Thursday, October 30, 1997
Can little guys win
against Dow Jones?


BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Well, of course, the more I think about it, I realize that I should be talking to my financial consultant.

''Honey, are we poor?''

My husband, who is busy with the remote, trying to see a little bit of a lot of television shows, replies, ''Why? Are you out of cash? I'll go to the Jeanie machine tomorrow.''

Then he moves with lightning speed through an ABC World News Tonight report about the plunge in the stock market in Brazil to Jim Lehrer talking about the Asian market's shocking nose dive to a Mad About You rerun.

At one point, I thought I heard Paul Reiser discussing a plummeting Dow Jones and Peter Jennings trying to climb into bed with Helen Hunt. But I could be mistaken. It's all very confusing.

The golden years

This could be Armageddon. Or maybe even what it was like when we were first married. Bookshelves made out of boards and bricks. Tuna-noodle casserole. A Volkswagen Beetle with no heater. Black-and-white television. Yipe.

So, I called the good shepherd of our IRA, which is the closest we'll ever get to Wall Street. We do not ask much of him. We would simply like him to make us millionaires with very little contribution of actual cash from us.

Or, at the very least, we would like him to be shrewd enough so we will be able to afford a classy retirement home, designer spectacles and the occasional elective surgery.

Al has the money we would otherwise be storing in a sock under the mattress. A certified financial planner, he teaches remedial economics.

''Al, what is happening in Hong Kong?''

Al thinks I may be planning a trip, so he tells me the flight takes forever and I should pick up the new Jackie Collins novel to read on the way. He also says if I make it over to Kowloon, he could use a new wristwatch.

Offended, I explain that I am concerned about the stock market in Hong Kong. I am looking for information, I tell him loftily, about the Hang Seng index. He tells me that I don't own anything that is on the market in Hong Kong.

''Well, what do I own?''

Like most people who are not Warren Buffett, he says, I own a little of this and a little of that. I'm heavily into ''worry-wart'' securities, according to Al, who notes reassuringly that he is not surprised that the market ''bounced back'' from its ''slight correction.''

I like the sound of that. Bounce. Kind of fun, really. Not like that ugly word, crash. Slight correction doesn't sound too dangerous either, more like what happens to a golden retriever when he tries to run through an invisible fence.

Don't jump

Besides my retirement fund, I own some stock in the company where I work. He says I should look out my window and see whether my boss is on the ledge. ''Did the lights go off?'' he asks. ''If not, they're still paying their bills.''

A lot of big companies are buying up their own stock, which they now apparently think is a bargain. That's a good sign, right? Al says it might be. He won't commit. He says the ''little guy'' - that would be me - has not panicked.

''Small investors are sitting tight.'' I hate to be the one to tell him, but that's all we know how to do. It's not courage. It's ignorance.

''So, no kidding now, Al, how am I doing?''

Investing, he says, is like a man climbing a flight of stairs with a yo-yo. I'm supposed to notice the fellow's upward progress and ignore the yo-yo. Nice mental image, Al, but I like better the one of me listening to the London Philharmonic with my deluxe model Miracle Ear.

''Anyway, if all else fails,'' I say, ''I can always depend on Social Security. Right, Al?''

There is a long silence.

''Maybe,'' Al says finally, ''you should hang on to that recipe for tuna-noodle casserole.''

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM) and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.

PULFER ARCHIVE