Article prepared by Edward M Walsh at the request of Senator Shane Ross for MY FAVOURITE SHARE. Sunday Independent.
I was at school in 1955 when I bought my first shares: 100 Lobitos Oil at 3/6. The stock market and its ups and downs was an integral part of family life. Silence fell around the table each lunch-time during the mid-day stock market report on Radio Eireann: we children knew that making noise for these few minutes could rile a normally tolerant and gentle father. At night I fell asleep to the sounds seeping from our parent’s room of the BBC Home Service reporting against the static on the day’s trading in London.
Only as I grew older did I realise why my father spent so much time reading about and trading on the stock market: it was the prime source of family income.
Others in business could not fathom how the small butcher’s shop managed to support a large house, servants, tennis court, two cars and children in university at a time when poverty in Cork was the norm. My mother drove to town each morning for coffee with her friends and returned with ‘the pink paper’ which my father perused over his.
As he grew blind in his 80s we would read him extracts from the Financial Times. He would phone the broker and continued until near his death to manage not only his own holdings but mine and those of the family. Being blind did not seem to inhibit that aspect of his life, he never seemed to kept records but could recall from memory the details not only of his own trades but those he did on my behalf.
He used say to me the stock market is like a seasonal crop, it rises and falls. As you come to understand its rhythm you sense the correct time to harvest it. Never be too grasping, leave something for the other fellow.
Until much later in life than he should he continued to go each day to the butcher’s shop and as he worked at the block he had a succession of customers who queried him as to what they might do with their Burmah Oil, or Ashanti Mines, or BMC. The purchase of the leg of mutton was the peripheral transaction.
When he died in his late 80s I sold the stocks he managed, knowing that I lacked his deep insight and sense of the market’s rhythm. I was right. My current holdings are managed professionally by one of Dublin’s leading brokers; but not with the same success as my father.
The only stock with which I have a close relationship at present is Prosoft Learning Corporation, trading as POSO on the NASDAQ. I was invited to join the board before the dot-com collapse and was put in my place at the first board meeting when told that my suggestion to cut ‘the burn rate’ and make the operation profitable was an old-fashioned idea. To my surprise the more we borrowed to acquire companies in the US, Europe and Asia the more we grew: the stock rose from $1 to $28. What appeared to me as the inevitable happened: after 9/ll the stock dropped back below a dollar. Since then the board has taken the view that making the company profitable is the only strategy worth following.
With this my father would have agreed.