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January 2009

Investing Ethically

This article was written by in Investing. 7 comments.


Last year we wrote an article about Ethical Consumerism, the practice of spending your money on businesses who support your ideas of a healthy community and environment.

In addition to where you spend your money, you can also put a lot of thought into which investment vehicles agree with your personal ethics. This is something weighing on my mind as I start from scratch learning about investing as a whole (see my previous article on the subject: What Do I Know About Investing?). There are a few different strategies, as I see it so far:

Invest in things you think will succeed, regardless of your own ethics

One of my co-workers is the sort of person who eats well, exercises all the time and generally treats his body as a temple. When I asked him if he ever does any investing, he quickly answered, “Only in the Vice Fund”. The Vice Fund invests in alcohol, gambling, tobacco and aerospace and defense industries. You could think of it as the “World is Going to Hell Fund”. The way I see it, investing in something with that kind of mission statement is akin to hoping other people keep destroying themselves.

For a guy who treats his own body as a temple, this seems like a weird contradiction, but as he tells it, the fund has been very lucrative for him, excluding 2008.

A similar example might be a vegetarian with a lot of stock in Burger King. Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, except it could be quite profitable.

Invest in things you wish would succeed

For example, I wish that solar, wind and geothermal energy would succeed, and if I believed my Fifth Grade teachers, by 2009 those are the only sources of energy we should be using. I’m not particularly opposed to oil and coal because they’re dirty and they may be funding who-knows-what kind of overseas operations; I’m opposed to them primarily because they are finite resources. Eventually we will run out, and we may as well start weaning ourselves off of them now, because of the other environmental and political reasons. But do I think all humans will stop using oil and coal by the time I should be retiring, in about 30 years? I’m not sure.

Hedge your bets

Well, there’s one method of hedging your bets, which is to invest both in the things you think are successful-but-harmful, and in the things you think would benefit the world if only people saw things the way you do. But this doesn’t seem like a strong, long-term strategy to me. One of them will eventually fail. Thankfully, there’s another nuance:

The oil giant Shell is following BP and releasing a bunch of commercials highlighting how they’re committed to refining new ways to power things. This reminded me of another transition that shook up some companies: when photos moved from film to digital.

Nikon, for example, cruised along for decades making some very good (and some very cheap) film cameras. When computers became fast enough and connected enough, people started sharing their photos digitally and demand for digital cameras grew. Not willing to let a different company take their market share, Nikon became expert at making digital cameras as well.

Oddly, I don’t hear the names Kodak and Polaroid as often as I used to, though I know they’re still around.

Today we think of Exxon and Shell as “oil companies”, but they may very well position themselves as leaders in the geothermal energy space in the future. Here’s where my earlier advice about doing lots of research come back into play.

Further reading

Consumerism Commentary has written many, many articles about investing in the past. Flexo is a lot more knowledgeable than I am, so far, but I hope to catch up soon.

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As the economy continues to trudge along, more people are submitting claims for unemployment benefits. In the week ending January 17, more than 4,776,000 Americans received checks from the government to cover job loss, an increase of 61% over the same week last year. This number includes 588,000 individuals who filed for unemployment for the first time that week, an increase of 3,000 compared to the week ending January 10.

Has unemployment in this economic downturn affected you? I have one friend who owns a business. He has had some trouble keeping clients lately; fewer companies want to pay for his services when they need to direct money to more immediate issues. I have an additional friend who was laid off last year when a large publishing empire tightened its belt, but he is the only person I know who has lost his job due to what the media has been talking about for months.

That is, except for Dilbert. Dilbert’s boss fired him for using company resources to start a web business (watch out, bloggers), but Scott Adams’ decision to allow Dilbert to join the unemployed masses may be rooted in the general economic sentiment in this country. Recent strips have Dilbert concerned about his lack of income in a world in which bills are imminent and unforgiving.

Here are two recent strips which illustrate what many Americans are experiencing right now. Click the strips to view them full-size.

January 26

Dilbert.com

January 27

Dilbert.com

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The way banks are dropping interest rates on savings accounts, you would think they don’t want your money. Most “high-yield” savings accounts now offer rates well under 3%. HSBC Direct is the latest to announce an interest rate cut, from 2.6% to 2.45% APY and is currently at 1.55% as of May 2009. Obviously there is more that goes into the decision to cut rates than attracting customers, but online banking is more of a commodity now. Saving and lending money is less focused on community. The sheer number of banks that are available to any customer at a click of a button results in competition, but the field is mostly homogeneous.

For many customers focused on making the most out of their cash, the interest rate is the most important feature of a bank. Friendly tellers and community service are no longer major drivers when choosing an institution to keep money, particularly amongst the surge of online-only banks. The best online banks do focus on customer service and user experience, however. But the bottom line is money. The force of compound interest is so important, and when you’re dealing with significant cash in the bank, you want to ensure your money is earning as much as possible.

When I started seriously managing my money towards the beginning of this millennium, I chose ING Direct because its rate was the highest and it came highly recommended from people I trust. I’ve discovered since then that this bank offers good customer service and a decent online experience, so I continue to recommend them to friends and readers who want to get started. And it’s hard to ignore your ability to earn $525 just for opening a new account there. Their rate is no longer the highest, but it not far behind HSBC Direct, at 1.5% APY.

There are ten fresh referral codes as of last night for ING Direct’s Orange Savings Account. These allow new customers to earn $25 right away for opening a savings account and they are provided by Consumerism Commentary readers. If used properly, with a $250 initial deposit, the depositor receives this bonus while the reader who provided the link receives a $10 bonus. Once a new account is open, the customer should receive referral links of his own to share.

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During previous economic downturns, publications have offered done stories about saving money by borrowing books, music and movies from the library. This is true not only in recessions, but every time you want to save some money. Libraries aren’t just for research; they have plenty of entertaining material as well.

But of course, they suffered from a problem that many bookstores didn’t: if a book was popular, you’d have a hard time finding a copy. It’s the 21st century now, most things have been digitized, so a perfect copy of anything shouldn’t be hard to find.

Well, with actual books printed on paper, you might still have to wait to get a copy of a popular title, but we recently found that our local library system is partnered with a service that enables it to offer digital downloads to anybody with a library card.

What’s more, it looks like this service, called “Overdrive” has partnered with many many libraries throughout the world. Search their site to see if your library is offering this sort of thing. And if necessary, pick up a library card. They’re not expensive, I promise.

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8 Things Banks Can Do to Make Online Banking Safer

by Luke Landes

Banking online by visiting a bank’s website directly to perform typical transactions like checking your balance, reviewing and reconciling your recent transactions, paying bills, or transferring money, is generally safer than doing the same in person, whether at an ATM or a teller. Your information is encrypted and you can take care of your business ... Continue reading this article…

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Basic Finances to Finally Be Taught in NJ Schools?

by Smithee

Having done all of my formal schooling in New Jersey, some of it more successful than the rest, I was excited to see a short story in NJ’s Daily Record about a bill passing through the NJ State Senate that would require basic financial skills to be taught in High Schools. This is sorely needed ... Continue reading this article…

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How Obama’s 2009 Economic Stimulus Will Affect You

by Luke Landes

If President Obama’s economic stimulus plan is signed into law is it currently stands, individuals stand to receive a tax credit of $500 and couples stand to receive a tax credit of $1,000. Provided you’re not disqualified for earning too much money, $75,000 for an individual or $150,000 for a couple. Taxpayers might receive this ... Continue reading this article…

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$350 Billion Additional TARP Funds to Go to Banks

by Luke Landes

It won’t be long before the second half of the original Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds are authorized to be distributed to banks to help prop up the economy. This $350 billion, or even more, is following the first $350 billion that banks received. While the government’s public intent was for the banks to ... Continue reading this article…

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How Will You File Your Taxes?

by Luke Landes

I’ve started receiving W2s, 1099s, and a variety of other tax-related documentation in the mail and online, which means one thing: It is time to get serious about determining my final tax liability. If I planned right, I will have paid just enough between estimated taxes and withholding to avoid an underpayment penalty, but it’s ... Continue reading this article…

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What Do I Know About Investing?

by Smithee

Flexo has often touted the benefits of using a real credit card (as opposed to a debit card) for daily spending, and paying off the balance each month. I guess this finally permeated my skull, since as soon as I saw the news about a credit card that deposits 2 percent cash back into a brokerage ... Continue reading this article…

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More From Visa About Debit Cards

by Luke Landes

Last month, a representative from Visa offered to answer a few questions for Consumerism Commentary readers about debit cards. It many ways, I find debit cards to be inferior to credit cards, but Visa claims the cards linked directly to bank accounts have some redeeming qualities. Here are three additional questions I asked Visa and ... Continue reading this article…

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Your TARP Money Put to Good Use

by Luke Landes

About the author: Jeff Rose is an Illinois Certified Financial Planner™ and co-founder of Alliance Investment Planning Group. He is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, having served in the National Guard. Warning: For those of you that have been laid off recently, received a pay cut due to the recent economic crisis or frustrated ... Continue reading this article…

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New Interest Rates at ING Direct, $25 Bonuses Still Available and Going Relatively Quickly

by Luke Landes

As of earlier today, ING Direct, one of my choices among the best high-yield online savings accounts, has lowered the interest rates offered on its savings and checking accounts. The bank has lowered the yield on its savings account from 2.5 percent to 2.4 percent APY, while the rates on the two upper tiers of the checking ... Continue reading this article…

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Credit Card Rules May Be Enacted Sooner

by Smithee

We reported earlier on some new regulations that attempt to curb “predatory” practices by credit card issuers, like an end to Universal Default and more accurate credit offers. One of the interesting things about these new rules is that Congress didn’t vote on them, they were approved by a Federal Reserve committee, and they were ... Continue reading this article…

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Good News for Retail: Presidential Merchandise

by Luke Landes

After a lackluster holiday season for the retail industry, one particular niche has seen good news recently. Sales of merchandise related to Barack Obama have been strong. Amazon.com has created an Inauguration Store to feature a number of presidential products available for sale. This is the most consumerized election in recent memory, but it’s understandable. ... Continue reading this article…

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Keep Your Job Amidst Layoffs

by Luke Landes

Despite the fact that my company is squarely within the financial sector, we have so far been immune to massive layoffs taking place around the country, particularly in this industry. While I have something to “fall back” on — and actually, in terms of pure numbers, I could probably do better by leaving my day ... Continue reading this article…

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Consumerism Commentary Readers Have Earned $9,000

by Luke Landes

I’ve posted a new batch of $25 bonus links for new ING Direct customers. When you open a new account with one of these links, the Consumerism Commentary reader who provided the link will also receive a $10 bonus. So far, Consumerism Commentary readers and visitors have earned about $9,000 from these links. Keep in ... Continue reading this article…

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Should Investors Who Profited From Madoff Scheme Return Their Money?

by Luke Landes

Consumerism Commentary readers: Please complete this readership survey for a chance to win a $50 Amazon.com gift card! It may be true that everyone who invested with Bernard Madoff without knowing the extent of his scheme was a victim, but some investors have profited from Madoff’s plan. For example, assume an investor gave $1 million ... Continue reading this article…

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2009 Economic Outlook from Jeremy Siegel

by Luke Landes

Jeremy Siegel, author of The Future for Investors and Stocks for the Long Run believes that the economic recovery will be faster than expected this year. Siegel has been criticized in the past for being overly optimistic, but he may be right considering stocks don’t have to perform well this year to improve over 2008. ... Continue reading this article…

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Wal-Mart: Consumers Have Shifted Fundamentally To Frugality

by Luke Landes

When Wal-Mart announced that it will be lowering its expectations for the year, the CEO believes that this country is experiencing a “fundamental shift in spending,” in which consumers have adopted frugality as a way of life. There is no fundamental shift. Any widespread frugality we are currently experiencing in the United States is temporary. ... Continue reading this article…

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