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Employees can have say in 401(k)

Workers of the world, unite! This could be the rallying call for employees who may need to seize control of their 401(k) plans.

A growing phenomenon in the world of ballooning 401(k) account balances is the employees' sudden interest in the quality of the investments in their plan.

Considering the new research on the wisdom of crowds, we can conclude that the consensus of a group of employees with larger account balances should be the final arbiter of what plan features and investments best serve their fellow associates.

Defense budget fraught with waste

Typical of what may stand between us and our Social Security benefits is the F-22 Raptor fighter plane and the dysfunctional political process that inflicts these horrendous costs upon us.

The Raptor may not be the worst decision made by politicians subservient to campaign contributors, but it has to rank up there with the greatest of the Golden Fleece Awardees. At least John McCain made an unsuccessful bid to stop it.

Government debt threatens investing

Let's face it. The Bay Area is absolutely booming. I see it among my client base where everyone is running on all cylinders, and business managers tell me they are unable to hire the additional help they need.

I have found that a help-wanted ad on the Internet or in the papers generates no worthwhile responses. Apparently, everyone who wants to work is as happy as a clam at his or her current job. Please call me if you're not.

Index funds make investment sense

"You saw it first at Bloomingdale's!" is the great slogan of the New York City retailer that just opened shop in San Francisco. In the same spirit, here's your first glimpse of a cogent explanation of dividend-based index funds. You saw it first in the Contra Costa Times.

Index funds were invented by economics professors at Stanford who threw darts at the Wall Street Journal and proved that if you bought stocks randomly and didn't pay to have them managed you would beat 85 percent of all other efforts to manage money.

A second look at 'The Number's

"The number" -- the amount of money needed to provide a comfortable retirement -- deserves to be revisited after my previous column on the subject several weeks ago. I said at the time that the number was "whatever the wife says it needs to be."

In a new book, "The Female Brain," author Louann Brizendine points out that a woman's brain is "marinated in hormones" that presumably make women talk more, feel more, understand more and intuit more.

Public should know HP secrets

The Hewlett-Packard obsession with secrecy prompted me to consider one of the worst abuses in corporate America that is picking up steam once again. It is the practice of management teams taking their public companies private.

When this happens, we stock and mutual fund investors are simply being ripped off by the managers and their co-conspirators, the financial community. There should be a law against it, and there is if you take literally the definition of fiduciary responsibility as it applies to corporate directors representing us.

Fees chip away at 401(k) funds

"The king has no clothes" is the best way to describe the army of investment professionals who flood our mailboxes with newsletter junk mail extolling their expertise as investment gurus.

For those of us curious about what these people have actually achieved, we can go to Mark Hulbert, who recently celebrated his 25th year ranking them.

Questions lead to unwanted answers

My summer vacation in Maine offers an opportunity to schmooze with young professionals that are leading exciting lives. Much of what I learned was instructive but also depressing.

First up was a young commodity trader in his 30s who has been based in Singapore for almost 10 years. We talked about what the United States looks like from halfway around the world, and the view was not good.

What would Warren drive?

For the average retired person who drives about 12,000 miles a year, one of these new gas/electric hybrid cars will save roughly $700 a year in gasoline costs. For that savings, you can expect to spend about $3,500 more for the hybrid compared with a conventional car.

So, how does the average person do the math to evaluate this as an investment? They figure out that it takes five years to reach break-even and recover in gas savings the extra money spent on the hybrid. So they opt for the conventional gas-only car.

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