The Broker Next Door

How much will rising interest rates hurt stocks? Depends on which stocks, say RiskMetrics Group. Using a computer model based on market data from the past 12 years, the New York research firm performed a stress test to see how the Dow Jones industrial average correlates with higher rates. It first assumed that rates on three-month Treasury bills and 10-year Treasury notes rose by two percentage points. Then it looked at how the Dow has reacted to such moves. Result: a fall in the DJIA of 10.3%. More likely, says RiskMetrics strategist Michael Thompson, is a rise in short-term rates, with longer rates holding steady. In that case, the researchers found the Dow would decline 8.3%.

Stocks harmed most: basic materials companies (think Alcoa (AA)), consumer-cyclical stocks (Wal-Mart Stores (WMT), Home Depot (HD)), and utilities (Exelon (EXC), Southern (SO)). By contrast, the technology (Microsoft (MSFT), Intel (INTC)) and energy sectors (Exxon Mobil (XOM), Anadarko Petroleum (APC)) each had double-digit gains in both stress tests. History doesn't always repeat. Yet RiskMetrics thinks investors should mind their sectors. Despite its grunge image, snowboarding has become technologically sophisticated as boards, boots, and bindings all use superstrong and ultralight composite materials. Now comes a board with a computer chip that adjusts the stiffness depending on conditions.

The microchip inside Head's Intelligence snowboard ($579; is powered by electrical charges generated as the board vibrates on the snow. The chip then feeds data about the vibrations to a network of "intelligent fibers" embedded in the board. On harder snow, when the board vibrates more, the fibers stiffen to provide greater stability. On softer snow or in powder, the board is more supple, making it easier to turn.

Does it work? In my test runs, the board gave an exceptionally smooth ride. The "cool" factor is pretty high, too. If you think smaller is better, a new J.D. Power & Associates survey of investor satisfaction backs you up. The study finds that regional full-service brokerage firms achieve higher satisfaction than some of their national counterparts, such as Merrill Lynch (MER), Fidelity Investments, and Charles Schwab (SCH).

Ellen Guion, senior research manager of financial services at J.D. Power, attributes the results to better account management by the regional firms. She says they do a better job of keeping clients apprised of investment performance, portfolio changes, and market trends. Other findings: Only 4 out of 10 respondents agree their firm is very clear about how brokers are compensated, while about half say their company is very clear about mutual-fund fees. The survey polled more than 6,100 clients of 18 firms.

Burger King's Young Buns

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