Back in February, when Apple’s stock hit $500 – the same price as an iPad — we asked which was the better buy. Most experts said the company’s stock was headed higher – and they were proved right.
When it comes to the Olympics, one medal comes first: gold. But which metal is best for investors?
It seems hard to argue with the yellow metal, especially after its historic 11-year bull run. In the past five years alone, gold prices have soared 140%, to $1,616 an ounce. But even some of the biggest gold bugs question whether the shiny stuff can keep this going. And silver, while less valuable, has had nearly as good a rally — with prices rising 115%, to about $28 an ounce.
Some financial advisers tout their stock-picking success. Others point to the many designations – certified financial planner, chartered financial analyst, certified retirement financial adviser – they have attached to their name.
But a select few can boast of an altogether different credential – one that has seemingly little to do with investing, but that’s sure to catch many an investor’s attention: former Olympian.
Does record Olympic viewership on NBC translate into a gold medal for Comcast, the broadcast behemoth’s majority owner?
That’s the question some investors may be asking, given the network’s generally impressive showing — at least in terms of raw numbers — since the start of the London Summer Games last week. NBC reached a record-breaking 40.7 million viewers with its tape-delayed presentation of Friday’s opening ceremony, representing a 17% spike from the Beijing Olympics in 2008. It also attracted 28.7 million viewers on Saturday, another record. (Not that the coverage itself hasn’t merited its share of criticism, as evidenced by this story in the Los Angeles Times.)
Are you worried about your shopping decisions in the run-up to the holiday season? You’re not alone. Sales are not always what they seem and stores use lots of marketing tricks to keep you shopping, which means people need to consider when/where is the right time to get the best deal in much the same way investors do.
And not all special offers may be bargains. A 16-ounce pumpkin-spice latte at Starbucks costs $3.79 – 10% more than a regular 16-ounce vanilla flavored latte even though it’s billed a promotion by Starbucks. The Wall Street Journal on Monday gave pointers for investors: “How to Rest Easy in a Crazy Market.” Starbucks did not return calls seeking comment.
For consumers, it’s the same, but (slightly) different. Here’s a translation of those same tips for consumers:
Meeting with a financial planner has its pitfalls. If he works on commission, you might be left wondering if the advice is as good for you as it is profitable for him. And with an advisor paid by the hour, detailed discussions could pad your bill.
Starting this weekend, consumers have an opportunity to sidestep those concerns. During Financial Planning Days each Saturday in October, credentialed financial planners will offer free one-on-one advice to all comers in different cities across the country. Event organizers, which include the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards and the U.S. Conference of Mayors — say participating planners aren’t supposed to sell you anything, ask you to schedule a follow-up appointment, or even give you their business card.
There’s no appointment necessary – which means you might want to bring a book or a magazine – and you will need to be in or near one of the 31 cities hosting an event. This weekend, that’s Houston, Las Vegas, Reno, Oakland, and Philadelphia.
Consumers tired of low-yielding checking or savings accounts might want to consider those sleepy savings bonds typically associated with birthday or high school graduation gifts. But to get the best deals on them, they’ll need to act fast.
Series I savings bonds are currently yielding 4.6%, well above the 0.39% average rate for a one-year certificate of deposit and the 0.15% for savings accounts and money market deposit accounts, according to Bankrate.com. But that rate, which is based on inflation, will be reset on Nov. 1 and some analysts expect it to come down to about 3.3%. Investors who buy the bonds before Nov. 1 can still lock in the 4.6% rate for at least six months. (Series I savings bond rates also have a fixed-rate component that lasts throughout the 30-year life of the bond. The fixed rate is currently 0% and is expected to stay there.)
On a morning when markets seemed destined for tumult yet again, Pay Dirt called eight of the biggest brokerages to see whether they could assuage our concerns. We clocked their response time, asked them a series of questions, including “why is the market falling so quickly?” and “should I go to cash?” Then we checked out their web sites for additional help. Here’s how they stacked up:
1 E-Trade Response time: 10 seconds. The E-Trade rep said he would prefer to give advice based on an individual’s account, considering that investor style differs. “It’s better for everybody if the market goes up certainly,” he said. “I like to remain bullish at all times.” For investors who aren’t logged in, the E-Trade home page appears to be more of a window display for their accounts and products than a place to get information. However, there are real-time stock charts and news feed from several third-party sources, free webcasts and an online portfolio advisor. Spokeswoman Susan Hickey said customer service typically works with prospective clients “to help assess his/her current financial situation and define goals to establish a plan.”
2 TradeKing Response time: 16 seconds. TradeKing wouldn’t give any specific advice, but said, “We do have an online community where users can share opinions and information.” They include traders, bloggers and investors. It also has an online “education center” with market commentary, videos and web seminars. TradeKing spokeswoman Sue Parente said the average hold time is 15 seconds. “TradeKing does not provide investment advice,” she said, “however it does provide an education center to learn about investing.”
As SmartMoney.com reported yesterday, many investors are buying gold, while others are moving back into equities. Given the popularity of the precious metal, some experts are warning consumers about unscrupulous retailers selling jewelry and vintage coins. The Maine Office of Securities recently cautioned consumers about scam artists. David Schraeder, spokesman for the World Gold Council in New York, says you can buy from the U.S. Mint, though you may pay a slight premium, and says the council’s site has a list of respected dealers.
Peter Schiff, CEO of brokerage firm Euro Pacific Capital in New York, who prefers to buy gold for his clients rather than equities, has just released a report, “Classic Gold Scams – & How to Avoid Getting Ripped Off.” It says more companies have sprung up in recent months offering ways to invest. The lesson: Don’t get carried away with the gold rush or aggressive salesmanship without knowing your French Rooster from your American Eagle.
Here are the Top 5 tips:
The Bait & Switch
Some companies may advertise gold bullion, but then switch the telephone sales pitch to coins, the report says. Not all gold coins have an “antique” value. “Just like buying an Armani suit is not an investment in wool,” Schiff says, “rare coins are not an investment in gold.” Schiff says rare coins can be hard to liquidate – unlike, say, bullion – and says buyers should not be bamboozled by charts showing how rare coins exceed bullion in value over time. Some do, but that does not apply to all vintage coins.
Don’t Buy A Turkey
The French Rooster, Swiss Helvetia and British Sovereign are not exactly rare, despite what some naïve consumers may believe. The American Gold Eagle and Canadian Gold Maple Leaf are among common gold bullions that that Schiff says are worth buying. The South African Krugerrand – the original “bullion” gold coin, launched in 1969 – now has 54 million units in circulation worldwide. Genuine rare coins rely on services like the American Coin Club Grading Service or Professional Coin Grading Service for validation.
Want to know the secret to successful investing during turbulent times? Talk to a woman. Just don’t ask her for retirement advice.
A number of recent studies reinforce the idea that women are superior investors. Earlier this summer, a Barclays Capital and Ledbury Research study found that women are more likely to make money in the market because they take fewer risks. Last week, a Merrill Lynch survey found that men speak with their financial adviser more frequently than women do, a difference that researchers attributed to women’s more thoughtful investment approach. And a survey of investment site Betterment.com users found that men were twice as likely to have withdrawn all their money from the market during last week’s volatility. “Women are more the set-it-and-forget-it investor,” says Betterment.com chief executive Jonathan Stein.
Pay Dirt examines the millions of consumer decisions Americans make every day: What to buy, how much to pay, whether to rave or complain. Lead written by Quentin Fottrell, the blog examines these interactions, providing readers with news, insight and tips on shopping, spending, customer service, and companies that do right – and wrong – by their customers. Send items, questions and comments to email@example.com or tweet @SMPayDirt.