Which stock exchange had best '74-84 returns? Hint: not Big Board

In the hierarchy of the investment world, the New York Stock Exchange is the ``Big Board,'' the giant with the bluest of blue chips listed on it. NASDAQ is the automated upstart, with intriguing new companies experiencing hot growth.

And the American Stock Exchange is the also-ran. Its nickname is anything but glorious -- ``the curb,'' because it was begun by traders on the curb outside the NYSE. It's also known as the ``little board.''

But a recent study of the long-term stock price movements and dividend payments in these three major equity markets indicates the Amex provided a higher rate of return than the NYSE or the NASDAQ over a 10-year period.

Although the study by Wilshire Associates was independent, the research work was commissioned by Strategy Associates, which was working for the Amex. Nonetheless, the results are intriguing: The 10-year return on investment on the Amex through the end of 1984, according to Wilshire, was 617 percent. On the NASDAQ it was 353 percent. On the NYSE it was 339 percent.

Wilshire Associates, which publishes the Wilshire 5000 equity index, assessed the performance of common stocks and American Depositary Receipts (used for the purchase of stocks on markets outside the United States) on the Amex, NYSE, and NASDAQ between Dec. 31, 1974, and Dec. 31, 1984. The objective was to determine which market yielded the best return on investment, with dividends and price change both included in the return calculation. Returns were calculated for each stock on a monthly basis.

Wilshire's computers were programmed with monthly closing prices, number of shares outstanding, and dividend payments, if any, of every issue under examination. Each Amex, NYSE, and NASDAQ common stock and ADR in the Wilshire data base was included in the study; this ranged from 4,881 stocks to 5,683 by the end of 1984.

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