A short ill-fated stock stint

Instead of a stock ticker showing the Dow Jones going down, down, down, there should be a sign over the stock brokerage firm’s door: “Abandon all hope ye who enter here.”

Maybe you’ve driven past this place. Maybe you’ve been inside. Women answer the phones in front of plush offices filled with deal-making, risk-taking white guys.

Stacked on the coffee table are Forbes and Fortune with Caucasian cover boys—except for Forbes’ annual Billionaire Issue. That boasts a photo of Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling. She’s now worth a cool billion.

Ah, a personal portent. Rowling’s a writer. I’m a writer. Show me the money.

Welcome to the shifting of my perspective. At heart I believe that capitalism (as practiced by increasingly powerful multinational corporations) is not a community friendly model. Not enough trickles down. The gap between victors and victims gets deeper and wider.

I don’t want to be one of the victims.

“Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons,” said Woody Allen, as quoted in Let’s Talk Money, a book I received free at the Nevada Women’s Money Conference (see “Buy shoes, you lose,” Arts & culture, Aug. 5). I arrived at the conference feeling cynical. What kind of advice about money would I get at a free seminar paid for by Citibank, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Keegan and a dozen other banks and investment firms? I wrote in my reporter’s notebook: “It’s like taking smoking cessation classes from R.J. Reynolds.”

I left the conference basking in true Republicanism—that good, old expectation of self-reliance. I don’t want to end up in my 70s living at the mercy of my kids, God bless ’em, or the gracious U.S. health care system.

I decided to finance my own revolution. I invested in the stock market.

I’ve been putting money in a savings account where it earns less than 1 percent interest. That doesn’t cover inflation.

Last week, I took a third of my savings and turned it over to my new personal stock broker. He charged me just 10 percent for the transaction. I have to make $5 per share to break even on the buy. I’ll have to make another $5 a share to break even—if I ever sell. One percent sounds better all the time.

Before investing in three companies, I did some research. Is it possible, I wondered, to be a socially conscious investor in publicly traded corporations? I found myself gauging such icky practices as “buying garments from sweatshops” against “selling addictive substances to Asian children” or “privatizing public water supplies in developing countries.”

I can’t buy General Electric, thank you very much, because GE makes weapons. That’s too bad. GE seems a solid performer. The idea of buying into the corporate media (Time Warner, Disney, Viacom) nauseates me—but I haven’t ruled it out. Family members enjoy profits from Microsoft, McDonald’s, Coke and Wal-Mart. Again, no thanks.

I won’t tell you what I bought. But if you ever catch me saying nice things about a certain local slot manufacturer, tell the editor to fire my ass. Of course, then I’ll just join the ranks of unethical journalists who analyze the market for Fox Money.

About two hours after my broker made the buy, the Dow Jones was down more than 50 points. In addition to his commission, I’d lost about the sum I spend weekly on milk at WinCo.

Experienced capitalists with an eye toward long-term investing don’t track the price of their stocks every five minutes, I’m told. “You’ll drive yourself nuts,” my dad said.

I couldn’t wait for a new day of trading.

As of this writing, I’m up a few bucks. No, make that down a few bucks. Heck, now I’ve lost a whole fistful of dough. Down. Down. Damn. Must be karma. I shoulda bought a savings bond.