A Few ETF/ETN Picks – One Year Later

July 28, 2009

Here is an update on our ETF/ETN picks that are one year old today.

Not your normal 12 months by any stretch.

Staying disciplined and taking what the market gives leaves us well ahead of the market in even the worst of times.

ETF/ETN picks after 1 year

ETF/ETN picks after 1 year


The Power of Paying Attention

April 30, 2009

by Laura Rowley
Thursday, April 30, 2009, 12:00AM

If you want to be happy, pay attention.

That’s the conclusion of the new book ‘Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life’ by behavioral science writer Winifred Gallagher. Interviewing neuroscientists, psychologists, philosophers, and others, Gallagher argues that your happiness depends in large part on where and how you choose to place your focus.

Paying attention sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s similar to the platitude “Live within your means” — it makes a gigantic difference in your well-being, yet many people can’t figure out how to do it. Gallagher breaks down the science of attention, explaining what happens in the brain when we focus on something; why certain things grab our attention and can sabotage our mood, creativity, and productivity; and how to take control of the tool of attention to create a more fulfilling life. At its heart, the book optimistically affirms that no one is a victim of his circumstances — no matter how difficult those circumstances might be.

Gallagher knows that territory intimately. The book was inspired by her battle with cancer a few years ago. “When I got the diagnosis, I interviewed doctors, talked to friends who went through it, chose the best surgeon and radiologist in the best hospital for me,” she recalls. “And once I did that, I made the executive decision to hand my body over to them and direct my attention to moving forward with life. That’s not to say I was happy, or thought, ‘Gee, cancer, what a blessing.’ I hated it. But I didn’t let it monopolize my focus.”

Shifting Your Attention

Instead, she shifted her attention to what was engaging and meaningful. “I would get up in the morning and look in the mirror; I was bald and I could have thought, ‘I don’t feel good, I’ll lie here in bed and watch Oprah.’ But I got dressed and booted up the computer,” she says, adding that she also concentrated on her five children and day-to-day tasks. “The thing that impressed me was it really worked. We do have much more control over our attention than we think.”

Perhaps first and foremost, “you have to choose your target,” says Gallagher. “If you don’t choose a target, your brain will choose one for you — the brain is out scanning around and saying, ‘Let’s stare at that screen, let’s listen to that infomercial.’ When you focus on something, your brain photographs that sight or sound or thought or feeling –and that becomes part of your mental album of the world. So it’s important to make those choices count.”

And when it’s not deliberately focused, the brain tends to home in on bad news. “We evolved to pay attention to painful, negative feelings for the excellent reason that if something is scaring you or making you angry, you are motivated to do something about it,” says Gallagher.

The problem is, research has shown that “negative feelings shrink your visual and conceptual reality, which limits your options,” Gallagher explains. “The attentional issue is particularly important now, when so many people are under terrific financial stress. You can’t focus on it 24/7. Focusing on the positive literally broadens your visual field; you can take in the big picture, both visually and conceptually, consider more options. You’re in a better decision-making space.”

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Obama lifts Bush restrictions on stem cell research

March 9, 2009

Mon Mar 9, 2009 6:24pm EDT

By David Alexander

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama lifted restrictions on federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research on Monday, angering abortion opponents but cheering those who believe the study could produce treatments for many diseases.

“We will lift the ban on federal funding for promising embryonic stem cell research,” Obama said to vigorous applause at a White House gathering.

“We will also vigorously support scientists who pursue this research. And we will aim for America to lead the world in the discoveries it one day may yield.”

Shares of companies specializing in stem cell research burst upward on the news, with Geron Corp (GERN) up by as much as much as 35 percent and StemCells Inc (STEM) up 73 percent at one point. Other related company shares rose, too.

The decision was a clear repudiation of the approach taken by Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush. U.S. law limits the use of federal money to make human stem cells, but Bush tightened the restrictions even further to include work using such cells.
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Huge stimulus bill passes House

January 28, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a swift victory for President Barack Obama, the Democratic-controlled House approved a historically huge $819 billion stimulus bill Wednesday night with spending increases and tax cuts at the heart of the young administration’s plan to revive a badly ailing economy.

The vote was 244-188, with Republicans unanimous in opposition despite Obama’s frequent pleas for bipartisan support.

“This recovery plan will save or create more than three million new jobs over the next few years,” the president said in a written statement released moments after the House voted.

The vote sent the bill to the Senate, where debate could begin as early as Monday on a companion measure already taking shape. Democratic leaders have pledged to have legislation ready for Obama’s signature by mid-February.

With unemployment at its highest level in a quarter-century, the banking industry wobbling despite the infusion of staggering sums of bailout money and states struggling with budget crises, Democrats said the legislation was desperately needed.

Republicans said the bill was short on tax cuts and contained too much spending, much of it wasteful, and would fall far short of administration’s predictions of job creation.

On the final vote, the legislation drew the support of all but 11 Democrats, while all Republicans opposed it.

The White House-backed legislation includes an estimated $544 billion in federal spending and $275 billion in tax cuts for individuals and businesses. The totals remained in flux nearly until the final vote, due to official re-estimates and a last-minute addition of $3 billion for mass transit.

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FDA allows first test of human stem cell therapy

January 23, 2009

Fri Jan 23, 2009 2:32pm EST
By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has cleared the way for the first trial to see if human embryonic stem cells can treat people safely, a company involved in the controversial research on Friday.

Geron Corp (GERN), a California biotechnology company, said it plans a clinical trial to try to use the stem cells to regrow nerve tissue in patients with crushed, but not severed, spinal cords.

The issue of human embryonic stem cell research has been a political touchstone, with anti-abortion forces backed by former president George W. Bush arguing the technique involves the destruction of human embryos. Advocates say it could transform medicine.

“For us, it marks the dawn of a new era in medical therapeutics. This approach is one that reaches beyond pills and scalpels to achieve a new level of healing,” Geron Chief Executive Dr. Thomas Okarma said in a telephone briefing.

Shares of Geron rose more than 53 percent to $8 in mid-morning trading on Nasdaq after touching $8.38.

Geron will recruit eight to 10 recently injured patients and inject them with small numbers of human embryonic stem cells manipulated to become the oligodendrocyte cells that insulate nerves, and that produce compounds to stimulate the growth of nerve cells.

Okarma said there was no political significance to the announcement coming the same week as President Barack Obama took office. Obama has been widely expected to lift restrictions on federal funding and support of human embryonic stem cell research.

An FDA spokeswoman said, “Before FDA allowed the study to proceed, Geron worked with FDA to address important scientific questions.”

CHEAP AND EASY

Okarma said the treatment should eventually become cheap and easy to mass produce because the cells can be grown in vats. He believes the cells may be useful for other diseases such as multiple sclerosis, in which nerve cells are stripped of their insulating sheaths, and perhaps strokes.

Financial analysts celebrated. Stephen Brozak and Daniel Mallin of WBB Securities LLC said it could “as important to drug therapy as the discovery of … penicillin.”

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Obama aide promotes job plan, warns automakers

November 24, 2008

Monday November 24, 12:16 am ET
By Jim Kuhnhenn, Associated Press Writers

Obama adviser promotes economic aid plan, seeks swift congressional action; automakers warned

WASHINGTON (AP) — President-elect Barack Obama signaled Sunday he will move urgently and aggressively to rescue the plunging economy, demanding swift passage by Congress of a massive two-year spending and tax-cutting recovery program. “We’re out with the dithering, we’re in with a bang,” a top Obama aide said.

Obama’s plans, outlined by his transition team on television talk shows, could put aside his campaign pledge to repeal a Bush tax cut for the wealthy. With the downturn in the economy, those tax cuts may remain in place until they are scheduled to die in 2011, said William M. Daley, an economic adviser. “That looks more likely than not,” he said.

Obama aides called on lawmakers to pass, by the Jan. 20 inauguration, legislation that meets Obama’s two-year goal of saving or creating 2.5 million jobs. Democratic congressional leaders said they would get to work when Congress convenes Jan. 6.

Though Obama aides declined to discuss a total cost, it probably would far exceed the $175 billion he proposed during the campaign. Some economists and lawmakers have argued for a two-year plan as large as $700 billion, equal to the Wall Street bailout Congress approved last month.

“I don’t know what the exact number is, but it’s going to be a big number. It has to be,” said Obama economic adviser Austan Goolsbee.

With the wounded economy worsening, the Obama team’s new assertiveness was a recognition he needed to soothe financial markets with signs of leadership. It also foreshadowed a more hands-on role by Obama to influence congressional action during the final weeks of the transition.

Obama will introduce his economic team on Monday, including Timothy Geithner as treasury secretary and Lawrence Summers as head of the National Economic Council. Obama also has settled on New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson as his commerce secretary.

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Preferred shares find favor

November 9, 2008

ETF portfolios offer tempting yields after sell-off, but risks abound

By John Spence, MarketWatch
Last update: 12:29 p.m. EST Nov. 9, 2008

BOSTON (MarketWatch) — Preferred stocks took a big hit in September and October as the credit crunch and bank failures sent investors for the exits, but the shares have been garnering interest as their yields approach double digits.

Preferred issues have also attracted attention because famed investor and Berkshire Hathaway chief executive Warren Buffett has been buying them. Moreover, governments around the world have taken equity stakes in troubled banks through preferred shares.

Although investors shouldn’t expect Buffett-like deals, they can invest in a basket of publicly traded preferred shares via exchange-traded funds.

Many investors like to think of preferred shares as a blend of stocks and bonds. Preferred stocks, which generally don’t carry voting rights, tend to pay higher dividends than the common shares. Preferred shareholders receive their dividends before common shareholders and also have certain advantages if a company liquidates.

There are many types of preferred shares, including cumulative, callable and convertible. The prices of preferred shares typically have had more volatility than bonds but jump around less than common stock.

Another reason investors are drawn to preferred shares is that the dividends, which are fixed, can be taxed at a lower rate than the income thrown off by bonds.

Liquidity crisis

Preferred shares tumbled hard in October; iShares S&P U.S. Preferred Stock Index Fund (PFF) , an ETF managed by Barclays Global Investors, is off about 30% year to date. It has a 30-day yield of 9.3% and charges management fees of 0.48%.

Invesco PowerShares Capital Management also oversees a pair of preferred-stock ETFs: PowerShares Preferred Portfolio (PGX) and PowerShares Financial Preferred Portfolio (PGF).

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