A whole new market for anti-depressant producers?

Since there has been so many bad news for pharmaceutical companies for a while, I feel that there stocks may come to some historical low now. I started watching the news from this industry closely to look for a bargain time.

Today I got this news sent to my email: Lilly Receives FDA Approval For Antidepressant For Dogs.

My glasses literally fell down off my nose. I know that dogs get sick too, I know that dogs sometimes look sad too, but I do not know that they are “depressed” too. How do they diagnose a dog to be “depressed”? I guess some dogs become “suicidal” too? Where do dogs get prescription? From a psychiatrist, or from a veterinarian?

This is a great new market for anti-depressant producers. If dogs can be depressed, so can cats, birds… any pets. How many pets do we have in this country?

Maybe time to buy these stocks?

Got my second raise.

Just got a small raise yesterday. together with a small promotion. I made a mistake by accepting a very low starting salary. Thanks to Yannick’s persistence, I started the battle for correcting it since last year. And I am lucky to have two bosses who are very nice to me. I won both battles, and adding up, it is about 30% raise in a year.

I am not really that pround of the raise or promotion. As my boss says, this is still very low compared with market value. But I made the mistake, and this is as much as he can help.

But I am really grateful to my boss. 30% raise for a new hire in the first year is very rare, I believe.

This actually encourages Yannick to go to Industry.I am one of those women who find “asking for a raise really difficult”. On the other hand, I feel that Yannick is obessed with “fighting for a raise”. Both times, it was him who pushed me to fight for the raise. And he keeps saying that one of the regrets he might have from going to academia is that he will lose the opportunities to fight for a raise.

And recently, moomin’s little raise discouraged him even more from going for academia.

What shall I say? He is in a field where a professor’s pay is much lower than a professor’s pay in my field. I wanted him to be a professor, based on my knowledge, which does not apply to his case.

And, if I still want to be a stay-home housewife, I think that I should help him to go to industry. After all, I would rather encouraging him to fight for a raise than struggling for the little pay check myself. He can enjoy the battle, I can enjoy the money, a real win-win situation.

How much premium are you willing to pay for top university education?

Since our last discussion about PhD’s career choice, I came across an interesting discussion about paying for education in a forum.

“Case study: please see quick summary for more details.
A 17 yr old got into one of the top 5 schools (the $48k a yr type) and her parents make about $250k so she cannot get fin aid. She can get a free ride to a state school that actually has a lot of national merit scholarship finalists going there, so it’s not a dump.
I turned the problem around countless times (mostly at around 3 am).
What would you wise fatwallers do? Right now I try to convince her that free undergrad is better than $200k top school, especially if she wants to go to grad school right after undergrad. Am I wrong to ask her that?
Personal experiences and/or any other advice are greatly appreciated.
Thanks a lot!

Edit: MIT vs. Ariz State honors college; her goal is med school.

Ok guys, thanks. More replies than I expected. I really appreciate this. Her parents are old friends of mine and they asked me for input.

I am glad to see that my main thinking gets somehow confirmed:
-want to go into engineering and work directly after undergrad: MIT no-brainer
-want to go to med school: ASU might not be a bad choice

Her parents are in their low 40s but they’d really like to semi-retire early (before 50). They have about $400k in assets. They came here I believe about 8 or 9 yrs ago and they started earning in the $200k range 2 yrs ago. They live frugally, no bmw, lexus, etc. Perhaps their only extravagance is some international travel. However, their thinking is that they can pay for med school, no questions asked. They also are afraid that her going to MIT might entice her to stop after undergrad and scrap the medical school plans. I also believe that the MD job security is better than life in a cube, even at GS or GOOG.
Right now she is depressed, she thinks that her dreams are being shattered by not going to a top school.”

Many people joined the discussion, including graudates from state colleges, graudates from MIT, Princeton, Stanford, Johns Hopkins, and recruiting faculty at graduate schools or medical school. Many people faced similar difficult choice.

The thread originator concluded

“I am glad to see that my main thinking gets somehow confirmed:
-want to go into engineering and work directly after undergrad: MIT no-brainer
-want to go to med school: ASU might not be a bad choice”

I disagree, not just on his/her main thinking, but also on his/her summarization of the discussion. As I read through all the replies, I feel that the majority of the people do not regret what they chose–Ivy League or state college. Those who chose to go to top universities do not regret being in a school with “unusual culture where hacking and tinkering with things and figuring out how much bend there is in the rules are all valued” even though they came out of school with $10K debt, Those who chose state college felt happy that they left college without any debt, and went to good graduate school afterwards. These people emphasize that only the rank of the graduate school counts.

Yannick and I discussed this during the dinner time. We came for PhD program, which normally offers full fellowship or assistantship, so going to a top university was a no-brainer for us. If our kids someday face this choice, what shall we do?

At first, I was inclined to recommend the 17 year old girl to attend a state university. I was a TA for a class with more than 900 students in an Ivy League University. We had to divide the class into small TA review sessions. I was TAing two honor sessions, each with about 22 students. While I did see some very smart and hard-working students, I do not think that they got much attention from the professor. Some later came to me for recommendation letters, because the professor is not very accessible. Those famous professors in top universities are famous because they do research, they publish papers. They get recognition only by the number of papers they publish, or the level of the journal their papers get published. To publish papers, they had to squeeze their teaching effort. Pretty much every professor I know consider teachinga a burden. What’s the point of paying $200K to a school where the professors never see you anyway, and do not pay much attention to teaching?

However, after the discussion with Yannick, I started to change my mind. I transferred from an Ivy League university to another top private university, so I do not really know much about public schools. I started TAing graduate course after my transfer, so I really do not know the undergraduate life well either. Yannick has been to both public and private universities, and his experience tells him that the course qualities at the private school are better than the public school he stayed even when they are ranked similarly ( I guess public school professors pay even less attention to teaching?) And more importantly, you see many more smart people in a top university, and you will learn and benefit from them.

Moreover, as I read through the discussion, I saw surviving bias in the replies from those state college graduates. It looks like that everyone is happy with their decision. However, most of the state college graduates who do not regret are people that survived well in the public schools. Most of them got admission to the medical school, or went to top universities for PhD programs later. I do not see many replies from people who chose public state universities and went to work afterwards. Where are they? Does that mean that anyone who face this choice will survive well out of the public school? I doubt it.

My hypothesis is: given a group of people who faced similar choice as described and who chose to go to public school, those survived well out of public schools tend to reply to the thread more than those who did not. 17 is a very young age, anything can happen. What if she decides not to go to graduate school? What if she gets to know people whom she should not know?

Only satisfied people responded. So we have to take some discount on these replies. There are people who dropped out from top universities, like Bill Gates, we can be sure that he does not regret. There must be a lot people who dropped out from public schools too, but we do not see them very often in the news.

Yannick and I do not belittle public schools. But I am very risk-averse. If our kids face the same decision, I think that we will let them choose MIT. After all, I know that they have a much higher probability of making good friends at MIT than at ASU, and with that, I will have some peace in mind. And if we have a daughter, I will sent her to MIT or Stanford, no question asked! She can bring back a very good husband, maybe better than Yannick (I have not found one yet, and will not :). $200K is a lot of money, but our peace of mind and our children’s happiness are worth more than $200K, right?

Better start saving for our children now, and prepared to rent for a long, long time. I believe that the investment in education will give higher return than investment in real estate or stock market.

Where to put my savings, house, IRA, 401K or regular trading accounts?

When I finally earned more than what I spent, I asked myself this question. Due to the time I already squandered, there are so many places need my money badly:
Emergency fund and cash savings
Individual retirement accounts (IRA) such as Roth and traditional IRA
Employer sponsored retirement accounts 401k, 403b (non-profit organization and education institutions)
A house
A regular brokerage account to invest in the stock market

My order is the following:
1. Roth IRA
You may be surprised that I put to Roth before emergency fund. The reason was not only that Roth is one of the best places for young professionals and graduate students’ money, but also that you can withdraw your contributions (the money you put into such an account) any time without incurring any penalty or taxes. So your contributions can serve as your EF. It is so nice that no wonder you can only contribute $4000 a year.

2. 401k or 403b and a lull with employer matching
Many people have this on the top of their lists. The argument was simple, you can get free money. Many people contributed to their 401K and got those employer matchings. However, because they do not have enough liquid asset (contributions in Roth or emergency fund), they were forced to get the money out in case of urgent financial needs, which leads to taxes and penalty.

3. Emergency Fund
The contributions in Roth is not a perfect emergency fund, because you will not be able to put contributions back after withdraws, which leads to the loss of opportunity for tax-free earning growth. I have shared my experience in a recent post. The good news is that you do not need to constantly put new money there. After you find out how much to put in, and fund it, then you are mostly done. Also as Moomin Valley commented, after you accumulate more assets, you can get away without a real emergency fund since it’s very likely you’ll have very liquid assets because of asset diversification.

4. 401k or 403b remaining portion
You can decide for a self how much you want to put into your retirement account, because this portion is not liquid-able. However, if you want to invest in the stock market, the advantage of text deferment cannot be understated. As two late-starters, Jacqui and I are maximizing this part. Another late starter moom shared his experience.

5. Savings as in savings account, CD or regular brokerage:
You do want to enjoy your life before retirement also, right? However, I do not over-save for this part as I think my future income is good enough to cover my future expenses.

6. House:
We do not own a house yet and are saving for a down payment. Normally, it should be listed as 5. However, the more I learn about the housing market and the unprecedented housing boom, the more I realized that how over-valued the current housing market is. I guess it will be number 6 for the next two years at least.

What’s your list like?

Emergency fund comes before investment?!

I shared my view on emergency fund in general earlier. At the end that post, I said that EF was a necessary step to start retirement savings and investments, without explaining it. This may seem to be a naïve question. However, I struggled with it when I got started and would like to share my experience here.

Emergency fund gives you a peace of mind which enables you to make better investment decisions. When I started to invest, I got several individual stocks, whose prices vary a lot. I intended to buy-and-hold, which was only possible when you are able to leave the money untouched even in emergency. It was quite tempting to use the emergency fund to buy more stocks. However, without an emergency fund, I realized that I might be forced to sell the stocks at the wrong time. So I need my emergency fund to take that risky investing strategy with individual stocks.

It became clear to me that it’s very important to separate your long-term investment and your cash reserve. When I first worked on my investment strategy, I had so many things in my mind, emergency cash, down-payment for the first house, regular investment, and retirement reinvestment. All these goals have different timeline, thus have different risk tolerance. Without separating them explicitly, I was really making the task much more difficult and even intractable. The good thing was that I was not paralyzed by the complexity, I started anyway; the bad thing was that I got a messy strategy which was not optimal and I had trouble sticking to it. In the end, I ended up selling all my holdings and reshuffled my portfolio in less than two years. I was lucky that I was a graduate student, thus, was not hurt that much in tax.

Lower tax with Qualified Dividends and Capital Gain Worksheet

Today I was about to mail out my state tax return and saw a blank space in my schedule D line 22. It asked if I had any qualified dividend, which we did have. I was surprised Taxcut didn’t fill in this blank for me. So I decided to follow the instruction and take a look at the worksheet myself.

Dividends are usually taxed at the marginal tax rate of your ordinary income. However, take a look at the form 1099-DIV and you may find some of them are qualified dividends, which are taxed at the tax rate of long-term capital gain (15%).

Now the good news is that some people may qualify for an even lower tax rate at 5%. Please take a look at the following to see if you qualify:
1. If you have qualified dividends or long-term capital gains;
2. If your adjusted gross income (AGI) is
less than $30,650 if single or married filing separately;
or less than$61,300 if married filing jointly or qualifying widow(er);
or less than $41,050 if head of household
Then you could lower your tax with the Qualified Dividends and Capital Gain Worksheet (Page 38 of 1040 instructions for 2006 and Page 35 of 1040 instructions for 2007) on line 44 of Federal tax form 1040.

I believe many graduate students and young fellows with lower income qualify for this. I used to be quite skeptical about usefulness of all kinds of the worksheets in 1040. This time, it really saved us hundreds of dollars in tax!

Gone are the good days for credit card balance transfer arbitrage?

Although I have known credit card arbitrage for quite a while, I did not really engage in it actively till last year. In my eyes, the gain of several hundred dollars a year is not enough to compensate for the potential damage to my credit score. So, I am not a big fan of this AOR thing either.

However, last month, I got a credit card invitation that I can not resist–it was from the alumni association of the second university I studied in. I have a card from my first university. I do not use it, but keep it as a souvenir. I want to have one for the second university too.

So I got the card, issued by Bank of America, MBNA card. It came with 0% APR till 03/2008. Given that I am not using it for purchases, I am tempted to do the credit card balance transfer arbitrage.

Lucky for me, I found this website. My return will be a mere $159 due to the BT fees, and minus the taxes, it will be tiny…

Definitely not worth it. And for anyone who is still looking for credit card arbitrage opportunities, please be careful with the BOA world points cards. IMO, it is not worth it.

The best credit card deal I got was in 2003. I applied for a AT&T universal card, with 300 cash back points. And at that time, I-bond could be purchased using credit cards. So I bought $30K I-bond with 1.6% fixed rate and got $300 cash back in 3 month. In fact, at that time, I was not that financially “savvy” — I purchased the I-bonds only to get the $300 cash back. I did not do any research to find out whether I-bond was a good investment or not. I was thinking of redeeming them after the 6 month limit and put them back to savings account.

Last year, I got some free time and started to review my portfolio. If I recall correctly, the APY for the I-bond was around 7% for 6 month last year. Plus the initial $300 cash back, it was a decent, low-risk investment for 3 years!

I cashed all my I-bonds once the rates went back to something around 2.5%. I was thinking of getting new ones since the fixed rate got a little up. But now, we can not buy I-bond with credit cards, and the BT fees are not capped any more, the overall return is decreased dramatically. I guess that the good days for credit card BT arbitrage are gone… Dear PF bloggers, we need some “financial innovation”!