Day trippin'

Dallas' little fish swim with the Wall Street sharks at an online trading house

Mitch Whitlock is a 36-year-old former car salesman and sales consultant. Asked whether he was following his brother's lead, he hesitates and then concedes, "Yeah, I guess. He was kind of the catalyst."

Since he started trading a week after his brother, Mitch has seen mostly losses too. He doesn't want to say exactly how much because he hasn't told his wife. "It's a process you go through," he says, sounding a lot like his big brother. "You're paying for your education."

In the day-trading room where they sit almost every weekday, the two brothers have witnessed both cautionary and inspirational lessons. A trader who sat beside them until two weeks ago lost his whole bundle -- $25,000. He's now looking for a job.

But behind them are the veterans. "One of them told us he's trying to get his account to $500,000 by December," the younger Whitlock whispers, a little wide-eyed about the prospect of so much money.

It's 8:50 on a Wednesday morning one week after Carlton Whitlock lost $1,600 on Phone.Com. XWhitlock, who arrived around 7 a.m., has already performed his morning rituals. He has checked his computer for tips from several online services he subscribes to and has scanned the Internet-posted CNBC guest list. (Stocks often move because some expert utters an opinion on television.) But Whitlock has not yet made any trades.

His younger brother has. "I'm more of a gambler than my brother," he says.

He's losing money.

"Oh look, I'm only down $800," he notes in a good-natured voice to his older brother, who returns a slightly disapproving look.

Since losing the $11,000 in his first few weeks, Carlton has returned to his original cautious strategy.

On a table in front of him sit his tools: a cell phone, a coffee cup, and a spiral notebook where he keeps a log of where his stock tips come from. On his computer screen are a dozen different colors and multiple graphical displays. A chart shows the current trades of any stock he chooses. Other charts show the stock's past prices on a minute-by-minute basis. Green represents an uptick and red a downtick. Red makes Whitlock nervous.

He still wears businesslike clothes (corporate casual -- khaki slacks, a striped button-down shirt, argyle socks, and loafers). "I'm getting out of the work mode slowly," he says. His brother wears jeans and a gimme cap sporting a country-music radio station's call letters.

The elder Whitlock plans to work a half-day. His teenage son is scheduled to perform at the community theater in Garland, and he wants to catch the musical during the week so he can make a weekend camping trip. "I need some time off," he says.

On his screen, he calls up DSL.Net Inc., a high-speed data company that helps set up digital technology for Internet access for small and medium-sized businesses. It has not made a profit yet -- like many of the stocks the Whitlocks and the other day traders choose to make their money from.

"It's going sideways," he says. By looking at the electronic roster of proposed buys and sells, he can tell that day traders are selling off.

"He's holding it so tight," Whitlock says about DeutscheBank, the investment firm that is one of the market makers in DSL.Net that day.

Whitlock has not clicked on his buy button yet.

By 9:05, the DSL.Net stock is again coming down. "I'm having a real hard time reading this," he concedes. He is attracted to the stock because the day before his brother made $1,200 on DSL.Net.

In the back row, one of the veterans is complaining about his wife. "After college," he says, "Naugahyde was fine. Now everything has to be leather."

Focused on his screen, Whitlock notices that some buyers for DSL.Net are offering more than sellers are asking. That's an investment strategy technically known as "dumb," the equivalent of offering a grocer $10 for a $5 bag of tomatoes.

"I think we have some stupid day traders here," says Whitlock, who is out of the market for the moment and feeling a bit cocky.

At 9:12, the veterans in the back row are talking about Data Broadcasting Communications Corp., a new Internet stock. Whitlock quickly calls up the particulars on his screen. "I made $30,000 off that stock," a voice from the back row says, "just rode her up and let her go."

Whitlock looks, but doesn't buy.

At 9:21, Whitlock looks again. Data Broadcasting's stock price -- for minutes at least -- rises almost three points. "He was right," Whitlock says with obvious awe of the veteran's ability to read the trading charts and history and anticipate the change.

A short time later, the wife of one of the back-row guys enters the office. She is slender, elegantly coiffed, a flawless enough beauty that she could pass for a model. Almost all the men on the floor manage to get a glance at some point. "I ain't doing nothing, honey, but making money," her husband tells her in a loud voice as laughter fills the room.

A computer ding sounds from the back row, and the room grows quiet. The peculiar noise, they all know, means a message has arrived in Evan Rogers' electronic mailbox from Tokyo Joe Park. A renowned figure among day traders, the online stock guru passes on tips to those who pay $200 a month for his e-mails. Rogers shares them with his fellow traders.

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