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Bear Stearns' 'Death Bond' May Be Dead on Arrival

Investors hoping to gamble on the Grim Reaper may have to wait. Bear Stearns (BSC) has been an early mover in the so-called life settlements business, gobbling up unwanted life insurance policies from elderly holders looking to cash out early. Bear seemed as if it would be among the first U.S. investment firms to sell a "death bond," a security backed by those policies: Its bankers began marketing a $100 million deal to big institutions in early March. But after Bear's own near-death experience, the fate of the investment is unclear. JPMorgan Chase, the soon-to-be owner of the bank, has been a bit player in the field. JPMorgan wouldn't comment on the future of Bear's deal.

Even Now, It Pays to Stay Global

With U.S. subprime woes dragging down world markets, it would be easy to discount the value of global diversification. But a recent study by Wharton School professor Karen K. Lewis found that even though U.S. and foreign stocks move more in step than they did 30 years ago, investors still can use a healthy dose of international holdings. Back then, global exposure cut the volatility of an investor's portfolio—the ups and downs of returns—by 30%. Although that number has dropped to 15% today, says Lewis, it's enough to show that diversification works. The ideal amount to have in foreign stocks is high, she says: 50% of assets vs. the 12% an average investor holds. And foreign markets should shine in the coming years, Lewis explains, given the strong demand for natural resources and the growth of emerging economies.

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