Q. What are your thoughts on the stock of Black & Decker Corp.?
A. You'd need a power saw to cut through this firm's debt.
Don't buy shares of Black & Decker Corp. (around $9, NYSE), the famous manufacturer of portable electric tools, for the stock's total return looks extremely weak for the coming year, said Greg Nejmeh, analyst with Shearson Lehman Brothers.
The company's stock has declined 50 percent in value this year and its debt load is close to $3.5 billion, a result of its purchase of the Emhart business last year.
"I'd wait and see, for there are some positives," said Nejmeh. "For example, it does have a recognizable product line, it has cut its costs and a weaker dollar should boost the overseas sales which already account for half of its business."
Q. We own 50 shares of L.A. Gear Inc. and have been considering selling those shares because of the company's weak earnings. What do you think?
A. Ever since the release of its unusual-looking Michael Jackson sports shoe, this company's profits have been moonwalking backwards.
Nonetheless, you should probably hold your shares of L.A. Gear Inc. (around $12 a share, New York Stock Exchange), the high-style athletic footwear firm, for this year's drop in profits has been the company's first negative story in three years, said Jay Meltzer, analyst with Goldman Sachs.
"Recent lower earnings were accompanied by an impressive increase in incoming orders, so I would still give the company time to prove itself," advised Meltzer. "Furthermore, L.A. Gear is still trying to determine the impact of that new product line endorsed by Michael Jackson on future sales."
Q. My investment-wise friend keeps recommending Tiffany & Co. to me as a great stock. I can't believe people are buying diamonds or anything else these days. What do you think?
A. Despite the troubled U.S. economy, this stock is a jewel.
Tiffany & Co. (around $36, NYSE), retailer of fine jewelry and gift items, is a good near- and long-term investment, said Janet Kloppenburg, analyst with Robertson, Stevens & Co.
The company has been enjoying a record 90 percent increase in sales overseas, with the Asian and European markets especially strong. That overrides the meager 2 percent rise in U.S. sales. Tiffany's continues to have an excellent, well-regarded product line and its exclusive products are extremely popular.
"Though the United States is tightening its belt, the typical Tiffany customer continues to be the upper-income, well-established individual," said Kloppenburg. "I would buy the stock based on the premise that the international sales surge will more than compensate for lethargic U.S. sales."
Q. About 10 years ago, I purchased 200 shares of Cymaticolor Corp. Is this stock valuable today? I can't find out a thing about it.
A. The stock of Cymaticolor Corp., a firm still in existence at 106 Mayfield Ave., Edison, N.J. 08818, hasn't been traded since last January, according to Robert D. Fisher, vice president with the New York-based R.M. Smythe & Co. stock-search firm.
At that time, it was trading for a mere 1 cent per share, and there currently is no market at all for its shares.
Q. My financial planner is recommending that my wife and I invest in an annuity, which he says is similar to an individual retirement account. Can you explain the difference? Will this impact our IRA?
A. An annuity, which is basically a contract that permits you to deposit money with a guarantee for a certain return on investment and return of principal, will not affect your current IRA, said James Schlesser, tax partner with Deloitte & Touche.
"Qualified annuities are no different from IRAs as a general concept, in that invested earnings are tax-deferred until you withdraw your money," said Schlesser, noting that an annuity, unless sold as the investment vehicle within a tax-deductible IRA, does not offer tax deductibility. "However, a specific annuity contract may vary, depending on the financial institution from which you purchased it, so be sure to obtain the specifics in writing in advance."
Q. The price of my shares of Wallace Computer Services has almost been cut in half since the start of the year. Should I buy more while the price is down?
A. You don't need to do a computer run to figure this stock's prospects.
The current low price of the shares of Wallace Computer Services (around $18, NYSE), leading producer of computer services and supplies, makes this an opportune time to invest, said Richard Wholey of Chicago-based Wayne Hummer & Co.
In July, Wallace reported its 29th consecutive year of increased sales and earnings. Its stock price is now at its lowest relationship to earnings in several years and its dividend yield is high.
"A weak economy, rising paper costs and increasing competition have hurt most of the companies in this industry," observed Wholey. "However, Wallace has effectively increased its research and development expenditures while working to control its other costs."
Andrew Leckey answers questions only through his column. Address such inquiries to Andrew Leckey, Chicago Tribune, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.