- NEW, BUT GOOD? Vanguard is a big name in the mutual fund world and Barclay's PCL is an equally big name in the world of exchange-traded funds. So should we rush out and plunk down money every time they introduce a new product?
I say no.
Vanguard is unveiling three "mega-cap" mutual funds, ones holding only big companies, ranging from $3 billion to $500 billion in assets. Vanguard is a great name and investors should own large companies, but a new fund without a performance record is risky in my view. I like a mutual fund to show a good 10-year record before I buy it.
Barclay's PCL is introducing a new exchange-traded fund made up entirely of tax-free municipal bonds. Sounds like a great way to get back at the tax collector. But, again, where's the long term record? Also the price of a bond fund, no matter how it's shaped, will decline as interest rates rise, making the investor suffer a loss if he or she should get out while the getting out is good. Another point: There are already too many exchange-traded funds.
- ALAN'S AGONY: Is Alan Greenspan suffering from narcissism the love of public attention? After he retired as chairman of the Federal Reserve, his name fell out of the media. To put it back in, Greenspan wrote a book, "The Age of Turbulence." But, hey, not just any dull book on economics would do. He had to make it "controversial.
In the book, he claims the war in Iraq is all about oil, that President Bush's tax cuts were a bad idea and that Bush's claim that "deficits don't matter" was wrong-headed. He might be right on all counts, but the problem is this: Those were not his positions while he was Fed chairman.
I have not read the book although it might be good for insomnia but reviews have amounted to slams. Peggy Noonan of The Wall Street Journal says the book contains views that Greenspan should have expressed to the American people when they might have had an impact. Gene Epstein of Barron's weekly says in the book that Greenspan radically changes his earlier economic views on such matters as boom or bust, the banking system and the gold standard, views that might have changed his forecasting record, which was "average at best."
Greenspan didn't write the book for money, though the $8.5 million advance looks pretty hefty. He's already a multi-millionaire and he gets $150,000 for making a speech. So I conclude that he misses the daily media attention. Too bad he doesn't draw paparazzi.
- BATRA'S BACK: Remember the doomsday books, "The Great Depression of 1990" and "Surviving the Great Depression of 1990" by Ravi Batra, professor of economics at Southern Methodist University? Well, the depression never happened. But, undaunted, Batra has now treated us to a new upheaval tome, "The New Golden Age: The Coming Revolution Against Political Corruption and Economic Chaos."
His is not the only doom-and-gloom book out: There's also "Financial Armageddon: Protecting Your Future From Four Impending Catastrophes" and "How to Profit From the Coming Economic Collapse."
Bad news sells. So crawl out from under your bed and hold onto your conservative investment portfolio. The road ahead will be marked with pot-holes, but you can bump your way to survival.
- IT PAYS TO ANNOY: Those intrusive ads that pop up on your computer screen right in the middle of text you're trying to absorb are not likely to go away. Internet advertising sales soared 35 percent to $16.9 billion in the U.S. last year as marketers continued their pursuit of Web site audiences. Does anyone ever buy the products and services those invasive ads pedal?
- MAD AT MYSELF: Eugene Sussli, a San Mateo real estate appraiser, spoiled my day by pointing out a math error in my Aug. 26 column on mortgage leverage. I noted if you buy a $400,000 home with $40,000 down and the value of your house increases to $440,000, the value of your home has moved up 10 percent, but your investment of $40,000 has increased 100 percent $40,000 to $80,000. Fine, so far, but I went on to say that your equity has risen from $360,000 to $440,000. Wrong. I should have said your equity has risen from, $40,000 to $80,000.
Cliff Pletschet's Personal Finance column appears Friday and Sunday. Send general-interest questions to him at P.O. Box 28147, Oakland, CA 94604; or phone (510) 531-5620. Give your name, city and the question in brief form. Also, visit http://www.investment-educator.com.