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Smooth transition into new lifestyle

My recent Florida road trip had, as its primary purpose, the challenge of helping my parents move to assisted living from independent living.

More on that later, but I started the trip by attending a pension industry conference at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach Florida. Parked at the front of this palatial building was a brand new Rolls-Royce convertible which is priced, I found out, at $443,000. Flipping through a local real estate magazine, the houses for sale nearby ranged from $6 to $36 million. I wondered, who are these people?

Fidelity reluctantly offers 'open architecure'

Remember Jim Carrey in that movie, "Dumb and Dumber"? If you're in a 401(K) plan, there's a good chance that it's run by Fidelity -- a company that dominates the industry with 11 million participants.

Some former Fidelity marketing executives shared some inside knowledge with me that might make me feel like Jim Carrey if I happened to be in a Fidelity plan. I know that sounds harsh, but here's a little background:

Reading inflation between bond yields

That Bob Brinker. While some people think the sun rises and sets with his financial advice, I have to take him with a grain of salt. But then I don't know anyone who has consistently been correct on market forecasting.

For example, Brinker completely missed the latest crash. However, his radio show on more than 400 stations is popular with millions who tune in regularly, and his newsletter is full of good advice. If you don't want to tune in, you can read an interpretation of the show by subscribing to the online newsletter by David Korn.

Inside job throws light on Wall Street's dark corners

Every single registered voter in America should be duckwalked into a theater to see "Inside Job," the new documentary on what and who contributed to the collapse of our financial system.

It's one thing to have read articles and books outlining what people knew and when they knew it, but most of what we learned was piecemeal -- death by a thousand cuts. This movie packs it all into a two-hour blast, and the medium becomes the message. The story is compelling and easy to follow thanks to charts, graphs, visual tools and a narrative that reads like a novel.

Reason for optimism in stock markets

Walking through a packed mall, it's hard to believe that ATMs came within 24 hours of shutting down when the banking industry froze up. Or, that the fired manager of bond-trading who destroyed Merrill Lynch had $10,000 in cash taped to the inside of his desk. He obviously was prepared for a scene out of Cormac McCarthy's "The Road."

Critics of the federal bailout program TARP can't appreciate how ugly things might have been if we taxpayers hadn't stepped up to the plate.

Market linked CD not worth losing sleep

As former President Ronald Reagan used to say, "There you go again." This time it's the re-emergence of complicated investment products by the financial services industry to assuage the fears of the investing public.

A re-packaged idea gaining traction in the aftermath of the recent crash is the market-linked certificate of deposit. It guarantees a CD rate of about 1.5 percent, while it also promises to pay half of whatever the gain in the S&P 500 index turns out to be over the next five years -- if the latter is greater than the CD's rate.

Facebook is financial alchemy in action

An old "Far Side" carton by Gary Larson has pioneers cowering as Indians send flaming arrows into their circled wagons. "Can they DO that?" asks one of the hapless mule skinners to another.

I think about this today when hearing about Mark Zuckerberg, the 26-year-old-founder of Facebook, a social net-working site with more than 500 million registered users. Zuckerberg is suddenly worth roughly $7 billion, which makes him richer than Apple's Steve Jobs. "Can they DO that?"

Money managers selling you confidence

"Where Are the Customers' Yachts? Or a Good Hard Look at Wall Street" is a great book by Fred Schwed Jr.

The title comes from the famous line asked of some stockbroker in the 1920s referring to all the yachts that were owned by wealthy customers of Wall Street investment bankers. I thought of that line last week after reading the Bloomberg News account of the epic battle between Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley. The two brokerage firms are neck and neck at about $1.5 trillion under management.

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