Ticker marks l4th birthday

The Ticker

February 21, 1991|By Julius Westheimer

When this column started l4 years ago on Monday, Feb. 22, l977, the Dow Jones average stood at 939.26, the prime lending rate was 6 1/2 percent, gasoline sold for 58 cents a gallon, heating oil was 46 cents, a dry martini in the Belvedere Hotel's Owl Bar cost $1.50 and Jimmy Carter had just become President of the United States. Inflation and interest rates were about to head skyward.

Today, the Dow Jones average stands at about three times its midwinter l977 level (see Market Watch below), gasoline hovers around $1.16 a gallon, heating oil costs about $1.22 and sadly you can't buy a martini, a fine cheeseburger or anything else in The Owl Bar because the great old Belvedere Hotel is closed. And in general, what cost $1.00 in 1977 now costs about $2.08, so Wall Street, having tripled, has outpaced inflation.

TICKER GOALS: When people ask, "What is the objective of your column?", I respond, "My goal is to be helpful, informative and mildly entertaining, in that order." As my "Wall Street Week" host, Louis Rukeyser, once told me, "Something I've discovered is that the great teachers of any subject through history have been great entertainers." And as WBAL Radio talk-shot host Allan Prell puts it, "If no entertainment, no audience."

GOOD ADVICE: I also try to follow general rules one crusty old editor, whose name I forget, laid down for his reporters: "Keep it short, keep it coming, spell it right, make your deadline, don't bore readers, don't bother me, just keep it short and keep it coming." Always a worrier that if I was "out of the paper," even for a short time, someone would take my place, I've never missed one column or one deadline in l4 years except for one dark week in l985 when a close family member passed away. I've "kept it coming" through flat tires, blizzards, traffic jams, computer breakdowns (mine), sickness (I once persuaded an off-duty Sinai Hospital nurse to deliver a column for me) and travels, sending in columns from Altoona, Pa. (I travel there a dozen times a year to take train pictures), Tokyo, Rome, Paris, London, Berlin etc.

CRACKED CRYSTAL BALL: And because I'm bad at it, I never predict the short-term stock market's future. I know that over the past 40 years, the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index has outperformed government bonds, including bonds' income, by a ratio of l7 to one, but forecasting the Dow Jones isn't my thing. And since investing is an individual matter, I never recommend individual stocks. That's for your broker or financial adviser. The best portfolios I see are diversified, high-quality lists built many years ago and basically left alone.

ANNIVERSARY WALTZ: For 13 years I banged out Ticker on an ancient Smith-Corona typewriter but, with the invaluable assistance of The Evening Sun's Mike Himowitz, I now use a home computer -- terrified every time that my text will "freeze" on the screen (which it occasionally does), worried that my modem (I have no idea what a modem is) won't transmit my copy to the newspaper's wire room (it hasn't failed yet). . . In response to people who ask, "Where do you get all that stuff?," I respond: 'Keeping my eyes and ears open, reading suggestions from readers, scanning 30-40 magazines and newsletters weekly, listening to radio and TV "money" programs and lunching at various eateries in and around Baltimore to see and hear what people are thinking and talking about. . . What do readers like best? Judging from their comments, they like nostalgic pieces about Mother and Dad, random tidbits on the lighter side and helpful paragraphs about where "the little guy" should put his or her money. I've always tried to design each column for people with either $100 or $100,000, and sums in between. . . I thank DTC every reader for his and her support over these 14 glorious years and hope you will keep your letters, poems, notes, quotes and contest entries (every January) coming. I always look forward to your mail.

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