Odds ‘n Ends

December 10, 2010
Jeff Brown, MD

Periodically, I like to delve into financial factoids and accumulated crumbs of wisdom. It is with this in mind that I submit today's offerings.

Periodically, I like to delve into financial factoids and accumulated crumbs of wisdom. It is with this in mind that I submit today's offerings:

• Historically, corporate stock "sell" investment ratings make up only 8% of recommendations from financial analysts, while "buy" ratings make up 53% of the total and "hold" ratings make up 39%. The proverbial $64 question is whether the preponderance of positive ratings represent: 1) optimism; 2) conflicts of interest within the rating companies; 3) accuracy; or 4) all of the above in some measure. As 2008 made clear, the ball is really in our courts.

• Albert Einstein reportedly said, "Not everything that counts can be counted."

• U.S. unemployment stands at just under 10%, but that number is roughly 5% for college-educated workers -- about the historical average. For workers without a college education, the number of unemployed is more than 15%. Most troubling is the stat that about quarter of American high-school students drop out. Maybe we should simply emphasize education, rather than focus on some voodoo (read arguable) economic and/or political fix to our unemployment situation.

• I live by the adage, "Happy wife, happy life." (The sign on our refrigerator says, "Ain't Momma happy, ain't nobody happy.")

• An Allstate Insurance Co. survey of California drivers found that Dec. 15 and Dec. 18 were among the top five days of the year for collision claims. So be extra careful driving out there as you go about the holiday rush.

• Insurers withheld $372 million from life-insurance beneficiaries last year. Why? Because they can. How? Because they dig for some omission in the submitted health history, even if it was irrelevant to the cause of death. If you read the fine print on your policy, you will see that such hijinks are part of the contract. So play it straight when you enroll for coverage, or you roll the dice with your heirs.

• A record 18,665 students enrolled in medical schools in 2010-2011. The bad news is that about 3% of all med students drop out each year -- the equivalent of roughly four graduating classes -- and studies show more than 10% are considering it. That says that in spite of a very careful selection process, that the heuristics and curricula need improvement to reduce the waste in time, money and careers.

• We are each entitled to one free credit report every year from each of the three major credit-reporting agencies (you can securely download them at Annualcreditreport.com). It is important to do it because you will often find some reporting mistake or worse, evidence of fraud. All dent your credit score, which severely limits your chances of obtaining the best deals with creditors. To stay on top of your credit, mark your calendar to remind yourself to check one credit report every four months.

• The gap between the richest and poorest among us in the U.S. is among the widest in history. For instance, in 2007 the wealthiest 1% of Americans owned 50.1% of all stocks, bonds and mutual funds; 61% of Americans polled in 2008 said they "always or usually" live paycheck-to-paycheck; 66% of income growth between 2001 and 2007 went to the top 1% of Americans; 36% of those polled in 2008 said they contribute nothing toward retirement savings, and 44% of retired people surveyed said live exclusively off Social Security; the ratio of CEO pay to the average workers' wage has gone from about 30:1 in the 1950s to up to 500:1 today; the top 10% earn a whopping 50% of national income; and, despite the financial crisis, in 2009 the number of U.S. millionaires jumped 16% to 7.8 million. Enough...I have stat fatigue and you get the idea. But these numbers do remind us of what George Orwell said: "It is not possible to live in such a society as our own without wanting to change it."

• At least once a year, 29% of workers play hooky from their jobs. I know it sounds irresponsible, and expensive, but Ferris Buehler might actually have been onto something.

• If you are thinking about cashing in some unused gold jewelry, get at least two bids -- visit local jewelers and pawnshops to get a feel for what the jewelry is worth. The value will certainly be higher than what you’d get from those mail-in come-ons. If you decide to sell through a gold-buyer, Empire Gold Buyers, Gold Fellow and Pro Gold Network get high marks from the Better Business Bureau. Keep in mind that most gold jewelry in America is 14 karat, or only about 58% of the quoted bullion price, currently at about $1,380 per ounce. (If your jewelry is 24 karat, it’s close to 100% gold.) Once smelting costs and middle-man fees are factored in, you might be shocked to realize that you will only get 20% to 30% (if you are lucky) of that $1,380. So your unwanted gold jewelry may in reality net you just $250 per ounce. Oh, and don't forget your profit, if any, is taxable at up to 25%. (If you do decide after all to hang on to your treasure, you may want to consider raising your personal property insurance coverage.)

• Lastly, a Charles Schwab study of 25,000 accounts found that individual investors can have up to 20% of their portfolios in one stock without much adverse impact. If, however, you hold 30% or more in any one security, the risk factor jumped mightily. Another reason to diversify.

Well, that's it for today. I'm at the end of my wisdom. See you next time.