TICN In The Press: November 25th, 2002

In an ideal, your favorite hobby would also make you money - and as many are discovering, it is possible through fast growing stock market investment clubs, SINEAD EGAN reports.

Whether it's green fees at the golf club, membership fees at the tennis club or costly trips to the art supplies shop, the average extra curricular activity leaves the average Joe feeling somewhat out of pocket.

But a revolution, which started across the Atlantic, has spread to Ireland - and more people could soon be lining their pockets on a Sunday afternoon instead of emptying their contents into the nearest bunker or water trap.

Stock market investment clubs are popping up all over the country, proving that Gordon Geckos of this world are not the only ones having fun making their money work for them.

Investment clubs are not an entirely new concept -in fact the first-ever investment club was established in 1898 in Texas. However, in recent years the idea has really taken off, with 40,000 separate investment clubs across the US alone.

Not surprisingly, the fever has spread around the globe -there are 3,000 investment clubs in the UK, and estimations are that new ones are established at a rate of 100 a month.

The set-up is simple: get together with a sizeable bunch of friends, neighbours or colleagues, and pool your money and knowledge together in order to make even more money through the stock market investment. You may make a tidy profit and, more importantly you'll have some serious fun and learn about the market in the process.

The Investment Club Network (TICN) has more than 150 separate Irish investment clubs affiliated with it - there is at least one in every country. The membership is diverse in age, gender of course, and profession.

"We have one mechanic, one college student, two van drivers, two accountants, a housewife, an engineer, two managing directors, an operations manager, and a customer service manager," says Sile Leahy of the cork-base Rebel investment club, which has been going for just over a year.

The club has 20 members, who all contribute to the decision-making process of the group. They come from all over Cork, but many of them met at Microtech, a cleaning firm based in the city's North Point Business Park. It is part of TICN, which gave members training in how to maximize their investment.

"A few people had dabbled and gotten burned by the markets," says fellow Rebel Orla O'Mahony.

But of course many, like Denis Ormond, were coming to the world of stock market training for the first time. "Initially, I knew nothing about it. But I thought it would be a great way to learn and it's not a huge commitment," he says. "It's a medium commitment in terms of money and it's a lot of fun - and I've made lots of friends."

In a weekend training courser before trading began in earnest last year, the new club members were shown skills such as how to open a trading account, how to analyze a company, and how to when it is the best time to buy.

As members explained, they feel very fortunate because they were not in the market before September 11. But now, they say they are trained well enough that, even if the market is in a slump, they can still make money.

Every month, each member has a homework assignment of carefully researching information about potentially interesting companies.

"We investigate 20 companies each month," says Sile. "Then, we would look at the '4x4 companies' and invest in the one that would make the best return."

As Pat Lynch -who is managing director at Microtech and a member of the Rebels -explains, a 4x4 company is quality company which comes at the right price.

"Were usually looking for a 'fallen angel' -that is a company that has come down in value but whose fundamentals are still solid, with good management and maybe a monopoly in a certain area. It has to be a business we could relate to."

And, so far, their investment strategy has proven successful, with an average monthly return of 6pc in line with TICN targets. So far, the Rebels' total fund has gone up a nifty 31pc.

In clubs around the country, the membership is on average 80pc male but, according to Pat Lynch, women are vital to the effort. "In our club there are about six ladies," he says. "Ladies are a lot wiser as investors. They are a lot more focused and they play by the book. I would advise other clubs that it is important to have three or four ladies involved in a club to make it a success."

Understandably, in every democracy there are disagreements: but the simple answer in the investment club game is that a 75pc majority decision rules.

"You can have strong characters in a club and not all decisions are right," says Pat. "A successful club has to make mistakes so it can learn."

The plan for the Rebels is to wind up after five years. In that time, each member of the club will have invested a total of €6,000 which they hope will have matured to the nice round figure of €50,000. This will represent a profit of €1m fore the group pool before it is dished out among the members.

"We're on target to do it and we're wiser investors than we were a year ago," enthuses Pat Lynch.

With all this expertise, a few members have even set up individual trading accounts independent of the club.

"It has given me confidence," confirms Maura Leahy (23). "I've opened my own account, which will provide me with a future. I would definitely advise young people to get involved -the younger the better."