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Shippensburg man wins $500,000 in stock market contest

August 06, 2008|By DON AINES

SHIPPENSBURG, Pa. -- Like in Monopoly, it was play money that the 254,000 contestants in the CNBC.com Million Dollar Portfolio Challenge used to buy and sell stocks and currencies, but the $500,000 that went to the winner of the 10-week contest was for real.

In the end, it was not a stock broker or fund manager who prevailed, but a freelance musician and cancer survivor with a passion for golf who tripled his initial portfolio to win the challenge.

"It takes the pressure off and my goal is a stress-free life, if that's possible," said Edward Burke, 54, who on Monday was moving out of a Shippensburg apartment complex to new digs in Camp Hill, Pa.

Half a million bucks is not what it used to be -- Burke still has to pay state and federal taxes -- and paid out over 20 years the remainder does not take him directly from Meadow Drive to Easy Street, but it certainly puts him in a better position than a few months ago.

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"Eleven weeks ago, I didn't have anything," said Burke, who has not owned a car in eight years. He took one for a test drive midway through the contest "to give myself motivation," but has no plans to buy one just yet.

Diagnosed with mantle cell lymphoma in 1998, Burke said he was a winner before the contest, having beaten the odds to survive this long. A clinical trial in 2002 involving stem cell transplants made that possible, he said.

"My brother was a perfect match, or we wouldn't be having this talk," Burke said.

While his brother, Bob, supplied the stem cells, Burke also credited his brother and Penn State Mont Alto golf coach, Bill, with providing support he needed to get through that crisis.

Burke won the portfolio challenge despite spending the first few days on the links.

"I keep my golf obligations," he said.

The contest wrapped up July 18, and the top two players appeared July 28 on CNBC for the announcement of the winner. Until this week, however, Burke did not know exactly how much "virtual money" he compiled.

"My computer crashed the day after the contest," he said.

Contestants started with $1 million -- $900,000 in stocks and $100,000 in currencies. Burke parlayed that into $3,024,109.23, beating out David Lesser, a 44-year-old mechanic from Kent, Wash., who took second place and won $250,000 by tallying $2,926,496.60.

Burke made some nice stock plays -- he realized big gains from FreddieMac and FannieMae when the federal government intervened to keep those institutions from going belly-up. However, it was in currency trading that he spanked the rest of the competition.

Burke turned $100,000 into $773,751.95, according to CNBC's Web site. Chi Ming Wong of Rego Park, N.Y., was a very distant second at $309,919.92.

Knowledge is power, and Burke studied the markets and the news. He was up before the sun watching CNBC and consulting other sources to make "news sensitive decisions."

"There were days I got walloped," Burke said, recalling a one-day $125,000 loss when a company he bought stock in failed to meet market expectations. But with the bears prowling Wall Street for months now, he managed not to get devoured.

Burke said he finished in the top 1 percent in the challenge's first year in 2007. Before that, he studied the markets with the aim of trading options.

Trading real money entails real risk, and Burke's advice is to take time to learn the markets before placing any big bets.

"I recommend one year of virtual trading before playing with real money," he said.

The only major change for Burke at this point is his address. Moving puts the musician and songwriter closer to the Harrisburg, Pa., music scene, he said.

In years past, he played with local bands, including classic rock with Ground Zero and jazz fusion with Metropolis. Music delayed his graduation from Chambersburg Area Senior High School for a couple of years in the early 1970s when he was hitting the road instead of the books.

A musician and a mechanic taking the top spots in the challenge proves one does not have to have an MBA from Harvard to succeed in the market, Burke said.

"That should be the message," he said. "People need hope."

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