Don't be afraid to admit it -- you know a lot about the characters from Saved by the Bell. You know where they hung out after school, what sports they played, and how they overcame their caffeine pill addictions. You know their SAT scores, where they went to college, and even whom they married. What you don't know about Zack and his crew is what type of investors they went on to become.
Investing is all about learning from the past to help predict the future, so it's a good thing we have such a solid working knowledge of these characters. For this exercise, I've used what we know about our favorite Bayside Tigers to predict which stocks they would have invested in after the show went off the air. Using the helpful historical price-calculator at Yahoo! Finance, we can look back and see the closing stock price of each company in 1994 (the year Saved By the Bell ended its historic run -- RIP). I've compared each stock's price in January of 1994 to the closing price on Sept. 3, 2013. The percentage change will tell us which of the "Friends Forever" earned the highest returns.
Note: Yes, I realize this assumes that they all invested the same amount of money. And that they never sold the stock. And that a million other variables somehow didn't affect my tidy outcome. Relax, everyone -- it's just an exercise.
Here's how the characters from Saved By the Bell fared in the stock market these past 19 years.
Always the definition of style, Lisa made sure to dress on the cutting edge. Lace fingerless gloves, loudly colored blazers, tulle skirts in a righteous print -- Lisa had it all and the hats to match. We can only assume that she invested in a company that provides the ultimate accessory to any outfit: diamonds. Lisa bought stock in Tiffany & Co (NYSE:TIF).
- Closing price June 22, 1996: $30.03
- Closing price Sept. 3, 2013: $76.54
- Price change: 154.88%
Wow! That means Lisa outperformed both her former principal and everyone's front-runner, Zack. How'd she do it? By investing in a company with a strong brand, a worldwide customer base, and, most importantly, increasing earnings.
However, retail chains are especially susceptible to the fluctuations in the economy. When the average consumer's discretionary income goes down, so does their shopping. Take a look at the sharp drops in Tiffany's historical stock price. Luckily for Ms. Turtle, she seemed to choose the exception to the rule here in the luxury sector. Sales at higher-end department stores like Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy's, and Nordstrom were below expectations last quarter. For Lisa's sake, let's hope Tiffany & Co. continues to buck the trend. The girl has expensive taste.
Now, a lot of people won't remember this, but being principal wasn't Mr. Belding's only passion. He loved music and served as Bayside High's DJ back in the '60s. As a radio pioneer, Mr. B. probably would have been on the forefront of investing in satellite radio. Let's imagine that he jumped right in and bought shares of Sirius XM Radio (NASDAQ:SIRI) when they became available. He seems like the type to listen to Howard Stern in his office, shake his head disapprovingly, and say, "Hey, hey, hey, hey! What is going on here?"
- Closing price June 22, 1996: $4.63
- Closing price 9.3.13: $3.64
- Price change: -21.38%
Mr. Belding's returns here are a testament to the importance of timing investments. He certainly had the right idea when he invested early in an emerging technology; in the late '90s, Sirius' stock continued to climb until peaking at $61 in February of 2000. Had he sold at their height, he would have seen an eye-popping 1,217% return. Unfortunately, Mr. Belding just couldn't let go, and SIRI's stock price plummeted in the next year. By October 2001, it was trading at less than $4 a share. Although Sirius saw a bit of a resurgence around the mid 2000s when it merged with XM Radio, the pay-for-subscription model does not seem to be able to compete with today's steep digital-music competition. The emergence of free Internet radio, for example, has made keeping satellite radio subscribers a challenge.
In this investment, what Mr. Belding did well was seek out an emerging technology and anticipate the effect it would have on the marketplace. However, he failed to re-evaluate the marketplace as new technologies continued to change the landscape. As a consequence, it appears he doesn't have too much of a nest egg to leave little baby Zack Belding.
It will surprise a lot of you, as it did me, that Zack didn't land at the top of this list. Ever the entrepreneur, Zack had the moxie and the social skills to become a big success. And don't forget about his smarts -- the kid got a 1502 on his SATs. While Mr. Morris did all right in the market, he didn't quite have what it took to get one of the top spots. Zack most likely chose to hitch his investment wagon to Motorola Solutions (NYSE:MSI). Is that any surprise, given his notoriousness as an early adopter in the cellphone sector?
- Closing price Jan. 3, 1994: $51.85
- Closing price Sept. 3, 2013: $56.28
- Price change: 8.54%
Here, we should note that although this 1994 closing price only reflects a marginal amount of growth, there is also an adjusted closing price for that time period that may be more representative of Zack's earnings. The adjusted closing price on that date was $23.06, which, when compared to the closing price in 2013, would have shown 144% growth. In April of 1994, Motorola chose to split its stock, so the adjusted closing prices account for the change.
When a stock is "split," the total number of shares is increased, while the total amount of capitalization stays the same. What this meant for Zack is that his total investment didn't waver, but his number of shares doubled. For example, if he had owned one MSI share in March of 1994, it would have been worth $52.66. In April, after the 2-for-1 split, he then owned two shares, each worth $25.67.
Because Motorola's share prices continued to increase over time, this worked out pretty well for Zack.
In addition to being a great wrestler, Slater was a star quarterback for Bayside High. Famously, the jock of all jocks was "All City in four sports." As an avid athlete, AC probably chose to invest in a store that he frequented for sporting gear: Foot Locker (NYSE:FL).
- Closing price Jan. 3, 1994: $26.12
- Closing price Sept. 3, 2013: $31.91
- Price change: 22.17%
Something important to remember about Slater's investments -- and the rest of the gang's -- is that earnings are not solely calculated by the increase in share price. As a stockholder, Slater also would have received dividends from Foot Locker on a fairly regular basis.
Paying out a dividend is a company's way to pass along a share of its profits to shareholders; they can be paid out either in cash or in additional shares. Not all companies do this, but as a Foot Locker shareholder, Slater received a dividend nearly every quarter since 1994. They were just pennies, yes, but as Slater might say, life is a game of pennies -- er, inches.
Jessie Spano: Bayside's class president, Slater's "Mama," and an all-around excited person. Jessie was a smart girl, and there's a slight chance that her Stanford obsession may have driven her to invest in some Cardinal-related tech start-up. However, it's hard to deny your roots, and the Spano family was rooted heavily in Marriott International (NASDAQ:MAR) -- her dad owned and managed the Marriott Desert Sands!
- Closing price Jan. 3, 1994: $12.76
- Closing price Sept. 3, 2013: $40.30
- Price change: 215.83%
The gains Jessie (and the rest of her family) are seeing are consistent with the rest of the hotel and hospitality industry. Not only are shares of Marriott International trading at their highest value in the past six years, but the shares of Starwood Hotels and Resorts are also peaking. This isn't to say that it has all been breezy; in February of 2009, Marriott shares fell to $13.20. However, as the economy begins to rebound from the recession, the hospitality industry is following suit. Congrats, Mama.
Samuel "Screech" Powers
We all know Screech didn't have the greatest social skills. But what he lacked in suavity, he made up for in technical know-how. The robot the Bayside valedictorian programmed himself, Kevin, melted many a heart. The kid has brains. It would be only fitting for Samuel "Screech" Powers to invest in a computer corporation; I expect he chose IBM (NYSE:IBM).
- Closing price Jan. 3, 1994: $57.63
- Closing price Sept. 3, 2013: $183.96
- Price change: 219.21%
Zoinks! That's a pretty good return. IBM is consistently named one of the strongest brand names worldwide, and its stock price has continued to deliver. Aside from Screech, another smart man has also long believed in IBM's success. Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway is one of IBM's top shareholders. As of June 2013, the conglomerate held more than 68 million shares. We can safely assume Screech has a more modest holding, but nevertheless -- well done, Samuel.
And now, here she is ladies and gentlemen: your highest earner, Kelly Kapowski. The most highly sought-after girl at Bayside, she spent much of the series with Zack and Slater fighting for her affection. And why wouldn't she? The thing about Kelly is that she was all things to all people. Not only was she head cheerleader, but she was also captain of the volleyball, swim, and softball teams -- all the while serving as a backup vocalist in Zack Attack. A woman of such varied interests couldn't be confined to a single stock. Naturally, Kelly would have purchased a mutual fund.
Mutual funds come in many shapes and sizes, but in general, they're professionally managed collective funds that include a varied portfolio of stocks. The possibilities of investments she could have made here are innumerable, so for the sake of this exercise, let us assume that Kelly's investment evenly represented all the companies in the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI). We can then use the change in the Dow to calculate her earnings.
- Closing price Jan. 3, 1994: $3,756.60
- Closing price Sept. 3, 2013: $14,833.96
- Price change: 294.88%
And there you have it -- Kelly Kapowski is the most successful investor from Saved by the Bell! Some of her friends may have beaten her out if they had sold at the height of their particular stocks, but because we are analyzing their success based on long-term investments, Kelly came out on top. Let this be a lesson to us all: If long-term growth is the goal, diversification is key. As for Kelly, with those kinds of returns, I'm sure she's still pretty popular.