Dear Mr. Berko: 

Please tell me your opinion of Porter Stansberry, whose newsletter predicts the immediate collapse of the dollar and the stock market and recommends gold and silver. Should I buy this letter and follow his other advice, which is available only from this publication? Also, tell me your opinion of IBM. I am thinking of buying 55 shares for my retirement account.

T.R., Joliet, Ill.



Dear T.R.:

Porter Stansberry has been predicting the collapse of the dollar and the collapse of the market since 1999. He also predicted that the price of oil would reach $360 a barrel by mid-2013.

Stansberry’s newsletter is a perfect fit if you are intellectually vacant, have a good fourth-grade education, are bereft of common sense, speak only pig Latin or were born on Pluto. This overly chubby prognosticater sells a provocatively written publication about real estate, commodities, the stock market and economic theory so replete with deceit and misinformation that it borders on criminal negligence. The investment advice of this articulate shill is so masterfully egregious that the Securities and Exchange Commission fined him $1.5 million in 2007 for perpetrating a “scheme to defraud public investors by disseminating false information in several Internet newsletters.” 

Stansberry and thousands of investment incompetents who litter the airwaves, dirty your mail and post misleading advertisements in the media have caused irreparable damage to large numbers of investors. I’ve been in this business over 50 years; I’ve watched a lot of water go over the dam, and it’s never been more polluted. I would guess that 40 percent of licensed salespeople selling investment advice are devious, greedy, articulate incompetents. And 35 percent of those who are licensed to peddle investment products are just greedy and articulate. Of the remaining 25 percent, half are basically honest and as dumb as glue, and the other half are just basically honest. It’s tough for civilians to get a fair shake with their retirement portfolios. Brokerage firms hire representatives based foremost on their sales ability, provide four months of financial training and then set them loose like hungry Dobermans after red meat.

Sadly, the overseeing SEC is a bureaucratic farce run by Mary Schapiro, who earned $21 million in her last year as chairwoman of a feckless Financial Industry Regulatory Authority in 2008 before assuming her SEC title. Last year, individual retirement account assets reached $6.5 trillion, and brokerages such as Royal Alliance, Ameriprise Financial, IAA Financial and Primerica, as well as smaller firms, have sliced and diced retirees with dreadful products and outrageous commissions. That’s why I laud a proposal by Jack Bogle (founder of The Vanguard Group) to create a federal body that would approve retirement products to ensure greater oversight of the brokerage industry. 

I like IBM! I’ve always liked IBM. But I don’t like the stock, which has been dead in the water since late 2011. IBM’s dividend record is expialidocious, increasing fivefold in the past decade, though revenues seem to have hit a firewall and stalled at $100 billion. Per-share earnings have tripled in that time frame, and book value has doubled, though primarily because of IBM’s prodigious stock buyback program, which reduced outstanding shares from 1.6 billion to 1 billion this year. The huge cost of buying back 600 million shares has taken a toll on IBM’s creditworthiness. With debt climbing to a record $44 billion, IBM’s credit rating could be lowered from AA- to A+. Revenues have fallen for nine consecutive quarters. Management has laid off 50,000 employees since 2005. And there seems to be a lot of fatigue in the IBM boardroom. This company needs an industrial-sized enema, pronto. Don’t buy it.