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The Motley Fool: Every Sunday, useful tips on investing
Ask The Fool
Q: Where can I find the quarterly and annual earnings reports companies file with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)?
A: Try the horse's mouth, at sec.gov/edgar.shtml. You can also call the company and ask for a copy of the latest reports, or poke around the company's website.
Startling economic numbers
Morgan Housel recently shared some "mind-blowing" economic facts. Here are a few of them; see if any surprise you:
• The unemployment rate for men is 8.4 percent. For married men, it's 4.9 percent. Meanwhile, it's 3.9 percent for college graduates and 13 percent for high-school dropouts. Lesson: Education pays.
• America is home to less than 5 percent of the world's population, but nearly a quarter of its prisoners.
• As a percentage of GDP, government spending was higher in 1983 under President Reagan than it will be this fiscal year (23.5 percent vs. 23.3 percent, respectively), according to data by the Tax Policy Center.
• According to the International Energy Agency, global governments spent $409 billion on fossil-fuel-industry subsidies in 2010. That's nearly double the annual GDP of Ireland.
• Five years ago, coal provided about half the nation's electricity. Today, it's about one-third. Natural gas' share during that time rose from 21 percent to 30 percent, according to the Energy Information Agency.
• According to research by Demos, the average American couple will pay $155,000 in 401(k) fees over their careers. That reduces the average account size by about a third.
• This one might hit home the hardest: The median American family's net worth fell to $77,300 in 2010 from $126,400 in 2007, according to the Federal Reserve's Survey of Consumer Finance. That erased nearly two decades of accumulated wealth.
Such statistics can be depressing, but they needn't reflect your misfortune. Seek to minimize fees in your investments, and your retirement can benefit.
And know that even if your nest egg has shrunk considerably, you can plump it up by saving more, by investing more effectively and by working a few more years, among other strategies.
My dumbest investment
A regrettable moo-ve
Dear Fool: My dumbest investment was putting money in cows — cattle — which I did twice, losing both times. First, I purchased three "exotic" heifers. The demand for this particular breed went down fast, and one of my animals turned out to be incapable of producing calves, which was the whole point in the first place.
The second time — well, it's too painful to talk about. My rule ever since: Don't invest in anything that eats!
The Fool responds: Well, you might invest in your children. But otherwise, be careful. It's easy to see someone make a bundle on some unusual kind of investment and then to try to do the same.
But you're at a disadvantage if you don't have a solid understanding of the cattle business — or art, or real estate, for that matter. To succeed as a landlord, in addition to market savvy, you need certain skills, or you'll have to pay to hire them.
Even with stocks, it's smart to stick to companies and industries you understand very well, where you have a good handle on which companies are best poised to succeed.
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