N.Y. investors awaken to a researcher's 'reveille'
It's 7:27 a.m. WINS all-news radio clicks on. ''And here's the stock market report from Larry Wachtel, vice-president for research at Bache Halsey Stuart Shields. . . .''
For the past four years, waking New Yorkers have heard this every morning. They listen to Mr. Wachtel talk about which way the market is likely to turn that day, what the economic news will be, and what the latest merger news is. They turn to him as a leading authority on the stock market.
The commentary, never running more than a minute and a half, is done in a certain New Yorkese, often interwoven with allusions to Reggie Jackson, the Yankees' erstwhile hero, or other sports references. One day recently he explained the latest Mobil Corporation bid for US Steel, concluding, ''The fur is going to fly.''
Wachtel, with his daily minute and a half, has made a niche for himself in the investment community. His own brokerage house calls him the ''Voice of Bache.'' Robert W. Farrell, the head of Bache's domestic branch network, calls him ''a rare asset.'' And an account executive at Shearson/American Express, a competing brokerage house, says, ''He's fairly helpful; he tells you what key reports are coming out; he's got a good sense of humor and he's a pretty good technician.'' The executive listens to Wachtel regularly.
Mr. Wachtel has appeared on ''Wall Street Week,'' ''Moneyline'' (a cable TV show), and the new ''Nightly Business Report'' on PBS. His market commentary runs on eight Group W radio stations around the country, and 18 other stations give Bache free radio time in return for running the comments. He is frequently quoted in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.
Not everyone is enamored of him. ''Sometimes I hear negative comments about my breezy New York jargon,'' Wachtel says, adding, ''Some radio stations choose to edit, some run it like it is.'' And when he was critical of the new administration recently for changing its story on the budget deficit, he heard from a former senior executive of Bache. Once when Wachtel reminded his male listeners not to forget ''the little woman'' on Valentine's Day, he got all kinds of negative comments from woman listeners.
A typical day for Wachtel begins when a limousine picks him up at 5:45 a.m. at his modest house in Yonkers, N.Y. During the half hour ride to Bache's headquarters building in the financial district, he reads the newspapers, making sure to look at Dan Dorfman's column in the Daily News.
Work doesn't finish with the end of his office day, though. Wachtel also watches three cable television business programs each night. In fact, he says, one of the ''penalties'' of the job is that he can't read a novel. ''I read about five minutes,'' he says, ''and I say, 'I can't read this, there's no information here. I should be reading a Value Line (report on a company).' '' And when he goes on vacation, he considers it ''successful'' if he's near a place that sells the Wall Street Journal.
Once he's in his office, Wachtel starts typing his script. Although there is no set formula, he tries to let investors know if something important is on the calendar or tell them of the likely effect of breaking news stories on the market. He will poke fun at the administration. For example, his favorite line when President Carter was in office was, ''Break out the maple syrup, he's waffling again.'' He chides the Reagan administration on its budget projections, too. These comments, the analyst says, are not so much his own as a reflection of what investors are thinking, the mood of the market.
By 7:15 a.m. he's on the air. WINS tapes his comments and plays them 12 minutes later. The same script, slightly enlarged, is then given to a teletype operator, who sends it out to Bache's 200 offices. The 18 radio stations pick it up from there. At the same time, he makes a telephone tape of his comments. In one day, 221 phone calls came in to listen to the tape.
At 8:30 he goes into a daily meeting held by the Bache research staff to discuss the news of the day, its impact on the stock market, and any overnight news that might affect the thousands of listed stocks. He is back at his desk typing these notes at 9 o'clock. The report then moves out on the Bache wire. ''The whole point of my comments and the reports on the wire,'' he explains, ''is to give our 3,000 salesmen a product to sell. Maybe we can focus on something important for them.''
In fact, Wachtel's drive to aid Bache's sales force is astonishing. Recently he was invited to speak before the Long Island Society of Pharmacists, after his normal 10-hour day. He agreed to go out to Plainview, Long Island, and speak to the 100 pharmacists if he could bring along three or four account executives. He doesn't get paid for these engagements. On a recent trip to the West Coast, he gave speeches in Palo Alto, San Jose, and San Francisco, all in one day. When he gives them, he will stay to answer the last question from the audience.
Wachtel also writes a weekly column called ''The Week Ahead.'' It is often sent to local newspapers under the byline of a local stockbroker. This doesn't bother Wachtel, who says, ''It may get the salesman a few leads.''
Throughout the day, Wachtel works in Bache's news bureau with Hildegard Zagorski, who has been his work partner for 12 years. The team answers anywhere from 100 to 200 phone calls a day, mostly from Bache brokers. ''We try to act as a buffer between the analyst and the brokers,'' Wachtel explains. On one recent day, 90 percent of the calls concerned the Mobil-Marathon-US Steel takeover battle. The team also fielded a lot of calls about takeover rumors. At one point , Wachtel was trying to calm down a broker excited about a rumor he heard about a Merrill Lynch-MGIC merger. Later that day, someone else heard that MGIC was going to be bought out by a different firm.
All the takeover rumors bother the analyst. ''Brokers today think the only way to make a buck is to be riding a takeover,'' he explains. ''No one wants to invest for values these days.'' When Bache brokers ask him what he likes, he tells them IBM.
How long will he keep doing the comments? ''Well, the sales staff is getting younger,'' he says, ''so I guess when I can't speak their language anymore . . . .''
The stock market continued to do its minuet last week: one day up, one day down. At this point, analysts point out, tax selling and portfolio switching have started to have a greater effect than the economic news. For the week, the Dow Jones industrial average closed at 886.51, down 6.18 points. Volume was heavy all week.