April 17, 2024

Third Quarter

A Toll Brothers house under construction in Boca Raton, Fla. Homebuilder stocks have been some of the stock market’s best performers this year.

Ways to Play a Recovery in Housing

Homebuilder stocks have surged this year, but have they come too far, too fast? Analysts look at the investment options.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/pages/business/mutfund/index.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Banks Flooded With Cash They Can’t Profitably Use

Droves of consumers and businesses unnerved by the lurching markets have been taking their money out of risky investments and socking it away in bank accounts, where it does little to stimulate the economy.

Though financial institutions are not yet turning away customers at the door, they are trying to discourage some depositors from parking that cash with them. With fewer attractive lending and investment options for that money, it is harder for the banks to turn it around for a healthy profit.

In August, Bank of New York Mellon warned that it would impose a 0.13 percentage point fee on the deposits of certain clients who were moving huge piles of cash in and out of their accounts.

Others are finding more subtle ways to stem the flow. Besides paying next to nothing on consumer checking accounts and certificates of deposit, some giants — like JPMorgan Chase, U.S. Bancorp and Wells Fargo — are passing along part of the cost of federal deposit insurance to some of their small-business customers.

Even some community banks, vaunted for their little-guy orientation, no longer seem to mind if you take your money somewhere else.

“We just don’t need it anymore,” said Don Sturm, the owner of American National Bank and Premier Bank, community lenders with 43 branches in Colorado and three other states. “If you had more money than you knew what to do with, would you want more?”

Like Mr. Sturm’s banks, Hyde Park Savings Bank, a community lender in the Boston suburbs, lowered its C.D. rates this spring to encourage less-profitable customers to move on. As a result, Hyde Park shed about 1,000 of its 35,000 C.D. holders, preferring customers who also had a checking or savings account.

So far, banks have reported a modest increase in lending this year. Critics, however, fault the industry for being too tight-fisted — no matter how much bankers insist that demand is anemic, especially from the most creditworthy borrowers.

But the banks’ swelling coffers are throwing a wrench in efforts to get the economy back on track.

Ordinarily, in a more robust environment, an influx of deposits would be used to finance new businesses, expansion plans and home purchases. But in today’s fragile economy, the bulk of the new money is doing little to spur growth. Of the $41.8 billion of deposits that Wells Fargo collected in the third quarter, for example, only about $8.2 billion was earmarked to finance new loans.

Normally, banks earn healthy profits by taking in deposits and then investing them or lending them out at substantially higher interest rates than what they pay savers. But that traditional banking model has broken down.

Today, banks are paying savers almost nothing for their deposits. As it turns out, the banks are not minting money on those piles of cash. Lending levels have not bounced back from only a few years ago and the loans going out are not keeping pace with the deposits rushing in.

What’s more, the profitability of each new loan has shrunk. Because the Federal Reserve effectively sets the floor off which banks price their lending rates, its decision to lower interest rates to near zero means the banks earn less money on the deposits they lend out.

The banks are also earning less on the deposits left over to invest. They typically park that money overnight at the Fed for a pittance, or invest it in ultra-safe securities, like bonds backed by the government. But with interest rates so low, the yields on those investments have been crushed.

In other words, what bankers call the spread is being squeezed — they are making less money on each dollar they hold. “It’s very hard for us to take deposits and make any meaningful spread,” said William D. Parent, Hyde Park’s chief executive.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/25/business/banks-flooded-with-cash-they-cant-profitably-use.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Bucks: How You Use Your 401(k) Brokerage Window

In this weekend’s Your Money column, I suggest that people who are unhappy with the investment options that their employer offers on the menu in their 401(k) or similar plan put in a request for something called a brokerage or mutual fund window.

Also known as a self-directed plan, this allows people to go beyond the 10 or 20 options that an employer has chosen and select from thousands of other mutual or exchange-traded funds. Sometimes, people can invest in individual stocks and other securities, too.

For those of you who already have access to this option, are you using it? If so, what are you using it for? And what does it cost you?

And by all means, if you think that I’m dead wrong and that nobody should be able to fling open the window like this, please explain why in the comments below.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=e489ceae8207795ef3adf432b58b0b0f