IN NEW ORLEANS, a lagniappe refers to a small gift or bonus—like receiving 13 items for the price of 12, or a so-called baker’s dozen. Today, credit card points are a popular form of lagniappe, delivering a modest bonus every time you spend. But many other lagniappes are also readily available:
Banking. If you’ve ever paid a fee to use an ATM, Charles Schwab Bank’s checking account is worth a look. You can use any bank’s ATMs and,
APPLE COMPUTER WAS founded on April 1, 1976, by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. What’s less well known is that originally there was a third co-founder, an engineer named Ronald Wayne. Wayne’s tenure at the company was short, though. Concerned by the risk—and by Jobs’s personality—Wayne sold his stake in the company after just 12 days.
In exchange for his 10% stake, Wayne received $2,300. Today, Apple is worth close to $3 trillion. Wayne’s decision to sell is sometimes cited as one of the worst missteps in financial history.
THE S&P 500 INDEX just hit a new all-time high, topping 5,000 for the first time. Is it now too high? For investors concerned about market risk, this is an important question. But it isn’t an easy one to answer.
For starters, there’s no single definition of “too high.” Consider the price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio, the most common measure of market valuation. By this metric, the market does indeed look pricey. The P/E of the S&P 500 stands just a hair below 20 based on expected 12-month earnings—far above its 40-year average of 15.6.
WHEN I WAS A KID, a popular expression was “same difference.” It meant that two choices were essentially interchangeable. It turns out the idea can be helpful in financial planning.
While some financial decisions are very important—and thus warrant careful analysis—others make far less of a difference. In those cases, additional analysis typically contributes little. According to one study, it can even be counterproductive. Below are several topics where extensive analysis is often less important than it might seem.
RETIRED HEDGE FUND manager Jim Cramer is the host of Mad Money, a staple of financial television. For years, critics have derided his investment recommendations—to the point where there’s now a fund designed specifically to bet against him: the Inverse Cramer Tracker exchange-traded fund (symbol: SJIM).
For investors who see Cramer as the P.T. Barnum of finance, this fund offers the ability to make bets that are precisely the opposite of what Cramer recommends.
WITH 2024’S ELECTION underway, many folks are asking, do politics affect investment markets? On that score, there’s good news: The data say markets in the U.S. have delivered good—and roughly equal—results under both Democrats and Republicans.
But that doesn’t mean politics never has an impact. Look outside the U.S., and you’ll see that a country’s political structure can have enormous implications. To the extent that your portfolio is diversified internationally, it’s important to keep an eye on developments elsewhere.
CHARLIE MUNGER, WHO died recently at age 99, always had a colorful turn of phrase. But entertaining as he was, his comments were also invariably full of wisdom.
In fact, taken together, Munger’s ideas offered investors a masterclass in investing. Here are some highlights:
Choosing an investment strategy. Munger, along with his partner, Warren Buffett, often commented on the limits of his knowledge. But this wasn’t false modesty. What Munger was saying was that the universe of investments is too broad for any individual to fully master.
WHAT SHOULD BE THE first rule of personal finance? My vote: Always look for ways to stay in the center lane—that is, to take a balanced approach. As 2024 gets underway, here are 10 ways you could apply this principle.
1. Housekeeping. Over time, many of us accumulate a grab bag of investments—some good, some not-so-good. Those in the not-so-good category can pose a challenge. Suppose you own an expensive mutual fund.
THIS YEAR SAW THE passing of two giants of the investment world. The first was Harry Markowitz, who in the 1950s developed a concept now known as Modern Portfolio Theory. His key insight was one that today we view as so fundamental that it’s easy to take it for granted: Markowitz was the first to articulate and quantify the importance of diversification. He later won a Nobel Prize for his work.
This year also saw the passing of Charlie Munger.
WITH NO DISRESPECT TO our representatives in Congress, a new rule taking effect in January reminds me of a scene from The Jerk, an old Steve Martin movie. Playing the role of a carnival huckster, Martin shows off a wall of attractive prizes, but then narrows the choices to an impossibly small set of options.
Congress did something similar when it instituted a new rule governing 529 education savings accounts. The rule in question opens up greater flexibility in how surplus 529 funds can be used.
AS WE HEAD INTO year-end, many are cheering the financial markets’ returns. The S&P 500 has gained nearly 25% and now sits just a hair below its all-time high. Bonds are also looking more attractive, with yields at 15-year highs.
As a result, many investors are feeling a whole lot better about their portfolio balances. That’s certainly one way to measure financial progress, and it’s an important one. But as you make plans for 2024,
WITH YEAR-END IN sight, it’s a good time for some investment housekeeping. What’s worth your attention? Last week, I discussed the importance of asset allocation. According to research, this is the most significant portfolio decision you can make. But while asset allocation is important, it isn’t the only decision. Within each of the major asset classes, there’s another set of considerations.
Bonds. Earlier this year, I conducted a survey on X, as Twitter is now known,
THERE’S AN IRONY IN the world of personal finance: The activity that’s the most entertaining—picking stocks—is also, according to the data, one of the most counterproductive. Meanwhile, making asset allocation decisions is more akin to watching paint dry, and yet—according to the data—that’s one of the most important decisions an investor can make.
Asset allocation refers to the split among your investments—how much you hold in stocks, for example, versus bonds or real estate.
WHAT DRIVES THE PRICE of individual company stocks, and why do some soar while others sink? It comes down to five factors, I believe.
The first two factors are a company’s observable strengths and weaknesses. Consider Apple. Its strengths are easily quantifiable. In the U.S., it’s captured more than half the smartphone market. When you take into account the company’s premium prices, it collects a disproportionate share of the industry’s revenue. Last year, Apple’s profits hit nearly $100 billion,
WHEN THOMAS EDISON was a child, he apparently set fire to a barn on the family’s property. After it burned to the ground, his parents were furious.
“Why would you do such a thing?” his father asked.
Young Edison replied, “I wanted to see what would happen.”
The story may be apocryphal, but I was reminded of it recently when I came across a study titled “Not Learning from Others.” A group of economists wanted to understand more about how people learn.