Brokerages proffer an array of things for downs and ups
New York — As anyone who invests his own - or someone else's - money knows, for a year and a half before Aug. 12 last year the stock market was fluctuating downward. But beginning Aug. 13 and continuing to the present, the market has been mostly upward.
The future? Only one thing about the stock market's course remains certain. As financier J. P. Morgan boldly predicted earlier this century, ''The market will continue to fluctuate.''
But rather than continue to live through years of fat and lean, securities companies are devising an array of new investment ''products'' that brokers can sell no matter which way the stock market heads.
Some are good for when the market is going up: stocks, mutual funds, market-tracking portfolios. Some are good for when the market is going down (and interest rates are up): money market funds, certificates of deposit, municipal and corporate bonds. And securities firms are even offering loan and credit services that have little or nothing to do with the vicissitudes of the stock market: credit cards, home equity loans, tax shelters.
''When I started out as a broker 15 years ago we had four basic products - stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and commodities,'' notes Prudential-Bache training director Albert A. Levy. ''Today we have 75 common ones and a number that are more esoteric in nature. There are options, bond funds, tax shelters, annuities. What we've done is to devise investments to cover a multitude of positions for customers. In a down market, for instance, we can recommend going short on [ stock market] index options. It's a much more scientific approach.''
More and more ''brokers'' are being referred to (by their companies, if not the general public) as ''investment advisers'' or ''account executives'' or ''financial consultants,'' and their jobs entail quite a bit more than simply buying and selling stocks and bonds for their clients.
''The focus of the industry and of the consumer is changing,'' says Mary McDermott, public relations director at Shearson/American Express. ''We have over 200 investment products. We put out a ton of written material. Consumers are bombarded by financial information, so the emphasis we put on our financial consultants [brokers] today is that they should serve as a professional adviser to their clients, as a doctor, lawyer, or accountant may. And we encourage them to take the 'whole client' approach.''
Most of the major companies are emphasizing that sort of approach. Brokers are being encouraged not just to buy or sell 100 shares of a client's stock but to work with clients on total financial planning. As Prudential-Bache's Mr. Levy explains this concept: ''We set up programs tailored to the client's individual needs, taking into account, for instance, when money should go into the system to build funds for college education, for retirement, for upcoming tax bills.''
One of Levy's recent students was Randall Hess, now an account executive in the Omaha, Neb., office. Mr. Hess, who had been a sales manager with Prudential Insurance in Omaha, switched to the securities side of Pru-Bache and began the training program in June 1982.
''The philosophy of looking at the total financial situation of a client didn't change much from insurance to securities; it just changed from protecting assets to growing them,'' Hess says. He sees the products that cushion one against downturns in the market as a great help, but he notes that a bull market is still a more prosperous time for both client and broker.
Hess joined up before the bull market actually began. All of the major brokerage houses say there has been much more interest in becoming a broker since the market began shooting upward last year. This, they say, has given securities companies higher-caliber applicants to choose from.
The rush of many of these firms toward the building of ''financial supermarkets,'' which handle everything from insurance to securities to real estate, had already been an impetus for systematic expansion of sales forces. Merrill Lynch, for instance, has had a goal of adding 500 to 1,000 new brokers a year. Shearson/American Express has been training 400 to 500. Prudential-Bache expects to graduate 800 this year.
Al Levy of Prudential-Bache says scarcely a day goes by without at least two unsolicited resumes reaching in his office from people interested in becoming brokers. Ms. McDermott of Shearson/American says the 400 to 500 brokers trained are selected from 10 times as many applicants.
The New York Stock Exchange and the National Association of Securities Dealers require that all brokers pass a licensing examination. Preparation for this exam usually takes up to 12 weeks of training. Beyond that, most major companies are requiring several more weeks of training at branch offices and an intensive two to four weeks at the home office (usually New York) before settling down to work.
''We've had a training program as long as we've had a sales force,'' says James Lusk, Merrill Lynch training director, ''but today training requires a great deal more discipline. The main reason is the proliferation of products. There are CDs, unit investment trusts, a number of mutual funds, tax shelter products. We really feel that after completion of our 17-week training process our account executive is just beginning.''
The bull market has meant more business for brokers. Even if countercyclical investments can help take the lumps out of the business cycle for both brokers and their clients, an up market is still a much more lucrative period for both.
As it was last week, confidence seemed to be renewed somewhat in the year-old bull market, which had been in a midsummer slump. Contributing to the slight upturn, financial analysts said, was news that retail sales in July were down 0. 1 percent after a rise of 0.3 percent in June. This more modest pace of retail sales decreased the concern of many investors that the economy was expanding too rapidly.
A slower expansion should help keep interest rates from climbing much further. That, in turn, would help the stock market continue upward. Still, the durability of this trend was uncertain to most analysts. The Dow Jones industrial average closed Friday at 1,182.83, down .46 points for the week.