See? I told you people would one day care about income again, once the musical chairs stopped and they couldn’t count on 30% gains in the stock market each year. Indeed, with the NASDAQ down from over 5000 to under 3000, Priceline down from 105 to under 3 and Yahoo down from 250 to 40, some folks have even . . . lost a penny or two.

 The safe way to get yield is with Treasury securities. But if you’re willing to take some appreciable risk, you have lots of alternatives.

One real estate investment trust I’ve long owned is B.F. Saul – symbol BFS – with shopping centers in the Washington DC area. It is definitely not one of the best REITs, which is the main reason it sells for just $16 a share when it pays $1.56 dividend. That’s 9.7% on your money.

Another hoped-for income-producer I own is Criimi Mae’s Series G Preferred stock. The common stock symbol is CMM. The company is in the mortgage business. The preferred stock trades for under $8 and promises to pay $1.50 a share dividend based on a $10 redemption price if the stock is ever called in. So this would give you about 19% a year, plus more than a 25% bonus if the stock is ever redeemed at $10.

A final thought: Ameritrade’s 5.75% bonds maturing August 1, 2004. Currently, they trade at around 56, meaning $560 for each $1,000 bond. You get $57.50 interest from each bond – better than 10% a year – and in less than four years, if the company survives, the bonds will be redeemed at their full $1,000 face value. This works out to a 25% a year compounded return.

There is risk in all three of these, which is why the yields are so attractive. You should never risk money you can’t afford to lose.

And now a word about the election.

I think Al Gore will be our next president, because I think the courts will be predisposed to counting the ballots. The Bush lead in Florida is currently 537 votes. But that’s without counting Palm Beach’s painstaking manual recount, and without counting 10,000 or so ballots in Dade County. When these ballots are counted, the Vice President will likely have carried Florida by a slim margin, just as with the national vote.

No one is asking for endless recounts – just one careful count. Those 10,000 or so ballots in Dade County have not been counted once or twice or three times – they simply have not been counted at all. The machine couldn’t read them.

A machine count is fine when a race isn’t too close. But when two candidates are separated by less than a tenth of one percent, what sense does it make to rely on a machine that is only 99%? It’s like measuring the width of a human hair with a yardstick.

The frame for this story all along should have been, ‘Closest Presidential Race in History – Outcome Not Likely to Be Known for Weeks.’ That was the unbiased truth. Nor was it terribly troubling.

Instead, the call was made by the Fox network at 2:16am on election night, and the other networks quickly fell into line. What a lot of people still don’t know is that the guy who made the call at Fox – Rupert Murdoch’s right-leaning network — was a Bush family member, who’d been on the phone to the Bush boys all night. The Bush family in effect declared themselves winners. And the other networks, perhaps panicked at being beaten, all followed suit within 4 minutes.

Clearly, at 2:16am Wednesday morning the race remained too close to call. But to much of America, Bush had won. The TV had said so. (Read the full story here.) And from then on, the Bush folks managed to cast any efforts actually to count the ballots as just so much bad sportsmanship.

But I think the courts will say the ballots should be counted, and that we will find that slightly more Floridians voted for the Vice President than for the Governor. And that’s even without adjusting for all folks who seem to have voted for Buchanan by mistake, or who double-punched confusing ballots, or who were intimidated into not voting.

(And, yes, it was rotten that the networks, earlier in the evening, had called Florida for Gore before the polls in the Panhandle had closed – this really was a colossal error. But the early call wasn’t made an hour in advance of the polls closing, just 10 minutes. It’s hard to imagine that most voters in the Panhandle hadn’t already voted. Or that, where they were already at the polling place, they didn’t stay to vote anyway – if only because there were other items on the ballot besides Bush v Gore.)

I wouldn’t bet my life on the outcome. And as I’ve repeatedly said, we should all rally round George W. Bush and wish him well if he wins. But it’s looking a lot better for Al Gore than the Bush folks would have you believe. Not only did Gore win more votes for President than anyone in the history of the country except Ronald Reagan, he likely also won the vote in Florida as well.

 

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