I was going to make this “four more things” until I heard from John Schmitz, referring to last Wednesday’s column about good things coming in threes.
“How about the three R’s — reading, riting and rithmetic?” writes John. “The three bears? The three wise men? The three blind mice? Tic, tac, and toe? The Nina, Pinta and the Santa Maria? I’ve also heard that comedy is most effective when punch lines and stories are grouped in three’s.” And hey — what about Three’s Company? Or the Three-Penny Opera? Or 3Com? Or 3CPO? Or the Tri-Lateral Commission? You see what I’m saying? It always comes back to the Tri-Lateral Commission.
So I am dropping the fourth thing to be thankful for, which is that it’s now OK to use cell phones onboard the airplane while still at the gate, on the not unreasonable theory, I suppose, that a parked aircraft is in minimal danger of crashing. This had long been my theory, leading to no small measure of frustration. I am thankful that reason has prevailed. (I am also getting just the tiniest bit worried about brain cancer, and see no harm in buying one of those little wires that dangle from your ear to the phone.)
Anyway, three things to be thankful for:
1. Free money for doing nothing.
If you’ve ever owned a Toshiba laptop — I’ve owned two — apparently you’re in line for $200-$400 because Toshiba has to pay us $2 billion because . . . well, because . . . I’m actually not going to claim my prize, because it doesn’t feel right. But, as noted over on overlawyered.com, it makes an interesting story.
2. What appears to be the good deal that Prudential is not.
Bill Wong: “American Express has a new brokerage account that offers zero commissions on most trades if the account balance is above $100K, and zero commissions on most purchases (not sales) if it’s above $25,000. It seems a very good deal. People always say that there is no free lunch, do you see any catch?”
Actually, I don’t. Surely Amex will try to sell you all kinds of things once you’ve opened your account — annuities, for example. But no one says you have to succumb.
And it may up its prices one day. But then you can always move your account.
In the meantime, it may be worth considering.
Amex will make money when you trade bonds or options. It will charge 3 cents a share to the extent trades exceed 3,000 shares ($360 if you went to buy 15,000 shares of some $1 stock, and another $360 when you came to your senses and sold it). It will probably make some money on “order flow” — for directing your trades to market makers who profit from the spread between the bid and asked prices. It will make money when you leave cash on deposit at a relatively low (though competitive) interest rate and/or when you borrow against your account at the somewhat higher (though competitive) margin rate. It will make a little money lending out your securities to short sellers (don’t worry, you won;t even know they are gone). And did I mention it will try to sell you things? But so do a lot of brokerage firms that don’t offer free commissions and that may not give you the sense of security and high level of customer service Amex is likely to.
So, while I may be missing something here — I know I’ll be hearing from some of you if I am, and I welcome that — it looks to me like a good deal. I even tried going through the “instant application” process myself (not certain whether I would actually have gone the final click), but the two times I tried it . . . oops . . . it was not working and I was asked to try again later. Overwhelmed with demand? Ironing out kinks? Well, the Internet is still young.
And did I mention the fee-free Amex gold card? That saves you $85 a year. And the fee-free checking account? Geez, I think I may try that instant account thing again. (To see for yourself, click here.)
3. You may not have to write down that old inventory after all.
I can’t tell you whether they will be able to clone a woolly mammoth from 20,000-year-old frozen DNA, as some hope, but I can tell you that Fat-Free Kraft Blue Cheese salad dressing “Best Bought Before January 8, 1993” and refrigerated ever since tasted just fine when I finally got around to popping the cork today. And, if you find a new column in this space again Friday, it seems not to kill you, either.