DIRTY OLD COAL is a funny thing: one of mankind's oldest forms of energy, it's a fundamental part of some of the world's most sought-after commodities, and it's as prevalent in North America as oil is in Saudi Arabia.
For many of the leaders halfway through The Blade's yearlong Stock Market Game, coal may be the new solar.
"Coal is the big hot stock right now," said Michael McHaffie, the 49-year-old Waterville resident who is in second place in the contest through the end of June. "I just had a feeling that the energy stocks were going to be doing really well."
Both Mr. McHaffie, whose portfolio has achieved 51 percent growth, and the contest's midway leader, Diane Stacy, 54, of Gibsonburg, whose stocks have gained 56 percent, have ridden to the lead on the strength of energy stocks, and more specifically, Alpha Natural Resources Inc.
Based in Virginia, Alpha produces high-quality, low-sulfur coal in upper Appalachia that is in high demand in both electricity plants and steel mills. And with energy and steel prices both soaring, Alpha's stock price has climbed 221 percent since the first of the year.
"The leaders are into a lot of coal, a lot of energy" stocks, explained Christina Wegner, a financial adviser with Smith Barney's Toledo office, a contest co-sponsor that is tabulating the results.
The leaders are bucking the tough stock market, she explained. Both the Dow Jones industrial average and the Nasdaq composite index are in bear territory, defined as 20 percent lower than their high points.
For the contest, participants had to assemble a hypothetical portfolio made up of two stocks from the New York Stock Exchange and two from the Nasdaq by Dec. 31, 2007, with each valued at $5 or more. Portfolios totaled $40,000, with each stock accounting for $10,000. A total of 875 people are participating.
The portfolio with the biggest gains by the end of this year will win. First prize is $200 in cash and a three-day/two night trip for two, including transportation and hotel, to Chicago, Toronto, or Tampa during 2009. Arrangements will be made by contest co-sponsor Central Travel of Toledo.and hotel, to Chicago, Toronto, or Tampa during 2009. Arrangements will be made by contest co-sponsor Central Travel of Toledo.
Second place receives $300 in cash and third place $200.
Only 114 entries, or 13 percent, have had growth in their portfolios, Ms. Wegner said.
Along with Alpha, Mrs. Stacy's portfolio is made up of Canadian Solar Inc., Emcore Corp., and National Oilwell Varco Inc. Emcore is her only holding that has lost value, down 59 percent from Jan. 1 to June 30. The portfolio is valued at $62,555.
Her husband, Dan, 55, is in third place in the contest. His portfolio, which has increased 48 percent to $59,285, has First Solar Inc., Fording Canadian Coal Trust, Oracle Corp., and Swift Energy Co.
Mr. Stacy said he did much of the research for his and his wife's picks. "We went over some of the different ones and then we kind of split them down the middle. Actually, I gave her the ones I didn't think would do as well."
He said he viewed energy-sector investments as hedges against the economic downturn. "I don't think I thought it was going to be quite as bad as it was or as quick as it was, but I thought it was going to start turning that way," he said.
In addition to Alpha, Mr. McHaffie's second-place portfolio has Evergreen Solar Inc., Hess Corp., and Dryships Inc. and has grown 51 percent to a value of $60,591.
Contestants had the opportunity last month to exchange one of the stocks for another. About 100 did so, Ms. Wegner said.
A portfolio chosen randomly by members of The Blade's business news staff finished the month in 312th place, with a 10 percent loss at $35,854.
The next highest leaders are:
Mary Schultz, of Blissfield, whose portfolio is up 42 percent at $56,831; Anthony Harwood, Monroe, Mich., $55,369; Leonard Giesige, Hamler, Ohio, $53,470; Steve Scheltz, Columbus, $52,995; John Gilbert, Toledo, $52,006; Dick Green, Maumee, $51,922; and Anthony Thomas, Perrysburg, $51,735.
Also, Andrew Thies, Toledo, $51,545; Peter Genot, Sylvania, $50,518; Jim D'Lamater, Olivet, Mich., $50,412; Harold Hamilton, Northwood, $50,265; Nancy Thorley, Toledo, $49,580; Jon Dresher, Grand Rapids, Ohio, $49,481; Natalie Tucker, Temperance, $49,470; Casey Black, Toledo, $48,958; Ronald Wingate, Millbury, $48,514, and Paul Dymarkowski, Toledo, $48,295.
Contact Larry P. Vellequette at: