If Congress ever decides to start its own investment club, I'd like to nominate one of its newest members - Rep. S. Williams Green of New York City - as the man to head it. The freshman Republican from Manhattan's 18th District shows real promise as a savvy stock picker. His market timing is excellent, and he apparently knows how to capitalize on inside information.
As a case in point, take his purchase of Starrett Housing Corp. - 63,150 shares, to be precise - between last August and mid-January of this year, at prices ranging from 13 to 15 1/2. He was so enthusiastic about the prospects of the housing development company that the convinced his sister, Cynthia Colin, a broker at Loeb Rhoades, Hornblower & Company, to buy a similar amount of shares at roughly the same price. Despite a sharply declining market, Starrett's shares subsequently rose too a 12-month high of 16 5/8 (the're now around 16), providing the brother-sister team with a paper profit of more than $200,000 on their $1.8 million investment. If you think that's good, their mother, Evelyn Green, God bless her, did even better.
Through a trust, she bought 403,980 shares at an average price of around $15.2 a share. That was a $6.1 million investment - a lot to spend on just one relatively illiquid American Stock Exchange security that often trades just a few hundred shares a day. But don't knock it. On paper, at least, she's ahead about $360,000.
ONe of the chief reasons for the stock's ability to move up in a down market, I'm told, was talk of a major acquisition. In brief: a plan to acquire Levitt Corp., a leading home builder with more than $88 million in annual sales. The acquisition was completed recently and nearly doubled the size of Starrett's annual volume to more than $200 million.
At its turns out, Rep. Green, I learned, knew of Starrett's negotiations to acquire Levitt prior to the first public disclosure in mid-January. Green, an attorney, was told in early December by Starrett's chief executive, Henry Benach, that the company was putting together a proposal to acquire Levitt. Over the next month and a half - Green and his sister aggressively bought about 15,500 shares of Starrett. One can only wonder how many selling stockholders would have disposed of their Starrett shares had they been aware of the same information the Greens had.
The Starrett holdings of the Green family - roughly an $8 million investment with nearly a $600,000 paper profit - represent nearly 27 per cent of the company's 1,949,000 shares outstanding.
Once he regional administrator of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (he left HUD in March of 1977), Green said he didn't feel he was misusing inside information when he continued to buy the stock after Benach ahd told him of the Levitt effort. "I had no reason to believe it would help the stock . . . and it was far from clear that there wouldn't be other bidders." Green said. "Besides, it was all very iffy."
Green, who said he first met Benach as he was leaving HUD, told me he and his family invested in Starrett because of the company's attractive prospects, most notably Starrett's venture with an Iranian company to acquire land in Teheran and build highrise condominum apartments there. Green's sudden enthusiasm seems a bit belated: The company announced the Iranian program four years ago.
Interestingly, his sister Cynthia bought 24,100 shares of Starrett - at a cost of almost $342,000 - while Green was at HUD. Since Green told me that he hadn't met Benach until he (Green) was leaving HUD, I guess Cynthia must have became enchanted with Starrett's prospects on her own. Yet Green told me he was responsible for Cynthia's purchases. Very curious, indeed.
It's clear that Green - though not a congressman at the time - had a definite edge over the rest of the investing public when he bought a goodly amount of his Starrett shares. Were any rules violated? I'll leave that matter to the folks at the Securities and Exchange Commission. If you think the dollar's sick, try this corporate concoction: unimaginative, lackluster management, inept marketing and advertising skills, a shrinking share of the cigarette amrket, and a stock that's languishing near its low of the year. Put it all together and you have a hapless corporate entity called the Liggett Group (formerly Liggett & Meyers). That's Wall Street's smoking assessment of the nation's sixth largest cigarette company, which boasts such well-known brands as L&M, Lark, Chesterfield, and Eve. But Wall Street may not have Liggett to kick around much longer for its poor showing in cigarettes. Sources tell me that Liggett, which is also a force in spirits (J&B Scotch and Grand Mariner) and pet foods (Alpo), is seriously considering dumping cigarettes - perhaps even its entire 155-year-old tobacco business. And, in fact, such a monumental decision by Liggett may have been made already.
I've learned that several top Liggett officials including chief executive Raymond J. Mulligan and the vice president for governmental and legal affairs. Roger W. Hooker Jr., recently dashed off to London for a meeting with the folks at Imperial Group Ltd., one of the world's largest tobacco companies.
The purpose of the meeting, I hear, was to explore the possibility of Imperial buying Liggett's tobacco business - either part (namely cigarettes) - or all of it. Liggett's tobacco revenues last year represented almost 50 percent or an estimated $450 million, of the company's $943 million overall volume. The reaction from Liggett's Hooker& "There are too many things going on and I'm not going to confirm or deny anything." THE LATE TICKER: Stock Research Corp., a weekly monitor of insider activity, tells me that for the first time in two years the amount of insider buying topped insider selling for two weeks running more often than not, I'm told, it's a pretty good indication that the market is laying the groundwork for a solid advance . . . Financier Norton Simon, a recent buyer of 160,000 shares of high-flying Twentieth Century-Fox, definitely not going for control. Simon, an active market player, has sold some Fox shares and is likely to sell more in the event of any further run-up . . . Don Nixon Jr., nephew of the former president, seeking $1.2 million of finance a new venture - closed cricuit, English-speaking TV in countries where English isn't the mother tongue; Costa Rica initial target. . . . Nevada biggie Del Webb angling for a piece of the Atlantic City gambling action. . . . Top currency tracker S. J. Rundt expects ailing U.S. dollar to fall another 5 percent . . . . Wall Street reporters persist that Hanes Corp. may be acquired.