While the Dow Jones industrial average was laying waste to other investors and portfolio managers a few days ago, New York investment adviser Martin Zweig was making big bucks.
Convinced a downturn was at hand, Zweig bought what is known as put options. These give their owner the right to sell a specified number of shares at a specified price during a certain time period, and thus can be used to protect stock owners in a declining market. The result: In the days when the Dow Jones industrial average was giving up more than a quarter of its value, Zweig's portfolio rose by 8.7 percent.
The publisher of Zweig Forecast was one of only five investment newsletters writers who called the market plunge accurately, enabling subscribers to bail out before Monday's collapse, according to Hulbert's Financial Digest, a Washington publication that tracks 105 investment newsletters.
A number of other newsletters have been bearish for many months, but since investors heeding their advice would have missed the summer appreciation as well as the crash, Hulbert doesn't count them among winners at calling the market.
Indeed, 47.8 percent of all investment advisers were still bullish as of a week ago, as reported in Investors Intelligence, a Larchmont, N.Y., publication that tracks investment advisers. Just 24.2 percent described themselves as bearish, and 28.3 percent said they were expecting a "correction" in the market.
What they got was a record 508 point correction. "It looked so much like 1929, it scared me," Zweig said Tuesday, adding, "The bull market is dead." Zweig avoided the debacle by allocating one percent of his money to buy puts to protect his stocks. He wound up Tuesday selling the last of the puts -- purchased for $2.87 -- for $130. The annual cost of such advice to his 10,000 subscribers is $245.
Peter Eliades of Los Angeles, editor of Stock Market Cycles, gave the sell order to his 4,000 subscribers Oct. 5. Last Thursday he advised them to buy, but canceled his advice a day later. He estimates that if all his subscribers had followed his advice to get out of the market when the Dow went down to 2600, they would have collectively saved $110 million. Eliades charges subscribers $190 annually.
Hulbert's Financial Digest is also bullish on Investech Market Analyst, a northwestern Montana newsletter published by James Stack. After the Dow peaked in August, he advised investors to put 60 percent of their holdings in cash; by Oct. 5, it was 88 percent. The last stock in his model portfolio was sold Oct. 16, three days before the crash. Stack said monetary conditions and technical factors pushed him toward caution.
Richard Russell, who puts out Dow Theory Letter from La Jolla, Calif., estimates that he saved his clients 20 percent to 40 percent of their portfolios' worth by advising them to sell in September. At that time gurus were talking about the Dow going to 3000 and economists were talking about recession in 1989, Russell said. "No one was really thinking, so I acted." He predicts a recession by the end of the year.
The fifth winner among the newsletters was Telephone Switch Letter of Huntington Beach, Calif. It advised its subscribers to bail out before last Friday