Archive for May, 2008

Investing in ETNs (exchange-traded notes)

ETFs, Personal finance

Ever since reading some years back, I’ve followed Jim Rogers and his investment advice off and on. Back in 1998, he created something called the , which was the broadest commodity index available and attempted to represent both developing and developed countries’ consumption patterns.

The only problem was that it was hard for the average individual investor to actually invest in the RICI. This changed last year with the advent of . Their offerings of products include four that are related to the RICI, RJI (the Rogers International Commodity ETN), RJA (agriculture), RJN (energy), and RJZ (metals).

Having invested and written about before, I wanted to look into what were all about. But because they’re relatively new, not nearly as much has been written about them. Seeking Alpha had a few good articles, and I’m still in the midst of reading RJI’s prospectus to try to understand what it is that I’d be getting into if I invested in it.

Here’s what I’ve been able to gather at a basic level. Underlying exchange-traded notes are senior unsecured debt securities rather than equities (which underly ETFs). In addition to carrying market and other risks common to ETFs, they also carry issuer risks in that if the issuer defaults or is unable to make payments on the note, you as an investor in an ETN are basically out of luck. (However, most issuers are presumably established and credit-worthy, so theoretically this risk is minimal, though certainly not zero.) ETNs also issue no distributions or interest payments and do not impart ownership of assets to holders.

Currently, they also carry a favorable tax treatment, but .

I’d be curious if anyone had any opinions about ETNs, the RICI or commodities in general. Plenty of recent financial articles have been written about whether the recent performance of commodities has been fueled by speculation or if their bullish performance is here to stay for the long-term (as Jim Rogers would probably argue). Thoughts, anyone?

How to create drop-down lists in Excel

Excel function tutorials

Recently, I was helping a reader with an Excel-based tool for his business that involved some for which using a proved useful.

Drop-down lists in Excel are much like the ones you often see on web-based forms, where you can choose only from a fixed list of choices. The reason these are useful when it comes to vlookups is that they limit the possibility of errors and “N/As” that you can get when using the vlookup function.

Let’s go back to the , in which given a name of a pet, you used vlookup to find the type of animal it was:

As you can see, the names of the animals are listed in lower-case. If someone were to lookup the name “fido” by typing “Fido”, vlookup would conk out and give an error message, because it’s sensitive to capitalization. Or if someone were to make the easy mistake of typing “Mickey” (as in mouse), instead of “Mikey”, vlookup would again conk out.

So, what to do?

Enter a dropdown list. Creating a dropdown list in Excel is easy, though it suffers from the limitation that the list of choices allowed has to be located in the same tab as the dropdown list itself. Why? I have no idea.

Here’s what we’d do in this case.

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