Opinion

John Wasik

Three likely winners in healthcare: John Wasik

Jun 22, 2012 13:37 UTC

CHICAGO (Reuters) – The one thing the Supreme Court will have no impact on as it decides the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act is the immutable trend in U.S. healthcare: the growing cost of caring for an aging population.

A handful of industries will remain profitable despite the thorny politics of healthcare policy, and the best way to view this volatile situation through the lens of stocks is in the long term.

The annual growth rate in healthcare spending is expected to remain around 4 percent from now until 2014, then ratchet up to 6 percent, according to recent forecasts by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. In comparison, general consumer prices are rising just under 2 percent on an annualized basis.

Other than burgeoning costs, there’s demographics. Some 10,000 baby boomers are turning 65 every day – a trend that will continue until 2030, when boomers will comprise almost one of every five Americans, according to the Pew Research Center. Naturally, their healthcare needs will be increasingly costly and complex. They will still demand specialized care for chronic conditions, pharmaceuticals and acute care.

With those likely developments in mind, here are two sectors I think will prosper.

Three likely winners in healthcare

Jun 22, 2012 13:34 UTC

CHICAGO, June 22 (Reuters) – The one thing the Supreme Court
will have no impact on as it decides the constitutionality of
the Affordable Care Act is the immutable trend in U.S.
healthcare: the growing cost of caring for an aging population.

A handful of industries will remain profitable despite the
thorny politics of healthcare policy, and the best way to view
this volatile situation through the lens of stocks is in the
long term.

The annual growth rate in healthcare spending is expected to
remain around 4 percent from now until 2014, then ratchet up to
6 percent, according to recent forecasts by the Centers for
Medicare and Medicaid Services. In comparison, general consumer
prices are rising just under 2 percent on an annualized basis.

Four currency strategies for euro/dollar angst

Jun 18, 2012 15:57 UTC

CHICAGO, June 18 (Reuters) – Developing a currency strategy
for your portfolio is like playing a chess game in which the
pieces are the futures of entire countries. Will Greece be able
to form a government and get its act together to keep the euro?
What about Spain and Italy? With the embattled euro and dollar
under a perennial cloud, does it make sense to have currency
strategy for your portfolio at all?

If you’re heavily invested in the securities of one
denomination, adopting a currency hedge may make some sense,
although the direction of currencies is notoriously difficult to
predict. All denominations are subject to political risk, the
economic health of the countries backing it, inflation and
interest rates. And currencies don’t pay a quarterly dividend
like a stock can or have a fixed coupon like a bond. Their
values are determined relative to other currencies and vary
depending upon a number of economic measures. It’s a complex and
volatile brew.

Then, there’s always a concern about currency debasement, or
the fear that countries are printing too much money, which in
turn stokes inflation. While that’s not an immediate concern in
the U.S. or Europe now, it could be if those economies heat up
again. And it could be that conventional wisdom about a
currency’s decline will be wrong long term.

Five contrarian reasons not to refinance

Jun 15, 2012 16:07 UTC

CHICAGO, June 15 (Reuters) – These days, lenders are
incredibly picky when it comes to customers. When I looked into
refinancing a few months ago, a mortgage broker asked for two
years of tax filings, and wanted my accountant to certify them.
Since the savings on a new loan would’ve been minor, I passed.

That’s not the advice you hear most, though, when it comes
to refinancing in today’s rate market. With 30-year loan rates
still under 4 percent, if you know you’re going to stay in your
home for a while – or need to cut payments on other properties
you own – don’t wait.

Unless the U.S. economy goes on life support again, it’s
hard to believe that rates will go any lower – in the June 14
Freddie Mac mortgage survey rates were 3.71 percent for 30-year
loans and 2.98 percent for 15-year notes. Until this week, those
averages showed a quiet six-week streak of record-low rates.

Drill for income with energy stocks

Jun 8, 2012 15:02 UTC

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Whenever the threat of an economic slowdown starts hulking around like a cranky bear, I look to essentials that are important to me as a long-term investor, like energy. Then I consider what investors need most while they watch share prices dip, and that is steady dividends.

Although I have severe reservations about energy companies’ role in global warming – they can be doing much more to promote clean/alternative energy – energy companies that pay healthy, consistent dividends still make sense. They will still make profits drilling for oil and natural gas far into the future, even in the face of falling oil prices.

Good examples of old, healthy dividend payers are Exxon-Mobil and Chevron, two of the largest energy producers on the planet. Even as oil prices gyrate, the total long-term global demand for oil and gas is increasing. And if you’re willing to hold onto these stocks, you can be rewarded over decades.

Staples and discretionary stocks, it’s that easy

Jun 4, 2012 16:13 UTC

CHICAGO, June 4 (Reuters) – To maintain your mettle as an
investor in the face of mixed economic signals, you have to be
able to be able to do what F. Scott Fitzgerald said was the test
of first-rate intelligence: be able to hold two opposing ideas
in your mind and still function.

On one hand, it’s counter-intuitive to buy into a decline.
It doesn’t feel right, although you will get better prices on
quality stocks. The standard approach, which I suspect most
investors choose, is to retreat to the sidelines.

If you can take the risk, keep investing in solid companies.
If you need growth in your portfolio, don’t pull out; embrace
the long-term prospects of owning companies that produce
consistent profits and dividends. A good place to look for
profits are U.S. consumer staples and discretionary stocks.
These stocks are among the most profitable in the world, have
paid robust dividends and continue to benefit from the
snail-like U.S. recovery that may be “de-coupling” from Europe
and not moving in lockstep.

Where in the world are dividends good?

Jun 1, 2012 14:39 UTC

CHICAGO, June 1 (Reuters) – Finding consistent total stock
returns has always been a challenge. But even as the euro zone
beast continues to flair its nostrils and U.S. employment
wheezes, there are stocks that are worthy contenders,
particularly ones that pay dividends. While they don’t eliminate
market risk, dividends can bolster total return in skittish
equity markets. And some of the best sectors for high-dividend
players are far from Wall Street.

For long-term investing, think commodities, energy,
utilities and non-banking financial services. Banking is still
touchy, but insurance is a safer bet.

Established, brand-name stocks often pay large dividends,
but that doesn’t mean they should dominate your portfolio. The
Admiral Group, a U.K.-based auto insurance company, for
example, is hardly in a league with the oil producer Royal Dutch
Shell in terms of name recognition. Yet the insurer is
the top holding in the SPDR S&P International Dividend ETF
, paying a 5.38 percent dividend yield as of June 1.

Four new ways to curb your market enthusiasm

May 29, 2012 15:10 UTC

CHICAGO (Reuters) – It’s already shaping up to be a summer of discontent for investors, so it’s time to manage your expectations. To a global investor, there are conflicting signals everywhere: Although the U.S. economy continues to chug along like a tugboat, the “fiscal cliff” of massive tax increases and budget cuts still looms at the end of the year. Then there is the euro zone opera with the fat lady singing in Greece, Spain and elsewhere.

Do you stay out of all stocks and cower in bonds? What about the possibility of rising inflation in the United States and recession in Europe? How do you avoid the “tail risk” of multiple sour scenarios unfolding the way they did last August?

While it’s hard to predict the cumulative effect of political and financial uncertainty, you can adjust your attitude accordingly so that you deal with what will come. Here are some new approaches:

College investing the low-risk way

May 25, 2012 17:00 UTC

CHICAGO, May 25 (Reuters) – Despite saving for the past
decade and a half, I know I’m nowhere near covering projected
college bills for my daughters, who are now teenagers. So I’ve
been employing an investment strategy to try to make up the
difference so that tuition doesn’t sink my kids into a loathsome
amount of debt.

The basis of our plan is that we invest our college funds in
an age-adjusted 529 college savings plan that reduces market and
interest-rate risk the closer the girls get to matriculation.
Every state offers these funds with major mutual-fund companies
managing them.

In our case, we started investing in the Upromise plan that
links my business credit-card purchases to contributions to
college-savings accounts for both of my daughters. Depending
upon the item purchased, the company, owned by Sallie Mae, will
contribute from 1 to 5 percent of the purchase price into our
college accounts. There is a similar program called
BabyMint.com, which is also worth exploring.

What if Europe and U.S. decouple?

May 21, 2012 17:26 UTC

CHICAGO, May 21 (Reuters) – What if, despite conventional
wisdom, the United States and Eurozone economies “decoupled?”
This suggests that no matter what happens in Greece, Spain and
the rest of the beleaguered European nations, the U.S. economy
wouldn’t be linked to those woes and would continue its mild
recovery relatively unimpaired.

There’s growing evidence to suggest that this has been
happening and may manifest itself more in coming months. That
means Europe and America could be more like two ships passing in
the night rather than on a collision course.

As most of Europe struggles with austerity programs,
political shifts and debt woes, U.S. stocks have generally been
staging a rebound. The MSCI All Country World Ex USA Index
finished April 2.5 percent below the level of October
2009, “when foreign stocks established their relative strength
peak against the U.S.,” according to a May report from Leuthold
Weeden Institutional Research.

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