The Money Issue:
Money's not something we ordinarily talk about here at the Bohemian, at least not without plenty of tissues nearby. Bob Woodward, Norman Mailer and Phil Bronstein notwithstanding, journalists don't tend much to the growing of dosh. Not only do we basically not understand money and, having never seen much of it, deeply distrust the stuff, we're generally also fantasists who prefer to live as though it will just eventually come to us in such big huge swadges as we deserve. And we deserve a lot.
So when it came time to conceptualize this first annual money issue, we decided to look at money as an abstract construct. But even within the abstract, the stock market is a different animal, one comprising packs and herds. Driven by panic as much as by research, the stock market would make terrible ship's passengers, with traders and investors rushing from port to starboard depending on rumor, speculation and what everyone else is doing.
But lo, out of the pack, separate from the herd and as foreign to our minds as a zebra in a jumpsuit, there is a journalist who understands money, makes actual money through investing and, most particularly, breathes clearly (without panicky hiccups) within the stockyards of the stock market. Santa Rosa-based writer Brad Zigler, in fact, can even talk about the stock market without trailing off into a stupor. And talk he does, each Friday evening on KRCB 91.1-FM, detailing the triumphs and woes of a very local segment of the national trade, those publicly held companies found solely in Sonoma, Marin and Napa counties.
Speaking by phone from his office, Zigler says that he formed his own North Bay Stock Index (NBSI) to give area investors a sense of how local stocks stack up against the big boys found on the Dow Jones and S&P 500 reports.
As with so many other checkbook-involved things, location can be a key to making a profit in the stock market. And co-habitating with an area business often gives investors an advantage. "Research done at the University of Illinois showed that the average household invests nearly one-third of its portfolio in local stocks," Zigler says. "The suggestion was that somehow these investors were able to exploit local knowledge to outdo conventional benchmarks, like the S&P 500. What that boils down to is that the locals knew something that the rest of the world didn't. That's not hard to see. A lot of local stocks are 'orphans.' Nobody's paying attention to them, no one's writing about them, no one's analyzing their data."
Zigler, who used to write regularly for the North Bay Business Journal and who now freelances full-time (often under the byline "the Curmudgeon"), is kind to orphans, singling them out for attention on his weekly radio broadcast. Stock in the ZAP electric car company, for example, grew over 205 percent last year alone. To this writer, that sounds like a sure thing. To that writer, however, emotions run more calmly.
"It's what ZAP did in 2006," he stresses politely. "But if you decided to buy stocks solely on the basis of how well they did previously, you're making an assumption of a trend that may be overstretching it. There's not a guarantee, nor necessarily even a strong probability, that ZAP is going to go up past 205 this year. When you're looking at 205 percent, you're looking at a stock that's priced at about $1 now, and you had to have started at a very low level to get that gain." Actually, ZAP stock ended its boffo year at 79 cents a share. Zigler may have a point.
Some nine companies from Sonoma County are publicly traded; five of them are banks. In Marin, the Bank of Marin is a huge player, as is the video tech firm Sonic Solutions, a few other banks and Restoration Hardware, the gadget store that revalued the sex appeal of antique veneer on door handles in the '90s. Napa is also lousy with banks and curiously only has one wine company in the market, Andretti Wine Group, co-owned by retired race car driver Mario Andretti and his partner Joseph E. Antonini, the former CEO of Kmart.
There is little left of what Zigler terms the "tech wreck," that giddy period of time when it looked like the North Bay would be a Silicon sister to those information-friendly folks in the South Bay. Does Zigler see the North Bay resurging in the tech industry?
"Well," he says cheerfully, "it's awful damn expensive to live here and work here. The decision for a business to come here is often more a lifestyle issue than an economic issue.
"But if you're going to be broke," he shrugs, "what better place is there?"
Our sentiments exactly.
'Brad Zigler's North Bay Stock Index' is heard every Friday at 6:04pm on KRCB 91.1-FM.