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Buffett’s Berkshire buyback part of exit plan

Market News
SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) — Warren Buffett’s plan to buy back Berkshire Hathaway Inc. shares isn’t only the safest route for deploying the conglomerate’s cash pile, it also helps pave the way for the Oracle of Omaha’s eventual exit, according to fund managers.

“This is a piece of the unfolding introduction of life after Buffett,” said Thomas Russo, partner at Lancaster, Pa.-based Gardner Russo & Gardner. “Under him, cash has had such a high value and going forward those maestro opportunities will be reduced.”

Earlier in the month, Berkshire Hathaway (XNYS:BRK-B - News) (XNYS:BRK-A - News) tapped Ted Weschler to help manage the firm’s equity portfolio. That pick followed the hire of Todd Combs last year to manage the portfolio.

Buffett turned 81 about a month ago.

This time around, Russo said, Buffett will go ahead with a significant buyback of shares unlike 2000, when the mere mention of a possible share repurchase boosted Berkshire shares to a level above book value. The buyback would mark the first time the firm has bought back shares.

Berkshire B-shares rose 6.9% to $70.93 in recent activity; A-shares advanced 6.2% to $106,540. Last Thursday, the price of A-shares dipped below $100,000 for the first time since January 2010.

Berkshire shares hit a multiyear high in early March, but they’ve been under pressure since as the

How to Predict Your Social Security Payout

Retirement Planning
To save money, the Social Security Administration stopped mailing annual Social Security statements to workers this year. These four-page mailings gave workers a personalized estimate of their expected Social Security payments based on their actual earnings history. Now workers will have to go online to get this estimate, and only some of the information provided in the statements is available online. Here's a look at how to predict how much you will get from Social Security in retirement.

Consider the averages. In June 2011, the average Social Security benefit was $1,180.80 per month. The maximum possible benefit for a worker retiring at age 66 in 2011 is $2,366. But to get this amount, the worker would need to earn the maximum taxable amount, currently $106,800, each year after age 21.

Familiarize yourself with the formula. Social Security benefits are calculated based on your 35 highest-earning years in the workforce, and are adjusted for inflation. If you don't have 35 years of earnings, zeros are averaged in for the years you didn't work at a job in which you paid into Social Security. The proportion of your income that is replaced by Social Security varies based on how much you earn. Consider a worker who turns 62 in 2011. To calculate his benefit, the first $749 of his average monthly earnings is multiplied by 90 percent, the next $3,768 by 32 percent, and the remainder by 15 percent. The sum of these three amounts equals his initial monthly payment amount. Workers also have cost-of-living increases added to their benefit beginning at age 62, even if they don't begin to receive

Oil ends week unchanged at around $100 per barrel

Futures and Commodities
NEW YORK (AP) -- Oil seems to be stuck at $100 per barrel.

Despite more gloomy economic reports, benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude on Friday settled just about where it began the day: down 18 cents at $100.22 per barrel. Oil has hovered around the $100 mark since early May.

"It's like there's a magnet on that $100 level," independent oil analyst Jim Ritterbusch said. "As soon as we get $2, $3 away in either direction, it snaps back."

One reason for the relative stability of oil is its relationship to the dollar. Crude is priced in U.S. currency, so oil and the dollar often move in opposite directions. When the dollar rises, for example, it makes oil more expensive for investors holding foreign currency, and oil prices fall. When the U.S. Dollar Index slipped 0.8 percent Friday in afternoon trading, the weaker dollar buoyed oil futures, keeping prices from falling further.

Oil withstood a steady parade of anemic readings this week for U.S. housing, manufacturing, retail sales, consumer confidence, and petroleum demand. As the summer driving season began, the government said oil supplies grew while Americans pumped less gas.

The Labor Department's jobs report on Friday was the latest in a series of disappointing economic data. The U.S. added 54,000 jobs in May, the fewest in eight months. During the previous three months, the

What Your Credit Card Won't Let You Buy

Personal Finance
A little-noticed move by American Express to ban the purchase of medical marijuana with its credit cards has reignited a longstanding debate: How much can a credit card company control what you buy?

To the surprise of consumers, major credit card companies are making decisions about what they can and can't buy with their credit cards. What's off-limits? Legal purchases like gambling chips and donations to at least one controversial non-profit organization; in some cases, buying pornography is also restricted, and so, increasingly, is medical marijuana. Last month, shortly before Delaware became the 16th state to legalize medical marijuana, American Express told merchants that its cards could not be used to buy it.

Companies say they're protecting themselves against legal risk, but critics say this kind of corporate policy is an inconvenience for merchants, infringes on consumers' rights and amounts to moral policy-setting. "You ought to be able to use a credit card for any legal purchase," says John M. Simpson from the non-profit Consumer Watchdog. "It seems to me that credit card companies are imposing their moral values on the world."

The specifics of the companies' policies vary. American Express is the most conservative of the big three: it bans the purchase of medical marijuana in the 16 states that have legalized it and online pornography. Visa and MasterCard allow both for their credit and debit card holders. Last winter, Visa and MasterCard prevented cardholders from using their cards to donate to the whistleblower website WikiLeaks. (The site never accepted American Express.) All three forbid using their cards to buy chips in a legal bricks-and-

How to Rebalance Your Portfolio

Personal Finance
My wife and I are 35, have a good start at building our retirement funds, but we'd like to increase the percentage of fixed-income investments in our tax-deferred retirement accounts. How should we go about doing this? Should we rebalance all at once or slowly over time? — Chad Comer, Madison, Wisconsin

I'm going to give you two answers.

No, I'm not waffling. The first is the one that I think makes the most sense financially. But because I know from past experience that many people just find it hard emotionally or psychologically to act on the advice I'll give, I'm also going to give you an alternative that, while less than ideal in my opinion, may be more palatable — and that will eventually get your portfolio to where you want it.

Before I get to those answers, however, I want to ask you to step back a moment and confirm to yourself that you're making this move for the right reason.

Rebalancing is something that you should do periodically to maintain a stocks-bonds allocation that's appropriate for you over the long term. The ups and downs of the financial markets will naturally re-jigger your portfolio's proportions as different investments earn different returns.

The idea behind rebalancing is to bring you back to your target mix. Occasionally, you may even decide to do the equivalent of an asset allocation "reboot."

In other words, maybe you've had a strategy in place, but have decided that it's not quite right for you. So you want to set a new stocks-bonds mix that you'll adhere to going forward — and use as the baseline

10 Commandments of Retirement Planning

Retirement Planning
When it comes to retirement planning, sooner is always better than later.

Consider this illustration in the importance of time in retirement planning: a 25-year-old who saves $5,000 every year for 40 years will retire with nearly $1 million, assuming a 7 percent rate of return. A 35-year-old who begins saving $5,000 annually will turn 65 with around $472,000.

To get close to $1 million in 30 years rather than 40, the 35-year-old would have to save twice as much as her younger counterpart.

Consistent saving as early as possible is key, but other factors will contribute to the success of your retirement plan. To ensure that you arrive at the promised land of retirement flush with cash, incorporate these 10 simple guidelines into your financial planning.

1. You shall get out of debt

Certain types of debt are toxic to building wealth. High-interest credit card debt can fester in your finances and cost more than can possibly be regained through saving and investing. Still, if you have access to a retirement account at work, take advantage of it. (See Rule 5.)

"If it's costing you a rate of interest and you're not getting a deduction for it, that would be the first order of business before you do any significant saving," says Brian Kuhn, Certified Financial Planner at

Bucket Strategies for Retirement Will Stick Around

Retirement Planning
Many advisers, despite the advent of new technology, new products and new thinking, use some fairly old-fashion strategies to create a retirement-income portfolio.

They tend to use the same or slightly modified portfolio they did when devising a saving-for-retirement portfolio, and simply draw down 4% per year. Or they use what's called a bucket approach, the principles of which are based somewhat on the asset-liability matching techniques used by pension plans.

Much has been written about the 4% withdrawal strategy (and its shortcomings), less about the bucket strategy. In my case, the bucket strategy has become the topic du jour for a few reasons.

In 2009, UBS became one of a growing number of large brokerage firms to unveil a bucket strategy. In its version, the first risk bucket contains funds required to fulfill the liquidity needs for an individual over some predefined time horizon.

The second or core bucket contains the bulk of an individual's assets and should reflect the investor's risk preference and be positioned for the maximum return vs. risk.

And the third bucket, the leverage bucket, contains a mix of riskier assets that should be used as a risk overlay and offers the investor the opportunity to dial up or dial down their risk tolerance.

More recently, an adviser built a retirement-income portfolio for a relative using the strategy espoused by

The 10 Highest-Paid Government Jobs

Personal Finance
Working for the government is often referred to as public service. The term implies sacrifice or taking less than what could be earned in the private sector or in an entrepreneurial position. Many government workers seem overpaid but are probably underpaid when you consider the scope of their responsibilities. Indeed, many in the private sector would not want to stand up to the scrutiny required of a top public service job or to get elected to public office.

The salary of the President of the United States is actually a token sum considering the responsibilities of the office. Still, officials in other public service jobs seem egregiously overpaid. People who hold these jobs are "set for life" after their public service ends because they are in demand for paid speaking gigs, memoirs and consulting roles in private industry.

24/7 Wall Street has gathered data from many public sources to ferret out how much these top government officials earn. Salaries of some jobs are shielded from public scrutiny because of national security reasons. We did not consider the healthcare and retirement packages, security and transportation benefits and more. In some cases, our public service executives have actually taken considerable pay cuts to serve.

One thing also needs to be considered here. Some government salaries are actually shielded under executive order. Some of the shielded pay grades may be well into the hundreds of thousands or even more. Some information, intelligence, and cloak and dagger positions are shielded and above our pay

Busting Retirement Myths

Retirement Planning
Our nation's retirement system is a hot topic. In addition to frequent surveys finding that Americans are ill-prepared and worried about retirement, there are statehouse disputes about whether public pensions are too fat.

There is debate in Washington on how to fix Social Security, and if that is even necessary. And policy wonks, including some in the Treasury Department, are discussing how to tinker with 401(k) plans to make them better.

In the midst of all that talk -- but not, at this point, much action -- it seems worth examining some of the assumptions underlying the debate. It turns out they may not all be true.

Here are a few candidates for "Mythbusters."

Everyone used to have a pension. That is far from the truth. Until pension law changed in 1974, companies used to require decades of vesting for employees; many folks spent 15 or 20 years on the job and were let go just before they vested. So while they technically "had" a pension, they never reaped the rewards. And workers who spend their careers at small businesses or changing jobs every few years were cut out of those fixed-benefit pensions. According to data from the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI), traditional pension benefits may have peaked in 1991, with 37.1 percent of people over the age of 65 receiving income from private or public pensions. In 2009, that figure had fallen only a bit, to 34.5

Tax Deductions You May Be Missing

Personal Finance
When it comes to filing taxes, getting the best returns is not about skill -- it's about what you know. Unfortunately, many taxpayers miss out on deductions and credits simply because they just aren't aware of them. Several of the most overlooked deductions pertain to health and medical expenses and insurance premiums. Are you paying more tax than you need to? Read on for some deductions you may be missing.

Tips for Individual Filers

Disability Insurance
Disability insurance is probably the most common type of premium that is overlooked as a tax deduction. These premiums are always deductible by self-employed taxpayers as a business expense. However, if you deduct the premium, any benefits paid from the policy will be considered taxable income. By contrast, policy benefits will not be taxable if you do not deduct the premium, and some taxpayers use this arrangement so that they can receive tax-free benefits if they become disabled.

Health Savings Accounts
Another insurance-related tax perk that people without access to traditional group health coverage should be aware of is health savings accounts, which combine a tax-advantaged savings element with a high-deductible health insurance policy. All HSA contributions, up to the maximum permitted by law, are tax-deductible, even for those who do not itemize, and earnings accumulate tax-free. All proceeds withdrawn from the account are tax-free, provided they are used to pay for qualified medical expenses.

Madoff to NY magazine: Government a Ponzi scheme

Strategy and Analysis Central
NEW YORK (AP) -- Wall Street swindler Bernard Madoff said in a magazine interview published Sunday that new regulatory reform enacted after the recent national financial crisis is laughable and that the federal government is a Ponzi scheme.

"The whole new regulatory reform is a joke," Madoff said during a telephone interview with New York magazine in which he discussed his disdain for the financial industry and for its regulators.

The interview was published on the magazine's website Sunday night.

Madoff did an earlier New York Times interview in which he accused banks and hedge funds of being "complicit" in his Ponzi scheme to fleece people out of billions of dollars. He said they failed to scrutinize the discrepancies between his regulatory filings and other information.

He said in the New York magazine interview the Securities and Exchange Commission "looks terrible in this thing," and he said the "whole government is a Ponzi scheme."

A Ponzi, or pyramid, scheme is a scam in which people are persuaded to invest through promises of unusually high returns, with early investors paid their returns out of money put in by later investors.

A court-appointed trustee seeking to recover money on behalf of the victims of Madoff's massive Ponzi

As Berkshire Improves, Buffett Looks for More Deals

Strategy and Analysis Central
Having posted its best earnings since before the financial crisis, Berkshire Hathaway is on the hunt for more deals, its chairman and chief executive, Warren E. Buffett, wrote in his widely anticipated annual letter to shareholders on Saturday.

Berkshire, the massive holding company that owns businesses as diverse as Geico and Burlington Northern Santa Fe, reported nearly $13 billion in earnings atop $136.2 billion in revenues last year, its best performance since 2007. Berkshire's book value, a figure of assets minus liabilities that Mr. Buffett says serves as a reasonable measure of the company's performance, grew 13 percent last year, lagging the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index for the second consecutive year.

With the company's existing businesses performing well, and its coffers now brimming with $38.2 billion in cash and equivalents, Mr. Buffett wrote in his letter that Berkshire is looking for more acquisitions.

"We're prepared," he wrote. "Our elephant gun has been reloaded, and my trigger finger is itchy."

Few corporate letters are as eagerly tracked as Mr. Buffett's, and the billionaire uses his epistles to expound upon Berkshire and the economy.

Mr. Buffett has long been a preacher for the continued economic growth prospects at home, and in his letter sought to further illustrate his belief that the United States economy will continue to recover. Of the

Warren Buffett remains optimistic about US future

Strategy and Analysis Central
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) -- Billionaire Warren Buffett wants Americans to be optimistic about the country's future but wary about borrowing money and the games public companies play with profit numbers they report.

Buffett said in his annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders Saturday that he still believes America's best days are ahead.

"Commentators today often talk of 'great uncertainty.' But think back, for example, to December 6, 1941, October 18, 1987 and September 10, 2001," Buffett wrote, referring to the days before the Pearl Harbor attack, a stock market crash and terrorist attacks in the U.S. "No matter how serene today may be, tomorrow is always uncertain. Don't let that reality spook you."

He said a housing recovery will likely begin within the next year, which would help the economy and several Berkshire subsidiaries, including ones that make carpets and bricks.

Buffett's letter detailed how the acquisition of Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad, better results at Berkshire's other subsidiaries and a $1.9 billion paper gain on investments and derivatives combined to boost the company's net income by 61 percent to $12.97 billion on revenue of $136.2 billion in 2010.

The letter was full of good news for Berkshire investors because nearly all of its businesses, except the ones linked to housing, performed well, said Glenn Tongue, a managing partner at T2Partners investment

Financial Planning Tips For Non-Traditional Couples

Personal Finance
Larry and Stan have been together since 1987. On October 6th, 2008, their 21st anniversary, they become one of the 18,000 couples married in California before Proposition 8 was instated. By all accounts, these two successful, Manhattan professionals share their lives together as any other couple -- except when it comes to financial planning.

"We are a married couple but not in the eyes for the Federal government," says Larry. To that end, they have consulted financial planners, attorneys, accountants and other same-sex couples to patch together something most married couples take for granted. "We think we are properly covered for various eventualities to the extent we can be under the existing law," says Larry.

Financial planning is hard enough for most people, but for non-traditional couples, which includes same-sex partners, civil unions and domestic partnerships, it is fraught with a myriad of complications that other married couples don't face.

"These couples lack many of the legal protections and advantages that married couples automatically receive in such areas as divorce, taxes, inheritance, and government and employer-provided retirement benefits -- in fact, there are more than 1,000 fewer statutory benefits," says Jennifer Immel, vice president of PNC Wealth Management.

It might be marginally better in those states that issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Washington, D.C., while Rhode Island,

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