ESG Is Not ‘Ethical Investing.’ And That’s OK.

As enthusiasm about ESG investing has been on the rise, so too has controversy. ESG is an acronym that refers to the environmental, social and governance considerations relating to investing. It’s an approach that, by some estimates, may become integrated into half of all U.S. managed accounts by 2025.

Why should investors and companies care about ESG? The argument is that in the long run, those risks will impact the business — companies that consider these non-financial, yet material, metrics in their strategy are best poised to mitigate risk and succeed. The increasing frequency of extreme weather events, rising prices for oil and gas, and spiraling discontent among workers provide early evidence of how environmental and social concerns will impact investors.

Where ESG Draws Criticism

Criticism about ESG generally falls into two broad categories.  One view holds that ESG is systemic “greenwashing.” Companies publish glossy reports about their social and environmental engagement and hope that investors take interest or include them in sustainability indices. This view maintains that companies are rewarded for publishing a report that reveals some good practices, while ignoring the bad ones, and thus get a bump up in their third-party ESG ratings.

The second category of criticism is that if environmental and social challenges in business are so fundamental to long-term good management, and thus good financial performance, then the market will eventually price it into corporate valuations. This view believes that markets are efficient; it then follows that better social and environmental outcomes will prevail, if we keep the eye on the ball, which is financial performance.

A consistent assumption among the critics, however, is that ESG is designed to enable better ethical and social outcomes.  But that’s not necessarily the case — ESG is not the same as ethical, socially responsible or impact investing. And that’s OK, because we need all these strategies.

Impact investors seek measurable impacts on people, planet and profits with respect to how they allocate their money. A socially responsible or ethical investment strategy might seek to exclude from their funds companies that are deemed unethical. But an ESG strategy remains invested in the company, even if there are activities not aligned with their values, and will push for change.

For example, ESG investors might use their investment stewardship and proxy voting team to engage with the companies’ boards and CEOs about their plans to address climate risk, or even vote against the re-election of certain board members. The recent proxy battle victory by activist investor Engine No.1 at Exxon Mobil demonstrates this point (see my analysis here).

The Impact ESG Has on the Economy and Companies

Advocates for ESG investing indicate that their interest in climate and social factors stems from their view that poor management of those risks will impact financial portfolios and long-term business performance. The analytical focal point is impact on the economy and on the financial performance of companies, not the other way around.

Regulators also point to the risks that ESG considerations pose to the financial portfolios.  The Department of Labor, for instance, recently proposed rules that, if passed, would permit fiduciary investment managers to take ESG risks into consideration, namely because they “may have a direct relationship to the economic value of the plan’s investment.”  If there are any positive effects on people and the planet, it’s considered a “collateral benefit.”

The NY Department of Financial Services also provided guidance about climate change risks to the financial firms under its jurisdiction.  They indicated that financial firms, particularly insurance companies, should integrate into their governance and risk-management processes how various climate change scenarios are likely to impact their business

The frame of analysis, thus, is the impact on business and financial systems. The success of ESG depends on further expanding, measuring and defining the business case for ethics. This is one reason why making “the business case” for social challenges has become a feature of academic research and the business press (as I argue here, sometimes it goes too far).

Maintaining Principles Is a Key to Success

A principled ESG fund will therefore present investments that are at the intersection of financial performance and social or environmental good, so that investors can align their values with those opportunities. As Tariq Fancy describes in The Secret Diary of a Sustainable Investor, think of a Venn diagram where purpose and profit seek to intersect — that intersection constitutes the ESG integration approach for social and environmental good. 

For ESG to continue to grow and succeed, the intersection in that Venn diagram needs to expand. Financial firms, companies, rating agencies and other intermediaries need to collaborate to improve the consistency of data, the accuracy of marketing and continued standardizations in disclosures. 

To be sure, there is greenwashing in ESG, and some companies take advantage of sustainability reports by, for example, highlighting only marginal efforts around stakeholder engagement without any change in their core operations.  Governments and regulators should help define the space and provide oversight with respect to these practices.

We all need to speak, write and report more precisely around this topic. Conflating ESG, sustainability, impact and ethical investing can confuse the aims of adherents to each approach.  The longevity of the movement depends on it.

Executive Director, American College Center for Ethics in Financial Services

Azish Filabi, JD, is Executive Director of the American College Center for Ethics in Financial Services and an Associate Professor of Ethics at the American College of Financial Services. She joined The College in 2020. Before that, Filabi worked at BlackRock as Vice President for Investment Stewardship, where she was involved with topics such as executive compensation, board quality, diversity and composition, and disclosure of environmental and social risks.

Source: kiplinger.com

Dow Jones vs. Nasdaq vs. S&P 500 – What Are the Differences?

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Wondering how “the market” did today?

When American investors refer to “the market” or “the stock market,” they’re usually referring to one of the three major U.S. stock exchanges: the Dow Jones, the Nasdaq, and the S&P 500. Or all three. 

But these indexes represent different stocks and market segments, so you should understand the differences before investing in stocks. 

The Dow Jones Industrial Average

The oldest U.S. stock exchange, the Dow Jones Industrial Average — or the DJIA, Dow, or Dow Jones for short — began in 1896 as a way to track the 12 largest industrial companies of the era. 

Today the Dow includes 30 blue-chip companies ranging from Microsoft to Coca Cola to Disney, and the index features all industries except for utilities and transportation. These market sectors have their own separate Dow Jones indexes. 

The DJIA doesn’t swap in or out companies often, and the criteria remains vague. Aside from being some of the largest companies in the country, the companies are expected to be leaders in their industry. A committee meets periodically to vote on keeping or replacing members of the index. 

Stocks in the Dow Jones are weighted by price, so stocks with higher prices make up a greater percentage of the total index. If a $100 stock rises by $10, and a $5 stock also rises by $10, both changes are weighted equally, even though that jump in price represents a much larger leap in value for the $5 stock. 

The Dow offers some insight into how the nation’s largest companies are performing. But with only 30 companies, it hardly represents the U.S. stock market as a whole. The price weighting also distorts the index’s performance, as a company’s share price tells you less than its market capitalization (market cap). 

Take the index’s movements with a grain of salt, and consider it more of an ultra-high cap bellwether rather than a definitive statement about U.S. stock trends.


The S&P 500

The S&P 500 index includes 500 U.S. companies rather than only 30, making it a broader indicator of U.S. large cap stocks. These companies include Alphabet (Google), 3M, Allstate, Amazon, and Microsoft. Note that companies can appear in multiple stock indexes, as Microsoft does. 

The number of companies included in the S&P has changed over time. Going back to 1927, the S&P has returned around 10% per year on average. That includes an era when the index only included 90 companies, before expanding to 500 in 1957. 

Like the Dow, the stocks making up the S&P 500 are determined by a committee. As of 2021, companies must have a market cap of at least $13.1 billion, have positive earnings for at least the last four quarters, maintain adequate liquidity based on price and trading volume, and at least 50% of shares must be owned by the public (known as public float).

Unlike the Dow, the S&P 500 is weighted by market cap rather than price. Market capitalization includes the total value of all a company’s shares: the share price multiplied by the number of outstanding shares. 

Imagine a company with shares priced at $1,000, but which only has 100 shares in circulation, for a total market cap of $100,000. In contrast, another company has 1 million shares in circulation, but each share is worth only $10, for a total market cap of $10 million. Which company has a higher market value? The one with a market cap of $10 million of course, which is why the S&P 500 weights by market cap rather than stock price.  

The S&P 500 offers a broader picture of how U.S. stocks are trending. Even so, the index represents the largest U.S. companies, and tells you nothing of how smaller companies have performed.


The Nasdaq Composite

First and foremost, understand that the Nasdaq is a stock exchange, and was in fact the first completely electronic stock exchange. The Nasdaq Composite is the stock index, which includes over 3,000 of the companies traded on the Nasdaq. The index includes all companies with common stock trading on the Nasdaq, but excludes preferred stock, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), and other types of securities. 

While investors tend to think of the Nasdaq as an exchange for technology stocks, stocks from all market sectors trade on the Nasdaq. Even so, the Nasdaq Composite index does disproportionately feature tech stocks. 

Example companies listed on the Nasdaq include Apple, Microsoft, Netflix, Tesla, and Intel. Many investors and pundits use the Nasdaq Composite as a barometer for the technology sector as a whole, even though it includes many non-tech companies (such as PepsiCo). 

Like the S&P 500, the Nasdaq Composite is weighted by market capitalization. 

Don’t confuse the Nasdaq Composite — which includes nearly every stock that trades on the Nasdaq — with the Nasdaq 100. The latter includes just 100 of the largest non-financial stocks that trade on the Nasdaq, such as Starbucks, Adobe, and Amazon. 


Which Index Should You Follow?

As a broad measure of the U.S. stock market, the S&P 500 serves as the most representative index. It includes companies in every industry, and is weighted by market cap. Even so, it includes only large-cap companies. 

For a more tech-oriented weathervane, follow the Nasdaq Composite’s movements. If you want a glimpse into small-cap stocks, check the Russell 2000. 

The Dow Jones may get the most attention from reporters, but it actually represents the U.S. market least well of the three major indexes. The sample size is too small, and being price-weighted further distorts its value.


Final Word

The three major stock indexes above only represent U.S. stocks, not international companies. 

For more global exposure, you can explore foreign stock market indexes such as the S&P Europe 350 Index or the Dow Jones Asian Titans 50 Index. 

Better yet, save yourself the stress and don’t bother following the stock market’s movements at all. Instead, automate your stock investments with a robo-advisor, and simply dollar-cost average your investments in index funds. Avoid emotional investing by ignoring the daily volatility of the market. 

While day traders need to stay glued to their stock tickers, you don’t. The stock market rises and falls, and over the long term it averages a strong upward trend. I sleep easily at night knowing that when it goes up, I enjoy a higher net worth. When it goes down, I get to buy stocks at a discount. No matter what happens, I win — because I participate in the market on autopilot, without letting emotions affect my investment decisions.

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Source: moneycrashers.com

When Actively Managed Funds Are Worth It

It’s hard to beat the market and the index funds that track them.

The numbers don’t lie: Only one-fourth of all actively managed funds in the U.S. topped the average of their index fund counterparts over the 10-year period that ended in June, according to the latest Active/Passive Barometer report by Morningstar.

But in certain pockets of the market, active managers do a better job of beating their benchmarks. Studies show that active funds that invest in small and midsize companies, foreign shares and intermediate-term bonds, for instance, have had more success beating their benchmarks than funds in other market segments, according to Morningstar.

“Areas of the market that are less picked over are more target rich for active fund managers,” says Ben Johnson, director of global ETF research at Morningstar. Why’s that? “There’s less opportunity if you’re coming up with the 12 millionth investment thesis for Apple.”

Indeed, it can be difficult for active managers to stand out in highly trafficked market corners, such as large-company stocks. Most of these firms are as closely followed as your favorite sports team or Netflix TV series. More than 50 analysts track Amazon.com’s (AMZN) every move, for example. That goes some way to explain why only 17% of all U.S. large-company funds outpaced the S&P 500 over the 10-year period ending in June, according to data from S&P Dow Jones Indices.

Herewith, a guide to where it pays to go active and some funds to consider.

The best portfolios will use index funds for heavily trampled parts of the market and put active funds to work for those asset classes in which an active manager has a better shot of beating the index. “A blend of the two is a good way to go,” says Steve Azoury, a chartered financial consultant and founder of Azoury Financial. (Unless otherwise noted, returns and data are through Nov. 5.)

Find Stocks That are Flying Under the Radar

In general, the smaller the company, the less likely it is to be followed by the Wall Street research machine.

“It’s almost like deep-sea diving,” says Morningstar’s Johnson. The smaller the company’s market value, “the murkier it gets and the fewer predators there are.”

That’s a good environment for active fund managers. It boosts a manager’s odds of identifying a good opportunity ahead of rivals, says Craigh Cepukenas, a comanager for Artisan Small Cap (ARTSX, expense ratio 1.21%) and Artisan Mid Cap (ARTMX, 1.18%) funds. The strategy at both funds is to discover disruptive companies that are driving change, then hold them even after they’ve become larger companies. “We let our winners run,” says Cepukenas.

The Artisan funds also favor under-the-radar companies. Only six Wall Street analysts cover Valmont Industries (VMI), for example. The maker of metal products, such as poles used for traffic lights, is a top-20 holding in Artisan Small Cap. Some of the fund’s other low-profile holdings, such as digital health company OptimizeRx (OPRX) and Advanced Drainage Systems (WMS), a water management company, have even fewer analysts following them.

Active funds are all about exploiting what Wall Street dubs market “inefficiencies,” which occur when securities’ market prices vary from their true fair value, says Brian Price, head of investment management for Commonwealth Financial Network.

That’s what makes active midsize stock funds appealing: Midsize companies often fall through the cracks. They “lack the excitement of small companies and the name recognition of large names,” says Artisan’s Cepukenas.

In particular, actively managed funds that focus on fast-growing midsize U.S. companies tend to shine brightest against their index fund rivals. Alger Mid Cap Growth (AMGAX, 1.30%) ranks among those index beaters. It has topped its benchmark, the Russell Mid Cap Growth index, and its category peers over the past one-, three-, five- and 10-year periods. The fund typically charges a 5.25% load, but you can buy shares for no fee at Fidelity and Charles Schwab.

Look Overseas to International Stocks

International stock pickers have an edge over their benchmarks in part because they have “boots on the ground” in the countries where they invest, says Dan Genter, CEO and chief investment officer of RNC Genter Capital Management. That allows them to better understand what drives local economies and ferret out companies with growth potential before the competition does.

The managers at Wasatch Emerging Markets Select (WAESX, 1.51%) and Wasatch Emerging Markets Small Cap (WAEMX, 1.95%), for instance, aren’t afraid to look beyond their foreign-stock benchmarks to find undiscovered opportunities. 

When the managers travel abroad, local brokers who help them set up company meetings often say, “Nobody ever visits this company. Why do you care?” says Ajay Krishnan, a comanager for both funds. But that’s precisely the draw. Both Wasatch funds have outpaced their benchmarks over the past one, three and five years.

Among foreign-stock funds, those that favor bargain-priced shares have tended to fare best against their index fund counterparts, according to Morningstar.

Some foreign large value funds to consider include Causeway International Value (CIVVX, 1.10%), a fund that zeroes in on good companies going through a rough patch. Oakmark International (OAKIX, 1.04%) is a Morningstar gold-rated fund that seeks stocks trading 30% below their business value using what Morningstar analyst Andrew Daniels calls “old-fashioned detective work.”

Being Choosy With Bonds

Active bond fund managers can be nimbler than their index fund counterparts – weeding out or avoiding low-quality issues that might make up sizable parts of many bond indexes or giving more weight to more-opportunistic segments of the market.

The Bloomberg U.S. Aggregate Bond index, for example, currently has a large weighting (45.1%) in U.S. Treasuries but smaller helpings of higher-yielding bonds, such as mortgage-backed securities and corporate-issued debt. In recent years, any intermediate-term bond fund managers willing to tilt their portfolio toward higher-yielding bond sectors, such as corporate debt rated triple-B or lower, or asset-backed securities with higher yields, could improve their chances of outpacing the Agg, says Commonwealth Financial Network’s Price.

That’s partly why Fidelity Total Bond ETF (FBND, 0.36%) has topped the Agg index over the past one, three and five years. The fund currently holds more than 10% of its assets in high-yield debt (credit rated double-B to triple-C), which helped boost returns; by contrast, the Agg doesn’t hold any high-yield debt.

Baird Aggregate Bond (BAGSX, 0.55%) stays in investment-grade territory (debt rated triple-A to triple-B) but lately has gained an edge by loading up on more corporate debt than the Agg, particularly in financials. The fund beat the index over the past one, three and five years.

Source: kiplinger.com

‘The Hangover’ Actor Justin Bartha Lists Canyon Hideaway

Justin Bartha of “The Hangover,” has put his home in the Laurel Canyon area of Los Angeles on the market for $1.375 million.

The 1,416-square-foot Spanish bungalow may be small but it has plenty of space for relaxing, with a hot tub, swimming pool and open patio.

The two-bedroom, two-bathroom canyon retreat has vaulted ceilings, a dining room, living room and family room, with floors of hardwood and Spanish tile throughout. It comes complete with central heat and air conditioning, a covered porch and garage.

Built in 1934, the home sits on a 7,500-square-foot lot with lush landscaping, fruit trees and gardens.

Bartha added new cedar closets and a built-out master closet, but kept true to the original character.

Originally from West Bloomfield, MI, Bartha played the character Doug in the three “Hangover” movies. He is also known for roles in “National Treasure” and “The New Normal.”

Listing agent is Jackie Smith of Hilton & Hyland.

Source: realtor.com

Stock Market Today: Stocks End Mixed After Data Dump

Investors had plenty to think about ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, chewing through a huge helping of economic data.

Kicking things off were weekly jobless claims – released a day early due to tomorrow’s holiday – which plunged to 199,000 in the week ended Nov. 20, well below last week’s 270,000 and economists’ forecast for 260,000 claims. What’s more, this was the lowest level for initial unemployment applications since 1969.

Also in focus were October’s personal income and spending data, which came in above estimates (up 0.5% and 1.3%, respectively, from September), and an upwardly revised reading on third-quarter gross domestic product (to 2.1% versus an initial estimate of 2.0%).

However, it wasn’t all roses. The University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index arrived at its lowest level in 10 years in November and the core personal consumption expenditures (PCE) index – a key inflation measure used by the Federal Reserve – rose 4.1% year-over-year in October, the quickest annual pace since 1991.

Plus, the release of the minutes from the latest Fed meeting showed several members of the committee said the central bank “should be prepared to adjust the pace of asset purchases” and/or raise interest rates sooner than anticipated if inflation continues to run hot.

“In terms of the Fed’s economic outlook, it’s clear that inflation has accelerated more than anyone expected it to, and the breadth of rising prices has increased substantially,” writes Bob Miller, BlackRock’s Head of Americas Fundamental Fixed Income.

“While the bar for an acceleration in the tapering of asset purchases is high, it is not insurmountable and looks reasonably likely to be cleared should we see another solid payroll report and inflation data release in December,” he adds. “Accelerating the asset purchase tapering would potentially end purchases in March 2022 and would then open the door for the Committee to consider lift off from the zero policy rate sometime in the second quarter of the year.”

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At the close, the S&P 500 Index was up 0.2% at 4,701 and the Nasdaq Composite had gained 0.4% at 15,845. The Dow Jones Industrial Average wasn’t as resilient, falling 0.03% to 35,804.

As a reminder, the U.S. stock market will be closed tomorrow for Thanksgiving and trading will end early on Black Friday.

stock price chart 112421stock price chart 112421

Other news in the stock market today:

  • The small-cap Russell 2000 gained 0.2% to 2,331.
  • U.S. crude futures slipped 0.1% to end at $78.39 per barrel.
  • Gold futures eked out a marginal gain to settle at $1,784.30 an ounce.
  • Bitcoin retreated 0.7% to $57,453.50. (Bitcoin trades 24 hours a day; prices reported here are as of 4 p.m. each trading day.)
  • Gap (GPS) took it in the chin after earnings, with shares sliding 24.1%. In its third quarter, the clothing retailer reported adjusted earnings of 27 cents per share on $3.94 billion in revenue, well below the 50 cents a share and $4.43 billion in sales analysts were expecting. GPS also lowered its full-year forecast, citing rising freight costs and supply-chain disruptions due to factory closures in Vietnam. “In the third quarter, the Athleta and Gap brands continued to be the bright spots for GPS, as the brands have grown 48% and 8%, respectfully, compared to fiscal 2020,” says CFRA Research analyst Zachary Warring, who maintained his Hold rating on the stock while lowering his price target by $8 to $22. “The company reiterated its plan to open between 30 and 40 Old Navy stores and 20-30 Athleta stores in 2021 while closing 75 Gap and Banana Republic stores. We need to see how sales and margins hold up in fiscal 2023 to get more bullish on shares of GPS.”
  • Supply-chain issues were also a noted in Nordstrom’s (JWN) quarterly update. “While many retailers are dealing with macro-related supply chain disruptions, Rack [the retailer’s off-price chain] faces a unique challenge as off-price procurement of the same top brands we carry at Nordstrom is particularly difficult in an environment with production constraints and lower levels of clearance product,” said CEO Erik Nordstrom in the earnings call. While Rack contributed to roughly 50% of total sales in 2019, he added, it’s only brought in 42% of sales for the year-to-date. Overall, the company reported earnings of 39 cents a share and revenue of $3.6 billion in its third quarter, missing analysts’ estimates for earnings of 57 cents per share and revenue of $3.5 billion. The stock plunged 29% today.

The Pricing Power Advantage

Some of the best stocks to buy now are those that are able to navigate higher inflation.

Pricing power should be an important theme for investors when assessing relative returns of stocks, says a group of analysts at global research firm UBS, especially given the current environment of “surging shipping costs, rising raw materials, supply chain issues and accelerating wage growth.”

The team has been studying the share performance of companies with pricing power for some time. They found that shares of firms that can raise prices without consumers balking and taking their business elsewhere and that have solid margin momentum tend to outperform those without by around 20%, on average, over 12 months once inflation rises above 3% on an annualized basis.

So, if you’re looking for ways to protect your portfolio against rising inflation, consider this list of the stocks with a pricing power advantage, according to UBS. Each of these names has a high-conviction Buy rating from the research firm and ranks in the top third of its sector for pricing power, margin momentum and input cost exposure.

Source: kiplinger.com

Stock Market Today: New COVID Strain Sinks Stocks in Short Session

Thought you were in for a quiet day of post-Thanksgiving trading?

Sorry, just the opposite as stocks spiraled downward in today’s abbreviated session.

The reason? A new strain of COVID-19 – B.1.1.529, which was assigned the Greek letter “Omicron” by the World Health Organization (WHO) – that possesses several mutations and was identified recently in Africa, with cases detected in Hong Kong and Europe as well.

“The new COVID variant has dominated attention and led to a sharp selloff among risk assets this morning, and will be closely followed just as a number of countries have moved to tighten up restrictions and even enter lockdowns once again,” says Jonathan Jayarajan, research analyst at Deutsche Bank.

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Not much is known about this new strain, but several countries have already restricted travel to and from South Africa, including the U.K., France, Germany and Singapore, and the WHO scheduled an emergency meeting Friday where they labeled it a “variant of concern.”

When the closing bell mercifully rang during this sell-first, ask-questions-later session, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 2.5% at 34,899 – its worst day of the year – the S&P 500 Index was off 2.3% at 4,594 and the Nasdaq Composite was 2.2% lower at 15,491.

But it wasn’t just stocks that got hit. Oil prices were down 13.1% to $68.15 per barrel – their lowest settlement since mid-September.

stock price chart 112621stock price chart 112621

Other news in the stock market today:

  • The small-cap Russell 2000 plummeted 3.7% to 2,245.
  • Gold futures eked out a marginal gain to settle at $1,785.50 an ounce.
  • Bitcoin wasn’t spared from the selling, sinking 5.6% to $54,256.53. (Bitcoin trades 24 hours a day; prices reported here are as of 1 p.m.)
  • Amid today’s COVID-induced broad-market plunge, traditional reopening plays sold off. Airlines and cruise stocks were among the hardest hit, with names like American Airlines (AAL, -8.8%), Delta Air Lines (DAL, -8.3%), Carnival (CCL, -11.0%) and Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCLH, -11.4%) all ending sharply in the red.
  • On the flip side, several vaccine makers and stay-at home stocks got a bid. Pfizer (PFE, +6.1%), BioNTech (BNTX, +14.2%), Peloton Interactive (PTON, +5.7%) and Zoom Video Communications (ZM, +5.7%) were some of the day’s biggest gainers.

Don’t Panic

Yes, uncertainty around the new strain is spooking global investors and comes “on the heels of markets beginning to price in a faster pace of policy tightening [from the U.S. Federal Reserve],” say analysts at the Wells Fargo Investment Institute (WFII).

And both of these events occur ahead of a debt-ceiling debate that is about to ramp up again on Capitol Hill (the stopgap bill passed by Congress in late September only runs through Dec. 3) – which could exacerbate volatility.

Still, WFII’s analysts note that “the global economy continues to be on solid ground, and fiscal and monetary policy remain supportive, despite some deceleration.” As such, they recommend looking past these short-term concerns and taking advantage of the pullback in stocks by buying equities.

While they highlight financials and technology as two of their preferred sectors, we also recommend dividend-paying stocks, which can help investors ride out market volatility with a bit less stress.

Dividend stocks come in a range of flavors, whether it be with those that pay shareholders on a monthly basis or with those that are boosting their dividends by a substantial amount. Here, we’ve compiled a list of companies that appear to be in their prime dividend-growth days and have announced income increases of between 100% and 650% this year.

Source: kiplinger.com

9 Best Books to Read Before Buying a Home

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For most people, buying a home is the biggest purchase decision of a lifetime. In fact, it’s one of the biggest decisions, period. 

Your mortgage is probably the largest debt you’ll ever take on, and taking care of a house is one of the largest responsibilities. Next to getting married or having children, it’s hard to think of anything that will have a greater impact on your life. 

With so much at stake, it makes sense to learn as much as possible about the process before you take the plunge. You can find lots of articles about home buying online, of course, just like any other subject. But for a really in-depth take on the topic, you can’t beat a good book.

Best Books to Read Before Buying a Home

There are literally hundreds of books on home buying, covering the subject from every possible angle. Some real estate books provide a walk-through of the whole process. Some focus on the legal details. And some are all about getting the best deal on a mortgage.

With so many books to choose from, how do you find one that’s useful for you? To get started, look at what books other people have found most helpful. The books on this list all get good reviews from finance professionals, as well as ordinary homeowners.


1. “Home Buying Kit for Dummies” by Eric Tyson & Ray Brown 

All the books in the “Dummies” series explain complex topics — from computer languages to sports — to people who know nothing about them. “Home Buying Kit for Dummies” takes the same approach. It covers all the basics of buying a home in an easy-to-digest form.

This comprehensive guide covers every step of the home-buying process, including:

The book is ideal for first-time home buyers because it assumes no prior knowledge. It’s all in plain English, with no fancy lingo. You can read it from cover to cover or dip into it as needed to learn about specific topics.

To aid reading, the pages are peppered with icons marking key points. These include a light bulb for tips, a warning sign for pitfalls to avoid, and a deerstalker cap for topics to research on your own. They make it easy to spot important info at a glance.


2. “Buying a Home: The Missing Manual” by Nancy Conner 

The “Missing Manuals” series deals mostly with computer software and hardware. But it’s branched out into finance, another subject that ought to come with instructions. In this volume, Conner, a real estate investor, walks you through the home-buying process from start to finish.

“Buying a Home: The Missing Manual” is a step-by step guide to all the ins and outs of home buying. Its includes chapters on:

  • Choosing a real estate agent, mortgage lender, and lawyer
  • Choosing the right neighborhood
  • Finding your dream home 
  • Figuring out how much to offer on a house 
  • Financing your down payment
  • Comparing mortgages
  • Inspections
  • Closing costs

And it does all this with simple language and handy, bite-size chunks of information. Fill-in forms throughout the book help you apply the author’s expert advice to your specific situation.


3. “NOLO’s Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home” by Ilona Bray J.D., Alayna Schroeder & Marcia Stewart 

The legal website NOLO is the top place to find legal advice online. Along with its free articles, the site offers an array of do-it-yourself forms, books, and software. This walk-through guide to homebuying is just one example.

“NOLO’s Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home” covers most of the same topics as the Dummies and Missing Manual books, but from a different angle. It focuses on all the legal ins and outs of the home-buying process.

Although three attorneys wrote this book, it doesn’t rely on their knowledge alone. It draws on the knowledge of 15 other real estate professionals, including Realtors, loan officers, investors, home inspectors, and landlords. It’s like having your own private team of experts. For example:

  • A real estate agent offers tips on how to dress for an open house. 
  • A mortgage broker explains the risks of oral loan preapprovals. 
  • A closing expert discusses the importance of title insurance. 

Along with the expert advice, the book provides real-world stories from over 20 first-time home-buyers. Their experiences let you preview the process before jumping in yourself.


4. “Home Buyer’s Checklist: Everything You Need to Know — But Forgot to Ask — Before You Buy a Home” by Robert Irwin 

Every home-buying guide talks about the need for a home inspection. However, there are many problems home inspectors don’t always look for. The only way to detect them is to ask the right questions. In “Home Buyer’s Checklist,” Robert Irwin tells you what those questions are.

Irwin is a real estate professional with over three decades of experience. He knows all about the hidden flaws in homes and how to track them down. Irwin walks you through a house room by room and points out possible problem areas, such as:

  • Doors and door frames
  • Windows and window screens
  • Fireplaces
  • Light fixtures
  • Floors
  • Woodwork
  • Attic insulation

For each area, he notes possible problems and how to spot them. He also explains what they cost to fix and what damage they can cause if you don’t fix them. And he helps you use that information to your advantage in negotiating the price of the house.

Armed with this information, you can avoid unpleasant surprises when you move into your new home. It won’t make your house’s problems go away, but it will prepare you to deal with them — and keep the money in your pocket to do it.


5. “The 106 Common Mistakes Home Buyers Make (and How to Avoid Them)” by Gary Eldred

To first-time homebuyers, the real estate market is a big, confusing place. In “The 106 Common Mistakes Home Buyers Make (and How to Avoid Them),” Gary Eldred offers you a map to help you find your way around.

Eldred’s guide draws on the real-world experiences of homebuyers, home builders, real estate agents, and mortgage lenders. They shed light on the mistakes homebuyers make most often, such as:

  • Believing everything a real estate agent says
  • Underestimating the cost of owning a home
  • Buying in an upscale neighborhood that’s on the decline
  • Paying too much for a house
  • Letting your agent handle the price negotiations
  • Staying out of the housing market due to fear

With the help of Eldred’s examples, you can avoid these pitfalls and find a house that’s both a comfortable home and a sound investment.


6. “No Nonsense Real Estate: What Everyone Should Know Before Buying or Selling a Home” by Alex Goldstein 

As both a Realtor and a real estate investor, Alex Goldstein has been on both sides of a real estate transaction. This gives him a unique perspective on what works and what doesn’t in the home buying process.

In “No Nonsense Real Estate,” Goldstein puts that experience to work for you. He offers a step-by-step guide to the home buying process in language a first time home buyer can easily understand. This comprehensive guide covers:

  • The economics of the housing market in simple terms
  • The pros and cons of working with a real estate agent
  • What to look for in a home
  • Assembling a real estate team
  • Types of homes, such as single-family homes, condos, and co-ops
  • Traditional home loans and non-bank financing
  • Tips for sellers to get the best price on a home
  • The five elements of a successful real estate negotiation
  • Real estate contracts and closing costs
  • The eight steps of a real estate closing
  • The basics of real estate investing
  • A real-world case study of a home purchase
  • A list of frequently asked questions
  • A glossary of real estate terms

As a bonus, all buyers of the book gain access to a library of training videos and materials. They can help you find a real estate agent in your area, evaluate investment properties, and more.


7. “The Mortgage Encyclopedia” by Jack Guttentag

One of the most intimidating parts of buying your first home is getting your first mortgage. Not only is it likely the biggest loan you’ve ever taken out, there are dozens of options to consider. And the jargon loan officers use, from “escrow” to “points,” doesn’t make it any easier.

Jack Guttentag’s “The Mortgage Encyclopedia” offers a solution. The author, a former professor of finance at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, tells you everything you need to know about how mortgages work and what your options are. The book includes:

  • A glossary of mortgage terms, from “A-credit” to “Zillow mortgage”
  • Advice on nitty-gritty issues such as the risks of cosigning a loan and the pros and cons of paying points versus making a larger down payment 
  • The lowdown on common mortgage myths, traps, and hidden costs to avoid
  • At-a-glance tables on topics like affordability and interest costs for fixed-rate and adjustable-rate mortgages

For first-time homebuyers grappling with the details of choosing and signing a mortgage, it’s a must-read.


8. “How to Get Approved for the Best Mortgage Without Sticking a Fork in Your Eye” by Elysia Stobbe 

Another book that focuses on mortgages is “How to Get Approved for the Best Mortgage Without Sticking a Fork in Your Eye.” As the whimsical title suggests, mortgage expert Elysia Stobbe understands how frustrating the mortgage approval process can be. 

To keep you sane, she helps break the process down into bite-sized chunks of info that are easy to manage. Her guide walks you through such details as types of mortgages, loan programs, interest rates, mortgage insurance, and fees. 

Stobbe explains how to find the right lender, choose the best real estate agent to handle negotiations, and find an appropriate type of loan. She also devotes a lot of space to mistakes you should avoid. And she supports it all with interviews with top real estate professionals.


Buying a home is such a huge, complicated process that it’s often hard to figure out where to start. In “100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask,” Ilyce R. Glink addresses this problem by breaking the process down into a series of questions.

This approach makes it easy to find the information you want. Look through the table of contents to find the question that’s on your mind, then flip to the right page to see the answer. Glink tackles questions on all aspects of home buying, such as:

  • Should I buy a home or continue to rent?
  • How much can I afford to spend?
  • Is a new construction home better than an existing home?
  • What’s the difference between a real estate agent and a broker?
  • Where should I start looking for my dream home?
  • What should I look for at a house showing?
  • How does my credit score affect my chance of getting a mortgage?
  • How do I make an offer on a home?
  • Do I need a home inspection?
  • What happens at the closing?

Glink combines advice from top brokers, real-world stories, and her own experience to provide solid answers to all these questions. And she wraps it up with three appendices covering mistakes to avoid and simple steps to make the home-buying process easier.


Final Word

All the books on this list offer a good grounding in the basics of home buying. But if you’re looking for more details on any part of the process, there’s sure to be a book for that too.

You can find books on just about every aspect of home buying. There are books on every stage of the process, from raising cash for a down payment to preparing for your closing. There are books about home buying just for single people and books on buying a home as an investment.

And once you move into your new home, there are more books to help you organize it, decorate it, and keep it in repair. Just search for the topic that interests you at Amazon, a local bookstore, or your local public library.

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Source: moneycrashers.com

These Healthcare Stocks Should Thrive in 2022

As the COVID-19 pandemic recedes, routine doctor and hospital visits, along with deferred medical procedures such as cataract surgery and heart valve replacements, are returning to normal.

The pandemic has been a global tragedy, but if there is one silver lining it is that the miraculous development of effective COVID-19 vaccines in less than a year is helping to usher in a golden age for the pharmaceutical and health sciences industries.

“We’re seeing a revolution today in vaccine development,” says Andy Acker, manager of Janus Henderson Global Life Sciences.

Before COVID arrived, the fastest vaccine approval had been four years, and the average was 10 years; with COVID, two vaccines were approved in about 10 months. Validation of the mRNA technology used by Pfizer (PFE) and Moderna (MRNA) in their vaccines means that it will now be adopted to treat other medical indications. (The mRNA vaccines teach our cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response.)

In truth, the COVID-19 medical challenge and the dramatic success of the vaccines have only served to accelerate a powerful trend of innovation in medicine. For instance, the sharply declining cost of gene sequencing is pushing forward the growing field of precision medicine, which aims to tailor treatments to specific diseases, such as cancer.

“The science is exponentially improving for better outcomes,” says Neal Kaufman, manager of Baron Health Care fund.

Of course, the healthcare sector is also riding the (global) demographic wave of aging populations. At CVS Health drugstores, the number of prescription medicines purchased by people age 65 or older is three to four times that of 20- to 40-year-old people, says Jason Kritzer, co­manager of Eaton Vance Worldwide Health Sciences.

In rapidly developing countries with expanding middle classes, such as China, quality healthcare is likely to be one of the first things people rising out of poverty will spend money on.

With innovation and some of these secular trends in mind, we identified six intriguing healthcare stocks that literally span the alphabet, from letter A to letter Z. We particularly like companies that address large and growing end markets, especially global ones. We give extra points to businesses that have less exposure to pricing pressure from insurance com­panies or the government. Returns and other data are through Nov. 5.

healthcare stockshealthcare stocks

1 of 7

Align Technology

Share price: $687

Market cap: $54 billion

Price-earnings ratio: 50

Maker of the Invisalign brand of clear, plastic braces for teeth, Align Technology (symbol ALGN) is a disruptive force in the global teeth-correction market, rapidly gobbling market share from traditional wires and brackets. Jeff Mueller, comanager of Polen Global Growth, credits the “Zoom effect” for accelerating the adoption of the aesthetically pleasing aligners: Workers stuck at home during the pandemic were staring at their own teeth every day on Zoom. “Vanity is increasing around the world,” Mueller says, adding that, due to the rise of smartphones, the internet and social media, “more people are taking pictures of themselves than ever before in the history of mankind.”

A lot of technology is used in the Invisalign process. It employs intra-oral scanners and modeling software, plus mass-customization manufacturing using 3D printing at several plants around the globe (each set of teeth is unique, and individuals change their aligners every two weeks). Because braces are generally for cosmetic purposes, they are not subject to pricing pressure from insurance companies or the government.

Align Technology’s revenues are currently growing by 25% to 30% a year as its market penetration rises, and Mueller expects earnings to continue to compound at double digits for quite a while.

2 of 7

Merck

Share price: $82

Market cap: $206 billion

Price-earnings ratio: 11

Dividend yield: 3.2%

CFRA analyst Sel Hardy thinks that Merck’s (MRK) COVID-19 antiviral pill, molnupiravir, is “a game changer.” The drug maker has applied for emergency-authorization use from the government; approval was expected before the end of 2021. Merck projects that global sales of the oral medication, which has demonstrated strong efficacy against multiple variants of COVID, could be $5 billion to $7 billion by the end of 2022.

Apart from this breakthrough drug, Hardy likes the way Merck is positioned. Sales of Keytruda, its versatile oncology drug, topped $14 billion in 2020 and continue to grow; its animal health division is expanding; and the firm’s $12 billion acquisition of Acceleron Pharma, a biotech firm with strengths in blood and cardiovascular treatments, will augment Merck’s product pipeline.

Hardy thinks Merck, which yields 3.2%, can compound earnings by at least 10% a year for the next three years.

3 of 7

Novo Nordisk

Share price: $113

Market cap: $259 billion

Price-earnings ratio: 31

Dividend yield: 1.3%

Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk (NVO) focuses on two global pandemics: diabetes and obesity. The World Health Organization projects that the number of diabetics will expand from 460 million to 580 million by 2030, and it estimates that there are nearly 800 million obese people around the world. Novo pioneered insulin injections a century ago and has remained a global leader in diabetes care ever since. Multibillion-dollar drugs include Ozempic, a once-weekly prescription for adults with Type 2 diabetes to lower blood sugar, and NovoRapid, a fast-acting insulin treatment. Novo’s sales are evenly split between North America and the rest of the world.

Investors such as Samantha Pandolfi, comanager of Eaton Vance Worldwide Health Sciences, are also excited about rapid growth in Novo’s newer weight-management business. Wegovy, prescribed for obese people with another disease, such as diabetes, was approved by the FDA in June 2021. Tests show Wegovy typically delivers a weight loss of 15% to 17%, and Pandolfi says sales are off to a blazing start. The century-old firm plows an impressive 12% of sales back into research and development, which helps it stay ahead of the competition and generate earnings growth in the low double digits.

4 of 7

Thermo Fisher Scientific

Share price: $617

Market cap: $243 billion

Price-earnings ratio: 29

Dividend yield: 0.2%

Eddie Yoon, manager of Fidelity Select Health Care Portfolio, calls Thermo Fisher Scientific (TMO) “the Walmart of life sciences.” Whether it’s a big pharma, biotech or university lab, customers come to this health sciences supermarket for analytical tools, lab equipment and services, and diagnostic kits and consumables. “They are the partner of choice for any pharma or biotech company of any size,” says Jeff Jonas, a portfolio manager at Gabelli Funds. Thermo has benefited from increased demand for its products and services due to COVID-19, and now the firm is poised to benefit from the rise in research and development spending among drug companies around the world.

One thing that distinguishes Thermo, according to health care stock analysts, is the quality of its management. The firm has successfully integrated several strategic acquisitions that helped broaden its menu of products and services. Tommy Sternberg, an analyst at William Blair, notes that Thermo is particularly adroit at staying close to customers and understanding what their scientists are working on. “They do a fantastic job of getting to know customers and their needs, and learning from customers to come up with more solutions more quickly,” says Sternberg.

5 of 7

UnitedHealth Group

Share price: $456

Market cap: $429 billion

Price-earnings ratio: 21

Dividend yield: 1.3%

The U.S. spends a staggering $4 trillion a year on health care. UnitedHealth (UNH)—with annual revenues of nearly $300 billion, a market value of $430 billion and 330,000 employees—is the industry’s largest player. As the top private health care insurance provider, it leads in managed care. Its OptumHealth unit offers pharmacy benefits and owns physician’s practices and surgical centers. Eaton Vance’s Kritzer calls Optum, an industry leader in the digitization of services, “a very large health IT company inside an insurance giant.” United helps the federal government manage costs through its Medicare Advantage plan (the most popular private plan). Plus, it enjoys high customer satisfaction, and it is counting a growing number of seniors as customers (about 10,000 Americans turn 65 every day). Despite United’s massive size, William Blair’s Sternberg thinks it can sustain earnings-per-share growth of about 15% annually.

6 of 7

Zoetis

Share price: $217

Market cap: $103 billion

Price-earnings ratio: 42

Dividend yield: 0.5%

Like Align Tech­nology’s Invisalign, Zoetis’s (ZTS) main business—companion-animal health—was already riding a tailwind that picked up force thanks to lifestyle changes during the pandemic. Pet-ownership rates spiked as people grew more isolated and sought the companionship of dogs and cats, according to David Kalis, comanager of The Future Fund Active ETF. Zoetis markets vaccines, prescription drugs and diagnostic equipment directly to veterinarians. The industry is regulated, with FDA approval required for the drugs, but Zoetis benefits from the lack of insurance company price pressures and the fragmented nature of the firm’s customer base, notes Eaton Vance’s Pandolfi.

In fact, companion-animal ownership is growing globally, driven by aging populations and shrinking family sizes. Pet owners are treating their pets better, addressing ailments such as skin irritation and arthritis, and visiting the vet more frequently, says Pandolfi. Zoetis books about half of sales overseas; roughly 60% of revenues come from the companion-animal business and 40% from the less-profitable and slower-growing livestock animal division.

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Invest in a Fund

Given the complexity and diversity of the health care sector, investing in a fund makes a lot of sense for many investors. Here are our favorites (returns and other data are through November 5).

Baron Health Care (symbol BHCFX, expense ratio 1.10%) is a young fund off to a sizzling start. Over the past three years, it returned 29.2% annualized, or nearly twice the return of the S&P 1500 Health Care index. Manager Neal Kaufman and assistant manager Joshua Riegelhaupt look for innovative, fast-growing companies. The largest holding is Natera, a clinical genetic-testing outfit.

Fidelity Select Health Care (FSPHX, 0.69%) is a member of the Kiplinger 25, the list of our favorite no-load funds. The fund has a 19.8% three-year annualized return, ahead of the 17.0% average annual gain of its peers. Eddie Yoon, who has piloted the fund since 2008, says he’s light on large pharmaceutical companies in the portfolio, preferring makers of devices used to help manage chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart ailments. The fund’s top three holdings are UnitedHealth, Boston Scientific and Danaher.

Ziad Bakri, a former physician, runs T. Rowe Price Health Sciences (PRHSX, 0.76%), which has returned 21% annualized over the past three years. Nearly one-third of assets are invested in biotechnology, a high-risk, high-return segment of health care. Top positions include Thermo Fisher Scientific and Intuitive Surgical.

If you prefer investing through exchange-traded funds, Simplify Health Care (PINK, $26, 0.50%) is an intriguing, actively managed ETF that launched on October 7. Through November 5, just shy of one month, it returned 5.9%. Manager Michael Taylor, a virologist by training who spent 20 years investing in health care stocks at some prominent hedge funds, expresses his views by increasing or decreasing the fund’s weighting of stocks in relation to the MSCI US Health Care Index.

Source: kiplinger.com

Is the Stock Market Open on Thanksgiving and Black Friday 2021?

The good news is, investors will indeed get a Turkey Day break from their brokerage accounts. The stock market is indeed closed on Thanksgiving Day.

But don’t call it a four-day weekend: Investors still need to show up on Black Friday.

At least for a few hours.

In 2021, the stock market is closed all day on Thursday, Nov. 25, as America celebrates Thanksgiving Day. That said, stocks will begin trading on Black Friday at the normal market time, but it will be a shortened trading day. On Friday, Nov. 26, the market will close at 1 p.m.

The bond market has a similar holiday schedule, closing on Thanksgiving Day and opening for a partial session (closing at 2 p.m.) on Black Friday.

2021 Market Holidays

Date Holiday NYSE Nasdaq Bond Markets*
Friday, Jan. 1 New Year’s Day Closed Closed Closed
Monday, Jan. 18 Martin Luther King Jr. Day Closed Closed Closed
Monday, Feb. 15 Presidents’ Day/Washington’s Birthday Closed Closed Closed
Friday, April 2 Good Friday Closed Closed Early close
(Noon)
Friday, May 28 Friday Before Memorial Day Open Open Early close
(2 p.m.)
Monday, May 31 Memorial Day Closed Closed Closed
Friday, July 2 Friday Before Independence Day Open Open Early close
(2 p.m.)
Monday, July 5 Independence Day (Observed) Closed Closed Closed
Monday, Sept. 6 Labor Day Closed Closed Closed
Monday, Oct. 11 Columbus Day Open Open Closed
Thursday, Nov. 11 Veterans Day Open Open Closed
Thursday, Nov. 25 Thanksgiving Day Closed Closed Closed
Friday, Nov. 26 Day After Thanksgiving Early close
(1 p.m.)
Early close
(1 p.m.)
Early close
(2 p.m.)
Thursday, Dec. 23 Day Before Christmas Eve Open Open Early close
(2 p.m.)
Friday, Dec. 24 Christmas Eve (Christmas Day Observed) Closed Closed Closed
Friday, Dec. 31 New Year’s Eve Open Open Early close
(2 p.m.)

* This is the recommended bond market holiday schedule from the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA). This schedule is subject to change.

Stock Market Holiday Observations

When it comes to the stock and bond markets alike, if a holiday falls on a weekend, market closures are dictated by two rules:

  • If the holiday falls on a Saturday, the market will close on the preceding Friday.
  • If the holiday falls on a Sunday, the market will close on the subsequent Monday.

Stock and Bond Market Hours

The “core trading” stock market hours for the NYSE and Nasdaq are 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays. However, both exchanges offer premarket trading hours between 4 and 9:30 a.m., as well as late trading hours between 4 and 8 p.m.

Bond markets typically trade between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

The stock markets close at 1 p.m. on early-closure days; bond markets close early at 2 p.m.

Source: kiplinger.com