Opinion

John Wasik

The tale of two gold funds

Oct 22, 2012 17:53 UTC

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Short of stockpiling bullion in your basement, an ETF is the most cost-effective vehicle for owning gold. But you cannot just pick any fund out of the available list of seven bullion-based funds and expect it to perfectly track the price of gold and offer the lowest expense ratio.9

First of all, no exchange-traded fund will track the price of gold perfectly because returns are offset by costs — management fees and brokerage costs to buy them. Gold ETFs vary in fees, with the average annual expense ratio for the category at 0.54 percent, although you can find a fund charging as low as 0.25 percent. You need to weigh carefully what’s important to you: The size and liquidity of the fund or annual expenses. Which fund you buy depends upon how you plan to own it.

As I have mentioned in the past, gold is not a perfect investment. Many pundits legitimately claim gold is a shadow currency because major banks, traders and governments buy it to hedge against currency devaluations. When the dollar gains against other currencies or consumer confidence comes back in the United States or Europe, though, gold will not shine. Rising U.S. interest rates in the U.S. will also hurt the metal’s price.

Since gold is so volatile, do not invest more than 10 percent of your portfolio in it. You would need look no farther than last Friday for an example of the risk; gold fell nearly 2 percent — its biggest one-day drop in three months.

Two funds are leaders in terms of size and visibility: the SPDR Gold Trust and iShares Gold Trust. These two ETFs come up most often in lists of recommended funds.

Four ways to squeeze inflation risk from your portfolio

Oct 19, 2012 16:15 UTC

CHICAGO, Oct 19 (Reuters) – While inflation has been tame in
recent years, there are few forecasters who believe it will
remain so in the future.

But when inflation bites again is a moot question.
Predictions of its imminent return have been wrong for years.
The key is having portfolio protection in place now so that it
won’t devastate your fixed-income holdings and reduce your
future quality of life.

Because even having been forewarned, it’s not so easy to
protect your portfolio against inflation, which will erode your
purchasing power over time. The difficulty is that there’s no
perfect hedge against it. Treasury Inflation-Protected
Securities (TIPS), are the natural choice, but they are linked
to the flawed Consumer Price Index (CPI).

Why you need to join an investment club

Oct 15, 2012 17:00 UTC

CHICAGO (Reuters) – At a time of high-frequency robotic trading, market volatility and elephantine economic uncertainty, joining forces with your family and neighbors for an investment club might sound like a sucker’s game.

The truth is that most investors won’t beat the market once they subtract transactions costs, timing errors and holding onto losers. So perhaps it’s no surprise that when finance professors Brad Barber and Terrance Odean of the University of California researched returns in the 1990s at the height of the investment club boom they found that about 60 percent of the clubs failed to beat a market index.

But there’s more value to pooling your resources than just comparing your returns to the S&P 500. Investment clubs still make sense because they bootstrap fundamentals. You focus on how to analyze a company for its sales, earnings and future direction. You scrutinize management for its ability to increase profits and earnings per share.

Master Limited Partnerships worth a look for high-yield seekers

Oct 12, 2012 12:30 UTC

CHICAGO, Oct 12 (Reuters) – There aren’t too many places
left to look for higher yields these days. The usual go-to
baskets of high-yield and foreign bonds, REITs and high-dividend
stocks are pretty well picked over.

One little-known vehicle to Main Street investors is Master
Limited Partnerships (MLPs), publicly traded entities that own
assets such as pipelines. Because of their unique structure,
partnerships – which can be focused on energy holdings but may
also invest in alternatives such as timber and real estate -
generate a lot of cash that is distributed to limited partners.
Spurred by global and domestic demand for oil, refined petroleum
products and natural gas, for example, energy partnerships are
constantly expanding. In the last few years, the oil and gas
boom in North America has triggered robust growth.

Sparked by a combination of increased exploration and
recovery, indexes that track energy MLPs have outperformed
individual benchmarks representing utility companies, real
estate investment trusts and the S&P 500 index over the past 10
years, according to the Alerian MLP Index. In the decade ending
June 29, the MLP index returned 16.7 percent, compared to 5.3
percent for the S&P 500 Index and 10.7 percent for utility
stocks.

How to get the best prices on ETFs

Oct 8, 2012 16:25 UTC

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Exchange-traded index funds are a bit like mobile phones — models offer an increasing array of features over time, while prices on even the plain-vanilla models keep falling.

So, in step, prices have been dropping lately on garden-variety ETF index expenses. Typically these have offered rock-bottom costs on most products, relative to actively managed mutual funds. Yet there are several components of ETF pricing, so you need to be careful. You could miss some of the nuances and pay more than you should.

The good news is that competition is forcing expense ratios down to near-institutional-pricing levels. Now you can pay roughly what big money managers do for entire baskets of stocks, bonds and other vehicles. (An expense ratio is what a money-management firm charges you every year for owning their ETFs — a percentage based on assets under management. Generally, the lower the expense ratio, the better, since more of your money is being invested and not going into the manager’s pocket.)

You can count on new burst of infrastructure spending

Oct 1, 2012 15:40 UTC

CHICAGO, Oct 1 (Reuters) – As global economies from Beijing
to Berlin struggle to keep their heads above water, a new wave
of stimulus spending is under way. Given that infrastructure
spending is almost always a function of population growth -
which does not seem to be slowing down in emerging markets -
this is a potent trend if you are a long-term investor.

While any nascent U.S. plan depends upon the outcome of the
November election, the agenda for other countries is full speed
ahead. The Chinese government recently announced new program of
$1 trillion yuan ($157 billion) in infrastructure spending – its
second major wave since 2008. And while most of Europe is still
in a swoon, alternative energy is a big part of the
infrastructure boom in Germany and Japan, where nuclear power is
being ratcheted down. That means more solar panels, wind farms,
biofuels and digital grid installations.

Developing countries also are surging ahead with
infrastructure spending. India, Brazil and other nations are
investing in electrical transmission systems, roads and
telecommunications. It is estimated that “investment
requirements in electricity transmission and distribution are
expected to double through to 2025-30, road construction to
almost double and to increase by almost 50 percent in the water
supply and treatment sector,” according to the Organization for
Economic Co-Operation and Development.

How to invest in prosperity after a Lost Decade

Sep 28, 2012 12:35 UTC

CHICAGO (Reuters) – While there’s some comfort in a slowly improving U.S. economic climate, the majority of Americans are still trying to close a prosperity gap that has widened in the last ten years.

There is the painful realization that a combination of stagnating wages, job loss, recessions and depletion of wealth is morphing the middle class into a “muddled class” unable to keep up with the cost of living. This decline has been most pronounced over the past decade.

The most recent Census Bureau study showed that real median household income fell eight percent from 2007 through last year, and is almost nine percent lower than the 1999 level. Can families climb back? It’s possible, but not without some financial rigor.

Why you are missing the bull market: Wasik

Sep 19, 2012 17:23 UTC

By John Wasik

(Reuters) – To most Main Street investors, the post-2008 era has been something of an epic hangover. By and large, they have continued to eschew stocks for the palliative comfort of bonds.

Was it worth sitting out the last few years? What has actually been going on here since 2009, although it has been well-disguised at times, is a bull market. While the course of the bull has been highly uneven, it may continue if corporate earnings remain solid and there are no major calamities. And it may gain even more momentum if the new round of Fed easing boosts the U.S. economy in a significant way.

Of course, the euro zone muddle, lagging U.S. employment, meager consumer confidence and unseen other crises do not bode well for stocks. They never do. Yet there is the strong possibility that U.S. stocks will continue to head higher, defying the worst headlines.

Why you are missing the bull market

Sep 18, 2012 18:44 UTC

Sept 18 (Reuters) – To most Main Street investors, the
post-2008 era has been something of an epic hangover. By and
large, they have continued to eschew stocks for the palliative
comfort of bonds.

Was it worth sitting out the last few years? What has
actually been going on here since 2009, although it has been
well-disguised at times, is a bull market. While the course of
the bull has been highly uneven, it may continue if corporate
earnings remain solid and there are no major calamities. And it
may gain even more momentum if the new round of Fed easing
boosts the U.S. economy in a significant way.

Of course, the euro zone muddle, lagging U.S. employment,
meager consumer confidence and unseen other crises do not bode
well for stocks. They never do. Yet there is the strong
possibility that U.S. stocks will continue to head higher,
defying the worst headlines.

Hedges for investing in a post-QE3 environment

Sep 14, 2012 16:17 UTC

CHICAGO, Sept 14 (Reuters) – The Federal Reserve’s new round
of quantitative easing may have sparked as much early enthusiasm
as the opening of a new fall fashion show. Yet as with other
ballyhooed events, the initial warm reception may prove
fleeting.

The Fed’s latest buying spree of Treasury and
mortgage-backed securities will keep U.S. interest rates low and
drop them incrementally lower. And Wall Street
initially cheered the Fed by propelling both the Dow Jones
industrial average and the S&P 500 Index to their
highest levels since 2007 on Thursday. The once-battered Nasdaq
Composite Index even climbed to its highest level since
November 2000.

On the employment, manufacturing and housing fronts, though,
there is only so much the Fed can do to revive those markets -
and it will do nothing to fix the euro zone – so don’t take
Thursday’s rally too seriously. By adopting a tandem strategy of
targeted hedging and global investing, you can still ride out
continuing anxieties in Washington and Europe. And there are
side effects to this stimulus, too. So if you are looking for
investing strategies, you might want to employ some of these
hedges:

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