Market Wrap-Up for Feb.7 (KO, YUM, EMR, APC, WAG, more)

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The market was down a bit earlier this morning as worries surrounding Greece were making the rounds. By the afternoon, U.S. indices climbed back as talks of potential agreements regarding the Greece situation were making progress.

Earnings helped do some of the lifting as investors reacted positively to results from Coca-Cola ( KO ) ( report here ), Yum Brands ( YUM ) ( more here ), and Anadarko Petroluem ( APC ). Emerson Electric ( EMR ) ( read more ) went in the opposite direction following the company's earnings report. We have liked Coca-Cola in the past, and it's a name we still watch closely, but the risk/reward profile for the shares are still unattractive for us at current levels. Elsewhere, shares of SL Green Realty ( SLG ) and Walgreen Company ( WAG ) ended lower following cautious Wall Street analyst commentary .

1 in 3 Americans Receive Federal Aid

This next data point could serve as a reality check for economic forecasters. According to the analysis of third-quarter 2010 Census data done by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, more than one in three Americans lived in households that received Medicaid, food stamps or other means-based government assistance. If you include Social Security, Medicare and unemployment benefits, the number rises to nearly 1 in 2 Americans. The federal government sent a record $2 trillion to individuals in fiscal 2010, up nearly 75% from just 10 years earlier.

I'm not sure how this trend can reverse without the private sector job market stabilizing. Everyone is focused on housing data, looking for bottoms, when the real cure is to fix the current job market woes. This past Friday's lower-than-expected jobless numbers were a good start, but unless we see follow-through with real job creation, our economy will remain in a stop-and-start pattern. The jobs data will almost certainly become political ammunition for candidates as we head toward election season.

From our research, we haven't seen any meaningful hiring plans from any of the big-name companies that reported earnings this quarter. The only job growth we've seen came from the retail sector (i.e. lesser-paying burger-flipping jobs), while most of the other industries have been silent for the most part. In fact, a good number of companies have been looking to put in "productivity" measures to optimize profits and keep margins strong. Job cuts seem to still be the norm in corporate America, as companies continue to do more with less.

Get a Foot in the Door - However You Can

With millions of college graduates set to descend upon the working world each year, the bottleneck of those seeking full-time employment will likely continue for the foreseeable future. As much as we all think college diplomas are the fast track to employment, reality tells a different story. To gain a seat in today's highly-competitive working world, one needs to acquire as many skills as possible.

As my kids approach college age, I constantly stress this message to them. I tell them how important developing communication skills is, first and foremost. Tomorrow's college grads will need to be able to network to find a good job.

Part of this process may require initially working for free as an intern (hopefully students will begin interning while still in school). Getting to know the main players within the company and becoming indispensable to the organization are two more very important factors. Getting a good recommendation from a family member, friend or acquaintance is also key and should not be looked at with any sort of embarrassment. Tell your kids or grandkids to swallow their pride and get the gig! It doesn't matter who or what helped open the door.

And one final note: it's rare for anyone to first enter the workforce doing their "dream job." The key, similar to long-term investing, is just getting your foot in the door and beginning the journey.

Most People Share the Same Retirement Fears

Most retirement worries center around a few key issues. Near-retirees fear whether their employers will be able to meet pension obligations. Another common fear is whether Social Security benefits will eventually run out, as concerns mount around the potential insolvency of the system. Finally, most retirees worry they are behind in their retirement savings objectives and if they can really afford to call it a career.

Delaying social security payments is one of my first thoughts as to how someone can get the most of the system. Keep in mind that taking benefits at age 62 locks in payments that are only 75 percent of what they would be at the retirement age of 66. Delaying benefits at age 66 will raise them by 8 percent a year until age 70, after which benefits do not increase with age. This strategy, along with staying in the workforce as long as possible, could help maximize your income.

If you are already retired, you need to use a smart strategy regarding the money you withdraw from your accounts to cover everyday living expenses. Many financial advisors tend to use a 4% annual withdrawal rate when discussing retirement savings withdrawals. With this approach, investors withdraw 4% of their retirement balance in the first year of retirement, or let's say $20,000 from a $500K portfolio. The dollar amount of the withdrawal could be adjusted each year to keep up with inflation. So whether you are deriving income from dividend-paying stocks, bonds, bank CDs, or other sources, you can at least have a starting point (4% withdrawal rate) to factor from.

Doing the bare minimum (for example, saving a set amount each month to invest, but never pushing harder to raise the amount you invest over time) will likely leave many short of an enjoyable period later in life. Some may think that their current financial obligations will eventually wind down, and then they'll really begin to stockpile away money for their golden years. Unfortunately that is almost never the case. Too many unforeseen events can happen (divorce, a family death, getting laid off, etc.), and you can't afford to lollygag when you could be doing more - all the while still enjoying life's finer moments as well.

Building wealth requires you to aside funds and invest them in income-producing assets (dividend-paying stocks is our immediate focus, but it can be investing into growing your business even more, or buying a property that can be cash-flow positive). If you are already retired, it may mean coming back in the work force part-time to ease the amount of money you are withdrawing from your savings (if you are unable to work because of a disability, there can be work you do from home possibly) or not being gun-shy when it comes to staying active as an investor. Regardless, taking charge of your financial profile is paramount to getting the most out of your later years.

Income, Income, Income

At Dividend.com, we maintain our focus on the best income-producing investments the markets have to offer during time of heightened volatility. We want to make sure we have only the most pullback-resistant names on our Best Dividend Stocks List . Also, if we see the market putting in what looks like a decent bottom, we will be prepared to scale up the list of stocks we like. Stay tuned and be sure to look for Dividend.com Premium member alerts along the way. Don't count on the government or your employer to set you up for a remarkable retirement. Take control, do your own research, and achieve your goals yourself!

Go Beyond This Newsletter

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Thanks for reading everybody. I'll see you tomorrow!

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The NASDAQ OMX Group, Inc.

Created by Dividend.com


This article appears in: Investing , Stocks

Referenced Stocks: APC , EMR , KO , SLG , WAG

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