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Bionic Wrench


Fund companies with up-front loads battled the no-loads in the 1990s by introducing share classes that eliminated the sales fees by burying them in higher annual charges. The tactic worked better for the companies than for shareholders, according to a study by professors Vikram Nanda and Lu Zheng at the University of Michigan and Z. Jay Wang at the University of Illinois.

They compared the performance of diversified U.S. equity funds that had only one share class between 1993 and 2002 with those that added B or C class shares. Not surprisingly, they found that new classes helped bring in more money faster -- about 12% on average for the year following the change -- making funds more profitable for managers. They also learned that the new classes attracted lots of short-term traders.

Both the influx of money and the presence of short-term traders dragged down the funds' performance by 1.2% to 1.7% a year relative to one-class funds, even after adjusting for expenses and other factors. The results should serve as a warning to investors when a fund issues B or C shares, says Zheng.

Enjoy Fall foliage on a Pullman car, a caboose, and other vintage rolling stock at the Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton, Pa. Two hours by car from both New York and Philadelphia, Steamtown boasts a collection of steam locomotives and cars dating back to the 1890s (www.nps.gov/stea/home.htm). To make reservations for the October excursions, call 888 693-9391, ext. 5204 between 9:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m daily. Other area attractions for railroad buffs: the Radisson Hotel Scranton, a former Lackawanna Railroad station on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, and Grzyboski's Train Store, which claims to be Pennsylvania's largest Lionel train dealer.

The tough new bankruptcy abuse prevention law that goes into effect in October has a silver lining for families who have set aside funds for higher education: It will shield any money in state-sponsored 529 college savings accounts as long as you contributed it more than two years before declaring bankruptcy. A few states already had some protection in place, but the federal law overrides any states in which 529 assets are fair game for creditors.

Funny how whenever you need a wrench, the exact size you require is nowhere to be found. The Bionic Wrench is a hybrid between a wrench and a pair of pliers that automatically adjusts itself to fit any bolt or nut from 7/16- to 3/4-inch, or any of 10 different metric sizes. As you squeeze the handles together, six hardened-steel pins move in like pistons to grasp the nut or bolt securely. Because it applies force only to the side surfaces, it won't strip the corners the way conventional wrenches or pliers often do. You can find it for about $30 in tool catalogs, at Ace Hardware stores, or at loggerheadtools.com.


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