The Bats of Wall Street

I THINK of them as Bals, because they hate the light. Theirs is the jargon of Wall Street. They like you to believe their reputation and standing are unquestioned, and that they are indifferent to the publicity arising from the activities of the Attorney-General’s office in New York, under the Martin Fraud Act, which have driven some of them from New York to Boston, while the Better Business Bureau has speeded their flight from Boston to Canada.

New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and other cities have made it hot for these vampires, but their activities continue. For years mining stocks were their favorite vehicle. Then came fake oil stocks, next Florida or other real estate, then emerald mines, and more recently the tipster sheets, now in full bloom. That these tipster sheets are profitable may be surmised from the fact that the postage on one, which uses first-class mail, amounts to $30,000 a week. This one is mailed gratis for months at a time. Another, less voluminous, is sold at the rate of a dollar a month and promises huge profits if the investor will but purchase stocks it has picked for a rapid rise.

There is small danger that the experienced investor will be misled by these vicious papers. They all have certain earmarks which rouse suspicion. Several columns are devoted to a discussion of the market as a whole and to the action and price trend of two or three stocks which are listed on the New York Exchange — all orthodox and sound. A page or more is given over to what purports to be correspondence with subscribers in answering questions regarding holdings. Subscribers are urged to send in their lists of holdings for free analysis. It is significant in this page of correspondence that a certain stock is insistently and especially recommended for purchase. Either on the front page or in double column on the second page appears an article with bold headlines telling in glowing terms of a bargain which will make history, and fortunes for those who rush their orders to buy. Note that these tipster sheets are exceptionally accommodating. They will not only analyze your list of holdings and tell you to sell your good securities in order to get the cash to buy their worthless paper, but they will also brush aside their own business and see to it ‘personally’ that your order is executed, saving you the bother of consulting a reputable broker.

Why do these gigantic frauds continue to thrive through the use of the mails? The silence of the victims is the answer. They are ashamed to admit that they have been duped. They will not take the matter up with the Post Office Department, and, until a definite complaint with all the facts in the case is filed, the Government has nothing upon which to base an action.

Supplementing the tipster sheet is the telegraph. Only the other day a successful investor handed me a telegram so typical of the methods of these Bats of Wall Street that I give the reader the advantage of the tip:

Tidal-wave buying sweeping in from Canadian interests sends PDQ to two dollars in short session to-day with orders for thousands of shares unfilled at the close. From what I know I now predict this avalanche of demand will make PDQ sell at ten dollars in even less time than previously predicted, possibly sixty days hence. Assays from PDQ properties show PDQ as one of the biggest bonanzas of modern mining history. For gigantic profits buy it with both hands. Dig deep, but do it instantly. Wire your order now.

The cautious investor asks himself, ‘Why, if orders are coming in so last, do they use the wires to get more orders?’

The telephone is another indispensable tool of these gentlemen. A friend occupying a position of responsibility in Cleveland was called the other day on ‘long distance’ and urged to buy a certain copper stock, said to be due for a remarkable advance. The tael that he had been called by an entire stranger from a distance and urged to buy in haste made him suspicious. He wisely did not purchase, It is common for these promoters to put in calls hallway across the contment I and farther. They have found it pays. The telephone is also safe. In case of court proceedings the man who made the call cannot be identified.

Haste is always an outstanding earmark of this type of promoter. This urge for haste is the danger signal. The fake promoter is in a hurry because he must make his clean-up and disappear. Time presses.

One point regarding these ‘blue-sky’ securities should be borne in mind. The promoter usually pays almost nothing for his stock; often he merely buys an option at ten or twenty cents a share. The stock may be worth what he pays for it as a pure gamble in an unprmcn property. It may be worthless. The vieiousness of the practice lies in the pricing and sales methods by which these securilies are unloaded on a gullible public. To sell a ten-cent stock at thirteen cents on the basis of pure speculation would he to call a spado a spade, bill to sell it at one, two, or three dollars and more, predict prices of ten dollars a share, and at tempt to gloss over a theft by calling it an investment — there lies the mischief.

Perhaps one of the stumblingblocks is the fad dial so many people fail to distinguish between an investment and a speculation. The fact that a security is a stock or a bond is not the determining factor. There are bonds that are nothing more than speculations, just as there are slocks that have earned the classification of investments. It is the financial record of the company that determines the status of its securities.

Our banks and investment bankers, chambers of commerce, and belterbusiness bureaus have spent thousands to etlucate the public on this single point, yet this same public eagerly pours out over one billion dollars a year to fatten these Bats of Wall Street.

Safety of principal is the cardinal and distinguishing characteristic one should demand of investments. A low yield on an investment is the natural corollary to this safety of principal, and the Simon-pure investor asks for no higher yield than is consistent with the degree of safely he demands.

The speculator, on the other hand, cares little for yield. He is concerned with profit. If, during his brief period of ownership, his security pays him something in the way of interest, or dividends, well and good. Often he buys a slock which has never paid a dividend, because he has reason to believe that dividends are just over the horizon. Once the first dividend is declared, he may sell that same stock, take his profit, and look for another stock, or a defaulted bond which may show him another profit.

There is a large group of securities which combine the characteristics of both investment and speculation, and should be properly considered as speculative investments. The factor of safety is sufficient to satisfy many business men and there is at the same time a possibility of appreciation in principal.

The Bats of Wall Street play upon the desire of those of modest means to improve their financial position, trick them into believing they are investing, and thus rob them of savings which should be either in the bank or in bonds of the highest grade. Millions would be saved if we would consult the cashiers of our hanks, our investment bankers, or chambers of commerce or investment counsel, before making the purchase of any security, however attractive it may appear.