LEGO Sets Might Be a Better Investment Than Stocks, Bonds, or Gold

iStock.com/georgeclerk
iStock.com/georgeclerk

The unfortunate part of turning a profit on collectible playthings is that you can’t enjoy them. Slabbed comic books go unread; vintage Star Wars action figures are condemned to their blister-packed prisons. But for people who can somehow resist the urge to rip open that LEGO set, fortune may await. Bloomberg recently reported that the brick building kits seem to serve as a reliable asset that can pay off over time.

Bloomberg cited a 2018 study [PDF] that demonstrated a stronger return for LEGO releases than with stocks, bonds, or gold. The reason is the supply and demand typical of the collector’s market. A new LEGO set will sell for a nominal retail price; as demand exceeds inventory and the sets are discontinued, the price on the aftermarket rises. For example: A 2007 Millennium Falcon kit carried a sale price of $499.99. In 2016, it was selling for nearly $4000.

That would be considered a big score. But the study, conducted by Victoria Dobrynskaya of Russia's National Research University Higher School of Economics and independent researcher Julia Kishilova, looked at 2322 kits dating back to 1987 and found that profit existed across a spectrum of LEGO-branded products. Sets carrying Harry Potter or Star Wars themes yielded an average 11 percent annual return. Some, like a 2014 Darth Revan, went from $3.99 to $28.46 in just one year, earning a return in excess of 600 percent.

Small and large sets tended to have the greatest increase in value, the smaller due to their comparative rarity and the larger ones due to their acquisition price. Licensed sets tend to achieve the greatest returns, though Dobrynskaya found that The Simpsons sets have traditionally failed to turn a profit.

Should you begin to regard LEGO as a potential avenue for retirement income? While the property experienced a resurgence of interest when it grabbed the Star Wars license in 1999 and has remained strong ever since, there’s no guarantee demand will continue unabated. Then again, the fact that the sets have a vibrant community devoted to building means they’re also unlikely to suffer the same fate as short-lived fads like the Beanie Babies.

The bigger problem? Unlike stocks, LEGO sets are tangible, with some coming in massive boxes that need to be carefully stored so they’re not exposed to damage. They’re also subject to the same speculative dangers as conventional investing. If you bought that Millennium Falcon, it's worth bragging about. If you decided to stock up on sets related to Atlantis or the 2010 movie Prince of Persia—which bombed—the price could sink. Like a bad real estate deal, you could be stuck with little more than a pile of bricks.

[h/t Bloomberg]

What Happens to Leftover Campaign Funds When a Candidate Drops Out?

Alek_Koltukov/iStock via Getty Images
Alek_Koltukov/iStock via Getty Images

As of February 2020, more than 1000 individuals had registered to run for president in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, though you've probably only ever heard a fraction of their names. But as Election Day looms closer, and the state primaries continue to decide the frontrunners, more of the most visible candidates will officially bow out of the election. So what happens to all the leftover campaign funds when a candidate drops out?

One thing's for sure: Upset candidates can't console themselves by putting the dough toward a new yacht and sailing off to recuperate. The Federal Election Commission has strict rules about what federal candidates can and can't do with leftover campaign money, and the biggest directive is that they can't pocket it for personal use.

Here's what a campaign committee is allowed to do with any lingering cash: it can donate the funds to charities or political parties; it can contribute $2000 per election to other candidates; and it can save the money in case the candidate chooses to run again. However, those regulations don't apply to the relatively new super PACs (Political Action Committees); this is only the third election where they have played a role, and there are currently no rules to stipulate what happens to that money beyond that it cannot go to fund another federal candidate. Much of that money tends to be returned to its original donors, used to wrap up the failed campaign, or donated to back a state-level candidate. The goal, however, is always to spend all of that money.

Running a campaign is an expensive proposition—Barack Obama spent nearly $750 million on his 2008 White House bid, and in 2012 he spent $985 million on reelection while challenger Mitt Romney spent $992 million—and insufficient cash is often a reason campaigns go belly up.

As for winning (or sometimes losing) politicians, they'll often put their leftover funds toward their next race. If they choose not to run, they have to abide by the same FEC rules. Wonder why this law is in effect? Until 1993, U.S. Representatives who took office before January 8, 1980, were allowed to keep any leftover campaign cash when they retired, but a study showed that a third of Congress kept and spent millions in campaign donations on personal items like clothing, jewelry, artwork, personal travel, and dry cleaning. Embarrassed, Congress passed a law negating this custom for the House; the Senate already had provisions in place so this wouldn't happen.

In reality though, officials can usually find a way to make that cash still work for them (and state laws differ from federal ones). After Chris Christie won reelection as New Jersey's governor in 2014, his campaign was granted permission to use some of its remaining war chest to cover the legal fees Christie incurred during the Bridgegate scandal. And this was well before he dropped $26.7 million on his failed 2016 presidential bid.

An earlier version of this article originally ran in 2012.

Here's What Happens to New Cars at a Dealership That Don't Get Sold

welcomia/iStock via Getty Images
welcomia/iStock via Getty Images

It’s 2020, which means new car models have already started rolling into dealerships and taking their positions in gleaming showrooms. What happens to the “old” models, which fall into a gray area between not-quite-used and no longer new?

According to Reader’s Digest, brand-new cars that fail to find a forever home have a few different fates. One place they can’t go is back to the manufacturer: Once a dealer purchases an inventory of cars from, say, Toyota, the vehicles are theirs. Instead, dealers may look outside of their local market to see if there’s a demand for the make and model they have on hand. A two-door sedan might not have found a buyer in one town, but there might be someone else 50 miles away looking for one.

If they can’t find a buyer close to the retail price, they might consider offering the car at an employee discount—as much as 20 percent—to customers. They might also offer financing incentives to make the deal more attractive.

Dealers typically hang on to new cars for about two years. After that, they begin to grow concerned that customers might assume there’s something wrong with a vehicle that’s been loitering on the lot for so long. Once it finally loses that new car smell, it might go to a dealer auction, where buyers can pick up cars for resale. Some of the cars will wind up in smaller lots, where there’s no pressure to offer a fleet of brand-new models.

Auctions take a percentage of the sale, though, so dealers already discounting the car might take a loss. You might also see a nearly-new car used as a loaner for the dealer’s service department or sold to a rental car company.

One thing is for certain: Dealers don’t like having old model year cars on the property. Because of the need for discounts or other incentives, dealers spent an average of $1100 in incentives per vehicle in 2019 to move 2018 models out the door.

[h/t Reader’s Digest]

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