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Who's looking out for the little guy?

One of the more shameful events in California financial history occurred as recently as 2009 and 2010 when the state hired consultants to meet with small businessmen who were owed money at the height of the Great Recession. Sort of like George Clooney in the movie “Up In the Air,” the job of these hired guns was to tell people who had performed services that California was just not going to pay what the state owed. California to its job-creating businessmen: “Drop Dead!”

The case for public-owned banks

On our return trip from France, the United flight was delayed by a full day for inexcusable reasons, but upon boarding the same aircraft, one of the first announcements by the crew was, “Who left a book yesterday entitled ‘America is Not Broke!’ by Scott Baker?” On the 11-hour return flight I had time to read some of the best parts twice.

New way to thwart high-frequency traders

Ned Johnson III, the former CEO of Fidelity Investments is back in the news with another great idea. He has launched something called Luminex which is a private trading platform that currently has just nine club members. You have to be managing at least a billion dollars to become a member. Its purpose is to thwart the high-frequency traders that have become a scourge in the market costing regular investors like you and me as much as 3 percent per year.

Enough obsessing over the Federal Reserve

I'm always dumbfounded by the amount of wasted energy expended by individuals and institutions attempting to second-guess future economic events. And compounding the fruitlessness is the further attempt to determine how those economic changes will impact financial assets. What a waste of time. The best “night-guard” for all the teeth-gnashing is simply to diversify investments and sit tight come what may.

Low volatility funds

Back in 1981, Wynton Marsalis burst onto the scene as a trumpet player followed soon after by his brother Branford --- then came Delfaeyo. At about that time, a New Yorker cartoon featured a small boy dashing into the living room yelling, “They just discovered another Marsalis brother!” It turned out to be Jason Marsalis on the drums. It all reminds me of my experience of financial products. Just when you think nothing else could be invented, something new enters the firmament.

Explaining exchange-trade funds

Following last week's light touch on the subject, there's more to be explained about exchange-traded funds (ETFs). Since they are a relatively new financial product compared to stocks themselves or mutual funds, they present elements of a noble experiment. But that hasn't phased investors. The amount in ETFs has doubled since 2012 -- to $2.12 trillion.

Tips for managing after-tax money

Believe it or not, some people actually have money beyond what they have accumulated in their retirement accounts. Retirement account money is referred to as “pre-tax” or “tax-deferred” because no taxes are ever due until you spend it. All that money keeps compounding tax-free. Everything else is called “after-tax money.” The genesis of after-tax money for most people will be some combination of the sale of a home, business or an inheritance. Miraculously for some, however, their after-tax portion of the nest egg is attributable to disciplined savings and investment acumen.

The fight to protect investors' assets

The battle over who will be legally obligated to protect investors’ assets continues to rage in a knock-down, drag-out exercise that is now in its third year back in Washington. So what else is new? What the financial services industry is fighting is the requirement that all brokers working with retirement accounts including IRA’s become “deemed fiduciaries.” A “fiduciary,” by definition, is charged with making all recommendations in the sole interest of the beneficiary of the recommendations.

We need to invest more in the Peace Corps

We recently hosted a visit from identical twin sisters who came to San Francisco to celebrate the 50th reunion of fellow Peace Corps volunteers who had worked in Africa in the early days of this legendary organization. While volunteers total 6,800, the Peace Corp has almost 17,000 applicants for roughly 3,500 annual openings for two-year stints overseas. Why not take them all and spread that much more good will around the world? Budget restraints. The Peace Corps is allocated just $380 million which works out to about $50,000 per volunteer.

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