him21.JPGIn financial terms, leverage is reinvesting debt in an effort to earn greater return than the cost of interest. When a firm uses a considerable proportion of debt to finance its investments, it is considered highly leveraged. In this situation, both gains and losses are amplified. Margin is a form of debt or borrowed money that is used to invest in other financial instruments. It is often used as collateral to the holder of a position in securities, options or futures contracts to cover the credit risk of his or her counterparts. The concept of leverage and margin are interconnected because you can use a margin to create leverage.

Leverage allows a firm to invest in assets that have the potential to generate high returns. Unfortunately, a leveraged firm brings about additional risk because if the investment does not provide the returns expected, the firm still has to pay back the debt and interest. When a firm is leveraged it ultimately means that it depends somewhat on debt to finance its investments.

A leveraged firm does have its advantages, however. For example, it can increase shareholders’ return on investment by giving the company the ability to take on more high return yielding projects and there is also a tax advantage that is related with borrowing.

A margin is collateral such as cash or securities that are deposited into an account to cover credit risk that the other investor must take on when they have a position in a security, option or futures contract. The margin account is used to cushion any losses that may occur from fluctuations in prices.

It helps to decrease default risk because it constantly monitors and ensures that the investors are able to honor the contract. A margin is also considered borrowed money that is used to buy securities. This can be a practical way of obtaining funds in order to invest in a profitable investment.

A margin account allows you to borrow money from a broker for a fixed interest rate to purchase securities, options or futures contracts in the anticipation of receiving substantially high returns. Some stocks or securities are not permitted to be margined – this is usually due to their volatility and the desire of brokers to refrain from lending out money when there is a high potential for default. It is important when deciding to borrow money that a thorough investigation be done to make certain that the investment is reliable and not excessively risky. This is because an inability to pay back the principal and interest of a loan could result in bankruptcy.

One of my friends writes some interesting stuff that is being written nowadays about investing, is fond of using the word fool. But he doesn’t do it the normal way – the way, say, a school teacher does. For example, I remember him once saying that banks were the default suppliers of foolishness in the markets. This idea of foolishness in this special sense makes it easier to understand why markets behave the way they do. What exactly is this foolishness? I think it’s best defined as what is not.

barros-money-man.jpgWe’ve all heard of the Efficient Market Hypothesis, which says that financial markets are ‘efficient’, meaning that the prices of stocks (or other securities) reflect all known information and therefore incorporate the collective beliefs of all investors about the future. For the hypothesis to be correct, people must have equal access to all information and have rational expectations.

I think the kind of foolishness we are talking about is everything that is the opposite of all those factors that make the market efficient. It’s a bit like heat and cold in physics. You could say that the flow of knowledge and rational expectations keep the markets efficient or you could say that it’s the flow of foolishness that keeps the markets inefficient. Isn’t that a problem? No, it isn’t, most certainly not. Inefficiency is what keeps the stock market interesting and profitable. If the markets were as efficient as the hypothesis says, then those who can identify and mark out foolishness would make less money.

Therefore, a steady and limitless supply of foolishness is the greatest of assets. Foolishness is the life blood of the stock market. Without foolishness, we would be nowhere. Instead of worrying about how well companies are doing and how much the economy is growing, smart stock investors should instead worry about whether an adequate supply of foolishness will be maintained. I’m happy to inform readers that if present trends continue, they have nothing to fear.

Read (more…)

user.jpgIn years of answering people’s questions about investing, I’ve come to classify two major sources of problems: One, investing without thinking enough, and two, thinking too much about investments. We all know at least a few hypochondriacs who continuously suspect themselves to be suffering from dangerous illnesses and require frequent visits to specialists and get exotic medical tests done to allay their fears.

Similarly, there are a vast number of investment hypochondriacs who suspect their asset portfolios to be suffering from some dangerous disease. Generally, they believe that this disease can only be diagnosed by having a specialist examine the portfolio and test it by applying exotic formulae that will perform some magical analysis. Somewhat like its medical version, investment hypochondria, too, is encouraged by these specialists who claim to detect and cure exotic diseases suffered by investment portfolios.

One of the most popular type of diseases in this field is a faulty asset allocation. Many people are worried sick about whether their investment portfolios have the correct amount of money allocated to debt and equity. Periodically, I get asked about what the formula for calculating asset allocation is and sometimes I’m actually asked this not by a patient but by a budding specialist.

The problem, of course, is that there is no formula, nor can there ever be. Asset allocation is just a fancy term for investing according to your needs. Try to get anyone like this to plan your investments and they’ll start by putting up a charade whose purpose is to convince you that finding out correct asset allocation is a complex process that requires proprietary formulae being churned up in complex looking spreadsheets invented by teams of MBAs.

By this process, deciding on an asset allocation starts by figuring out how risk-averse you are and how much risk you are willing to take to get the returns you want. This sounds so logical and systematic but is actually completely useless. Professional investors who are investing other people’s money may be able to find out their location on a risk-vs-return continuum, but at the back of their mind, everyone else wants zero risk. And guess what, zero risk is effectively possible if you do asset allocation the right way.

The key to really figuring out asset allocation is simply to make a rough time table of the future, one where you try and lay down when you will need how much money. Now, what you need to understand is that over some time horizon, most asset types turn zero risk, or as least as close to it as humanly possible. What you need to do is to match your investment time horizon (and not some theoretical risk level) to the asset type. Assets like bank Fixed Deposits and cash mutual funds are always zero risk, short-term income funds are zero risk after six months, and a good stock portfolio like a well-chosen set of diversified equity funds are close to zero risk after maybe seven years.

I‘ll admit this is a slightly simplified view but what I’m trying to do here is to demonstrate the principal on which individuals should base their asset allocation. There is no formula for asset allocation. The right way to do this is to figure out what you plan to do with your money in the future.

ist2_2665797_stairs.jpgToo much money in the Stock Market.

When there is too much money in the stock market, it can be a warning sign that things are about to change.

New money coming into the market could means investors who have been holding cash investments (CDs, bonds, and so on) are jumping into equities.

Individually, this may be a good decision, depending on where investors place their money.
Better Stock Return Unfortunately, what often happens is inexperienced investors watch a bull market run and want to get in on the better returns the stock market offers.

They may not choose their investments wisely and push the prices of hot stocks even higher. Because they are inexperienced, they buy stocks they hear about on television or from friends.

Rather than do their own research, money pours into the market and pushes up certain stocks beyond reasonable expectations.

If you have been a stock investor for at least 10 years, this scenario may sound like the tech bubble of the late 1990s.Stock Market Bubble. Huge amounts of cash poured into the market creating a demand for something to buy. During that period, it was any stock that had to do with the Internet.

Like any market where there are more buyers than sellers, prices shot up until professional investors began pulling their money out of the market and values crashed.

This doesn’t mean you should stay out of a market where there is lots of enthusiasm. However, be careful about what stocks you buy and even more careful about what you pay for them.

Don’t rely on the market to keep its enthusiasm forever.

stress1.jpgOn Tuesday, February 27 this year, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 416 points—the markets sharpest drop in three years. Two emotions—fear and greed—can lead to bad investment decisions.

Investing can be dangerous yet profitable endeavor. Many people have been burnt and decide not to ever invest again. This is the primary fear for investing in anything. They may give you excuse such as ‘I don’t have enough money’ or ‘I don’t know where to invest’. But the number one fear is always the fear of losing money. If a novice investor knows that he won’t lose money, he must have used all means necessary (such as loan) to buy as much investment opportunity possible.

Investing here can mean a lot of things from buying gold coin to real estate. There are several ways of how to reduce your fear of investing in common stock.

Get Educated. When you know more about something, you are more certain of your outcome. When you know how to calculate the fair value of a common stock, you will know your expected return of investment. Remember that the less uncertainty you have, the less risk you undertake. You will also know more about the downside risk of your investment. If a common stock has $ 3 per share of positive net cash, is profitable and is currently trading at $ 5 per share, then you know that it won’t trade at below $ 3 per share for a long period of time. Your maximum possible risk here is 40% of your original investment.

Start Small. When you begin your investing journey, you have a lot of unknowns. Less education means more unknown which means greater risk. How small should you start? As much money that you can afford to lose. If you still have no idea, then how about $ 1 a day? One dollar a day will give you $ 500,000 after fifty years of investing with 10.5 % return. Even if you have $ 500,000 right now, it is better for you to start small if you are a novice investor.

Pay Yourself First: means that you find investment that can pay you first as investors. What investment can pay you first? One thing that comes to mind is buying a common stock that historically has steady or increasing dividends. There is one more way to pay yourself first by selling covered call options. For novice investors, however, I suggest we put this subject of selling covered call options off until you get really really comfortable with investing in common stock.

Learn From Your Mistake. Once you begin investing, the fear of losing money is always there. The best ways to learn is from your own mistake, but do not to hasten your learning curve.

Will you be fear-free after reading this column? The answer is no. Fear is always there because of uncertainty. Successful investing is about predicting the future which is uncertain. Even investing in your money-market account is uncertain. It involves some small risk. The risk might be inflation being higher than the interest rate offered. There is also uncertainty regarding the direction of interest rate. Interest rate used to be in the high single digits during the 1980s. Look where it is now.

We live in uncertain world. Instead of hiding behind the wall, we need to embrace it and educate ourselves to reduce the uncertainty. Doing this will in effect increase our investment return beyond the rate of inflation.

100130497_30b44feff9_m.jpgInvesting in the stock market sometimes boils down to one essential element, namely good choices.

No matter how well we do our research, how often we buy and sell, or how much we pay experts for their tips and advice, without choosing stocks that represent value, we won’t succeed.

Although some are good at predicting the direction of the market and timing the ups and downs, if they don’t purchase the right stocks, they will still meet with difficulties when trying to reap profits.

For that reason, some of the best paid people on Wall Street are known primarily for their talent at picking stocks. Financial advisors give talks and write books and newsletters about how to choose stocks that will outperform the market, and most experts echo the same sentiment and agree that one of the best ways to judge a stock is from the point of view of a consumer. By using instincts we have already honed as ordinary shoppers, we can often ferret out information that even the most skilled and software-savvy market watchers miss. While they study analytical charts, earnings reports, and the stock exchange ticker tape, folks just like you actually do business with the companies they invest in, because their experience as a customer speaks volumes about the value of the company and its products and services.

Here are the kinds of things to look for as indicators of a company’s worth.

How popular is their product or service? If everyone you know uses it, and is satisfied with such things as price, customer service, and reliability, the company is probably well situated among the competition. Are the employees satisfied? One of the best ways to judge a company is by talking to employees. Many companies put on a good façade, but underneath the fancy marketing is plenty of discontent. But if employees like a company – especially if they like it enough to buy stock in it – that’s a very good sign.

How well known are they? You may find a great startup company with all the trappings of success, but discover that it is lesser known. Many small or regional companies are popular in their own back yards, but the rest of the world may not yet know about them. Buying such unknowns can be a great way to invest in the next hot stock. If the fundamentals look good, sometimes being lesser known is a good thing for investors getting in on the ground floor.

If they went out of business, where would you go for similar products and services? If you can’t think of a convenient alternative, the company is probably in a niche market that enjoys customer loyalty and repeat business.

Shop around, and notice what you see and how each business makes you feel. Then trust your intuition. Make a list of companies that get your attention, and then call their shareholder relations department and ask for more details. By starting your list with companies you already have a first hand experience of, you raise the chances considerably that you will make smart choices.

admarkettrends.jpgMost, but not all, stocks move with the overall trend of the market. I’m not talking necessarily about one-day bumps, but general upward and downward trends – bull markets and bear markets. For this reason, it’s important to have an idea what the general trend of the market seems to be and what the market is telling us about future trends.

For this reason, it’s important to have an idea what the general trend of the market seems to be and what the market is telling us about future trends.

You can get a good idea of where the market is headed with just two pieces of information: Price and volume. When you put these two together, you get a picture that tells whether there are more sellers in the market or buyers. Volume tells you whether there is movement in the market and price tells you which direction.

The volume indicator comes from the daily sales volume. Both of these indicators are available online from many different sites. If the market has a high-volume day and prices (of the indexes) are up, you are probably looking at mutual funds and institutional investors buying, which is a sign of an up market trend.

On the other hand, a high-volume day with lower prices could mean a downward trend with the big players backing out of the market. You need to use some common sense when watching these indicators. For example, if you have three or four days of high volume and rising prices, it is not unusual to hit a high-volume day where the prices fall off.

You’ll usually hear the talking heads on television refer to this as “profit taking.” If you begin to see the down days too frequently in a market that has been moving up, it may be a sign that it is about to reverse course or stall.

Mutual funds and institutional investors are the volume buyers and sellers that move the market. When they began moving in a direction, that’s where the market goes and you can see it in the price and volume numbers. A market that shows sharp price movements in either direction without corresponding volume increases is sending false messages that should be watched carefully.

What does this mean to you? Don’t swim upstream. The obvious forces of supply and demand (except when something extraordinary occurs) drive the market. When there are more buyers (higher prices on higher volume) than sellers, the market is trending up.

When there are more sellers (lower prices on higher volume) than buyers, the market is trending down.

Watch for signs that the market is changing course (different price and volume than the prevailing trend), if you see more than a few of these, prepare for a change.

divorce.jpgWhen your marriage breaks up, the last thing you feel like doing is crunching numbers. You’re hurt, perhaps angry, and possibly overwhelmed with anxiety, fear and despair. You’re focused on the past and present, not the future. But as many divorced couples learn the hard way, this is precisely the time you need to get a grip and pay close attention to your assets and your financial future, lest both slip away in the flood of emotion.
First and foremost, it’s a business deal. That means you’ve got to get rid of your emotion any way you need to, whether through therapy or going to a gym. Because your divorce should be based on one thing: your property settlement. It’s a matter of numbers, that’s all it is. At least 80 percent of money is about self-management, about emotions, and 20 percent is about quantifying and computing, the counting part is easy; it’s the emotional part that’s hard. Since money is a major cause of divorce, it’s safe to assume that splitting the financial sheets won’t be easy.

Pull your credit report before the divorce so that anything in dispute can be resolved before the divorce is final. The reports are the quickest and easiest way to get an overview of outstanding loan balances, mortgages and credit card debt that you and your spouse will eventually divvy up.

Read (more…)

Investing in conservative blue chip stocks may not have the allure of a hot high-tech investment, but it can be highly rewarding nonetheless, as good quality stocks have outperformed other investment classes over the long term.

200612300042_72024.jpgHistorically, investing in stocks has generated a return, over time, of between 11 and 15 percent annually depending how aggressive you are. Stocks outperform other investments since they incur more risk. Stock investors are at the bottom of the corporate “food chain.” First, companies have to pay their employees and suppliers. Then they pay their bondholders. After this come the preferred shareholders. Companies have an obligation to pay all these stakeholders first, and if there is money leftover it is paid to the stockholders through dividends or retained earnings. Sometimes there is a lot of money left over for stockholders, and in other cases there isn’t. Thus, investing in stocks is risky because investors never know exactly what they are going to receive for their investment.

What are the attractions of blue chip stocks? Great long-term rates of return. Unlike mutual funds, another relatively safe, long term investment category, there are no ongoing fees.You become a part owner of a company.

So much for the benefits – what about the risks? Some investors can’t tolerate both the risk associated with investing in the stock market and the risk associated with investing in one company. Not all blue chips are created equal.

If you don’t have the time and skill to identify a good quality company at a fair price don’t invest directly. Rather, you should consider a good mutual fund.

Selecting a blue chip company is only part of the battle – determining the appropriate price is the other. In reality supply and demand for a stock sets the stock’s daily price, and demand for a stock will increase or decrease depending of the outlook for a company. Thus, stock prices are driven by investor expectations for a company, the more favorable the expectations the better the stock price. In short, the stock market is a voting machine and much of the time it is voting based on investors’ fear or greed, not on their rational assessments of value. Stock prices can swing widely in the short-term but they eventually converge to their intrinsic value over the long-term.

Investors should look at good companies with great expectations that are not yet embedded in the price of a stock.

money_men.jpgCreating an investment plan can be a tricky but rewarding experience. The key to having a solid and fully customized plan is to know what your financial goals are and make sure your plan fit your needs. Investment plans are extremely popular because many people, due to the unstable job market and insufficient social security, are trying to save for their retirement.

Investment plans help investors buy a set number of stocks, bonds, and funds at regular intervals. This occurs automatically and does not require the investor’s constant attention. If you are interested in an investment plan below are some basic information and helpful tips about investment plans and how to choose the one that best fits your needs.

How does it work? Investment plans automate the investment process. Initially the investor picks out stocks which they want to regularly invest in. Then money is automatically removed from one of your financial accounts (checking, savings, or money market) and stocks are purchase for you by the investment plan coordinator.

As the investor you can make adjustments to how much money, how often, and what type of stocks will be purchased. Most brokerages, which offer investment plans, allow you to make changes at a small fee. However, one of the benefits of online investment firms is that many of the traditional fee based options, like adjusting your financial plan, are free of charge.

How much? Deciding how much you should invest is never an easy question. Only you know your financial situation and how much you can afford to put toward an investment plan. It is important to not over invest only to leave yourself short in paying your monthly obligations. You need to make sure the money you choose to invest will be available at the same time each month in the same amount. Think about the future. Perhaps this month you have more disposable income available however, most months you do not. It is better to invest less and not run short at the end of the month.

Becoming wealthy is not a matter of how much you earn, who your parents are, or what you do, it is a matter of managing your money properly.

« Previous PageNext Page »