In The Blade's Stock Market Game, only 37 of nearly 1,000 participant portfolios were in the black at the end of September, and one family has four of the top five spots.
Construction worker Tim Franks, who lives north of Van Buren near the Hancock-Wood county line, was first with a portfolio that has increased 60 percent to $63,913 since he started the contest with a hypothetical $40,000 at the beginning of the year. He has led since May and his family members have been regulars in the top 10 places.
Through September, his mother-in-law, Lyda McGrew, of Northwood, was second with $52,831; his father-in-law, Phil McGrew, a Jeep worker who picked all the stocks for the family, was third with $50,217; and his wife, Michelle Franks, a teacher, was fifth with $47,616.
Compared with The Blade's last year-long stock contest, held in 1999, the family's returns have been inconsequential. At the end of September that year, the leader's $40,000 portfolio had grown 234 percent to $133,691.
The participant whose hypothetical four-stock portfolio grows the most by year's end wins a trip for two to Disney World in Orlando, Fla., or to Las Vegas. The trip is contributed by contest co-sponsor Atlas World Travel. The standings are calculated by another co-sponsor, the Sylvania Township office of Salomon Smith Barney. Second prize is $300 and third prize is $100.
Mr. Franks' best-gaining stock so far, Fleming Cos., Inc. (FLM), a supermarket and convenience store operator, increased to $29.50 a share by the end of September from $11.81. His other gainers were Citadel Communications Corp. (CITC), a radio broadcaster, which has jumped to $26 from $12, and Capstead Mortgage Corp. (CMO), a mortgage-investment and real-estate trust firm that has increased to $28.28 from $21.75.
But he also has Raining Data Corp., (RDTA), a software developer whose shares dropped to $2.55 from $14.
Mr. Franks' leading portfolio this summer would not have ranked in the top 10 in any of the comparable months in 1999. But the market has been vastly different all year - and changed substantially after Sept. 11 terrorist strikes.
“You go back to any dreadful event and the same thing happens: The immediate response is typical - overreaction,” said Steve Mayor, first vice president of investments at the local Smith Barney office.
He pointed optimistically to lower interest rates and more money than ever held in money market accounts - some of which seems bound to go into stocks in coming months.
“That doesn't mean you should be reckless and throw darts,” he said of investors' decisions with real money.
However, dart tosses are bettering the professionals in the contest. The Blade's dartboard portfolio - four stocks chosen at random by reporters - had increased 10 percent at the end of last month to $43,996, ranking it 13th among the overall contestants and easily beating the five professional challengers. The pros, who are stock brokers and investment experts, are not eligible for the prizes.
Other leaders in the contest through September were Steve Schulze of Toledo, fourth with $49,838; Erika Rizzo of Sylvania, sixth with $47,191; George Rywalski of Toledo, seventh with $47,180; Jeff Sabin of Maumee, eighth with $46,668; Robin Conrad of Sylvania, ninth with $45,451; and Dorothy Van Tassel of Toledo, 10th with $44,325.