Saturday, August 11, 2001

Personal finance

Pick three stocks, give kids boost

        Who wants to risk their real money on a bet that Cisco Systems or Xerox will regain their once-high-flying status any time soon?

        “Why not just risk some goodwill money,” says Ken Weiss, senior vice president of investments and senior portfolio manager at Prudential Securities Inc. in downtown Cincinnati.

        Goodwill money? He means the $25 entry fee to the Stock Rally 'Round the Kids Contest that benefits Big Brothers/Big Sisters Association of Cincinnati.

        For each entry fee, you pick three stocks (plus a tiebreaker) from those included in the Standard & Poor's 500 Index. Then, watch their performance through November.

        The portfolio with the highest return over the three months wins. First prize is $1,500 — a not-too-shabby 5,900 percent return on a $25 investment that went to a good cause. Second place pays $250, third place pays $150, and fourth place pays $100.

        Come in dead last and still get a prize: a free financial- planning session.

        “There's not a lot of places you can invest money and nobody comes out a loser,” Mr. Weiss, contest coordinator, said.

Last year: $10,000

        Perhaps the best prize goes to the kids — more than $10,000 was raised last year for mentoring programs for 7- to 17-year-olds.

        “We're the oldest and largest mentoring program in existence,” said Joe Bluestein, Big Brothers/Big Sisters Association of Cincinnati executive director.

        The agency was founded in Cincinnati in 1903 when Irvin Westheimer spotted a boy named Tom looking through garbage for food in the West End.

        Now part of a national network, the local chapter has 45 percent of its funding from the United Way with the remainder raised through programs such as the Stock Rally 'Round the Kids, and a wine and dessert tasting in November.

        The money goes directly toward recruiting, screening and supervising volunteers who spend time with young boys and girls, “primarily from single-parent homes, who are in need of role models and friends,” Mr. Bluestein said.

        Walter Frank won last year's contest with a couple of retail stocks he picked by examining valuations and recent stock movements. (He doesn't recall which stocks exactly.)

        Still, for an investment professional accustomed to long-term investing, the three-month contest posed a unique challenge.

        “We invest in not usually home-run things,” said Mr. Frank, a vice president at Merrill Lynch.

        He said he typically stays away from contests, but the Stock Rally 'Round the Kids was for a good cause. He got involved through a client.

        “It's always great to have bragging rights,” he said.

        In addition to the entry fees, he donated his $1,500 prize money back to Big Brothers/Big Sisters.

        “We were fortunate — and they could use it,” he said.

        Amy Higgins writes about personal finance for the Enquirer. You can leave her story tips at 768-8373;; or Your Money, The Cincinnati Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202. She regrets that she cannot reply to all individual questions.


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