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Gossip, Sales, Analysis and Power

December 25, 1987|KAY BARTLETT | Associated Press

NEW YORK — Merrill Lynch securities analyst Carol Neves spends hours on the phone talking to CEOs. Her questions are pointed. 'Why is your stock taking it so much on the chin? What's the rising price of copper going to do to you?'

When Carol Neves was 6, an older sister wanted to give her a doll carriage for Christmas. She preferred an adding machine.

"I still remember that little adding machine," Neves says. "I haven't thought of it in years, but it was a red metal one with blue trim."

The gift is worth pondering these many years later.

Today Neves cradles a telephone in her neck, fingers on the computer, as she talks on the telephone to the chief executive or chief financial officer of the 14 enormous conglomerates she tracks. She is punching numbers as she talks.

Her questions are direct.

"Why is your stock taking it so much on the chin?" she asks one.

"What do you have that would be affected by a recession?" she asks another.

"What's the rising price of copper going to do to you?" she inquires of a third.

Rarefied Compensation

Neves is a vice president of Merrill Lynch and one of its leading securities analysts, issuing the giant brokerage firm's opinion on whether to buy or sell the stocks she watches over.

It's a position of enormous power, rather rarefied compensation, and, as a woman, she was practically a pioneer. The stock market crash, she says, has resulted in fewer telephone calls for her. She believes that the big institutional investors are still taking a wait-and-see position.

Neves, 53, knew she wanted to be a stock market analyst when she was 17 and read a magazine article proclaiming that the field was opening to women.

"The article was a bit premature," Neves now laughs, but she did it nonetheless. So well, in fact, that Institutional Investor, which each year lists the "All Star Analysts," has named Carol Neves a winner or runner-up every year in the decade that they have rated her category, multi-industry. This year she was a runner-up, but in the past she has been No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3.

It is a top honor in this Wall Street world where competition is tough. There are about 16,000 securities analysts in the country, 12% of them women.

After graduation from Trinity College in Washington, D.C., she was accepted by Harvard, but back then Harvard only permitted women a year's taste of the Hasty Pudding. It sent her out armed with only a certificate, not the cherished MBA. She completed her MBA at New York University, and began at Merrill more than 30 years ago for $325 a month.

Taking the Long View

"It took me 12 years to get to follow my own stocks," she recalls, a lot longer than it took a man. "I had a tough boss, too. We followed 70 stocks. That meant I followed 67 and he followed three.

"I don't hold that against Merrill. It was the same everywhere. It wasn't Merrill's fault I was born too soon."

Her 20th-floor office has a commanding view of the Hudson River and the New Jersey riverfront. The word processor faces the other way. When she isn't working on it, she's taking notes with the compulsively sharpened pencils atop her desk, talking on the phone, sorting through the ever-escalating pile of messages.

As a securities analyst, Carol is partly the soul of discretion, partly a professional gossip, partly a saleswoman, a winner of confidences, a predictor of what a company will earn in the next quarter and the next year, a sleuth who goes on site to sniff the air. She can be a troublemaker whose discouraging word can dump a stock five or six points on the New York Stock Exchange.

Courted by Companies

She is courted by corporations and grilled by institutional money managers. But she tries to keep a good relationship with companies, whether her opinions are favorable or unfavorable.

When she is about to lower or raise an evaluation, she calls the CEO three minutes or so before it's to hit the wire.

"If it's a drop, I usually say something like, 'We're about to find out if we're just fair-weather friends.' Often, they agree with me."

She does recall that one CEO was furious.

"He kept calling me back, shouting about four sentences and then slamming down the phone," she says. "Then he'd call back with four more sentences."

Neves' Sutton Place apartment, which she decorated herself, has a sweeping living and dining room with a panoramic view of the East River, the planes taking off silently from LaGuardia over the twinkling lights of the bridges.

She also has a home in Sea Girt, N.J., where she often spends weekends. In the summer months she commutes from the shore in her Mercedes.

A senior analyst like Neves earns between $250,000 and $350,000 in salary and bonus, but that's not the whole story. If she were to introduce Company X to Company Y and X wanted to buy Y, Neves could get a finder's fee. Or if one of her companies needed to raise cash and she persuaded it to use Merrill Lynch's investment banking arm, that's "really big money." She declined to be more specific, but she's hardly talking about pocket money.

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