By Malcolm Berko September 14, 2014 6 a.m.
Dear Mr. Berko: Several weeks ago, your email advice to our 32-year-old college-educated son about Social Security was distressing and frightening, and went overboard with negativity. It illustrated your lack of faith in the American system. A member of Congress who is a friend we've known for 17 years says you're "wrongheaded and an alarmist." He said your "sky-is-falling" half-truths sell your books and earn well-paid guest spots on TV and radio talk shows. Mr. Berko, when an inexperienced, impressionably young professional such as our boy writes for advice about his family's future and retirement, please understand that he is very likely to take you literally. Your advice to him was unnecessarily alarming.
By Malcolm Berko September 13, 2014 6 a.m.
Dear Mr. Berko: I have $10,000 to invest for a two- to three-year time frame and want to invest aggressively in a biotechnology issue and an information technology issue. Our Ameriprise broker has carefully researched and recommended three IT stocks — Nimble Storage, Cornerstone OnDemand and GT Advanced Technologies — and three biotech stocks: Agios Pharmaceuticals, NPS Pharmaceuticals and Synageva BioPharma. He has sent us the latest reports on each, as well as the names of mutual funds that own them and how many shares they own. To reduce my risks, would you help me select the best of the three IT stocks and the best of the three biotech stocks?
By Malcolm Berko September 7, 2014 6 a.m.
Dear Mr. Berko: My wife and I each have a 401(k) plan and a joint account. Her brother-in-law, a certified financial planner, gives us financial advice and wants us to go to 75 percent cash. He and other well-known experts are certain the market is going to have another Black Monday crash next year, which would kill our accounts. He's very convincing. But Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, the Federal Reserve and other prominent analysts say they see steady, slow but strong growth ahead. After what the economy has been through, I can believe it could crash again. But at ages 49 and 47, we're scared of a crash, because we won't see it coming. What investment advice can you give us? Do you think we will have another crash?
By Malcolm Berko September 6, 2014 6 a.m.
Dear Mr. Berko: I bought 1,000 shares of Kinder Morgan Energy Partners on your recommendation this April at $76 because of regular dividend increases and because I would get $5,560 in income, which is a 7.3 percent yield, and it would be tax-free. Now the stock is $97 because it's merging with three of Richard Kinder's other companies, and my new stock, Kinder Morgan, or KMI, will only pay me $4,400, which is a lot less. What am I missing here? Have I been screwed?
By Malcolm Berko August 31, 2014 6 a.m.
Dear Mr. Berko: I have a large certificate of deposit coming due next month, which I could renew at less than 1 percent. When I told the banker that I'd like a higher rate of return, I was introduced to a specialist who aggressively tried to sell an equity-indexed annuity. He said that it guarantees 5 percent income and that I could never lose a penny. I am 73 and have Social Security and a fair pension, but an extra 4 percent a year would be very welcome on that $250,000 CD. Please look at this annuity enclosure and tell me what you think. The banker spent a good hour explaining the annuity's advantages. And I don't want to be in the stock market, because I am afraid it will fall. I just have a mutual fund in my retirement account and 476 shares of Johnson & Johnson. I own Johnson & Johnson stock because I worked for the company for 28 years before retiring in 2002.
By Malcolm Berko August 30, 2014 6 a.m.
Dear Mr. Berko: After three years, we had to dismiss our legal counsel, though we parted on excellent terms. I know you are familiar with our case because that firm unsuccessfully offered you a retainer and ongoing fee to advise it. We have narrowed our choice between two law firms in Chicago, and we are asking whether you are familiar enough with their special expertise to give us a recommendation. How does one make a choice in selecting representation between law firm No. 1 and law firm No. 2, which seem equally competent and competitive in costs? This is very important to us, and we hope you can give us your recommendation.
By Malcolm Berko August 24, 2014 6 a.m.
Dear Mr. Berko: My broker wants me to sell my 600 shares of Merck because he believes that the company will be sued by people who have consumed beef cattle that were fed with Merck's Zilmax. The literature says this drug produces bad side effects on cattle, and it could produce dangerous thalidomide-like effects on people who eat meat tainted with this drug. He says this suit could crash the stock. He wants me to buy 20,000 shares of Zogenix with the money from the sale of Merck. Zogenix is a small specialty drug company. His research department believes that it has a sensational narcotic that is a new formulation of hydrocodone. He says that this pain drug will "enormously boost" sales and profits and that the stock should increase in price to $6 or $7 a share in the next six months. He also says that Zogenix's research department is partnering with a big drug company on a "special research project" and that this big drug company may make an offer and buy all the shares of Zogenix at $9 to $11 a share. He would charge us only $1,375 to sell 600 Merck shares and buy 20,000 Zogenix shares. Does this sound good to you?
By Malcolm Berko August 23, 2014 6 a.m.
Dear Mr. Berko: I have a carefully selected growth portfolio, about 16 percent of which is invested in Internet-related and broadband issues. Please tell me what effect this new tax on Internet and broadband usage will have on their values. I'm especially concerned about my shares of Google and Yahoo.
By Malcolm Berko August 17, 2014 6 a.m.
Dear Mr. Berko: I am 43 and had worked for 16 years for the same company. I lost my job in January 2010, because the company automated its production and moved jobs overseas to reduce labor costs. I was making more than $92,000 annually in my last five years, and our union negotiated a good severance package. It took me more than three years to find a new job, and it pays about half what the old job did. We've been going deeper in debt every month after paying our bills. And debt collectors' daily phone calls are constantly harassing me and my family.
By Malcolm Berko August 16, 2014 6 a.m.
Dear Mr. Berko: I have been reading your column for over 20 years and often wonder why you never mention BlackRock. I have 70 shares at a good profit and would consider selling 20 shares and buying 200 shares of W.P. Carey. Please give me your opinion on this.