa Claus for their family.

Santa had read Monday's piece, "Wall Street is a Casino in the Clouds" and asked whether, if it's all rigged, why do we even bother?

I replied that just because the market is rigged that doesn't mean you can't win there. If you don't speculate, but invest, and if you look for honest companies run by honest people, then most of the time you will do OK.

For proof, I went to my own portfolio, which I maintain at Seeking Alpha , adding each issue as I buy it, taking it out as I sell. Over all, I'm $27,000 ahead of where I was four years ago, even though I still have some global mutual funds that remain underwater, and even though my 1998 bet on General Electric (GE) is still losing money.

My most successful holding by far is IBM (IBM) , which has more than doubled this decade. I bought 100 shares at about $90, I've reinvested dividends, and now I have 116 shares that trade at about $190 each.

I've also done great with Coca-Cola (KO) , which I bought out of local loyalty (I live in Atlanta) some years ago, at about $48. It's now at $36, but it also has split, so with dividends reinvested I have 255 shares. Nice.

It's a similar story with AFLAC (AFL) , which is based in Columbus, Ga., and which I used to write about when I first came to Atlanta, at the Atlanta Business Chronicle . I got in at $64, watched a split happen, reinvested the dividends and I now have 145 shares worth more than $53 each.

But my best investment, by far, is an index fund that tracks the S&P 500 . Back when I was at ZDNet, and was told specifically not to invest in anything I wrote about, I put much of my cash in this fund, some $43,000. That's now worth more than $53,000.

It all reminds me of the very first investment I ever made, when I was 13 years old. It was a computer services stock, now long dead, and it was trading at $20 a share. My dad had started the account for me, but it was my money, and the broker explained how his commission, and the difference between bid and asked, would eat into any gains.

But I played anyway. The stock eventually ran up to $80 a share.

The point is, while the casino is rigged, it's still a bet on a growing economy. Most of these horses come in, sooner or later. Even with the meltdowns of 2000 and 2008, most investors who didn't panic have made out OK.