For 30 years, the members of the FTTS Investment Club in Sacramento, Calif., have been buying, selling and holding stocks. That milestone puts the all-women club in an "elite group" of investing groups nationwide, those who've stuck together through the financial market's up-and-down cycles.
When they started in 1983, all 16 were mothers and tennis-playing friends at Arden Hills Country Club who admittedly "knew nothing" about stock picking. They formed their group, officially called "From Tennis to Stocks" or FTTS, with hopes of getting a handle on the sometimes-bewildering world of investing.
"We'd depended on our husbands for investing, and we thought we should learn something about it on our own," said Ann Stubbe, a mother of three who ran a Sacramento catering business.
Three decades later, they're conversant in price-earnings ratios, stock growth and other investing concepts. They glean details on their current holdings and potential new investments from newspapers and financial publications such as Barron's and ValueLine. Over the years, they've shed their share of losers, but their current portfolio of nine stocks is loaded with some solid winners.
Now in their 70s, the 15 original members (one died this year) say friendship is their biggest asset.
"It's a sisterhood, not just a stock club," said Barbara Kahl, a retired pharmacist's wife in Rancho Murieta.
But they've also enjoyed some purely monetary rewards. Each time the group's stock portfolio hits $100,000, they cash out a bonus to each member. In August, they issued their 13th payout of $1,000 apiece, bringing their collective total to more than $207,000.
Now heading into their 31st year, they show no signs of slowing down.
"That's a very impressive number. It puts them in an elite group, in terms of their staying power," said Dennis Genord, director of education/chapter development for BetterInvesting.org, the Michigan-based nonprofit that oversees more than 5,000 investment clubs nationwide. "When it comes to investing, it's all about choosing a methodology and sticking with it over the long term. That's what (FTTS) is demonstrating. Our hats go off to that group."
Among BetterInvesting's 5,000 clubs, Genord said, 69 reached the 30-year mark this year. The longest-running: five clubs that have been together for 55 years.
Investing clubs vary in how they operate. Some simply meet to discuss investing and swap stock tips, but do their own individual investments. Others pool their money and follow more exacting guidelines from organizations such as BetterInvesting, which offers online tools, classes and newsletters.
In the early years, before computerized spreadsheets, the FTTS women spent "very tedious" hours charting a stock's five-year growth in revenue and earnings per share. "The first years were very lean because we didn't know what we were doing. Every stock we picked went down," recalled Patti Gantenbein, the group's current treasurer. But determined to learn more, they signed up together for a night class on investing at American River College. Eventually they got more disciplined on investing technique, following BetterInvesting's stock-picking guidelines.
Initially, they used a broker but today maintain a Charles Schwab account where they can buy and sell stocks at a discount themselves. Each puts in $30 a month.
Over the years, "money became secondary," said Gantenbein, a retired medical office manager. Missing a meeting became unthinkable: "No one wanted to miss the fun."
The Sacramento women started their club the same year — 1983 — as the infamous Beardstown Ladies investment group in Illinois, which skyrocketed to national fame when their book, The Beardstown Ladies' Common-Sense Investment Guide, hit the market. It chronicled their stock-picking prowess and annual returns of more than 23 percent. For months, as the Beardstown book sales soared, they were the toast of TV talk shows, magazine covers and newspaper stories. But it all came embarrassingly crashing down when a journalist scrutinized their accounting methodology and found their annual returns were actually closer to a far more modest 9 percent.
Today, in tiny Beardstown, population 6,000, only four of the original 15 members are still alive. But a number of daughters, sisters and in-laws — all women — have kept the group alive.
"We're not making money hand over fist, but it is educational," said Carol McCombs, a second-generation member who joined her mother in the club in 1993. Each month, they share research and decide if "we're going to buy, sell or 'hold' — the magic word."
Currently, the Beardstown Ladies have a portfolio of 16 or so stocks, including Medtronic, Pepsi and a few shares of Apple. One of their longstanding stocks is Wolverine World Wide Inc., the maker of Hush Puppies shoes and Harley-Davidson boots.
Unlike Sacramento's FTTS group, the Beardstown women never take a withdrawal, unless a member has a financial emergency or special occasion. Two years ago, McCombs withdrew some of her funds for a family trip with her five grandkids to Florida's Walt Disney World.
Most of the Beardstown Ladies, she says, consider their investment akin to a long-term savings account. McCombs, 64, who said her share is somewhere in the "five-figure" range," is counting on it when she retires in a couple years. "I don't get a pension so (my investment account) will be there ... That $25 a month over years adds up and, with dividends, it grows."
Asked about the book, she deflected the topic, saying that was "a long time ago ... it was all hype from some of the companies. Even then, we didn't pay much attention to it," she said.
And like FTTS, it's a social bond that keeps the group together. "You could sit home on your computer and do this, but it's more fun to learn together," said McCombs, whose sister-in-law is also a member.