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The lion’s share of charitable contributions every year are made between October and Dec. 31, so the last three months of the year present a window of opportunity for you to make sure your favored charities are spending your money the right way. Last month we looked at gifting from your IRA; this month, in the second of two parts, we look at evaluating the charities themselves.

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Late last year the president signed into law the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act. One of its important provisions reinstated for 2011 the option for direct distribution of funds from IRAs to qualified charities. This applies to investors over 70 1/2 who are taking their required minimum distributions.

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A quick primer on the averages that define our daily financial lives.
When we ask “How did the market do today?” we’re usually looking for averages like the Dow and the Standard & Poor’s 500. But we tend to be unclear about how they came about and what they really reflect.

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For most of us, end-of-life decisions — those issues relating to medical care and advanced directives to doctors and health care providers — are among the most difficult to discuss. They carry their intimations of illness and mortality like so much excess baggage, and they grow heavier as we age. In addition, they bring with them religious beliefs and moral considerations that are deeply personal, and these can result in conflict between spouses, parents, children and siblings. That’s a shame, because this kind of discord can be easily prevented.

 

Steven Weber‘Sell in May and go away and don’t come back ‘til St. Leger’s Day,” is a somewhat tarnished pearl of stock market wisdom, one that’s sometimes known as the Halloween indicator. It purports to help investors increase their return and avoid losses by staying out of the markets from May through Oct. 31. Since St. Leger’s Day in mid-September marks the last day of the British racing season (about which we in America are mostly clueless), investors on this side of the Atlantic have substituted Halloween.

In what is almost certainly an apocryphal explanation of this chestnut, it is said that the first Lord of the Admiralty, when preparing his flagship for battle with the French in 1865, telegraphed the phrase, “Sail in May — we go, aweigh!” to his assistant, who erroneously relayed instructions to sell the Lord’s substantial financial holdings.

When to venture inside the tricky, twisty world of contrarian investing

Steven WeberMost investment analysis involves some degree of fundamental research — the study of individual companies, sectors or markets and the economic forces that drive them higher or lower. Other strategies involve market timing — trying to discern where the markets are going and acting accordingly — or technical analysis, the process of studying price and volume changes in order to make near- and longer-term judgments on individual company stocks or the broader markets. You often hear investors say “Don’t follow the crowd,” but you’ll also hear them say “The trend is your friend.” We know there is safety (or at least comfort) in numbers. However, the discipline known as contrarian investing, which builds a sophisticated philosophy and strategy out of going against the grain, has considerable resonance for many investors.

Steven WeberIn his State of the Union address, President Obama issued a challenge to America to produce 80% of its electricity from clean energy sources by 2035. This ambitious initiative would require an almost unprecedented partnership between government and the private sector and will certainly be controversial.

More recently, the interior department announced a $50 million program to expedite the development of wind farms off the coast of the mid-Atlantic states, as well as a $25 million program to support new and existing wind turbine technologies. While these stately turbines are good in theory, the reality is much more controversial. It took eight years for final approval of the nation’s first wind farm off the coast of Cape Cod, over opposition from environmentalists, Indian tribes and the tourist industry.


Steven WeberThe majority of IRA account owners are invested in CDs, stocks, bonds, mutual funds and annuities, but it turns out these aren’t your only choices. If properly handled, nontraditional retirement investments (NTIs) such as limited partnerships, private placements, trust deeds/notes and real estate can be legally held in IRAs and certain retirement accounts.

Real estate is the most popular non-traditional investment for IRAs, although many of the investment advantages of owning real estate are not available or applicable when real estate is held in an IRA. Also, it is possible to get real estate diversification simply by purchasing publicly traded real estate investment trusts, or the mutual or exchange traded funds that invest in them.

What the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act means for you and the IRS this year.

The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act signed into law in October 2008 made some dramatic changes to the way investors will report gains and losses to the IRS — or rather, how they will no longer report them. Beginning with stock purchased after Jan. 1, 2011, and gradually taking effect in stages through 2013, the act means that you will no longer be the responsible party to report the cost basis, as well as gains or losses, on securities you sell.