HORSE RACES aren t decided at the halfway pole, and year-long contests don t finish after six months, but halfway through The Blade s annual Stock Market Game, a west Toledo woman appears to be pulling away from the pack.
Susan Darmofal, 61, had an imaginary port-folio of $106,287 by the end of June a remarkable 166 percent gain on the hypothetical $40,000 investment that all 681 contestants started with at the beginning of the year.
Her closest competitor, Kathleen Ansted of Holland, is $19,282 behind, at $87,005.
In third is Marlene Farkas of Toledo, nearly $29,000 off the pace.
It s pretty unbelievable how far she s pulled ahead, said Scott Anderson, a financial adviser at the Toledo office of Smith Barney, a contest co-sponsor that tabulates monthly results.
Mrs. Darmofal powered to the lead largely on the strength of one Nasdaq stock, Seattle biotech firm Dendreon Corp., which is building a $50 million plant in New Jersey to manufacture its promising prostate cancer drug, Provenge.
The drug has passed its phase 3 drug trials, and is expected to be approved by the Food and Drug
Administration next year for human use.
The stock, which trades under the ticker symbol DNDN, started the year at $4.58 and closed June 30 at $25.
They ve already started building a factory for [Dendreon], so I assume it s going to go through, and I think it has the potential to go to $30, said Mrs. Darmofal, who owns the stock in real life. I d hate to dump it and have it continue to go up on me.
June marked the third month in a row that Mrs. Darmofal has led the contest. All four of her stock picks are in the black mining firm Thompson Creek Metals Co. is up over 156 percent, DVR maker Tivo Inc. is up 46 percent, and gold-mining firm Yamana Gold Inc. is up 14.5 percent.
Too bad there isn t a half-year prize, Mrs. Darmofal joked last week. Her husband, Robert, won The Blade s stock contest in 2001 and has frequently been among the leaders in past years. Another biotech company, Scios, powered Mr. Darmofal to victory nine years ago.
A biotech stock either makes you or breaks you, Mrs. Darmofal said. They can be flying high and they get some bad news and the thing will go to zilch.
Contestants had to select two New York Stock Exchange and two Nasdaq stocks, worth at least $3 a share, by Dec. 31, 2008. An imaginary $40,000 was divided evenly among the four picks.
Last month, contestants were given the opportunity to exchange one stock for another on the same exchange. Mr. Anderson said only about 50 contestants altered their portfolios, either by capturing gains or cutting losses.
The top portfolio by year s end wins $200 and a trip to Chicago, Toronto, or Tampa, courtesy of contest co-sponsor Central Travel of Toledo. Second place gets $300, and third place gets $200.
Unlike last year s contest, the vast majority of contestants right now are in the black, Mr. Anderson said.
Nearly 500 of the 681 including an entry of random picks by The Blade business news staff had hypothetical portfolio values in excess of $40,000 at the end of June.
If you look at the first quarter, not many people were [in the black]. At that point, everybody kept feeling that we were just going to keep falling into a black hole, Mr. Anderson explained. Now the great majority of people are expecting the economy to rebound. I think it s kind of a good lesson for us in that it can rebound pretty fast, and that s what we ve seen.
Although she trails Mrs. Darmofal, Ms. Ansted s portfolio is still comfortably in second place. As in May, all four of her stocks finished June with substantial returns Canadian mining firm Teck Resources Ltd. was up 224 percent, Russian mining firm Mechel OAO was up 188 percent, and solar firms Ascent Solar Technologies Inc. and Solarfun Power Holdings were up 180 and 29 percent, respectively.
Like Mrs. Darmofal, Ms. Farkas also holds Thompson Creek Metals, and also has all four stocks in positive territory. Energy storage company Maxwell Technologies Inc. was up 173 percent since Jan. 1, online giant Google Inc. was up 37 percent, and pipeline company Enbridge Inc. was up 7 percent.
Along with the top three competitors, the other top leaders and their portfolio values through June are: Aaron Howell, Tiffin, $75,215; John Shavalier, St. Clair Shores, Mich., $68,202; Jon Drescher, Grand Rapids, Mich., $67,367; Natalie Schulze, Toledo, $67,274; Charles Hoecherl, Monclova Township, $66,814; Deb Pawlaczyk, $66,623, Toledo; and Ken Weislak, Perrysburg; $66,609.
The next highest leaders are: Gretchen Drummond, Oregon, $66,605; Brian Hall, Sylvania, $65,542; Dave Kvales, Toledo, $65,268; Michael Dennis, Toledo, $64,405; Ivan Finney, Sylvania, $63,915; Barbara Lynn, Oregon, $63,707; Jim Spotts, Petersburg, Mich., $63,681; Eleanore Darmofal, Toledo, $63,495; Tom Runnells, Sylvania, $63,203; and Greg Dienstberger, Perrysburg, $63,147.
Larry P. Vellequette