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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Motley Fool: Learn your Alphabet

The logo for Alphabet appears on a screen at the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York on Feb. 14, 2018. (Associated Press)

Google, child of parent company Alphabet (Nasdaq: GOOGL, Nasdaq: GOOG), controls more than 70 percent of the desktop search market worldwide and more than 90 percent of mobile searches. (It’s true – Google it!) It boasts seven products with at least 1 billion monthly users each: Search, Gmail, Chrome, Maps, YouTube, Google Play and Android.

Google entered the cloud-computing game late, but it has made impressive gains. On the company’s most recent earnings conference call, CEO Sundar Pichai said that Google Cloud was “already a billion-dollar-per-quarter business,” as well as “the fastest-growing major public cloud provider in the world.”

Most of Alphabet’s revenue comes from online advertising, but it’s a pioneer in the artificial intelligence technique of deep learning, and it’s also home to a number of “moonshots.” Those include Waymo, the company’s self-driving division that’s set to launch a driverless ride-hailing service later this year.

Other potential growth drivers include the subsidiary Verily that’s working on projects such as smart contact lenses that detect blood glucose levels, while subsidiary Calico aims to increase the human life span.

With Alphabet’s unparalleled control of search and promising position in many other businesses, investors might want to buy and hold Alphabet for decades. (Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. The Motley Fool owns shares of and has recommended Alphabet.)

Ask the Fool

Q: There’s an error in the federal tax return I filed. How can I correct it? – C.R., Flint, Michigan

A: The 1040 form you file isn’t the only one you can file for each year. You can file an amended return with a 1040X form, and you can even amend an amended return later!

Mistakes involving your filing status, income, deductions or credits will require an amended return. One way to reduce the need for an amended return is to use tax-prep software such as TaxACT or TurboTax. Such software can reduce errors, since it will do calculations for you and will help you be thorough, submitting all needed forms and schedules.

Q: Are stocks too risky for teenagers? – T.L., Walnut Creek, California

A: Not at all! As long as they’re investing for the long term, young people stand to do the best investing in stocks.

For example, if you’re 15 and you invest $1,000 in the stock market each year and earn an average annual return of 8 percent, you’ll end up with almost $50,000 when you’re 35 and about $280,000 by age 55. Of course, you’ll be able to invest more as you get older – amassing more money that can help you buy a home or retire early. People in or near retirement have far less time in which their money can grow.

Short-term money – money needed within five or even 10 years, perhaps for college – should be in “safer” places than stocks, such as money market accounts or CDs. Teens can learn much more in “The Motley Fool Investment Guide for Teens” by David and Tom Gardner with Selena Maranjian (Touchstone, $16).

My dumbest investment

I got burned on stock in Molycorp, a rare-earth materials company. That kind of thing happens. The dumb part was that I did it twice!

I made a bad move, got out, berated myself for bailing out, then saw the stock price go way lower. So I bought again, watched it drop more, got out, and resisted the temptation to try it again — I won’t let a stock fool me three times.

Unless it’s a large, stable company with a long, profitable track record, my mantra now is, “Burn me once, you’re done.” – R.L., Cincinnati

The Fool responds: Molycorp was once flying high, but then China increased the world’s supply of the rare elements used for products such as batteries, camera lenses, catalytic converters, hard drives and MRI machines. Prices dropped, and Molycorp ended up with years of massive losses, eventually filing for bankruptcy protection. It emerged as a new company later, but only after shareholders were wiped out. The lesson here is to not try to catch a falling knife. Low and lower prices can be appealing, but they tend to reflect a company in trouble. Unless you have strong reason to believe the company will ultimately recover and prosper, aim to make money elsewhere. Selling at a loss is better than selling at a greater loss later. Companies that file for bankruptcy protection will often end up burning their shareholders.