Feature

What the experts say

Global government bonds; Bank mergers = more fees; Cuddly, bubbly portfolios

Global government bondsFor wary investors, there’s nothing better than good old-fashioned U.S. Treasurys, says Dan Burrows in SmartMoney. “The bad news is that the market’s mad flight to the safety of Treasurys looks like the last days of Saigon, with yields barely hanging on to the helicopter skids.” After accounting for inflation, you could even have a negative return. “Fortunately, plenty of other stable governments in the big economies of the developed world want to borrow your money, too.” Many offer far better yields than Uncle Sam. Australia’s 10-year government bonds boast a 5.44 percent yield; Italy and Belgium are paying 4.85 percent and 4.62 percent, respectively. Your online broker probably doesn’t sell overseas bonds—which is “just as well,” considering that interest-rate changes and currency fluctuations can make transactions complicated. Invest instead in a low-cost global government bond fund, such as T. Rowe Price International Bond or American Century International Bond, and let the pros worry about the details.

Bank mergers = more feesIf your bank is buying another bank or being bought, brace yourself for higher fees, said Patricia Kitchen in Newsday. “This wave of mergers will result in bigger banks, and all our studies have shown that bigger banks have bigger fees,” says Ed Mierzwinski of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. Those extra fees might be tacked on to any number of services. But the biggest bounce will likely be in overdraft fees. Most banks don’t have a cap on overdraft fees, and won’t warn you before you overdraw, either. If you use a debit card a few times when the account is in the red, you’ll likely pay more in fees than for the actual purchases. Banks make a whopping $17.5 billion a year on overdraft fees, according to the Consumer Federation of America.

Cuddly, bubbly portfoliosThe volatile stock market has given a new twist to the idea of an investment safe haven, said Jennifer Levitz in The Wall Street Journal. Peggy Parks, an auditor in Johnstown, Pa., invested $56,000 in a herd of alpacas. Andy Pick, a stay-at-home dad in Atlanta, recently bought 400 bottles of Champagne that he plans to cash out in 10 or 15 years. “The worst thing that could happen is I drink all of it,” he says. It’s not uncommon for investors to flee to hard assets during down markets. “But analysts say this downturn is different in that real estate, the most traditional safe haven, is also sinking.” That’s prompted people to buy up everything from parking spots to comic books. “Spiderman is going to be here in 20 years,” says Mark Haspel, owner of a Sarasota, Fla., firm that tracks comic-book values. “He’s not going away.”

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