TAKING STOCK: Obamacare forces portfolio liquidation

Dear Mr. Berko:

Our daughter just lost her $26,000-a-year job because she wouldn't cover her tattoos. Now our son-in-law, who works for the school system in Lafayette, Ind., has had his hours cut from 35 hours a week to 28. They lowered his hours so that under the new health care rules, the school won't have to pay for his health insurance. This also lowered his income by $4,000 a year, and now Mom and I have to help them. We will have to make their new house payments ($1,146 a month) until our daughter finds another job or our son-in-law can get full-time hours with the school system. We have enclosed our $545,000 portfolio of 37 issues. We don't use a stockbroker and want your thoughts on which stocks to sell so we can raise the money our kids need. My wife and I are both retired civil service employees with good pensions and have no debts.

GL, Indianapolis

Dear GL:

That's called collateral damage. According to Assistant Superintendent John Layton, Lafayette School Corp. reduced the working hours for 235 employees, essentially making them part-timers, saving the system and taxpayers nearly $2.5 million. Under the Affordable Care Act (what a joke), employers with more than 50 full-time people (defined as anyone working 30 or more hours a week) must provide health insurance for all their employees. And this is one of the many "unintended consequences" for which you can thank your member of Congress.

I believe that all Americans (except those with egregious tattoos) should have access to good health care. I also believe we spend too much money on health care in the United States, but that's another column. Something untoward began to happen during the past 50 years. Since the early 1960s, whenever Congress has decided to become involved in providing a service for the voter, three negative consequences have become painfully evident: Costs for that service have increased enormously; the quality of that service has commenced to decline; and the resulting bureaucracy has made cost and quality unmanageable. The Postal Service, Fannie Mae, our public schools and Social Security are the most poignant examples, and then, of course, you have our health care system. Like it or not, health care will never be affordable. Congress and its vested interests (political contributors) will make certain of that.

It's apparent that you don't have a stockbroker, because you have a great growth and income portfolio, and frankly, there's not too much I would sell. However, it's time to take your profit on Yahoo (YHOO-$28.88). Though earnings have improved markedly under the new CEO (anybody can cut costs), revenues hardly have budged since she entered the starting gate a year ago. The growth in competition for online advertising revenue has increased much faster than the growth in advertising revenues. Advertising prices are declining, and so are profit margins for Google and the like. Sell YHOO.

I also recommend that you sell Microsoft (MSFT-$32.82). PC sales have been declining, and now MSFT is spending too much of its resources developing silly devices, such as its Surface tablet, rather than sticking to its knitting. You bought MSFT 10 years ago at $33, and it's still about $33. Meanwhile, CEO Steve Ballmer is getting a little long in the tooth.

Sell PPL (PPL-$32.66), formerly Pennsylvania Power & Light, and take your small loss. Earnings are likely to decline this year and may be flat for the next couple of years, while future dividend growth will probably be niggardly.

Annaly Capital Management (NLY-$12.71), with a 12.5 percent yield, is facing strong headwinds in a rising interest rate market. Dividends have been falling steadily in the past three years, and the current $1.60 dividend should fall to $1.45 next year. Take your loss now, before it falls further.

Finally, sell Strayer Education (STRA-$47.62) and be thankful that you have only a small loss. STRA shares have tumbled more than 100 points in the past year, as the public now realizes that a degree from Strayer is worth less than a pig in a poke - though degrees from most public colleges are worth little more than a pig in a poke.


Please address your financial questions to Malcolm Berko, P.O. Box 8303, Largo, FL 33775 or e-mail him at mjberko@yahoo.com. Visit Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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Published: Mon, Aug 19, 2013