Q. When I took Economics 101 in college, I was taught that Wall Street is a marketplace for investors and that investors like a stable business climate. However, in one of your stories about the stock market, you wrote that Wall Street traders prefer layoffs. How can that be so?
A. I never said the way they do things on Wall Street makes sense.
The stock market _ a collection of stock exchanges and electronic trading systems _ is a meeting place for both traders and investors who want to buy or sell securities. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between the two, but one way of looking at it is that investors have a longer-term outlook, while traders are focused on today (or even this minute.) On a day-to-day basis, it's the traders who make the market move.
Because traders are a fickle bunch, one day they can be worried that the economy is too weak, threatening corporate profits, and the next day they can be worried that the economy is too strong, raising inflation fears.
Wall Street traders often favor signs of weakness, such as layoffs, because they don't want the Federal Reserve Board to get worried about inflation and start raising interest rates to cool down the economy.
I don't know when you took Econ 101, but chances are that it was back when individual investors had more influence on the stock market than they do today.
These days far more decisions are in the hands of professional money managers, who are under pressure to show good results every quarter. They often act more like traders than investors. A lot of them tend to do the same thing at the same time, producing what some critics call a "herd mentality."
Q. When my husband passed away 15 years ago, I decided to make out a trust, since I had no children to handle my affairs. The lawyer suggested I leave some money to a certain organization, and I went along with it. Now I would like to leave the money to relatives instead. Can I cross out that donation and initial the crossout? I don't want to make out a new trust because it costs too much and it requires going to a lawyer, which I can no longer do easily since I gave up my car.
A. What you are proposing is not a good idea. If you change a trust document after it has been witnessed, how can the courts be sure the changes and those initials are really yours?
"By doing things out of the ordinary, she may be creating future litigation for heirs that will cost a whole lot more in legal fees than having a lawyer look at it," said St. Petersburg lawyer James Martin. "To amend your will or trust (through a lawyer) every 15 years is not too frequent."
He said some lawyers are willing to go to clients' homes, but it probably would be less expensive for you to take a taxi to a lawyer's office.
You might not need a whole new trust. If it's properly done, you can change a beneficiary with an amendment to your trust.
Q. I am interested in investing in closed-end funds. How can I find out whether a fund is selling at a premium or a discount to its net asset value?
A. Closed-end funds are mutual funds that trade like stocks. Right now they look particularly enticing to some investors because many of them are selling for less than the net asset value, which is what they would be worth if the fund's assets were sold and the cash divided up among the shareholders.
Every Monday both the Wall Street Journal and Barron's publish the net asset values and discounts or premiums for closed-end funds. If you know a fund's ticker symbol, you also can get the information from Herzfeld Closed-End Funds on Call at (305) 274-5333. There is no charge for the information, but regular long-distance charges apply.
Morningstar Investor ($79 a year), a monthly report on mutual funds, includes four pages of information on closed-end funds. More extensive (and expensive) publications on closed-end funds also are available from Morningstar at (800) 876-5005 and from Thomas J. Herzfeld Advisors at (305) 271-1900.
Helen Huntley writes about investing and markets for the Times. If you have a question about investments or personal finance, send it to On Money. We'll try to answer those we think are of greatest reader interest. All questions must be submitted in writing, but readers' names will not be published. Send questions to Helen Huntley, Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or to huntleysptimes.com by electronic mail.