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COMPLY-How lawyers who chase brokers invest their own money

09/26/2013 11:58 AM EDT
Copyright 2013 Reuters

By Suzanne Barlyn

NEW YORK, Sept 26 (Reuters) – Lawyers who fight brokers on behalf of aggrieved investors often see the most sordid side of Wall Street. So it is not surprising that they would be extra-cautious about investing their own money.

In a typical week, these lawyers field calls from people who allege their brokers led them astray or that a long-trusted firm peddled securities that were far riskier than marketing materials suggested.

Many of those claims end up in the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s arbitration unit. There the lawyers hear about the inner workings of a brokerage firm – everything from how it developed and marketed the security in question to how much brokers actually understood about what they sold.

Reuters recently spoke to three securities arbitration lawyers who represent investors to find out how they invest. Here is what they said.

Philip Aidikoff, 65, of Aidikoff, Uhl & Bakhtiari, Beverly Hills, California

Notable case: A $54 million ruling against Citigroup in 2011 on behalf of a group of investors for their losses in complex municipal bond funds. It was the largest FINRA award ever on behalf of individual investors, according to Securities Arbitration Commentator Inc.

Investment strategy: Aidikoff says he has long been a conservative investor. “I’ve seen what can go wrong,” he said. “I’m not trying to hit home runs.”

He entrusts his money to the wealth management division of Kayne Anderson Rudnick, a Los Angeles based investment adviser that he pays “far less” than 1.5 percent of the value of his assets – and no commissions. “I don’t have the time or tools to do this myself,” Aidikoff said.

Aidikoff avoids complex securities that he says often camouflage their true risks. Among them: reverse convertibles, a type of short-term note that is linked to the performance of an underlying stock and uses options to boost yields. He also shuns bond funds, because he believes rising interest rates may lead to plunging bond prices and potentially steep losses for investors. “I think they are the next big product to blow up on the horizon,” he said.

Instead, he relies on his advisers to build portfolios made up of individual stocks and bonds. Corporate bonds, for example, represent a large percentage of his individual retirement account, followed by agency and Treasury bonds. (Because retirement funds offer tax deferral, it can make sense to stash high-income securities in them.)

Andrew Stoltmann, 41, of Stoltmann Law Offices, Chicago

Notable case: A $1.46 million award in 2009 on behalf of ex-National Basketball Association star Horace Grant, who claimed that his brokerage firm misrepresented the risks of bond funds it sold. A federal appeals court upheld the ruling last year.

Investment strategy: Stoltmann worked as a broker for a major firm for a few years in the mid-1990s, and that soured him on the industry. “People wouldn’t trust their money to brokers if they knew all the inherent conflicts of interest,” he said.

Among the problems: Brokers earn sales commissions, an incentive that may motivate them to push products that are not appropriate for certain investors. They also take part in sales contests, Stoltmann said.

Stoltmann has his own registered investment advisory firm, but he says he is not actively running it.

For his own money, he opened a self-directed brokerage account at Malvern, Pennsylvania-based Vanguard Group, which is known for its low-fee investments.

He invests in Vanguard’s traditional index funds, whose low operating costs are typically passed on to investors as higher returns, he said. He shifted to exchange traded funds after Vanguard rolled them out in 2001 because their costs are even lower.

His favorites include Vanguard’s Small-Cap ETF, which track the index made up of small publicly traded companies, and the Mid-Cap ETF,, which does the same for midsize companies. “I like the long-term growth prospects of small and mid-cap funds – and I’m a patient investor,” Stoltmann said. “I buy and hold forever.”

Adam Gana, 33, of Gana LLP, New York

Notable case: A $2.8 million ruling in August against a Bronx-based tax preparer and broker who was indicted for running a Ponzi scheme.

Investment strategy: Gana’s nearly 10 years as a securities lawyer have had an impact. “The fact that you see smart people who lose tons of money really starts to scare you,” he said.

Gana trades stocks on his own after researching them in investment publications. One factor he considers: the time it will take for dividends he racks up to equal his initial investment.

He recently sold Apple Inc stock that he bought for $99 per share in 2009, more than quadrupling his investment. (Apple closed at $481.53 on Wednesday). “I made enough, and the market is also saturated with smart phones,” Gana said.

But Gana is skittish about picking individual bonds. For this, he turns to a Morgan Stanley broker whom he found after asking around for references and researching public disclosure records.

Among Gana’s favorites: highly rated municipal bonds that he can hold for the long haul. “They have to be for good projects that are not going to go bust – like bridges in New York,” he said.

Gana gets to hear those bond stories, because he will not give his broker permission to trade without his approval. The lawyer says he tried that but “got too scared.”

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$102.78 +0.415 69,481 $102.40-103.28 4.32
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09/26/2013 11:48 AM EDT. Quotes delayed at least 15 minutes.

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This recipe should be illegal! LOL!!

Preheat oven to 375°
Chop a head of broccoli (do not rinse, immediately prior to preparing!)
Mince 2-3 cloves of garlic
Put broccoli, garlic, 2 tbsp. olive oil, and a few shakes of salt and pepper in a ziploc bag.
Shake it up!!
Spread out on baking sheet, place on top rack, and bake for about 30 minutes.
Broccoli will be crunchy and delicious! I make this at least 3 times a week and have to control myself once I take it out of the oven, I could eat this alone for dinner!

Don’t just LIKE it, SHARE it so your friends see it! It also saves it in your Timeline Photo Album so it’s stored for later! Just click on the picture and click SHARE at the bottom.

For more healthy recipes, tips, motivation, and fun, join us
Getting Skinny with Martha — with Martha Crumpton.


The Three Pillars Of SEO In 2013: Content, Links, And Social Media

A good SEO strategy is the difference between your business easily being found online and getting lost in the noise of thousands of other businesses

trying to stand out. With Google’s ever-changing algorithm, it can be difficult to know what’s effective here and now.

In 2013, success in SEO hinges on businesses putting together a robust combination strategy that brings together an integrated web of great content, credible links, and social signals. Each of these pieces supports the other, providing tremendous value to readers, building your authority and brand value, and distributing your content across new channels. Here are the highlights of what to think about in terms of each of the three pillars of great SEO.

3 Pillars of SEOContent (Pillar #1): Make The Most of What’s On Your Pages

The first pillar of an effective SEO strategy is your onsite content and structure. From the way you organize your site to how you optimize your content, there are five key aspects that will ensure that your content is doing its job. A strong on-site SEO plan includes keyword research, content optimization, user experience, site design, and the presence of a blog with great content that’s updated frequently. Let’s take a closer look at each one.

Keyword research: The foundation of your SEO strategy is keyword research. The concept is simple: you can only optimize your site once you know how your target market searches for the products/services you have to offer.Google’s Keyword Tool is designed to help advertisers in the Adwords Program target effective keywords for their paid advertisements. But it’s a free, robust tool that can be used by website owners that want to better understand the range of keywords people are using to get to their site. Try these three strategies to get started:

  1. Brainstorm a list of phrases related to your business, brand, products, industry, location, and customers. Once you’ve developed that list, enter each of these words into the Google Keyword Tool to see what related terms are recommended by Google. Google’s suggestions will greatly expand your keyword list. Pay attention to long-tail keywords (e.g. “apartments in West Hollywood near beach” vs. “Hollywood”). They’re easier to rank for and just as important as your major keywords.
  2. Enter your site URL into the website box in the Google Keyword Tool. It will scan your site, and come back with a list of recommended terms that you are currently ranking for or could target. Many of these suggested terms are will be great keywords for your site.
  3. Create a list of competitor sites and enter each of those URLs into the Keyword Tool. Your competitors may be ranking well for specific terms that you hadn’t thought about. While you never want to directly copy a competitors’ keyword strategy, it can often inform your approach and round out options you hadn’t thought of yet.

Keyword structure: Once you’ve developed a list of keywords, take the time to organize them. One simple way to do this is by taking a look at your website structure and mapping keywords to the major sections. For example, if you’re an SEO firm serving customers in New York and New Jersey, you might have pages with different options for travel rates for in-person meetings and other details by location. That way, when individuals are searching for “SEO Firm Manhattan” they’re likely to find your site. Knowing what sections of your site are targeting specific keywords and gearing your content optimization toward those goals will move your SEO efforts forward more quickly.

Content optimization: Once you’ve researched your keywords, you’ll need to optimize your content for those terms. Content optimization is not about stuffing keywords into every available opportunity or even meeting a specific formula of “keywords must appear X times per 500 words”. Instead, just remember to include your primary keyword is included in your article title and meta tags. Remember that each page (or unique URL) represents an individual piece of content that can be optimized for different, specific phrases and conversion goals.

User experience (UX): User experience is simply a way of encapsulating the question: when people visit your site, are they able to quickly and efficiently do what they want? For example, if they’re trying to make a purchase or find specific information, is it easy to locate the menu or complete the task? If the answer is no, it may be hurting your search rankings.

One easy way to figure out if your user experience needs to be improved is to look at your bounce rate on Google Analytics. A bounce is a visitor that leaves your site without visiting more than a single page. If a high percentage of people are bouncing from your site, you may be ranking for irrelevant terms or your site design may be too complicated. Ask yourself what people are trying to accomplish, and look at ways you can make that easier.

Initial things to look at are making sure your navigation is easy to use, that your site design is as clean and uncluttered as possible, and that big actions are highlighted in clear and effective ways. Consider hiring a professional UX designer to help you evaluate your site if you’re having trouble breaking through on this point. It’s possible to design your site in such a way that you not only achieve optimal SEO, but also optimal conversion rates.

Site design: Is your site design clean and professional? There’s an assumption, by both search engines and visitors, that a site that looks spammy is spammy. If you’re trying to build an authority site but are working on a highly out of date design, consider upgrading to a simple website onWordPress. WordPress is an easy to use content management system with many excellent designs (called templates) available for free. Premium templates range anywhere from $20 to a few hundred dollars, and allow you to specifically customize your site. Some of the best templates can compete with world-class designs.

Regularly updated blog: Since Google’s Freshness Update, there’s a ranking premium for sites that are regularly getting new content. The easiest way to do this is through the addition of a blog. By regularly adding articles that are valuable for your readers – from timely pieces that comment on trends and news to evergreen pieces like how-to’s or product reviews – you’ll build your authority and improve your search rankings.

Another benefit of regularly blogging is that it quickly builds the amount of content that you can rank for in the search engines. A well-developed strategycan help you target many of your keywords through ongoing blog development. Think of each blog post as another raffle ticket you throw in the hat for being listed in search engine results pages.

Inbound Links (Pillar #2): The Infrastructure of Connections

Links give Google one very important signal: another site or reader found material on your webpage valuable and relevant enough for them to link to it. The more links you get, the more valuable your content is deemed to be by search engines. More likes also builds trust and authority, causing your pages to rank higher, driving more traffic.

In the past, link building was a numbers game. Links came from simple tactics that included listing your site in a bunch of directories, linking to your site from comments on blogs, and other transactions that focused more on having someone dedicate the time to “link building” than actually focusing on creating value for readers.

Today, link building is still critically important, but there’s more pressure to build high quality links. Sites that you’re linking from need to be reputable and relevant to your industry. Here are some strategies to build links that also build your brand and authority in your niche.

Guest blogging: There’s an increased focus today on guest blogging as site owners look for organic ways to build links. Guest blogging is simple: you find and pitch an appropriate blog with an offer to write a post geared toward their audience. When you’re guest blogging, look for reputable blogs that are relevant to your industry and subject matter. Here’s an article that describes a step-by-step process for guest blogging.

Press release distribution:  Press releases are another way to build links to your site and help build brand recognition for your business. There are two keys for effective press release distribution. The first is to find a newsworthy story to write about in your release, or to find a relevant hook in the broader news landscape. For example, if you are a coach for administrative assistants looking for new opportunities and its Administrative Professionals Day, your press release is more likely to be widely picked up.

This syndication effect will help you build inbound links. It may also lead to valuable news coverage with publications running your story or reporters asking you to act as a source. The second piece of leveraging press releases is to use an effective press release distribution service. It doesn’t have to cost you hundreds of dollars. In fact, many are free. But make sure that whatever you choose is active and reputable. A popular choice is PRWeb.

Repackaging existing content: Building links to your site doesn’t require an army of writers constantly developing new content (although it certainly doesn’t hurt!). Instead, look at your existing content and see how it can be repackaged across platforms and mediums. Do you have a great, data-driven blog post? That could be the foundation of a fantastic and highly viral infographic. A case study or white paper could be paired with some simple imagery and turned into video content for YouTube and Vimeo. A newsletter distributed by email could be turned into guest posts or social media content.

Leverage real world connections into links: Are you sponsoring local events in your community, such as little league groups or a networking event? Perhaps you’re speaking at a conference or doing pro-bono consulting for a non-profit? Do you belong to any professional associations, speakers organizations, or civic groups? Many of the above opportunities will come with the chance to list yourself on their website, along with a bio or company description and a website link. Sit down and do an audit of these options – especially ones you may already be a part of and not using effectively. Circle back and have your site listed where possible, and be on the lookout for these opportunities in the future.

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