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Freeman School  Powers Stock-Picking Contest

September 9, 2001

Mark Miester
Phone: (504) 865-5714

inside@tulane.edu

It's a good thing that Peter Ricchiuti subscribes to the theory that any publicity is good publicity. Otherwise, he would have had a rough summer.

"I run in the park, and inevitably at least two people that are running the other way comment," said Ricchiuti. "I had one guy yell, 'Boy, I'm sure glad my portfolio isn't in the paper every Sunday.'"

Ricchiuti's portfolio, you might have surmised, has been in the paper every Sunday. Ricchiuti, Freeman School assistant dean and research director of its Burkenroad Reports stock analysis program, was one of five celebrity stock pickers who were featured in the Times-Picayune's Louisiana Stock Picking Contest.

Each summer, the newspaper invites readers to submit a portfolio of five Louisiana-based public companies. At the end of the summer, the three readers whose portfolios post the best performance win U.S. savings bonds.

At the same time, the paper asks a panel of New Orleans notables to submit stock picks. Ricchiuti's fellow celebrities? Times-Picayune personal finance editor Mary Judice, Audubon Nature Institute president Ron Forman and two of Forman's Audubon Zoo colleagues: Jean the elephant and a team of five beetles.

Inside Tulane caught up with Ricchiuti during the middle of August, two weeks before the contest ended.

"I was the top celebrity in the first two years of the contest and finished 19th each year out of 4,000," Ricchiuti rued. "Now that they put me against something laughable, I'm falling apart."

Ricchiuti banked on continued strong performance from oil service companies like Trico Marine, Conrad Industries and Gulf Island Fabrication when he made his picks in May. Not long after the start of the contest, oil prices melted down and oil service companies followed those prices into the tank.

"The old adage is when the big oil companies like Texaco and Exxon catch a cold, the oil service companies get pneumonia," Ricchiuti said. "And that's what I have--pneumonia-ridden stocks."

Still, he mischievously hoped that Mother Nature could help put his companies to work. "One good hurricane in the Gulf and I might be able to pull this out," he wisecracked.

While Ricchiuti has good naturedly accepted the ribbing that goes along with his celebrity status, the A. B. Freeman School of Business may have been the big winner in the contest. As it's done for the past two years, the Freeman School provided all the technical research and accounting for the contest. MBA student Kenny Domilise compiled the stock prices at the beginning of the contest.

Each week he updated the database with current prices as well as calculated the performance of each of the contests almost 3,000 participants. According to Tom Gerace, the Freeman School's director of technology and designer of the database, the contest was a great advertisement for the Freeman School.

"I think the returns are pretty good," he said. "The T-P doesnt want to have to worry about the mathematics of it all or entering the current prices into a database. They just want the results to print. Our overall investment in time is minimal, and every single week we get our name and logo printed in the paper."

The contest was also featured on the Times-Picayune's Web site, nola.com, where participants could search the database to track their own performance. While the downturn in the oil industry dragged down Ricchiuti's performance in this year's Times-Picayune contest, it's nothing compared to what it did to his performance in the ZX Dartboard Contest.

For that contest, money managers are asked to pick a single stock for the next six months. The performance of those stocks is then pitted against a portfolio chosen by hurling darts at a stock listing.

Ricchiuti's pick? Maverick Tube Corp., a manufacturer of steel tubing products used in oil and natural-gas drilling. As of Aug. 23, Maverick's stock price was down 25 percent.

"I'm going to need two or three hurricanes to win that one," Ricchiuti quipped. "I'm going to need Andrew to come back."

To his credit, Ricchiuti wound up beating both Jean the elephant and the beetles, although his human opponents edged him out in the end.

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