An all-women investment club in Omaha is marking its 30-year anniversary, a milestone on a financial journey started by 11 women from a breakfast networking group who decided in 1983 to learn more about stocks.
Today, the 18-member Network Investment Club has a $769,500 portfolio of 15 publicly traded stocks, not counting thousands of dollars withdrawn by members over the years for such things as down payments on houses and, for one charter member, a trip to Africa.
Lucy Romine, a computer program analyst, and her husband, Bob, thought about skipping some work on their house to pay for their safari and visit to Cape Town, South Africa. But then she considered:
“You know, wouldn't this be great to think I've invested in this club for 30 years, and I use it to pay for my trip to Africa, my lifelong dream? It kind of gives you a good feeling to have gotten something out of it.”
And so she did. Some other members have never taken out a dime, including one whose holdings total more than $86,000.
Nationally, there are pressures that have caused a sharp drop in the popularity of investment clubs, including the ease of finding information on the Internet and the rise of 401(k) plans and other retirement investment vehicles.
But members of the Omaha Network say their club continues and is a testament to steady monthly investing, patience during stock market downturns, enjoyment of each others' personalities, respect for all members' viewpoints and putting in the hard work of researching stocks to decide what to buy and sell.
“We always start out with sharing information that's social or new or things going on in our lives,” said Patricia Lamberty, a Douglas County District Court judge and one of six remaining charter members. “But we're dedicated to also getting down to business.”
Said Judy Stern, a retired internal medicine physician who joined soon after the club began: “The real glue is, we share an interest in knowing about investing, plus it's just a really nice group of women.”
On a recent Wednesday evening at the Market Basket restaurant, 13 members were present, four absent and one attended via cell phone speaker. The personal items: A member's house is for sale, and her dog isn't happy when prospective buyers take a tour. Another passes around a notice about an upcoming historical celebration.
There's a quick comparison of calendars to set the date for the club's summer party, one of two held each year (no spouses or significant others included). A waitress takes orders for wine or tea, and members write their dinner choices on a sheet of paper that goes into the restaurant kitchen.
Then the serious talk begins, nearly two hours of earnings ratios, financial statements, price estimates, growth strategy, competitors, executive decisions, dividends and profits, straight through supper.
The club owns shares in 15 companies: Apple, Berkshire Hathaway, Cisco, Coca-Cola, F5 Networks, Fiserv, General Mills, Johnson & Johnson, National Oilwell Varco, Pfizer, Sysco, Target, UnitedHealth, United Technologies and Walgreen.
Each member follows one stock and gives a one-minute update. Then there's an “in-depth report” on UnitedHealth Group, complete with detailed charts, graphs and summaries of analysts' opinions.
Not long ago the group sold some of its UnitedHealth stock after learning that the CEO's compensation seemed too high.
“We wanted to send a message,” a member said to some laughter. It's likely the company never noticed, “but we felt better.”
Even with the sale, UnitedHealthcare is one of the club's better-performing stocks, now making up $27,000 of its portfolio.
The club has $3,000 in cash from dividends and dues to invest. At the meeting's end, members quickly vote to buy more shares of Cisco Systems, a computer equipment company. Nobody makes a motion to sell anything, so the meeting adjourns and members say goodbye.
Club president and charter member Cheri Cody, who oversees grants for a Catholic Church group, said later that taking action is a key part of each meeting.
“It's the discipline of making a decision every month, regardless of the situation,” Cody said. Members are more at ease making decisions now than in the early years. “It's not the end of the world if something goes down.”
The club learned about falling stocks when it bought shares of Transocean Ltd., an offshore drilling company, only a few days before the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig blew up in April 2010, killing workers and causing a huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The club bought more shares as Transocean's price dropped, but eventually sold at a loss. The club bought the stock after hearing a presentation from an investment adviser, but no amount of research could have predicted the drilling disaster. Club members today chuckle at the Transocean name.
They have had successes as well, such as paying $39,500 for Berkshire Hathaway Inc. stock in 1987 and 2002 that is now worth $237,000.
Berkshire makes up more than one-fourth of the club's portfolio, and members cite Berkshire CEO Warren Buffett as one source of their investment philosophy.
The club experience helps in the members' own finances. When the club didn't sell during the 2008-2009 market decline, most members didn't sell their own stocks, either.
Cody is one of two or three club members who have National Association of Investors Corp. software for stock research. Annual dues are $45 per member, paid by the club.
Membership has been fairly stable. About 35 women have belonged over the years, with new members replacing those who move away or leave the club for different reasons. Among club alumnae is Jan Stoney, a business executive who once ran for the U.S. Senate.
The treasurer is Cindy Hadsell, a retired manager for CenturyLink Communications. She has been keeping the club's books for more than half its life, tracking each member's share of the partnership and, each year, the gains and dividends subject to each member's tax return.
The most common reason clubs break up is that they lose their treasurers, said Adam Ritt, a spokesman for the National Association of Investors Corp. based in Madison Heights, Mich. The group, which publishes BetterInvesting magazine, has 5,000 member investment clubs nationally, including 46 clubs in Nebraska and 106 in Iowa.
But Hadsell enjoys her role in the club. “It's a fun game. It just happens to be profitable.”
Besides, she said, the mix of personalities keeps the meetings interesting. “It's a challenge, especially when you've got everybody from an artist to CPAs, and everybody in between.”
Variety may be a good thing, but the group hasn't considered inviting men to join. Some members aren't sure exactly why, but Hadsell ventures an explanation.
“It's the same issue as an all-boy or all-girl high school,” she said. “You want to be able to show your ignorance on a subject and not feel judged, and we have done a really good job of urging people along if they don't feel comfortable in an area.
“We really praise each other, and I think that's a little easier with an all-one-gender group and we're not competing that way.”
Member Gail Yanney, a retired physician, said investing is mostly her husband Mike's field. “But I really did want to learn. Most of what I rely on is intuition, but there are metrics you can follow. I went into it because I have friends there. At the same time, I might be gaining some sort of expertise that I didn't have.”
She served for a time as a director of an Omaha bank and learned to read financial statements and soon was able to spot “red flags.”
“The group is very, very amicable,” Yanney said. “We enjoy each other and we enjoy what we're doing. We're not there to one-up each other. Every one of us has a very nice portfolio of accomplishments.”
Learning about companies is easier now than in the days when members used to chart stock prices by hand, using a ruler to draw trend lines. “Now it's a different ballgame. You just plug in your numbers and you get outcomes,” said charter member Gail Veitzer said.
Veitzer, a retired speech pathologist, met the club's newest member, Sandy Lane, an accountant who was president of a Rotary Club, and invited her to join. “With her background, I thought she would be an addition to the group.”
At 45, Lane is a generation younger than most of the members, an age difference that was a new experience for her and for the veteran members. As 20-year member Pat Rothe said, “We remember when the Beatles were new.”
Lane follows Apple Computers, purchased for the first time soon after she joined in December.
“I knew at the time that maybe they were a little leery of me because they had been together so long,” Lane said. “I went in with the feeling of, 'I have kids, work commitments, I'm greedy with my time. We'll see what it's about.' ”
She expected a big emphasis on networking and was pleased to find the club dedicated to the its financial business. But her perspective is different from some other members. With Apple, for example, she tends to focus on the importance of Apple's innovations, while others tend to be concerned with Apple's ability to maintain its existing connections with customers.
“I absolutely feel like my opinions are listened to,” Lane said. “This is a very diverse group, and everybody contributes.”
Members' outside interests can come into play in the club's investments. Nancy Roberts is an environmental attorney who may bring up issues such as the movement to encourage corporations to be “water neutral” in their use of water and recycling.
Roberts follows Coca-Cola for the group. “It's got some challenges because of the sugary drink threat, the obesity issue. But Coke has diversified into bottled water and has long offered no-sugar diet drinks, and it has started an anti-obesity campaign of its own.“It's stayed ahead of the issue, and Warren owns it,” she said.
Club rules allow a member to buy another member's partnership units, so the club doesn't have to sell stocks when a member leaves. The club could disband by selling shares and splitting the cash or by dividing the shares up according to each member's ownership portion. Some members' holdings are in family trusts already.
For now, the club is still going strong, its members said, and the club hasn't decided its ultimate fate.
Stern, the retired physician, isn't sure that members want to bring in another generation.
“They're more interested in maintaining the relationships and the things we have and seeing where attrition takes us,” she said. She thinks members may decide some day that “it's just time to put it away.”
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