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April 30, 2000

The Long Distance Trader

By Sanford Wexler

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  • The Long Distance Trader

Stacie Weiss, head trader at First Ameri can Asset Management in Minneapolis, Minn., is a life-long learner. And she wants to keep on learning.

"I love the thought of knowing about many things," she said. "That includes companies and current events." Weiss, 38, said her position helps her achieve that goal. The job gives her a birds-eye view of what's shaping the national as well as the global economy.

First American is the asset management arm of U.S. Bancorp (which is also based in Minneapolis). The firm has more than 78 billion dollars in assets: 40 percent in equities and 60 percent in fixed income. Weiss' desk handles orders from the First American family of mutual funds as well as from institutions and wealthy investors.

Weiss, who graduated Phi Beta Capa from the University of Colorado in Boulder in 1984 with a degree in economics, started her career at First American in 1985. Her first job was as an administrative assistant. "I helped out everyone," she recalled. "I worked with the economist, the analysts, and the traders."

A year later, in 1986, Weiss became an equity analyst and subsequently passed the rigorous Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) exam. Weiss pointed out that she is one of a small group of buy-side traders who is a CFA.

Weiss heads up a trading desk that comprises five traders and two assistants. Her desk handles up to 600 trades each day. They are generated by the firm's 12 portfolio managers and 24 analysts. The desk also executes orders for 75 money managers who invest the assets of wealthy individuals. "They [the money managers] are located as far east as Illinois and as far west as California," Weiss said.

Unlike some trading desks, where one trader buys and the other sells, First American's traders perform both tasks, including trading listed and Nasdaq stocks. Four traders are dedicated to serving the mutual fund managers, while one deals exclusively with the money managers for high-end investors.

Like many veteran traders, Weiss has witnessed a remarkable number of changes over the past 15 years. "Assets are growing exponentially and so is trading volume," she observed. "There has been a huge increase in the number of trades that we are executing."

In recent months the marketplace, especially Nasdaq, has been as volatile as a tiny sailboat on the choppy, high seas. The volatility is frustrating, Weiss said, but it's also a challenge. "The most important thing is to remain calm," she advised. "If you get too emotional it can color your ability to do a good job."

Staying in frequent contact with the mutual fund managers, whether it's over the phone or in person, Weiss said, enables her trading team to deal intelligently with the market's sudden and steep swings.

First American executes its trades primarily with some 40 broker dealers as well as with several soft-dollar firms. Weiss said the number one priority on her desk is to achieve best execution. The traders can freely use their discretion when it comes to choosing a broker dealer.