Even if the markets are rigged in favor of the big boys, the small guy can still make money by making long-term investments in companies that treat people well.



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 (NYSE:GE) is still losing money.

My most successful holding by far is IBM (NYSE: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 (NYSE: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 (NYSE: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.

That's not true for the speculators, for those who plunged on Pets.com or bought AIG (NYSE:AIG) in 2006. But it tends to even out and, at these levels, AIG doesn't look too bad.

I'm no great shakes as an investment adviser. I managed to lose money on Apple (NYSE:AAPL). I bought it too soon and sold it just as Steve Jobs walked back in. I have sometimes bought the wrong railroad, and I bought a global mutual fund just before the market crashed.

But when you bet on these markets, you're betting on America. I think that's a good bet, for 2013 and beyond. I see energy supplies increasing, I see renewable energy putting a floor under prices, and I see a host of new technologies coming to market over the next few years that will just amaze you.

I think now is a great time to put money to work, even in a rigged casino. Knowing I've been wrong before, that my timing isn't the best, I try to bet on solid companies with a track record of treating all their constituents -- including their employees -- with the same respect as their shareholders.

While it would be great to see a few more cops in the suites, knowing that the broken windows theory holds as true for the rich as it does for the poor, I still believe this market is a great place to be, and that things are going to be all right.

At the time of publication, the author was long GE, IBM, KO, AFL, AIG, and AAPL. Follow @DanaBlankenhorn

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.