Saturday, December 30, 2006

Are Macs Irrelevant?

In my post about recently installing Internet Explorer 7 on my computer, I had mentioned that I have added a Site Meter to my blog. This lets me keep track of some statistics, like browser share. Currently (as of 12/30/06), Internet Explorer represents 61% of the browsers used to view my blog. Firefox is represented by 38%, and the other 1% is an Opera browser.

One of the other statistics that is tracked is operating system (OS). Currently, 100% of the blog readers are using some version of Windows. This means that 0% of you are using an Apple Macintosh. While this is very surprising, Macs almost always represent less than 5% of my audience. I will occasionally see some Linux or UNIX systems show up in the stats. And so far, nobody running Windows Vista (beta) has visited my blog. I have recently purchased a new Compaq computer (made by Hewlett-Packard), and I'm entitled to a copy of Windows Vista when it is officially released.

I suppose that these statistics represent who is visiting this blog, and not the general population as a whole. Since I write this blog for the personal finance community, I would assume that the Windows-based PC is the machine of choice in the area of personal finance.


Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Blogroll

I have been writing for PFStock for about five months now. I am surprised that (so far) nobody has asked me to put their blog onto my Blogroll. By contrast, I've recently been fighting blog spam. I found a bunch of irrelevant comments or links to advertising sites on my blog, which I have deleted.

Anyway, the invitation remains out to legitimate PF bloggers. If you have a personal finance or investing blog, please send me an Email, and I will consider including a link to it. (Note that my Email address is listed in the right side column of my blog.) However, I won't generally link to another blog that doesn't contain original material, or that has more ads than useful text. Even I have standards...


Thursday, December 21, 2006

Cruise Line Shareholder Benefits

I recently noticed that one of my most popular postings on PFStock was my post about Investing in the Cruise Line Industry. Most people reading this post were searching for information about how to get the Shareholder Benefit offered to stock holders of Carnival Corporation (NYSE: CCL), Carnival plc (NYSE: CUK), or Royal Caribbean (NYSE: RCL). I mentioned that each cruise company offers a $100 onboard credit for shareholders that book a 7 day cruise and a minimum of 100 shares. However, I didn't post all of the details at that time.

As a service to my blog readers, I have decided to publish more details of the Carnival and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines (RCCL) shareholder benefit programs. If you are considering going on a cruise in the near future, both RCL and CCL require that shareholders own a minimum of 100 shares of their stock. The associated stock symbols are RCL, CCL, and CUK depending on which cruise you are going on.

For Carnival Corporation (including Carnival Cruise Lines, Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Windstar, Seabourn, and Cunard Line in North America) the following benefit is offered:

Onboard credit per stateroom on sailings of 14 days or longer: US $250
Onboard credit per stateroom on sailings of 7 to 13 days: US $100
Onboard credit per stateroom on sailings of 6 days or less: US $ 50

Outside of North America, Carnival Corporation also operates P&O Cruises, Ocean Village, Swan Hellenic, Costa Cruises, Aida Cruises, and P&O Cruises Australia. Note that on these ships, the shareholder benefit will be offered in British pounds, Euros, or Australian dollars depending on the currency used onboard the particular cruise ship.

This is the direct link to the Carnival Corporation Shareholder Benefit. It gives the address and telephone numbers for each of the cruise lines that offer this benefit.

For Royal Caribbean (RCCL) and Celebrity Cruises the following benefit is offered:

$250 Onboard Credit per Stateroom on Sailings of 14 or more nights.
$200 Onboard Credit per Stateroom on Sailings of 9 to 13 nights.
$100 Onboard Credit per Stateroom on Sailings of 6 to 8 nights.
$50 Onboard Credit per Stateroom on Sailings of 5 nights or less.

The Shareholder Benefit excludes sailings on Celebrity Xpeditions.

Here is the direct link to RCCL Shareholder Benefit. This is an FAQ for their program. And this is a PDF file of the information for Royal Carribean. (I just noticed that the P.O. Box numbers differ between these two documents, so it is probably best to contact RCCL by email or phone before submitting your information to them.)

In general, you will need to mail or fax either a shareholder proxy card or a copy or your brokerage statement to the company (either RCCL or CCL). This is to prove that you own at least 100 shares of stock.

Personally, I have taken advantage of the CCL shareholder benefit twice. However, I have not (yet) used the RCL benefit. If you have general questions about the shareholder benefit, or just want to talk about cruising, I invite you to send me an Email. (Note my Email address is listed in the right side column of my blog). Also, the above links may change or go out of date. If you find that the information or links are out of date, please Email me so that I will know to update it.

The other major player in the North American cruise market is Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL). NCL and NCL America are owned by the Genting Group of Malaysia (which also owns the Asian cruise line Star Cruises). I mentioned that you cannot buy their stock directly in the United States. Unfortunately, a shareholder shipboard credit is not offered for NCL or NCL America cruises.

I have a one final thought. If you don't already own Carnival or RCCL stock, then I do not recommend buying the stock just to get the shareholder benefit. Make your investment decisions to buy CCL or RCL based on your investment needs, and not on your vacation needs.

A Note from the Author:
Thousands of people have read this post, but neither Carnival nor Royal Caribbean compensate me for directing readers to their websites. A few readers have sent me a message of thanks for pointing out a benefit that they didn't know about, but the vast majority of people pass through without saying anything. I don't want to get into the details, but unfortunately, PF Stock has fallen upon some financial difficulties. Things are simply not nearly as stable as they've been in the past.

If you have read my posts and have benefited from the information, I want to ask you to consider making a donation to help out PF Stock. I have added a PayPal link below, if you choose to make a donation. Any amount is appreciated, but of course this is strictly voluntary. Thank you for your support and happy travels.

PLEASE NOTE: There is a newer version of this post. Please see Updated Cruise Line Shareholder Benefits for the latest information.


Sunday, December 10, 2006


This month, I will only be posting sporadically to my blog. I have some well deserved vacation time coming up, and I don't plan to post while I'm away. Have a safe and happy holiday.


Friday, December 1, 2006

The Decline and Fall of Internet-only Banks

Many people know that I have been following approaching demise of NetBank (Nasdaq: NTBK) on this blog. The story began when I decided that I was going to close my NetBank money market account because it was underperforming other money market accounts, and I was tired of the long delays it took to make deposits. I hinted that NetBank would no longer be able to pay competitive interest rates due to some significant losses that they suffered earlier this year. There were questions about where I was getting my information from, so I wrote another post explaining that I got most of my data about NetBank's deteriorating financials from NTBK press releases and the NetBank website. Only one day after I posted that article, NetBank publicly admitted that the company was both unprofitable and unstable. As a result, NetBank ousted their CEO that same week.

At this point, I have gotten all of my money back from NetBank, and redeployed it to some safer institutions. I wanted to point out that the NetBank website offers existing customers a 2.99% APY interest rate for their Standard Money Market. However, I can get a 5.oo% APY at both Citibank and Washington Mutual (WaMu), and they have real branches and ATMs. Note: Please do not misconstrue that I am an advocate for either for Citibank or WaMu here. I am only pointing out the facts about their higher interest rates. The truth is that I've had other issues with both Citibank and Washington Mutual in the past. I have a saying that "There are no good banks, only some that are less bad."

Anyway, I've digressed. On the same web page that notes NetBank's 2.99% APY money market, there is a statement that touts "Earn over three times the national average." However, according to the average MMA is said to pay 3.41% APY.

Am I reading something wrong? It seems like NetBank's rate is actually below the national average. I don't know what y'all folks in Georgia call that, but here in California I call that a bald-faced lie!

At the same site, this is their assessment of Netbank:

We have come to believe that, as of June 30, 2006, [NetBank] exhibited a significantly below average condition, characterized by lower then [sic] normal overall, sustainable profitability, questionable asset quality, below standard capitalization, and lower than normal liquidity.

NetBank could say that other online banks are making similarly outrageous claims. And they wouldn't be wrong. The Orange Savings Account offered by ING Direct pays only 4.50% APY (recently raised from 4.40% APY). At the same time, they claim that the average bank's money market rate is only 0.84% APY. I don't know how they can keep a straight face, when the website shows an average rate much greater than 0.84% APY. Somebody answer one question for me: why do online banks feel it is necessary to outwardly lie in order to attract new customers?

The claim to fame of NetBank, ING, and other internet-only banks is that they save money by doing business online and not incurring the expenses associated with maintaining branch locations. Unfortunately, they are starting to be outmaneuvered by their bricks-and-mortar competitors. The historically high interest rates that online banks used to offer on their deposit accounts was the only compelling reason for their competitive advantage. You can mark my words now: if they fail to compete, this will be the beginning of the end for internet-only banks.