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Sunday, December 31, 2006
Weekend Quote – Doing Good
"Fragrance always stays in the hand that gives the rose"
- Author not known
posted by Ruby @ 8:48 AM   0 comments

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Friday, December 29, 2006
Career options for CFAs
In one of my previous posts, I had discussed about the requirements for the CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) exam. One question that comes up frequently is "What do CFAs do"?

As a CFA, there are lot of career options that are available. One of the common career options is to work as a research or financial analysts at the Wall Street firms, banks, pension funds, insurance companies, hedge funds, mutual fund and brokerage houses. For example, firms such as Fidelity Investments, Vanguard and so forth may employ CFAs as buy-side equity analysts who can research firms and recommend stocks for mutual funds. Similarly, firms like Standards & Poor's or Moody's may employ them as credit analysts to rate the credit worthiness of different firms based on their research, which could involve, business analysis, financial statement analyst, forecasting, etc.

Similarly, CFAs may also work on the sell-side for brokerage houses, investment banks, etc making buy/sell decisions of stocks for their clients. They could also be involved in the pricing of an IPO (initial public offering).

CFAs sometimes also work on their own as investment advisors or consultants. Similarly, many governmental agencies such as the SEC also offer employment opportunities for such people.

For more information, check out the CFA Institute's website by clicking the link below:

Type of Work done by CFA's

For the previous CFA-related post, including the review books and study guides, click the link below:

Do you need the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) certification to become a better investor?

For subscription to the Chartered Financial Analyst magazine, see:

Chartered Financial Analyst

Digg my article



eLearners  Discover® Business Miles Card – Book Anytime, Anywhere! Apply Now!
posted by Ruby @ 12:51 PM   0 comments

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Many happy "returns"
With the christmas over, many customers already have or will be going back to retailers over the next few days week to return the unwanted gifts. For customers, this means long return lines, while for retailers it means lower margins and in many cases, getting merchandise which can no longer be sold as is or requires repackaging. Often times, the returned merchandise as well as excess inventory is resold to retailers such as Big Lots and Overstock.com (Link: Great Deals at Overstock.com) which deal in surplus merchandise. Not only is the returned merchandise resold at lower prices to these surplus retailers but it also creates additional competition for selling retailers. As per an estimate, over $10 billion of merchandise was returned in 2005.

Not surprisingly, many retailers have been becoming strict. Some retailers have started tracking serial returners. Others like Sears and Best Buy impose 15-20% restocking fee on many items.

As a customer, I like the assurance that if I don't like something, I can always return it back within few days. However, I know that some customers abuse the system by buying a thing, knowing fully well in advance that they would return it within few days. Some times the purchased item is returned in a very bad condition. In one of the blogs, a Walmart employee had mentioned that a customer returned thawed turkey after thanksgiving day for full refund because she no longer needed it.

Fortunately, I liked the gifts I received on christmas, so don't have to worry about causing any returns-related hassles on my self or for the retailers.
posted by Ruby @ 6:47 AM   0 comments

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Sunday, December 24, 2006
Free DVD player from Citi's Credit Protector
Citibank is offering a free DVD player for enrolling in its Credit Protector program. The first 30 days are free for trying it. In my view, it is good to enroll in the program only if you have a Citibank card which you don't use as otherwise, there is a 89 cents charge per $100. For details and other information, the link is provided below:

Free DVD Player from Citi Credit Protector
posted by Ruby @ 5:10 AM   0 comments

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Friday, December 22, 2006
Comparison Shopping
I have been checking out some of the comparison shopping sites when ever I get a chance for buying the large TV. These sites bring back information simultaneously from several retail and online sites, and so provide easy and handy comparison in one place. Some of the ones I have used include:

BizRate.com

Shopzilla.com

Shopping.com

PriceGrabber.com

There are probably lot of the other good sites also but I have not used them. Good thing about most of these sites is that they also provide information on shipping cost and taxes which can be substantial and make up over 10% of the total cost. So its easy to compare each store using the total cost as some offer free shipping and no taxes but charge higher price for the TV. The searches frequently bring back info from online retailers which I have never heard of. This may be good from price perspective but require some additional research to ensure they are indeed genuine retailers.

Along with the above comparison sites, I also sometimes check BestBuy.com and Circuit City.com as both these retailers have been having promotions frequently.

Fortunately, since the TV will just for our own use, there's no deadline pressure to buy it by christmas. However, one thing I have been noticing is that the price of big TVs have been coming down. Both Circuit City and Best Buy attributed their Q4 quarter's week earnings to reduced margins on flat panels due to increased competition, so I was not surprised because I myself am surprised to see 42 inch Plasma TV sometimes selling for $799, while 50-52 inch DLP TVs selling for under $1,300. Fortunately, more competition among retailers is good since that means lower prices for customers.
posted by Ruby @ 4:25 AM   0 comments

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Thursday, December 21, 2006
Christmas shopping done!
Started my christmas shopping this week, and am just about done with it. Have purchased all necessary gift cards. Just have to do some gift wrapping and then I am all set.

The entire process didn't take much time. The only major decision to make was budgeting how much to spend overall. Wanted to avoid the situation of some of my friends who end up overspending on buying gifts and then regret it when credit card bills start coming.

Both as a gift giver and gift recipient, I believe that it is not worth it to get into debt by overspending on gifts. That may make one day of the year merry but unnecessarily causes unhappiness for the rest of the year, trying to pay for the gifts. Unfortunately, some times many of us take on just too much pressure and place overemphasis on gift giving at christmas time, when the main thing should be to ensure that friends and family are there for each other when needed. Oh well.

Moving on, haven't yet purchased the large TV. In response to one of the questions I had received regarding finding differences between different types of large screen TVs, I had primarily relied on the internet to find out the differences between LCD, plasma TV, projection TV, LCD, DLP, CRT, etc. Some of the Web sites that provide such info are as follows:

CNET - Four Styles of HDTV

Sound and Vision mag - DLP vs LCD

WikiHow - Buying Plasma TV

WikiHow - Evaluating DLP, LCD and Plasma TV and HDTV Quality

SmartMoney.com - A High-Def TV Buying Guide

Here's an interesting take on HDTV:

High-Def Disconnect
posted by Ruby @ 6:17 PM   0 comments

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Baby steps count
Last evening, watched Chris Gardner's interview on the CNBC. Both the recent movie and the book, The Pursuit of Happyness, are based on the life of Chris Gardner. He was a single parent and homeless for some time but through determination and resourcefulness, he rose to the top.

When asked what advice he had for others, Chris Gardner mentioned "baby steps count" and be bold enough to pursue it (your dreams). Both pieces of advice were good but I especially liked "baby steps count".

In my view, the advice is very relevant when it comes to personal finance and life in general. In personal finance, even small amounts of money when saved can yield big savings over time. As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, one of the important thing that matters when it comes to savings is the amount of period over which the money is left to grow. The sooner we start savings, the more we have over time. In addition, regularly saving even small amounts gives us the discipline to stick to it, and encourages many people to increase the amount of savings.

The advice is also relevant when it comes to investing in stocks and mutual funds. By investing even small amounts regularly, we are able to use dollar-cost averaging which can lower our overall cost basis over time.

In other areas of life also, the advice can be very useful. Too often many of us get nervous about a task because of time and effort it may take. However, by breaking it into smaller chunks and working on it regularly can enable us to do it. For example, in school, I would often get nervous just on the thought of reading 50+ pages of lessons within a week and then turning in the assignment. However, by breaking the reading into 8-10 page per day, the task became manageable. Similarly, regular practice in sports and other areas of life becomes easier while still being beneficial when broken into smaller steps.

Many of us are never going to become millionaires over night but I think if we do want to become one at all at some point in our lives, it is essential to start saving early and regularly because baby steps do count.

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posted by Ruby @ 6:29 AM   0 comments

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Monday, December 18, 2006
Christmas shopping begins
With christmas just one week away, will be starting my gift shopping this week. We have been having a very hectic schedule lately, with lot of deliverables due at work. So this time, planning to keep shopping simple by relying mainly on the gift certificates for every one.

Whoever came up with the idea of gift card must be great person according to me. Gift cards really have simplified life for many people. In addition, there are no shipping hassles, and it gives the other person flexibility to decide what to buy.

One item I was thinking to buy was a big TV for ourselves as the prices seemed to have come down a lot. Have finally started understanding a bit about the differences between LCD, DLP, Plasma, Projection TV, etc. Didn't realize that buying a simple TV would involve dealing with so much terminology and doing research! Oh well......hopefully, it will be worth it.
posted by Ruby @ 5:23 AM   2 comments

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Friday, December 15, 2006
Mutual fund year end distributions
For almost a year, I had been interested in opening a mutual fund account but due to unexpected expenditures, tight schedule etc, never actually got around to opening one. More recently, the year-end distributions held me back. However, now that year-end is here, many mutual funds have either already made the dividend and capital gains distributions, or will be making it sometime soon.

Dividends and capital gains distributions happen because mutual funds buy and sell shares through out the year. At the end of the year, they pass these dividends and profits to their shareholders in the form of dividend and capital gains distribution.

Getting dividends and capital gains would be a good thing ordinarily. The problem is that people who buy a mutual fund just before these distributions could end up paying more in taxes. Since short term capital gains (typically apply to any shares held less than 1 year) are taxed at a higher rate than the long term capital gains (typically, the long term capital gains are 15% versus 28% or higher for the short term capital gains), people who buy the mutual funds just before the capital gains distribution, end up paying higher taxes on those shares since they have held it for less a year.

Paying taxes on profits would not be a bad thing except that in this case, the value of each share of mutual fund also drops by the amount of distribution. For example, if the share price was $20 before, and the fund makes a distribution of $3/share, then after the distribution the share price drops to $17, while each shareholders get $3 per share on which he has to pay taxes at year end.

In retirement accounts, that's not really a issue since taxes are deferred. However, if buying a mutual fund in taxable accounts, it may be better from tax perspective to delay buying until after the distribution has been made. Fortunately, most mutual fund companies list the dates of distribution on their web site, and can also provide info over the phone.

I still have to find out if the fund I am interested in buying has yet to make the distributions, otherwise, other things and expenditures will come up and I may still be in “planning to open the account" mode rather than having actually opened the account.
posted by Ruby @ 6:26 AM   0 comments

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006
The high cost of procrastination
To cut down on impulse spending, it is often recommended that we postpone the purchase to let us decide whether we still want to buy that thing after a few days have passed. Lot of times, we find out that we don't really care much for that thing any more after a few days time. However, one area where postponement can cost a lot is when it times to start saving for retirement. The reason is that one of the main drivers in determining how much we end up accumulating by the time of our retirement is how long we let the money grow. Thanks to the magic of compound interest, the sooner we start saving, the more we can accumulate even if we start with a small amount.

To highlight the magic of compounding, consider the example of two friends: John and George who both turned 25 years on January 1, 2006. Assume both had zero net worth at that point. John decides to take action and starts contributing $2,000 on Dec 31, 2006 to his retirement account. John continues to contribute $2,000 every December for next 10 years until he reaches 35 years of age at which point he stops contributing any more funds into his account. So from age 25 to 35, he made a total of 10 contributions of $2,000 each, for a total of $20,000. Assuming, the retirement age is 70 years, and his account earned a 5% return annually, his original contributions of $20,000 will grow to approximately $138,760 at age 70.

George, however, believes in living a high life of spending rather than saving, and does not get around to saving until he reaches 50 years of age. At that point, he starts making $2,000 contribution to his retirement account every December for next 20 years until he reaches 70 years of age. So his total contributions were $2,000 * 20 = $40,000. Assuming he also earns 5% return annually, he will have approximately $66,132 at age 70.

So even though George contributes twice the amount ($40,000 versus $20,000 contributed by John), his retirement fund is worth only $66,132 compared to John's whose fund is worth $138,760 at age 70, or approximately 48% of John's amount.


In the above example, the rate of return used was 5%; the worth of the retirement account for both of them would have been more if the rate of return had been higher. Similarly, if John or George has started saving at earlier age, their worth would have been more.

The example may be simplistic and may not consider all the factors but it does show the magic of compounding. George contributed twice the amount of what John contributed, yet his retirement account is worth less than half of John's at age 70. And the reason for this vast difference is the amount of time for which we let the money grow or compound. Too often we all find reasons for why not to save, however, as the example shows even small amounts can grow to a significant amount if saved earlier in life.
posted by Ruby @ 6:47 AM   1 comments

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Monday, December 11, 2006
Pay for Performance?
Pay for performance is a frequently used corporate mantra these days. The idea is that companies should rewards their top employees with higher pay, while doling out minimal raises to underperformers or even laying them off. While the policy may be frequently used to judge the performance of regular employees, surprisingly that policy doesn't seem to be applicable to executives at some well-known firms. Despite mediocre performance of such companies, executives seem to be raking in lot of money.

Consider the examples given in the Business Week magazine. Based on the information provided in the Dec 18, 2006 issue of the Business Week magazine, Terry Semel at Yahoo is estimated to have earned $53.3 million during the period in which Yahoo's stock returned -32.9%. Similarly, Robert Nardelli at Home Depot is estimated to have earned $35.8 million while Home Depot's stock dropped -7.5% during the study period. Are these executives being penalized for their performance or they getting rewarded?

In contrast, consider the case of Zoll Medical whose CEO earned comparatively low compensation of $530,019 but the stock gained 99.4%. Similarly, A.I. Cross's stock gained 99.7% while its CEO is estimated to have a total compensation of $536,800!

Based on the examples listed in the magazine, the disparity in the performance of the CEOs based on the criteria of stock returns is enormous! I believe that pay should be tied to the performance of the employees but that rule should be universal. At many firms, executives seems to play by a different set of rules than those that apply to regular employees. I feel that even at the most large and complex firms, the total compensation of several million dollars for the CEOs is just excessive. As the examples in Business Week show, doling out excessive compensation in no way guarantees that the company will perform well under that executive. In fact, on the contrary, the excessive compensation of the executives tend to act as a drag on the income of such companies and that often gets reflected in the stock returns of such companies.

On the other hand, the data suggests that companies that seem to reign in executive compensation do not suffer from bad performance. Despite the relatively low compensation of CEOs at firms like Zoll Medical, A.I. Cross and WD-40, their stocks had good returns. When firms talk about things like cost controls, pay for performance or cuts in benefits, I believe that it should start from the top. Not only there is often too much fat at the top level but I believe that by starting such initiatives at the top, the firms can set a good example for the rest of the company. Too often, the benefit reduction, salary cuts, etc apply to regular employees while additional perks get doled out to the top level executives. What kind of example does it set for regular employees?

For the detailed data, click the link below to go to Business Week's site:

Business Week's article
posted by Ruby @ 6:50 AM   0 comments

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Friday, December 08, 2006
Unwritten Dreams = Desires; Written Dreams = Goals
Earlier this week was watching Emmitt Smith (ex-football player, Dallas Cowboys) interview on CNBC. During the interview, he attributed his success to his coach who mentioned that dreams are just desires until you write them - at which point they become goals.

I am not a football player but I liked Emmitt Smith's interview and his habit of setting goals. Whether in sports, career, or personal finance, I believe that setting goals is one of the important steps to achieving success. And writing them down takes a person another step closer to success. I believe that writing them down increases the person's commitment to fulfilling it and urges him/her to pursue them with all the strength.

Of course, even the written goals must be followed-up with action, otherwise everything is a wishful thinking. Action is what trips many of us, especially the sustained action since many people take action initially but eventually give up. With the new years around the corner, hopefully I will follow up my advice and keep all my resolutions.
posted by Ruby @ 7:25 AM   0 comments

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posted by Ruby @ 7:17 AM   0 comments

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006
Eliminating junk fees from closing costs
Heard about a new Web site called LowerFees that will help bring more transparency to the closing costs when buying homes. According to the Web site,
consumers were estimated to have been charged $55B in real estate closing costs. The site claims that it can help save up to $21B of these costs in junk fees.

I hope the site does what it claims to do. When I bought my house, I was surprised to see all the junk items that were included as part of the closing costs. What was surprising was that the closing costs were much higher than the good faith estimate I was given. Unfortunately, since we found out about the actual closing costs only at closing time, there was not much I could do. Hopefully, by bringing greater transparency as well as increasing the competition between different lenders, the site will help eliminate many of the junk costs and reduce the overall closing costs.
posted by Ruby @ 7:34 AM   0 comments

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Sunday, December 03, 2006
Tax help - looking beyond CPAs
With January around the corner, many non-do-it-yourself taxpayers will soon be looking for assistance from their CPAs in filling out their taxes. CPAs have built such a name for their profession that they are usually first to be associated with taxes in most people's mind. However, a less expensive option may be to use the services of Enrolled Agents instead of CPAs.

Although generally less expensive than the CPAs, Enrolled Agents are not necessarily less competent than the CPAs when it comes to taxes. This is because many Enrolled Agents may actually have worked directly for the IRS. In addition, just like CPAs, Enrolled Agents have to pass a written exam in order to practice as an Enrolled Agent. They must also meet certain experience requirements, and pass a background check to ensure that they are qualified to practice before the IRS. In addition, both the IRS and National Association of Enrolled Agents specify continuing education requirements for them. Another good point is that just like CPAs and tax attorneys, Enrolled Agents are also allowed to represent taxpayers before the IRS, for example, in the event of an audit.

For any one interested in doing taxes for other people, Enrolled Agent program may be a good option to consider, although I believe that if some one meets the education and experience requirements, it is better to become a CPA because of wider and better professional opportunities.

To get more info, see:

Enrolled Agent Overview

and

National Association of Enrolled Agents
posted by Ruby @ 12:01 PM   0 comments

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Favorite Quote
"If you look at what you have in life, you will always have more. If you look at what you do not have in life, you will never have enough".
                - Author Unknown
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