Opinion

John Wasik

Bet on U.S. manufacturing for a rebound

May 18, 2012 12:36 UTC

CHICAGO (Reuters) – If you were betting on a big rebound for any one sector this year, you probably would have put your money on banking instead of manufacturing.

The more glamorous rebound story has been banking and the financial services sector, but with the revelation of a $2 billion trading loss at JP Morgan Chase & Co, it’s clear some of the biggest banks may have not taken the lessons of 2008 seriously. They continue to bad-mouth and fight reforms and engage in risky derivatives trading, and there is likely more dirt under the carpet in that sector.

Megabanks are difficult to divine. The economy might be rebounding, but they might not lend widely and focus instead on making more money from their trading desks, which are still largely a black box to investors.

“Investors should stay away from financials,” says Lee Munson, a money manager with Portfolio LLC in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and author of “Rigged Money.” “I can’t figure out what’s in them. There are more time bombs out there.”

U.S. manufacturing, in contrast, is a warts-and-all comeback kid story that doesn’t get much attention. Many of the industries left for dead in the wake of the Great Recession have undergone massive restructuring and are much more productive than they were five years ago. Industrial production posted its fastest growth in a year in April, according to the Federal Reserve.

Professional tricks to lower property tax assessment

May 14, 2012 17:35 UTC

CHICAGO, May 14 (Reuters) – One of the best investments I
made in my home this year was to hire somebody to prove that its
value had fallen.

I know this sounds daft, but it resulted in a lower property
tax bill. In our case, our taxes dropped by $1,000 to around
$10,000 for the 2011 tax year. But we didn’t challenge our taxes
ourselves – we will pay a specialized property-tax consultant
$250 – 25 percent of our tax savings – to appeal for us.

If you owe more than your home is worth and you want to stay
in your home – or just can’t sell – taxes are the one fixed cost
you can have some success in reducing. (You can also try to
refinance to a lower mortgage rate, but that can be difficult
or impossible when you haven’t any or enough home equity.)

Facebook IPO meets behavioral economics

May 11, 2012 17:51 UTC

CHICAGO, May 11 (Reuters) – You may be smitten with the
Facebook story and debating whether or not to buy stock
when the company goes public. But if you haven’t studied the
history of IPOs, you may be jumping into the purchase with
unrealistic expectations and flawed biases.

While many of those allocated shares early on will likely
prosper – or be able to sell quickly at a profit after an
immediate run-up – the rest of us might not fare as well.

The company may raise up to $10.6 billion, an amount that
would beat the debuts of tech giant Google Inc while
giving it a total stock market value that exceeds Amazon.com
. Facebook has indicated an initial public offering
(IPO) per-share range of $28 to $35, pegging the potential value
of the company at $77 billion to $96 billion.

A continental shift for euro zone investors

May 7, 2012 18:17 UTC

CHICAGO, May 7 (Reuters) – If this weekend’s elections in
France and Greece do nothing else then they should remind
investors that these are individual countries, despite being
members of the euro zone. The 17 current countries in the
currency bloc might have thrown in their lot together in an
economic sense, but for investing purposes, you don’t want to
treat the members – and surrounding countries that are waiting
to join – as a single entity.

I break up the continent into four distinct blocks that have
nothing to do with geography, but instead with economic risk
profile and political dynamics.

JUST LIKE US

I consider Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain to be
“Yankee” Europe. Although their fiscal problems are all slightly
different from each other, these countries all over-borrowed or
got nailed by a housing bubble, emulating American missteps.
Most have imposed devastating austerity measures that are
roiling their political systems and triggered double-digit
unemployment. Their short-term prognosis has been sour.

Is hot money heading the wrong way?

May 4, 2012 17:18 UTC

CHICAGO, May 4 (Reuters) – Troubles may dog the euro zone,
but in the U.S., stocks are on an ascent, with the S&P 500 up
about 12 percent in the first quarter. Apart from employment and
housing, there’s plenty of evidence that the U.S. is in a meek
recovery, which means that most of the hot money for short-term,
high-yield investments may be headed in the wrong direction.

Some $70 billion flowed into bond mutual and exchange-traded
funds from the start of the year through April 25, according to
Lipper, a Thomson Reuters company. That’s 10 times the amount
invested in large-company stock growth funds over those several
months, during which the exodus from stock funds was the largest
since 1996, according to EPFR Global. (More details here:).

This signals to me that either investors who were burned by
the 2008 financial crisis are still staying away from stocks, or
they don’t believe the stock rally is sustainable. That would
explain the continued retreat into corporate junk bond funds,
emerging market debt, U.S. mortgage securities,
intermediate-maturity bonds and all other forms of bonds.

Column: BRICs alone won’t build your portfolio’s foundation

Apr 30, 2012 15:40 UTC

CHICAGO (Reuters) – The worst advice on emerging markets is to go out and buy the best-performing funds or countries of last year. In most cases, the hot money has come and gone and you can’t buy yesterday’s gains. But you can invest in a wide basket of developing countries to build a more robust portfolio foundation.

That’s not to say that emerging markets aren’t worthwhile. For global investors in the past decade, it’s been accepted wisdom that investing in the BRIC countries of Brazil, Russia, India and China is the basis of a strong strategy. While that’s still somewhat true, it’s not monolithic. Russia has had its setbacks and India is slowing down. China’s economy has increasingly raised the concern of international analysts.

But what’s left? Jim O’Neill, the chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management who coined the BRIC acronym a decade ago, suggests expanding your horizons to include Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Korea, Turkey and Vietnam.

BRICs alone won’t build your portfolio’s foundation

Apr 30, 2012 15:37 UTC

CHICAGO, APRIL 30 (Reuters) – The worst advice on emerging
markets is to go out and buy the best-performing funds or
countries of last year. In most cases, the hot money has come
and gone and you can’t buy yesterday’s gains. But you can invest
in a wide basket of developing countries to build a more robust
portfolio foundation.

That’s not to say that emerging markets aren’t worthwhile.
For global investors in the past decade, it’s been accepted
wisdom that investing in the BRIC countries of Brazil, Russia,
India and China is the basis of a strong strategy. While that’s
still somewhat true, it’s not monolithic. Russia has had its
setbacks and India is slowing down. China’s economy has
increasingly raised the concern of international analysts.

But what’s left? Jim O’Neill, the chairman of Goldman Sachs
Asset Management who coined the BRIC acronym a decade ago,
suggests expanding your horizons to include Bangladesh, Egypt,
Indonesia, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines,
South Korea, Turkey and Vietnam.

Finding ugly ducklings in a waddling market

Apr 27, 2012 17:07 UTC

CHICAGO, April 27 (Reuters) – Ugly duckling stocks are
surprises in small packages that turn into great performing
swans later on down the road. Nearly every large company started
out as a “small cap,” which generally refers to a stock with
under $1 billion in market capitalization. Most small companies
do unsexy things such as make pumps or generic drugs. You’ll
rarely hear them touted by big-name analysts or firms.

When business and economic cycles favor them, though, small
caps soar relative to big-cap stocks, especially because they
are usually priced at a bargain. Over the past three years
through April 25, for example, the Vanguard S&P 500 Fund
rose 19.4 percent. In contrast, the DFA US Small Cap
Value fund climbed 22.7 percent ().
Note: The DFA fund, representing an index of small companies,
is only available through investment advisers.

Long-term, exhibiting what investment analysts call “the
small company effect,” these pint-sized stocks produced a
compound annual growth rate of almost 12 percent from 1925
through 2011, according to Ibbotson Associates’ 2012 Classic
Yearbook (). That compares to
about 10 percent for the S&P 500 index of large stocks,
typically over $2 billion, and about 6 percent for long-term
government bonds. Small caps are generally stocks from $300
million to $2 billion in market capitalization; mid-caps from $2
billion to $10 billion; and large caps from $10 billion on up.
Much of the small-company/value effect has been documented by
academics Kenneth French, Eugene Fama and Rolf Banz
().

COLUMN: Five cautions for Apple stock enthusiasts

Apr 24, 2012 14:25 UTC

CHICAGO (Reuters) – As Apple announces its 2012 second fiscal quarter earnings on Tuesday, some analysts think the stock price could hit $1,000 and the company reach $1 trillion in market capitalization. I have no idea where Apple’s price is going or what’s in its secretive product pipeline, but I suspect that even with strong recent earnings, it will eventually fall from the tree it’s on now.

What troubles me most are stunning similarities to other Wall Street darlings of the past and the ignorance of risk that owning a single stock carries. All former stars have tumbled once they fell out of investor favor – often when their profits were still robust. Here are five cautions worth considering:

1. THE MIGHTY FALL

The trajectory usually looks like this: A company with a stellar “story” is declared magnificent and graces the covers of business magazines. Expectations build, and share prices climb to lofty levels. Then the bottom drops out. This happened to any number of companies in the past decade or so – Intel (INTC.O: Quote, Profile, Research), Cisco (CSCO.O: Quote, Profile, Research), Microsoft (MSFT.O: Quote, Profile, Research), etc. Although some analysts still believe Apple is undervalued and could rise higher, that observation doesn’t always translate into a linear ascent, nor does it eliminate other risk factors.

Five cautions for Apple stock enthusiasts

Apr 23, 2012 17:49 UTC

CHICAGO (Reuters) – As Apple announces its 2012 second fiscal quarter earnings on Tuesday, some analysts think the stock price could hit $1,000 and the company reach $1 trillion in market capitalization. I have no idea where Apple’s price is going or what’s in its secretive product pipeline, but I suspect that even with strong recent earnings, it will eventually fall from the tree it’s on now.

What troubles me most are stunning similarities to other Wall Street darlings of the past and the ignorance of risk that owning a single stock carries. All former stars have tumbled once they fell out of investor favor – often when their profits were still robust. Here are five cautions worth considering:

1. THE MIGHTY FALL

The trajectory usually looks like this: A company with a stellar “story” is declared magnificent and graces the covers of business magazines. Expectations build, and share prices climb to lofty levels. Then the bottom drops out. This happened to any number of companies in the past decade or so – Intel, Cisco, Microsoft, etc. Although some analysts still believe Apple is undervalued and could rise higher, that observation doesn’t always translate into a linear ascent, nor does it eliminate other risk factors.

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