(MONEY Magazine) – Q Technology stocks have been a big disappointment. But the shares of those companies are cheap. Isn't the time to buy now? --Kate Zhang, Los Angeles
ANSWER The time to buy is when others are pessimistic. The more negative people are, the more likely it is you're getting a bargain. That may be the case today with technology stocks, which are selling at their lowest price-to-earnings ratios--what you pay for each dollar of per-share income--in years. Tech, never cheap, is just 25% more expensive than the market in general. In the late 1990s, the premium was four times as large. The earnings at technology companies are expected to slow this year, which is why their shares are down and may continue to falter in the next 12 months. If you plan to hold on to technology stocks for five years or more, however, this looks like an attractive entry point.
There are a number of ways to invest. You can buy into the currently unloved semiconductor sector (see "Why It's Time to Dip into Chips" on page 88). Or you can invest in the big hardware and software makers. They tend to prosper in the later stages of economic cycles because companies have built up cash to spend on expensive upgrades. Technology Select Sector SPDR (XLK) is an exchange-traded fund that holds 90 of the market's largest tech stocks, including stalwarts Microsoft, IBM and Intel. Its expense ratio of 0.26% makes it a steal.
Q I would like to start investing for my two daughters' education but don't like my state's college savings plan. What benefits, tax or otherwise, do I lose by investing in another state's 529 plan, preferably one run by a company like Vanguard? --Dave Kautter, Cherry Hill, N.J.
ANSWER You have little to lose by leaving the Garden State. Unlike many states, New Jersey offers no income tax deduction for contributing to its college savings plan. What's more, while some states impose taxes on gains in out-of-state plans, New Jersey doesn't. So if you end up investing elsewhere, your gains will be shielded from state and federal income taxes, provided they are used for education expenses.
The one benefit you do give up by going out of state is a chance for a $1,500 scholarship if your child attends college in New Jersey. But Chris Cordaro, a Chatham, N.J.-based financial planner, thinks that's little reward for sticking with the state's expensive 529 plan, which levies annual fees as high as 2.5%. Cordaro advises his local clients to enroll in Michigan's savings plan, run by TIAA-CREF (misaves.com). Management fees are just 0.65% a year, and the plan offers lots of choice, including funds that allocate assets according to a child's age.