Dear Mr. Berko:

When we got married in 1973, my father-in-law offered us a big wedding or 300 shares of Standard Oil of New Jersey. We chose 300 shares of Standard Oil, or perhaps I should say I chose Standard Oil stock. I remember how angry my wife was, but we laugh about it now. At that time, the stock was about $50 a share. We still own the stock and have 9,600 shares because of splits. I recently retired after 30 years in the Army, and I have a good retirement income. And we always used our growing dividends (now $22,000 a year) as donations to our temple, the Red Cross, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Wounded Warrior Project, the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind and smaller charities.

A stockbroker we’ve known for years wants us to sell all our shares, which are now shares of Exxon Mobil. He thinks we should diversify for safety because natural gas will become more important than oil in the coming years. He advises us to put our money into six mutual funds, a private oil drilling partnership, a variable annuity and a private real estate partnership. His diversification concept makes sense, especially when our accountant tells us that we could triple our income with the better safety. We’re not concerned about inheritance taxes. Our married children don’t need the money, so years ago, we decided to donate our shares to four charities when the time comes. We know little about investing, and though diversification seems like a good idea, something tells both of us that this may not be so good as it sounds. We have been reading your column for 25 years and figured it’s time to write for your opinion. What should we do?

One last question: My wife and I gamble with $6,000 to $9,000. We haven’t done well over the past 15 years, but we have fun doing it together. What is your opinion of Invacare at $16? The broker says it could go to $28 in the next year.

G.S., Durham, N.C.



Dear G.S.:

What a wonderful (300 shares of Standard Oil of New Jersey) choice you guys made. We both know lots of stupids with big egos and small brains who got mired in debt, hiring fawning wedding planners and then jumping through hoops like circus horses to impress people they thought were important, people they didn’t know and family members they hadn’t talked to in years. In fact, a monsignor I’ve known since 1972 quips, “The fancier the wedding, the worse the marriage.” But the American Association of Certified Wedding Planners does a yeoman’s job selling brides and parents on fleeting wedding kitsch.

As you said, Standard Oil of New Jersey is now Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM-$86.61). It has split 2-for-1 five times since 1976, and you now have 9,600 shares, which are worth $850,000 and pay dividends of $22,000. I won’t give you a colorfully worded response. It suffices to say that I urge you to keep every XOM share. Exxon Mobil may split again this year or next and should raise its dividend again and again and again. And as quickly as you can, find another broker, because this brokster is a thief and is dangerous to your financial health. Meanwhile, the charities that receive your XOM may never sell them.

Invacare Corp. (IVC-$11.65) is in the enormously profitable business of manufacturing and selling hugely marked-up medical equipment to the non-acute care health market, supported by Medicare and Medicaid – battery-operated scooters that cost $700 and retail for $7,000, power wheelchairs, manual mobility products, home care beds, oxygen accessories, seating products, braces and the like. I can’t recommend IVC, because I don’t understand its weird, inconsistent income statements and valuation ratios. And I won’t trust a management team that would approve the publication of such unprofessional financial numbers.