Hall of Fame 33 - Jerome Gitt

Since the day he retired from Morgan Stanley, in June 2000, Jerome Gitt has not owned a single stock. He dumped his holdings just six months after the Dow Jones industrial average reached its tech-bubble high of 11,723. It recovered, of course, and climbed above 14,000 at the height of the housing bubble before plunging more than 50 percent, to 7,062, by the first quarter of 2009 — its lowest level in a dozen years. Given its turbulence during his postretirement years, Gitt has no regrets about keeping his life savings out of the stock market. His refusal to own equities may seem a bit out of character for someone who worked for decades as an analyst, but Gitt has always been a bit of a contrarian.

A graduate of the University of California at Los Angeles graduate business school, Gitt was working as an accountant in San Francisco, serving large banks and savings and loans, when a friend contacted him in 1973 about an analyst job covering S&Ls at what was then Dean Witter & Co.

“I said, ‘That is an industry I know something about,’” recalls Gitt, 68. But it was an industry in trouble, and few analysts wanted to cover it, “so they hired me — and I ended up in a horrible industry at a horrible time,” he says.

But he loved it — and money managers loved him. They voted him the No. 1 analyst in Savings & Loans in 1975, the first of his 22 consecutive appearances in that sector’s top spot. (In 1997 we merged the sector with Government-Sponsored Enterprises. Gitt slipped to third place, then to runner-up the following year, the last in which he ranked.)

Gitt’s clients appreciated his ability not only to steer them away from trouble but also to guide them toward opportunities. He was a big fan of Oakland, California–based Golden West Financial, whose name is now inextricably linked to the subprime mortgage crisis but at the time was “the best company in the financial services business,” according to Gitt. In fact, when he retired in 2000 (by then he was with Merrill Lynch), he took a seat on the board of Golden West; he stayed through its acquisition by Wachovia Bank in 2006, leaving only after the latter firm — another victim of the crisis — was taken over by Wells Fargo & Co. two years later. Today few of the firms Gitt covered are still in existence. But he is enjoying his retirement in Palm Springs, California, and rarely looks back: “I almost don’t even remember I was an analyst anymore.”

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