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Smoking, drinking and packing on the pounds -- these picks have it all.

By InvestorPlace Mon 1:59 PM

Credit: © Liu Jin/AFP/Getty Images
Caption: Customers drinking beer outside the Great Leap bar in BeijingBy Kent Thune

Sin sells, and consumers are buying.

Bulking up your portfolio with mutual funds that invest in sin stocks -- which include alcohol, tobacco, and gaming -- can be a smart defensive play now or a good tool for diversification at any time.

Much like other stocks that are considered to be consumer staples industries, such as healthcare or utilities, sin stocks have a defensive element that enables them to outperform broad market indices, such as the Standard & Poor's 500 Index ($INX), even during recession.

When the economy weakens, consumers tend to cut back their spending on products and services considered to be luxury or high-end, such as automobiles and entertainment, and pay for only what they believe to be necessities, such as pharmaceutical drugs, electricity and beer.

Wait a minute! Beer is a necessity? Perhaps not, but it is an item that consumers are not quick to cut out of their budget, even in difficult financial times.


Since May, money has been flowing out of mutual funds that focus on the US stock market.

By MSN Money Partner Mon 1:47 PM
Image: Stock investor © Tom Grill/CorbisBy Jeff Cox, CNBC

After close to a year and a half of pumping money into the stock market, mom-and-pop investors have spent most of the summer in hiding.

Since May, money has been streaming out of mutual funds that invest in the stock market -- particularly those that are focused on U.S.-based equities. Domestic equity mutual funds surrendered some $26.6 billion in May, June and July, according to data from Morningstar that reflects investor unease over a confluence of factors facing the market.

"Investors certainly have been given enough reason to be cautious," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities. "Every day, we wake up to a new or intensifying geopolitical problem, whether it's Russia, Ukraine, Pakistan, which could be building up as a problem. We have issues with Ebola -- there's a multitude of concerns at the time, even when the market is just a percentage point or two of its record highs."

Tags: SCHW

Long checkout lines are one of the retailer's biggest customer complaints. It's now dedicating more employees to the problem.

By MSN Money Partner Mon 1:33 PM
Credit: © Jim West/Alamy

Caption: An employee staffs a checkout lane at a Walmart storeBy Shelly Banjo, The Wall Street Journal

In an attempt to lure more customers this holiday season, Wal-Mart (WMT) is promising to staff each of its cash register from the day after Thanksgiving through the days just before Christmas during peak shopping times.

The move, called the "checkout promise," is aimed at addressing one of the retailer's biggest customer complaints: long waits in checkout lines, which can cause even more frustration when positions aren't fully staffed. The pledge will cover hours typically on weekend afternoons but which can vary by store.

"We feel good about price and having the top gifts of the season, so the next priority is about getting customers in and out of the stores quickly," Duncan Mac Naughton, Wal-Mart's chief merchandising officer, said in an interview. "Taking the possibility of waiting in long lines off the table will attract more people into stores."

Tags: WMT

The advocacy group Moms Demand Action is calling on the grocery chain to ban guns from stores.

By MSN Money Partner Mon 12:48 PM
Kroger logo on a grocery cart (© Brian Christopher/Demotix/Demotix/Corbis)By Ben Geier, Fortune

Kroger (KR) is the latest retailing chain to be dragged into the battle over gun rights.

The anti-open carry advocacy group Moms Demand Action has issued a statement calling on the grocery company to ban openly-carried firearms in its stores.

In a press release, the group calls out President and COO Michael Ellis and CEO W. Rodney McMullen to ban open carry in Kroger stores. The call comes after pro-open carry activists brought guns into Kroger stores while grocery shopping, a tactic that has drawn the ire of Moms Demand Action before.


Companies want to relocate offshore to dodge Uncle Sam, but investors holding shares in taxable accounts will pay.

By MSN Money Partner Mon 12:36 PM
Image: Tax form © Corbis​By Chuck Jaffe, MarketWatch

Individual investors typically produce better results when they live by a set of rules and beliefs on what to buy, hold or sell.

Recently, based on news events that forced me to look at my own portfolio, I added a new guideline to my personal investment process: I will not stick with any company that goes through with a "tax inversion."

Inversion deals have been in the news of late, becoming a political football. Lost amid the rhetoric and President Obama calling them "unpatriotic," is a fundamental truth: They're not good for long-term shareholders who hold stocks in taxable accounts.

That's a deal-killer for me, but to see why, we have to put on the hip waders and venture into the muck of the tax code and companies trying to beat it.


There's no easy answer to the interest-rate dilemma as officials travel this week to their annual meeting in Jackson Hole.

By MSN Money Partner Mon 12:12 PM
Credit: © J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo
Caption: Federal Reserve Chair Janet YellenBy Jon Hilsenrath, The Wall Street Journal

In a recent Wall Street Journal survey, 30 private economists said they feared the Federal Reserve would wait too long before raising short-term interest rates, while only three said they feared the Fed would move too early.

Will the Fed fall behind the curve and keep interest rates too low for too long as the economy strengthens? 

The question looms as officials travel this week to their annual gathering in Jackson Hole, Wyo., where they and the world's leading central bankers discuss economic issues.

Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen (pictured) and academic papers presented at the meeting will focus on labor markets, which are improving rapidly even though U.S. economic growth has been sluggish and erratic. Ms. Yellen seems likely to acknowledge the improving job market, though she has argued for much of the year that slack and headwinds endure after the 2008-09 financial crisis.

Tags: ETN

The retailer is about to sink billions into developing its Rack website. Remember what happened to newspapers after they tried a similar tactic?

By Jim Cramer Mon 11:53 AM

The Nordstrom store located in Troy, Mich. © Gary Malerba/APOf all the truly disturbing retail conference calls we heard last week, it wasn't the disappointing Macy's (M) call that got to me or the ho-hum, Mike Ullman-less J.C. Penney (JCP) call. It was the Nordstrom (JWN) run-through.

The call itself, on the surface, seemed like a good one. There was a new acquisition that seems to be panning out, an expansion of the Rack that everyone loves and a careful invasion of Canada -- unlike Target's (TGT) disastrous foray. Comparable-store sales are growing in the high 3 percent area, which seemed encouraging, and we could see how the stock might continue to rally as it did into the quarter.

But then we heard about "the spend." We heard that Nordstrom is going to invest $3.9 billion in capital in order to stay competitive, including $1.2 billion in technology -- and we reeled. That's even more than we thought last time, when the company talked about spending for what now seems like a run-in-place. The spending is causing a gross-margin guide-down, which is not what investors want to hear with 3 percent-plus comparable-store-sales growth.


As shoppers visit fewer stores and trade PacSun and Abercrombie & Fitch for Michael Kors and Coach, the traditional indoor mall fades further into retail memory.

By TheStreet.com Staff Mon 11:35 AM

Back to school sale at a mall in Miami, Fla. © Jeff Greenberg/AlamyBy Jason Notte, TheStreet

Call it Back To School, B2S or some other little moniker indicating an end-of-summer retail holiday: It's just another reason not to go to the mall.

Once a necessary end-of-summer stop packed with clothes, food courts, arcades and expendable income, the giant indoor mall just keeps limping toward its demise. ShopperTrak, whose entire purpose is to gauge retail foot traffic, says the number of folks who passed through indoor malls last year dropped 15 percent from the year before and has been falling steadily.

The National Retail Federation has tried to be somewhat optimistic. The retail industry group notes that the $26.5 billion consumers are expected to spend on back to back-to-school items for kindergarteners through high school seniors is down from last year, but that spending per student is up to $669 from $634. Altogether, school and college shoppers are expected to spend roughly $75 billion before the school year starts.


The renewed turmoil is sending ripples through the bond market and European stocks.

By InvestorPlace Fri 5:46 PM

Credit: © Yuri Kocketkov/EPA
Caption: A Russian convoy carrying humanitarian aid for residents in rebel eastern Ukrainian regions moves along a road about 50 km from Voronezh, Russia.By Anthony Mirhaydari

Stocks came under pressure on Friday as the situation in Eastern Europe kicked up a few notches.

With Russia's near 300-truck-long "humanitarian" convoy parked near the Ukrainian border, British journalists reportedly witnessed a convoy of Russian military vehicles -- including 23 armored personnel carriers -- cross into Ukraine.

Ukraine said it destroyed part of this convoy. Russia denies sending anything over in the first place.

The renewed escalation of tensions has stocks on the slide again, threatening to put an end to the two-week rebound the market had been enjoying. The situation on the ground remains in flux, with Ukrainian border guards apparently inspecting Russia's aid convoy in preparation of the move across the border. But confusion reigns.


The company is shifting its portfolio, placing bets on Verizon, DirecTV and Charter Communications.

By MSN Money Partner Fri 4:33 PM
Caption: Billionaire investor Warren Buffett
Credit: © Nati Harnik/APBy Stephen Gandel, Fortune

Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A) traded one cable investment for another in the second quarter, both with ties to media investor John Malone. And it increased its bet on Verizon (VZ).

The moves are a part of a shift in Berkshire's investment portfolio toward media plays, likely driven by Todd Combs and Ted Weschler, two investment professionals hired by Buffett as part of his succession plan.

According to a financial filing that came out on Thursday evening, the insurance conglomerate purchased just over 2 million shares of cable television provider Charter Communications (CHTR) in the second quarter. The stake was worth about $365 million at the end of June. 


Does the billionaire investor know something the rest of us don't?

By MSN Money Partner Fri 4:01 PM
Credit: © ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images

Caption: George Soros
By Barbara Kollmeyer, MarketWatch

Oh, goody. It’s 13F time, when mere mortals like us get to see how the big boys rolled the dice in the last quarter.

Among the highlights, Soros Fund Management increased a bear-call bet on the Standard & Poor's 500 Index ($INX) in a huge way. 

The fund lifted a "put" position -- a bet the market will go lower -- on the S&P 500 ETF (SPY) to its biggest size yet, in terms of value and portfolio percentage, making a 605 percent leap over the previous quarter.

Bullion Baron, who has long kept a beady eye on George Soros' (pictured) SPY moves, has summed up the latest dealings. He speculated that this could be a hedge -- or Soros is really worried about something. 


The company is making a big bet on its Neighborhood Market stores. These photos show what the fuss is all about.

By MSN Money Partner Fri 2:10 PM
Credit: © Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Caption: Grocery items sit inside a cart at a Wal-Mart store in Alexandria, Va.By Ashley Lutz, Business Insider

Supercenters are on the decline as shoppers seek out smaller, more convenient stores.

Wal-Mart (WMTsaid this week that sales at U.S. mega-stores have been falling.

But there's still a bright spot in its business -- the Neighborhood Market concept. Sales at the markets were up an impressive 5.6 percent. 

"I think convenience is where the consumers have been looking, [especially] if you look at the Baby Boomers," Wal-Mart CFO Charles Holley said on a call with reporters Thursday.

Wal-Mart has about 400 Neighborhood Markets, compared with more than 3,300 Supercenters, notes Kyle Stock at Bloomberg Businessweek. The average store is about 20 percent the size of a Supercenter. 

Tags: WMT

A piece of Berkshire Hathaway costs nearly as much as an average home mortgage. Is it worth a buy?

By InvestorPlace Fri 1:48 PM

Credit: © Jim Thompson/Newscom/ZUMA Press
Caption: A Berkshire Hathaway sign is seen in Albuquerque, NM.By Lawrence Meyers

Well, Warren Buffett has gone and done it.

Berkshire Hathaway's Class A shares (BRK.A) topped the $200,000-per-share level for the first time this week, putting a single share of BRK.A stock just under the level of your average home mortgage.

Now seems as good a time as any, then, to talk to the investing world's well-heeled and discuss the prospects of owning such an elite product.

Here are the pros and cons of owning Berkshire Hathaway at the bargain price of $200,000 per share:


Even after a sloppy summer, stocks look like they will keep grinding up, 2 investing pros say.

By MSN Money Partner Fri 1:18 PM
Image: Stock market © Digital Vision/SuperStockBy Matthew J. Belvedere, CNBC

Despite the rough ride this summer due to international turmoil, stocks look like they're poised to continue their upward march, two market watchers told CNBC on Friday.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average ($INDU), Standard & Poor's 500 Index ($INX), and Nasdaq Composite Index ($COMPX) are on pace to clock in their biggest weekly gains in six weeks, after mollifying remarks Thursday from Russian President Vladimir Putin about Ukraine and an easing of tensions in Iraq.

"Stocks have been sloppy this summer. [But] we're still looking like we're grinding higher," Rebecca Patterson, chief investment officer at Bessemer Trust, said in a "Squawk Box" interview. "We've stayed overweight [stocks] and ridden through a sloppy summer."

Tags: MWMT

The new Fire smartphone isn't awful or necessarily doing anything wrong, the magazine notes. It just locks people out of some options.

By MSN Money Partner Fri 12:52 PM
Credit: © Ted S. Warren/AP

Caption: The new Amazon Fire PhoneBy Michelle Fox, CNBC

The new Amazon Fire smartphone (pictured) doesn't measure up against its competitors and "traps" its users in the Amazon ecosystem, according to a review by Consumer Reports.

While the Fire, which wants to be the ultimate shopping phone, taps into all Amazon (AMZN) has to offer, other phones can provide most of those benefits, Mike Gikas, an editor at Consumer Reportssaid Thursday on CNBC's "Power Lunch."

Instead, users are "trapped in Amazon's retail world."

"What happens with the Fire is that it's locked out of Google's Play app store, which prevents people from downloading very popular Google (GOOG) apps" like Gmail, Google Maps and the search tool Google Now, Gikas said. "These apps work together in a very interesting and compelling way that a lot of people like."



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Top Stocks provides analysis about the most noteworthy stocks in the market each day, combining some of the best content from around the MSN Money site and the rest of the Web.

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[BRIEFING.COM] The stock market continued its strong start to the week with a broad-based Tuesday rally that sent the S&P 500 higher by 0.5%. Nine of ten sectors registered gains while the benchmark index extended its week-to-date advance to 1.4%.

Equities received an opening boost from a pair of economic data points that crossed the wires this morning. An in-line CPI report suggested inflationary pressures remain contained, while a better than expected Housing Starts report ... More


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