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Psychic Powers Didn't Help This Man Invest

Securities regulators charged Sean David Morton, who bills himself as "America's Prophet," for fraud and misrepresentation on Friday. The self-proclaimed psychic convinced investors to pour $6 million into his Hermosa Beach, Calif.-based investment firms, claiming that he had accurately predicted every major market move over the past 14 years.

Had he? Not so much.

In a 21-page complaint, the Securities and Exchange Commission picked apart a host of Morton's "ASTONISHING PSYCHIC HITS!" which were astonishing mainly for how wrong they turned out to be.

Consider: In October of 2002, Morton wrote: "Forget about gold. It's going NOWHERE."
He must have had some bad tea leaves that day. Gold was trading around $311 an ounce at the time; rose to $350 by the end of the year and hit $415 by year-end 2003, according to the SEC. Now it's over $1,100.

Even worse, that advice contradicted his June 2000 recommendation to buy gold, which he said would soar by the fall of 2000 from its $290 spot price to $375 per ounce. In fact, gold languished that year and ended up at about $270.

Then there was his famous prediction of a "steady rise in the market" starting in April 2002, which would bring the Dow Jones industrial average up to the 11,000 to 12,000 range by June. Ahem.

That's when the Dow started a steady slide, dropping from 10,381 to 9,120 in late June. The Dow closed the year at 8,341.

Want more? In April of 2001, Morton was predicting a whip-saw market in small stocks. The NASDAQ composite index would hit 2,395, before plunging to 1,034 and then dropping further to 701.78 before skyrocketing to 4,100 in 2002 and to 7,321 in 2003, he said.

With that many predictions, you'd figure the law of averages would be on his side allowing him to get at least one of them right. But, no. Not a one. Not even close.

The NASDAQ didn't hit 2,300, much less 2,395 in 2001. It didn't plunge into the 700s, nor skyrocket in the following years. It slid from 2,000 to about 1,387 in 2001, and eventually rose to about 2,100 in 2003.

Morton brags on his web site (which also sells weight-loss and skin-care products because he's clearly an all-purpose psychic), that 20,000 people subscribe to his investment newsletter.

Naturally, any investor who followed his advice lost a fortune. But the SEC says Morton made out pretty well. The 51-year-old launched a series of investment companies called, 27 Investments; Vajra; and Magic Eight Ball. (Just an aside, but you would have done a lot better listening to my Magic Eight Ball than his when investing. Where Morton would have had you buying and selling at all the wrong times, mine consistently says "maybe" when I ask if it's a good time to put money in stocks. That's almost always right.)

The SEC says that Morton raised some $6 million from more than 100 hapless investors, who apparently didn't check out how "astonishing" his predictions really were. That money got shifted from different investment accounts like a shell-game, with some of it ending up in Morton's non-profit "Prophecy Research Institute."

Morton couldn't be reached on Friday. Both his office phone and fax lines appeared to be hooked to a fax signal; and he didn't return my email asking for a comment.

If there's a moral to this story, it's a simple one. Smart investing is based on math, not magic.

You can find primers on investing wisely all over the web, including some that I wrote for the LATimes which became the seed of my book, Investing 101. Smart investors, from Warren Buffett to John Bogle to Money Watch's own Allan Roth, all say the same thing: They're not psychic. They believe in companies that produce consistent profits by giving customers a good service and good value.

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