Q. Is it too late to invest in the "stocks that got away" like Microsoft, Intel, and Green Tree Financial? Id like to realize the type of gains outlined in your June column on the subject. Second, is it better to own 1 share of Berkshire A or 21 shares of Berkshire B? Or would it be better to invest in Microsoft and Intel? Finally, suppose youve invested in individual stocks for your retirement and now youre about 2 years from retirement what do you do with the stock, sell or hold?
—J.B., Dallas, TX
A. The market debates about stock prices every day. So far, the future of Microsoft is the winner. Ditto Intel. Green Tree Financial, a provider of financing for manufactured homes, has been a hot stock for years because the company aggressively positioned for the recovery of manufactured homes and has excellent loss control.
Of the three, I believe the largest unanswered debate is about Microsoft and the Netification of personal computers. The growing use of Java on the world wide web is very impressive and may, repeat may, foreclose some of the growth opportunities necessary for continued rapid growth at Microsoft and the maintenance of the stocks hefty earnings multiple. ( I say this writing from a computer that is loaded with: Microsoft Windows 95, Word, Excel, Access, Powerpoint, FrontPage, Explorer, Publisher, Schedule, and Image Composer. So the debate is still an academic one at the moment.)
If Warren Buffet himself says you shouldnt buy Berkshire shares— and he has— then take his advice. Dont buy them, either kind.
What you do with stocks as you approach retirement depends on what your other income sources are. I regard Social Security and Corporate Pensions as bond substitutes. Social Security income is bond-like because the income, net of Medicare premiums, is virtually fixed. And most corporate pensions are fixed. To compensate, you need to have more of your investments in common stocks. The safest long term course is a mix that is 50 to 75 percent equities.
Q. I am not totally convinced that the $60,000 currently in my IRA and invested with American Twentieth Century funds is what I need today or in the future. I have Ultra, Vista, and Income and Growth, with Ultra accounting for about half of the account. Am I in the right fund for maximum earnings over the next 14 years until I retire?
—T.L., Waco, TX
A. If I had to choose one of the three it would be American Century Income and Growth, a fund that concentrates its investing in large value stocks. As a result it has below market price earnings multiples and about half the price volatility of Ultra or Vista. The fund also has a top rating from Morningstar for risk/return while Ultra and Vista are rated average or lower.
Q. I am 65, insured by Medicare and Blue Cross-Blue Shield. I have an adequate and guaranteed income for the rest of my life. I own my home. I have $320,000 in savings, the bulk of it in Treasury bills now paying a little over 5 percent. I have never bought stocks or bonds or mutual funds and dont know the first thing about them, though I would like to invest in them to get a higher rate of earnings. If you were me, what would you do? Ideally Id like to do this kind of investing without using a broker, if possible, in the same manner by which I use the Treasury-direct method.
—B.K., Kilgore, TX
A. The greatest danger for stock market investors is that they will invest and then be forced to sell at an inopportune time. ( An inopportune time is any time that you have lost money.) This usually happens when people get into thinking they can sell stocks every year because they return 10 or 15 percent like clockwork. In fact, the dividend yield on common stocks is now under 2 two percent so you really cant use them for current income.
So. If you invested 25 percent of your money, about $80,000, in equities you would have a modest exposure and $240,000 of "buffer" invested in Treasuries. Over a long period of time, say 10 years, it would almost certainly improve your overall return.
What to buy?
The Market. I suggest a no commission, low cost index fund such as Vanguard Index 500 or Vanguard Total Market. You can get a prospectus by calling 800-662-7447.
Questions about personal finance and investments may be sent to: Scott Burns, The Dallas Morning News, P.O. Box 655237, Dallas 75265; or faxed to (214)-977-8776; e-mail to email@example.com Check the website: "www.scottburns.com." Questions of general interest will be answered in future columns.