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BEAR MARKET ANNIVERSARY

Sand Dollar Investment Club

Starting over

March 16, 2003|Tom Petruno

Susan Friday hung on as a member of the Sand Dollar Investment Club through the first two years of Wall Street's plunge.

By last July, however, the market meltdown had become painfully personal for her: Shares of scandal-plagued WorldCom Inc. that she owned in a retirement account collapsed along with the telecommunications company's fortunes.

"I lost a lot," Friday said. "I decided I probably didn't have much business being in a stock club."

In all, seven of 17 members of the South Bay Sand Dollar club wanted out last summer as the market continued to dive. Their departure ended a partnership that began in January 1997.

For the all-women club, whose members ranged in age from the 30s to the 60s, the bear market cost more than money. It also cost relationships.

"My heart sank," said member Caramia Justian. "Besides disbanding as a financial group, we were disbanding as friends."

Thousands of similar clubs were formed during the 1990s, usually with investment education as the primary goal. But as technology stocks soared, many clubs became big believers in that sector, and their portfolios ballooned far beyond what most ever imagined.

Meeting monthly to discuss their investments -- each member kicked in $50 a month -- the Sand Dollar women built a tech-heavy portfolio of 13 stocks, including Microsoft Corp., AOL Time Warner Inc. and Cisco Systems Inc. The club's assets topped $111,000 as the market crested in March 2000; more than 60% was in tech.

But like many clubs, the group struggled with the question of when to take profits. Who knew how much higher tech stocks could go? "Everybody wanted to make a killing," Friday remembered.

"Selling? You hate to do it," member Barbara Fisher said. So they mostly didn't, until their stocks already had crashed.

By September 2002, with their portfolio down to $63,000 and the market continuing to sink, "We decided to cut our losses and be done with it," said former member Kathy Siegel.

Since then, 10 Sand Dollar members have decided to regroup. They again meet monthly to hash out ideas. But for now, the bulk of their new $36,000 portfolio sits in a money market fund.

"We're starting slowly," Justian said. And this time, she promised, "We're going to make sure we're diversified."

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