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stevenweberAs investors contend with low yields and the possibility of higher taxes, investments that are tax-free have particular appeal.  Despite some recent high-profile defaults, municipal bonds have an exemplary track record of safety, and bonds issued within the state of South Carolina offer returns that are free from both federal and state taxes. Let’s look at some basic background on these investments, as well as a few tips on getting started.

The state of South Carolina, as well as our cities, counties, and improvement and utility districts, all issue bonds to finance operations, capital expenditures, and development. These bonds have a stated interest rate and a promise of repayment at a specific time in the future, known as the maturity date. The safety of these bonds, both investment income and principal, is determined by the source of the funds designated for repayment. The two major categories of Municipal bonds are general obligation, or G.O. bonds, and revenue bonds. General obligation bonds are backed by the taxing power of the issuer, which could mean income taxes, in the case of state of South Carolina, or property taxes, for bonds issued by a county. Revenue bonds, on the other hand, are backed by revenue from the particular project for which the bonds are issued. For example, bonds issued to pay for the Cross Island Expressway would be backed and repaid by toll revenue from drivers who use the expressway.


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13 proven ways to get out of a ditch

 If the rain made you dump your car in a ditch, forget it. Just call a tow truck and let it go. But if you are mentally in a funk, here are some things that might help you find a renewed zest for life:

13. Visit your favorite pizza store for lunch, have a glass of wine and call it a day.

12. Call somebody you feel safe with, meet up and dump it on them.

11. Buy some flowers or, better yet, plant some flowers or herbs or a small tree.

10. Cook your favorite meal.

9. Start a new fitness routine and stick with it.

8. End your evening with some dark chocolate and a single malt scotch.

7. Walk the beach in the rain.

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stevenweberThe future can be a murky place. And let’s face it, anyone in the investment business is always on the lookout for that crystal ball. When investors take a flight of fancy and start mining data for arcane and offbeat ways to predict the economy and the markets, there’s no telling where they will end up. With our attention focused on the Olympics, we thought we would explore what impact the summer games might have for stock investors. It’s not so farfetched to think that a swelling of national pride after a stellar Olympic performance might translate to greater confidence, optimism and positive expectations, expanding P/E ratios and attractive investment returns. But the Olympics are far from the only televised entertainment that can teach us a thing or two about the market.

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stevenweberLast month we discussed some aspects of what the “new retirement” looks like, including the role of working longer past traditional retirement age, as well as properly structuring Social Security benefits. In the second part of our article we’ll talk about why a written investment and income plan is such a critical tool when planning your income and investment strategy in retirement.

Why in writing? The very process of articulating your goals and objectives on paper or screen can give an individual the grounding to stay focused in an unsteady investment environment. A good plan can provide continuity and coherence to investment strategy and activity. It should include a target asset allocation as well as restrictions based upon the investor’s age, need for income and growth, and tolerance for risk. It should also outline an investment strategy that can be pursued in a variety of market and economic conditions.

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marcfrey150Nobody has time to read, never mind to think

By Marc Frey

Instead of writing the usual 700 words about one topic, and given that we are in the middle of summer, I opted to go with short snippets of thoughts instead. If any of them grab you, e-mail me. It might motivate me to expand on the idea in a future column.

"I'm so energized about the future, but depressed about the present "

I mentioned that in a business conversation, probably expressing the sentiment of many small business owners. Real entrepreneurs always find the energy to come up with new plans, yet see the current economic conditions and the inability to get bank financing as a real hindrance to implement these plans. One has to wonder why government programs always tend to favor big business but don't give small business its fair share of support in helping to reduce unemployment.

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Most investors understand that the companies they put their money in may have business plans and market objectives they may not totally agree with, or sell products they don’t use or approve of.

moralcompassStill, they are generally willing to overlook this if the company is profitable and produces a good return. Mutual funds have specific investment objectives and limitations as well; in the past we have written about funds that include environmental, religious, or moral constraints in what they buy. So, what should you pursue for investment survival — vice or virtue? Here are two funds; both are highly rated, but with very different objectives.

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marcfrey150This month I want to follow up on my last two articles and bring light to a local topic.


Readers of my column will remember that I wrote about smart phones and how they could, in essence, take control of humans. Just weeks after my predictions were published, an Intel-commissioned white paper about the future of mobile technology concluded that “connected devices interfacing with the human brain is an inevitability.”

Here’s how the paper’s authors, from consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, put it: “As convergence continues across device types, functions, and capabilities, the melding of mobile technologies directly into the human body becomes the logical next step.”

The only question for me is: Who is in control? Humans, the machines or a third-party entity like the government? The fact that researchers believe that this is no longer science fiction but likely to become a reality does not solve the ethical and moral issues that are associated with such advances. Could it be that we are developing technology that is too smart for our own good? I ask because we could ultimately lose control over our own destiny. Then again, maybe I’m simply too old-fashioned to realize that having your own will and privacy are a thing of the past?

I urge you to send me your feedback on this topic.

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marc_freyIf one would have to summarize what characterizes Americans, four words suffice: We like to win!

So it should come as no surprise that we are slowly but surely on the rebound. After shaking the memories of the 9/11 attacks, followed by the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, the near meltdown of our financial system and one of the longest recessions on record, there are signs of optimism everywhere.

Trend spotting is not a science but rather a deduction based on unrelated events that point in the same direction. A few years back I predicted in this column that the United States had not seen the best of what is yet to come. I based that on a few major fundamentals, including that we are uniquely adept at combining science, capital and entrepreneurial drive into forward momentum. We are not afraid to try out new things, fail, and then try again.

How cool was it to see a Boeing 787 Dreamliner (assembled in North Charleston) fly low over the 18th hole during the RBC Heritage? Well beyond soliciting a few “Oohs” and “Aahs,” that plane served as a clear reminder that manufacturing in the USA is back.

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stevenweberLast month we examined the case for international diversification in stock and bond portfolios, and reviewed currency risk, which can have a dramatic impact on the returns U.S. investors receive from international investments. This month in part two we focus on regulatory and political risks, and conclude by looking at investments you can use to effectively implement global diversification.

It’s easy to take it for granted, but the accounting and regulatory environment we enjoy in the U.S. provides investors with audited information, a system of financial oversight, and a (mostly) level playing field.  While accounting and reporting standards in some other developed markets are comparable, they are by no means identical. Moreover, many capital markets, especially in developing counties, lack stringent regulation, consistent reporting standards, market liquidity and shareholder rights legislation.  In some markets, loose or unconventional accounting standards make it very difficult to compare results among companies and industries; investment decisions made in these less-than-ideal environments can be very challenging.

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marcfrey150As a high school graduate I wrote an essay inspired by Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.” It’s time to see if the future has caught up with us. So, if you are up for it, let’s get into some science fiction:

It all started so innocently. A person’s desire to connect to a distant person seems all so natural. Think back in time, and you will find that we always employed technology to achieve the long-distance connection. First came drums and smoke signals, then the written word allowed us to create messages and transport them via messenger on foot. Organized services like the United States Post Office (founded 1775) and the short-lived but legendary Pony Express added regular delivery schedules. The next invention made it possible to transmit electronic Morse signals via telegraph services, followed by the next breakthrough that came about 100 years later with the invention of telephone services. Then one day about 40 years ago, another quantum leap propelled humans’ ability to talk to other people to a whole new level: The age of the mobile telephone has arrived. In order to put this breakthrough into perspective, it is enough to look at the statistics: The number of U.S. mobile phone subscribers grew from 300,000 in 1985 to 300 million in 2010.

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By now, most of our readers have picked up on the feud between Skip Hoagland and the Hilton Head Island–Bluffton Chamber of Commerce. Hoagland has been taking out full-page ads in the local newspaper to draw public attention to what he claims is “Chamber abuse.”

I would pay money to see a presidential-style debate between self-made entrepreneur Skip Hoagland and Chamber President Bill Miles—especially if it would be followed by a boxing match.

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Valentine’s Day is a day for candy, special events and quiet candlelit dinners. For some, it’s a time to express love and gratitude to their partner; for others, an opportunity to renew and rekindle a relationship. It may seem an awkward time to talk about money. That conversation can often cause words of love to decay into uncomfortable and angst-filled silence. While a meaningful dialogue on this day might seem unromantic, Valentine’s Day can present an opportunity for a fresh start.

Many marriage counselors place finances and money second only to sex as a significant cause of marital stress. Most frequently identified are differing attitudes toward spending and saving, lack of communication about financial status, and secrecy. Couples tend to discuss their dreams and goals pretty openly but learn each others’ attitudes towards money gradually. Can a saver and planner ever be happily married to a spender and dreamer?

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marcfrey150By now everybody has heard of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement that is spreading across the country, inspiring such offshoots as “Occupy Boston,” “Occupy Charleston,” etc.

According to its various websites, the “occupy movement” is representing 99 percent of Americans, claiming that the other one percent is holding the majority of the money and the power. Not surprisingly, the 400 richest Americans, according to Forbes, have had an “amazing year” while the rest of us have grown poorer. The political process and those who represent it are not offering any comfort, because instead of offering real solutions and actions, the two parties block each other and “Main Street” is paying the price.

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Let’s face it; 2011 has not been the most stellar year on record for most of us.

As a I write this column, it has become official that the “super committee” can’t agree on how to reduce the American household deficit, Europe has the financial markets on the edge, the “Occupy Wall Street” movement has spread around the country, the NBA season is on hold, your neighbor’s house is in foreclosure and you have not had a raise in three years. The list could be expanded endlessly…

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