Question: I've read recently that some retail stocks are down (Gap, Ann Taylor) even though the big shopping season is upon us. Do you recommend jumping into retail stocks that are down a little in hopes of buying low and selling high, or are there some more stable retail stocks that would pay off without the stress? — Jesse (Decatur, IL)
Scott Bleier: Your reading material is at least a month old — and therefore outdated. During the past month, many retail stocks have jumped sharply. It is true that retail stocks went lower across the board — but that was when gasoline prices were $3 per gallon during the months of September and October and consumers ratcheted back their spending. But in early November, gasoline prices plunged about 30% and retail stocks staged a sharp recovery in anticipation of a good Christmas selling season. Ann Taylor is up 25% in just the month of November!
Historically, the time to buy retail stocks is in late summer. It is during those slow summer months when you should consider buying in anticipation of a strong holiday selling season. One way to avoid the potential volatility of the group is buying a basket of retail companies. The Retail Holders Trust (RTH) is a well diversified way to go.
Question: When I first starting investing my lump-sum pension I read about the Senate passing a bill that limits the liability of companies that make firearms. It was anticipated that Congress and the president would sign onto it. I jumped on Smith & Wesson, and bought 1000 shares at $5.95. However, the president hasn’t signed the bill, so at this point I’m at a loss. Should I hang onto it, or not? If I should take my losses, what is the best approach to get out with the least loss? Help me. — Joy
Scott Bleier: Gun control and handgun corporate liability is a moral and political minefield, with passionate proponents on both sides of the issue. One agenda of the president is to limit all corporate liability through tort reform, but it won’t be easy as the trial lawyer lobby is very sophisticated and powerful. If tort reform is passed, Smith & Wesson could be a significant beneficiary. But even without a specific law that helps gun manufacturers, Smith & Wesson (SWB) is a well-run company and an attractive stock here in the $4 area.
Question: I am a recently single, 33-year-old male who has served 12 years in the Air Force. I have been deployed to the Gulf for the last 4 months and used the opportunity to pay off all my bills. I make approximately $60,000 a year. I have maxed out my Roth IRA (which I opened just this year) and I put away 10% of my pay every month into my Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) account. When January 1, 2006 rolls around, I will be heading back to California. At that time the TSP contribution limit will increase to 100% of base pay up to $14,000 per year. Should I focus on maxing out my IRA or my TSP account first? I also contribute to a mutual fund. I would also like to know where I should be investing money for a down payment on a house which I project getting into in three years. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Happy Holidays — Thom
Scott Bleier: The Thrift Savings Plan is the government’s version of a 401k account — with certain limitations. Like many corporate-sponsored 401k’s, you have limited choices on what you may invest in. In the TSP case, it is generic funds predetermined by the plans administrators. It certainly is a good way to defer taxes and save for retirement, and a good primer on Thrift Accounts can be found here.
But fund your IRA first. The contribution to your IRA is limited to only $4000 for 2005 — and that is up from $3000 last year. It is able to be “self-directed” and that means you can determine what you invest in — as opposed to buying generic funds. You can take more risk — and potentially make more reward in your IRA than in your TSP. But like your TSP, there are plenty of rules and regulations to follow. A good informational website is http://www.rothira.com/ If you want to buy a house in three years, you need to keep your capital safe enough to assure you have a down payment — yet have enough time to take a bit of risk in order to “bulk up” your down payment. My suggestion is to keep half your money in a safe money market type of account. The other half can be invested in Exchange Traded Funds or ETF’s as they are diversified and cheap to trade. Buy 4 or 5 different sectors or industry groups that take advantage of current market trends — or better yet, try to get ahead of the next market trend. A great place to learn about ETF’s is here.
Question: I have two IRA's with Janus and I have had them for five years. They are starting to go back up now, but should I turn them over to my Navy Federal credit union with my other IRA's or should I leave them with Janus? The NAV has gone down a lot since the down turn of the market in 2000. Thanks — Mgy Sargent USMC Iraq
Scott Bleier: You probably own two different funds created and sponsored by Janus. They also may be held by Janus, but they are not investments in Janus itself. You can switch them to be held by your credit union, but they will still be Janus funds. It is a good idea to keep your retirement accounts under one roof — if just for simplicities sake — so transferring them is probably a good idea.
As far as your investment in a Janus growth-oriented fund, I cannot make a recommendation without knowing which fund it is. But growth investments have certainly made a good comeback over the past 5 years, and they should have more to go.
Question: I am a small-time investor. What is your opinion of eBAY and John Hancock Strategic Income Fund Class A? Thank You — Tim (Houston, TX)
Scott Bleier: Since you are a small investor, your capital is probably limited. So you need to focus on the longer-term without taking the risk of losing your limited investment capital. eBay is one of the most important internet companies in the world, and it is making a big bet on internet telephony by buying Skype. It is a big risk that could pay off — or it could cost them dearly — so it is a rather risky stock. Additionally, it has just rallied about 20% off its recent lows, so I would suggest you stay away from it unless it comes back below 40.
The John Hancock Strategic Income Class “A” fund invests in bonds and other income producing investments. When interest rates go up, this goes up as well. Its current yield is about 5% and it has below average fees. You can find more information on this fund here, and here.