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Our CEO and Founder, Stephen Butler, writes columns and articles on the subject of retirement planning and investing.  His columns are syndicated in most of the San Francisco Bay Area newspapers.  Subject matter includes basic investment concepts and how they should be applied in the context of current financial and world events.  Over the past 16 years, more than 800 of his weekly columns have generated a loyal following among Northern California readers who benefit from his objective, insightful advice --- a counterpoint to the flood of self-serving advertising from the financial services industry.

Guess who loses when pension plans hit hard times
Jun. 9, 2017

Some good news from the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp. is that it paid out $6 billion to 840,000 retirees who were beneficiaries of 4,700 failing pension plans in 2016.

While these are big numbers, it helps to know that there are 40 million American workers in the private sector who are covered by these so-called “defined benefit” plans that guarantee a specifically-defined monthly retirement benefit for as long as the retiree lives. Like so many ideas, on paper they can look like a good deal, but the devil is in the details.

How the village system is helping seniors
Jun. 2, 2017

Lamorinda Village, barely a year old at this point, is serving seniors living in Lafayette, Moraga and Orinda, and is part of a growing nationwide network of similar peer-to-peer, self-help organizations.

Attending a meeting of supporters including some members, I learned, for example, about volunteers known as the “Declutter Buddies.” These are seniors who volunteer their time and expertise to help fellow members clean out their garages and other nuisance areas of the homes residents are choosing not to leave.

The illusory nature of tax reform
May. 26, 2017

Before we all get enmeshed in any irrational exuberance over “tax reform,” the Bible offers some insight on the subject. In two books of the New Testament, Mark and Luke, there are passages making the case that wealthy people should pay a higher percentage of income than poor people in order to support the community.

As market soars, should investors be a bit more fearful?
May. 19, 2017

Watching the stock market, we would do well to recall Bobby McFerrin’s song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Apart from being a global hit in 1988, as well as an unofficial theme song for the senior George Bush’s presidential campaign, the song offers a useful message:

“In every life we have some trouble
When you worry you make it double …
Don’t worry, be happy.”

The sun shines on investors who saw the light
May. 12, 2017

The last time I wrote about the economics of solar panels as a wise investment was back in 2011. That was after a time when former Vice President Dick Cheney had described renewable energy adherents as “naive” and California utilities had lobbied successfully to limit renewable energy sources to 15 percent of the total power supply.

Fortunately for all of us, including those nonbelievers, we’ve since come a long way while watching renewable energy ride a wave of powerful market forces — fueled by common sense.

Sleeping well while tapping into your nest egg
May. 4, 2017

Many retirees grit their teeth at what they see as the inconvenience of the “required minimum distribution,” commonly referred to as the RMD. It’s the amount of money expressed as a percentage that people have to take from their combination of retirement accounts when they reach the age of 70 1/2.

With people working longer these days, many are still employed beyond 70 and don’t need the money. They would prefer to just leave it in the plan to compound and give to their children or to a charity someday.

Bulls, bears and one ‘Fearless Girl’
Apr. 28, 2017

Staring defiantly in the path of a charging bull, there’s a new symbol — a young girl — on Wall Street these days. “Fearless Girl” has gained national attention since the bronze statue was installed in March to honor National Women’s History Month.

The iconic bull, of course, represents bull markets. The permanence of the sculpture, we could say, represents the entire period from 1900 until today, as the Dow Jones industrial average has climbed from 50 to more than 21,000, so it has relevance to long-term buy-and-hold investors.

Health care priorities have gone awry
Apr. 21, 2017

A New York Times article detailing Wells Fargo’s “clawback” of former CEO John Stumpf, totaling $70 million of his $300 million in compensation, was certainly noteworthy, but I was more interested in the standard of comparison the article cited.

That was the high-water mark of “clawbacks,” in which United Health Group CEO William W. McGuire had to give back $618 million of his billion-plus bonus. We’re talking about the halcyon days of health insurance when nonprofit insurance companies such as Blue Cross and Blue Shield found a window of opportunity to go private.

The Retirement Equation and results of the 2014 MFS DC Pulse Survey
Apr. 19, 2017

The retirement equation is not only to figure out the lump sum needed at retirement but really an equation to figure out how much is needed on a monthly basis during retirement. The basic equation involves total contributions and investment gains less withdrawals.  The results of the 2014 MFS Funds Distributors, Inc. (MFS) DC Pulse Survey will help plan sponsors identify these areas for plan participants.

Weighing the rewards, and living with the risks of investing
Apr. 14, 2017

A lineup of the five-year returns of the major investment categories illustrates some truisms of investment theory.

We can start with one of the most basic fundamentals of modern portfolio theory, which holds that it isn’t stock picking that determines success, but rather success is predicated on asset categories that happen to be in the right place at the right time. Or in the case of some hapless laggards such as precious metals, success is based on avoiding being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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