As the pop-cultural phenomenon "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" starts its second year tonight on ABC, only six of the 1,336 contestants have survived the glare of host Regis Philbin's smile and ties to take home the $1 million prize.
With all the glamour surrounding the windfalls, there were expectations that the winners would do something big with their money. They might quit their jobs, or follow a dream, as Diane Sawyer wondered in an interview of the millionaires on "Good Morning America" two weeks ago.
But $1 million isn't what it once was. In interviews with American Banker, three of the big winners (the other three declined to be interviewed) said they were investing most of their fortune.
The jackpot question is how. Is the money in Long-Term Capital Management II? A brother-in-law's Internet start-up? The Regis Philbin clothing line? Stocks and mutual funds?
The last choice seems to be the "final answer" from John Carpenter, Dan Blonsky, and David Goodman, the first, second, and sixth millionaires, respectively. These millionaires want to make more money, and they are obviously prepared to take some risks, but they are not speculators.
Name-brand mutual funds like Fidelity and Janus, major brokerage account managers like Merrill Lynch, and blue-chip stocks from General Electric to Pfizer to Berkshire-Hathaway are well represented in the portfolios of the three trivia masters.
Still, they have made some less routine choices too, like investing in a mutual fund devoted to classic risk arbitrage, betting that mergers will be completed. Conspicuously absent from their portfolios are investments in bonds.
While it is a little early to draw any conclusion about how the new millionaires have done with their investments, it is safe to say that with the stock market in the doldrums this year, their performances are not ready for prime time.
As a Internal Revenue Service special procedure adviser dealing with federal tax liens, the 31-year old Mr. Carpenter knows a little more than most people about how fast $1 million can go. He had less than $600,000 to invest after turning over roughly $368,000 to his employer and another $35,000 to state tax collectors in Connecticut, where he lives.Mr. Carpenter is concentrating on long-term investments. While he won't reveal exact dollar amounts, most of his investments are in large-cap stocks through equity holdings with Merrill Lynch and mutual funds at Fidelity Investments.
His investments at Fidelity are in its Blue Chip Growth Fund and Equity Income II, giving him a relatively conservative balance of growth and income return potential. The payoff, though, isn't there yet. Since the start of the year Blue Chip has had a 3.6% return, and Equity a loss of 4.6%.
"Right now I refer to them as those damn mutual funds," he says. "There is still a side of me that wants to see things skyrocket."
Mr. Carpenter has taken more chances with Merrill, which has invested his funds with a variety of private asset managers that it chooses as part of its ML Consults program. Clients like Mr. Carpenter can pick asset classes and place some restrictions on them - he has his money invested in large and mid-cap equity, but he bars tobacco stocks from his portfolio.
Still, he has no choice over who specifically manages the funds or what stocks they buy or sell. His managers merely notify him of his portfolio's performance.
So far he's not too pleased with what he's heard from Merrill either. Since collecting his prize last November, Mr. Carpenter says, he hasn't made any money. "I do regret the fact that I didn't win three years ago," he says. "But we expect this to accumulate in value over a long period of time."
A 34-year old Miami lawyer who became the game show's second millionaire in late January, Mr. Blonsky signed up with Arthur Cohen & Associates, a Northbrook, Ill., financial planner and money management firm, to advise him on his investments as soon as he hit the jackpot.Mr. Blonsky has invested heavily in growth stocks, particularly technology and pharmaceuticals. He has about $12,000 each in Cisco Systems, Microsoft, IBM, General Electric, Berkshire-Hathaway, Merck, Pfizer, Amgen, Immunex, Walgreen's, and Harley-Davidson, among a portfolio of about 30 stocks.
He also assembled a portfolio of equity mutual funds. Mr. Blonsky invested about $40,000 in each, building a more diverse portfolio than he did with his stock holdings. The mutual funds include Janus' Global and Overseas funds, the Kobren Delphi Value Fund, the Firsthand Technology Value Fund, and the Selected American Value Fund.
Perhaps his most interesting bet is on West Chester Capital Management's Merger Fund, a publicly traded fund now closed to new investors. It's a classic risk arbitrage play, the only one that was open to the public, according to Arthur Cohen.
The fund bets only on the stocks of companies involved in merger deals that have already been announced. If they are completed, the investor can expect to profit from the deal. If they don't, the investor loses money.
But that's not the only gamble Mr. Blonsky is taking with the investment. He has yet to pay the IRS its share, and the money in the merger fund is supposed to help pay the roughly $390,000 the government is due from him.
Mr. Blonsky, though, is blase about any short-term risk he's taking.
"My general attitude has been to try to ignore the money," he said. "I made more than I spent before this."
The 24-year old associate at ICF Consulting, an environmental consulting firm in Fairfax, Va., hasn't taken any risks with his money. He hasn't had the time, since he won his prize just last month and has had the money, now sitting in a Fidelity money market account, for only a few weeks.Still, investing his money is important, and though Mr. Goodman is the youngest winner to date, he sounds a lot like his older millionaire brethren in sketching out his plans for investing his fortune. He hired a financial adviser, whose name he won't reveal, to help him with his investments, and he plans to put a lot of money in stocks.
"I view this as money I didn't plan for," he said. "Most of my stock investments will be along the lines of blue chips."
However, Mr. Goodman, who currently lives with his parents in Maryland, does have one major investment in mind, and it has nothing to do with stocks. "I am going to buy a house," he says.