Women of Wealth Investment Club hits 25 years of learning intricacies of stock market
Friends who invest together stay together, right?
If they’ve got a sense of humor, a stomach for uncertainty, and an ability to stay on-course, they do.
Last week, the 15 members of the Women of Wealth Investment Club — a name more aspirational than actual — marked their quarter-century together with a whirlwind limousine tour of local powerhouses in their portfolio: Ford Motor Company world headquarters, Google and an original McDonald’s in Ann Arbor. The Motown-themed day included champagne in commemorative flutes, photos at Ford, a visit to the Motown Museum, dinner at The Whitney, and a sweep through the MGM Grand.
''Everything went without a hitch,'' says Patricia Chapman, a charter member of WOW. Members were somewhat flattered when a security guard at Ford tried to shoo them away because of concerns about ''sabotage.''
The jaunt was not at all typical for this set, many of them retired school teachers and administrators who got together in 1988 at the height of the investment club-craze. They have weathered births, deaths, marriages and divorces together, along with the ups and downs of the stock market, which included the evisceration of their pensions and 401Ks in 2008 to a loss of $200,000 from their portfolio.
“When we started the club, we had three things we were looking for. Number one, education about investing in the stock market; number two, the collegiality of the group; and three, making money,’’ says WOW club President Ginger Gajar, a 68-year-old retired Huron High School math teacher now in charge of tracking the individual and collective performance of their stocks. “I think we’ve been successful in all three.’’
She says the club’s portfolio is valued at about a half-million dollars.
The club has held out while other investment clubs have disbanded — even if members have talked about folding, she says.
‘’A lot of people who got together with the main goal of investing. When the market tanked and their portfolios went down, it was easy to say 'this isn't fun anymore,'" Gajar says. ‘’But friendship is a binding factor for the group.’’'
Personal values serve as a guide for most of the club’s investment decisions, says Chapman, who retired 10 years ago as principal of Bach Elementary, and no decision is made without a vote. Some of the factors that influence whether to invest in a stock are if any women occupy high positions in the corporation and what the company produces. WOW has never invested in tobacco giant Phillip Morris, or Waste Management, because of its defense contracting work.
But they have bought shares of McDonald’s, because of the Ronald McDonald House, and WOW owns shares in Exxon, mainly to keep an energy stock in the mix of investments.
‘’We’re not perfect,’’ says Chapman, 68.
The group has been dedicated throughout the years: they’ve met monthly 10 months out of the 12 for 25 years. Each member tracks one or two stocks — WOW owns shares in a few dozen companies — reporting to the club how stock prices are expected to do, news about the company, and other relevant details. Each month, members make a minimum investment of $50. And each month, they get a report on how their portfolio is performing. Gajar is responsible for tracking how much each member has made on a stock, and when somebody leaves the club, sending her away with her profits.
Technology has now played as an influence how the group operates as well. A club member who moved to New York City to teach at NYU attends meetings by Skype. The treasurer used to collect checks and deposit them in a brokerage account, but today, contributions are automatically deducted.
While members have gotten much savvier about investing, group members say the challenges are what keeps discussions lively.
Knowing when to sell is always fodder for conversation. Lululemon, the fitness-wear company, is a case in point: WOW owned shares in the company, which recently made headlines for its too-sheer yoga pants, a staple company product.
The group held on to the stock and then the next month decided to sell it because its share price had dropped. After they made that move, the CEO quit and the stock price plummeted. Although that clearly was a good decision, Chapman says selling always is the challenging part of investing — it’s easy to leave too early or get out too late.
Still, she says, ‘’I think we’re getting better about getting rid of things. We’ve become more inquisitive and more informed.’’
Investment club members are less averse to taking risks, too. WOW recently invested in the carmaker Tesla Motors, partly on the strength of its Model S, which was named Car of the Year by Motor Trend magazine. It also has invested in Zipcar, a company that rents cars by the hour or day.
“We’re at the point now where we sometimes have trouble finding stocks we want to study because we’ve done so many. If we were a relatively new club, I don’t think we would have bought Tesla,’’ says Gajar. ‘’People are always on the lookout for something that’s new.’’
Julie Edgar is a freelance writer for AnnArbor.com.