QUESTION: Which companies' earnings will be affected the most by the new FASB rules on expensing stock options and clearly disclosing pension assets? Will the market overreact to the impact of the new rules on earnings or is this already reflected in stock prices? — Dwight (Columbia City, IN)
SCOTT BLEIER: FASB is the Financial Accounting Board, and they determine the rules when it comes to keeping the books for corporate America. For many years, they did not require companies to expense stock option grants made to executives as part of their pay package. But because so many companies award huge option grants to key executives, it has become apparent that it can be dilutive to the share count of the company — and therefore affect the bottom line.
This phenomenon mostly affects technology companies, and many of them fought long and hard against the new rules. But the change is inevitable and the market has had to deal with it. When this rule was first proposed, many technology companies were in devastating bear markets after the technology bubble burst. Now the market has had several years to digest past and future option grants and what they mean to the bottom line. But the market is much more keenly aware of operating results rather than dilution from executive compensation.
One company that suffered was Cisco Systems. They grant huge stock options to employees, and the stock has been stuck in the high teens for a few years now. But just this week they reported better than expected operating numbers and gave strong guidance going forward — and the stock rose sharply.
The bottom line is that accounting rules count less than operational expectations for almost any publicly traded company.
QUESTION: As I watch CD rates rise, can I use that as a prediction of what analysts and banks foresee for our financial future in some FORMULATIC way? Now I see rates in the 4-4.5 range which is interesting, in comparison to money market rates that continue to be very low. Is there a relationship between the differences of money market rates to CD rates that I can use as some kind of guideline? There has to be some mathematic formula to help beginners figure out how to recognize a good deal while recognizing the fact that banks and investment companies need to earn a profit and stay in business too! — Suzanne (Arnold, MD)
SCOTT BLEIER: Yes, Suzanne, there is a formula for interest rates and it is based on bonds and the time it takes them to mature. The longer you are willing to tie up your money, the more you should get paid. But right now, bonds that mature in 2 years, 5 years and 10 years are all very close to what they pay in yield, now at about 4.5%. Obviously, you would only want to tie up your money for the shortest time possible to get the best yield, in this case, for just 2 years.
Money market rates pay the lowest yield as they are demand deposits, which mean you do not have to tie up your money for any length of time. You can demand your money at any time, so there is little risk for you hence you will get the lowest return.
But you may not have to tie your money up in a CD at all. There are a few banks that pay unusually high rates for demand deposits. Like any endeavor, you should do your homework, but a good place to start is www.emigrant-direct.com as they pay 4.25% for a savings account. That is a very high rate and they are a reputable bank. Good luck and keep saving!
QUESTION: What is going on with UPS Stock? I hear people say it is a great company. It has a solid A+ rating. Plenty of cash. Low debt. FedEx announces record profit and their price goes up. UPS announces exceptional growth overseas and the stock is floundering. Is it because so much of the stock is employee owned? Is it because Big Brown is stodgy and unimaginative? Besides the airline pilots, UPS is coming up on 100th birthday. When will the stock start to move? What should UPS do to make the market want them? I am getting tired of treading water. — Jim (Ramsey, NJ)
SCOTT BLEIER: Jim, you pose the question that is asked of every good company with a poor performing stock. FedEx is certainly a more popular stock on Wall Street and has performed better. Perhaps it is as simple as managing expectation in a way investors can relate to, or setting the earnings bar low enough for them to handily beat. Investors are suckers for “beating the estimate” and a few quarters of that would go a long way in helping UPS perform better.
My best suggestion to you — for any stock, not just UPS — is that you give every stock investment a chance to perform. Set your parameters for time and price before you buy. If the company does not meet your pre-set parameters, then it might be time to move on. There are many great companies with great stocks. If the stock is making you unhappy, then sell it!
QUESTION: How can I cash in on the recent video-on-demand Internet boom? — Greg (Somerville, MA)
SCOTT BLEIER: Video on demand has quickly been added to every cable and satellite companies offerings, and IP/VOD is just beginning. There are many micro-cap companies involved that do not meet our $500m market-cap minimum, but simply realize that storage and delivery are the key. Disk drive stocks have already begun to rally sharply this year and a company like EMC customizes storage solutions.
The other area is fiber optics. It takes a tremendous amount of bandwidth to transport full HDTV resolutions to your PC. There are many technology bubble survivors that were once high flyers but now trade in the single digits. Don't forget Verizon and SBC Communications as they are spending money now to bring fiber to the home. But realize they will own the line to your home-and that will be very valuable. Storage and delivery is where the money will be made.
QUESTION: I have invested in a leveraged account through the 401(k) provided by my employer. It performed well last year, but January's performance has been mediocre. Going forward, what rate of growth should I shoot for from this type of account? — Tom
SCOTT BLEIER: Leveraged accounts can be high risk/high reward, but it depends what you are leveraged in. Commodity accounts, investing in precious and industrial metals have been known to be a successful type of leveraged investment. Perhaps it is a leveraged bond fund that uses leverage to capture minute movements in the bond market.
I don't have enough information to give you a precise answer. But remember, your 401k should be as well diversified as possible. Plus, one month's performance should not be as important as long-term performance and your investment managers track record when it comes to leveraged investing.