The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 10 No. 40 - July 7, 2010


Oil spill impacts local ecotourism

Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Ecotourists watch dolphins aboard Lil’ Toot,
a Cortez ecotour charter boat.

Since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico began on April 20, residents and tourists have headed to the water with more enthusiasm now that oil endangers it, local ecotourism business owners say.

At Almost Heaven Kayak Adventures in Anna Maria, owner David Wells said that more people are signing up for guided kayak tours.

“In their minds, it may be their last time,” he said, adding that he and his wife are planning sunset trips to the beach themselves for the same reason.

The oil has prompted some people to visit who have intended to do so for a long time and now have a more urgent reason, like a customer from Florida’s east coast who always wanted to see the west coast, and decided, “Let’s do it; it might be the last chance to see it like that,” he said.

Randy Stewart of Lil’ Toot charters in Cortez has a customer arriving this week who has booked a trip every day “because they may not get the chance again,” he said, adding that business is good because most people know the oil has not affected this area.

Some visitors who planned their vacation later in the summer are moving it up because of the uncertainty of whether and when the oil may arrive, Wells said, like a Michigan family who visited in June instead of their usual July.

Beach Bums rentals in Anna Maria had an inquiry from Atlanta visitors who usually travel later in summer and are coming earlier this year, Diane Havelka said. Business is steady, as most summer visitors are from Florida, and they know the oil is not here yet, she said, partly due to efforts by local tourism officials to promote clean beaches and water.

Because customers know the area is clean, the summer has been normal so far for Coastal Water Sports rentals in Bradenton Beach, Beth Cole agreed.

The poor economy rather than the oil spill has prompted people to visit the outdoors instead of taking a vacation elsewhere, said Karen Fraley, of Around the Bend Nature Tours, which offers a summer program including bird watching on Anna Maria’s nesting beach, shelling and netting crustaceans.

At Sea Trek Divers in Bradenton Beach, Lorraine Athas said that a customer who had dive reservations in August called to cancel due to fears about the oil, but she told her to keep her reservation because there would be no penalty for canceling if the oil arrives by then, a strategy recommended by tourism officials.

At Native Rentals/Native Sports, people are not making advance reservations as much as they used to, but walk-in customers are keeping business up, owner Shawn Duytschaver said.

However, Joe Praetor, owner of Just 4 Fun Rentals, is losing business from Europeans who have cancelled their trips. Even if hoteliers and landlords like himself offer full refunds if the oil strikes, European visitors can’t afford to lose the cost of their airline flights, he said.

“People ask, can we guarantee that there won’t be oil on the beach in four weeks? I can’t guarantee that,” he said.

Mote Marine has not noticed a difference in visitor numbers, vice president Dan Bebak said. However, registration for its summer camp is the second highest ever, according to Tim Oldread, director of Mote’s Center for School and Public Programs, who said he doesn’t know whether the increased interest is related to the oil spill, but is notable because camp registrations elsewhere are down.

Potential visitors should check Mote’s Beach Conditions Report before traveling, Bebak said. The report is online at


Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Investor nervousness builds

Investment Corner

Investors love municipal bonds for their interest, which is free from federal taxation and free from taxation at the state level for residents of the state in which the issuing municipality is located. For those of us residing in Florida, where there is no state income tax, owning bonds issued from any municipality across the U.S. creates tax free income.

Of course, municipal bonds tax free status means that the interest earned on a bond of a particular quality ranking will be less than that of a corporate or U.S. government bond of the same rank. This effect generally makes municipal bonds a smart choice for investors in the top tax brackets, but may be a waste of time for those in lower tax brackets, where earning a higher taxable yield and paying the tax still comes out ahead of the lower yielding municipal bond.

After a dramatic decline in value during the 2008 financial crisis, municipal bonds in general have made a great recovery in value. But recently, some high profile investors like Warren Buffett have been sounding the alarm over potential difficulties in the municipal bond market.

Mr. Buffett warns that some municipalities may choose to default on their insured municipal issues – passing the cost through to the insuring firm rather than facing the tough choice of raising taxes on the residents of the state or city. Mr. Buffett is in a position to know since his holding company, Berkshire Hathaway, Inc., owns a municipal bond insurance subsidiary. Berkshire itself held $4.7 billion of municipal bonds a year ago, but that figure is now trimmed to $3.9 billion.

The problem is not just for the bond that may default, but any hint of a spreading problem would likely hit the entire municipal market in terms of a large drop in bond prices, which even if temporary can be unnerving. There may even be a contagion to other bond markets, such as corporate debt.

The wild card, according to Buffett, is the U.S. federal government. If the feds step in and guarantee (effectively insuring) municipal debt, then the municipal bond markets will likely muddle through. There is not a lot of historical precedence for this action, but in recent years with bailouts of General Motors and other firms, some new trends have been established. Some months back I wrote an article on Build America Bonds, a new type on municipal debt offering which has the backing of the federal government.

While historically default rates on municipal debt have been low, particularly for issues rated as investment grade (high quality). In fact, these default rates have been close to zero historically. However, measuring default rates across the entire spectrum of municipal bonds is different than measuring the default risk in your portfolio or mine where we, as individuals, might hold 10 different bond issues and think we are diversified. But a default on one issue, representing 10 percent of your bond portfolio, could have a significant impact on your personal portfolio if Murphy’s Law steps up to bite you.

One way of reducing your risk of the impact of a security or perhaps several defaulting is to be very diversified and not have too much exposure to any one particular bond. In a large portfolio, this can be easily done with relatively low cost, perhaps with the help of your financial advisor.

For those with smaller portfolios or who prefer to take a simpler route, there are dozens of good quality mutual fund and exchange traded funds which hold municipal bonds and which have the same tax-free income status as owning the individual bonds. These funds will not avoid a temporary decline in value in the event of a general municipal bond market decline, but will continue to pay a tax-free income stream and offer some piece of mind that a couple defaults will not devastate your portfolio due to the diversification factor.

Tom Breiter is president of Breiter Capital Management, Inc., an Anna Maria based investment advisor. He can be reached at 778-1900. Some of the investment concepts highlighted in this column may carry the risk of loss of principal, and investors should determine appropriateness for their personal situation before investing.

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