Tales of the swift and not-so-swift in the bull market
In every major stock market move there are winners and losers. Some people time the market's move precisely and walk away smiling; some don't believe the market will continue in that direction and don't do anything; and, still others bet that everyone else is wrong. The following are unconfirmed tales told by stockbrokers about the current bull market in stocks. Tale 1: S&P futures, a risky game.
Angelo and Freddie are two enterprising stockbrokers who work for a medium-sized brokerage house. In previous bull markets, Angelo explains, you had two worries: catching the stock market and figuring out which stocks to buy. This time Angelo and Freddie have only one worry: riding the market in the right direction. They are buying and selling futures contracts on the Standard & Poor's 500 index. It is the ''best game in town,'' says Angelo, who claims that so far he personally has made more money by betting that the market would go down rather than up.
The trading in futures, says Angelo, is very fast. Hence his customers are in and out of the market three to four times a day. ''For the person who thinks he can call the market turns,'' states Angelo, ''this is the way to prove it.'' And , some of Angelo's customers sit at home with their own ticker tapes - which Angelo says helps them to hone their skills at calling market turns. To buy one contract on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, it takes $6,000 in cash. This controls about $50,000 worth of stock. However, for day traders - who jump in and out during the day - like Freddie or Angelo's customers, the cost of buying one contract is only $3,000.
Freddie says a client who invested $3,000 a week ago, already has doubled his money. With such success on the ''Merc,'' Angelo and Freddie are eyeing the gold markets where the price of gold has gone up even faster than the stock market. Tale 2: Out on a limb.
John, a stockbroker in New Jersey, tells a sad tale. He knows some customers (not his, he assures us) who were selling ''naked calls'' on Merrill Lynch stock.
A call gives an individual the right to buy a stock at an agreed-upon price within a specified time frame. Normally, an investor sells a call when he owns the stock. This is a conservative strategy; it gives the customer some cushion should the stock price fall, since he gets to keep the price of the call. However, to sell a call without owning the stock, which is called writing a naked call, is highly risky. Should the stock go, up your potential loss is unlimited.
For some speculators, this danger is not out of the question. Since the market rise, says John, Merrill Lynch stock has gone from $23 per share to $34 per share. If daily volume stays at the 100-million-share level, he wonders, how high can the broker stocks go? Some of the investors, he says, still haven't taken their losses. Tale 3: Listening to Henry.
Peter sells stocks to institutions located in the southeastern part of the country.
When the big buying surge hit Wall Street, he says, some of his customers got caught with a ''very, very large'' part of their assets in Treasury bills. One client in particular, ''a very, very large'' bank in Atlanta, was a follower of Henry Kaufman, the Salomon Brothers partner.
The bank was waiting for ''The Collision'' in the financial marketplace between the government as a borrower and the private sector. Mr. Kaufman had long predicted this would occur. It was the financial world's equivalent of an end-of-the-world forecast.
Now that Mr. Kaufman's prediction of gloom and doom hasn't occurred, Peter says ''the bank is trying to figure out what to buy. They finally realize they missed the first big move in the market and panic has set in.''
The same broker recalls another client with the trust division of a medium-sized New York City bank. Two weeks before the market turned, he says, the bank trust manager, Jim, became fully invested in the stock market. The last time Jim made such a move was in fall of 1974 prior to a 200 point surge in the Dow Jones industrial average. Tale 4: A late shift.
Tony quit his job as head of a bank trust department in New Jersey about a year ago and joined a major brokerage house there. The manager of the office recalls that he hired Tony even though he had never been a stock broker and was 58 years old. He liked his credentials. A national publication had named Tony the top trust manager of the year in two out of the past ten years.
But, when Tony got to the brokerage house he didn't like the looks of the stock market and kept his clients, small pension funds and corporate executives, 100 percent out of the market.
On Thursday, Aug. 26, after the Dow had already soared 110 points in 10 sessions, Tony changed his mind and put his clients into the stock market. That day, the stock market surged 7.52 points, on a record 137 million shares.
In a memo to his clients Tony told them he had four reasons why he was suddenly joining the stampeding herd. First, he said, both short and long-term interest rates were declining for the first time in a long time. Second, the Federal Reserve Board had lowered the discount rate and raised its money supply targets. Third, he felt Congress and the administration were trying to reduce the inflationary pressures of the deficit even it meant raising taxes. And fourth, there was a chance the economy might be turning - a factor that couldn't be verified for three to six months.
Not only did Tony's customers bite, but Tony also worked up the rest of the brokerage house. The ''buy'' orders from the firm's Garden State office swelled. Tony told his customers to buy 15 stocks. The list got passed around the brokerage house, prompting still more buy orders. His stock picks were: Allied Corporation; Carter Hawley Hale; Dravo Corporation; Entex Inc.; Foxboro Company; General Tire; Honeywell; Libby-Owens-Ford; Payless Cashways; J. C. Penney; Schlumberger; Westinghouse; Williams Companies.; Standard Oil (Ohio); and J. P. Morgan.
Since his recommendations, the stocks are up slightly.