Berko: Printer's new path could make it a sleeper

By Malcolm Berko October 19, 2014 6 a.m.

Dear Mr. Berko: In January 2013, I had a $2,050 cash balance in my individual retirement account from a preferred stock that was partially called away. So I bought 200 shares of RR Donnelley at $8.75 because I used to work for that company in Chicago when I was in high school in the 1960s, because I myself am in the printing business and because the stock paid a $1.04 dividend that yielded almost 12 percent. It has now doubled, and I am thinking of buying 300 shares for our joint account with the money from a $5,000 certificate of deposit that comes due next week. Now the stock pays a 6.9 percent yield. Would you advise this? Could it double again, and is the dividend safe?

Berko: Health care stocks look to be healthy

By Malcolm Berko October 18, 2014 6 a.m.

Dear Mr. Berko: All the advertisers in the financial media claim to be wizards but either lie or brag only about their successes. Then when you get suckered into their spiels, those stories turn into losses. I'm given up subscribing to stock market investment services, listening to glib financial talk show hosts, attending financial seminars and buying financial magazines that brag about how they always beat the Standard & Poor's averages. Everybody wants to sell a deal. But none of these liars is worth a darn except for one money manager — who won't take us back, because my wife was too forceful in objecting to the 1 percent fee he had been charging since 2009. Could you persuade this person, who knows you, to take us back? If not, I want you to recommend low-cost, high-growth, high-rated mutual funds in which to invest $700,000 for the next 12 years that I won't need to watch every week. Also, make sure that the mutual funds you recommend are all no-load mutuals.

Berko: Retirees double-damned on high-yield oil stocks

By Malcolm Berko October 12, 2014 6 a.m.

Dear Mr. Berko: Like many retirees, we need to increase our income, which for years came from 4 and 5 percent yields on our certificates of deposit. We're 75 and 78, and four years ago, we had $570,000 in CDs, paying us over $2,000 a month. But since 2011, we've had to invest in stocks I never heard of and take chances. For example, I bought Prospect Capital, which you recommended. I bought 900 shares at $10.61 in early July because it pays 13 percent and because you said the dividend is safe. I sure hope so. We have 11 other issues, four that you have recommended, yielding between 6 and 10 percent, but they make us nervous.

Berko: GMED a solid performer

By Malcolm Berko October 11, 2014 6 a.m.

Dear Mr. Berko: My wife, who has had a bad back for 12 years, finally had back surgery. The doctor, who is a close friend, used a product made by a company called Globus Medical that he discovered several years ago. I won't bore you with the details, but in a nutshell, he says that the Globus implants are "engineered smarter" than the implants used in the past. He owns the stock and said it's a small company that he thinks will grow more quickly than its competition. I would like to buy 1,000 shares, and I can afford the risk, which is a question I know you would ask. So what can you tell me about Globus, and would you recommend it?

Berko: Victims of Ponzi schemes can write to judge

By Malcolm Berko October 5, 2014 6 a.m.

Dear Mr. Berko: Almost 10 years ago, my folks invested $145,000 in a high-yield certificate of deposit offered by Allen Stanford and lost it all. My dad was so upset that he had a nervous breakdown over this loss. How is it possible that frauds such as Stanford and Bernard Madoff could get away with their illegal activities for so long and not get caught until lots of trusting people like my dad got hurt very badly? The reason for this writing is that our home and auto insurance agent told me that a government agency called Financial Underwriters Regulatory Corp. may be partially reimbursing investors for their CD losses. Can you tell me and my dad what to do from here? And isn't the government supposed to prevent scams such as this?

Berko: Many can't afford to go to SeaWorld

By Malcolm Berko October 4, 2014 6 a.m.

Dear Mr. Berko: SeaWorld's stock crashed from $30 to $20 in one day because of lower revenues and earnings. My broker thinks this is a good buying opportunity. He believes that the decline in revenues is because of lower attendance caused by the media's negative headlines about SeaWorld's mistreatment of its killer whales. He recommends that I buy 1,000 shares and thinks the stock will be back to $30 in just a few months' time. What do you think? My broker has also recommended that I buy 1,000 shares of Linn Energy on margin. He says that using the margin leverage, with which I have to put up only half the share price, would increase my current return on Linn from 9.3 percent to 17 percent. Could you explain to me how this works?

Berko: Hold on to do-nothing DuPont stock 1 more year

By Malcolm Berko September 28, 2014 6 a.m.

Dear Mr. Berko: In 1996, my father passed away, and one of the three stocks I inherited was E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. At that time, my 110 shares were selling between $70 and $90. I also got two Fidelity mutual funds, which have done well, but DuPont stock does nothing. What's wrong with this company? I know it's in chemicals, but I never see the name on any products. What does it make? I am now 66 and need help on what to do with this stock. Should I sell it and put the money in the two Fidelity mutual funds?

Berko: Lower dividend yield but a better stock

By Malcolm Berko September 27, 2014 6 a.m.

Dear Mr. Berko: I'm considering the purchase of 500 shares of TECO Energy because I'm attracted to its 5 percent payout and its potential growth in prosperous Florida. But my broker tells me that United Technologies, which pays only 2 percent, is a better buy for appreciation and dividend increases, and he thinks I should buy that instead. Which would you select for a conservative long-term investor?

Berko: When market gives lemons, make vodka lemonade

By Malcolm Berko September 21, 2014 6 a.m.

Dear Mr. Berko: In early March 2012, I asked you about a maturing $30,000 certificate of deposit in my individual retirement account. I was thinking about putting it in a 10-year Treasury bond yielding 3.125 percent. You said "absolutely not" because the dollar would fall, inflation would rise and interest rates would increase. So I kept that $30,000 in my IRA and missed out on two years of 3.125 percent interest.

Berko: Keep Boeing, buy also buy Dollar Tree

By Malcolm Berko September 20, 2014 6 a.m.

Dear Mr. Berko: My broker is excitingly enthusiastic about Dollar Tree because of its pending merger with Family Dollar Stores. He thinks the shares could trade at more than $100 in two years. He wants me to sell my Boeing and Wal-Mart to buy 400 shares of Dollar Tree. Please give me your opinion on this stock.

Berko: Making payments for retirement is the smart move

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.

Berko: Don't play the game of musical fools

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?

Berko: Markets rise, fall; have discipline for the long term?

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?

Berko: Kinder not kinder to investors

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?

Berko: Annuity salesman failed to point out bundle of fees

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.

Berko: All things equal, opt for humans

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.

Berko: Don't listen to awful broker, keep Merck shares

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?

Berko: Internet taxes could take big bite

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.

Berko: Bankruptcy often only recourse for suffocating debt

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.

Berko: BlackRock and W.P. Carey

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.

Berko: Take dad's advice and buy more of Boeing's stock

By Malcolm Berko August 10, 2014 6 a.m.

Dear Mr. Berko: I'm considering the purchase of 500 shares of Boeing. I owned the stock in 2010 when it traded at $60 but sold it in April 2013 at $88 and took a nice profit, making a handsome 30 percent. Now I see Boeing at $136, and I'm kicking myself. I think I'd like to buy the stock again and would appreciate your thoughts. My 93-year-old aeronautical engineer father, who has accumulated enough frequent flier miles traveling on 707s and 747s to own one of Boeing's planes, believes the stock will run to $200 in his lifetime. Please advise me.

Berko: Sandwich stock not appetizing

By Malcolm Berko August 9, 2014 6 a.m.

Dear Mr. Berko: In October 2013, I bought 300 shares of a restaurant stock called Potbelly Sandwich Works at $31, as it was profiled on several of the TV financial news programs. What happened to this company? It's now $11.87. How could it have gone up so fast, and how did it go down even faster? What am I missing here? Please tell me whether I should buy more shares of Potbelly or sell and take a big loss. I think the company has a good product and a clever restaurant theme, and I have even eaten at two of its locations in Minneapolis. I would appreciate your quickest answer, please. How could I have made such a stupid mistake? Can this stock return to my purchase price?

Berko: Stay away from these stocks, maybe your broker, too

By Malcolm Berko August 3, 2014 6 a.m.

Dear Mr. Berko: We have been with our broker, who may be getting long in the tooth, since October 2008. Our original $525,000 investment, from which we take $1,200 a month, has grown to $557,000. Because we would like to take more money out of this account and not touch any of the principal, he wants us to buy the following three stocks: 7,000 shares of Atlantic Power at $3.70 per share because it pays 10 percent, 7,000 shares of Intersections at $4.60 per share, paying 18 percent, and 10,000 shares of China Nepstar Chain Drugstore, which pays 13 percent, at $2.43 per share. Please give us your thoughts on these income stocks.

Berko: Invest in BDCs but keep cash

By Malcolm Berko August 2, 2014 6 a.m.

Dear Mr. Berko: In my individual retirement account, I have 180 shares of Pfizer and 95 shares of Walgreen Co., and each is trying to merge with another company overseas to reduce taxes. My broker and I believe that moving to a foreign country to avoid U.S. taxes is anti-American. It creates a bigger tax burden on workers like me. This also bothers me because I worry about what would happen to their stock prices if they were to move out of the country. My broker thinks a foreign merger would cause the prices of those stocks to fall. He wants me to sell both stocks, in which I have good profits, and lock them in. I'm 62, and I just retired with $138,000 in my IRA, which includes $29,000 in cash. Because I need more income to supplement my Social Security and small pension, he wants to use the money from the sale of Pfizer and Walgreen Co. plus $15,000 of the cash to buy stock in four business development companies (list enclosed), paying an average of 10 percent. What do you think?

Berko: Keep Synovus and think about spending on cheapos

By Malcolm Berko July 27, 2014 6 a.m.

Dear Mr. Berko: I purchased 2,000 shares of Synovus Financial in January 2012 at $1.49 on your recommendation. I now have 287 shares at $24 and a nice profit ($3,908) after a 1-for-7 reverse split. Please tell me (my broker is a dolt) whether I should continue to hold the stock or take a profit. Could you also recommend a half-dozen stocks that are less than $10 and could run up as this one did?

Berko: No, don't sell your PSCE issue

By Malcolm Berko July 26, 2014 6 a.m.

Dear Mr. Berko: In June 2010, you advised me to buy 2,000 shares of Prospect Capital, which paid 13.3 percent, at $10.47 for "speculative income," and I did. Well, in the past four years, the stock hasn't done anything, and now the company is being sued by lawyers who claim that management has misstated its earnings. Is this true? I'm disappointed Prospect Capital hasn't done anything. I'm tired of holding the stock but thankful I have only a small loss. This is just a small portion of my portfolio, and now my broker thinks I should sell this issue. He recommends three business development companies (enclosed), which have a high payout and a better possibility of increasing in value. I'd like your thoughts on them and Prospect Capital.

Berko: Health care stocks won't make your portfolio sick

By Malcolm Berko July 20, 2014 6 a.m.

Dear Mr. Berko: I like your column because it also makes me laugh, but one big criticism I have is that you never follow up to advise people when to sell the stocks you recommend. I think the Securities and Exchange Commission or the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority should require this to be standard practice for all financial columnists because it would be helpful to lots of people.

Berko: Annuities can take you to the cleaners

By Malcolm Berko July 12, 2014 6 a.m.

Dear Mr. Berko: I’m considering putting $100,000 into an Allianz variable annuity. Please explain how the guaranteed minimum income benefit works. And please tell me which of the 30 mutual funds available in this High Five annuity I should invest in. I don’t want to be taken to the cleaners. Is this a good 10-year investment for someone who is 56?

Berko: Chicago Bridge & Iron an investment to build on

By Malcolm Berko July 6, 2014 6 a.m.

Dear Mr. Berko: In the summer of 2010, I bought 150 shares of Chicago Bridge & Iron Co. stock for less than $20 a share. I didn't know much about stocks or investing, but I am from Chicago and had to invest $3,000 for my individual retirement account, so I bought the stock, which is now $83. I still don't know much about the company, but my daughter, who is an engineer for a nonpublic infrastructure company, told me to buy 150 more shares in my joint account. Actually, I was thinking of selling the stock and buying AT&T and Verizon. Please advise me.

Berko: It's best to follow the wisdom of engineers

By Malcolm Berko July 5, 2014 6 a.m.

Dear Mr. Berko: This may be hard to believe, but my husband and I have a close friend who is an engineer and, for the past 21 years, has helped us build a portfolio that has averaged 11.2 percent annually since 1993. He won't accept any money for his advice because, he says, all the stocks he researches and recommends are the same issues he owns for himself.

Berko: Piketty is a charmer but his book is boring

By Malcolm Berko June 29, 2014 6 a.m.

Dear Mr. Berko: I'm a retired high-school English/psychology teacher who has always been fascinated with economics and the stock market. Would you please explain the economic philosophy of Thomas Piketty, which has been taking the print media (especially The Wall Street Journal) and popular broadcast news programs by storm? Even noted economist Paul Krugman, Ph.D. (whom I greatly admire) has endorsed Piketty's ideas. I've tried to read Piketty's "Capital in the Twenty-First Century," but it's too far above my knowledge level for me to understand. Though it's a boring read, I sense it's also important to understand.

Berko: Convertible bonds not a good bet

By Malcolm Berko June 28, 2014 6 a.m.

Dear Mr. Berko: Please tell me what a convertible bond is and why so few brokers recommend convertible bonds. I'd like to invest a portion of my portfolio in convertible bonds but don't know where to find research on these strange securities. What do you think of Value Line convertible research? Do you have any suggestions for me?

Berko: Tip reluctantly offered to invest $20,000 in TIPS

By Malcolm Berko June 22, 2014 6 a.m.

Dear Mr. Berko: I have a $40,000 certificate of deposit coming due next month, and my wife wants to put the money in Treasury bonds that guarantee 3.3 percent. Our brokerage accounts are about 35 percent bonds, 50 percent stocks and 15 percent cash. The bank won’t buy them for us, so I asked our local broker, who wants to charge us a $100 commission — though he would prefer that we put this money in Treasury inflation-protected securities instead of in fixed-income Treasury securities. I told him that the $100 commission was too high, and he got a little insulted but nicely told me that I could buy them directly through TreasuryDirect and avoid the costs. I tried, and so did my wife, but we can’t seem to negotiate the protocols. If I managed my dental practice as the government manages this site, I’d be flat broke in no time. We are not comfortable asking the broker to help us understand the site and hope you might have some suggestions for us.

Berko: Attraction to stock tough to figure out

By Malcolm Berko June 21, 2014 6 a.m.

Dear Mr. Berko: My broker has recommended 1,500 shares of Consolidated Communications for growth and income. As you know, it yields 7.6 percent and is in the telephone/communications industry, which is growing faster than the general economy. Also, what do you think about the Vanguard REIT fund for income and as an inflation hedge? My broker recommends I buy 500 shares.

Berko: Master limited pipeline partnerships worth a look

By Malcolm Berko June 15, 2014 6 a.m.

Dear Mr. Berko: I read your column on pipeline stock risks, and I wonder whether you're too partial to them.

Berko: Assessing pipeline stock risks

By Malcolm Berko June 14, 2014 6 a.m.

Dear Mr. Berko: My adviser wants me to sell Kinder Morgan, Buckeye Partners and Enterprise Products Partners, which I bought in 2008, because he thinks the pipeline stocks have too many risks. Please tell me what those risks are and whether I should follow my adviser’s advice.

Berko: The wisdom of long-term conservative investing

By Malcolm Berko June 8, 2014 6 a.m.

Dear Mr. Berko: I'm a 36-year-old professional who makes a fine living. I've paid off all personal debts, and I'm now ready to invest for the next 30 years.

Berko: Draw own conclusion on Oil Boom USA

By Malcolm Berko June 7, 2014 6 a.m.

Dear Mr. Berko: What can you tell me about Oil Boom USA? My brother is very excited about this oil partnership opportunity. He heard of it on Sirius XM Radio and wants me to invest with him in a full unit for $160,000. Would you?— R.S.

Berko: Now's not the time to invest in New York Times

By Malcolm Berko May 25, 2014 6 a.m.

Dear Mr. Berko: I used to own New York Times stock back in the early 1980s when it traded in the $80 price range. I bought 500 shares last year at $12 because I felt the stock was cheap and its business could recover and because I heard that it might be bought out at $28. Now I hear that there may be a buyer from Japan or Australia. Should I continue to hold the stock, or are those rumors dead?

Berko: Hometown broker not adept at honesty

By Malcolm Berko May 24, 2014 6 a.m.

Dear Mr. Berko: My wife and I are 74 and 72 and retired with an unmanaged 401(k) worth $380,000. We are thinking of moving our 401(k), which is currently invested in poorly performing Fidelity funds, to a hometown brokerage that is partnered with our hometown bank, which we trust and have dealt with for years.

Berko: High-frequency trading removes human element

By Malcolm Berko May 18, 2014 6 a.m.

Dear Mr. Berko: I am 86 years old and have been investing in the stock market since finishing graduate school in 1952 and taking my first job at Zenith, which manufactured radios and TV sets. Back in those days, the New York Stock Exchange only traded 2 million or 3 million shares a day. I have been reading about high-frequency trading and would like you to explain how it works. I have been reading you for almost 30 years and would like to know what you think about this. I wrote you once in 1989 and asked about Apple Inc., which you said "might be a good buy."— J.B., Moline, Ill.Dear J.B.: And I remember your Apple letter for two reasons: 1) Your question was the first time I was ever asked to give an opinion on Apple, and 2) you told me that you owned a working 66-year-old Zenith radio and a working black-and-white TV that you'd had for 51 years. They might have some collector's value.I wrote about high-frequency trading four or so years ago. The mobsters and banksters on Wall Street — Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Merrill Lynch, J.P. Morgan, UBS, the numerous hedge funds and the fraternity of hugely capitalized traders — are all memDear Mr. Berko: I am 86 years old and have been investing in the stock market since finishing graduate school in 1952 and taking my first job at Zenith, which manufactured radios and TV sets. Back in those days, the New York Stock Exchange only traded 2 million or 3 million shares a day. I have been reading about high-frequency trading and would like you to explain how it works. I have been reading you for almost 30 years and would like to know what you think about this. I wrote you once in 1989 and asked about Apple Inc., which you said “might be a good buy.” bers of this evil cabal and control about 93 percent (this is my educated guess) of the volume on the New York "Schlock" Exchange. These pirates are slick as ticks and trade hundreds and hundreds of millions of shares a day on a finger's snap. When you wrote me 25 years ago, the average number of executions on the NYSE was 105,000 trades, representing 160 million shares, with an average market value of about $4.8 trillion a day. Today the average number of daily trades exceeds 1 million, and the average daily volume is about 1.5 billion shares, with a daily market value of $32 trillion. That's a sevenfold increase, and those high-frequency traders are having glorious champagne picnics raking in the slush of cash.The Big Board makes it peachy easy for these daytime vampires to create seismic volatility that (for noneconomic reasons) changes market values and drains blood from our pension and retirement plan portfolios. High-frequency trading was responsible for the flash crash in May 2010, when the wild market plunged 1,000 points and breathlessly recovered a few minutes later. When vampire John Thain left his coffin at Goldman Sachs in late 2007 to mismanage the NYSE, he rushed to build a trading platform that would provide over 1 million quotes a second. He simultaneously built a data center encouraging high-frequency traders to link their computers to the NYSE system, providing microsecond access to execute thousands of trades a second for a gain of a few pennies a share. Thus, Goldman's computers could purchase 1 million shares of Kraft Foods Group at $56.10 and in a fraction of a second sell them at $56.18 and pocket $80,000 or buy 2 million shares of Southern Co. at $44.84 and sell them at $44.90, scarfing a profit of $120,000 in nanoseconds. And while Goldman is mining this gold, so are Merrill Lynch, J.P. Morgan, Oppenheimer, Paulson & Co. and most other hedgies.There are no human decisions or interactions in these trades. It's a mindless, mechanical operation using convoluted computer programs with sophisticated algorithms that identifies anomalies and patterns as it processes buy-and-sell transactions in microseconds. There is no human equation. There are no thought processes involved. There's just a machine that's as emotionless as a wall and impervious to all external stimuli. It's a man-made cancer that renders the best research useless, ignores net profit margins, laughs at price-earnings ratios and scorns balance sheets and income statements. High-frequency trading has cast a long shadow of distrust and disgust; it's segued into a craps game for high rollers, turning the NYSE into a semi-farce and three-ring circus. I think high-frequency trading is going to create some market earthquakes and cost investors hundreds of billions of dollars. Sadly, Mary Jo White, the Securities and Exchange Commission's inutile and confused boss, is out of her depth in a parking lot puddle.

Berko: Choose common stocks over annuities

By Malcolm Berko May 17, 2014 6 a.m.

Dear Mr. Berko: I’m 81 years old, and my wonderful wife of 58 years is 79. We have a solid portfolio of eight utility stocks, seven preferred stocks, three master limited partnerships and six real estate investment trusts, which is worth $316,000. We also have a $14,000 certificate of deposit coming due next week. Our broker is on vacation, so we spoke with another man in his office and asked him whether it would be better to buy 100 Johnson & Johnson shares or 200 GlaxoSmithKline shares. He told us he thought it would be better for us if we bought an index annuity because it would be safer and pay us at least 6 percent and we could never lose money. Please look at this attachment and give us your opinion.

Berko: Tenants will turn investment into smelly mistake

By Malcolm Berko May 11, 2014 6 a.m.

Managing a 600-unit rental apartment complex can be accomplished effectively and efficiently by a real estate management firm with a couple of trucks and a small crew taking tenant calls and walking the complex. But managing 600 rental homes in sprawling Cleveland is a horse of a different color.

Berko: Investing with slight risk would be worth it

By Malcolm Berko May 10, 2014 6 a.m.

Dear Mr. Berko: I'm 43 years old. My wife is 47. Both of us work at low-paying jobs. Together we make about $63,000 a year and take home $53,000.

An IPO of closed-end fund? Handle with care

By Malcolm Berko May 4, 2014 6 a.m.

Dear Mr. Berko: In May 2013, I bought 1,000 shares of First Trust Intermediate Duration Preferred & Income Fund at $25, which were supposed to pay me 15.2 cents a month, or a 7.3 percent annual yield. The symbol is FPF, and it now trades at $22, which means I’m down $3,000, and at the current rate, it will take me at least two years to make up my losses. Every time I buy a closed-end fund at the new issue price, I end up losing money because they always trade below the offering price in a couple of months. My broker assured me that FPF would not drop as others have, but nearly three months after my purchase date, the price of FPF had crashed to $20.30. It has recovered by $1.70 since then, but my question is this: Seeing as the yield is 8.3 percent at the current price, should I buy another 1,000 shares?

Malcolm Berko: To learn, visit many brokers

By Malcolm Berko May 3, 2014 6 a.m.

Dear Mr. Berko: I am 57, am single and made $62,000 last year as a civilian federal employee. Because of a bad marriage, I haven’t been able to contribute much to my retirement plan, which is worth $86,000. I am tired of the winters in Minnesota and hope to retire in Panama, Costa Rica or Baja California, where my limited funds could go a lot further.