Beardstown Ladies talk Trump and the markets

The Beardstown Ladies have seen it all — from the stock market soaring in the ’80’s and the dot-com bubble in the ’90s, to the housing collapse in 2008 and the Great Recession that followed.

The famed investor club of 16 women began in Beardstown, Illinois, in 1983 with just $1,600, and the women have been at it ever since.

While the election of Donald Trump and the subsequent market rally — with the Dow Jones industrial average nearing 20,000 for the first time — are welcome news to the women, their investment strategy remains the same.

“We like to invest in things that we know, and things that we understand, but we also have to look at the numbers too. We can’t just say ‘Oh, just because we like this particular restaurant.’ We should invest in it if the numbers aren’t there for profit,” said Buffy Tillitt-Pratt, 64, a member since 1988.

They also follow what they call the “Three E’s” — enjoyment, education and of course, earnings.

The Beardstown Ladies investor club, which launched in 1983, is still active today. They meet monthly and continue to invest $25 each to play the market.

Kate Rogers | CNBC
The Beardstown Ladies investor club, which launched in 1983, is still active today. They meet monthly and continue to invest $25 each to play the market.

The club grew out of a business and professional women’s group in the early 1980s, and rose to fame a decade later, as the women traveled the world to promote their five books touting simple investment strategies.

They ran into a bit of scandal in the mid-1990s, when a mathematical error inflated their returns, and they fell out of the public eye. Their books were even pulled from the shelves, though they’re still available on Amazon. They continued to meet monthly, contributing a modest $25 each to invest in the market.

“We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs and we’ve seen the market go up and we’ve all smiled at the meetings, and when it goes down, we don’t get sad, we look for bargains,” Tillitt-Pratt said.

When the market declines, “it’s a sale — it’s like a discount sale in a department store — it’s like Black Friday. Let’s go shopping,” said member Kelly Cagle, 50.

“When it (the market) goes down, we don’t get sad, we look for bargains.”-Buffy Tillitt-Pratt, member, Beardstown Ladies

The group today is 75 percent descendants of the original members, with three charter members still participating. They’re a diverse group in age and profession — the youngest are in their early 30s and the oldest is 89. There’s even a funeral parlor owner and retired hog farmer in the club.

The Ladies’ portfolio consists of 17 stocks including shares of Apple,Walgreens, Wolverine and Starbucks, along with Class B shares ofBerkshire Hathaway, because they said they “can’t afford Class A just yet.”

They said they admire Berkshire Chief Warren Buffett a great deal, and have even traveled to his annual shareholder meetings.

Both Buffett and the Ladies are in the market for the long haul. And it’s paid off.

The Ladies’ original stake of $1,600 has grown to more than $450,000. Although they no longer disclose their performance, they did hint that they are likely to end the year in the green.

With Trump set to take office in January, the women are looking for ways to cash in.

“I was glad he was elected and we watched the market go down one day and it came right back up,” said Betty Sinnock, 85, and one of the group’s charter members.

“We’re looking at stocks that perhaps are going to be helped by adding to the military, like defense stocks,” she said.

They’re also keeping a close eye on the health-care sector, due to the uncertain future of the Affordable Care Act, which Trump has talked about scaling back in a major way.

Beyond that, they’re not making any public bets on where things might be headed in 2017.

“Who knows what will happen. If we did, we wouldn’t be sitting here. We’d be sitting in Aruba on a beach,” said Carnell Korsmeyer, 89, another charter member.

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