For the last 30 years, Albert Panzer gambled. He bet that he could make a good living simply by trading securities.
Now 70 years old, he figures that he's won his bet. He has amassed an estate of about $1.5 million.
But he hasn't quit. Only four months ago, he took a six-day crash course on securities and passed the Securities and Exchange Commission examination to get his brokers license. Now he's trading for friends and customers at the small Robert Thomas Securities Inc. office in Laguna Hills outside the main gate of Leisure World, where he lives.
"I'm not doing it for the money," Panzer said about his new career. "Now, it's a game."
A product of the Great Depression, Panzer had nearly a dozen jobs in Philadelphia after his high school graduation in 1933. He sold peaches and pretzels in the street and cheese and eggs at a local Food Fair store. He had two newspaper routes and worked as a tailor's apprentice.
A few years before World War II, he started driving a taxicab. After serving in the Coast Guard during the war, Panzer returned to Philadelphia and bought a cab. He became a garage manager with a couple of employees, but eventually sold his taxi business for $19,000 and moved to Los Angeles in 1955.
Intrigued by Investing
"About two years before I came out here, a family friend, who was a stockbroker, introduced me to convertible bonds," Panzer said. "I put up $7,000 and made $3,000. I was intrigued by it all."
When he got to the West Coast, he was 40 years old and had his total savings and proceeds from the sale of his business, a then handsome sum of $30,000, but he did not have a job. He worked briefly as a clerk for a company that made industrial ovens, but soon made his gamble.
"I called on about 10 brokerage houses to find out more about convertible securities," he said. "I invested all $30,000. The stock market became my life."
Book on Hedging
While eking out a living, he read a book on hedging, a method of buying and selling in the futures market that minimizes the risk of unfavorable price changes wiping out a profit.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Panzer used a desk at a brokerage house without being a broker. As he learned more about securities and brought friends in to invest with him, he said, he first got a desk at Bache & Co., a predecessor firm of Prudential-Bache Securities, and then at a Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith office, both in Beverly Hills.
At one point, he said, a manager of a Shearson Hammill & Co. office, now Shearson Lehman Bros., offered him a job as a broker. But after filling out an application with his past work experience and education, Panzer said, he was told that he had the "wrong profile."
Couldn't Get Office
When he moved to Leisure World in 1983, Panzer found that most of the managers of the newly opened branches would not let him take up office space.
But figuring that Panzer knew as much as most brokers, Louis J. Tonetti, branch manager at Robert Thomas, said he made a deal with the former cabbie. "I told him he should have no problem getting registered with the SEC. Then he could use a desk."
Panzer took the challenge and, in a short time, had his license and an office to work out of several hours a day.
"If I had had a chance to go to Harvard, I'd be on Wall Street," Panzer said. "I'd have a seat on the stock exchange. I'd be a real wheel."