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Wednesday, April 12, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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The market's taking stock of Eastside's whiz kids

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

EASTSIDE

At 16, Jed Tsai has made more money in the stock market than the average King County resident earns in a year.

The 10th-grader from Issaquah High School took a $5,000 investment and turned it into a stock portfolio worth about $50,000.

At Northwest Yeshiva High School on Mercer Island, 18-year old Soly Azose has done so well with his stock picks that his mother doesn't want the value of his portfolio published.

Who wants to be a millionaire? Check the Eastside high schools.

"You hear all the time now about kids 22 to 25 making a killing, becoming millionaires by making trades. If you are good at it, you can make a lot of money," says Sam Meyler, a Bellevue High School senior with a $5,000 portfolio.

"You can pretty much set yourself up for life."

Forget warnings that the bull market will end. Or the risks of playing the market. Many teens aren't letting those realities dampen their optimism for a chance to make a fortune or to save for early retirement.

Investment advisers and teachers report that interest in the market is rising among teens - a trend particularly evident on the Eastside, where the influence of wealth and the stock market is a part of many teens' lives at home and school.

Some schools are even teaching them how.

Issaquah High math teacher Craig Torget, who teaches investment as part of advanced-placement math, says some students are so passionate about the market that he's careful not to mention any stocks in his lectures for fear students would consider it a tip.

Talk of initial public offerings, or IPOs, and stocks are common among students, he says. He leaves the classroom television tuned to a cable station's stock ticker between classes because students like to check how their stocks are performing.

The Washington Council on Economics Education estimates there are 240 Eastside students, from elementary to high school, competing in its annual statewide stock-picking competition that ends this month.

No one should be surprised that many of these Eastside teens know as much about the market as adults, says Jason Nap, a financial adviser with Morgan Stanley Dean Witter in Bellevue.

"There is a lot of wealth," Nap says. "A lot of it is driven by the stock market. So the kids are going to be surrounded by this environment."

Glenn Uno, who teaches how the stock market works to fifth-graders at Fall City Elementary School, agrees.

"With the Eastside being the way it is," he says, "a lot of kids come from high-tech families. Their (parents) get stock options. . . . We have kids whose parents are executives with Egghead software. We have parents retired from Microsoft. The parents are living off their investments. We have that influence here."

Forbes magazine found there were 4,480 millionaires living in a 23-square-mile-area of the Eastside. About 35 percent of them are from Microsoft or a related business, most of them in their late 30s or early 40s.

The Bellevue Economic Partnership reports there are twice as many high-tech jobs on the Eastside as in Seattle and that the average Eastside household income is $90,275.

Every Eastside school district has at least one high, middle or elementary school teaching how to invest in the stock market, or they merge it into a math or social-studies curriculum.

Jill Stevens, who teaches the stock market to fourth-graders at Sunset Elementary in Issaquah, estimates that 10 to 20 percent of her students already own stocks, most of which they got as birthday and Christmas presents. Many of her students know their stock-ticker symbols and track them on the Internet, she says.

Many teens say they learn about the market from their fathers or hear classmates talk about hot stocks.

Issaquah High 10th-grader Mark Horoszowski uses his earnings as a ski instructor to build his $1,500 portfolio of Starbucks, Boeing and Albertsons stock.

Azose, the Northwest Yeshiva High senior, says he used money from his job at a summer camp, his bar mitzvah and his parents to build a diverse portfolio that includes Infospace stock and $1,000 worth of bonds.

Meyler, of Bellevue High, says he uses earnings from summer and after-school jobs and from his parents.

Financial advisers such as Neale Godfrey, best-selling author and chairwoman of the Children's Financial Network, say many teens really don't understand the risks or discipline needed.

"They need to understand the value of money," Godfrey says, "and they need to earn the money before they start investing. Otherwise, they have no concept of hard work and how to earn it."

Godfrey thinks the stock craze skews the fundamentals of work and investing for youngsters because what they really want is to find the next Microsoft and get rich quick.

But, she notes, there were 18 other software companies when Microsoft started, and the Redmond-based company is the only one still in business. "You had to guess Microsoft from (among the 19)," Godfrey says. "So the odds are not good."

Some teens are betting, not investing, she adds.

Minors need consent from their parents to open a stock account and make trades. Christopher Tsai, a Taiwanese immigrant who works in import-and-export-trading business, has no problem giving his son that control. He says most parents have savings accounts or money set aside for their children's college fund. The difference is he lets his son Jed control his savings to teach him how to invest and be responsible.

It may not be the right approach for everyone, but he says he has faith in his precocious son.

When Jed was 11, Tsai bought him 20 shares each of Intel and Microsoft, taught him how to track his holdings and urged him to read a book by legendary stock picker Peter Lynch.

Jed Tsai has been devouring financial books ever since and making a killing in the market. He regularly reads magazines such as Money, Forbes and Business Week, and The Wall Street Journal, and he tracks stock tips on the Internet and on television.

From six years of investing, his portfolio includes 134 shares of Cisco Systems, 80 shares each of Intel and Microsoft, 40 of Applied Materials.

Jed Tsai predicts that by age 40 he will have at least $2 million from his investments.

All the money hasn't quelled his ambition, however. He juggles honor classes with track meets, aims for an Ivy League school and practices for his SAT every Saturday with a tutor. He also plays the violin and piano.

He wants to work in the computer field for a company that offers - what else? - stock options.

The recent whipsawing of stocks on the Nasdaq and New York Stock Exchange hasn't shaken Tsai's faith. His custom is to buy good companies at low prices and stick with them.

"You can't sell on gut instinct," Tsai says.

Tan Vinh's phone message number is 206-515-5656. His e-mail address is tvinh@seattletimes.com

Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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