With the Dow Jones industrial average standing this morning at 3,887.46, up 2,948 points, or 314 percent, since Ticker first appeared on Feb. 22, 1977 -- 17 years, 1,700 columns and about 2.1 million words ago -- we look back at other prices and figures which prevailed when we began. The Dow Jones average that day stood at 939.26.
Here are some February 1977, prices, followed (in parentheses) by approximate current prices: Gallon of gasoline 58 cents ($1.10); good auto tire $35 ($75), package of three Spalding Top-Flite golf balls $2.75 ($7.50); gallon of heating oil 46 cents ($1.10); dry martini at Tio Pepe restaurant, imported gin or vodka $1.75 ($3.95); cheeseburger at Burke's restaurant, financial district $1.85 ($3.15); The Evening Sun 15 cents (50 cents). And some financial figures: S&P; 500 stock index 101 (467); Dow Jones utility index 109 (208); prime lending rate 6 percent (6 percent); long-term municipal bond yield 6.25 percent (4.7 percent); BG&E; stock $6 ($23); Exxon $12 ($66); Procter & Gamble $10 ($57); Merck $3 ($33). Stock prices adjusted for splits; decimals and fractions dropped.
BEHIND THE SCENES: Many readers asked, over the years, these questions.
Q. Where do you get all that stuff?
A. Mostly by keeping my eyes and ears open. With notebook and pencil in my pocket and car (I haven't had an accident yet), I drive frequently to different parts of the city, lunching, for example, in The Poplar Inn (Dundalk), The Back Fin (Pikesville), Milano's (Timonium), The Eastern House (Highlandtown), etc. Instead of hearing about stocks and bonds, I hear mostly about jobs and the high cost of living.
Q. What do you subscribe to?
A. About 40-50 magazines, newspapers, newsletters, brokers' reports, trade publications, offbeat periodicals and local house organs (BG&E;, Noxell, McCormick, Rouse, Westinghouse, etc.)
Q. How long does it take to write one column?
A. Too long. I'm a worrier, and I fight every column to death. Each column takes about four to five hours. I write mostly before daybreak, revising in early evening. My main objectives are to be informative, helpful, local and lively.
Q. What was your worst blunder?
A. Forgetting that my column goes out "over the wires" to dozens of newspapers all over the country, I wrote, several years ago in a "Workplace Wisdom" segment, "If you would like a copy of a booklet I once wrote called 'How To Get a Job,' send a stamped, self-addressed envelope, etc., etc."
It took my wife, my secretary and me two weeks to fill over 1,100 requests for the piece. I had expected about 50 local responses.
LOOKING BACK: From my first column, Feb. 22, 1977: "Did you know that George Washington. whose birthday we mark today, was inaugurated (April 30, 1789) just 100 yards from the present headquarters of the New York Stock Exchange? Suffering a brief fainting spell when he arrived in Wall Street -- as many investors have over the years -- our first president recovered quickly and took the oath of office in a ringing voice on the balcony of Federal Hall at the corner of Broad and Wall streets.
Speaking of presidents, when Ticker began, Jimmy Carter had just been inaugurated.
LOOKING AHEAD: "With the new year under way and with it the new tax plan of the Clinton administration (with higher tax rates), the desire for untaxed income is stronger than ever. Since tax-exempt bonds yield about 85 percent of taxable bonds, the investor in the 28 percent to 39.6 percent tax bracket has a chance to lock in excellent returns." (Middle-Fixed Income Letter)
WALL ST. WATCH: (From readers' contest postcards): "As TC January goes, so goes the year, and January is up. Also, a stock market expert on 'Wall Street Week' predicted 4,016, a bit premature, but sounds good to me for 1994." (Milton Goldberg, runner-up last year) . . . "Year-end Dow Jones prediction 3,374. Sorry, but you can bet on a correction by end of 1994." (David Stein) . . . "Because I believe in the valleys as well as the peaks, expect interest rates will be higher and the economy worse by year-end, I guess 2,793 -- and hope I'm wrong." (F. Ranney) . . . "DJ 4,230. This I believe, my fifth try, never even came close! Maybe this time I will rate dinner or lunch and have a nice chat with your wife -- in Czech, of course!" (Mrs. Henry Sonberg) . . . "I say 3,522 because I think we'll have a 10 percent correction." (Louise Smith) . . . "I believe the market will continue to grow in 1994, so I say 4,194 at year-end." (Bud Gray).