The Newsletter: Bears on the tundra

The cherished Alaska Permanent Fund dividend may be in jeopardy as the bear market in stocks hammers the huge pool of oil money.

For now, Alaskans can expect lower annual payments. The payout this year is $1,541, down from $1,850 last year and the record payout of $1,964 in 2000 when the stock market was soaring.

Fund managers are warning there may be no payout next year because the stock market decline and slumping economy have reduced the fund to slightly below its principal of about $22 billion.

The state constitution says the principal can't be touched.

The fund has declined this year for only the second time in history.

The dividend, which totals more than $900 million, accounts for roughly 5 percent of the state's $17 billion economy, according to The Associated Press. Electronic transfers began last week and checks go out this week.

List keeping on private companies. Inc magazine has come out with its annual list of the 500 fastest-growing private companies in the U.S. Six companies from this area made the 2001 list of financial fitness in a fitful economy. Inc said the average five-year growth rate of companies on the list was 1,933 percent — the highest since 1996.

The local companies: Speakeasy, Seattle, 47th; Envision Telephony, Seattle, 107th; WCI, Seattle, 137th; Sunstream, Kent, 390th; Topics Entertainment, Renton, 419th, and the Mosaic Co., Renton, 477th.

Top local company Speakeasy, which provides Internet and data communications services, had five-year sales growth of 3,177 percent.

Good times for private companies. The Family Business Adviser, a monthly newsletter for privately held family business, says recent headlines on corporate scandals, accounting irregularities and plunging stock prices is making it easier to recruit top executives to private companies.

Executives find private companies more attractive these days because they operate out of spotlight, usually have smaller, more focused businesses and work with simpler accounting needs.

Despite a slumping stock market, half of all U.S. households and one of every three individuals owned mutual funds as of May 2002, reported the Investment Company Institute, a mutual-fund trade group.

Institute research shows that 54.2 million, or 49.6 percent, of U.S. households owned mutual funds as of May 2002 while individual ownership totaled 94.9 million.

A third of fund ownership is through employer-sponsored retirement plans while a somewhat larger share of U.S. households, 36.4 percent, owned mutual funds outside employer retirement plans.

We may not see much of Lou Piniella any more, but you will see more of Wells Fargo bank. The Seattle Mariners and Wells Fargo in Washington are teaming up in a sponsorship package that includes prime advertising signage at Safeco Field and a community-relations program that raises money for Seattle's Zion Preparatory Academy based on the number of home runs hit by the Mariners.

The Wells Fargo sign will appear on the centerfield scoreboard and on the rotational signage behind home plate.

The Mariners agreed to a relationship with Wells Fargo for all corporate-banking services.

Stephen H. Dunphy's phone: 206-464-2365. Fax: 206-382-8879. E-mail: