Updated: July 8, 2011 3:04PM
Dear Mr. Berko: AT&T keeps billing me $9.99 per month for a service called Motricity, and I don’t know what it is and never ordered it. And when I call to complain, I’m put on hold, so I sent two letters, but they did not answer. When I finally did get in touch on the phone, they insisted I ordered Motricity, but refunded two months of the eight months I paid. How can they let another company put their charges on my private phone bill? I got so mad I canceled my cell service, and I intend to sell my 350 shares of AT&T as soon as I get the next dividend. So could you recommend some BDC stocks that pay more than 9 percent that you did not cover in your recent columns?
— F.M., Troy, Mich.
Dear F.M.: Your email is the umpteenth I’ve received in the past few months about AT&T/Motricity. Motricity is a browser scam conceived by some creative management types at AT&T and a Norwegian hi-tech company called Opera Software. AT&T gives Opera Software your private cell number, to which Opera charges AT&T $9.99 each month. AT&T then sends you a statement with Opera’s $9.99 fee clearly concealed among the confounding lists of surcharges, fees, taxes and other blather. After you pay the bill, AT&T sends Opera $6.99 and keeps $3.
Most folks don’t understand their cellphone bills, so they just pay and forget it. But when a customer rings AT&T to question that charge, he is forced to hold the line for what seems like hours waiting for a representative to answer. And most subscribers decide, “It ain’t worth the wait.”
What a sweet deal for AT&T (T-$31.02), because that $3 every month times a few million subscribers is pure profit. But I like AT&T. I like the 5.5 percent dividend, which might be increased this year, and I like its growth potential. Detest AT&T all you want, but I recommend you keep your stock.
AT&T knows it “done wrong” and might eventually pay a multimillion-dollar fine to the FCC, but that fine will be niggardly compared to the hundreds of millions they collected. This is capitalism at its finest. The public be damned.
Gouging the consumer has become an important profit center among many large American companies who employ clever marketing people to scheme up new ideas. The airlines, the health insurance industry, the brokerage industry, the drug industry and the banking industry are a few examples of corporate America’s contempt for the public good.
A BDC is the acronym for “business development company.” The BDC designation is usually specific to public companies that invest in small- to medium-size businesses, hoping their stakes will increase in value as that company prospers. A BDC will also loan money, arrange mezzanine financing, provide capital to finance acquisitions and offers consulting expertise all for a fee. BDCs are unique companies because small investors can now buy shares in the open market and participate in the formerly difficult-to-access world of venture capital.
Consider Glimpse Triangle Capital (TCAP-$18.22), which is on track to earn $1.66 this year and $1.48 in 2012. The current $1.68 dividend yields 9.4 percent, is essentially 90 percent non-taxable and might be increased this year. TCAP has seasoned and superb management.
Then gander Medley Capital (MCC-$11.29), which came public last January. MCC has offices in New York, San Francisco and Hong Kong. MCC expects to earn 40 cents this year and $1.27 next year but is too new to pay a dividend. But I think its potential dividends should be generous.
Address your financial questions to Malcolm Berko, P.O. Box 8303, Largo, FL 33775 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.