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Range anxiety during retirement

In the world of electric car development, there is the phenomenon known as "range anxiety" that refers to the 75-mile range of the 90's-era General Motors electric car --- the car that "they" killed (by crushing) after allegedly realizing that nothing ever broke. The fundamental problem with this car, according to the urban myth, is that its popularity would have put General Motors dealers' service departments out of business.

Rely on markets to fluctuate

As we peer into the stock market's current abyss, it may be therapeutic to recall the year leading up to October of 2007 and consider it just an embarrassment of riches. After all, in slightly over a year, the total stock market rose by 23%. That capped what had been a 75 percent, three-year increase in value. Our natural tendency is to take these dramatic gains for granted, and then wring our hands when the recent 20% drop qualifies for the dreaded "bear market" definition triggering the attendant bout of hysteria. Let's get a grip.

Banking rules recipe for failure

When the investment banking firm of Bear Sterns recently imploded from $29 billion in shareholder value to essentially nothing in a matter of days, I was prompted to crack the books I had to study to become a licensed broker dealer many years ago.

In my own experience of meeting the expectations of securities regulators who conduct audits and review our quarterly reports, I found it unbelievable to think that Bear Sterns managed to hide what was obviously a highly-leveraged, precarious perch in the investment community.

Patience may bring nice return

In the face of the stock market's gloom, it may be refreshing to learn that things look good over here on the sunny side of the street. "The market climbs on a wall of worry," is a common phrase on Wall Street.

With the broad market averages flirting with the magic 20 percent downdraft that defines a bear market, what straws can we grasp that give us hope for the future?

Reverse mortgages could be big

Johnny Carson was being interviewed on a park bench a few years ago, and when he saw a pigeon strutting around his feet he looked down at it and said, "Any messages for me?" About now, he should be receiving one from Ed McMahon asking for a little help with Ed's $600,000 home mortgage currently in default. After listening to Ed and his wife on Larry King Live, I found myself asking, "what ever happened to reverse mortgages?"

Optimism risky with 'target distribution'

I've worried about things all my life and nothing really bad has ever happened, so it must be a system that works.

The financial service industry's latest sop to us "worry warts" is the concept of "target distribution" or "managed payout" funds. These are mutual funds that automatically pay out earnings and principal to retirees at a scheduled rate (chosen by the retiree but "monitored" by the fund) and that try to make the money last as long as possible.

Health care on corporate agenda

The Securities and Exchange Commission just decided to let corporate shareholders vote on proposals to have their corporations endorse national health care. To be more specific, the vote will encourage public companies to adopt a stand in favor of "principles for comprehensive health-care reform" — reform that would make health care "affordable to individuals and families, and affordable and sustainable for society." Who can argue with that?

Dividends scratch itchy investors

Remember the "Seven Year Itch?" It was a movie starring Marilyn Monroe, but the term applied to the statistic illustrating that marriages tended to fail most often at that seven-year mark.

Back in the 1970's, when today's Baby Boomers were struggling with relationships rather than their retirement planning, I recall hearing that some motels in Walnut Creek were experiencing 110 percent occupancy ratings.

New 401(k) law great for investors

Sometimes it takes an act of Congress to straighten out a few kinks in the financial services sector. I was leafing through the final version of Congressman George Miller's bill calling for disclosure of all 401(k) fees and was amazed at how comprehensive the end result appears to be. If this bill had been in place over the last 20 years, the average 401(k) participant would probably have about 20 percent more money today.

Sixteen of the nation's largest companies would have been spared the embarrassment of being sued for having charged excessive hidden fees.

Downsizing life's rich expectations

Lets assume, for a moment, that we are headed into a period of time when we may all have to be a little less self-indulgent. Higher taxes and incomes that fail to keep up with inflation could contribute to what former governor Jerry Brown used to say was a need to "lower our expectations." That might not be such a bad thing.

At least some self-indulgence is rooted in a need to stay even with our perceived peers rather than how much we spend in an absolute material sense.

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