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    • Happy Easter - ByVolume

      Holy Week in COSTA RICA

      Semana Santa
      Being Costa Rica a Catholic country, religious festivities are quite a special occasion to socialize and bring out some of the nation's best long-standing traditions.

      This is the case for Easter, known in Costa Rica as Semana Santa (Holy Week). Spanish-style street processions take place every day of the week before Easter, to dramatize all stages of Christ's way to the cross, crucifixion, and resurrection. Small villages have their own way of celebrating, and they add to the occasion the blessing of oxcarts, horses and trucks.

      People are eager to participate in the festivities, specially on Easter Day when celebration comes to a climax. Regional foods are best at this time, when most Costa Ricans commit themselves to meat fasting. Families everywhere are preparing dulce de chiverre (sweet preserves), arroz con leche (sweet rice), tamal mudo, eggnog, quesadillas, rosquillas and polvorones, and special dishes with seafood.

      Most of the country closes down from Wednesday noon through Sunday, allowing Costa Ricans to enjoy some days off-work. Banks, public offices and stores close, and re-open on Easter Monday. Transportation stops completely on Holy Thursday and Good Friday, and special schedules are set for the rest of the week. So buses may be very crowded all around. Some businesses close for the entire week.

      Although it may seem it is a week of mourning throughout the country, Holy Week becomes the perfect timing for long trips to the backcountry. Families from all over Costa Rica ready themselves to enjoy the first long-holiday of the year.

      ByVolume: I am in Costa Rica enjoying my Easter vacation.



    • Andrew E. Serwer is editor at large for Fortune magazine, where he originated and writes for the "Street Life" column. He also has appeared on CNBC, CNNfn, Voice of America and PBS, and has published articles in TIME, Sports Illustrated and SLAM. For more, go to �Street Life� on

      Lofgren Pushes Employee Tax Relief

      Once the province of executives, the tax problems posed by incentive stock options have worked their way down the corporate ladder. The problem is especially acute in Silicon Valley and other high-tech corridors, where employees receive part of their compensation in stock option plans.
      So Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., who represents thousands of high-tech workers in Congress, introduced legislation this week that would tax the sale of stock but not the exercise of stock options.

      "I simply don't think it's acceptable that the government taxes individuals for a paper gain," Lofgren said in a statement announcing introduction of her bill, which seeks to have options removed from the alternative minimum tax.

      A more sweeping bill that included a similar provision was introduced last year by Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, but was never approved. The so-called Wealth Through the Workplace Act was designed to encourage more employers to grant stock options to more of their workers.

      To Lofgren and others, a legislative fix is the best solution to the problem of rank-and-file workers being taxed when they convert their options to stock and again when they sell that stock.

      "Who could possibly want to tax an income that is phantom income?" Lofgren asked.

      Supporters of a legislative remedy also say it will alleviate the problem of workers immediately cashing out shares in order to pay their taxes and will encourage them to hold the stock as a long-term investment.

      ABCNEWS' Stephanie M. Gosk and's Mark Baumgartner contributed to this report.



    • Share Values Fall Through Floor, But Taxman's Still at Door

      By Andrew E. Serwer..Special to

      N E W Y O R K, April 10 � They were supposed to be the kings of the new economy. The dot-com millionaires. But now, with their companies failing and pink slips flying, they have something else to worry about � enormous tax bills.

      As a former executive of an online agency, Miles Weissleder made $60,000 a year. But his tax bill certainly doesn't reflect it. "My total tax liability for the year is in the ballpark of about $40,000," said Weissleder, a resident of Sausalito, Calif.
      The reason � his company allowed him to buy stock cheaply through stock options.

      Last year, he paid $2.50 a share while the stock was trading at $37. Even though he didn't sell the stock, the government is taxing that paper gain. Only now, the stock trades for about a dollar.

      All this was news to Weissleder. "I didn't realize $120,000 in gains. How could I owe taxes on it?" he asks.

      A Big Assumption

      Good question. It's because of a little-known tax law, known as the alternative minimum tax, originally created as a way to make sure the wealthy paid their fair share. More and more, it is affecting middle-income taxpayers.

      Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., has introduced legislation in the House of Representatives to provide relief to people like Weissleder.

      "I can't believe that this is what Congress intended when they passed this law," Lofgren said. "I wasn't in Congress at the time, but it's just fundamentally wrong."

      The problem comes from cash-poor Internet companies offering stock options as part of employee pay. Once given mostly to executives, even rank-and-file new economy workers were given this risky form of compensation.

      According to a study done by the National Center for Employee Ownership, 1 million Americans in 1993 owned stock options. By 1999, the number was 10 million.

      The problem, experts said, is that Americans don't investigate the risky tax implications of stock options.

      "Stocks are given to all kinds of people, and many of these people don't have any kind of advice that would help them get out of these traps," said Kaye Thomas, author of Consider Your Options.

      What's the Internal Revenue Service's take? They say they don't make the laws, they just enforce them.

      "I assume they must have understood that what they were getting themselves into when they accepted stock options as part of their compensation package," said John Dalrymple of the IRS.

      For Weissleder and others like him, that seems like a big assumption.

    • Don�t tell the big boys � ByVolume

      The 1999 Stock Trader's Almanac

      Since 1950 an excellent strategy has been to invest in the market between November 1st and April 30th each year and then switch into fixed income securities for the other six months. A glance at the chart on page 135, shows that November, December, January, March and April have been outstanding months since 1950. Add February, and voil�, a new strategy! These six consecutive months gained 9454.13 Dow points in 49 years, while the remaining May through October months gained only 1120.98 points.

      Percentage changes in the Standard & Poor�s composite index for each six-month period since 1950 are shown along with a compounding $10,000 investment. The May/October puny $11,138 gain is overshadowed by the November/April $340,250 gain. Just two November/April losses were double-digit and were due to exogenous factors: our April 1970 Cambodian invasion and the fall 1973 OPEC oil embargo.

      Don�t tell the big boys about this! Let�s keep this one to ourselves.

      ByVolume: We should expect strong April after dismal March.

      RESEARCH ALERT-Raymond James sees strong Q1 at casinos
      MIAMI, April 10 (Reuters) - Raymond James & Associates on Tuesday said casino operators MGM Mirage (NYSE:MGG - news) and Harrah's Entertainment (NYSE:HET - news) likely had a strong first quarter and should report improved results for the full year.

      Analyst Damon Brundage said in a research note that he was raising his first-quarter earnings estimate for MGM Mirage, operator of the Bellagio and other casinos, by 5 cents to 44 cents a share and was raising his full-year forecast to $1.70 a share from $1.65. The company earned $1.70 per share in 2000.

      ``MGM Mirage appears to have had a very solid first quarter,'' he said ``Our sense is that, in aggregate, levels of play and revenues per available room growth at MGM Mirage's Las Vegas properties will growth impressively (10 percent plus) in (the first quarter)....''

      Harrah's also had a ``very good quarter,'' the analyst said.

      Brundage said Harrah's, with properties in Nevada, Atlantic City, N.J., and the Midwest, can generate $1 billion in cash flow, defined as earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, during 2001, up from $886 million last year.

      Harrah's earned profits of $1.49 a share last year and was expected to earn $2.20 in 2001, the analyst said.

      ByVolume: We are back to gambling. A good sign of speculators are back to get you in. DO you know whe to get out?



    • -- "Sure, I use a broker, but I buy only no-load funds from her": I never could figure out why they charge me that 12b-1 marketing and distribution fee.

      -- "The fund's got a great record": I'm an expert at predicting past performance.

      -- "I own last year's top-performing fund": The problem is, I bought it this year.

      -- "I've made a ton of money in the stock market": It's a shame most of my portfolio is in bonds.

      -- "I picked a stock that doubled last year": Don't ask what else I picked.

      -- "I've done really well in recent years": I couldn't calculate my rate of return if my life depended on it.

      -- "I never open my statements": I've lost so much money, I can't bear to look.

      -- "I'm a disciplined investor": I check my portfolio's value only every other day.

      -- "I don't pay any attention to daily share-price fluctuations": I stopped looking after my stocks got hammered.

      -- "I'll get out when I get even": I'm in denial about the loss.

      -- "I doubled down on the stock": Denial? I'm totally repressed.

      -- "I'm in these tech stocks for the long haul": If these babies drop anymore, I'm bailing.

      -- "The shares will come back": Maybe I'll leave them to the grandkids.

      -- "It's a great company": It's been a horrible stock.

      -- "I did my research on this one": I once used the company's product.

      -- "I saw this money manager on TV, and she said she really likes the company": By the time I bought the stock, it was up $5 and the money manager had dumped her position.

      -- "I got this great stock tip": My brother-in-law works out at this gym, and there was this guy lifting weights, and he seemed really smart and he says . . .

      -- "Thanks to the Internet, you can do great fundamental research": I bet Warren Buffett also gets his best ideas from Internet bulletin boards.

      -- "I used to be a day trader": The regular hours, the fresh air, the steady paycheck. You know, I'm sort of glad to be back pumping gas.



    • Excuses, Excuses: How We Save Face
      Wall Street Journal; New York, N.Y.; Apr 10, 2001; By Jonathan Clements;

      Investing is about making money without losing face.

      How do we explain away our losers? How do we justify our bizarre portfolios? How do we gloss over our frenetic trading? Fortunately, as we grapple with these ticklish questions, words rarely fail us.

      Like brokers, money managers and analysts, amateur investors often obfuscate. Examples? Below are 37 expressions that get bandied around by ordinary investors, and what these words sometimes mean. The list was put together with help from investment experts William Bernstein, Kevin Bernzott, Eleanor Blayney, Ross Levin, Gerald Perritt and John Rekenthaler.

      -- "I'm a tax-sensitive investor": You wouldn't believe how many losses I took last year.

      -- "I'm a diligent saver": I reinvest my dividends.

      -- "My portfolio is pretty eclectic": I have no idea what I'm doing.

      -- "I'm happy to earn the market's return": But only when stocks are going up.

      -- "I have a very high risk tolerance": I won't panic and sell until I've lost a truckload of money.

      -- "I'm a conservative investor": I have only half my portfolio in tech.

      -- "I'm well diversified": I own three stocks.

      -- "It costs me only $8 to trade": Yeah, there's also this thing called the bid-ask spread, but I don't worry about that.

      -- "I'm a long-term investor": I hold my positions overnight.

      -- "It's the summer rally": There's got to be some reason stocks are climbing.

      -- "The market's undervalued": All my holdings have tanked.

      -- "Stocks are overvalued": I got nervous, dumped everything and the market has been rallying ever since.

      -- "With the market back up, it's safe to buy stocks again": Once again, I missed the rally.

      -- "I'm not worried, the stock market always moves to higher ground": If I ever get out of this hole, I'm going back to certificates of deposit.

      -- "My broker has done a great job for me": At the end of most years, I seem to have more money.

      -- "I picked this great stock": I bought it on my broker's advice.

      -- "My broker sold me this real dog": I begged her to get me shares of the IPO.

      -- "My broker says the research department really likes the stock": The analyst has already told his institutional clients, the stock has taken a good pop and there's virtually no chance I'll beat the market, after figuring in the commission and trading spread. So I told my broker to put me down for 100 shares.

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    • Investors didn�t know how to take the news. On the negative side, the plunge in jobs adds considerable fuel to the thought that the economy is well on its way into recession. But on the positive side for investors, if not for consumers, it puts considerable pressure on the Fed to cut interest rates still further to stimulate the economy, and history shows that the stock market is almost always higher three months, six months, and a year after the Fed begins cutting interest rates. And so the uncertainty continues.

      But I still believe conditions have been set up well enough to produce a meaningful rally for a month or two, and in fact issued a buy signal for such a rally to my newsletter subscribers last Monday.

      However, if it does take place, such a rally should be watched closely. In spite of its 25% decline from the market top a year ago, the S&P 500 is still selling at a lofty 22 times its earnings, versus its long-term average of selling at 15 times earnings. So, while the market�s plunge has probably factored in the negatives enough for now to create the opportunity for a good rally, it�s quite likely any profits from such a rally will have to be taken in a timely manner, as I do believe the downside will resume through the summer months.



      Another week of little to cheer about in the economy, and falling stock prices, has investors beginning to pull money out of the market at a faster pace. Equity Trim Tabs Inc. reported $14.8 billion flowed out of stock mutual funds this week compared to $1.4 billion the previous week. While not an alarming flight of capital to the safe haven of cash, it�s certainly the opposite of conditions at the market top a year ago when $35 billion and more was pouring into stock funds each month. Obvious by hindsight, it would have been wiser to be pulling money out a year ago. Only time will tell if it�s wise to be doing so now. It�s not the only situation that�s now directly opposite to conditions at the market top a year ago, and some of those conditions are more positive than negative.

      For instance, the S&P 500 and Nasdaq are now as oversold under their 200-day moving averages, as they were overbought above those averages at the market top last year. A year ago investors were ignoring warnings of the risk in the overvalued market, seeing only the positives, and insisting the market could only continue higher. Now they disbelieve any talk of the market being near even an intermediate-term low, see only the negatives, and insist the market can only move lower. (There�s an old adage on Wall Street that the market will do whatever it must to make the majority opinion wrong). Undervalued stocks are now being sold as relentlessly as overvalued stocks were being bought a year ago. And probably of most importance, a year ago the Federal Reserve was raising interest rates in a determined effort to slow the over-heated economy, while the Fed is now cutting interest rates (three times since January) in an effort to re-stimulate the economy.

      It�s also interesting that a number of the wise old foxes of the market who refused to get caught up in the final excitement at the top last year, warning it was unsustainable, have reversed their bearishness in the last week or two. Now bullish and believing at least a temporary bottom is in are the likes of David Dremen of the Dremen Value Fund, and Steve Leuthold of the Leuthold Group. And reports are that mega-billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who had raised cash levels to $30 billion by selling heavily into the final rallies of the bull market, saying at the time, �I dislike holding cash, but I dislike being foolish even more�, has been moving to the buy side.

      This week started off with more gloomy news. On Monday, the National Association of Purchasing Managers Index showed manufacturing activity declined for the eighth consecutive month in March. On Tuesday, the Commerce Department reported factory orders declined again in March. More companies warned their first quarter earnings would not meet Wall Street�s estimates. And the stock market tumbled further.

      But after the market closed on Wednesday, Dell Computer repeated the upbeat earnings projections it made several weeks ago, retailers Best Buy, and Bed, Bath & Beyond, posted earnings that beat Wall Street�s estimates, and Alcoa, the first of the Dow stocks to release 1st quarter results, came in with earnings that were also better than expected.

      Bingo! The market, starved for good news, exploded upward on Thursday. The Dow and S&P 500 gained a huge 4% for the day, while the Nasdaq produced its third biggest one-day gain, 9%, in history.

      But investors hardly had time to breath a sigh of relief when the Labor Department hit them over the head Friday morning with the release of the Monthly Employment Report for March. After the previous report showed a surprising jump in new jobs created in February, this month�s report showed a huge decline of 86,000 jobs in March, the largest monthly decline since 1991.

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