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`I'm Not Rich, But I'm Comfortable'


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`I'M NOT RICH, BUT I'M COMFORTABLE'

The year was 1956, and Lennart Width, 37, was working in a Seattle-area lumberyard to support his wife and two sons. So when two church bonds came due, he might have been tempted to stick the $150 in the bank. Instead, he bought the stock of a liquor manufacturer, Brown-Forman Corp.--and watched the shares triple in two years. From then on, Width was hooked.

After half a lifetime of buying 15 or 25 shares each month, Width boasts a portfolio worth about half a million dollars. Now 74, Width is a living example of how shrewd investors can provide a nest egg for themselves even when they come from the humblest circumstances. "I started with nothing," says Width. "Now, I'm not rich by any means,but I'm comfortable. I don't have to count pennies or dimes or nickels. I don't have a budget. I buy what I want when I want it."

Width also epitomizes the virtues of investment clubs as a resource for neophyte stock-pickers. In 1958, he formed a club with 22 other men that he had met through the Lions Club. His initial group pooled a total of $300, each contributing $10 to $30. "Before that, I thought only people with immense wealth could get into the market," says Width.

The club's initial foray into investing was less than promising. The members found what seemed like the investment of the century: a company called Granco that was trying to put televisions into the backseats of cars. Alas, the company went bust, and the stock collapsed. But the club persisted with other stocks and eventually prospered.

The clubs are less investment vehicles than they are guides for members' personal portfolio-building. For Width, the club provided an invaluable education. Among other things, the clubs give members "stock selection" forms to fill out for each stock. On one side, investors plot out the sales, earnings, and stock price over the past 10 years. On the other side, they plot the growth rate of earnings before taxes and book value relative to earnings. Using these numbers, an investor determines a price at he year was 1956, and Lennart Width, 37, was working in a Seattle-area lumberyard to support his wife and two sons. So when two church bonds came due, he might have been tempted to stick the $150 in the bank. Instead, he bought the stock of a liquor manufacturer, Brown-Forman Corp.--and watched the shares triple in two years. From then on, Width was hooked.

After half a lifetime of buying 15 or 25 shares each month, Width boasts a portfolio worth about half a million dollars. Now 74, Width is a living example of how shrewd investors can provide a nest egg for themselves even when they come from the humblest circumstances. "I started with nothing," says Width. "Now, I'm not rich by any means,but I'm comfortable. I don't have to count pennies or dimes or nickels. I don't have a budget. I buy what I want when I want it."

Width's tools of the trade are straightforward. He belongs to an investment club that he founded in 1958. He subscribes to Investors' Business Daily and reads Standard & Poor's Register and Value Line Investment Survey at the local library. He spends a half-hour daily tracking about 38 stocks on paper.

Width's biggest recent coup was Clearly Canadian Beverage Corp., a Vancouver (B.C.)-based sparkling-water company. At the time, the company had only penetrated half the 50 states, with a plan to expand overseas. "I normally don't go in for new issues, but I said O.K.," says Width. He bought the stock, and in 18 months it tripled. But most of Width's stocks are larger companies, such as Merck, Nordstrom, and First Interstate Bancorp.

Width is retired, but you won't find him on the golf course. He volunteers two hours a day with a local senior citizens' center, where he helped form a second investment club that now bulges with 55 members. And he conducts frequent seminars in Seattle on how to invest in stocks. His favorite advice on dealing with brokers: "Get a second opinion--your own."Dori Jones Yang in Seattle


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