Stuart Varney, the former CNN Moneyline anchor who now has his own business show on Fox Business News, spends hours and hours each day forecasting the markets for millions of viewers, but ask him if he's made any money in them, and he gets quiet. Can I say I've made more than $10 million and less than $100 million?" he asks.
When pushed, he narrows it down, to between $10 million and $50 million. He then starts asking questions instead of answering them.
"You've done this before. How do you know people are telling you the truth? How do you know they're not just boasting?"
I try my best to verify the information, but in the end, I don't know, I tell him.
The truth is, he doesn't want people to know he's wealthy because he fears they'll look at him differently.
"Right now, when I walk to my office, all the people I work with, all the people I know, they look at me as 'Stuart Varney. He's a guy on TV.' And they either like him or they don't like him," Varney says. "But if you're known as a man of money, if they know you have significant wealth-and I'm not hinting that I do-they look at you differently."
Varney As Investor
Yeah, they look at you like you know what you're talking about. Apparently, Varney does. The 63-year-old newsman from the English Midlands has amassed a small fortune outside of his broadcasting salary, though he attributes it only partly to investment savvy. The rest was luck, he says.
The luck part comes in when he took a co-anchor job at CNN's Moneyline and was forced to sell all of his individual stock holdings-he was allowed to hold on to his funds-to avoid a conflict of interest. Varney says he was angry at the time. He didn't want to sell. The year was 1999. A few months later, the dot.com bubble burst, and Varney was looking back at Gomorrah burning from the back of the bus as it rode off into the sunset.
"I was the guy who sold Lucent above $60 a share, and it subsequently went down to 60 cents. I sold WorldCom in the 60s before it went to nothing," he says, with just a bit of braggadocio.
But it wasn't all luck. He put a lot of money into real estate when the market was going up, and he sensed when to pull it out before the market went down. Varney bought single-family homes in Escondido and Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., and Orlando and Naples, Fla., between 1999 and 2002 as real estate prices were rising. But once he began seeing what he calls the "Get Rich Quick" advertisements, telling people they could buy homes with no money down and become millionaires, it was a signal prices had gone up too far, too fast, he says. It was time to get out. He had sold most of his holdings in Florida and California by 2005, a good two years before the market tanked and stripped many people of their wealth.
"I probably left 20% on the table. But I got out intact, and I was selling into a sellers' market," he says. "My timing was very fortunate."
While he sold the lion's share of his real estate holdings, he still owns a fair amount of property, including a farm in New Zealand that his son operates, several properties in Australia, some houses in Florida and one in California.
He also owns a tree farm in the Catskills of New York state that he bought 10 years ago for less than $1 million that he estimates is now worth $3 million to $4 million. He bought it as a distressed property, but shortly afterward, some local residents knocked on his door asking if they could log his land. He realized there was money in the forest and meadowlands he had bought. Some of the trees were black cherry and red oak, which are used in high-end furniture, while others were hard maple, which is used in flooring for things like basketball courts. He predicts he can earn as much as $100,000 a year selling the timber. He's about to find out. He's poised to harvest his first 200 to 300 acres worth and already has the furniture makers lined up to buy it. Revenue-producing farms also carry favorable tax treatment, giving him a break on his property taxes.
Varney is also playing currencies, and he currently likes those that benefit from strong natural resource sales, such as the Australian, New Zealand and Canadian dollars. The Australian dollar, relative to the U.S. dollar, has gone from 90 cents to $1.05 over the last couple of years. The New Zealand dollar has gone from 70 cents to 82 cents. The Canadian dollar has gone from about 95 cents to $1.03. He bets on currencies by buying assets in those countries rather than buying futures-futures are for traders, he says-and his bet is that these currencies will rise relative to the U.S. dollar, given that they're selling a lot of natural resources to China.
"The only thing that would upset this play is if China goes bust," he says.
Varney As Anchor
Those who know Varney say his personality on air is much like his personality off: enthusiastic, highly engaging and exceedingly smart. Elisabeth Murphy, who worked as an intern for Fox & Friends, a morning news show on which Varney makes regular appearances, said he was one of the few anchors who would come up with topics himself and do his own legwork to research them.