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To see just how much the market covets these stocks, look at two institutional indices of stable-growth companies. In early February, a Merrill Lynch portfolio of more than three dozen stable-growth stocks traded at 36 times earnings and about 11 times book value, or net worth. Morgan Stanley's index of 30 consumer-oriented stocks was valued at 30 times earnings and 6 times book.




On the other hand, if your marginal tax rate is low, investing in tax-exempt municipal bonds doesn't really make sense for you. If your marginal tax rate is 31 percent, earning 5 percent interest tax-free is like earning 7.25 percent in a taxable investment. If your marginal rate is only 15 percent, a tax-free 5 percent is worth only as much to you as 5.88 percent in a taxable investment. You might earn more in Treasuries, which are free of state and local taxes-and safer than municipal bonds. More... The 98-year-old retailer has seen its earnings increase in each of the past 24 years. In the past five years, the company's earnings per share have nearly doubled. No wonder investors have flocked to Walgreen, sending its stock up 88 percent last year; during the past decade, shareholders have earned about 30 percent annually. Walgreen's stock traded at 56 times earnings in early February, a multiple 66 percent higher than the average Standard & Poor's 500 stock, which itself carries near-record price-to-earnings ratios. This is important information for any investor-even someone who never ventures into the stock market.

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Smart Questions to Ask Your Financial Advisers Smart Questions to Ask Your Financial Advisers Or if you want to stay invested for income, you might consider a tax-exempt municipal bond fund instead of a taxable corporate bond fund. Smart Questions to Ask Your Financial Advisers Smart Questions to Ask Your Financial Advisers Despite the risks that accompany high valuations, there are compelling reasons to include stable-growth stocks in a portfolio. These stocks have outperformed the market over long periods; they deliver better returns than any other type of stock during an economic slowdown; and since they're companies worth holding on to, a portfolio of stable-growth stocks typically requires little trading activity, a distinct advantage for taxable accounts.

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More... If you and your spouse have $98,000 a year in combined income, you may think that you're in the 31 percent federal tax bracket. The reality is more complex: you pay a 31 percent federal income tax only on the last $1,100 you earn. In fact, your marginal tax rate is 31 percent, but most of your income is taxed at 15 percent or 28 percent. Perhaps that last $1,100 of your $98,000 income is investment income that you don't currently need. If so, you might reduce your marginal tax rate to 28 percent by switching from that income-paying investment into a growth investment that generates minimal dividend income, like an equity index fund. You wouldn't owe taxes on the increase in the value of your index fund shares until you sold them-at which point, if you'd held the fund for a year or more, you'd owe a long-term capital gains tax, now capped at 20 percent. This is important information for any investor-even someone who never ventures into the stock market. And there's the rub. In today's market, investors who seek stable-growth companies for their dependability and strong relative performance have to pay a premium for their shares. And when companies with high valuations fail to meet investors' expectations, their share prices can fall fast and hard. Consider what happened to Campbell Soup earlier this year: On January 11 the world's largest soupmaker announced that an unusually warm winter had slowed sales, sending Campbell shares down 13 percent in that day's session.

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This transformation is to some extent reflected in the overall performance of the economy. Inflation has remained below 3 per cent during the past two years (the current 4.5 per cent reflects mainly the impact of the poor crop year and the severe frost of January on vegetable prices). Exports have grown by more than 20 per cent. The balance of payments is in surplus for the second year running. This is the reason why foreign exchange is flooding into India and our reserves are at an all-time high. The Indian economy is thus remarkably stable, but stability is not growth, and poor countries need growth far more than stability. China is the perfect example of a country that has systematically placed growth ahead of stability for the last twenty years. As a result it is faced today with monumental problems of over-capacity even in its modern industry, a dying public sector, rapidly growing unemployment in the cities, a slackness of demand and a slowdown of GDP growth. But it is well on the way to becoming the fourth economic superpower of the world. Once we begin to look at India's performance from the perspective of growth, every shred of reason to feel complacent drops away. India's 6 per cent growth rate of the nineties, which the government keeps trotting out as one of the fastest in the world, is made up of a period of explosive growth for four years followed by a mere 5 per cent growth after 1997. What's my marginal tax rate? To see just how much the market covets these stocks, look at two institutional indices of stable-growth companies. In early February, a Merrill Lynch portfolio of more than three dozen stable-growth stocks traded at 36 times earnings and about 11 times book value, or net worth. Morgan Stanley's index of 30 consumer-oriented stocks was valued at 30 times earnings and 6 times book.

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