Money Minute: Soda Sales Fizzle; FBI Probing High-Speed Trades

Soda sales have lost their fizz.

It's a trend we've been following for years -- the steady decline in soft drinks sales -- and it only worsened in 2013. According to Beverage Digest, soda sales in the U.S. as measured by volume fell by 3 percent last year. It's the ninth straight decline. Many consumers are increasingly concerned about the health impact of soda, including diet brands that include artificial sweeteners. There was a new report out over the weekend linking diet colas to higher blood pressure, diabetes and other problems in post-menopausal women.

On Monday we told you about author Michael Lewis' charge that high-speed traders are ripping off most investors. %VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%Now the FBI is reportedly investigating these algorithm-based operations for possibly trading on nonpublic information. High-speed trading isn't against the law, but trading on inside information is a crime.

Here on Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) rallied 134 points Monday, the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) rose 43, and Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GPSC) gained 14 points.

The three averages ended little changed for the first quarter. Among the Dow 30, Merck (MRK) was the best gainer, up 13 percent; Boeing (BA) was the big loser, down 8 percent.

Some analysts say the market could settle into a holding pattern until Friday morning, when the monthly jobs report for March comes out. Investors want to see if the economy shook off the affects of the horrible winter weather that was blamed for sluggish gains earlier in the year.

Finally, it's April. Spring training is over, and the first pitch of the baseball season has been thrown. So how much can you expect to spend for a day at the ol' ballpark? Team Marketing says the cost of the average ticket edged up by 2 percent from last year to nearly $28. The world champion Boston Red Sox charge the most, while the Arizona Diamondbacks charge the least, and the Kansas City Royals imposed the biggest increase from a year ago.

-Produced by Drew Trachtenberg.

7 Tax Tips for Investors
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Money Minute: Soda Sales Fizzle; FBI Probing High-Speed Trades
The 1099 forms you received from brokerages and other financial institutions might not be the last ones they send. It's common for them to issue corrected versions a little later. Consider getting your tax return ready to go, then waiting until close to April 15 before submitting it. That way, you can incorporate any last-minute changes and avoid having to file an amended return.
Pay attention to when you sell any holding, because the capital gains tax rates differ for long-term and short-term holdings. Short-term capital gains are taxed at your ordinary income tax rate, which could top 30 percent. Long-term gains (those held for more than a year) get preferential rates, which are zero percent for those in low-income brackets and 15 percent for most of us.
If you own underwater stocks, consider selling them for a loss. You can use those losses to offset gains from other sales, reducing your taxes owed. You can always buy back the asset later, if you still believe in it -- just be sure to wait for 31 days to pass, to observe the "wash sale rule."
If you're planning to sell one or more holdings that will give you a really big gain, submit an amended W-4 form to increase your withholding, or send the IRS an estimated tax payment. Underpaying your taxes significantly during the year can lead to a penalty at tax time. You may be protected by a "safe harbor" provision, though, which can save you from having to jump through those hoops.
If you're planning to buy shares of a mutual fund, determine when it will distribute its dividends. Many funds do so near the end of the year, and when that happens, the fund's share price will drop by the amount of the distribution -- which is taxable to shareholders. It's better to just wait until after that payout to buy in.
Mutual funds with high turnover ratios (reflecting a lot of buying and selling in a fund) have expenses for these trades. It's worth favoring funds with low turnover ratios, especially index funds and index-tracking ETFs, which simply hold onto the mix of securities in a given index, without a lot of trading activity. (Index funds generally outperform their higher-turnover counterparts, too.)
Boost the power of your Individual Retirement Accounts by making your annual contributions early in the year, giving the funds more time to grow. Over decades, it can make a significant difference.
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