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New Money Panel steps up

Meet five of the almost 500 readers who have signed up to share their financial opinions and experiences.

By HELEN HUNTLEY, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published November 10, 2002


You won't catch Nick Glover moping about the stock market's huge losses.

"I think this is a good time to buy stocks," said the lawyer from Odessa. "I think retailers will have a hard time this Christmas, but I think there will be a pretty good recovery next year. I'm pretty positive about the stock market in the long term."

Glover is among the almost 500 members of the new Times Money Panel, readers who have signed up to share their thoughts about making, saving and spending money over the coming months.

Sixty-three percent of those who responded to our Money Panel request said they own individual stocks, and 59 percent own stock mutual funds. A whopping 73 percent described themselves as interested in following the stock market's ups and downs -- including one reader who wrote that she has no idea what stocks she owns because somebody else handles all her investments.

Many also have money in bonds: 17 percent own individual bonds, 30 percent bond mutual funds and 29 percent U.S. savings bonds. Cash has fans too: 58 percent own money-market funds, and 36 percent have bank certificates of deposit.

A fair number also have insurance investments. Twenty percent said they own variable annuities, 16 percent fixed annuities and 18 percent life insurance as an investment. Less popular investments include rental real estate, 12 percent; rare coins, 11 percent; and gold, 7 percent.

The oldest person to submit a form is 94, the youngest 11. Sixty percent of those who responded to our request are men. Most said their incomes fall between $30,000 and $80,000 a year. Only 20 percent have children living at home.

Whatever their success rate in the stock market, five of the new Money Panel members proved lucky in registering to participate: Each won a drawing for one of five prizes. Glover, the lawyer, won a $50 shopping spree at International Plaza.

Nancy Johnson, a retired nurse in St. Petersburg who won tickets to Fosse at the Mahaffey Theater, shares Glover's optimism about a stock market comeback. Real estate broker Kevin Horan of New Port Richey, who won two tickets to Cirque du Soleil, is so upbeat he is already putting money to work, most recently buying shares of Home Depot.

But Billie Henson, a computer analyst who lives in Riverview and won tickets to the Tampa Bay Lightning, remains soured on stocks after watching her retirement savings plan shrink.

"From what I can tell, things are getting a little better than they have been the last couple years, but I wouldn't say it's safe to get into stocks yet," she said. Henson said she is sticking with CDs for now.

Retired accountant Richard Dieckman, 80, of Beverly Hills, who won tickets to Cabaret at Ruth Eckerd Hall, is also a pessimist, and outspoken about it. "The market stinks," he said. "I think it could possibly go lower. I suspect the Dow could go into the 7,000s. I don't think it's a particularly good time to invest." Over the coming months, dozens of Money Panel members will be contacted by telephone or e-mail for articles about personal finance and the economy.

-- Helen Huntley can be reached at huntley@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8230.

KEVIN HORAN, 47, New Port Richey

Married, four children

Occupation: Self-employed Realtor affiliated with ReMax

Best investment: "Merck, the first stock I ever bought. I bought it for about $13 a share and sold it for $29. After that it went up into the $80s, but I made a great profit."

Worst investment: "I was a commodities broker, and one summer the Midwest was getting flooded and grains were going crazy. I invested $3,000 in soybeans, and almost overnight I doubled that. I bought more contracts and eventually lost every single penny of that money."

Lessons learned: "Diversification is key. We invest in real estate. I look to pick up deals on under-market-price houses, fix them up and resell them. We do prepayments on our mortgage every month. We have money in individual stocks."

Investment style: Hands on. "I take Value Line and do my research on stocks. I'm not a believer in mutual funds."

Investment goal: "I'm investing for retirement. I don't want to work seven days a week, 24 hours a day for the rest of my life. I think my investments will help me get there in the next four to five years. I won't stop working, but I'll have enough money that if I felt like stopping working I could. I want the mental security of being financially set."

BILLIE HENSON, 35, Riverview

Single, teenage son

Occupation: Systems analyst-programmer for Publix Supermarkets in Lakeland

Best investment: "The safest one I ever made, my IRA CD. I got just under 6 percent for a five-year CD a little over a year ago. I decided it was better to have a little bit coming in rather than losing a whole lot. I want something there when I'm ready for it."

Worst investment: "The choices i made for my 401(k.) I work in the information systems industry, and unfortunately, those were the worst types of stocks you could get your hand on."

Lessons learned: "Definitely check out stuff, thoroughly research it, then go with your gut feeling on it."

Investment style: "I prefer to stay away from the market."

Investment goal: "Having enough money. My son is getting ready to go to college in a couple of years, so we're making sure things are in place the best we can."

NICK GLOVER, 46, Odessa

Married

Occupation: Lawyer. Laid off by Nextel Communications last January; started a new job this week at Bay Area Legal Services in New Port Richey.

Best investment: Participating in automatic stock purchase program with Barnett Banks Inc.

Worst investment: Lucent Technologies. "I paid $80-something, about $43 after the split. I sold it for about $7. That one hurt."

Lessons learned: "Really research a company's debt and be wary of investing in under-$5 stocks."

Investment style: "We have most of our accounts through Fidelity. I can check my account and buy and trade online. We put a few hundred a month directly into one fund, doing the dollar cost averaging thing. We've continued accumulating shares with Bank of America and the dividend reinvestment plan."

Investment goal: "I'd like to be able to retire before the age of 60, maybe at 55 or so, and have extra money for travel."

NANCY JOHNSON, 67, St. Petersburg

Married, two grown children

Occupation: Retired. Worked 30 years as an operating room nurse.

Best investment: "I was living in Oregon (in the 1960s), and I saw in the newspaper that a bank was selling shares at $10 a share. I bought 50. About 20 years ago, I added $5,000 to that original investment. The bank has changed names and been acquired, and now I have 3,000 shares of Washington Mutual. Every year it pays me $3,000 in dividends."

Worst investment: "Enron. Usually I don't take the suggestion of whoever my broker is, but he asked me if I'd be interested, and I'm sure I said yes. I have 200 shares. I don't remember what I paid for it."

Lessons learned: "Begin when you're young. It's a good idea to buy and hold, although you do have to pay attention. It's a good idea to invest in what you know."

Investment style: "I buy banks and utilities. I believe in stocks that pay a dividend. I don't like mutual funds, although I have some. I would rather just own the stock. I have some bonds and CDs, too."

Investment goal: "I'd like to be able to enjoy the money that I have, and I would like it to last my lifetime."

RICHARD DIECKMAN, 80, Beverly Hills

Married, five grown children

Occupation: Retired from career in corporate accounting

Best investment: Tax-exempt mutual funds

Worst investment: Enron. "I accumulated by hard-earned money 863 shares of Portland General Electric Co. Enron bought it, and I ended up with 1,694 shares of Enron after a 2-for-1 split. I had $15,000 invested. It was worth about $135,000 two or three years ago. Now it's worth about $80. Thieves like (Enron executives) Fastow, Skilling and Lay should all be locked up. They're nothing more than common crooks. They stole the shareholders' funds."

Lessons learned: "I don't know if I've learned anything. In the last 20 years, I've probablyjust about broken even in the stock market. You don't stand a chance against these sharpies."

Investment style: "I make my own decisions. I read the financial statements; they're duck soup for me. The trouble is the numbers you read today are not necessarily true because the management is lying."

Investment goal: "Mainly income, although I could exist on my Social Security, pension and fixed annuities."

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