Q. I am concerned about the future of my shares of Jack in the Box Inc. in light of the weak economy. Can you advise?
A. This restaurant chain named for a child's toy must cope with the very grown-up issues of an economic downturn: unemployment, rising commodity costs, and fierce competition.
To overcome these obstacles, it is constantly marketing new menu items and meal combinations. Its strategy for the past year has been to upgrade its restaurants and to intensify quality control in both service and food.
It operates and franchises 2,220 Jack in the Box fast-food restaurants in 19 states, as well as more than 500 Qdoba Mexican Grill fast-casual restaurants in 43 states and the District of Columbia.
Improvement efforts appeared to pay off with increased same-store sales in the recent third fiscal quarter. Its namesake-store sales were up 4.7 percent, and the company now forecasts a 2 to 3 percent gain for the fiscal year. Qdoba sales increased 5.1 percent, with a 5 to 6 percent fiscal-year rise predicted.
Shares of Jack in the Box (JACK) are down 3 percent this year following last year's 7 percent increase. Fiscal third-quarter earnings fell 23 percent on rising costs and the expenses associated with its revitalization strategy.
Confidence in this stock depends on investor confidence in the firm's ability to weather the economy and become more of a standout among its larger rivals.
Moody's Investors Service recently downgraded ratings on certain portions of the chain's debt. It said the outlook is stable and commended its brand recognition, size, and liquidity. But it cautioned that, in the intermediate term, "soft consumer spending and a persistently high level of promotion continue to negatively impact operating performance."
Consensus analyst opinion on Jack in the Box shares is "hold," according to Thomson Reuters, consisting of four "strong buys," one "buy," seven "holds" and two "underperforms."
Launched in San Diego in 1951, Jack in the Box presents as its fictitious "founder and CEO" a wisecracking actor wearing a round Jack in the Box head in humorous regional TV commercials.
In the real world, the chairman and CEO since 2005 has been Linda Lang, its former COO who is directing the upgrade efforts.
Earnings are expected to decline 4 percent this fiscal year and increase 23 percent the following fiscal year, according to Thomson Reuters. The five-year annualized growth rate is forecast to be 11 percent, compared with 16 percent projected for the restaurant industry.
Q. Does T. Rowe Price Capital Appreciation Fund live up to the good things being said about it?
A. It is a fund with a distinctive portfolio and a decent track record.
More than 70 percent of its holdings are in stocks, and the remainder is a combination of convertible bonds, traditional bonds, bank loans, and cash.
The $11.7 billion T. Rowe Price Capital Appreciation Fund (PACLX) has a one-year annualized return of 3 percent that ranks at the midpoint of moderate allocation funds. Its five-year annualized return of 3 percent places it in the upper one-fifth of its peers.
"Its aim is to beat the Standard & Poor's 500 with less risk over time, and it has actually done that," says Greg Carlson, mutual fund analyst for Morningstar Inc., in Chicago. "While sensitive to the equity markets through its stock holdings and convertible bonds, it is less sensitive to them than an all-equity fund would be."
David Giroux has run the fund since 2006, the first year as a co-manager and the rest by himself. He was previously an analyst of industrial stocks.
The stocks he prefers are those that have been beaten down in price by the market and that feature strong yields. He is assisted by the T. Rowe Price team of analysts, especially in selecting the fixed-rate holdings.
"Giroux is impressive and has generated a really good record in this fund," Carlson says. "It can be considered a core holding for an individual investor."
Compensation of T. Rowe Price portfolio managers is based largely on fund performance. In addition, according to filings, Giroux also has between $500,000 and $1 million of his own money invested in the fund.
Financial services, industrial materials, and consumer goods each represent about 15 percent of its stock portfolio. Its largest stock holdings include PepsiCo Inc., Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc., Danaher Corp., Pfizer Inc., U.S. Bancorp, Procter & Gamble Co., United Technologies, Time Warner Inc., and TE Connectivity Ltd.
This "no-load" (no sales charge) fund requires a $2,500 minimum initial investment and has a low annual expense ratio of 0.98 percent.
Q. I am under financial pressure. Please advise what to think about borrowing money from my individual retirement account.
A. Since borrowing from a retirement account is never a good idea because it affects your future, it should be one of your last considerations.
You can withdraw Roth IRA contributions free of tax or penalty, no matter what your age, because you already paid taxes on that money.
However, withdrawals from a traditional IRA are a different matter.
The IRS permits you to take money out for 60 days. If you do not replace it within that time period, you must pay taxes plus a 10 percent penalty if you are under 59 1/2 years old. If you are taking out traditional IRA money to help pay for a first-time home purchase, the time period extends to 120 days.
"A better option is borrowing from a company 401(k) retirement account," says Angela Thomson, certified financial planner and president of Coastal Financial Planning Inc., Lincoln, R.I. "You have four years to pay that money back and can borrow 50 percent of the value of the 401(k), up to $50,000."
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