Are Working Women Choosing the Wrong Guys?


Traditionally women sought out guys to marry who showed that they could earn money and provide for a comfortable lifestyle.  Looks and personality were also factors, and certainly some women married guys with few prospects to provide an income out of love, but the ability to earn a living was always important. At one point in history this was probably the guy who could hunt and build a cabin, or who had land and could raise crops and animals, but with time it morphed into the guy who could earn a six-figure salary.  The guy with the nice car, nice clothes, and nice watch was the one who got the girl.  Guys would buy the meals and pay for everything on dates, give gifts, and even give an expensive diamond ring when proposing in part as a way to show the ability to provide.

For many guys, attractiveness, both physical and inner beauty, were important factors when looking for a wife.  Finding someone who was fun to talk to and nice to be around, and someone who was caring and nurturing, could also be important factors.  Few guys really cared about a woman’s ability to pay for things because they had always assumed that they would be earning money for the family.  Many guys might even feel intimidated if a woman earned more than them and was the primary breadwinner, and therefore not even seriously consider a woman who was more successful.  Likewise, many women would not respect a man who earned less than them.

Gender roles are all changing, however, with many women are choosing to primarily focus on a career.  Women are moving into top roles at companies and gaining parity with men in many fields.  There are even more women attending college then men in the US, so it only makes sense that many women are moving into the position of primary breadwinner.

Given this shift, one would expect more men to be taking the role of caring for and training the children, along with managing the household since it would make more sense for the wife to work.  Given this trend, you would therefore expect women to start seeking men who would be better at raising children.   You would expect them to be looking for men with qualities such as patience, concern, devotion, communication, an ability for multi-tasking, and selflessness instead of seeking the type-A personality with little patience who is quick to anger.

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And yet it seems as though men’s role has rarely changed, so we have ended up with scenarios in which both parents work and where both are heavily focused on their careers.  This can result in some high household incomes, leading to the generation of lots of tax revenue, but it leaves the children being raised by others or by themselves.  It is as if both parents have decided to leave the cave and hunt because the hunt has become such a focus that both parents have forgotten why they were hunting in the first place.  Society has suffered as the internet and television has raised the last generation of children and imparted its morals upon them, the morals of Harvey Weinstein and individuals in the darkest corners of the world.

Maybe it is time for career-minded women to seek out men who can better fulfill the role of primary caregiver and mentor for their children instead of choosing men based on their ability to provide.  A woman who can ear a six-figure income doesn’t need a man who can do so as well.  Most people who really crunch the numbers will find that a family will actually come out better on one income with a spouse spending time doing things like preparing meals at home and taking care of the children than they will with two incomes.  In addition, time spent in childcare for one’s own children is tax-free, where extra income made at work is taxed at the highest rates.

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Our children really need to become more of the focus.  Why wouldn’t we want to spend time training our children to be good, self-sufficient citizens that share our values and make the world better rather than creating the next report or presentation that will just be forgotten in a week?  Children are our greatest legacy and will make far more of an impact that anything most of us will do in the office.  Why would we be satisfied to pay a stranger minimum wage to simply watch our children rather than to make sure our children are educated, motivated, and cared-for?

So what do you think?  If you are a woman who is focused on your career, would you marry a guy because he would be a good parent instead of finding someone who would be a good provider?  If you are a guy, would you be satisfied raising your family instead of going into work each day, and would you feel important doing so?

Got and investing question? Please send it to vtsioriginal@yahoo.com or leave in a comment.

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Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning or tax advice. It gives general information on investment strategy, picking stocks, and generally managing money to build wealth. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. Tax advice should be sought from a CPA. All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.

What do you think?  Please leave a comment?

Contact me at vtsioriginal@yahoo.com

Follow on Twitter to get news about new articles. @SmallIvy_SI

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning or tax advice. It gives general information on investment strategy, picking stocks, and generally managing money to build wealth. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. Tax advice should be sought from a CPA. All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.

An Update on The Kiosks are Here!


About a year ago I wrote the post below after seeing an ordering kiosk in a McDonalds down in Alabama.  I was in our Hardees last night, and they now also have kiosks in addition to a single person taking orders.  It looks like order takers will be replaced by kiosks and smart phone apps very soon.  The way to fight back is to give great customer service, making the restaurant make more per hour than your salary by your being there instead of a cold, humanless machine.

McKiosk?

McKiosk?

I was reading a stat this weekend that one in three working people were in a union in 1970 but only one in ten are now.  The author of the editorial used this to explain why wages have stagnated, but I took a different meaning.  Given that once a company is unionized it is virtually impossible to de-unionize it, this statistic means that we saw a lot of union jobs go away, forever.  A drive through Detroit (with your windows rolled up and at top speed, not stopping at the lights) would also show the effect of trying to force companies to pay a worker more than what the value of what he was doing was worth.  This, combined with absurd work rules (in some union car plants, you needed to continue to pay workers who sat and read the paper in a room in the plant if you didn’t have enough work for them), has chased a lot of companies out of the country or just out of business.

Now the same folks who brought us the unions and ran great American cities into the ground have their sites set on minimum wage workers.  With demands of $15 per hour wages, organizers are convincing some  misguided fast food workers (many workers wisely don’t participate because they can do the math) to protest at their place of business.  Note that the average McDonald’s worker produces about $13.50 in value for his/her company, so the company would be losing $1.50 per worker per hour if they paid $15 per hour.  Multiply that by thousands of workers, and you would see millions of dollars in losses each year.  No company could withstand that.

The solution for companies faced with rising labor costs who can’t just move out of the country as did the factories is to cut the number of workers.  Enter the ordering kiosk.  The picture above shows kiosks I found at a McDonald’s in Florida last week.  There were six kiosks setup and they were getting a lot of use by the customers without many complaints.  I went ahead and ordered at the counter (I like to support the workers, plus I would rather have a person help me with my order than go to a machine), but a lot of others chose the kiosks.  Smart phone apps are also being rolled out.  Raise costs enough and you’ll just have a cooked burger appear on a conveyor belt and you would add the toppings yourself.  The restaurant would just need to employ a couple of people to load the burgers into the hopper.  They could eliminate the need to clean by just making it a drive-thru with no table service.

People with three kids and a home should not be in these jobs.  These are jobs for teenagers and young liberal arts majors to take as a first job to learn the skills needed to get the next job and move up the ladder.  If you take these jobs away by raising the minimum wage or by protesting until McDonald’s and other employers relent, you’ll be cutting off this critical pathway to a better life that a lot of people need.  You can’t get a job without experience, and without minimum wage jobs, you can’t get experience.

So if you’re a fast food worker and want to keep your job, what can you do?  Be the best worker that ever existed.  Show up ten minutes early.  Leave your cell phone in the car and concentrate on doing your job to the best of your abilities.  Smile at the customers.  Help them with their orders.  Make suggestions for them to save a few cents by bundling items.  Provide value for your employer so that they have more business because of you.  Make customers visit your store to see you, rather than go to the place across the street with the kiosks.  In short, act like you work at Chick FilA.  Plus, don’t demand to be paid more than you create.

Got and investing question? Please send it to vtsioriginal@yahoo.com or leave in a comment.

Follow on Twitter to get news about new articles. @SmallIvy_SI

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning or tax advice. It gives general information on investment strategy, picking stocks, and generally managing money to build wealth. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. Tax advice should be sought from a CPA. All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.

What do you think?  Please leave a comment?

Contact me at vtsioriginal@yahoo.com

Follow on Twitter to get news about new articles. @SmallIvy_SI

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning or tax advice. It gives general information on investment strategy, picking stocks, and generally managing money to build wealth. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. Tax advice should be sought from a CPA. All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.

Hedging Strategies to Protect Yourself Against a Market Drop


With the big run-up in stocks this year and many people expecting a pull-back or an outright bear market, perhaps you’re getting nervous and looking for ways to protect the gains you’ve made.  Hedging refers to taking positions that will reduce your loss should the market drop while still allowing for gains should the markets continue to perform well.  Today I thought I’d discuss some hedging strategies for those who are looking for a little protection.  Understand, however, that any hedging strategy you employ will reduce gains in the future.

In speaking about hedging we’ll assume that the investor is primarily long to start with, meaning that the investor will make money if the stocks he/she owns go up in price.  (When you buy a stock, bond, or mutual fund, you are “long.”  When you sell short or buy an option that goes up in price when a stock goes down, you’re “short.”)  Most people are long most of the time and this makes sense because the market’s long-term tendency is always up.  Being short for a long period of time would be like entering a turbulent river and expecting to travel mostly upstream.  Hedging a short position can also be done just by doing the compliment of the trades I describe.  For example, buying a call option instead of a put option.  (If you are not familiar with options, check out Options Trading: QuickStart Guide – The Simplified Beginner’s Guide To Options Trading or a similar book.)

One often associates hedging with risk, largely because of the term, “hedge fund” applied to the high risk/high return funds purchased by wealthy individuals.  These funds get their names because they can take long or short positions, but often these funds are not hedging.  Instead they are using large amounts of leverage to make large gains from relatively small movements in the markets.  This causes a substantial risk of losing money.  True hedging actually reduces risk.

To hedge is to take up positions that are designed to offset long positions, such that the investor will be less susceptible to losses due to falls in the market.  For those who play roulette, you would be hedging a bet of $100 on red by putting $50 on black as well.  You would be reducing the amount you would win if red were rolled since you would lose the bet on black, but you would also be reducing your loss should black be rolled since your small win on the black bet would reduce the loss on the red bet.   If an investor is perfectly hedged, he/she will not lose money no matter what the market does.  But by taking up these positions, one also limits or eliminates the possibility for making gains while the hedges are in effect.  The following are ways to hedge a long position:

Selling shares of the same stock short-  This is also called “selling short-against-the-box” and forms a perfect hedge provided that equal numbers of the shares are sold short as are held.  No matter the movements in the stock, no money will be gained or lost.  (Note that if the stock price goes up an investor would need to add cash to the account or pay margin fees, since this would result in  negative cash balances in the account).  Selling short-against-the-box has little purpose other than delaying gains from one year into the next for taxes.

Selling shares of other complimentary companies short-  In this strategy, the investor sells short shares of a company that he/she expects to decline if shares of the company he/she owns fall in price.  For example, if he owns McDonald’s, he might sell shares of Wendy’s short, figuring that is the market turns against fast food companies shares of both companies will fall.

Buying put options- A put option is a legal contract by which someone agrees to buy shares of a stock for a predefined price before a certain date.  This can be though of as an insurance contract on the shares of the stock.  In exchange for this agreement the owner of the shares gives the seller (called the writer) of the put a certain amount of money, called the “premium”.  For example, a put option for selling 100 shares of XYZ stock at 50, good for three months, might cost $300 when the price of XYZ was at $51 per share.

Writing covered calls on the stock–  Here a contract is written that allows another individual to purchase your shares for a fixed price.  This limits the amount the investor can make on the shares (since if they go up above the agreed to sales price they will be purchased for the sales price) but reduces losses somewhat if the shares decline in price due to the premium collected.

Buying short ETFs– This involves buying short exchange traded funds (ETF).  These are financial instruments that are designed to go in the opposite direction of a particular market segment or index.  For example, an owner of several mining companies might buy a short basic materials ETF as a hedge against a fall in commodities prices or a slowdown in goods production.

Selling a portion of the position The simplest way to guard against losses in a position is to simply sell some or all off the position, and is probably the best thing to do if you really need the money in the short-term since it is the most cost-effective way to be safe.  This, of course, reduces the possibility of future gains, however.

If you’re interested in individual stock buying and this strategy, I go into far more detail in my book, SmallIvy Book of Investing: Book1: Investing to Grow Wealthy.  Check it out at the link below if interested.

Have a question?  Please leave it in a comment.  Follow me on Twitter to get news about new articles and find out what I’m investing in. @SmallIvy_SI

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning or tax advice.  It gives general information on investment strategy, picking stocks, and generally managing money to build wealth. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. Tax advice should be sought from a CPA.  All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.

The Stock Price is All About the Dividend (Even When They Don’t Pay One)


A couple of years ago I got into a lengthy discussion of stock pricing with a reader.  Unfortunately the exchange ended up being by email (I’d much rather readers post comments to the blog – I get so few of them).  I contended that stocks are priced based on the dividend they pay, or actually, based on the potential future dividend.  The reader basically said that I was incorrect and that stocks are based on a lot of factors, the dividend being a very minor one.  (In actuality, we’re both right, and I’ll explain why in a minute).  In any case, he cited Apple as a company that would never pay a dividend; therefore, the idea that it was priced based on potential future dividends was ludicrous.  A few days after our debate, Apple announced that it would start paying a quarterly dividend of about 2%.

How is he right?  Stock pricing isn’t like pricing at the supermarket.  You don’t walk in, pick up an item from the shelf and see a price sticker on it.  (Yes, I know that we’ve gone to bar codes now, and the price (might) be on the shelf, but bear with me – I’m from the 80’s.)  Prices fluctuate constantly and for a wide variety of reasons.  Some people look at earnings and decide what a stock should be worth.  Some look at how likely it is for the stock to have an earnings surprise and bid the stock up accordingly.  Some people sell shares and don’t care what the price is because they have a large profit and just want to unload it, or they need to pay for their daughter’s wedding.  Some people see a stock go up or down in price, and buy or sell it because it went up or down in price.  They figure that if the price is going up, they’ll be able to sell it at a higher price.

Very few of these people are probably thinking about the dividend that the stock is paying.  Heck, a lot of these stocks may not even have a dividend.  So I must be wrong, right?

Well, even though all of these people don’t know it, they are basing the price they pay on the projected future dividend.  Note that the “projected future” part is very important.  Note also that there are fluctuations int he price – the dividend just sets the price range.

 

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You see, the amount that people are willing to pay for a stock depends on its potential future return.  This return must be enough to justify the risk that is being taken on.  If one can get a 5% return from a bank CD, one wouldn’t even think about buying a stock unless one thought a 8% return or greater was possible.  Why trade a certain return of 5% for a possible return of 6%?  You wouldn’t.  You would drop the price you were willing to pay for the stock until the potential return was at least 8%.

Also, the more uncertain the return, the greater the return must be.  If you are buying shares of McDonalds, for example, you can assume that the amount of traffic at their restaurants won’t change by that much during any given year.  It isn’t like everyone is going to swear off Big Macs at once.  You can therefore predict with reasonable certainty how much the company will earn during the next year (or the next five years), and therefore you know about what the price will be.  (Here you’re also assuming that the price to earnings ratio will remain about the same, which isn’t too bad an assumption.)

On the other hand, if you are buying shares of a silicon chip maker like Cypress Semiconductor, the future becomes far less certain.  You don’t know if research and development won’t pan out, or the Koreans will dump a bunch of cheap chips on the market, or what.   You also don’t know if interest in electronics will remain, or if manufacturers will choose Cypress chips or one from their rivals.  Because they are somewhat of a commodity, the fortunes of a company can be pinned to a few cents savings per chip made.  Because of this uncertainty, shares of Cypress are priced cheaply relative to shares of a company like McDonalds.  Note that the PE ratio for Cypress is 17.5, while that for McDonalds is about 18.5.  People are willing to pay a little more for more certain earnings.

But wait, that’s earnings, and I was talking about dividends, right?  Well, let’s say that a company never, ever paid a dividend.  What return would a shareholder receive?  Another way to look at it is, what value would the company be to the shareholder if he never received any share of the profits?  True the company might be making a lot of money, but the investor would never see a cent of that.  Without a dividend, there is no return to the shareholder.  He would not even see capital gains because no one would be foolish enough to buy the shares from him. (OK, someone would be, but that’s beside the point).

 

 

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So, when people are buying stocks, they are trying to figure out what the future dividend will be, and what their return would be based on that dividend, and then pricing the share price accordingly.  Granted, this is a Ouija board-type of pricing where people may not even know they are pricing it based on the dividend, but they really are.  The reason that people pay more for shares with growing earnings is that if the earnings of the company are higher, they will be able to pay a bigger dividend.  Many who price stocks based on earnings forget this fact, but that is what they are doing (that is why earnings matter at all).  It is kind of like how the main reason people paint houses is because if they don’t the wood will rot, but they are probably thinking more about how the house looks than wood rot when they decide it’s time to paint again.

Note also that the piddling 2% Apple is paying may seem small, but if you bought the shares back a year ago when the price was half of what it is now, you would now be receiving a 4% dividend on your investment.  If you continue to hold the stock and the dividend continues to increase, you effective yield will continue to climb.  You might be making 8%, 12%, or 20% in five years.

So, dividends do matter, even if many people have forgotten that fact.  When it comes to pricing, it’s all about the dividend.

Join the conversation and help make this blog more exciting!  Please leave a comment.  Also, if you have an investing question, email  vtsioriginal@yahoo.com or leave the question in a comment.

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning advice, it gives information on a specific investment strategy and picking stocks. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.

It’s not the individual choices – It’s the habits


 

I’m still making my way through Darren Hardy’s The Compound Effect.  One of the things I’m beginning to understand is that it isn’t the individual choices we make that set our destiny so much as the habits we form.  For example, right now I’m trying to lose the 50 pounds or so I gained back after dropping the same weight several years ago.  The last time I lost weight it was because I had changed my habits.  I regained it when I changed them back.

You see, back in my mid-thirties I realized that I was going to die young if I didn’t lose some weight and start exercising.  I started jogging about 3/4 of a mile in the morning, then walking back.  This continued three mornings per week for about three or four weeks (and I hated starting every time, but was always glad when I had finished my jog), at which point I was able to jog all the way out and back, running 1 1/2 miles per morning.  After this I would walk around the block (another 1/2 mile or so),  After a month or two of doing this, I started running around the block instead of walking after going out and back, increasing my total to about 2 miles.  Finally, after doing this for several months, I increased the distance I went out, upping my run to about 2.25 to 2.5 miles.  At that point I decided the run was far enough and running farther would just wear out my body.  I was able to run 5K’s and actually registered a time in the mid 20-minute range.

The Compound Effect

I also changed how I ate.  Instead of cleaning the plate when I went out to eat, I would eat about half and then save the other half for lunch.  I found that the whole meal would be about 1500 calories, so eating a half portion was about right.  At home, I would leave one thing off, like the side of corn or maybe the potatoes.  At Mexican restaurants I would just have a few chips rather than finishing the bowl and asking for a second or a third.  One thing I noticed was that when you’re out, many of the things you do centers around food:  stopping for ice cream, pie and coffee, or just a sugary coffee drink.  I found other things to do that didn’t involve eating.

As a result I went from a high of about 248 down all the way to about 215 pounds.  My pulse had dropped to about 50 beats per minute, to the level where they would need to take a couple of readings and get one over 50 before they would let me give blood.  I had a lot more energy, my blood pressure was lower, and generally I was in good shape.

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Then life started to get in the way.  While I was exercising regularly, I often didn’t really want to get up and go out into the cold to jog since it was hard to get going to the point where I fell into a rhythm.  (After I would started, however, I discovered that actually the best temperature was about 35 degrees or so since I could wear a sweatshirt and cap and not get sweaty about half way through, so I preferred cold mornings to one that was in the 60’s or 70’s.)  When I reached about 39, however, I started getting heel spurs which would cause my feet to ache if I tried to walk after sitting for a while.  Jogging would cause the condition to worsen for several days after.  As a result, I stopped jogging as much, then finally quit entirely.  I changed my habit of exercising.

I also found myself eating more full meals when I went out to eat.  I also started getting soft drinks again in restaurants (I went to water before).  Worst of all, I started doing more business trips and vacations, where I would be eating out every meal and having a big breakfast at the hotel.  (I normally didn’t eat breakfast, so that added another 50 to 800 calories onto my diet each day.)  I went back to 220, then 230, then into the 240’s.  Finally, after a few holidays and trips, I found myself in the 250’s, higher than I had ever been.

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From reading The Compound Effect, I realized that what got me into such great shape was that I changed my habits.  It wasn’t the first day I went jogging or the choice of having water at lunch instead of a Coke one day that made me lose weight and get into shape, it was the habit of doing those things.   Likewise, changing habits back to eating full meals out and drinking a soft drink more often than not when we went to a fast food chain caused me to go right back to where I had been and then some.  Once again looking at an early fifties heart attack, I’ve changed back, cutting my meals and counting calories to stay below 2000 per day.  As a result, I’m down to 242 again.  I plan to stay with this, and start jogging again after I lose another five pounds or so (so that it isn’t as hard on my heels) and keep those habits this time.

So what does this have to do with personal finance?  Well, just like with losing weight and getting healthy, putting yourself onto a firm financial footing doesn’t mean doing one thing and then going about your life.  If you stick $100 into five shares of Intel Corp today and never do anything else, you won’t retire a multimillionaire.  But if you put away $100 every week or two and invest regularly, you’ll find yourself in 20 or 30 years financially independent.  It isn’t the individual choices – it’s the habits that make the difference.

So what are your habits?  Are they good, taking you where you want to go, or bad, holding you back and making you unhealthy or poor?

Join the conversation and help make this blog more exciting!  Please leave a comment.  Also, if you have an investing question, email  vtsioriginal@yahoo.com or leave the question in a comment.

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning advice, it gives information on a specific investment strategy and picking stocks. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.

Bulls Make Money, Bears Make Money, Pigs get Slaughtered


The title of today’s post is an old Wall Street axiom related to asset allocation and greed.  It means that people who buy stocks (bulls) and those who sell stocks short (bears) can both make money.  There are times when each of these strategies are effective.  Those who hold for too long, or put too much in any one stocks, however, eventually get slaughtered.  It is important to remember that no stock will go up, or down, forever and one must always be wary of the possibility of sudden movements the other way.

As long-time readers of this blog will note, I tend to favor less diversification than is the standard.  Many money managers will advocate investing in hundreds of stocks, saying most investors should not even buy single stocks because they can’t get enough diversification unless they have millions of dollars.  The trouble with that philosophy is that 1)while it is true this provides downside risk, it also limits one to just making the market averages or less after fees, 2)one has little control over taxes because the taking of capital gains is up to the whims of the mutual fund managers, and 3)it leaves one subject to the little games that the mutual fund managers play, like buying the hot stocks just before reporting holdings to look like they were in the best companies all along.

For more information on why you can have too much diversification, try one of these great books:

        

There is nothing wrong with holding some mutual funds.  If one has quite a bit of money mutual funds provide good insurance against sharp declines that single stocks endure.  If one only has a few thousand dollars to invest, however, it makes little sense to spread that money out over 100 or 1000 stocks.  The advantage of being able to double or triple that $3000 in a year or two outweighs the risk of losing $1500 or $2000, or even the whole amount due to a missed earnings report or a scandal at the company.  Note also that investing over the long-horizon of years also reduces risk because over time most good companies will grow in price even though they may decline in any period of weeks or months.

Here again, though, one does not want to be piggish and face the slaughter.  For this reason my strategy is to concentrate in a few, great stocks, adding money all of the time to my investments, but when a position gets to be so large that I would not want to risk that amount, I pare it down and invest some of the funds in another stock.  This is true even if I think that the company has great prospects and will continue growing indefinitely.  I could be wrong and I don’t want to give back all of the gains I have made should the stock turn against me.  One strategy is even to sell enough to recover all of the money that had been invested.  Additional shares can then continue to be sold as the stock makes new highs.  In that way most of the profits made are secured as the stock rises should the stock turn around and fall.  It also gives a psychological boost to know you will make a profit no matter what, allowing one to “let the rest ride” with confidence.

As a portfolio grows from a few thousand dollars into hundreds of thousands, mutual funds should be purchased to lock in gains and provide security through diversification.  A portion of the portfolio remains concentrated in individual stocks with good prospects, however, but not so much so as to risk a loss that one cannot sustain.

Learn how to use mutual funds from the founder of Vanguard:

Join the conversation and help make this blog more exciting!  Please leave a comment.  Also, if you have an investing question, email  vtsioriginal@yahoo.com or leave the question in a comment.

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning advice, it gives information on a specific investment strategy and picking stocks. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.

What Factors to Use When Picking Stocks


jehericotopfalls

Stock picking is an art form that requires experience and an inherent feel for which companies will do well, but there are many factors that can be used to screen stocks and narrow the choice down to a few. Today I thought I’d discuss my method of picking stocks.  I’ll start my listing the factors I look at, and then discuss some of the factors in detail.

The theme of this blog is serious long-term growth, not trading stocks or making small profits then selling.  We’re looking for stocks that will grow over the next several years, not just short-term fads.  I’ve found it is easier to spot long-term trends than predict what the market will do over any short stretch.  In fact, the long-term trends are often pretty clear – it is surprising that more people don’t seem to look for them.  Here are the factors I look at, relatively in order of importance:

  1. The long-term price trend
  2. Earnings growth rate
  3. Dividend growth rate
  4. Return on Equity
  5. Debt
  6. Cash flow
  7. The business type/strategy

Let’s go through each of these factors in detail.
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The long-term price trend

The first thing I tend to look at, which is an obvious but an often over-looked trait, is the price of the stock itself.  As said above, the market price will tend to follow the fair value, just as a paper boat floating downstream in a turbulent river will tend to move at the average velocity of the stream, although there may be many changes in velocity if observed for only a short period of time.  If a company is increasing share holder value, making the company’s stock more valuable, this will be reflected int he price of the stock eventually.

When looking for candidates, I will flip though several stocks looking at the 5-10 year price history (High-Low-Open-Close charts or candlesticks, preferably) and look for those that I could set a ruler on and draw a relatively flat line.  This can be done in a chart book (Dailygraphs, for example), in a publication like Valueline, or, less easily, on the web at Yahoo or another site.  The issue with doing this online is that you often need to provide the symbol for the company, so you can’t easily flip through a set of price graphs, and you obviously won’t look at the charts of companies of which you have not heard.

Also, I try to avoid companies that are increasing very rapidly in price.  While these companies are the lifeblood of the momentum investor, which is also a perfectly valid investment method, these companies tend to fizzle out and fall back down to earth, producing a bell-shaped curve (see Krispy Kreme for an example).  In a later post I’ll go into the two main investment philosophies, momentum and value, and provide some tricks for those wanting to do momentum investing.

An example of a company with this type of price trend is Aflac (AFL).  While there are some deviations, over the period growth is relatively steady, so the people running the company obviously know how to grow the business.  As long as they don’t change what they do, and the business climate is such that what they have done will continue to work, and the company has not grown as big as it can following that business model, then I would expect this trend to continue.
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Earnings growth rate

A second factor I look at when picking stocks is the earnings growth rate.  As said previously, we’re looking for stocks that have shown persistent growth and that we expect to continue to grow over the next several years.  As also said, a stock price will tend to grow along with the underlying value of the company. Why is this true?  To understand the reason, we need to look at the reason people buy stocks and other securities.   This is a little complicated, so please bear with me.

The value of an investment depends upon the rate of return and the risk of the investment.  In general the greater the risk, the greater the investment return required by investors.  For example, a bank account carries very little risk, and therefore people will put money in the bank even when they receive very little interest in return.  The interest rate paid by banks is based on the rate at which banks can loan out the money and the rates at which the bank can borrow money.  Because the risk on commercial bonds is greater than for a bank account since companies tend to default on bonds more often than banks default on deposits, and because banks are insured by the Federal Government against default, the interest rate paid by bonds will be higher than bank account interest.  Note also that if the interest rate that banks goes up, the price of commercial bonds will drop so that their effective yield increases (a bond pays a fixed amount, so if the price of the bonds drops the effective interest rate increases).  This is because investors need the bond to pay a certain percentage more than the bank in order for them to take on the additional risk.

Stocks also pay “interest,” although in the case of stocks the payout comes in the form dividends — current and expected future dividends — rather than interest.  When a company is new, it pays little if any dividend as it retains capital in order to grow the company, but as it matures it begins to pay a larger and larger share of profits out as dividends until the company becomes fully mature and pays most profits out as dividends.  The fair value of a stock is based upon what individuals expect to be the future dividend of the stock, the degree of certainty that individuals believe that the future dividends can be predicted, and the perceived risk of investing in the company (the perceived likelihood that the company will cease to exist).  Because the dividend is related directly to the earnings of the company, the larger the company’s earnings, the larger the future dividend.

Now, investing in stocks is more risky than investing in a bank account, so investors will require that the rate of return from an investment in a company is several percent higher than what they could receive from a bank.  If not, why take the added risk?  The rate of return when the company is mature and paying dividends will be the dividend amount per share divided by the price of a share of stock (the yield).  So, the price of a company’s stock will grow if earnings increase since they then would be able to pay a bigger dividend.  This price will increase as long as the yield is sufficiently greater than what can be earned in the bank.

So, if earnings are increasing by 10% per year, say, all other things being equal (bank rates remain the same), then the fair value of the company will grow by about 10% per year, so the price of the stock should also grow by about 10% per year, over the long-haul.  In general I look for earnings growth rates of 10-30%.  Less than this will not be worth the additional risk of owning stock, more than this is unsustainable, and will usually result in the shares being overpriced.

Care should also be taken not to buy a company that has had good earnings growth but now earnings will be slowing.  An example of this is Freddie Mac in the mid 90’s.  Up to that point, FRE’s earnings grew reliably.  In the mid-nineties, however, the opportunities for making good mortgages began to decline, and so earnings growth rate began to decline.  This caused the stock to stagnate for many years.  Because investors pay more for a stock with a high earnings growth rate than one with a low growth rate, the relative price of the stock (reflected in the price/earnings ratio) will also tend to contract as the rate of growth in earnings slows.

Dividend growth rate

Continuing on with what I look for when picking a stock, we turn to a factor closely related to the earnings growth rate, dividend growth rate.  As I said during the post on earnings growth, the fair value of a stock is based in part on the return people expect to get from the stock relative to what they can get from the bank, bonds, and other sources.  While people will buy stocks early on expecting to make most of their profits from capital gains (when the stock goes up in price and they sell the shares), as a stock matures and stops growing rapidly investors who are looking for a steady return will start buying the stock.  They will buy primarily based on the dividend rate.

Because people will be willing to pay more for the stock if the dividend is higher than what they can get from other investments of equal risk, a stock will tend to go up if the dividend is increasing.  If it is increasing very rapidly, because earnings are increasing rapidly, people may actually bid the price up to the point where the yield drops below equilibrium because they are buying the stock based on future dividends, not current dividends.  The price of the stock will also go up if interest rates are falling (because bank interest rates will also be falling), and vice-versa.  The rate of taxes on dividends relative to those on capital gains will also have an effect.  If the Bush tax cuts expire as is expected and dividend tax rates return to 20%. more investors will start buying stocks with small dividends, opting instead for price appreciation, so that they can delay paying taxes.

I therefore look for stocks that have a steady dividend growth rate of at least 10%, if the stock is fairly mature, since I can then expect to get both a good dividend and a growth in price of at least 10% over the long-term.  Care must be taken to ensure that earnings are also growing at a steady rate or the company won’t be able to continue to raise the dividend.

Return on Equity

Continuing the traits I look for when picking stocks, one that I took from Warren Buffett’s playbook is Return on Equity (ROE).  ROE is a measure of how well a company is run.  Basically it is the amount of earnings that a company makes on the money that it has.  (For a more detailed description, along with some formulas for its calculation, see: http://beginnersinvest.about.com/od/incomestatementanalysis/a/understanding-return-on-equity.htm ).

I tend to look for companies with ROE of around 15-25%.  It is also important to compare the ROE of the company against that of its peers in the industry, since this will indicate how well it is run compared to its competitors.  Note that some industries, such as retail, tend to have larger ROE’s than other industries, so ruling out a company simply based on ROE of less than 15% would not be advisable.

Debt

The next trait I look for when picking stocks is debt.  Here, opinions differ on whether debt is good or bad for a stock.  If a company takes on debt, they can fund more rapid expansions, buyout competitors or businesses that bring them into new markets or that they can use to fill a gap in their company, and take advantage of other like opportunities.  Just as with personal debt, however, it always costs more for a business to buy things using debt since they must then pay not only for the item they are acquiring, but also the interest.

I find that the types of companies I want to own generally have little if any debt.  Ideally a company will be making enough of a profit from its business and have managers who manage the business well, allowing them to make needed purchases without going into debt.  Often when you find stocks with the type of price movement I favor — steady increases in price — you’ll also find a balance sheet free of debt.  A free balance sheet also allows the company to take on debt if needed for an opportunity if needed.  Once a company is laden with debt, it becomes far less nimble.

Note, however, that some types of businesses, banks for example, will generally have more debt because they are in the business of borrowing money, loaning it out to others, and then making money on the difference between the interest they can charge and what they must pay.  I would therefore not rule out a company entirely just because they have debt.  I would compare their debt load with those of their competitors, however.

Cash flow

elated to a low amount of debt or an entirely clean balance sheet is the 6th trait, a good solid cash flow.  Cash flow is the amount of money the company has coming in from their business.  A company with a good cash flow has more than enough funds for day-to-day operations, and can use their cash flow to pay for expansions, research, and other opportunities.  An ideal company would be one that has a large cash flow from a solid business line that allows them to develop other business lines.  For example, a software company that creates a software package that everyone buys, such that they make far more from the software than they need to spend on marketing and support, can then take the extra profits and use the money to develop other software packages or even move into other business lines.  They take far less risk than a company that does not have the cash flow because they do not need to borrow to do development.  If the new business line fails, they simply close it down and move on.  They do not have a huge debt hole to dig out of.

One unusual example of this is McDonald’s.  While one may think of their business being burgers, they have actually amassed a large real estate portfolio.  Using profits from one restaurant, they earn enough cash to buy a second restaurant.  This continues until they have acquired all kinds of properties.  As the cities grow around them selling their burgers and fries, the value of their land increases.  Later, if the business at the restaurant begins to slow, they can sell the land for a nice profit and acquire more restaurants elsewhere.


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The business type/strategy

The final trait I look at when picking a stock is the type of business and general traits, demographics, market conditions, etc….  This might seem like the first thing to look at, but I generally find it is easier to look for stocks with the other traits of which I spoke and then look at the business and decide if I think they will be able to continue to grow.  The trouble with going the other direction is that a company may have a good business and the climate is right, but the company is run poorly so even though they may sell a lot of products all of the money goes out the door.

As a side note, Warren Buffett has said that he will not invest in a company unless he fully understands the business.  He therefore has been reluctant to invest in technology companies, instead buying insurance companies, retailers, and the like.

When I’m looking at a business, I look to see if they have a product/business line that will continue to be needed and profitable in the future.  For example, at the present time Baby Boomers are getting towards their 60’s, a time at which they will start needing hip and knee replacements, giving up some hobbies and turning to others, and so on.  Harley Davidson has been an excellent company for the last several years, during the time that the Boomers were making a large disposable income and buying Harleys for rides on the weekends.  These folks have already bought their bikes and all of the gear, and are now starting to look at retirement (many shocked to see that they don’t have as much to show for their years of high income as they would like).  I therefore would be reluctant to buy Harley Davidson, even though they’ve had a great run, because I can’t see at this time where they have a good opportunity for growth.  Perhaps they will find a market I’m not aware of, however, and prove me wrong.  At that point I may buy in again.

Got a question or comment about personal finance or investing?  Please leave a comment.

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Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning or tax advice. It gives general information on investment strategy, picking stocks, and generally managing money to build wealth. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. Tax advice should be sought from a CPA. All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.

Kindle Edition of SmallIvy Book of Investing on Sale Starting Monday


The SmallIvy Book of Investing, Book 1: Investing to Grow Wealthy

The SmallIvy Book of Investing, Book 1: Investing to Grow Wealthy

You probably spend most of your day looking at your phone.  Maybe you’re texting friends, browsing the web, or paying solitaire.   What if you could be using some of that time learning how to improve your future?

The electronic version of my book on investing and money management, The SmallIvy Book of Investing, Book 1: Investing to Grow Wealthy, is going on sale starting Today for only $1.99.  This book starts by giving you all the information you’ll need about stocks, bonds, and other types of investments, including the risks involved.  It then tells you how to manage that risk to use investing the generate additional income so that you can grow your wealth more quickly than you can with a job.

The middle chapters discuss what you should be doing at each stage of life if you want to become financially independent – that magical state where you don’t need to work to support yourself and your family.  It also provides a plan for cash-flow management – how to budget your money and start your savings compounding and so that you’ll have the money you need for things like new cars, college bills, and retirement.

Next, the way to invest if you’re serious about making money, not just playing around with investing, is discussed.  Here the information about risk and reward given in the first chapters is put to use to show how you can take reasonable risks for a chance to beat market returns with the portion of your wealth beyond what is needed for necessities.

Finally, mutual funds are discussed, including their use in IRAs and 401k plans.

Take a look at the book on Amazon and be ready Monday to get your copy at this special price.   Download a copy for just $1.99, then use some of that time you spend starting at your phone to be learning about investing and money management.  Also, if you do buy a copy, please consider leaving a review on Amazon to let me know what you think.

Thanks!!  SI

Questions?  Comments?  Let me know what’s on your mind by using the comment form below!

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Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning advice, it gives information on a specific investment strategy and picking stocks. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.

 

401K Changes that Would Work


IMG_0120401k plans are better than traditional pensions and way better than Social Security, if they are used correctly.  The issue is that they are not used correctly.  People are too timid and leave all of their money in the money market or treasury fund their entire careers, missing out of the growth they could have had if they had invested.  They don’t enter the plan until they are in their forties or fifties, or contribute far too little.  They are too aggressive when they are nearing retirement, usually because they are trying to make up time, and see a market crash wipe out half of their portfolio value right when they were ready to head out-the-door.  They borrow against their 401k plan, or take the money out entirely, and lose the effects of compounding.

These issues could be easily solved.  The reason they occur is the rules behind 401k plans that allow or even encourage behaviors that are destructive to the employees retirement.  People have no choice in the amount they contribute to Social Security or pension plans.  The employer or the government dictates how much of the employee’s pay is contributed and how much they provide.  And at least with Social Security, you have no choice but to participate.  You are enrolled whether you like it or not.  Employees can choose not to enter the pension plan at some companies, but most realize that they should and they do enroll.  Likewise, you can’t borrow against your pension plan or Social Security or take it out early.  In the case of pension plans, they are invested in a mix of stocks and income investments in a manner that is appropriate for the goals of the plan and the payouts that must be made.

The sad part is, if people were to put all of the money they are putting into Social Security (about 13% of their paycheck) into a 401k plan and invested it properly, everyone who worked their whole life would be set for retirement.  There would be no issue paying for living expenses and medical bills.  The senior discount would vanish since most seniors would be multi-millionaires.  Unfortunately, people don’t think about their futures and plan.  They either see the big pile of cash they’ll need to build up to have  comfortable retirement as being either too difficult to achieve or retirement too far out in the future, so they sabotage themselves.  Much as I hate to see central government planing and control, some regulation is needed to nudge people in the right direction.  Unlike Social Security, where the government has proven that they’ll just squander any money given to them, however, government involvement should only extend to preventing people from drawing the money out to soon, not enrolling at all or not contributing enough,  or investing the money in a way that is too timid early or too aggressive late.  Here are some regulations that would make 401k plans the path to comfortable retirement for all:

1.  Required enrollment.

Employees should be required to contribute at least 5% of their pay to a 401k plan to ensure they’re putting enough away for at least a basic retirement.  While I hate to force people to do anything, it is for the good of society to not have a group of destitute retirees.  As an incentive to contribute more, the rules could eliminate the need to make a Social Security contribution if at least 10% of an employee’s paycheck is being contributed to a 401k, between the employee’s contribution and the employer’s.

2.  Forbid withdrawals until age 62, then limit withdrawals until age 70.

There is no good reason for people to be pulling their retirement savings out early, and again, doing so subjects society to the burden of carrying a lot of destitute old people.  No withdrawals should be allowed until the employee has reached at least the age of 62 (which also encourages people to work longer and reduce the number of years they’ll need to be supporting themselves with their savings).  To prevent people from pulling all of the money out at age 62 and blowing it, they should only be able to pull out a portion, like 5%, each year until they are age 70.  Hopefully by that point they will have learned that it is a good thing to take the money out slowly since then the account has the ability to recover and generate more money and they’ll continue that behavior from then into old age.

3.  Eliminate borrowing of funds.

Just as funds should not be withdrawn, they should not be borrowed.  If people want to pay down credit cards, start a business, or upgrade their home, they should find the money elsewhere than their retirement savings.  People shouldn’t live beyond their means at the expense of their retirement funds.

4.  Remove the money market option for those under age 58.

There is zero reason for anyone to have a dime in a money market fund within a 401k account until they are getting close to using the money.  Removing this option would force employees to invest the money, which would allow the money to grow and prevent inflation from reducing their spending power in retirement.

5.  Require a professional money management option.

Most people know little about investing.  An option where a professional money manager just invests the money for employees should be included.  This would be similar to a traditional pension plan, except the money manager could invest for groups of employees separated into different age brackets instead of investing everything as one big account.  Because there would just be a few, large accounts (maybe three), instead of a lot of little accounts to manage, and because the manager would be investing in mutual funds instead of individual stocks, the cost would not be very much.

6.  Limit the contribution of company stock by employers.

Some employers like to issue company stock as their contribution instead of giving cash because cash is more precious.  This puts an employee in a risky position since he/she then has a big position in one company – their employer’s.  They could both lose a job and see their 401k decimated should the company misread market conditions.   A reasonable limit, such as 1% of salary, should be placed on the amount of company stock that can be issued by a company for a 401k contribution.  Alternatively, require a company match at least 5% of salary with cash before issuing stock so that the employee at least has 10% of his/her salary going into the 401k in a diversified manner before concentrating in company stock.  Employees should also be able to sell shares that a company distributes to them immediately and shift the money into mutual funds where it will be appropriately diversified.

7.  Require low-cost index fund options in each plan.

Research has shown that low-cost, passive funds will beat out high cost, actively managed funds over time.  Unfortunately, some employers only have high cost funds available.  Every 401k plan should at least have the choice of a large cap, small cap, international, and bond index fund in their investment mix.

8.  Auto-enroll employees in a target date retirement fund.

Even when they do enroll (usually through automated enrollment), many employees tend to wait to get into their 401k plans and make their investment choices, sometimes for years.  Currently, many 401k plans auto-enroll employees in a money market fund, meaning they are losing money to inflation until they shift the money somewhere better.  Instead, they should be auti enrolled in a target date retirement fund so that at least they’ll have a reasonably good investment plan until they get the time and motivation to take a little more active role.

To ask a question, email  vtsioriginal@yahoo.com or leave the question in a comment.

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning advice, it gives information on a specific investment strategy and picking stocks. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing

Will the Republican Party Be Changed this Time?


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I was eight years-old when Ronald Reagan was first elected.  Like Donald Trump, he was an outsider, elected after years of a dismal economy under a President who tried Liberal policy after Liberal policy to fix it, only making.  Like with Donald Trump’s predecessor, many of the actions Reagan’s predecessor was taking were probably keeping the economy in the doldrums.

The effect of President Reagan’s presidency on my generation was enormous.  We saw that the Conservative, free-market principles, really worked.  If you cut taxes, the economy would surge as people worked more.  There were jobs everywhere because light regulations allowed businesses to do productive things instead of fill out reams of paperwork and businesses actually wanted to be located in the US.  We learned that if you gave people the freedom to take care of themselves, they mostly would.

Then came George H.W. Bush.  America returned from an outsider to a party insider.  We then started seeing typical Republican actions – talking about free markets and lower regulations, but not really fighting to reduce regulations and government influence in the markets.  He even reluctantly went along with the Democratic Congress and raised taxes after his famous, “Read my lips” statement in the debate.

Under President Clinton we of course saw taxes raised a great deal and all sorts of new regulations come into play.  We saw something interesting under Clinton, however, largely due to the push from Newt Gingrich and the Republican Congress elected under the Contract with America pledge.  We saw a requirement that those on welfare, who were able, go back to work.  I remember hearing stories of women who had gone into the workforce after knowing only welfare saying that they had dignity for the first time in their lives.  The other thing that was striking was something I didn’t realize until Bill Clinton mentioned it in a speech he was giving at the 2008 Democratic Convention for Barack Obama – that everyone was working in the late 1990s, and the economy was on fire.  I came to realize that a side effect of getting everyone to work is that you have a lot more things being produced, meaning there is more wealth to go around.

With the second George Bush, again we saw the typical Republican talk about free-enterprise but no a lot of fight for free markets.  We even saw regulation of the light bulb – phasing out twenty-five cent incandescent bulbs for $3 CFLs and $10 LEDs.  When the mortgage meltdown came in the end of 2008, rather than seeing the government simply support the money markets and protecting depositors as they could have done, we saw the government bailing out the large banks and insurance companies.  The people who made the bad mistakes kept their companies and their jobs, while the taxpayer was left holding the bag.  This was clearly crony capitalism, not free-enterprise.

Now, like Reagan, we have an outsider.  In fact, Donald Trump is even more of an outsider than Reagan since Ronald Reagan was at least Governor of California before he became President of the United States.  Trump has never held an ected office or even been an officer in the military – a first for America.  Donald Trump talks about using free enterprise principles – low taxes, reducing regulation, reducing the cost to repatriate money from overseas — to help those in America who have been exploited by the Democrats and ignored by the Republicans.  Hopefully he will do as he promises and the Republicans in the House and Senate won’t block him.  And, hopefully,  Republicans will see the support he has gotten despite not being the most elegant speaker or tactful politician and realize that really using free-enterprise principles is the path to a strong economy.  And that is the path to keeping the Presidency.

Got an investing question? Please send it to vtsioriginal@yahoo.com or leave in a comment.

Follow on Twitter to get news about new articles. @SmallIvy_SI

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning or tax advice. It gives general information on investment strategy, picking stocks, and generally managing money to build wealth. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. Tax advice should be sought from a CPA. All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.