Grandma Said Buy What You Know
June Spirer was anything but a typical six-year-old. On Friday nights, when her friends might have been playing with dolls or watching TV, June would curl up in her grandfather's lap and read the stock tables in the New York Herald Tribune. "It was just part of my life," says Spirer, now 50. After her grandpa died, Spirer's grandmother took over the family stock portfolio and continued Spirer's financial education. "She taught me to buy what I know," says Spirer.
That early training paid off. A marketing consultant and a psychologist in Manhattan and Southampton, N.Y. (where she owns the restaurant 75 Main), Spirer is also a highly successful investor. Divorced since her early 30s, she has amassed a $4 million portfolio on an annual salary that ranges from $100,000 to $200,000. Her account, split evenly between stocks and bonds, has had a total return of about 5% so far this year and an annualized three-year-return of approximately 25%. That is about seven percentage points better than the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index.
Although Spirer began her stock-market studies earlier than most investors, she relies on a financial adviser, Salomon Smith Barney Senior Vice-President Linda Rhodes, to plot strategies. With Rhodes, Spirer identified her investment goals and devised an asset-allocation plan to reach them. "I've a plan for everything else in my life, why not for my finances?" Spirer says.
She was entirely in equities until 1994. That aggressive strategy changed, however, after she adopted the first of her two sons, Teddy, now 6, and Liam, now 3. As a single mother, Spirer wanted to be sure "that if something happens to me, there is a ready source of income for my boys." So she put $2 million in municipal bonds--which most experts would agree is extremely conservative for someone her age. But with that cushion, Spirer is able to invest aggressively with her remaining funds. Including a separate retirement account, all of the assets are in equities, with as much as 40% of the portfolio in technology and biotech stocks. Her top holdings now include Nokia, Intel, Microsoft, America Online, Sun Microsystems, and Amgen. But she makes sure to keep each of these core stocks at 3% or less of the portfolio. When they climb past 10%, she sells off some of her shares, as she did with Amgen in January.
Spirer's love affair with tech stocks began back in 1984 when she bought a Compaq laptop to write her dissertation. Remembering her grandma's admonition to buy what you know, Spirer then purchased some Compaq stock. "Something told me this was the wave of the future," she says. Today, she gets new ideas and keeps up with the market by watching CNBC, reading The New York Times, consulting with Rhodes, and keeping her eyes and ears open.
For example, Spirer got the idea to buy Apple Computer in 1997, when everyone said it was all but dead. She knew a lot of movie folks who used an Apple film-editing system, and she knew Apple was big in educational software. What was the deciding factor? "When Bill Gates put money into Apple [in 1997], so did I." Apple shares now trade more than 500% higher.
BREATHER. Despite her enthusiasm for tech stocks, their pullback this spring came as little surprise. She had stopped buying last fall, about six months before they peaked. "Sooner or later, I knew there had to be a correction," she says. When the market fell, Spirer turned off her TV and computer for a week and even stopped reading the newspapers. "Now is the time to sit, wait, and let the market collect itself."
Although she says she's a long-term investor, Spirer disciplines herself to sell once she loses $5,000 to $7,000 on a position--as she did with Oxford Health Plans and Informex, a database company. She gets out "because I know my money could be working better elsewhere." And with her lifetime of interest in stocks, she has no trouble finding where to turn next.
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