Dear Mr. Berko: 

I remember that way back in 1988, a reader had $20,000 to speculate with, and you gave him a list of 11 cellular stocks to buy. You told him to invest $1,500 in each and hold them for a dozen years. We couldn’t buy any of those stocks then because we didn’t have two nickels to rub together. I wish we could have, because those cellular stocks - after 25 years of cellphone companies merging with other cellphone companies - are probably worth 20 times what they sold for in 1988.

Now I’m 47. Our kids are on their own, and I make good money, even more than my husband does. We have more than $60,000 in the bank. We have almost no mortgage on our home and two individual retirement accounts, and each of us has a 401(k) plan from an employer. Unfortunately, neither of our 401(k) plans is worth bragging about. You should see some of the junky mutual funds they offer me. Because the mutual funds are so bad, our broker recommended that we liquidate them and move the cash to a Roth IRA. He would then invest the money in a variable annuity and an index annuity, and because the money would be in a Roth, there would be zero taxes on the income when we retire. My husband and I have argued about this, and he refuses because he thinks the broker is a crook. But life is good, and we decided that we want to speculate with $10,000 from savings. Because I think that 3-D printing is the next trillion-dollar industry (though my husband thinks it’s a fad), we would like to speculate with a list of 3-D stocks that you would recommend for us.

L.S., Fort Walton Beach, Fla.



Dear L.S.: 

Sometimes, husbands who earn less than their spouses make better financial decisions than their wives. In this instance, your husband’s as right as a prayer about your broker. And prayer is what you’d need if you followed that broker’s malodorous advice. If you transfer a 401(k) balance (on which you’ve not paid taxes) to a regular IRA, there are no federal taxes involved until you begin taking income upon retirement. But if you were to move that 401(k) balance to a Roth IRA, the entire amount would become taxable as ordinary income this year. The tax consequences could be huge, and you’d be screaming bloody murder at tax time next year. That takes the cupcake for the most audacious financial misadvice I’ve heard.

I’m familiar with your 401(k) plan choices because I’m familiar with the company that employs you. Yep, you’re right that your mutual fund choices really stink, and management knows it. In fact, one of the company’s employees in Ohio has been encouraging management to make some changes in your fund choices. So be patient, because I think he will succeed shortly. Meanwhile, I recommend that you show this column to your conniving scoundrel of a broker and demand he take a long walk off a short pier.

I also believe that 3-D printing can be a trillion-dollar industry. The medical and industrial applications are beyond the scope of our imagination. This is an example of “creative destruction,” in which new technology will destroy the old manufacturing technologies, creating massive pockets of obsolescence and causing millions of workers to lose their jobs in the process. This process of industrial mutation will impact industry and labor as did the advent of the steam engine, electricity and the automobile. So consider the following issues: Proto Labs Inc. (PRLB-$70.10), Stratasys Ltd. (SSYS-$134.01), 3D Systems Corp. (DDD-$94.19), ExOne Co. (XONE-$62.53), Voxeljet AG (VJET-$43.33) and Dassault Systemes SA (DASTY-$123.37).

These issues are extremely volatile and trading at numbers so high that even angels fear to fly there. Few folks (including me) know enough to put their imprimatur on any specific issue. But if you’re comfortable gargling with Drano or leapfrogging over unicorns, these issues could be for you.

Read about how 3-D printing technology is changing the manufacturing industry in Iowa here.