Is it a good time to buy?

Staff WriterMarch 8, 2009 

It's a good time to buy.

I've been hearing that for months -- about houses and cars and now stocks. Just last week, the president said so. And Jeffrey Immelt, the head of General Electric, wrote in his annual letter to shareholders that "the [market] environment presents an opportunity of a lifetime."

Of course, GE's stock closed Thursday at $6.66. Just stare at that number and decide if you trust him.

So is it really a good time to play in the market?

I look at individual stock prices -- Apple's shares are $86.82 as I write this on Friday; Red Hat is $13.48 -- and think, "Heck, I could afford some of that." (Note: The N&O's ethics policy prohibits me from buying/owning stock outside of a 401(k) or Roth.)

But I'm not schooled in trading, so I turned to someone who is for the answer, Hal Eddins with Capital Investments in Raleigh.

What's his take?

"There's a lot of mindless selling."

While we were talking Friday, the Dow was hovering around 6,600.

Yes, it may drop more, but Eddins says most people will actually wait until it's up to 9,000 -- a safe number -- before they get back in. They'll miss the opportunities.

Eddins recommends taking it slow -- 150 shares this week, 150 next. (Or if your bank account resembles mine, 30 this week, 30 next week.)

Look at balance sheets, too. He says tech stocks have some of the cleanest. He pointed out that Intel, trading around $12 as we chatted, is still paying a 4.4 percent dividend. Then there's Cisco. No dividend, but trading in the mid $14s. This time last year, it was around $24. The last time the RTP employer saw these kinds of lows was back in 2002-2003.

"These are companies with rock-solid balance sheets," he says. "They're not going out of business."

Eddins also is buying bank stocks, but he recommends caution there given these rather unprecedented times.

He does, however, drop one name: BB&T. The Winston-Salem bank was trading around $13 on Friday.

"It kept its nose clean and doesn't have a lot of the problems of the bigger banks," he says. It also pays a dividend.

For those who don't trust themselves to pick just one company stock, he says to consider the Dow Exchange Traded Fund, which gets you the entire Dow industrial average -- 30 stocks. Or as Eddins puts it "with that one trade you're instantly diversified."

Coming up: Recognizing that we all need guidance now more than ever, Work&Money starts a four-part series next week, giving advice from local investment gurus.

A lot of people try to avoid private mortgage insurance.

You need it when your house down payment is less than 20 percent of the sales price, and it's there to protect the lender if a buyer goes into default.

For the homebuyer, it makes for a higher mortgage payment. But as the housing crisis has escalated and insurance companies have paid out millions to banks, they've also worked to keep homes from going into default.

Genworth Mortgage Insurance, which is based in Raleigh, stepped in last year and helped 617 people in North Carolina (25 in Raleigh) keep their homes.

Chris Antonello, Genworth's senior vice president for marketing, says the company did 13,807 workouts last year -- 96 percent success.

I talked with Antonello and Alan Goldberg, the company's vice president for homeowner assistance, to gain a little understanding of how the process works.

Goldberg says that whenever possible, Genworth agents focus on "cure-related workouts."

The two used most often are repayment plans, which take the amount past due and schedule those payments out over many months, and loan modifications. Modifications can change the terms of the mortgage in a variety of ways, including reducing the interest rate and extending the length of the mortgage.

"The goal is to get the borrower into an affordable payment and keep them in the home," Goldberg says.

Banks are usually receptive to the insurer, but so are homeowners, Antonello says.

"A lot of borrowers feel more comfortable [with us]," he says. "We don't do foreclosures."

Last week, I asked y'all to tell me how you were doing: Are you still managing to save money? Are you saving more? And where are you putting those savings?

I was hoping for some inspiration and some advice for the rest of us. Your responses were so wonderful, I thought I'd ask again this week. Send your thoughts to the e-mail below.

I'll be sharing your stories on this page in a future column or article, so please include your full name and a phone number so I can give you a call. And thanks. or 919-829-4577

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