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The Investment FAQ (part 14 of 20)

( Part1 - Part2 - Part3 - Part4 - Part5 - Part6 - Part7 - Part8 - Part9 - Part10 - Part11 - Part12 - Part13 - Part14 - Part15 - Part16 - Part17 - Part18 - Part19 - Part20 )
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Archive-name: investment-faq/general/part14
Version: $Id: part14,v 1.61 2003/03/17 02:44:30 lott Exp lott $
Compiler: Christopher Lott

See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge
The Investment FAQ is a collection of frequently asked questions and
answers about investments and personal finance.  This is a plain-text
version of The Investment FAQ, part 14 of 20.  The web site
always has the latest version, including in-line links. Please browse

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Neither the compiler of nor contributors to The Investment FAQ make
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provided to the user "as is".  Neither the compiler nor contributors
warrant that The Investment FAQ will be error free. Neither the
compiler nor contributors will be liable to any user or anyone else
for any inaccuracy, error or omission, regardless of cause, in The
Investment FAQ or for any damages (whether direct or indirect,
consequential, punitive or exemplary) resulting therefrom.  

Rules, regulations, laws, conditions, rates, and such information
discussed in this FAQ all change quite rapidly.  Information given
here was current at the time of writing but is almost guaranteed to be
out of date by the time you read it.  Mention of a product does not
constitute an endorsement. Answers to questions sometimes rely on
information given in other answers.  Readers outside the USA can reach
US-800 telephone numbers, for a charge, using a service such as MCI's
Call USA.  All prices are listed in US dollars unless otherwise
Please send comments and new submissions to the compiler.

--------------------Check for updates------------------

Subject: Stocks - Researching the Value of Old Certificates

Last-Revised: 27 Feb 2000
Contributed-By: Ellen Laing (elaing at, Jeff Kiss, Chris Lott (
contact me )

If you've found some old stock certificates in your attic, and the
company is no longer traded on any exchange, you will need to get help
in determining the value of the shares and/or redeeming the shares.  The
basic information you need is the name of the company, the date the
shares were issued, and the state (or province in the case of Canadian
companies) in which the company was incorporated (all items should all
be on the certificate). 

The most basic question to resolve is whether the company exists still. 
Of course it might have changed names, been purchased by another
company, etc.  Anyhow, a good first attempt at answering this question
is to call or write the transfer agent that is listed on the front of
each certificate.  A transfer agent handles transfers of stock
certificates and should be able to advise you on their value. 

If the transfer agent no longer exists or cannot help you, you might try
to contact the company directly.  The stock certificates should show the
state where the company was incorporated.  Contact the Secretary of
State in that state, and ask for the Business Corporations Section. 
They should be able to give you a history of the company (when it began,
merged, dissolved, went bankrupt, etc.).  From there you can contact the
existing company (if there is one) to find out the value of your stocks. 

Here are some additional resources for researching old certificates. 
   * You might want to start gathering information on old securities
     from Bob Johnson's web site, Goldsheet.
   * operates an old company research service.  They
     will research a company for a $39.95 fee, but if they do not find
     any information, there is no charge.
   * Old certificates may not represent ownership in any company, but
     they can still have considerable value for collectors.  See the
     collection of old stock and bond certificates at,
     which is the Internet's largest buyer and seller of old stock and
     bond certificates.
   * You can consult the Robert D.  Fisher Manuals of Valuable and
     Worthless Securities.  This is published by the R.M.  Smythe
     company, and should be available for use in a good reference
     library.  For expert assistance, contact R.M.  Smythe in New York. 
     They specialize in researching, auctioning, buying, and selling
     historic paper, and will find out if your stock has any value.  But
     of course this is not a free service; they charge $75 per issue. 
     Write them at 26 Broadway, Suite 271, New York, NY, 10004-1701 or
     visit their web page.

--------------------Check for updates------------------

Subject: Stocks - Reverse Mergers

Last-Revised: 14 July 2002
Contributed-By: The SmallCap Digest (

A reverse merger is a simplified, fast-track method by which a private
company can become a public company.  A reverse merger occurs when a
public company that has no business and usually limited assets acquires
a private company with a viable business.  The private company "reverse
merges" into the already public company, which now becomes an entirely
new operating entity and generally changes name to reflect the newly
merged company's business.  Reverse mergers are also commonly referred
to as reverse takeovers, or RTO's. 

Going public (in any way) is attractive to companies because after going
public, the company can use its stock as currency to finance
acquisitions and attract quality management; capital is easier to raise
as investors now have a clearly defined exit strategy; and insiders can
create significant wealth if they perform. 

The reverse merger is an alternative to the traditional IPO (initial
public offering) as a method for going public.  Many people don't
realize there are numerous other ways for private company to become
publicly traded outside of the IPO.  One widely used method is the
"Reverse Merger". 

The reverse-merger method for going public is more prevalent than many
investors realize.  One study estimates that 53% of all companies
obtaining public listings in 1996 did so through the "Reverse Merger". 
The same study concluded about 30% of newly publicly listed companies
got there through Reverse Mergers in 1999.  Percentages have recently
dropped because Wall Street Investment Banking firms have had a huge
appetite for IPOs in the late 90s.  This led to many marginal companies
receiving enormous financial windfalls. 

In a reverse merger, the original public company, commonly known as a
"shell company," has value because of its publicly traded status.  The
shell company is generally recapitalized and issues shares to acquire
the private company, giving shareholders and management of the private
company majority control of the newly formed public company. 

The RTO (reverse take over) method for going public has numerous
benefits for the private company when compared to the traditional IPO:
   * Initial costs are much lower and excessive investment banking fees
     are avoided. 
   * The time frame for becoming public is considerably shorter. 

There are also several disadvantages of going public through the RTO as
compared to an IPO:
   * There is no capital raised in conjunction with going public. 
   * There is limited sponsorship for the stock. 
   * There is no high powered Wall Street Investment Banking
   * The stock generally trades on a low exposure exchange. 

Many highly successful companies have become public through the RTO
process.  However, there some important negatives investors should be
aware of. 

There is a much higher failure rate amongst RTO companies versus the
traditional IPO.  Much smaller and less successful companies are able to
become public through the RTO, and many are badly undercapitalized. 
Often these stocks trade very inefficiently in the absence of any
sponsorship or following. 

There is a cottage industry of merchant bankers and entrepreneurs who
specialize in orchestrating reverse mergers.  Unfortunately, there are
no barriers to entry in this field.  Therefore, scams are common place. 

Through various methods, scam artists manage to accumulate large
positions in the free trading shares of the shell company.  An RTO is
consummated with a marginal private company, and the scam artists put
together a massive publicity campaign designed to create activity in the
stock.  Unrealistic promises and absurd claims of corporate performance
find their way to the public.  The enhanced trading volume allows the
scam artist to dump his shares on the unsuspecting public, most of whom
eventually lose their money once the newly formed public company fails. 
This scam is commonly known as a "Pump and Dump". 

Alternatively there a hundreds of examples of highly successful
companies which have yielded millions in profits for investors that have
gone public through the RTO.  Many of these companies deserve exposure
to investors.  Initial valuations can be reasonable, providing excellent
opportunities for individual investors to accumulate positions ahead of
Wall Street institutional money. 

Here are some high-profile and successful RTOs:
   * Armand Hammer, world renowned oil magnate and industrialist, is
     generally credited with having invented the "Reverse Merger".  In
     the 1950s, Hammer invested in a shell company into which he merged
     multi decade winner Occidental Petroleum. 
   * In 1970 Ted Turner completed a reverse merger with Rice
     Broadcasting, which went on to become Turner Broadcasting. 
   * In 1996, Muriel Siebert, renown as the first woman member of the
     New York Stock Exchange, took her brokerage firm public by reverse
     merging with J.  Michaels, a defunct Brooklyn Furniture company. 
   * One of the Dot Com fallen Angels, Rare Medium (RRRR), merged with a
     lackluster refrigeration company and changed the entire business. 
     This was a $2 stock in 1998 which found its way over $90 in 2000. 
   * Acclaim Entertainment (AKLM) merged into non operating
     Tele-Communications Inc in 1994. 

For more insights into finance and the world of small-cap stocks, please
visit the SmallCap Network at:

--------------------Check for updates------------------

Subject: Stocks - Shareholder Rights Plan

Last-Revised: 3 Jun 1997
Contributed-By: Chris Lott ( contact me ), Art Kamlet (artkamlet at

A shareholder rights plan basically states the rights of a shareholder
in a corporation.  These plans are generally proposed by management and
approved by the shareholders.  Shareholder rights are acquired when the
shares are purchased, and transferred when the shares are sold.  All
this is pretty straightforward. 

The interesting question is why such plans are proposed by management. 
This is probably best answered with an example.  One example is rights
to buy additional shares at a low price, rights that first become
exercisable when a person or group aquires 20% or more of the common
shares of the company.  In other words, if a hostile takover bid is
launched against the company, existing shareholders get to buy shares
cheaply.  This serves to dilute the shares held by the unfriendly
parties, and makes a takeover just that much more difficult and

--------------------Check for updates------------------

Subject: Stocks - Splits

Last-Revised: 26 Oct 1997
Contributed-By: Aaron Schindler, E.  Green, Art Kamlet (artkamlet at

Ordinary splits occur when a publicly held company distributes more
stock to holders of existing stock.  A stock split, say 2-for-1, is when
a company simply issues one additional share for every one outstanding. 
After the split, there will be two shares for every one pre-split share. 
(So it is called a "2-for-1 split.") If the stock was at $50 per share,
after the split, each share is worth $25, because the company's net
assets didn't increase, only the number of outstanding shares. 

Sometimes an ordinary split is referred to as a percent.  A 2:1 split is
a 100% stock split (or 100% stock dividend).  A 50% split would be a 3:2
split (or 50% stock dividend).  Each stock holder will get 1 more share
of stock for every 2 shares owned. 

Reverse splits occur when a company wants to raise the price of their
stock, so it no longer looks like a "penny stock" but looks more like a
self-respecting stock.  Or they might want to conduct a massive reverse
split to eliminate small holders.  If a $1 stock is split 1:10 the new
shares will be worth $10.  Holders will have to trade in their 10 Old
Shares to receive 1 New Share. 

Theoretically a stock split is a non-event.  The fraction of the company
that each share represents is reduced, but each stockholder is given
enough shares so that his or her total fraction of the company owned
remains the same.  On the day of the split, the value of the stock is
also adjusted so that the total capitalization of the company remains
the same. 

In practice, an ordinary split often drives the new price per share up,
as more of the public is attracted by the lower price.  A company might
split when it feels its per-share price has risen beyond what an
individual investor is willing to pay, particularly since they are
usually bought and sold in 100's.  They may wish to attract individuals
to stabilize the price, as institutional investors buy and sell more
often than individuals. 

After a split, shareholders will need to recalculate their cost basis
for the newly split shares.  (Actually, this need not be done until the
shares are sold, but in the interest of good record-keeping etc., this
seems like a good place to discuss the issue.) Recalculating the cost
basis is usually trivial.  The shareholder's cost has not changed at
all; it's the same amount of money paid for the original block of
shares, including commissions.  The new cost per share is simply the
total cost divided by the new share count. 

Recalculating the cost basis only becomes complicated when a fractional
number of shares is involved.  For example, an investor who had 33
shares would have 49.5 shares following a 3:2 split.  The short answer
for calculating cost basis when a fractional share enters the picture is
..  it depends.  If the shares are in some sort of dividend reinvestment
plan, the plan will credit the account holder with 49 1/2 shares. 
Fractional shares are very common in these sort of accounts.  But if
not, the company could do any of the following:
   * Issue fractional certificates (extremely unusual). 
   * Round up, and give the shareholder 50 shares (rare). 
   * Round down, and give the shareholder 49 shares.  This happens among
     penny stocks from time to time. 
   * Sell the fractional share and send the shareholder a check for its
     value (perhaps taking a small fee, perhaps not).  This is far and
     away the most common method for handling fractional shares
     following a split.  Accounting for the cost basis of the first
three methods is trivial.  However, accounting for the most common case,
the last one, is the most complicated of the options. 

Let's continue with the example from above: 33 shares that split 3:2. 
The original 33 shares and the post-split 49.5 shares have exactly the
same cost basis.  To make it easy, assume the 33 shares cost a total of
$495.  So the 49.5 post-split shares have a cost basis of $10 per share,
or $5 for the half share that is sold.  The cash received "in lieu of"
the fractional share is the sales price of that fractional share.  Say
the company sent along $8 for it. 

The capital gain (long term or short, depending on the holding period of
the original shares) is $8 - $5 = $3.  To account for this properly, the
following would be required. 
   * File a schedule D listing 0.5 shares XYZ Corp and use the original
     acquisition date and date it was converted to cash and sold;
     usually the distribution date of the split but the company will
     tell you.  Use $5 as cost basis and $8 as sales price and voila,
     there is a $3 gain to declare. 
   * Reduce the cost basis of the remaining 49 shares by the cost of the
     fractional share sold.  ($5)
   * The cost basis of the $49 shares becomes $495 - $5 = $490 (still
     $10 per share). 

Hopefully the preceding discussion will help with recalculating the cost
basis of shares following a split. 

Now we'll go into some of the mechanics of splitting stock.  The average
investor doesn't have to care about any of this, because the exchanges
have splits covered - there is absolutely no danger of an investor
missing out on the split shares, no matter when he or she buys shares
that will split.  The rest of this article is meant for those people who
want to understand every detail. 

Often a split is announced long before the effective date of the split,
along with the "record date." Shareholders of record on the record date
will receive the split shares on the effective date (distribution date). 
Sometimes the split stock begins trading as "when issued" on or about
the record date.  The newspaper listing will show both the pre- split
stock as well as the when-issued split stock with the suffix "wi."
(Stock dividends of 10% or less will generally not trade wi.)

Some companies distribute split shares just before the market opens on
the distribution date, and others distribute at close of business that
day, so there's not one single rule about the date on which the price is
adjusted.  It can be the day of distribution if done before the market
opens or could be the next day. 

For people who really are interested, here is what happens when a person
buys between the day after the T-3 date to be holder of record, and the
distribution date.  (Aside: after a stock is traded on some date "T",
the trade takes 3 days to settle.  So to become a share holder of record
on a certain date, you have to trade (i.e., buy) the shares 3 days
before that date.  That's what the shorthand notation "T-3" above
means.) Remember that the holder of record on the record date will get
the stock dividend.  And of course the price doesn't get adjusted until
the distribution date.  So let's cover the case where a trade occurs in
between these dates. 
  1. The buyer pays the pre-split price, and the trade has a "Due Bill"
     atttached.  The due bill means the buyer is due the split shares
     when they are issued.  Sometimes the buyer's confirmation slip will
     have "due bill" information on it. 
  2. In theory, on the distribution date, the split shares go to the
     holder of record, but that person has sold the shares to the buyer,
     and a due bill is attached to the sale. 
  3. So in theory, on the distribution date, the company delivers the
     split shares to the holder of record.  But because of the due bill,
     the seller's broker delivers on the due bill, and delivers the
     seller's newly received split shares to the buyer's broker, who
     ultimately delivers them to the buyer.  The fingers never left the
hand, the hand is quicker than the eye, and magic happens.  In practice
no one really sees any of this take place. 

In some cases, the company may request that its stock be traded at the
post-split price during this interval, or the market itself might decide
to list the post-split stock for trading.  In such cases, the due bills
themselves are traded, and are called "when issued" or for spinoff
stock, "when distributed" stock.  The stock symbol in the financial
columns will show this with a "-wi" or "-wd" suffix.  But in most cases
it isn't worthwhile to do this. 

Here are two sites that offer information about past, current, and
upcoming stock splits. 

--------------------Check for updates------------------

Subject: Stocks - Tracking Stock

Last-Revised: 21 Jan 2000
Contributed-By: Chris Lott ( contact me )

A tracking stock is a special type of stock issued by a publicly held
company to track the value of one segment of that company.  By issuing a
tracking stock, the different segments of the company can be valued
differently by investors. 

For example, if an old-economy company trading at a P/E of about 10
happens to own a wildly growing internet business, the company might
issue a tracking stock so the market could value the new business
separately from the old one (hopefully at a P/E of at least 100).  Those
high-flying stocks are awfully useful for making employees rich, and
that never hurts recruiting.  Here's a real-world example.  The stock
for Hughes Electronics (ticker symbol GMH) is a tracking stock.  This
business is just the satellite etc.  division of General Motors (ticker
symbol GM). 

A company has many good reasons to issue a tracking stock for one of its
subsidiaries (as opposed to spinning it off to shareholders).  First,
the company gets to keep control over the subsidiary (although they
don't get all the profit).  Second, they might be able to lower their
costs of obtaining capital by getting a better credit rating.  Third,
the businesses can all share marketing, administrative support
functions, a headquarters, etc.  Finally, and most importantly, if the
tracking stock shoots up, the parent company can make acquisitions and
pay in stock instead of cash. 

When a tracking stock is issued, the company can choose to sell it to
the markets (i.e., via an initial public offering or IPO) or to
distribute new shares to existing shareholders.  Either way, the newly
tracked business segment gets a longer leash, but can still run back to
the parent corporation if times get tough. 

All is not perfect in this world.  Tracking stock is a second-class
stock, primarily because holders usually have no voting rights. 

The following resources offer more information about tracking stocks. 
   * The Motley Fool wrote about tracking stocks on 7 September 1999.

--------------------Check for updates------------------

Subject: Stocks - Unit Investment Trusts and SPDRs

Last-Revised: 13 Jun 2000
Contributed-By: Chris Lott ( contact me )

A unit investment trust is a collection of securities (usually stocks or
bonds) all bundled together in a special vehicle that happens to be a
trust.  Investors can buy tiny little pieces of the trust ("units").  So
although a UIT looks a bit like a mutual fund in that it bundles things
together and sells shares, the units are listed on an exchange and trade
just like stocks.  The most well-known example is the Standard & Poors
Depositary Receipt (SPDR).  These are also known as exchange-traded
funds (ETFs). 

Below is a list of some of the common UITs/ETFs out there.  All of these
are created by large financial institutions, and usually (but not
always) charge modest annual expenses to investors, commonly 0.2% (20
basis points) or less.  (Any commissions paid to buy or sell them are
due to the broker, of course.)
   * UIT that mimics the S&P 500.  Named a Standard & Poors Depositary
     Receipt (SPDR), commonly called a Spider or Spyder.  Trades as SPY
     on the AmEx and has a value of approximately 10% of the S&P 500
     index.  As of this writing, the trust has nearly $18 billion. 
   * UIT that mimics the NASDAQ 100 Index, commonly called a Qube. 
     Trades as QQQ on the AmEx and has a value of approximately 2.5% of
     the NASDAQ 100 index.  As of this writing, the trust has about $12
   * UIT that mimics the Dow Jones Industrial Average.  Named the Dow
     Industrial Average Model New Depositary Shares, commonly called
     DIAMONDS.  Trades as DIA on the AmEx and has a value of
     approximately 1% of the DJIA. 
   * Select sector SPDRs - these slice and dice the S&P 500 in various
     ways, such as technology companies (symbol XLK), utilities (XLU),
     etc.  All are traded on the AmEx. 

A UIT that mimics some index is in many ways directly comparable to an
index mutual fund.  Like an index fund, it's diversified and always
fully invested.  Like a stock, you can buy or sell a UIT at any time
(not just at the end of the trading day like a fund).  And for the
serious traders out there, you can short many UITs on a downtick, which
you cannot do with stocks. 

The following resources offer more information about UITs and SPDRs. 
   * The AmEx, where these securities trade, has some information.  Look
     in their "ETF" category.
     Here is a direct link to their list of frequently asked questions
     about ETFs:

--------------------Check for updates------------------

Subject: Stocks - Warrants

Last-Revised: 3 Jun 1997
Contributed-By: Art Kamlet (artkamlet at

There are many meanings to the word warrant. 

The marshal can show up on your doorstep with a warrant for your arrest. 

Many army helicopter pilots are warrant officers, who have received a
warrant from the president of the US to serve in the Army of the United

The State of California ran out of money earlier this year [1992] and
issued things that looked a lot like checks, but had no promise to pay
behind them.  If I did that I could be arrested for writing a bad check. 
When the State of California did it, they called these thingies
"warrants" and got away with it. 

And a warrant is also a financial instrument which was issued with
certain conditions.  The issuer of that warrant sets those conditions. 
Sometimes the warrant and common or preferred convertible stock are
issued by a startup company bundled together as "units" and at some
later date the units will split into warrants and stock.  This is a
common financing method for some startup companies.  This is the
"warrant" most readers of the misc.invest newsgroup ask about. 

As an example of a "condition," there may be an exchange privilege which
lets you exchange 1 warrant plus $25 in cash (or even no cash at all)
for 100 shares of common stock in the corporation, any time after some
fixed date and before some other designated date.  (And often the issuer
can extend the "expiration date.")

So there are some similarities between warrants and call options for
common stock. 

Both allow holders to exercise the warrant/option before an expiration
date, for a certain number of shares.  But the option is issued by
independent parties, such as a member of the Chicago Board Options
Exchange, while the warrant is issued and guaranteed by the corporate
issuer itself.  The lifetime of a warrant is often measured in years,
while the lifetime of a call option is months. 

Sometimes the issuer will try to establish a market for the warrant, and
even try to register it with a listed exchange.  The price can then be
obtained from any broker.  Other times the warrant will be privately
held, or not registered with an exchange, and the price is less obvious,
as is true with non-listed stocks. 

For more information about stock warrants, you might visit . 

--------------------Check for updates------------------

Subject: Strategy - Dogs of the Dow

Last-Revised: 10 Jul 1998
Contributed-By: Raymond Sammak, Chris Lott ( contact me ) Ralph Merritt

This article discusses an investment strategy commonly called "Dogs of
the Dow."

The Dow Jones Industrials represent an elite club of thirty titans of
industry such as Exxon, IBM, ATT, DuPont, Philip Morris, and Proctor &
Gamble.  From time to time, some companies are dropped from the Dow as
new ones are added.  By investing in stocks from this exclusive list,
you know you're buying quality companies.  The idea behind the "Dogs of
the Dow" strategy is to buy those DJI companies with the lowest P/E
ratios and highest dividend yields.  By doing so, you're selecting those
Dow stocks that are cheapest relative to their peers. 

So here is the Dogs of the Dow strategy in a nutshell: at the beginning
of the year, buy equal dollar amounts of the 10 DJI stocks with the
highest dividend yields.  Hold these companies exactly one year.  At the
end of the year, adjust the portfolio to have just the current "dogs of
the Dow." What you're doing is buying good companies when they're
temporarily out of favor and their stock prices are low.  Hopefully,
you'll be selling them after they've rebounded.  Then you simply buy the
next batch of Dow laggards. 

Why does this work? The basic theory is that the 30 Dow Jones Industrial
stocks represent well known, mature companies that have strong balance
sheets with sufficient financial strength to ride out rough times.  Some
people use 5 companies, some use 10, some just one.  You might call this
a contrarian's favorite strategy. 

A 12/13/93 Barron's article discussed "The Dogs of the Dow." Barron's
claimed that using this strategy with the top 10 highest yielding Dow
stocks returned 28% for 1993, which was 2x the overall DJIA, 2x the
NASDAQ, 4x the S&P500 and better than 97% of all general US equity funds
(including Magellan).  In the last 20 years, this strategy has lost
money in only 3 years, the worst a 7.6% drop in 1990.  In the last 10
years, it has returned 18.26%. 

Merrill Lynch offers a "Select 10 Portfolio" unit trust, which invests
in the top 10 yielding Dow stocks.  Smith Barney/Shearson, Prudential
Securities, Paine Webber, and Dean Witter also offer it.  It has a 1%
load and a 1.75% annual management fee, and they are automatically
liquidated each year (cash or rollover into next year, but capital gains
are realized/taxed).  Minimum investment is $1,000. 

A listing of the current "DOGS of the DOW" is updated every day on the
"Daily Dow" page that is part of the Motley Fool web site:

--------------------Check for updates------------------

Subject: Strategy - Dollar Cost and Value Averaging

Last-Revised: 11 Dec 1992
Contributed-By: Maurice Suhre

Dollar-cost averaging is a strategy in which a person invests a fixed
dollar amount on a regular basis, usually monthly purchase of shares in
a mutual fund.  When the fund's price declines, the investor receives
slightly more shares for the fixed investment amount, and slightly fewer
when the share price is up.  It turns out that this strategy results in
lowering the average cost slightly, assuming the fund fluctuates up and

Value averaging is a strategy in which a person adjusts the amount
invested, up or down, to meet a prescribed target.  An example should
clarify: Suppose you are going to invest $200 per month in a mutual
fund, and at the end of the first month, thanks to a decline in the
fund's value, your $200 has shrunk to $190.  Then you add in $210 the
next month, bringing the value to $400 (2*$200).  Similarly, if the fund
is worth $430 at the end of the second month, you only put in $170 to
bring it up to the $600 target.  What happens is that compared to dollar
cost averaging, you put in more when prices are down, and less when
prices are up. 

Dollar-cost averaging takes advantage of the non-linearity of the 1/x
curve (for those of you who are more mathematically inclined).  Value
averaging just goes in a little deeper when the value is down (which
implies that prices are down) and in a little less when value is up. 

An article in the American Association of Individual Investors showed
via computer simulation that value averaging would outperform dollar-
cost averaging about 95% of the time.  "Outperform" is a rather vague
term.  As best as I remember, whatever the percentage gain of dollar-
cost averaging versus buying 100% initially, value averaging would
produce another 2 percent or so. 

Warning: Neither approach will bail you out of a declining market with
all of your monies intact, nor get you fully invested in the earliest
stage of a bull market. 

--------------------Check for updates------------------

Subject: Strategy - Hedging

Last-Revised: 12 Dec 1996
Contributed-By: Norbert Schlenker

Hedging is a way of reducing some of the risk involved in holding an
investment.  There are many different risks against which one can hedge
and many different methods of hedging.  When someone mentions hedging,
think of insurance.  A hedge is just a way of insuring an investment
against risk. 

Consider a simple (perhaps the simplest) case.  Much of the risk in
holding any particular stock is market risk; i.e.  if the market falls
sharply, chances are that any particular stock will fall too.  So if you
own a stock with good prospects but you think the stock market in
general is overpriced, you may be well advised to hedge your position. 

There are many ways of hedging against market risk.  The simplest, but
most expensive method, is to buy a put option for the stock you own. 
(It's most expensive because you're buying insurance not only against
market risk but against the risk of the specific security as well.) You
can buy a put option on the market (like an OEX put) which will cover
general market declines.  You can hedge by selling financial futures
(e.g.  the S&P 500 futures). 

In my opinion, the best (and cheapest) hedge is to sell short the stock
of a competitor to the company whose stock you hold.  For example, if
you like Microsoft and think they will eat Borland's lunch, buy MSFT and
short BORL.  No matter which way the market as a whole goes, the
offsetting positions hedge away the market risk.  You make money as long
as you're right about the relative competitive positions of the two
companies, and it doesn't matter whether the market zooms or crashes. 

If you're trying to hedge an entire portfolio, futures are probably the
cheapest way to do so.  But keep in mind the following points. 
   * The efficiency of the hedge is strongly dependent on your estimate
     of the correlation between your high-beta portfolio and the broad
     market index. 
   * If the market goes up, you may need to advance more margin to cover
     your short position, and will not be able to use your stocks to
     cover the margin calls. 
   * If the market moves up, you will not participate in the rally,
     because by intention, you've set up your futures position as a
     complete hedge. 

You might also consider the purchase out-of-the-money put LEAPS on the
OEX, as way of setting up a hedge against major market drops. 

Another technique would be to sell covered calls on your stocks
(assuming they have options).  You won't be completely covered against
major market drops, but will have some protection, and some possibility
of participating in a rally (assuming you can "roll up" for a credit). 

--------------------Check for updates------------------

Subject: Strategy - Buying on Margin

Last-Revised: 19 Dec 1996
Contributed-By: Andrew Aiken (aiken at

I have used margin debt to leverage my returns several times this year,
with successful results.  At no time did my margin debt exceed 25% of my
net account equity.  This is my personal comfort level, but yours may be
higher or lower depending on your risk tolerance, your portfolio return
vs.  the interest rate on your debt, and your degree of bullishness
about your investments and general market conditions. 

If I am using margin, I have tighter stop-loss limits.  How much tighter
is determined by the amount of debt, the interest rate on the debt, and
the historical volatility of the stock. 

Here are a few more suggestions:
   * Never use margin unless you follow the market and your investments
     on a daily basis, and you consider yourself well-informed about the
     factors that could influence your asset value. 
   * Do not use margin debt as a long-term investment strategy. 
   * Have a clear idea of how long you plan to maintain the margin debt. 
   * Always have cash reserves outside of your brokerage account that
     exceed your margin debt, so that you could pay off the debt at any
     time, if necessary. 
   * If you maintain the debt for more that a few weeks, contribute cash
     to your account on a monthly basis, so that you are paying off the
     debt the same way one would pay off a credit card. 
   * Start with a small amount of debt relative to your account (5 -
     10%), and use this as a benchmark for future actions. 
   * Have a stop-loss limit and a target sell price for all of the
     investments in your leveraged account.  Stick with your targets!
   * Do not let the chance of a margin call exceed 5%.  The assessment
     of this probability should be made and adjusted regularly. 
   * Learn the techniques that the professional hedge fund managers use
     in maintaining leveraged investments.  This information is
     available for free at the library.  If this seems like too much
work, then do not use margin.  These are just my opinions as an
individual investor.  Whether or not you decide to use margin is a
personal decision. 

I consider margin debt to be a tactic rather than a strategy.  It is not
suitable for a long-term, buy-and-hold investor.  The tactic has worked
for me so far, but I know several bright individuals who have been
burned by it. 

--------------------Check for updates------------------

Subject: Strategy - Writing Put Options To Acquire Stock

Last-Revised: 22 Aug 2000
Contributed-By: Michael Beyranevand (mlb2 at

Is there a stock that you would like to purchase at a cheaper price than
its current quote? Would you be interested in receiving premiums months
before you have to purchase the stock? If these propositions sound
attractive to you, then writing puts to acquire stock is a strategy you
should consider in the future.  This article explains the entire
procedure, as well as the associated risks and rewards. 

When you write a put option you are giving the buyer of that option the
right (but not the obligation) to sell their stock to you at a
predetermined price at any time until a certain date.  For giving the
buyer this luxury, he or she will in turn pay you a premium at the time
you write (i.e., sell) the option.  If the buyer decides to exercise the
option then you must purchase the stock; conversely, if the option
expires unexercised then you still have the premium as your profit. 

Let's work through an example.  Let's say that you are bullish on for the long-term with the current value of the stock at $52. 
One option would be to fork over $5,200 and purchase 100 shares of the
stock and just hold on to them.  Another option however would be to
write a Jan 01 45 put option, which is trading at about $8.50.  This
means that at anytime between now and the third Saturday in January, you
might have to purchase 100 shares of E-Bay at $45 a share.  For doing
this you are compensated $850 upfront (100 shares times $8.50). 

Come January, one of two situations will occur.  If the option has not
been exercised by then, your obligation is over and you have a profit of
$850.  If the option is exercised (if you are put, to use the jargon),
you would pay $4,500 to own the 100 shares of the stock.  After taking
into consideration that you were already paid a premium of $850, the
true cost for the 100 shares of E-Bay is only $3,650 or $36.50 a share. 
You would in essence be purchasing the shares at a 30% discount to what
you would have normally paid had you just bought the 100 shares at the
market price. 

Doesn't it seem too good to be true? You end up with either free money
or buying the stock at a discount.  Well, there are some risks involved,
of course. 

There are two significant risks in implementing this options strategy. 
These situations occur if the stock shoots up or comes way down.  No
matter how high the stock price goes up, the initial profits are limited
to just the premium received.  So the upside potential is very much
limited in that sense.  One way to combat this is to make sure that you
will be receiving a high enough premium to still be satisfied if the
stock soars before you purchase it. 

The second risk is the situation if the stock plummets.  Reversing your
position (i.e., buying back the option) is one possibility but an
expensive one at that.  Your only other choice is to follow through with
your obligation: you purchase the stock at a premium to the current
market price.  This loss can be offset by the fact that you were bullish
on the stock for the long run and you picked a price that you were
comfortable paying for the stock.  If your intuition was correct than
it's only a matter of time before the stock rebounds to the price you
paid or beyond.  But if something awful like accounting irregularities
are announced, you might incur significant losses. 

This strategy is ideal for volatile stocks that you are interested in
holding for 5 or more years.  They pay higher premiums because of their
volatility, and having a long-term horizon will minimize your risks. 
Companies like Yahoo, E-Bay, AOL, EMC, Intel and Oracle would be ideal
for writing puts on. 

Finally, please note that this strategy is not for everyone, and does
not guarantee anything.  Speak with your broker to learn more about
writing puts and especially to learn if this strategy would fit with
your investment goals. 

--------------------Check for updates------------------

Subject: Strategy - Socially Responsible Investing

Last-Revised: 23 Mar 2001
Contributed-By: Chris Lott ( contact me ), Ritchie Lowry (goodmoney1 at, Reid Cooper (reid_cooper at

Investors who pursue a strategy of socially responsible investing (SRI)
are making sure that their capital is used in a manner that aligns with
their personal ethical values--taking responsibility for what their
money is doing to the world around them.  There are many different
definitions of what it means for an investment to be socially
responsible, but basically the strategy is to avoid companies that
damage the environment (either by treating nature or people poorly), and
to favor companies that provide positive goods and services.  SRI is not
in any way a new idea.  Adam Smith himself was concerned about the
issue, and the anti-trust and 19th century child labor debates hinged on
the same basic issues. 

One of the simplest examples of a socially responsible investment is a
mutual fund that avoids so-called "sin" investments, namely companies
that are involved with liquor, tobacco, or gambling.  However, the term
is sometimes applied to banks and credit unions based on their lending
practices, etc. 

Does it work? This is a multi-faceted question.  If the question is
whether a strategy of SRI achieves a good return on investment, the
answer seems to be that it does (see below for more details).  If the
question is whether companies that are shunned by a SRI strategy have
difficulty in raising capital in the markets, I think the answer is no. 
At least at the present, there are enough investors who pursue returns
without worrying about issues like a company's policies.  However,
presumably investors are sleeping better at night knowing that they have
made a statement, however small, about their beliefs, and that factor
should not be neglected. 

The following list of frequently asked questions was contributed by, and
is copyright by, Dr.  Ritchie Lowry, maintainer of the GoodMoney site
(URL at end of this article). 

  1. What is SRI?
     In one sense, SRI is just like traditional investing.  Socially
     concerned investors pursue the same economic goals as all
     investors: capital gains, higher income and/or preservation of
     capital for future needs.  However, socially concerned investors
     want one additional thing.  They don't want their investments going
     for things that cause harm to the social or physical environments,
     and they do want their investments to support needed and
     life-supportive goods and services. 
  2. What's the history of the movement?
     The idea of combining social with financial judgments in the
     investment process is not really that new.  The oldest social
     screen around is the sin screen: no tobacco, liquor or gambling
     investments.  This screen has been used for over a hundred years by
     universities and churches.  However, the current movement really
     began during the Vietnam War when increasing numbers of investors
     did not want their money going to support that war.  After the war,
     a number of corporate horror stories (including Hooker Chemicals
     and the controversy concerning Love Canal, Firestone Tire &
     Rubber's exploding 500-radial tires, A.  H.  Robins and the Dalkon
     Shield, and General Public Utilities and Three Mile Island) added
     fuel to the movement.  The issue of American corporations doing
     business in South Africa and with the government of that country
     really pushed SRI into a full-blown social movement.  It is
     estimated that around $1 trillion is involved in some type of
     social investing in the U.S.  (about 10% of all total investments),
     and the number of socially and environmentally screened funds have
     increased from only a handful in the 1970s to over 100 by 1996. 
  3. How does one pick SRI stocks?
     First, determine your financial goals.  Second, pick several social
     issues that are the most important to you.  Don't try to solve all
     the problems of the world at once.  Next do research on those
     corporations that appear to be the best investments in terms of
     both your financial and social goals.  For social information on
     investments, there are a growing number of resources, most of which
     are included in the GoodMoney site's directory. 
  4. What sorts of judgement calls are involved in the process?
     Actually, the judgement calls are not that much different from the
     judgments an investor has to make using only financial factors.  No
     investment is perfect in meeting every possible financial criteria. 
     If it were, everyone would be a millionaire.  In the same way,
     there is no such thing as corporate sainthood.  However, you can
     pick what have been called "the best-of-industry" or "the
     try-harders." For example, making pharmaceuticals is a very dirty
     business and pumps large quantities of carcinogens into the
     environment.  But, Merck & Company and Johnson & Johnson both have
     pollution-control programs in place that go far beyond government
     requirements, while other pharmaceutical companies do not. 
  5. What do the critics of SRI say?
     Interestingly enough, SRI has been criticized from both the right
     and the left.  Wall Street and the traditional investment community
     thinks it is liberal flakiness by people who hate capitalism.  The
     left thinks it is a cop-out to capitalism.  Both criticisms
     completely miss the point.  SRI is about several things.  It is
     saying that any economic system, including capitalism, that lacks
     an ethical component is due to destroy itself.  In addition, SRI is
     about personal empowerment and economic democracy.  A corporation
     doesn't belong to its executives, and money in a retirement fund
     doesn't belong to the managers of the fund.  It is time for
     shareholders and others to take control of their money, not only
     for profit but also to resolve some of the major economic and
     social problems the world faces.  This is probably why the
     traditional business community, such as Fortune magazine, doesn't
     like SRI. 
  6. Doesn't Wall Street claim that that an investor and a company
     sacrifices returns and profits by mixing social with economic
     That is the traditional view, but on-going research suggests that
     just the opposite may be true --- that doing well economically goes
     hand-in-hand with doing good socially.  For example, each year
     Fortune magazine conducts a survey of America's Most Admired
     Corporations.  In March of 1997, the Corporate Reputations Survey
     reported on the results for 431 companies.  Fortune asked more than
     13,000 executives, outside directors, and financial analysts to
     rate (from zero for worst to 10 for best) the 10 largest companies
     by revenues in their industry (if there were that many) for each of
     8 criteria.  Interestingly, only 3 of the criteria were purely
     financial -- financial soundness, use of corporate assets, and
     value as a long-term investment.  The other 5 involved social
     factors and judgments -- ability to attract, develop, and keep
     talented people; community and environmental responsibility;
     innovativeness; quality of management; and quality of products
     and/or services.  The average score for the 8 criteria was then
     calculated.  As has been the case in surveys for previous years,
     companies favored by socially and environmentally concerned
     investors did very well.  For 1997 survey, 14 (compared to 12 for
     the previous year) such companies finished in the top 50.  Eleven
     were repeaters from 1996.  In addition, the February 24, 1997,
     issue of Business Week reported on a study by Judith Posnikoff of
     CalState Fullerton that found that the share prices of companies
     whose planned pullouts from South Africa were announced in the
     national press appreciated in the two or three days surrounding the
     announcements.  She concluded that the stocks produced "abnormally
     positive" returns. 
  7. What's the future of SRI?
     It is growing exponentially in numbers of individual and
     institutional investors participating, in the amount of invested
     money involved, and, most importantly, in the movement's ability to
     persuade corporations to develop a sense of social responsibility
     in the conduct of their businesses.  The German philosopher Arthur
     Schopenhauer put it this way:
          There are three steps in the revelation of any truth: in
          the first, it is ridiculed; in the second, resisted; in
          the third, it is considered self-evident. 
     SRI is somewhere between the second and third steps. 

Some resources for more information:
   * The GreenMoney Journal's site
   * Dr.  Ritchie Lowry's site
   * The RCC Group's site
   * The Social Investment Forum (US) is a national nonprofit membership
     organization promoting the concept, practice and growth of socially
     responsible investing.
   * has over 1000 pages of strategic content to help
     you make informed investment decisions regarding socially
     responsible investing.
   * The Calvert Group is one of the largest SRI fund managers in the US
     and offers a variety of investment services.  It was the first to
     offer a socially-screened global fund.  Its web site is focused on
     promoting itself, but it does provide general information on SRI
   * Kinder, Lydenberg, Domini are the people behind the Domini 400
     Social Index, the SRI equivalent to the S&P 500.  Their web site
     not only promotes the organization but also features an
     international list of links to SRI web sites in Europe and North
     America, among other Internet resources.
   * Russell Sparkes's The Ethical Investor, originally published in
     1995 by Harper Collins, London.  It is out of print, but was once
     available on the net and may survive; please let me know if you
     find a site that has it. 

--------------------Check for updates------------------

Subject: Strategy - When to Buy/Sell Stocks

Last-Revised: 25 Nov 1993
Contributed-By: Maurice Suhre

This article presents one person's opinions on when to buy or sell
stocks.  Your mileage will certainly vary. 
   * Stock XYZ used to trade at 40 and it has dropped to 25.  Is it a
     good buy?
     A: Maybe.  Buying stocks just because they look "cheap" isn't a
     good idea.  All too often they look cheaper later on.  (Oak
     Industries, in Cable TV equipment, used to sell in the 40s. 
     Lately, it's recovered from 1 to 3.  IBM looked "cheap" when it
     went from 137 or so down to 90.  You know the rest.) Wait for XYZ
     to demonstrate that it has quit going down and is showing some sign
     of strength, perhaps purchasing in the 28 range.  If you are
     expecting a return to 40, you can give up a few points initially. 
     Note that this situation is the same as trying to sell at the top,
     except the situation is inverted.  See the comments on "base
     building" in the Technical Analysis section of the FAQ. 
   * I'd like to sell a stock since I have a good profit, but I don't
     want to pay the taxes.  What should I do?
     A: Sell the stock and pay the taxes.  Seriously, if you have
     profits, the government wants their (unfair) share.  Their hand
     (via the IRS) is in your pocket.  If you don't make any money, then
     you won't owe the government anything. 
   * I have a profit in a stock and I want to sell at the exact top. 
     How do I do that?
     A: If anybody knows how, they haven't told me.  Some technical
     indicators such as RSI can be helpful in locating approximate local
     maxima.  Fundamental valuations such as P/E or P/D can suggest
     overvalued ranges. 
   * What are some guidelines for selling when you have a profit?
     A: Since you can't pick the exact top, you either sell too soon or
     too late.  If you sell too soon, you may miss out on a substantial
     up move.  If you sell too late, then you will preserve most of the
     last up move (unless you get caught in some sort of '87 type
     crash).  One mechanical rule advocated by Jerry Klein (LA area) is
     this: If you have at least a 20 percent profit, use a (mental) stop
     to preserve 80 percent of your profit.  The technical analysis
     approach is to determine a prior support level and set a stop
     slightly below there.  Marty Zweig's book has an excellent
     discussion of trailing stops, both in setting them and how to use
   * It seems like stocks often drop excessively on just a little bit of
     bad news.  What gives?
     A: One explanation is the "cockroach theory".  If you see one
     cockroach, there are probably a lot more around.  If one piece of
     bad news gets out, the fear is that there are others not yet
     public.  Similarly, if one stock in a group gets into trouble,
     there is a suspicion that the others might not be far behind. 
   * I saw good news in the paper today.  Should I buy the stock?
     A: Not necessarily.  Everyone saw the news in the paper, and the
     stock price has already reflected that news. 
   * I don't want to be a short term trader.  Can one of these computer
     programs help me for the long term?
     A: Possibly.  If you have decided to buy and the stock is still
     declining, a computer could help determine when a local bottom has
     been reached.  This sort of technical analysis is not infallible,
     but the computations are somewhat awkward to do by hand calculator. 
     These programs aren't free, downloading the data isn't free, and
     you will have to do some study to understand what the program is
     telling you.  If you are more or less ready to sell, the program
     may be able to locate a local top.  Ask your broker if he is using
     any kind of computer analysis for buy/sell decisions.  If you
     already own a PC, then an analysis program might be cost effective. 
   * How does market timing apply to stocks? (I understand about
     switching mutual funds using market timing signals). 
     A: Assuming that you think the market is "too high", you might a)
     tighten up your stops to preserve profits, b) sell off some
     positions to capture profits and reduce exposure, c) sell covered
     calls to provide some downside protection, d) purchase puts as
     "insurance", e) look for possible shorting situations, and/or f)
     delay any new purchases.  If you think the market is "too low",
     then you might a) commit reserve money for new purchases and/or b)
     take profits from prior shorting. 
   * Explain market action, group action, and individual stock action. 
     A: Every day, some stocks go up, some go down, and some are
     unchanged.  Market action applies to the general direction of the
     market.  Are most stocks going up or down? Are broad averages (S&P
     500, etc.) going up or down? Group action refers to a specific
     industry group.  Biotechs may be "hot", technology may be "hot",
     out of favor groups may be dropping.  Finally, not all companies
     within a rising group will be doing equally well -- some individual
     stocks will have risen, some won't, some may even be sliding lower. 
   * How do I use this information (assuming I've got it)?
     A: A strategy is to locate a rising group in a rising market.  Look
     for good companies in the group which haven't risen yet and
     purchase one or more of them.  The assumption is that the "best"
     companies have already been bid up to full value and that some of
     the remaining will be bid up.  Avoid the poorest companies in the
     group since they may not move at all. 
   * Should I look at a chart before I purchase a stock?
     A: Definitely.  In fact, raise your right hand and repeat after me:
     "I will never purchase a stock without looking at a chart".  Also,
     "I will never purchase a stock in a Stage 4 decline." (See
     technical analysis articles in this FAQ for details.) If you have a
     full service broker, he should send you a chart, Value Line report,
     and S&P report.  If you can't get these, you aren't getting full
     service.  Value Line and S&P are probably available in your local
   * Do I need to keep looking at charts while I am holding my
     A: Probably.  You don't necessarily need to look a charts on a
     daily basis, but it is difficult to set trailing stops [ref 1]
     without looking at a chart.  You can also get information about
     where the price is relative to the moving averages. 

--------------------Check for updates------------------

Compilation Copyright (c) 2003 by Christopher Lott.

User Contributions:

Gerri Pisciotta
My employer accidentally advised the company handling the 401k investment that I had been terminated, when in fact I had not. As a result, withdrawals discontinued from my pay and I missed a couple years of contributions. Since I never withdrew from the plan, is my employer liable for making up these contributions? If I made a lump sum catchup contribution,could they do the same?
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Truly lots of awesome tips!
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