Wall Street whiz encourages women to buy tech stocks

Are women better with money than men?

Liz Ann Sonders, a regular panelist on television's top financial programs on CNN and CNBC, thinks so.

"It is always a treat for me to speak to a group of women on investments, very simply, because we do it better than men," she said, addressing an audience of about 50 women and three men at the Federal Reserve Bank in San Francisco on June 21.

The program was organized by the Jewish Community Endowment Fund's women's committee, and sponsored by U.S. Trust Company's Campbell, Cowperthwait division, an investment managing firm where Sonders is managing director.

Sonders, who has been called No. 1 stock-picker in the business by "Wall Street Week," titled her lecture "Tech Stocks at the Dawn of the Information Revolution."

The program began with a Continental breakfast and a 9:30 a.m. start time, but Sonders told audience members that they should actually recognize the time as dawn.

Today, she said, is only the "second inning" of the third Industrial Revolution, which is "as powerful or more powerful" than either of the first two historical moments that led to the rise of railroads first and later electricity and automobiles. The third, according to Sonders — also known as the "Information Revolution" — involves instantaneous, low-cost access to information.

With a slideshow and handouts, Sonders illustrated why technology stocks are currently so strong today. Ten years ago, she said, only one technology company, IBM, was on the list of the top 10 stocks that were expected to have a high growth rate.

Sonders explained that companies used to spend most of their money on hard assets, including equipment and factories. Now about two-thirds of capital investments go to the intangible — such as research and development, software, marketing and computer training. These investments in technology allow companies to "become more productive and more efficient."

The stock-picker with a 107 percent return in 1999 also said that women are very much in the forefront of the technological revolution. According to Sonders, the male-to-female ratio of Internet users currently falls within 2 percent of their representation in the total U.S. population. These women are not only allocating portions of their money to shopping in Internet retail companies, but also to investments and philanthropy.

For that reason, the JCEF's women's endowment committee organizes about three programs a year to educate Jewish women about financial issues. The committee, which has existed for more than 15 years, plans programs with well-known national speakers and local financial authorities who share their expertise.

Lisa D. Gurwitch, associate director of the JCEF, said that the committee's mission is to sponsor educational programs for those with an interest in philanthropy, investments, financial planning and estate planning, and to raise the consciousness of the community about JCEF.

Audience questions ranged from asking Sonders' opinion on the Microsoft antitrust suit — "It is appalling what the government is going to do," she said — to her top three stock recommendations, which were Exodus Communications, a Web hosting company; JDS Uniphase, a provider of fiberoptics components; and Texas Instruments.

Annette Dobbs, past chair of the women's endowment committee and former president of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, said women need to be savvy about their money, to "know what goes on [financially] in their own homes."

"I was of the generation that women knew nothing — I mean nothing" about their money. "When my husband passed away, I had to learn it the hard the way."

She emphasized that it is critical that younger women attend such programs as the Sonders lecture and learn how to deal wisely with their money.

Even though high-tech is a "male-dominated industry, " Sonders said women have proven themselves capable and shouldn't be intimidated.

After all, some of the most successful men in the business have made major miscalculations.

Only five years ago, according to Sonders, Bill Gates purportedly said that "the Internet is a fad that will be largely irrelevant to most of the population."

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