What the experts say

Housing: A new way to invest; Born-again brokers; Postmortem passwords

Housing: A new way to invest

There’s now an “easy way” for investors to wager on the direction of the housing market, said Katie Benner in Fortune.com. MacroMarkets, an investment firm co-founded by Yale housing economist Robert Shiller, recently launched two investment vehicles—one bullish, one bearish—that track home prices in 10 major cities and trade on the New York Stock Exchange. The trusts don’t invest in actual securities. Rather, investors in each fund are essentially betting against investors in the other. The upshot: Homeowners who are worried that their property values will fall further can hedge with MacroShares Major Metro Housing Down, while renters can get in on the ground floor of an upturn with a stake in MacroShares Major Metro Housing Up.

Born-again brokers

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The brokerage industry’s main trade group has agreed to radically change how brokers do business, said Roya Wolverson in SmartMoney. A bill pending in Congress would require brokers to put clients’ interests first, rather than push products that pay the highest commission. In fact, commissions may be scrapped altogether, replaced instead by a fee structure similar to that used by many financial planners. Without the promise of an easy commission, brokers will need to focus more on developing long-term relationships with clients, says Matt Bienfang, a brokerage analyst for TowerGroup. There will likely be less fine print to read and less confusion about financial-product regulation. It may take as long as a year for the change to “wind its way through Congress” and be signed into law by President Obama. But once brokers wear the hat of a fiduciary, says Bienfang, they will be held to “one higher standard.”

Postmortem passwords

Internet security experts preach the importance of creating “strong and varied” online passwords, said Andrea Coombes in The Wall Street Journal. “That’s all well and good while you’re alive.” After you die, however, your “devotion to protecting sensitive personal data” could cause heirs to overlook important accounts or force them to jump through hoops in order to get access to them. It’s not just financial accounts that can be left in limbo; loved ones may need user names and passwords to gain access to online photo storage, social-networking sites, and the like. If you’re not comfortable giving a lawyer or a family member a list of all your accounts and passwords, you could “divvy up different accounts to different people” or file it all away in a safe-deposit box or safe. “Just make sure someone can gain access.”

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