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By John W. Schoen Senior Producer
msnbc.com

Terry from down under is trying to figure out whose stock market on his side of the globe is bigger: Australia or New Zealand? (Sounds like he may be trying to settle a bar bet.) When it comes to investing in global stock markets, size does matter. But it isn't always the most important consideration.

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How much is the New Zealand stock market worth compared to the Australian market? Which stock market in Asia is worth the most (market capitalization in US$ terms)?
Terry V. --Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

No worries, Terry. You Ozzies have the Kiwis beat hands down. According to the latest figures from the World Federation of Exchanges, the Australian Stock Exchange had a total market capitalization of $777.7 billion as of October, 2005 – up 15 percent from a year ago. Over in Wellington, the New Zealand Exchange reported a total market cap of $41.7 billion – up 9 percent.  (On the other hand, if the Kiwis traded livestock along with their corporate stock, their exchange would be huge.)

Japan’s two stock exchanges still dominate the Asia-Pacific region in terms of the total value of all the domestic stocks traded on those markets. The top spot goes to the Tokyo Stock Exchange, which has a combined market cap of just over $4 trillion, followed by the Osaka Stock Exchange, with a combined stock value of $2.6 trillion.

By comparison, the granddaddy of all stock markets, the New York Stock Exchange, had a total market cap of nearly $13 trillion as of October – up 10 percent. The Nasdaq – with $3.5 trillion in market cap – was up just 7 percent.

Bigger markets do have some advantages: the most important is what's called "liquidity." The bigger the market, the easier it will be find a buyer for your stock when you're ready to sell. Most investors also want to know how fast a country’s stock market is growing. On your side of the globe, Japan's market have also been among the fastest growers: the Tokyo exchange was up 26 percent for the 12 months ending in October; Osaka was up 27 percent.

But chasing growth overseas can be risky. Your investment will be converted into the exchange's local currency, which may or may not hold up well against your local currency when you decide bring your money back home. You’ll usually have a much harder time getting information about stocks listed on an overseas exchange. And not all exchanges operate under the kind of strict regulations to protect investors that you may have come to expect. That’s why individual investors are much better off buying into funds managed by stock-pickers who are experienced with the quirks and pitfalls of buying foreign stocks.

Smaller international exchanges can be much more volatile than older, better-established markets. The fastest growing Asian stock market for the 12 months ended in October, for example, was the tiny Colombo Stock Exchange in Sri Lanka (market cap $7.5 billion) which grew by 105 percent. That kind of rally is pretty tough to sustain: past results, as they say, are no guarantee of future performance.

And the economic growth of a given country may or may not translate into stock market gains. Despite mainland China’s economic boom, stock investors in stocks listed there have gotten burned. The total value of all the stocks on the Shanghai Exchange - at $274 billion – is down 16 percent for the year ending in October. The once-hot Shenzhen Stock Exchange – worth $114 billion – is down nearly 20 percent. On the other hand, investors in the older, better-established companies listed on the Hong Kong Exchange have fared better: that exchange's market cap is up 28 percent to $982.

Here's how the rest of the world's stock markets have done:

I'm fed up with dead beat mortgage brokers. I'm a real estate appraiser who has provided service to a dead beat mortgage brokerage who refuses to pay me for my appraisals. His defense is that he does not have the loan files anymore and therefore, doesn't not have proof that he owes me. He lost their files?! What are my options with such an unprofessional? He's not even compliant in protecting the consumers intimate documentation.
T. E. -- St. Louis, MO

Send this joker a certified letter (so he has to sign for it as proof that he got it) saying you’d like payment within 10 business days or you will turn the matter over to your state Attorney General’s office and state Department of Finance (which regulates mortgage brokers in your state.) Attach a detailed invoice showing dates, property addresses and fees for the appraisals you’ve done. If you have copies of original invoices, include them too.

If you don’t get a check within 10 days, file complaints with those two agencies in writing with copies of the letter you sent to the mortgage broker and your invoices.  Here’s where to contact them:

Missouri Attorney General's Office
Supreme Court Building
207 W. High St.
P.O. Box 899
Jefferson City, MO 65102
Phone: 573-751-3321
Fax: 573-751-0774

Missouri Dept of Finance:
Supervisor of Savings and Loans:  Greg Barlow   
Senior Office Support Assistant:  Pat Weider     
Phone: 573 751-4243
Fax: 573 751-9192

My credit is terrible. I am self employed but was recently left an inheritance. What percentage do I have to put down on a home to be able to qualify for a mortgage?
Ann – Phoenix, Ariz.

You won’t know until you ask: different lenders will be more or less aggressive in how much they’re willing to lend. They'll also want to see what the appraiser thinks the house is worth. (We hope that appraiser gets paid quicker than T.E. in St. Louis.)

One way to find out how much loan you can get is to shop around for a rate you like and then tell the lender you want to “pre-qualify” – a sort of application for an application. That will tell you how much the loan will cost upfront, roughly how much you’ll have to put down, and what the monthly payments would be. It will also give you a total number showing how much house the lender thinks you can afford.

But just because a lender is willing to give you the loan doesn’t mean you can afford it. Lenders make their money by getting you to borrow as much as possible. And since the loan is secured by your house, they don’t care if you get in over your head. If you get into trouble, they can always take possession of the house (along with the payments you’ve already made) leaving you less that you started out with.

Only you can decide how much you can really afford. So instead of using the “top down” formula – finding the biggest loan you can get – try to “bottom up” method too. Sit down and come up with a monthly budget to see how much you can comfortably devote each month to a mortgage payment (don’t forget to include property taxes and homeowners insurance.)  Then, see how big a mortgage that monthly payment will get you, add some of your inheritance if you like, and use that number to go house hunting. You may end up in a smaller house than if you borrow to the max. But you’re odds of getting into credit trouble again will be smaller too.

To find out how much mortgage you can afford with a specific monthly payment, try the mortgage calculators at www.bankrate.com. You can also shop the site for mortgages in your area.

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