Friday, January 27, 2012

The Worst Health-Care Stocks of 2012

The following video is part of our "Motley Fool Conversations" series, in which David Williamson, health-care editor and analyst, and Brendan Byrnes, industrials editor and analyst, discuss topics around the investing world.
In today's edition, David and Brendan discuss some of the worst health-care stocks of 2011. These stocks fit relatively neatly into three categories: failure to launch, trial troubles, and home health-care scare. This video focuses on failure to launch -- i.e., companies whose drug candidates made it through the rigorous approval process only to be met with a lukewarm (or downright cold) commercial reception. They also discuss which of the downtrodden stocks are likely to get sales rolling in 2012.

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

When to put your cash back into the market

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- I have a substantial amount of cash I want to move into stock and bond mutual funds I already own. I'm aware of the concept of dollar-cost averaging, but I'm afraid that as soon as I move the money it will decline in value and take years to recover. My question is not about what to invest in, but how to make those investments timing wise. -- Robert P.
Dollar-cost averaging and timing aren't the central issues here. They're sideshows.
The real question is: Does the mix of stock and bond mutual funds you already own truly represent the balance of risk versus reward you're comfortable with as an investor?
If it is, then you should immediately invest the cash along the same lines your current investments are allocated. So if you decided that a portfolio of 60% stocks and 40% bonds is the right investment mix for your time horizon, then you should put 60% of the new cash into stock funds and 40% into your bond funds.
But if you're not okay with your current asset mix, then you need to change it to one that's appropriate -- and then immediately invest your new money in the same proportions.
I realize this isn't the standard advice you would get from many, if not most, personal finance journalists, advisers, talking heads on cable TV business shows and much of the blogosphere. The conventional answer would be to tout the supposed benefits of dollar-cost averaging and talk about the way it reduces risk or boosts returns or performs all sorts of wonderful magic.
But all of that is nonsense. Dollar-cost averaging is a clunky, inefficient way of investing. It's just been mindlessly repeated so many times that it's become dogma, which, as the late Nobel laureate Paul Samuelson once told me, is "a truth so truthful that we dare not question it."
But if you step back a moment and look at your situation from a slightly different vantage point, I think you'll see what I'm getting at.
While your fear of losing your money as soon ! as you i nvest it is understandable, you need to remember that you're already vulnerable to market declines. It's a natural consequence of investing. If the market tanks, the money you already have in stock and bond mutual funds will take a hit.
But you don't guard against that possibility by pulling your money out of your funds every time you're worried about a setback and then re-investing it when you feel better about the market. That's a recipe for selling low and buying high.
No, you protect against the risk of market setbacks by practicing asset allocation -- that is, you put together a mix of stock and bond funds that can generate decent long-term returns while keeping the downside to a level you can tolerate.
So what makes you think you should you do anything different with this new cash you're looking to invest? You shouldn't.
As for the oft-recommended strategy of dollar-cost averaging, or gradually moving your cash into your portfolio, say, by dividing it into twelve pieces and investing one piece each month, all you're really doing is taking a year to get to the asset mix you've decided is right for you. In short, you're undermining the investment strategy you've set.
So here's what I recommend instead.
Start by going over your current mix of funds and make sure that it truly reflects your tolerance for risk. The fact that you're so concerned about investing this new money makes me wonder whether you're investing more aggressively than you should.
I'm not suggesting that you huddle down in money-market accounts, bond funds or anything like that. But the key to investing is assuring that you're comfortable with your overall portfolio.

Fix your asset allocation

There are a couple of tools that can help with that assessment. If you go to Morningstar's Asset Allocator tool, for example, you can re-create your current portfolio and see how your investments might grow over different periods of time and get a sense of what kind of short-term setbacks! you mig ht suffer along the way. You can then try different mixes of stocks and bonds to see how they might perform.
You might also want to take a look at Fidelity's Portfolio Review tool. After choosing a goal and plugging in some info about your investments, you'll get a pie chart showing how you're currently invested, along with some stats showing the best and worst one-year return for that that mix as well as its average performance over the past 85 years. You can then use the slider to create more conservative and aggressive portfolios and see how they performed.
Once you're comfortable with the make-up of your portfolio, you can turn your attention to the cash you want to invest. And there the solution is simple: take the cues from the portfolio you've decided is right for you. No timing, no dollar-cost averaging. Just invest the cash into your existing funds in the same proportions they represent of your overall portfolio.

Ask the Help Desk your money questions

Following my recommendation doesn't mean the value of your investments won't decline if the market falls apart. But short of getting out of the market altogether (which then leaves you guessing about when to get back in) there's no way of avoiding that.
But going through the process I've outlined gives you your best chance of investing all your money, new and old, in a way that has a decent shot at getting the returns you want, while keeping risk at a level you can handle.

Amgen, Watson Strike $400M Deal for Biosimilar Cancer Drugs

Amgen? (Nasdaq: AMGN  ) has spent years defending itself from enemies in the generic drug business, but now the world's largest biotech company has found a way to join forces with a major maker of copycat pharmaceuticals.
Thousand Oaks, CA-based Amgen, which has R&D operations in Seattle, San Francisco, and Boston, said today it has agreed to collaborate with Parsippany, NJ-based Watson Pharmaceuticals (NYSE: WPI  ) to develop and sell targeted antibody drugs for cancer that are "biosimilar" knock-offs of the originals. Watson has agreed to pump as much as $400 million into developing the molecules, while Amgen will contribute its specialized expertise and infrastructure for producing these complex protein drugs that are made in living cells.
The companies didn't say in today's joint statement which cancer antibody drugs they will attempt to make as biosimilars. But the companies did say that the partnership will not make lower-cost versions of Amgen's billion-dollar biotech drugs like etanercept (Enbrel) or epoetin alfa and darbepoetin alfa (Epogen and Aranesp). The biosimilar drugs will be sold under a joint Amgen/Watson label, and Watson will receive royalties and sales milestones from product revenues.
Major biotech companies, like Amgen and Genentech, have argued for years that biologic drugs like theirs can't be copied in the same straightforward manner as conventional small-molecule chemical compounds like those made by traditional drug companies like Pfizer and Merck. Since biotech drugs are incubated inside living cells that are maintained in carefully controlled bioreactors, much of what makes the product unique is the trade-secret protected manufacturing process that isn't part of the patent that covers the molecule itself. Tiny alterations to this process can lead to fundamental changes in the product itself, which the big ! companie s have argued requires new clinical trials for "biosimilar" products.
Generic companies have countered that new clinical trials would add too much time and expense to the development process, making it impossible for their biosimiliar products to be offered as cheaply and easily as a new generic version of, say, Pfizer's atorvastatin (Lipitor). The new business model hasn't really been established yet in the U.S., but other major drug companies, including Merck, have shown interest in biosimilar drugs that presumably would be cheaper than brand-name originals, but more expensive, and more profitable, than conventional generic pills. More recently, Biogen Idec and Samsung have agreed to collaborate on making biosimilar drugs.
"This collaboration reflects the shared belief that the development and commercialization of biosimilar products will not follow a pure brand or generic model, and will require significant expertise, infrastructure, and investment to ensure safe, reliably supplied therapies for patients," Amgen and Watson said in their joint statement.
Watson is holding a live webcast to discuss the collaboration today at 5 p.m. Eastern/2 p.m. Pacific.
More from
  • Merck Fine-Tunes Biosimilars Strategy as FDA Guidelines Loom
  • Itero, Seeking a "Biosimilar" That's Better, Strikes Deal With Watson for Female Infertility
  • Amgen's Dmab Cuts Fracture Risk for Osteoporosis Patients, Just What Investors Wanted to See

The Defeat of the "Shadow Shogun" Means it's Time to Buy Japanese Stocks

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan's narrow Tuesday victory over Ichiro Ozawa for the leadership of the Democratic Party of Japan wouldn't normally get investor pulses racing - after all Japan has had five prime ministers in four years.

However, the Bank of Japan's heavy intervention in the currency markets this week confirmed my view that this political twitch was really very different.

The upshot: As investors, we should pay attention ... and should look to increase our allocation to Japanese stocks.

Big Spenders No More

Ozawa, known as the "Shadow Shogun," was originally a powerful politician in the Liberal Democratic Party that dominated Japanese politics for 55 years. He split with the LDP in 1993, reformed the opposition and became the power behind the DPJ. He served as the DPJ's secretary general from 2006 to 2009, although he was forced by scandal to resign before its election victory in September 2009.

The reason we should pay attention is that Ozawa's defeat may end the dominance of the big-spending interests in Japanese politics and allow Kan to get down to the hard work of correcting Japan's deficit and debt problem. This will take several years, but even in the short term may result in faster growth for the Japanese economy and - interesting to us as investors - the final end of the 20-year bear market in Japanese stocks.

You see, Ozawa earned his "Shadow Shogun" nickname for his arm-twisting, backroom deals. He used his power to promote Japanese infrastructure spending, forming alliances with the big construction companies that funded his own political career, as well as the careers of those around him.

This "cash splash" philosophy has been a big problem for the Japanese budget and its growing debt. Ever since Japan's stock-and-real-estate bubble burst in 1990, leader after leader has attempted to prop up the economy with major infrastructure spending.

The only excep! tion was the short (2001-2006) stretch under then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, when the spending flow was cut back and some attempt was made to balance the budget.

Alas, this budgetary enlightenment wasn't to last.

When the global financial crisis struck in 2008, Japan - like other countries - resorted to repeated "stimulus" initiatives, which is finance-speak for infrastructure spending. The result has been an inexorable climb in Japan's debt load, which this year reached 217% of gross domestic product (GDP).

At that level, something has to give. Only twice in world history - Britain after 1815 and again after 1945 - has a country with a higher debt level managed to bring it down without default.

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), public-debt levels that reach or exceed 90% of GDP become highly problematic. And a recent research study - conducted by economists Kenneth S. Rogoff of Harvard and Carmen M. Reinhart of the University of Maryland - found that for countries with debt-to-GDP ratios "above 90%, median growth rates fall by 1%, and average growth falls considerably more."

The Wrath of Kan

Kan, who took office in June, realized that policies had to change, but was damaged by DPJ losses in July's upper house elections. And when he refused to resort to the same sort of backroom wheeling-and-dealing that had been the hallmark of "Shadow Shogun" politics, Ozawa challenged him for the party's leadership.

The Tuesday (Sept. 14) election was the showdown between Ozawa and Kan.

Having seen off Ozawa, Kan should now have a reasonable run of power in which he can take steps to repair Japan's economy. And it's pretty clear what those steps need to be.

Public spending needs to be cut back, so that the budget can be reduced, preferably without large increases in taxes. At the same time, the danger of deflation - made worse by a steadily rising yen (which reduces Japanese exports by making them more expensive, even as it re! duces th e prices of imports) - must be fought off.

The Bank of Japan (BOJ), following Kan's instructions, achieved progress on this front on Wednesday (Sept. 15): It intervened heavily in the foreign-exchange market, first in Tokyo, and then - when it opened - in New York.

One estimate puts the BOJ's first-day intervention at $11.6 billion. The intervention pushed the Japanese yen down by more than 3% against the U.S. dollar. That will help Japanese exporters - and at the same time will limit deflationary forces in Japan's domestic economy.

All of that, in turn, should give Kan some room for budget cuts.

The Tokyo stock market reacted favorably, rising more than 2% on the news of intervention. By Japanese standards, it's currently very cheap, at less than 25% of its 1990 value and it remains near the bottom of its trading range since 2000. It has bounced little since its bottom last year, unlike other global markets.

Thus, Japan's stock market currently appears to have better rebound prospects than many other markets around the world. So if you haven't got any money in Japanese stocks, you should probably boost your allocation.

Let me be clear: Even with this week's developments, Japan isn't destined to become the world's next white-hot market; given what transpired this week, I'd say my rating has shifted from 5.0 out of 10 to about 7.5 or 8.0.

Besides, Japan is still the world's third-largest economy, and its prospects seem likely to improve. And let's not forget, it is an export powerhouse in the fastest-growing region in the world - Asia.

Action to Take: Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan's victory over Ichiro "The Shadow Shogun" Ozawa for the leadership of the Democratic Party of Japan this week was worthy of note all by itself. But you throw in the Bank of Japan's dramatic intervention in the world currency markets and Japan is a market U.S. investors can no longer afford to! ignore. Japan's stock market currently appears to have better rebound prospects than many other markets around the world. So if you haven't got any money in Japanese stocks, you should probably boost your allocation.

For a general exposure to Japan, you should go for its exchange-traded fund (ETF), the iShares MSCI Japan Index (NYSE: EWJ). The fund has $4.5 billion in assets, so it's certainly large enough for ample liquidity, while its expense ratio is low at only 0.55% of assets. Trading at 15 times earnings, the fund is reasonably priced. Plus, it's got a 1.6% dividend yield.

Of the big exporters, I most like Honda Motor Co. Ltd. (NYSE ADR: HMC). It's trading on only 9.9 times trailing earnings, or only 17% above book value, and it hasn't had to deal with the scandalous product-quality problems that have dragged down rival Toyota Motor Corp. (NYSE ADR: TM) in the U.S. market. With the revival of global automobile markets in full swing, and its orientation towards fuel-efficient models, Honda is well placed to take advantage of the increasing wealth of East Asia.

Japanese banks are a real bargain. Mizuho Financial Group Inc. (NYSE ADR: MFG), for example trades at only 60% of its net asset value (NAV) and at only 5.5 times earnings - a far lower rating than its U.S. or European peers. With the Japanese economy expanding in a healthy manner, and its domestic real estate problems far in the past, Mizuho looks like an excellent value, and the market is likely to realize this soon.

Finally, Japan's small-company sector will likely benefit greatly from an economic revival. To benefit, investors should consider the Fidelity Japan Small Companies Fund (FJSCX). This well-established, no-load mutual fund concentrates on Japan's smaller companies, which are often difficult for U.S. investors to invest in directly. As foreign funds go, its expense ratio of 1.1% is quite reasonable.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Amazon's 2011: A Blueprint for the Next Decade of Growth

The following video is part of our "Motley Fool Conversations" series, in which Eric Bleeker, senior technology analyst, discusses topics around the investing world.
In this edition, Eric continues his review of how major tech companies performed in 2011. One company that had no shortage of storylines across the year was, which not only continued seeing strong growth and expansion of its e-commerce strength and cloud-computing momentum, but also took the wraps off its foray into the tablet market: the Kindle Fire.
What's interesting about Amazon is that the company saw earnings falling throughout 2011 despite huge sales increases. That's in large part because the company has been willing to aggressively price its Kindle e-readers and later Kindle Fire tablet to establish itself as a digital leader in addition to the leading online storefront. With Amazon now moving a million Kindles a week and reports of Amazon's production of Kindle Fires approaching 5 million units in the final quarter of 2011, that strategy looks to pay off, but not in a timeframe that might satisfy short-sighted investors on Wall Street.
Ultimately, 2011 looks to be the year where the blueprint for the next decade of Amazon's growth was laid out. It'll be:
  • A hybrid of Wal-Mart, a dominant retailer, but online ��
  • Costco, through continuing tie-ins to Amazon Prime, which provides a recurring annual revenue stream ��
  • And Apple: Through offering hardware that's vertically integrated with closed-in software.

Note that in the video, the Amazon shipment rate for Kindles as a whole device class is 1 million per week.
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Monday, January 23, 2012

Same-sex spouses lose big on taxes

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Same-sex spouses are paying as much as $6,000 a year in extra taxes because the federal government doesn't recognize gay marriage, according to an analysis conducted for CNNMoney by tax specialists.
While marriage provides tax benefits for many heterosexual couples, same-sex families don't enjoy the same perks because they are not allowed to file their federal returns jointly.
The imbalance persists despite increasing acceptance of gay marriage as a legal right. More than 12 states now grant full or partial marriage rights to same-sex couples, and a recent Gallup poll showed -- for the first time -- that a majority of Americans favor gay marriage.
But not the federal government, which is constrained by the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. Even as more same-sex couples are able to file jointly at the state level, they are still forced to file as single when submitting federal returns to the IRS.
This means they can't combine their income and deductions to take advantage of lower tax rates. It's also harder for them to qualify for certain tax breaks because the credits phase out sooner for single filers.

State tax changes on the way in 2012

"It's costing these families thousands of dollars a year, as well as the emotional pain and suffering," said Ken Weissenberg, a partner at accounting firm EisnerAmper who is in a same-sex marriage himself.
Why gay couples pay more: To zero in on the tax bill gap between same-sex families across the country, CNNMoney asked H&R Block to crunch number comparing same-sex and heterosexual families according to a variety of scenarios. (Check out H&R Block's methodology)
One scenario involved families with one spouse earning $100,000 and the other spouse staying at home with the family's two kids.
In the same-sex family's case, the working spouse files as "head of household," and the stay-at-home spouse is considered a "qualifying relative."
Say ! that cou ple reported no other income or deductions. In that case, the same-sex household's federal tax bill is $15,199, which includes tax the head of household must pay on health insurance premiums to cover the stay-at-home spouse. That's $4,543 higher than the straight couple's liability.
Why? Because the "head of household" designation comes with some disadvantages.
Filing as "head of household" instead of "married filing jointly" exposes more income to a higher tax bracket. Plus, standard deductions, which are given based on the filing status to taxpayers who don't itemize deductions, are lower for a head of household than they are for married couples filing jointly.
And then there are the kids. When a child tax credit is claimed, the gap between same-sex households and married couples can grow even wider.
The heterosexual couple in H&R Block's example is able to claim the full $1,000 child tax credit for each kid. But the credit phases out sooner for families claiming "head of household." So in this case, the cost of being unable to file jointly comes out to $6,043 for same-sex households.
The one exception where same-sex spouses can actually come out ahead is the so-called marriage penalty. For some same-sex spouses in the higher tax brackets who work and have no children, filing tax returns using the "single" status makes the liability a little lower than that of heterosexual married couples. Still, "single" status is typically less advantageous than "married filing jointly."

They tried to deduct what?!

Other factors driving up the bill: It's not just income taxes that are costing same-sex couples more.
Many same-sex spouses don't qualify for the same marital exemptions given to other families for inheritance taxes and gift taxes. In addition, same-sex households receive lower tax exclusions for capital gains on the sales of a home (unless the home is jointly owned and each! spouse qualifies for the exclusion).
All of this is not only costing same-sex couples more, but it's a paperwork and compliance nightmare.
Same-sex families who live in states where gay marriage is recognized typically have to fill out up to four separate returns -- including mock federal returns -- to cover both their state and federal taxes. Plus, hiring a tax preparer to take on these more complicated returns tends to be significantly more expensive.
"But it shouldn't stop anyone from getting married," said Weissenberg, who says he pays an extra $5,000 in taxes per year simply because he is in a same-sex marriage. "If I had to pay twice as much in taxes to be married to my husband, I would."