Monday, December 28, 2009

MBCI Store Updated For New Year!

Just finished updating the MBCI store (bottom of page) for the new year. Added new categories for cell phones and service and DVD's. The store has started to generate sales and I'm excited about the prospects for increasing sales in the coming year.

Feedback from customers has been very positive to date, and I'm very happy with the associates program I chose to create the store for my readers. Have to spend more time promoting the store. Once the traffic is there, the products and convenience pretty much sell themselves. Building traffic will be my top priority for 2010.

Any ideas?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Holidays!

Just wanted to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous New Year!

The past year has been a rough one for us all, but the new year brings with it new hope and new opportunities. Now is the time to plan for gains for the coming year.

So here's wishing you all the best this Holiday Season and in the years to come!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Financial Plan For 2010

As the new year approaches, I'm finalizing my financial plan for 2010. I wrote back in November that I was considering selling some stock to pay off credit card debt. I've changed my mind after reading in one of the "Rich Dad" series of books, by Robert Kyosaki, that the rich do not dip into savings to pay off debt or meet cash shortfalls. That defeats the whole purpose of "paying yourself first". So instead I've decided to use a percentage of the dividend income from the stocks to pay off the debt and reinvest the rest to continue building my portfolio, while reducing debt. I should be completely debt free by the end of next year, which will allow me to increase my monthly investments by 300%.

The real point here is that I'm trying to get away from the poor persons mentality of always paying everyone else before paying myself. By continuing to pay myself, even when my cash flow is tight, it makes me look for ways to increase my means. In other words, I'm a lot more motivated to look for ways to increase my income, to cover my expenses.

I used to invest any money I managed to save after paying everything else. Now I consider my monthly investments a part of my expenses. The way I see it, if I'm willing to work so hard to come up with the money to make car payments for 3 or 4 years to buy a depreciating asset, shouldn't I be even more enthusiastic about working for a better future for myself and my loved ones? I've really shifted my thinking regarding saving and investing. It's no longer money I manage not to spend, it's money I've budgeted, the same way I budget to pay for a car or anything else. Only I'm paying for a better life!

So I'm finalizing my wealth building plan for 2010 and looking forward to another great year of adding income producing assets to my investment portfolio. I'm setting some ambitious goals and working on a plan to get there.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Newest Addition to My Portfolio

"A simple rule dictates my buying: Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful. And most certainly, fear is now widespread." -- Warren Buffett, Oct. 16, 2008

When Warren Buffett made the above statement, I was still buying stock. I bought stock all through 2008 and 2009 and expect to do so in 2010. Buffett also once famously boasted that he would be able to earn 50% annual returns ... but only if he had a whole lot less money. Why? Because he'd be able to freely buy and sell small stocks that the hotshots on Wall Street don't adequately cover.

With that in mind, I decided to buy back in to Advance America Cash Advance (AEA: NYSE). The Group's principal activity is to provide cash advance services in the United States. It offers prepaid debit cards, money transfer services and tax preparation services as an agent for third-party vendors and check cashing services at state authorized rates. The Group focuses primarily on providing cash advance services to middle-income working individuals. As of 31-Dec-2008, it operated 2,767 centers in 33 states in the United States, 20 centers in the United Kingdom and 10 centers in Canada, and had 79 limited licensees in the United Kingdom.


I held shares of AEA twice before and made a nice profit both times on the capital gains. My reason for buying back in this time is for the dividend yield of 4.04%. Their current price of $6.19 and earnings per share of $0.66 allow for continued payment of their current dividend while also fueling future growth. With a return on equity of 23.40% and very little debt, I'm thinking they are in a good position for some excellent growth. And it doesn't hurt that I will be earning over 4% in dividends along the way.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

GE Showing Signs of Improvement

GE is one of the core holdings in my personal stock portfolio. Even though this past year has not been kind to their stock price or their investors, I still believe the company has a bright future (no pun intended). Recently they announced improvement in their Capital division, which was largely responsible for their poor performance of late. While loan losses are expected to continue into 2010, they're predicting the division will show a profit by 2011. In the mean time, I'm looking to add additional shares to my stake while the price is low ($15.66 currently). Their dividend yield of 2.55% is well below the average yield of my current investments, however I'm expecting to make up for that through growth in stock value. If Warren Buffett feels confident enough to loan GE $3 billion, then I feel pretty safe investing my money with them. Bottom line, it's a magnificent company with a fantastic pedigree, strong management, great product line and a franchise name. You can't really ask for much more than that.

On an entirely unrelated subject, Obama recently announced tax incentives for small businesses who hire new workers. I have to say I think this is the smartest move the man has made since being elected. Getting people back to work is the key to getting the economy moving again. When the government gives business incentives to put people back to work, it's a win win situation for everyone concerned. The businesses save money due to tax incentives, the workers gain jobs and paychecks which they spend, in turn benefiting other businesses. With sales of goods and services going up and more people working, tax revenues increase for local, state and federal governments. So jobs should be JOB 1 for our political leaders right now.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Is Dell Turning the Tide With Customer Service?

I just saw one of Dell's latest commercials. They flew a customer from the U.K. to Texas to personally approve his new computer. Yeah I know it's a gimmick for the commercial, but I couldn't help but wonder if it meant that Dell, who's sales had suffered recently, was finally turning it's attention to improving customer service. I've always liked Dell computers, but because of my personal experience with their customer service, I have never done any business with them since I bought 2 desktops and a pocket pc a few years back.

I had a problem with one of the desktop computers near the end of my warranty. I called and emailed customer service several times, without any satisfactory results until my warranty expired. I finally fixed the computer myself, no thanks to them. While they might be flying customers to Texas to approve their computers now, at that time, I got no response at all to a letter I sent to their Texas headquarters. I'm over it now, but I was extremely angry and disappointed at the time. If you're in the business of selling computers and you have a customer who buys 3 at a time, I would think you'd want to take care of that customer. Perhaps is was just a slip up in their service department and/or mail rooms. Whatever the case, I've bought several desktop computers and laptops since then, but none from Dell.

So perhaps now that they're faced with flagging sales and poor stock performance, maybe they're finally turning their attention to customer service. I don't plan on being a customer again anytime soon, but it could signal a turnaround in their stock performance. I can't see myself ever investing in their stock or buying any more of their products, but if you're interested in Dell stock, it could be a good thing. In fairness to Dell, I want to make it clear that I am still using both desktop computers, so their products are great! My only beef was that, in my opinion, I received poor customer service after the sale.

See also: "Dell Finally Notices Its Poor Service Hurts Sales" http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20060613/103246.shtml

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Boosting Returns Through MLP's

I wrote in an earlier post about my plan to boost dividend income in 2010 by increasing my investments in MLP's. I did some research and discovered 3 great prospects for investing:

1. Suburban Propane Partners (SPH) Principally engaged, through its operating partnership and subsidiaries, in the retail and wholesale marketing of propane and related appliances, parts and services. This company pays a dividend of $3.32, which represents a 7.7% yield on their recent price of $43.99 per share. The P/E is 8.7, return on equity is 57.4%, earnings per share are $5.93 (so their dividend should be sustainable) and they have over $4 per share in cash. This will be my first targeted investment.

2. Alliance Resource Partners (ARLP) Master limited partnership engaged in coal mining, principally in the Illinois Basin, with the balance split between Northern Appalachia and Central Appalachia. The company is managed by its general partner, Alliance Holdings G.P., who holds the incentive distribution rights to the partnership, as well as 42.5% of the partnership's limited partner interests. They have a dividend of $3.04 which represents a 7.8% return on their recent price of $38.80. Their return on equity is 67%, P/E of 12.10 and they have $2.50 per share in cash. Earnings per share is $3.23. This will be my second investment for the upcoming year.

3. Amerigas Partners (APU) A publicly traded limited partnership formed under Delaware law on November 2, 1994. The Company is a retail propane distributor in the United States. As of September 30, 2003, they served approximately 1.3 million residential, commercial, industrial, agricultural and motor fuel customers from approximately 650 district locations in 46 states. The Company also sells, installs and services propane appliances, including heating systems. In certain markets, the Company also installs and services propane fuel systems for motor vehicles. Their District locations consist of an office, appliance showroom, warehouse and service facilities, with one or more 18,000 to 30,000 gallon storage tanks on the premises. As part of its overall transportation and distribution infrastructure, the Company operates as an interstate carrier in 48 states throughout the United States. The Company is also licensed as a carrier in Canada. The Company sells propane to five markets: residential, commercial/industrial, motor fuel, agricultural and wholesale. Their Propane Xchange program enables consumers to exchange their empty 20-pound propane grill cylinders for filled cylinders at retail locations such as home centers, mass merchandisers and grocery and convenience stores. During fiscal year 2002, they introduced PPX Plus cylinders that are equipped with a special overfill protection device required by the National Fire Protection Association. They conduct their business through their subsidiary, AmeriGas Propane, L.P. and its subsidiary, AmeriGas Eagle Propane, L.P., both Delaware limited partnerships. The executive offices of the Company are located at Pennsylvania. As of October 1, 2003, AmeriGas OLP acquired all of the retail propane distribution assets and business of Horizon Propane LLC. AmeriGas Propane, Inc. is their general partner. The General Partner provides these services. Dividend of $2.68 which represents a 7.2% yield on their recent price of $3748 per share. Their P/E is 10.40 with a return on equity of 49% and $1.04 per share in cash.

I don't always agree with Jim Cramer over at CNBC, but he happens to like these companies as well. While I plan on investing in all 3 partnerships, I would suggest readers do their own research before making investments for themselves. However, if you're looking to invest in master limited partnerships, this might give you a good start.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

America the Land of the Free?

America is often referred to as the land of the free. But most people in this country are not really free. They are tied to debt and a treadmill existence in terms of earning a living. At this moment, our federal government has promised future social benefits in excess of $50 trillion. That figure is approximately the same amount of the total personal wealth held by Americans. In the future, it is very likely that the government will not be able to provide the promised social benefits to our seniors. The typical household in the United States has a net worth of just over $90,000. That is about the same annual cost of a decent quality nursing home. Also, if home equity and equity in motor vehicles is netted out of the $90,000, then the typical household's net worth drops down to about $30,000. That is only about 60 percent of the typical household's annual income. Therefore, it should be every one's goal to provide for their economic future by being fiscally responsible. Otherwise they're most likely become completely dependant on their children when they are no longer able to work.
What should you do if you want to be act more like the rich and eventually become rich? The simplest way is to live below one's means. The typical household should be able to put away 5 percent of their annual income while they are in their 30s, 10 percent when they are in their 40s, and 20 percent when they are in their 50s. If you want to find true happiness and wealth, living frugally, below your means will get you there. It will also guarantee freedom from wage slavery so prevalent in the U.S. today. By continually converting earned income to income producing assets, you will find the road to true freedom in America.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Retailers Have More Reasons to Be Merry

After seeing strong sales from Black Friday, retailers have even more to be merry about this holiday season. Cyber Monday showed promising results for the start of the holiday retail season, with online merchants reporting over 4 million shoppers per minute, in North America. While in itself no guarantee of profitable season, it certainly bodes well for better than expected sales.
Shoppers are out in great numbers, but reports show they are more being more selective with their purchasing. More people are paying with cash and debit cards and using their credit cards very sparingly. Not such a surprise, after the credit card companies pulled such a fast one on consumers and jacked up interest rates and fees to beat the new credit card laws to take effect next year. Personally I've sworn off credit card purchases until they come up with better offers. I'm not paying anyone over 20% interest for anything! I'd like to loan them some money at that rate!
I liked Warren Buffet's predictions for the new year. Especially the one about "people mistakenly thinking falling stock prices are bad." Falling stock prices to me mean I can purchase shares of my favorite stocks on sale! So it's not always bad to have falling stock prices, think opportunity knocking instead.
Bob Doll, one of the most respected investors you'll find and Vice Chairman at Blackrock, is predicting a choppier market in 2010, but predicts we'll still see some gains. I'm thinking he's right on the money here.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Dubai Default Sends Markets Lower

The United Arab Emirates country sent markets lower Friday on news of credit default. While many investors took a negative view and headed for the exits, others are taking a wait and see approach. While bad news for Dubai, it does not necessarily mean we need to reassess the credit quality of the rest of the world. A flight to safety would send the U.S. dollar higher and oil prices lower. Personally I think we should take it for what it is, another warning to investors of credit riskiness involving emerging markets. This is certainly nothing new and definitely not the end of the world or of the stock market. Emerging markets have always been high risk for credit defaults and will likely continue to be so. While the U.S. and world economies might be affected to a certain extent, they can and will go on.

So what does this mean for investors? With some questioning the sustainability of the recovery in the U.S. stock market, this could provide the correction they've been looking for. Although I believe any correction from Dubai's credit default will be temporary and mild. It would take further bad news to create a serious risk to the stock market overall. Personally I'm thinking a drop in U.S. markets could provide buying opportunities for those with enough intestinal fortitude to brave the volatility that's sure to result. It seems that any form of bad news from anywhere in the world seems to send investors into a panic. I think we might all be better off without cable news channels spouting their predictions 24/7, although I have to admit that I like watching them as much as the next person. It's just that I take it all with a grain of salt. I make up my own mind when it comes to investing, as should everyone. It helps to keep in mind that no one is able to predict with any great accuracy where the market is headed. While so called professionals may be spouting their prophecies of doom and gloom, chances are very good that they're entirely wrong.

Personally I'm going to be looking for any dips in the market to add to my portfolio and retirement accounts. If others panic over developments in Dubai, all the better for me.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

It's hard to believe it's Thanksgiving already and before we know it Christmas and New Years Day will be here. So I'll take this opportunity to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving! I guess I'm most thankful for being back at work. While my new job leaves a lot to be desired, I'm thankful for having a job at all, when so many people are unemployed.

Looking ahead to the new year, I'm working on my investment plan. I've decided to take advantage of the capital gains on some of my stocks and retire the remaining debt on my credit cards. At the same time I plan to sell some of the underperforming stocks in my personal portfolio and divert the cash to more shares in master limited partnerships. This should reduce my tax liability in the coming years, while increasing average monthly cash flow from dividends. The increased cash flow and reduction in taxes, should more than make up for the loss of dividends from the stocks I'm selling to pay off old credit card debt. I'm only keeping 2 credit cards and using them very sparingly. Maybe one of these days the credit card companies will come to their senses and if not I'll simply avoid doing business with them.

Back in August I wrote about some of my investments in Master Limited Partnerships (see: http://thebluecollarinvestor.blogspot.com/2009/08/mlps-start-paying-off.html) and how they were beginning to pay off. I've been very pleased with their performance and look forward to earning even more going forward. I really love the idea of tax advantaged income outside of my IRA account.

For the new year, I'm also looking in to starting a new business or possibly purchasing a business in partnership with some of my family members or friends. I am aware of the risks involved in starting a business, but I'm also well aware of the potential rewards if the business is successful. No concrete plans yet, but I'm definitely interested in starting a business of my own.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Opinion Post

I'm glad to see that the leaders of the house are finally turning their attentions toward creating jobs, although I think they need to be very careful about trying to buy the nations way out of recession with taxpayer dollars. Better to give tax breaks and incentives to businesses who add jobs than to spend more money on recovery. At any rate, it's about time!

Just another note to those misguided individuals who think that the Democrats are for the poor. Out of the top 15 wealthiest members of Congress, the majority are Democrats. Does it even make sense to expect them to pass legislation to increase their own taxes? If you think so, you're only kidding yourself.

I've noticed a lot of market "experts" are now saying there may be no correction. I tend to agree with them, though I do think we're still in for a rough ride in to the new year. Most of my current positions are for the long-term, so good or bad I'll be riding it out. I take great comfort in the fact that I'll be drawing a nice stream of dividends in the mean time.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Upping My Investment in UVE

Over the weekend I reviewed my portfolio and decided to up my stake in Universal Insurance Holdings (UVE-AMEX). The Group's principal activity is to provide property and casualty insurance. It performs various aspects of insurance underwriting, distribution and claims. It markets and distributes its products and services, primarily in Florida.

I've written about UVE before and have been a long time shareholder for quite some time. Not long ago I had sold some of my shares for the capital gains, but now that I've reviewed the stock, I've decided to buy more. I've always liked their dividend payout and currently it is running at 12.94% on the recent share price of $6.19. Not too many places right now you can get a 12% plus rate of return.

Another factor in my decision was an article I read recently which argued that one of the most important metrics for stock picking, is insider ownership. I thought the author made a very good argument for investing in stocks with high insider ownership. That being said, UVE, which has been a great investment for me so far, has inside ownership of over 50% on top of their high dividend payouts. They have also expanded operations outside the state of Florida, which could indicate prospects for future capital gains.

Bottom line, if the insiders are willing to tie up so much of their money in the company, then I'm thinking it probably wouldn't hurt for me to keep some money working with them.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Canadian Energy Trusts

I recently received a newsletter touting Canadian Energy Trusts. The gist of the letter was that they will make great investments for 2010 because of the new tax law that goes in to effect in 2011. Due to the unfavorable change in Canadian tax law in regards to Canroys, as they are popularly called, several of these trusts are converting to taxable corporations. In so doing they have seen tremendous gains in share prices and some even continue to pay out most of their earnings to shareholders in the form of dividends. So you not only see capital appreciation, but continue to receive excellent dividend income.

My only current position in Canadian Energy Trusts consists of shares in Pengrowth Energy (PGH). Pengrowth Energy Trust. The Group's principal activity is to provide directly and indirectly explore for, develop and hold interests in petroleum and natural gas properties, through investments. The Group directly and indirectly acquires, owns and manages working interests and royalty interests in oil and natural gas properties. Its activities are financed by issuance of royalty units and interest bearing notes to the Trust and third party debt. With a current dividend yield of 8.30%, I added them to my portfolio for their monthly payout.

I've decided, given the new information on the conversions, I'll be adding more shares of PGH to my current investments. I don't know that they will actually convert to a taxable corporation, but I'd say the chances are good. If they choose to do so, it's likely they, like the other trusts who have already converted, will see appreciation in share prices. Either way, the boost to my monthly dividend income makes the purchase worthwhile.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Merck and Schering Plough Merger

Got a nice bonus this week from the merger of Merck and Schering Plough. I held stocks in both companies and consider Merck as one of my core stocks. As part of the merger, I received $10.50 per share in cash, plus additional shares in the new Merck, for each share of Schering Plough. I've always considered both to be good investments and think the combination of the two will be good going forward.

I always enjoy merger deals of this type, where I get most of my invested cash back. It's like playing with the house's money, since I have practically nothing invested in the stock I received as part of the merger.

The icing on the top of the cake is the great dividend I've gotten from Merck all along. Even if they reduced the dividend 50% due to costs related to the merger, I'd still be happy with the return on investment. But I doubt that's likely to happen.

Save Money By Avoiding Illness

With the normal flu season and the added concerns of H1N1 upon us, now is the time to be thinking of preventative measures to avoid illness this winter. Being sick is expensive. Not only do you have trips to the doctor and prescriptions, but usually it involves missed worked resulting in loss of income. So the more you can do to avoid becoming ill in the first place, the more you save.

One of the things I've always done to help avoid colds and the flu is gargling with salt water or peroxide solution (50% water/50% peroxide) or Listerine. I prefer the mint Listerine, not only because it tastes better, but the mint helps soothe my frequent sore throats. I now know that gargling in this manner is recommended for avoiding infections from flu viruses which proliferate in the throat and sinus cavities. However, I stumbled on the benefits of gargling twice a day when I had a bad winter for sore throats. When I gargled with the mint Listerine, it soothed my throat better than anything else I'd tried, so I kept it up all through the winter months. What I noticed was, even though my co-workers and family members all came down with seasonal flu and colds that year, I never got sick. The only thing I did differently from previous years, was gargling twice daily with Listerine. So I concluded that it not only soothed my throat, but also helped me avoid being infected with a cold or the flu.

Some other ways to help avoid infections, keep hands away from your face. The eyes nose and throat are ports of entry for cold and flu. Keeping your hands away from your face helps to avoid infection. Thorough and regular hand washing and regular use of hand sanitizer, are also good preventative measures. Another recommendation I read recently, drinking hot liquids like coffee and tea on a regular basis. The hot liquids wash the flu virus down into the stomach, where they are unable to survive and help prevent proliferation in the throat and sinuses.

Last but not least, consuming foods and juices rich in vitamin C. While some may argue that this is not a proven science, it definitely doesn't hurt and there is a lot of research to suggest that it does help. If you're taking a vitamin C supplement, make sure it also contains zinc to help increase the absorption rate.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

November So Far

Well it's the first week of November, the stock market is down and I'm back to work. A little disappointed in the stock market, but it does allow me to pick up stocks at a cheaper price. Been having a little difficulty getting back into the work environment again, but I'm glad to have a job when so many people are out of work still. I ended up taking a much lower position with a lot less pay than at my last job, but work is work. I still recall the 1970's when so many people were unemployed for what seemed like forever. It was hard times then and any job you could get was considered a good job. Don't want to find myself in that position if I can avoid it.

This is a big month for dividends from my taxable portfolio. I'll be receiving payments from over 10 different companies and most of them are high yielding stocks. I'm beginning to like Canadian energy trusts with their monthly payouts and love the master limited partnerships!

My IRA is doing well. Just added more AT&T shares. A friend of mine was telling me a story about a former co-worker who ended up homeless and called him asking for help. He was stunned that the guy had no where to live, no money and no car, but he had a cell phone. That's why I love telecoms. They're not really in favor right now, so I'm picking up shares at bargain prices. When homeless people are carrying phones, you can't hardly go wrong owning telecom stocks.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Think You Know About Investing?

Think you know about investing? Take the quiz on CNBC's website at:

http://www.cnbc.com/id/33537477?question=1

I scored semi-pro on my first try. Had a perfect score on my second try. It's informative and fun if you're interested in stocks and investing.

Friday, October 23, 2009

All U.S. Citizens Should Read This Speech!

Mr. David Einhorn of Greenlight Capital gave this speech to the Value Investing Congress on October 19th. "Liquor Before Beer...In The Clear." You can read the text of his speech at:

http://blogs.reuters.com/rolfe-winkler/files/2009/10/einhorn-vic-2009-speech.pdf

I have never read a more accurate profile of the nations current situation and what got us here. Every U.S. citizen should read this speech!

Increasing Stake in Encore Energy Partners

I decided to up my stake in Encore Energy Partners LP (ENP). With their current price at $18.73 and a dividend of $2.05, their current dividend yield stands at 10.94%. With earnings per share of $5.43, they have sufficient earnings to continue current payouts and provide for possible future increases. When you add in a price to earnings of just 3.4 and the tax advantages on earnings from limited partnerships, I think it will work out great for increasing cash flow while controlling tax liabilities.

Based in Fort Worth, Texas, Encore Energy Partners principal activity is to acquire, exploit and develop oil and natural gas properties and to acquire, own and operate related assets. Its assets consist primarily of producing and non-producing oil and natural gas properties in the Elk Basin of Wyoming and Montana and the Permian Basin of West Texas. It operates in the United States.

To learn more, you can visit their website at: http://www.encoreenp.com/

Obama Slipping in The Polls

Just read an article on aol news about Obama's approval ratings slipping in a recent CNN poll. While the overall article, which you can read here:

http://news.aol.com/article/obamas-poll-numbers-take-a-hit/730460?icid=mainmaindl1link3http%3A%2F%2Fnews.aol.com%2Farticle%2Fobamas-poll-numbers-take-a-hit%2F730460

was positive, the reader opinion poll included in the article tells a very different story.

At the time I read the article, the number of people who disapproved of Obama stood at 74% out of a total of 613,532 respondents. An additional poll showed that 51% disagreed with the president on health care and 42% disapproved of his administrations handling of the economy, this out of 589,782 responses. So while CNN's poll may claim a strong showing of support, I think it would be unwise to ignore aol's reader poll suggesting otherwise. Polls for the most part are not very scientific and often just plain wrong, but it's hard to ignore these kind of numbers.

In my opinion, everything I'm seeing so far is pointing to a repeat of the Carter administration, where very little is actually accomplished and good luck getting a second term.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A 100%+ Return On Investment

With the stock market being so uncertain of late and me being without a job, I've been looking for options in the event that I may not find a job before my unemployment runs out or if I'm forced to take a lower paying job. Since I know it's most likely that I will find a job with less pay than I'm used to, I've been trying to think of some way to supplement my income aside from my usual investments.

I did a little research and found that I could purchase a professional steam carpet cleaning machine for around $500. I have cleaned carpets in the past both on the job and as a favor to friends and family members. So this would not be a new thing for me, however I would own the machine instead of renting it.

Going by the number of carpets I usually clean in the spring of each year, it would be no problem at all for me to average at least 3 jobs per month. My average net per job, after expenses, is usually around $50. If I did 3 jobs per month and cleared $150 total, I would make $1,800 per year. Not a life changing amount, but it would fund my IRA or would pay a couple of my bills per month.

Knowing that I may not always do 3 jobs per month, I re-figured the return on investment if I averaged less than 2 jobs per month. If I only manage to do 20 jobs per year and clear $50 per job, I would still make $1,000 total. With an initial investment of $500, that works out to a 100% return on investment for the first year. If I continued to do 20 jobs per year after the first year, I would make a 200% return on my initial investment each year. If you figure the life of the machine will be at least 10 years, my $500 investment would grow to a whopping $10,000! Still not a life changing amount, but it's nothing to sneeze at either. With just a little extra effort I could easily earn as much as $20 to $30 thousand over the same 10 years.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Making Money Online

Everybody wants to know how to make money online. If you've tried Ebay, maybe you made some or maybe you made a lot, but it doesn't always work out for everybody. It didn't work out for me. I made a little money, but it never really took off.

Then there are the multi-level marketing options. While I stop short of calling them scams, I've never made any money off any of them, and don't know anyone who has. O.K., so I've mentioned some things that didn't really work out for me, so what has?

1. SendEarnings.com is a paid email/survey/shopping program (see link bottom right of page).

2. Infolinks.com--For online publishers/bloggers. In-Text Advertising targeted for your readers. Easy to install.

3. Affiliate marketing--As an example, see the Amazon ads on this blog. You earn a percentage for sales generated from your site. There are many different types of affiliate marketing programs available. I chose Amazon because I trust them.

4. MyPoints.com--Shopping rewards program. You don't earn cash, but you earn credits for reading emails and shopping which you can cash in for gift cards with a wide variety of stores and restaurants. This is one of my favorites, I always go through them before buying anything on line. I've received 8 gift cards which I've used myself or given as gifts for Christmas and Birthdays and donated points to some of my favorite charities. It's a great program.

5. DollarSurveys.net--They pay you for taking surveys. I like this one because they pay you every week, as long as you've completed a qualifying survey. Not like the other paid surveys I've tried, where you never seem to earn enough to collect. They pay directly to your PayPal account.

These are a few things that are working for me. I don't expend a lot of effort on any of them and I'm definitely not getting rich off them, but I do make a little extra money from each. Whatever money I do earn goes directly to my investment accounts, so it's put to work earning even more.

If any of my readers have suggestions for more ways to earn, feel free to email me.





Saturday, October 17, 2009

It's All About Earnings

About half the Dow 30 and a quarter of the S&P 500 report in the week ahead. Analysts expect the majority of these companies to continue to beat expectations. Of the 61 S&P companies that reported so far, 79 percent have reported better than expected earnings. The Dow gained 1.3 percent for the week, ending at 9,995, just shy of the 10,000 mile marker it reached on Wednesday. The S&P 500 scored a 1.5 percent gain, ending the week at 1,087. The dollar lost about 1 percent against the euro and the same against a basket of currencies.

Stocks declined Friday as disappointing results from Bank of America and General Electric eclipsed strong results from big techs. After two straight finishes above 10,000, the Dow Jones Industrial Average shed 67.03, or 0.7 percent, finishing at 9,995.91. Still, for the week, the blue-chip index gained more than 100 points, or 1.3 percent. This is the second straight week the Dow is up — it's gained more than 5 percent in that time. Shares of both GE and Bank of America lost more than 4 percent.

Pfizer, which reports Tuesday, expects higher earnings on slightly lower revenue, while Merck (MRK: 33.22, -0.09, -0.27%), which reports Thursday, is likely to post profit and revenue increases. Eli Lilly & Co. (LLY: 34.42, -0.09, -0.26%), reporting Wednesday, is expected to return to the black after last year's results were hurt by legal settlements. Economists predict small increases in September building permits and housing starts from the previous month, continuing the general trend since spring. That report is due Tuesday, a day after the National Association of Home Builders releases its October housing market index, which reflects builders' confidence in the market. Next Friday, the National Association of Realtors reports on September existing-home sales, which are forecast to grow 5.5% from a month earlier. Sales dropped in August after rising since April.

The government will issue the September Producer Price Index, which measures wholesale inflation, on Tuesday. Predictions are for a 0.1% rise, after a bigger-than-expected 1.7% increase in August. On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve will release its Beige Book, which provides information about economic activity in various regions. The nonprofit Conference Board's September index of leading indicators is out Thursday.

(I currently own shares of Merck and Pfizer so I'm hoping for good news from both.)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Michael Moore on Capitalism?

In my opinion, Michael Moore's recent mockumentary on capitalism smacks of hypocrisy at its best. He is a successful capitalist, a mogul in the entertainment industry, who has benefited from the deep pockets of capitalism. Which is actually a fine example of how capitalism works and how it allows people to make big money.

Mr. Moore’s hypocrisy is in neglecting to tell his audiences that he himself is included in the class of people he deplores. How can you justify freaking out about the top 1% of the population owning 99% of the wealth in the country, when you fit in the 1% category.


This new production, much like it's predecessors, strikes me as someone taking advantage of a "dumbed down" America. Pandering to people who will believe anything as long as the story is good. And if a person is putting themselves in the position of champion for the little guy, how can they be taking advantage of them at the same time?

Of course, this is only my opinion. I could be totally wrong and Mr. Moore could truly be concerned with the plight of the everyday American. If that's the case, I'd like to help him out. If he really wants to prove he wants no part of evil capitalism, then he can donate his profits from the movie to me. I even have a donation link here on my website and accept Visa and Mastercard. Please Mr. Moore, proves us all wrong and give generously!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Why I Think JPMorgan Chase is a Bad Investment

JPMorgan Chase, the first major bank to report third-quarter earnings, stoked the market's optimism as it handily beat Wall Street's expectations, reporting a profit of $3.59 billion for the July-September period. The bank also achieved record year-to-date revenue.

Their earnings report helped boost the stock market and I'm sure their shareholders are pleased, but it didn't come as any surprise to me. In fact, I'd have been surprised if they hadn't had a good earnings report. You see I was one of the unfortunate people who became a credit card customer of Chase when they bought out Washington Mutual. I had two cards with Washington Mutual and had been a happy customer of theirs for years. Then Chase took over. Almost as soon as they took over, I received letters regarding both of my accounts, telling me my interest rates were being increased. So I got on the phone and talked to their customer service. I pointed out that I had never been late with a payment, always paid more than the minimum and questioned why my rates were being increased. It turns out that the rate increases had nothing to do with my credit rating, the reason they increased the interest rates was to increase the profitability on my accounts. O.K. Not something I wanted to hear, but I figured I would just pay the accounts off and wait until they came to their senses and offered me a reasonable interest rate, before I would use the cards again.

A few weeks later I get another notice in the mail telling me my rates are being increased to nearly 30%. That's when I decided to decline their offer and cancelled both of my cards. So, why do I think JPMorgan Chase is a bad investment.

First: Their customer service, in my opinion, is atrocious. They did not care that I had been a good customer with a proven payment record. They made no effort to keep me as a customer. They only cared about making more money off me. When you're running a business that relies on customer satisfaction and you carelessly disregard dissatisfied customers, your business is doomed to dwindle, if not fail altogether.

Secondly: While their profits are up now, I believe that it is largely a result of extreme rate increases to credit card customers like myself, who will eventually do like I've done and stop doing business with Chase bank entirely. I will NEVER do ANY business with this bank again! And I know a lot of other Chase customers who have had the same experience and feel the same way. So they are bound to see a dramatic drop in credit card business, which they may never be able to recover. With that in mind, it's my opinion that JPMorgan Chase would make a very poor long term investment.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Job Losses Bad News For Democrats

U.S. service industries may be recovering, stocks are up, banks are lending again and home prices are holding. But with no improvement in employment, a major part of the recovery is still missing. And that is bad new for Obama and the Democratic party.

According to the Labor Department, if you add in people who have stopped looking for work, or who are underemployed instead of working full time, the effective unemployment rate is a staggering 17%. With such outrageously high unemployment, it's hard for workers to understand how the recession can be deemed over.

It's an important political dynamic as 2010 midterm elections approach. At some point, continued job losses could easily push the economy back into negative territory, for a "double-dip" recession. Rob Shapiro, an economist who was a top official in President Bill Clinton's Commerce Department, sees "substantial, continued job losses" for some time if the government doesn't take more aggressive steps to foster job growth. In the meantime, the Obama administration should "prepare the American people to wait a while for real results," said Shapiro. White House aides concede they missed the mark with their January estimate that the stimulus package would keep unemployment from rising above 8 percent. In a letter to Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House GOP leaders asked, "Where are the jobs?"


That is the same question I'm asking, along with a lot of other unemployed voters. "Where are the jobs?" Obama and Pelosi may well be asking, "Where are the Democrats," after midterm elections.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Save On Entertainment

With the downturn in the economy and so many people unemployed or underemployed, everyone is looking for ways to save. Frugality is IN!

Recently I've discovered a great way to save on entertainment. While looking at amateur videos on YouTube, I found a lot of my favorite shows and movies are also available there. So rather than paying high prices for a big cable package or going to the movies, I've been enjoying some great entertainment free! I've seen Agatha Christie's Poirot and Miss Marple movies, watched full length movies such as Star Trek Voyager Endgame and A Bronx Tale. I've also watched several episodes of my favorite comedy shows from BBC and some great video from the History Channel. What is especially nice is that I choose what I want to watch and when. Of course I do have a high speed internet connection, but I would be paying for that anyway, so I get all this great entertainment at no additional cost. What could be better than that?

For even more TV and video you may want to check out In2tv.com and fancast.com. Both have a wide variety of television shows and movies available for free viewing.

Keep Your Money Working After You Retire

Retirement can be a joyful time of life. You get to leave the daily grind and spend more time doing the things you love with the people you care about. If you've saved up enough money to live comfortably, you can live a fulfilling, carefree life.

If you did a particularly good job of retirement planning, you may have enough money in savings to carry you through for many years to come. Even so, it's wise to keep your money working for you. You'll need to keep up with inflation, and if you live a particularly long life, you could run out of funds. And then there's the chance that you could incur unexpected expenses such as long-term care.So instead of putting the brakes on your investing, it's best to continue as though you have yet to retire. If you have adequate retirement savings, you'll only be using a portion of your money each year. There's no reason that the rest of your money shouldn't be earning a return for you.

The Best Investments for RetireesThere are many types of investments available, each with its own pros and cons. To find the best investment for your situation, you need to consider your tolerance for risk and the need for access to your money.

You should be able to put most of your retirement funds into fairly long-term investments. If you want to take on very little risk while keeping up with inflation, CDs are a good option. Money market funds and mutual funds are also low-risk. Stocks and bonds are riskier, but if chosen wisely and managed responsibly, they can net larger returns. Annuities are also popular investments among retirees. Life annuities require the annuitant to pay a premium in exchange for payouts made at regular intervals for the rest of his life. This provides guaranteed income, eliminating the danger of outliving one's savings. There are also joint annuities that pay out until the last of two people dies, and guaranteed term annuities that pay out for a specified period of time, with payments going to a beneficiary if the annuitant dies.

For money that you want easy access to, a money market account is a good place to keep it. These accounts earn more interest than your average savings account, yet they allow for quick and easy withdrawal of funds. But keeping your entire nest egg in such an account is unwise, because it could be earning much more with other investments.

Retirement should be a time in your life where money is not a major concern. Unfortunately, it doesn't always work that way. By keeping your money at work for you, you can keep your finances in good order for years to come and have some left over for your heirs.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Simple Way to Wealth

Do you want to become wealthy? Most anyone would answer yes to this question. Yet it has always been a simple thing to build wealth, but so few people seem to realize it. Either they've never been taught about finances or they're too interested in instant gratification and put wants before wealth. Whatever the case may be, it is truly simple to build wealth by following a very simple plan.

What is this plan? Think of it as the 10-20-70 plan. That is, from any income you receive, 10% goes into savings and investments, 20% is budgeted towards reducing and eliminating debt and the remaining 70% is for living expenses. You "pay yourself first" 10% of everything you earn before you pay anything else. This is money you keep for yourself, for building your future wealth, not to be used for any other purpose. The 20% for debt reduction goes towards paying off credit card bills, auto loans etc.. The remaining 70% of income is for living expenses. If you can't afford something you want out of the 70%, you simply do without until you can afford to pay with cash. This is not some new or revolutionary idea, it's been around for years. But it is a proven plan and is simple enough for anyone to follow.

So there you have it. The simple way to build wealth. With this plan, anyone can eventually become quite well off. It takes time and discipline, but is well worth it in the end. The younger you start, the better. I only wish I'd had someone to explain this to me when I was younger, I'd be much better off today. But no matter your age or financial status, if you make up your mind to improve your financial situation and you start following this plan today, your guaranteed a much brighter future.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

France Telecom ADS

In keeping with my plan to diversify my dividend portfolio to include investments outside the United States, I've decided to add France Telecom ADS (FTE) to my IRA investment portfolio. The Group's principal activity is to provide telecommunications services to residential, personal and large businesses. The Group offers services through six segments which are Orange, Wanadoo, Equant, TP Group, Other big operators and International providers. Major lines of business include providing public fixed-line voiced telephone services, videoconferencing, mobile telecommunication services, broadcasting services and Internet and wireless applications. Their clients are service providers, system integrators and operators. The Group operates in France, the United Kindom, Spain, Poland and Latin America, Asia, Middle East and parts of Europe.

With current earnings per share of $2.70 and a dividend payout of $1.68 per share, their current dividend yield of 6.43% makes them an attractive buy for my IRA account. Their recent share price of $26.09 and a price to earnings of 9.7 also makes for an attractive investment opportunity. Add to this their recent announcement that they will soon be offering the popular iPhone in Britain and their future prospects seem quite attractive. Overall I believe they will make a very good addition to my portfolio.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Congratulations RIO on 2016 Olympics


Congratulations Rio de Janeiro on being picked to host the 2016 Olympic Games! The country and the good people of Brazil deserve the honor, recognition and prestige that come with hosting the Olympics. The Olympic Committee made an excellent choice.

A huge roar was heard at the famed beach the moment International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said the words "Rio de Janeiro" to announce the winner in Copenhagen on Friday.

As popular President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and football great Pele celebrated in Denmark, the Cariocas, as Rio citizens are known, raised their arms to celebrate on Copacabana, frantically waving flags and hugging each other.

Silva called the win a "sacred day" as he was interviewed in Portuguese by Brazilian reporters in Copenhagen. Brazil's passion, he said, helped Rio win the Olympics against Madrid, Chicago and Tokyo.

The beaming Brazilian leader sobbed later in a news conference when describing how important the victory was for the country.

"I confess to you if I die right now my life would have been worth it," Silva said. "No one can now doubt the strength of Brazil's economy, it's social greatness, and our ability to present a plan."

Age Discrimination In Hiring

Since I've been unemployed, I've been applying for jobs everywhere. Mostly I would like to work for the state, so I've concentrated my efforts in that regard. However, given the states financial situation in this economy, I realized it would be prudent to not put all of my eggs in one basket and have applied for other jobs as well.

With all my experience in restaurants and food service, I've always thought my fall back plan would be to take another restaurant job and work until things picked up. Then maybe I'd get some calls from the state. However, I recently applied for a crew member job with a new fast food restaurant opening in Jefferson City, MO and was faced with something I hadn't really considered until now. When I went for my interview, the interviewers had scheduled 2 of us at the same time. Myself and a young boy who looked as though he was just old enough to drive. They took him in first and about 5 minutes later, called me in for the interview. They asked some questions about myself and my work experience, then asked why I'd like to work there. Things seemed to be going well, then one of the interviewers asked how I'd feel about having someone younger than myself as a manager. I explained that this was not a problem for me, that I've been in that situation before and it's worked out very well. So they asked me to step out for a minute and they would call me back in. At first I'm thinking this is a good sign. However, no sooner had I stepped out of the room and took a seat, they called me back in and said, "What we're going to do right now, we have your application, which we'll hold on to and we'll give you a call." O.K., so I thanked them for their time and consideration and left.

On my way home, it occurred to me that even though they never asked my age, their question about me working under someone younger than me was directed at my being older than most of the applicants. Then too, the young boy who'd gone in before me was still being interviewed when I left. So their brush off was most likely related to my age, even though at 49 I'm not really old by any means. Now I know what it feels like to be discriminated against because of my age and I'm only going to be getting older. What the two young women who were doing the hiring failed to consider is that I have excellent work references, I usually work harder than anyone else, all of my extended education has been in restaurant management and food preparation and I NEVER miss work. When I was managing at any of my previous jobs, that was what I looked at, not whether the applicant was old or young. Common sense should tell you to hire the most experienced and hardest working people who apply, not just the youngest people who apply.

At any rate, I think they've lost more than I have in the deal. I didn't get the job, but I know what kind of worker I am and I know it will be very difficult for them to find anyone better who is willing to work there. So they've missed out and they'll most likely lose several customers, since I'll be sure to let my friends and family know how I was treated by their managers. Very bad for a new business, especially when you consider that I and most of my friends eat out a great deal of the time. We won't be spending our money there.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

IMF Revises 2010 Global Growth Upwards

SAO PAULO, - The International Monetary Fund will increase its forecast for global growth next year, in the next few days, to account for a faster recovery in major economies its deputy director said on Monday.

The IMF will raise its forecast for 2010 global growthfrom 2.5% to about 3 percent, said Murilo Portugal, the fund's deputy managing director. The revised forecast could come as soon as Tuesday.

"The recovery is stronger than initially forecast," Portugal, a former deputy finance minister in Brazil, told journalists on the sidelines of a business seminar.

Portugal, without giving detailed forcasts, said Brazil's economy, the largest in Latin America, should grow more than the global average.

In a weekly central bank survey released on Monday economists increased their forecast for gross domestic product growth in Brazil from 4.2% a week earlier to 4.5 % for 2010.

Has The Economic Stimulus Failed?

I read an article in yesterday's USA Today about a survey of corporate CEO's, who were asked if they thought the economic stimulus had succeeded. Sixty percent said they thought it had failed to have the desired affect on the economy and only 23 % said it had been a success.

I've written before that in my opinion it has been a failure. While some banks were saved, at least in the short term and the automakers and AIG got some relief, where is the overall stimulus to the economy. Infrastructure benefited, but while infrastructure is in much need of repair and updating, I doubt we'll see much job creation there. So you have banks, automakers, an insurance company and infrastructure, none of which have created jobs in any great degree. Without job creation and the resultant increased consumer spending, the stimulus package has to be considered a failure. Would we have lost more jobs and been worse off without it, maybe and maybe not.

I believe that the money would have been better spent by sending out rebates to taxpayers. If the money had been put in the hands of taxpayers, it majority would have been spent, boosting the economy by keeping the money in circulation. The banks did not keep the money in circulation, they hoarded the money, paid out bonuses and tightened consumer and business credit, worsening the economic situation. When consumers spend, retailers benefit, they keep their employees working. Manufacturers benefit by increased orders and they keep their employees working. Government benefits by increased revenue through payroll and sales taxes, so they keep their employees working. The restaurant and other hospitality industries benefit because more people are working and have more to spend on their services. When the money is given to a limited group, ie. banks, insurance, infrastructure and automakers, only the people in those industries benefit. When it is given to taxpayers who spread the money around, everyone benefits. If the government gets any of the taxpayers money back from TARP, I believe they should seriously consider sending it out in the form of tax rebates to taxpayers and maybe we'll actually see some improvement in the economy. If not, with the job market still hemorrhaging jobs and consumer spending down, I believe we're looking at a slow and drawn out recovery at best.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Great Start For the Week!

Wall Street wasted little time in recovering from its worst week in two months as the Dow climbed more than 130 points Monday afternoon amid a flurry of M&A action. The markets were taking their cues from the merger news as Xerox (XRX: 7.2799, -1.7501, -19.38%) inked a $6.4 billion deal to buy Affiliated Computer Services (ACS: 52.41, 5.17, 10.94%), Abbott Labs (ABT: 48.681, 1.341, 2.83%) bought a drug business for $6.6 billion and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ: 61.305, 0.645, 1.06%) acquired a $444 million stake in biotech company Crucell (CRXL: 22.35, -1.35, -5.7%).

The Dow was led higher by DuPont (DD: 32.6383, 0.8683, 2.73%), General Electric (GE: 16.7949, 0.3949, 2.41%) and Cisco (CSCO: 23.7104, 1.0904, 4.82%). All 30 blue-chip stocks were in the green but financial-related stocks like American Express (AXP: 34.04, 0.96, 2.9%) and Bank of America (BAC: 16.9194, 0.2694, 1.62%) saw more modest gains.

The early bullishness on Wall Street comes after the markets closed lower on Friday, marking the first three-day slide for stocks since early September. After a relatively resilient month, the markets have run into resistance in recent days amid disappointing economic reports that have led some to question the bulls' economic optimism. In fact, last week marked Wall Street's steepest pullback since early July as the Dow lost 155 points and the S&P 500 slid 2.24%. Still, the Dow is up 1.78% in September and more than 10% year-to-date. But the markets are well on their way to making up most of those losses as traders cheer the M&A activity, which until recently had all but dried up. The increased M&A activity has some traders thinking, “Well maybe there is indeed some value here and the growth prospects are a little bit better,” said Nick Kalivas, vice president of financial research at MF Global. “I think people have taken the secondary issuance as a sign that stocks have poor valuation. I think these M&A deals neutralizes that argument."

We'll see how things hold up for the rest of the week.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Time To Get Back Into Shipping Stocks?

I've been a big fan of shipping stocks in the past because of their high dividend payouts. However, I sold off some shares during the downturn in the economy and have not added to any of my current positions in quite some time. My current holdings include Euroseas LTD (ESEA) and General Maritime Corp. (GMR), with dividend yields of 9.30% and 25.10% respectively. While current earnings do not support such high payouts, world trade appears to be picking up, so shipping should gain ground along with improvements in trade.

According to the statistics issued by the Bureau for Economic Policy, research showed the volume of world trade rising 3.5% in July after a revised increase of 1.6% in June. Decrease in the world trade was caused by the decrease in demand; but, the increasing trade ties among countries can play an important role in stabilizing the world economy. The rise in volumes was the steepest since December 2003.

With share prices of shipping companies being so cheap and trade volumes on the rise, is now the time to buy into shipping? I tend to think so. While some companies may be forced to lower dividend payments, their future prospects look quite good. Given the fact that their stock prices are at extreme lows, now might be the perfect time to make a long term investment.

With this in mind, I intend to either add to my current positions in ESEA and GMR or purchase shares in another company whose financials are a little better positioned. I'll have to do more research before I make a final decision.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Week In Review

At this point, it looks like both my stock portfolios will end down for the week. Although I'm still up quite a bit for the year on my IRA, I haven't quite regained all I lost on my taxable stock portfolio. Even though the total dollar value is 40% higher than last year, the increased value represents profits from stock trades since the first of this year, and extra cash added to my stock account.

The biggest change I've made in the past 30 days would be to add a shares of a Canadian Energy trust and a Real Estate investment trust, both of which pay dividends on a monthly instead of quarterly basis. Both appear to be solid companies and I think they'll work well towards reaching my goal of boosting monthly cash flows from dividends. I've noticed a lot of getting ahead in investing is all about cash flow. How quickly you turn over your money. When you pay out your cash to purchase shares of an investment, the quicker you get your money back, the better. That's why I love dividend stocks, because as long as the company is solid, you can look forward to a steady stream of dividend income for years and years to come. I could be perfectly satisfied with holding my stocks till the day I die, as long as the dividends keep rolling in.

Looking ahead, for the next couple of months, I'll be adding to my AT&T and BP stakes in my IRA account and will probably purchase more shares of PGH for my taxable portfolio. Nothing new on the job front, but I have been getting more responses to applications, so that's encouraging. Still working on eliminating my remaining credit card debt. Because of increased interest rates, I have canceled all but 2 of my credit cards and don't intend to take out any new ones. I think the credit card companies have all lost their minds recently and until I see some better offers, I'm avoiding using them all together.

I'm beginning to believe things are picking up with the economy, more in spite of, rather than because of recent government efforts. In the end, I believe legislation passed since the first of this year will ultimately lead to higher taxes than we've ever seen and create a tremendous drag on the economy. Just have to wait and see how it all plays out.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Market News

Since the first of the year, stock trading was in and the buy and hold strategy was out the window. It seems this trend may be reversing itself, with more investment managers giving their clients the old "dollar cost averaging" spiel and telling them to "invest for the long-term." Nothing wrong with any of this advice, but I think there will always be occasions when stock trading is more appropriate than a strict buy and hold strategy.

Speaking of buy and hold, the greatest buy and hold investor of all time, Warren Buffett, stands to gain a bundle off his investment in Goldman Sachs last September. Not only is Berkshire Hathaway benefiting from the special 10% dividend on their preferred shares, but they are also holding stock warrants from Goldman, currently worth a cool $3 billion. Not bad for a guy, who some were saying, had lost his touch.

There's been a lot of talk lately about weakness in the U. S. dollar. In the short term, this is not always a bad thing. Certain market sectors, such as technology, energy and materials, who get more than 50% of their revenues overseas, stand to benefit by the weakness in the dollar making their prices more attractive to foreign buyers. However, long term weakness in the dollar could lead to inflation woes here at home.

The market is static today, waiting for news from the Fed meeting and due to the drop in oil prices caused by a build up in inventories. I do think we'll see a move upward by the end of the week and September could prove to be better than expected for the year.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Brazilian Business News and Investments


In earlier posts I wrote about my belief that Brazil is definitely a good investment play when looking to expand outside U.S. stocks. Currently I own shares in one of Brazil's largest utility companies, CPFL Energia (NYSE:CPL). I've been very pleased with this investment and am looking to expand my investments in this country.

In recent research I learned, Brazil posted a foreign-trade surplus of $556 million in the third week of September, the Trade and Development Ministry said Monday. In the Sept. 14-20 period, exports totaled $3.496 billion, while imports were $2.940 billion. Year-earlier figures weren't provided. With the new September figures, Brazil's year-to-date trade surplus totaled $21.33 billion, up from $19.3 billion in the same period of 2008. Analysts are expecting a slight increase in Brazil's trade surplus in 2009. Brazil posted a trade surplus of $24.74 billion in 2008. A weekly survey of experts conducted by the Brazilian Central Bank and released earlier Monday produced an average forecast for the 2009 surplus of $25 billion.

Brazilian economists and financial market analysts have revised upward their forecasts for 2009 and 2010 gross domestic product, according to the central bank's weekly market survey published Monday. Analysts expect Brazil's 2009 GDP growth of 0%, compared with a forecast contraction of 0.15% in the previous week's survey. In addition, their forecast for 2010 GDP growth was increased to 4.20% from 4%. Brazil's GDP expanded 1.9% in the second quarter compared with the first quarter of this year and it decreased 1.2% in the second quarter versus the second quarter of 2008, according to the Brazilian Census Bureau, or IBGE. The central bank's weekly survey tracks the opinions of 100 analysts and economists from banks and brokerages, reporting the average of their expectations.

Brazilian shares rose Friday, continuing their best week since July, as energy and telecommunication companies boosted the index. The Bovespa gained 467 points, or 0.8%, to end at 60,703. The index added about 4% since last Friday. From July 10 through July 17, the index surged about 6%. On Wednesday, the index closed above the 60,000 level for the first time since July 21, 2008. Earlier in the week, Brazil's Central Bank President Henrique Meirelles had encouraged businesses to invest, saying that the economy must expand to protect against inflationary pressures.

Shares of oil producer Petrobras SA (PBR .A 38.02, -0.07, -0.18%) added 0.2%, steel maker Gerdau SA (GGB 13.48, +0.13, +0.97%) advanced 0.2% and mining giant Vale (VALE 22.10, +0.04, +0.17%) added 1.1%. Also, shares of the world's largest beef producer, JBS SA (BR:JBS 8.75, -0.08, -0.90%) , gained 1.5% after Moody's Investors Service said Friday it has changed its outlook on JBS to positive from stable, following the company's agreement to purchase 64% of bankrupt poultry producer Pilgrim's Pride Corp. (PGPDQ 6.71, -0.15, -2.19%) for $800 million in cash. Rob Lutts, chief investment officer at Cabot Money Management, said he thinks the Bovespa is going to continue to grow, especially the housing and real estate markets. He pointed to Gafisa SA (GFA 31.21, -0.77, -2.41%) , a home builder that he thinks will gain in the long term but may pull back in the next few months. Gafisa's shares rose 0.09%.

25 Ways To Save More For Investing

1. Start saving something today. It doesn't have to be a large sum. Even on a tight budget, a small amount adds up over time. Get an envelope, cookie jar, coffee can or whatever you like and set aside the same amount every week.

2. Treat saving as a bill. Consider having the amount transferred automatically from your checking account or paycheck. Pay your account every month or every two weeks.

3. Empty your pockets -- or your purse -- at the end of the night. Put all the change into a jar. Not only will you feel lighter, but your spare change adds up a lot faster than you think.

4. Just paid off a big debt such as a car loan or child's tuition? Keep making the payments -- this time to yourself.

5. Trying to lose weight this season? Each time you go without dessert, that midafternoon candy bar break or that fatty mochaccino at the coffee shop, put the cost of your forgone goody into your savings jar.

6. Involve the whole family in saving. Plan a treat for everyone when you reach the savings goal. Make it something everyone will look forward to, but inexpensive, such as a day at the zoo, museum or beach.

7. Some online banks offer high-interest checking accounts. If these accounts meet your needs when it comes to balance requirements, debit card usage and convenience, why not earn interest on your balance?

8. Stay up-to-date on your checking balance, either by balancing your check book or checking your account online frequently. You'll avoid overdraft fees and better track what goes in and out.

9. If you bounce a check, and it's the first time, ask for forgiveness, including waiver of any fees. A bank will sometimes do that for goodwill. Of course, don't become a repeat offender.

10. Make it a habit to use only your bank, thrift or credit union's ATMs. You'll avoid paying surcharge fees to your bank and the other bank. Or consider opening an account with an online bank or brokerage that covers out-of-network ATM fees.

11. To avoid ATM fees, get extra cash at the grocery store -- most of the grocery store point-of-sale terminals are free.

12. Think before you charge. Unless you're in the habit of paying your credit card bill in full each month, don't use the cards for anything you can eat or wear and avoid using credit cards to buy "wants" such as a new stereo or TV. Wait until you have the money to buy it.

13. If you're knee-deep in credit card debt, get rid of all of the credit cards but one. Take that one and make it hard to impulse shop with -- freeze it in a bowl of water in your freezer.

14. Don't take cash out of your credit card. The rate for cash advances is much higher. And there is no grace period -- you start paying interest right away.

15. Read your monthly credit card statements carefully. Look out for hidden charges, such as credit insurance.

16. Don't pay for theft insurance on your credit card. If your credit card is stolen, you're only liable for $50 at most.

17. Avoid credit card fees. Dodge $39-and-growing fees by not exceeding your credit limit. And send your payments in early -- if you're five minutes late it could cost you $29 or more.

18. Pay more than the minimum. It'll take a very long time and cost you a lot in interest to pay off your balance if you only pay the minimum.

19. Don't be late on any loan or credit account payment. Credit card companies check their customers' credit reports frequently, looking for any late payments to justify raising the interest rate -- a phenomenon called "universal default." In some cases, triggering a universal default can double your credit card's interest rate.

20. Negotiate better terms -- lower interest and higher limits -- with your credit card issuer, especially if you've had a year of on-time payments.

21. Consider transferring your balances from high-interest cards to low-interest credit cards. Then, make the same payment as before, or double the minimum.

22. If the opportunity exists, work overtime or an extra shift at least once or twice a month.

23. Participate in a 401(k) or 403(b) plan. Your contributions are made with pretax dollars. You save for the future while reducing today's taxable income.

24. Set up a tax-advantaged IRA or Roth IRA account to build up your retirement savings.

25. Save your raise. The next time you get a raise at work or a tax refund, consider directing half to savings. If you're not used to the money, you won't miss it.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Realty Income Increases Monthly Dividend

Recently I wrote about getting back to investing in REITs. Today I read about Realty Income increasing their monthly dividend and decided to add shares to my portfolio. Its Board of Directors has declared an increase in the Company's common stock monthly cash dividend to $0.1426875 per share from $0.142375 per share. The dividend is payable on October 15, 2009 to shareholders of record as of October 1, 2009. This is the 48th consecutive quarterly increase and the 55th dividend increase since Realty Income went public in 1994. The new monthly dividend amount represents an annualized dividend amount of $1.71225 per share as compared to the previous annualized dividend amount of $1.7085 per share. The Company continues its long-term policy of declaring and paying dividends on a monthly, rather than on a quarterly, basis.

The Chief Executive Officer of Realty Income commented, "We are pleased that, despite challenging economic conditions, our operations allow us to once again increase the amount of the dividend we pay to our shareholders. With the payment of the October dividend we will have made 471 consecutive monthly dividend payments."

Realty Income (O), The Monthly Dividend Company(R), is a New York Stock Exchange real estate company dedicated to providing shareholders with dependable monthly income. To date the Company has declared 471 consecutive common stock monthly dividends throughout its 40-year operating history and increased the dividend 55 times since Realty Income's listing on the New York Stock Exchange in 1994. The monthly dividend is supported by the cash flow from over 2,300 retail properties owned under long-term lease agreements with leading regional and national retail chains. The Company is a buyer of net-leased retail properties nationwide.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Quote of the Day

"You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich. You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong. You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift. You cannot lift the wage earner up by pulling the wage payer down. You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred. You cannot build character and courage by taking away people's initiative and independence. You cannot help people permanently by doing for them, what they could and should do for themselves."

Abraham Lincoln

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Philip Morris Boosts Dividend!

Was glad to hear tobacco giant Philip Morris International Inc. (PM) will be boosting their quarterly dividend payout by 7.4%. The new dividend payout is 58 cents per share quarterly, compared to a prior payout of 54 cents. The company said that the dividend is payable Oct. 9th to shareholders of record as of Sept. 28. I added Philip Morris as a long term holding a few months back, and will probably pick up more shares before the 28th to take advantage of the increased dividend. While sales of cigarettes and tobacco products in the U.S. have declined, this is not the case in other countries.

I sold my stake in Altria, earlier in the year, when the new cigarette tax went in to effect. The thinking being, with the current state of the economy and the ridiculous increase in the price of cigarettes, Philip Morris International would be in a better position than Altria to make a profit and pay dividends to shareholders.

About Philip Morris:

"Philip Morris International (PMI) is the leading international tobacco company, with products sold in approximately 160 countries. In 2008, we held an estimated 15.6% share of the international cigarette market outside of the USA. In 2008, we reported net revenues, excluding excise taxes, of $25.7 billion, and operating income of $10.2 billion.

We own seven of the top 15 brands in the world and have a strong mix of international and local products that seek to appeal to a wide array of adult smokers. We are committed to providing our consumers with the highest-quality tobacco products.

We are driven to create the best possible return for shareholders, while proactively engaging regulators and the public health community to address the complex issues surrounding tobacco use."

Visit Philip Morris:
http://www.philipmorrisinternational.com/PMINTL/pages/eng/ourbus/About_us.asp

Monday, September 14, 2009

This Week's Trades

Decided to take advantage of Universal Insurance (UVE) 11% dividend yield and pick up some more shares for my taxable portfolio. UVE is a long term holding in my regular portfolio and my IRA. Also decided it might be time to have a look at REITs again. With real estate turning around and several companies gearing up to pick up distressed real estate investments, thought it might be good to shop around. I've decided on Capstead Mortgage (CMO), one of the real estate trusts that has survived the turmoil of the past few years and seems to be on track for recovery. Their dividend yield is currently 16.30%, which is enticing in its' own right, but I chose them mainly for their experience. They've been in business for quite some time and I figure if they could survive the past year and keep their dividend intact, then they're likely a pretty good bet going forward.

Still building cash, but things are looking up on the job front, so I may soon be deploying excess cash in my stock portfolios. Even though I'm not happy with things on the political front, I believe that the stock market and the American economy can overcome a lot of idiotic moves by our nations politicians. And there's always the hope that they'll be voted out and replaced with people who have show a little more fiscal responsibility.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Public Option Insurance Plan, or Slush Fund for Politicians?

I watched Obama's speech about health care reform and I'm still amazed that the politicians don't get that the majority of taxpayers are against new programs that would increase the tax burden. So I'm watching the speech, wondering what their motivation is for passing a bill that is so obviously unpopular to so many people.

Then it occurred to me to think along business lines, instead of from a political point of view. A public health care bill, that included a public option insurance program, would essentially create a government run insurance company. I've written about insurance companies before and about how they practically print money, since they have tremendous inflows of cash. Normal insurance companies invest this money to produce even more profits, before having to cover any payouts to policy holders or investors. What do you suppose a government bureaucracy would do with such a tremendous amount of cash?

In the case of Social Security, they raided the Social Security fund to pay for pork barrel projects and garner support from special interest groups. They replaced the money in the Social Security Trust Fund with government IOU's, in the form of Treasury notes, which are paid off by taxpayers. So, they subtract money from our paychecks to fund Social Security, borrow that money to fund other projects, then increase taxes to pay off the IOU's, for the money they borrowed from taxpayers in the first place. I'm sure this helps them raise a lot of contributions for their re-election campaigns, but are they looking out for the interests of the average taxpayer? I don't think so.

So now they're trying to pass a public option insurance plan and create a huge bureaucracy with tremendous cash inflows. Does anybody really believe that this money will be used only for health care for the poor? I don't. I think it's more likely to be seen by politicians as one great big slush fund, which will undoubtedly lead to even more runaway spending at the taxpayers expense.

If this bill is passed, which it looks as though it will be, then at the very least, safeguards should be put in to place to prevent politicians from raiding the money taken in for health care. I doubt that this will happen. I think the best that we can hope for is, taxpayers will see through the slick talking politicians and vote them out of office.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

I COULDN'T HAVE SAID IT BETTER

"You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity. What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that my dear friend, is the beginning of the end of any nation. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it."

Adrian Rogers, 1931


We need to stop Cap and Trade, or Cap and Spend as I like to call it, forget about health care and any other programs we can't afford to pay for. Eliminate wasteful government spending and overburdening U.S. citizens with ever increasing taxes. Let people keep more of what they earn, not less. Then you have the incentive for prosperity.