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Stock prediction nets dinner for Hagerstown man

January 08, 1998

by Joe Crocetta / staff photographer

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Stock prediction nets dinner for Hagerstown man

By BRENDAN KIRBY

Staff Writer

Larry Barron topped the best financial minds with his stock market prediction.

The Hagerstown resident came within two points of predicting the actual year-end close of the Dow Jones average. In doing so, he crushed experts from Merrill Lynch, Lehman Bros., J.P. Morgan and 2,200 people who entered a contest sponsored by investor Julius Westheimer, who writes a column for the Baltimore Sun.

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Last January, when the Dow Jones average was about 6,760, Barron predicted the market would close at 7,910 at the end of the year. On Dec. 31, the market finished the year at 7,908.25, less than two points off Barron's prediction.

"This is amazing to come this close," said Westheimer, who is special managing director for Ferris Baker Watts in Baltimore.

For his efforts, Barron wins a dinner - and the admiration of his broker.

"Wow. That's good," said Martin Bambrick, a stock broker at Ferris Baker Watts in Hagerstown. "Especially to win a contest with a circulation of a paper like the Baltimore Sun."

Bambrick said he participates in a yearly office pool. His forecast for 1997: 7,400.

"It's pretty much guesswork," he said.

Barron, a machine operator for 33 years at Mack Trucks Inc. in Hagerstown, said he follows the market closely and has bought stocks and mutual funds. Still, he admitted he has no secret prognosticating formula.

"Just a very optimistic guess," he said. "I watch the market. (But) in the end, it's just a guess."

Barron, 56, and his wife will dine with Westheimer and his wife at the Red Horse Inn on Dual Highway.

Barron's prediction beat out two second-place contestants by a single point. Westheimer said it was among the most accurate forecasts in the roughly 20 years he has sponsored the contest.

Westheimer said sometimes dumb luck counts for more than all of the sophisticated information-gathering skills and financial savvy of the experts. Six years ago, he said, the contest winner was a truck driver from Hagerstown who had no experience with the stock market at all.

"He never heard of the Dow Jones. He didn't even have a telephone," he said.

While Barron may not be clairvoyant, Bambrick said he takes a smart approach to investing.

"Mr. Barron's done well. He has a good investment head on his shoulders," he said.

Barron said his philosophy has been to stick with the notion that the market performs well over the long haul. He said he plans to enter the contest again this year. His prediction is 9,000, but he holds no illusions about his chances.

"There's not a person on earth who can tell you where the market is going to end up," he said.

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