Sierra Club launching environmental stock index

Filed under: Banking & Finance |

The Sierra Club’s mutual fund investment arm has launched an index that will track the 100 largest companies that have implemented environmental preservation measures.

The Forward Progressive Large Cap 100 Index includes companies that meet more than 20 environmental criteria, including five exclusionary criteria that consist of tobacco, drilling, mining and military weaponry.

Of the nearly 1,500 publicly-traded large domestic stocks, 305 have met the Sierra Club’s criteria.

Environmentalists have hailed the index as the first of its kind, because socially responsible indices don’t focus specifically on environmental issues. There are other environmental indices, but the Forward Progressive Large Cap 100 Index focuses on sustainability issues and is the first to exclude certain sectors, such as oil and mining.

For more information about The Forward Progressive Large Cap 100 Index, visit www.sierraclubfunds.com.

Wall Street bonuses bigger this year

While many workers might not be expecting a record-breaking bonus this year, Wall Street hot shots have something to look forward to.

For the fourth year in a row, Wall Street workers are expected to receive record bonus increases, according to New York-based compensation consulting firm Johnson Associates.

This year’s bonuses are expected to climb as much as 15 percent for stock brokers, asset managers, senior managers and top executives. Investment bankers are likely to see an increase of up to 20 percent.

Most Wall Street movers and shakers already bring home healthy paychecks. The average investment bank manager will earn about $1.5 million this year, compared with $1.2 million last year, according to the survey.

The top five Wall Street firms, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers Holdings and Bear Stearns, are planning to give their 173,000 employees $36 billion in bonuses by the end of the year — a roughly 30 percent increase compared to last year.

Home is where the assets are

Homeowners consider their houses to be their most important financial asset, and most hesitate to borrow against the equity, according to a survey conducted for Countrywide Home Loans.

Forty percent of respondents said they wouldn’t even consider taking equity out of their homes.

Another 40 percent said they would consider taking equity out of their homes to pay for home improvements. Twenty-one percent said they’d use equity for debt consolidation, and 17 percent said college costs for children would prompt them to take out equity.

The study polled 2,357 adults and found that 48 percent of homeowners consider their houses to be their most important asset. About 43 percent consider it to be an “important” asset.

Credit cards cause most complaints

New statistics show that credit card disputes are the most common consumer complaint made to baking and financial services ombudsmen

Credit card complaints made up two-thirds of consumer finance complaints during the past year.

Complaints are likely increasing because of increasing competition between financial institutions for market share.

Analysts warned that institutions trying to gain market share should be sure that potential customers do not receive a loan or credit card which they cannot afford.

Bleak savings rates nudge upward

For the first time in several years, improvement, however slight, is being seen in the savings habits of Americans. All the talk about Americans making little effort to stash away their money may be getting people’s attention.

The personal savings rate rose from -0.6 percent to -0.5 percent of the average American’s disposable income during the third quarter, according to the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association.

This is after personal savings plunged to an all-time low of -1.5 percent during the third quarter of 2005.

Personal savings rates showed a slight improvement to reach -$46.8 billion from -$54.6 billion during the second quarter.

IRS issues per diem ruling

The Internal Revenue Service issued guidance this week emphasizing the need for employers to track the amount of expense reimbursement allowances paid to employees on a per diem basis.

The ruling warns employers that if they routinely pay per diem allowances in excess of the federal per diem rates but do not track the allowances or require the employees to substantiate the expenses, they may be subject to added employment tax.

Generally, amounts employers pay employees to reimburse them for substantiated business expenses are not subject to employment tax.

The IRS guidance, Ruling 2006-56, is effective immediately.

Rob Larimer covers banking and finance for the Colorado Springs Business Journal.