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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.

Buffett bets stocks markets will rise

When it comes to dispensing life-coaching advice, I go with optimism over pessimism every time. What's to be gained by embracing the blues?

In the world of finance, however, there are times when we have to work a little harder to keep our chins up. Like right now when the stock market has slipped into negative territory for the year.

At times like this, I'm prompted to Google Warren Buffett to see what he's up to. Now there's a long-term optimist who puts his money where his mouth is.

Big problems come with real simple solutions

Most of today's problems have relatively simple solutions.

The deficit? No problem. Raise the highest marginal tax bracket from 35 percent back up to 40 percent and collect $700 billion over the next 10 years. Then, at the same time, cut military spending back to the levels of 10 years ago and save $350 billion per year.

Oil spill in the Gulf? Let the courts do what they do routinely to small business and BP will have paid over $1 trillion dollars while operating under court supervision. And now for the details:

401(k) fees attracting federal regulations

On July 15, the Department of Labor lived up to the motto emblazoned on the 50-foot-long bronze sculpture in the lobby of its Washington office: "Protecting the Rights of American Workers." The department finalized fee-disclosure regulations that should lead to more informed decisions on the part of retirement plan decision-makers -- company owners and officers who control more than 700,000 plans and $3 trillion.

This will end today's hidden costs and increase retirement nest eggs over time by as much as 20 to 30 percent.

Long-term successful stock picking not easy

Someone who happened to buy some Apple stock within the past five years is in danger of thinking that they have become a stock-picking genius. If this describes you, get ready to become your own worst enemy as an investor.

To consistently make money investing in individual stocks is extremely difficult. I was reminded of this recently as I read Phil Town's new book, "Payback Time -- Making Big Money Is the Best Revenge." It reminded me of an earlier book from 2001 by John Spooner with the catchy title, "Do You Want to Make Money or Would You Rather Fool Around."

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