'Matchmaker' firm hires money managers for individual clients

Wanted: Experienced money manager who is comfortable investing $200,000 to $ 10 million of someone else's money. Individual must have proven track record of providing at least 15 percent compounded returns going back to 1970, or at least 18 percent back to 1975. Will work with affluent individuals and families, as well as small pension and profit-sharing plans and endowment fundsm.

That is part of the job description for the kind of investment manager that Michael Stopler is looking for. Mr. Stopler is president of his own San Diego firm, Stopler & Co., which he describes as ''a matchmaker'' between individual clients and individual investment managers.

That ad could go on to say the money managers will be continually monitored by Mr. Stopler and that they are expected to turn in investment performances at least 2 percentage points above inflation, after taxes; provide returns at least 20 percent better than an individual could get on US Treasury bills; and meet these goals in bad markets as well as good ones.

''We're operating on the premise that if you can avoid losing money in the bad periods, the good periods will take care of themselves,'' he said in an interview during a recent Boston visit to look for both new clients and investment managers.

These days, he notes, there is not much challenge in finding a manager with a recent record of good performance. And there won't be much difficulty finding one in the near future, either. In that period, investment managers - and investors in general - should have no trouble finding profitable places for their money, especially in the stock market.

''I think you can make a terrific case for an absolutely wonderful market in the next two or three years,'' he states. Stocks, Mr. Stopler believes, are one of the best investment choices ''by default.''

Money-market funds, he explained, are only paying about 8 percent, the new money-market accounts offered by banks and thrifts probably will not be able to maintain their current high rates for a long time, and real estate may have ''topped'' as an investment.

That, he says, leaves the stock market, a place where he compares the chances of success to the easiest shot in basketball:

''It's a layup, an absolute layup,'' he says. ''If it doesn't work here, I don't know why.''

While the market could still have days when the Dow Jones industrial average goes down several dozen points, it could as easily go up just as much the next day. ''You're looking at a period where prognostications of 2,000 to 2,500 on the Dow are probably pretty credible,'' he says. ''It's a statistical case that's been evident for a decade. What's been lacking is the confidence in the system that allows people to pay very high multiples for equities.'' Companies that are expected to grow fast and keep growing will sell at high price-to-earnings ratios, that is, investors will be willing to pay several times a company's earnings for the stock.

If inflation stays down long enough, Mr. Stopler adds, that credibility could begin to be felt. Then again, he sighs: ''Maybe it'll never happen. Maybe they'll run the deficit up to $400 billion and inflation will snap right back up again.''

For now, Mr. Stopler thinks the consumer stocks will provide the best opportunities, and will improve as people become more confident in the economy. Consumers ''buy in sequence, based on their sense of relative affluence,'' he says. ''If you follow the sequence, first the hamburger places pick up, then the better restaurant chains.''

Even though they are considered ''smokestack'' industries, Mr. Stopler regards automobiles as consumer stocks that should continue to show the improvement they demonstrated in 1982. Chrysler stock, for instance, though not specifically mentioned by him, went from $3.38 a share to $17.75 between the beginning and end of last year.

Also, ''because [President] Reagan seems committed to throwing money at defense as long as he has it,'' these stocks should continue to do well, Mr. Stopler said.

Although he does evaluate some stocks and industries, his main job is still finding and evaluating investment managers. One way he finds them is through magazine and newspaper articles he sees himself, or that others send him. The final decision to accept one of these people is actually fairly easy. If they meet his performance criteria, they are hired.

''We do it in an exclusionary way,'' he says of the process. ''You're either good, or you're bad. I don't want to be making judgment calls with other people's money.''

Not only does an investment manager have to have a good long-term record, he also has to be consistent:

''The most common error we make in this business . . . is the round trip. You give some joker $200,000, and he runs it up to $400,000 - and two years later it's back to $200,000. So we're looking for people who may not make magnificent profits, but have a very high retention of the profits they make.''

At the present time his strict standards have left him with only a dozen money managers, who are matched with a few hundred clients.

His clients include the Oxford University Press, the Apache Indians, an Eskimo tribe, the Maine Audubon Society, and the Natural History Society of San Diego. While these are some of the more ''glamorous'' clients, he says most tend to be small to medium-size companies with pension or profit-sharing plans.

The investment managers also tend to be a fairly diverse group. They include a former university official from California, now operating out of his home in Arizona, and a Welsh-born man, who works out of his home in the Denver area. Although he does have investment managers working in the East, he says: ''I tend to like people who aren't in the mainstream. If you live in financial centers like New York or Boston, you can be almost overwhelmed by all the information and analysis. This is not to say you can't make good decisions here, but in some ways it's harder. There's a limit to how much stimulus you can take in and not be buried.''

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