After 30 years, women’s investing club is still churning out profits – and fun

For 30 years, the members of the FTTS Investment Club in Sacramento 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,” recalls 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.”

Their investing adventures have carried them far from Sacramento. They’ve traveled – three times – to Wall Street in New York City, including a visit to the floor of the commodities exchange. Sporting their FTTS banner outside NBC’s Today Show studios, they were greeted on national TV by then-anchor Katie Couric. When one of their former holdings, Station Casinos Inc., held its shareholders’ meeting in Las Vegas, they arrived by limo. They even created a musical video of themselves, dancing to “Money, Money, Money,” the 1970s pop song by Sweden’s ABBA.

The group has endured through widowhood, divorce, deaths and remarriages. After raising kids, many continued or went on to varied careers: travel agent, real estate broker, school administrative assistant, nonprofit director, medical office manager, dress shop owner.

They still play golf, travel and celebrate birthdays together, with everything from skydiving and mini-race-car driving to pole-dancing lessons. (“When the teacher saw all of us (60-year-olds) walk in, her face fell … ,” recalls Gantenbein. “But when we left, she was laughing as much as we were.”) They also give back, donating each year to a children’s crisis nursery and adopting a Salvation Army family during the holidays.

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 long-standing 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 deflects 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 says.

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.

For its part, the Sacramento group operates far more informally these days. Members are free to suggest a stock the group might consider buying. At their December meeting, Kahl described a recent visit to a Tesla showroom in San Diego with her son and daughter-in-law and recommended the electric car company as a potential investment. A motion was made and after a short debate, the group voted – unanimously – to sell 85 shares of Home Depot and buy 50 shares of Tesla Motors Inc., priced at $143 a share.

Their biggest blockbuster: MasterCard Inc., which they first bought in 2006. Back then it was $63.85 a share; today, it’s selling at roughly $813.

“The ladies will never sell that stock,” chuckles Gantenbein. “It’s like selling a child: it’s just not gonna happen.”

On Christmas Eve, the group got a last-minute gift: buoyed by a bump in Tesla's stock price, their portfolio hit $100,355. Just in time for payout No. 14.


What they are:

BetterInvesting, a nonprofit based in Madison Heights, Mich., supports about 5,000 local investing clubs nationwide. Started in 1951, it currently has about 70,000 members, most of whom belong to clubs. Members pay annual dues of $86, which includes a monthly magazine, online newsletter and access to BetterInvesting stock-picking classes and tools. (A limited, basic membership is $47.)

How they work:

Members meet monthly, putting in a set amount, typically $25. Pooling their money, members share research on individual stocks and decide as a group whether to buy, sell or “hold” their picks. Earnings are typically reinvested. Clubs that follow BetterInvesting’s stock-picking guidelines look for companies with strong managers and consistent growth in revenues and earnings per share. Although the emphasis is on stocks, BetterInvesting also has guidelines on how to choose mutual funds.

Watch a model club

The third Saturday of each month, the BetterInvesting Sacramento regional chapter hosts a “model club” meeting, where the public can watch how an actual investing club is run. The next meeting is Jan. 18 at the Sacramento Suburban Water District offices, 3701 Marconi Ave., Sacramento. It’s free; no registration necessary. For details, call model club president Larry Hogan at (916) 737-8123. Nationwide, other model investing clubs can be located by ZIP code at BetterInvesting.org.

For more info:

Go to BetterInvesting.org or call toll-free (877) 275-6242.