Mother Makes
A Killing
On Stocks

Part I
Mother comes to me in my dreams and tells me what stocks to buy. Stop laughing: I don't make this up.

This stentorian voice never came to me until after she died in 1995. Now, from time to time, the moment I wake up, I have firmly planted in my brain the name of a stock and often its price.

It first happened a couple of years ago. "ADT at 25." I bought a hundred shares, it drifted down to 20, and dumb me, not believing Mother would actually leave such a bug in my ear --- sold out, only to have it soar (it got bought out by another company).

Mother was a stock nut. Starting when my Dad died, she turned from being a rather distracted Mum and party-goer to a full-time player of the market. Always the teacher, she formed her first investment club in 1955. "When your father passed on, I didn't know boo about stocks," she told us. He left her a small portfolio, which in the next forty years, she turned into a fairly sizable nut.

She studied stocks, and the market, endlessly --- not only in Barrons, and The Wall Street Journal, and Businessweek, and Forbes, but poring through Standard & Poors, reading annual reports --- most especially the all-important footnotes (which, as with Gibbon, often contain the most lurid information).

She was doing what Peter Lynch says to do, only she was doing it when he was still in diapers. Buy and hold, buy and hold. Her portfolio was chock-a-block full of stocks that she culled (counting splits) at bargain prices: Coca-Cola at 7, Philip Morris at 3, Winn-Dixie --- her all time favorite --- at 3-1/2, Florida Power and Light (later FPL) at 8-1/4, Pfizer at 12, American Express --- bought right after the canola oil scandal (remember that one?) at 15, Scott Paper at 6-1/2.

§     §     §

There were a couple of windfalls built into the portfolio: Dad did legal work for Paul Reinhold, founder of Foremost, and got paid in stock, so we ended up with Foremost Dairies (later Foremost-McKesson) at zilch. And there was an investment in a local garbage company, $10,000 as a favor to a friend, that turned into several thousand shares of Waste Management, Inc.

I suspect she would have dumped it when it got to fifty. She, like Warren Buffett, knew there were times when buy-now-sell-never is just plain wrong, knew there were times when management turns shifty and strange, like when her beloved R. J. Reynolds got involved in those leveraged buy-out shenanigans a dozen or so years ago. She was out of there in a trice.

By the end of her days, her one investment group had turned into thirty-five clubs, each with a couple of dozen members. Although most of her meetings were held at home, she was forever traveling to hell and gone, as she would phrase it, over north Florida and South Georgia to keep the ladies of Gainesville or Savannah or Tampa or Brunswick on the straight and narrow. Buy and hold.

Her clubs were for women only, she said, "So that they won't be in the same place I was when your Father died." Women in those days weren't expected to be smart with money, much less investors, but she didn't believe that a bit. She wanted to change the system, to be damned sure that when their time came to take charge of their own money her "ladies" --- she always called them that --- wouldn't be flying blind. At least, she said, they would know the difference between a tax-bill and a dividend check, between corporate income and corporate earnings, between the p/e ratio and annual return on invested dollar.

The thesis was simple. The investment club members --- with such exotic names as "The Gold Diggers," "The Hustlers," and "The Millionaires" --- would ante up twenty-five dollars a month. And each month, they would study an industry: February it would be utilities; March, drugs; April, banks; May, entertainment. Each of the members would dig through S&P and the business dailies and weeklies for information to bring to class. Each would give a report, and afterwards, they would vote on which stock to buy. In their time, some of the clubs hit the jackpot. Which my mother always discounted. "We're in it for the long run," she would sniff.

Go on to Part II

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