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moneyreport“Smart beta” has become A hot topic in the financial world. It has certainly captured the interest of investors, underwriters and brokers.

According to Morningstar, a quarter of all exchange-traded fund investments in the first 11 months of 2013, over $41 billion, went into funds using smart beta strategies.

So what exactly is “smart beta?” It’s a concept used rather broadly to describe alternate investment strategies, which, proponents claim, address the shortcomings of both traditional managed mutual funds, and unmanaged index fund investments. Not all smart beta strategies are alike, so here’s a brief overview.

moneyreportAfter a gut wrenching recession, and the collapse of a property bubble that had concentrat ed the small county’s wealth into a highly leveraged real estate sector, Ireland, theCeltic Tiger, was forced to ask for a bailout in 2012, as well as to adopt a painful EU mandat ed austerity budget.

However, there are signs of a turnaround; in 2013 the Irish stock market gained 35.2%, making it the fifth best performing market in the world (the U.S. was ninth.) While it’s still early days, there may be worthwhile opportunity for investors to consider as we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this month.

moneyreportIt’s important to check out the background of your broker or financial advisor, just like you would any profes sional. Unfortunately, there are a number of different regulatory agencies that oversee brokers, advisors and insurance agents, and it’s not always easy to be sure you’re going to the right place, or getting the relevant information. Here’s a short primer.

moneyreportf you were angling for the job of feature reporter for the “Mansions” section of the Wall Street Journal, you blew through your deadline; applications closed on Oct. 15. It’s a pretty good beat, reporting on the rich and famous, and where they live and play.

Since it only required three years of journalism experience, one would suppose the successful applicant would have already spent a great deal of time going in and out of these over-the-top luxury homes.

Our guilty fascination with the rich and their lifestyle of luxury is perfectly understandable.


moneyreportA Biotech stocks have been on a tear in 2013. Initial public offerings or IPOs, totaled $1.7 billion in the first half of the year, greater than in 2011 and 2012 combined. The Nasdaq Biotech Index, a measure of industry performance, is up over 42% year to date. According to Deutsche Bank, consensus for annual earnings growth in the biotech industry over the next 3 years is estimated at 21 percent, compared with 9 percent for the S&P 500. In 2012, the FDA approved 39 drug therapies, more than in any year since 1996.

moneyreportA few weeks ago Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRKB) announced a second-quarter profit increase of 46 percent, reflecting improvement in their core businesses of auto insurance, energy and railroads, as well as gains from investments and derivatives. We shouldn’t be surprised. Investors have long marveled at the success of Berkshire Hathaway in building value for its shareholders; their business portfolio includes General Re, Berkshire Reinsurance, Geico, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, Mid-America Energy, Union Tank Car, Clayton Homes (the country’s leading builder and financer of manufactured homes), CORT Furniture, and a slew of common stock investments in publicaly traded companies. Berkshire owns 13.7 percent of American Express, 8.9 percent of Coca Cola, 8.7 percent of Wells Fargo and 6 percent of IBM, to list just a few. They have also acquired 28 daily newspapers across the United States, pursuing Buffett’s strategy of investing in these businesses for their ability to deliver local news not obtainable elsewhere.

moneyreportIn 1919 Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., the noted Supreme Court Justice, wrote in a seminal case regarding the freedom of expression under the Constitution, “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.”

While Holmes reconsidered his opinion in later years, with these words he articulated a canon of public morals; that there is nothing protected and no inherent right to speak falsely or maliciously, causing a public panic or disarray.

moneyreportThe big cruise lines have seen some rough water in recent months.

Despite an admirable safety record, and extremely high ratings by consumers in terms of vacation value for dollar spent, the well documented troubles on the Carnival Triumph this year, and more recently, a fire on Royal Caribbean Grandeur of the Seas, have brought about unwelcome and negative media focus. The images we saw of passengers sleeping on bare mattresses, in hot muddy ship corridors, without bathrooms or food, easily the vacation nightmare of a lifetime, will take a while to fade away, and have kept many potential guests and investors on shore. In addition, a weak European economy has cut into sales, in a market that represents over 21% of cruise destinations. However, over the long- term neither investors nor passengers may be put off.

moneyreportDespite the current uncertainty about the future of Social Security, it remains, along with pensions and investments, an essential component of retirement income for men and women, married, single or divorced. Understanding Social Security rules, in order to work through complex choices about how and when to take benefits, can seem daunting. Many of these decisions have a lifetime impact, and cannot be undone. These can be even more critical given the financial uncertainty resulting from divorce.

moneyreportQE, or quantitative easing, is the controversial monetary policy that some have credited for helping us survive the economic meltdown. Others, however, blame QE for running up our debt to unsustainable levels and making damaging inflation a near certainty. It has been stopped and restarted a number of times, has been subjected to much debate within both the Fed and in Congress, and is now in its third (some say fourth) iteration. Here is a brief primer on this much debated strategy.