Closing the Book on February

At the end of every month is as good a time as any to tidy up the workspace. All my notes, mail and email that have either found their way into one of this month’s issues or set aside for a future issue. 
However, there are always loose ends to tie up — even as another snowstorm is targeting the New York metropolitan area. I have to say that I am amused by the names the news outlets are using to cover all the recent storms — snowmageddon, snopocalypse and snowtorious B.I.G. The storm that is forecast to hit on Feb. 26-27 is being dubbed the “snowicane.” 
More than three weeks after the Illinois gubernatorial primary election, it looks as though the winner for the Republicans will be state Sen. Bill Brady, who holds a razor-thin lead of 250 votes over state Sen. Steve Dillard. The State Board of Elections will certify the results March 5. For the Democrats, Gov. Pat Quinn successfully staved off a challenge by Comptroller Dan Hynes. However, the Democrat’s ticket is still in flux because Quinn’s running mate for lieutenant governor, Scott Lee Cohen, resigned the nomination just days after the election after revelations of past conduct were brought to light. 
Based on some of the articles written in consumer newspapers, especially in recent weeks, you would have to wonder if anyone on Earth is being buried anymore. Case in point: An article in the Wall Street Journal this week noted that casket manufacturers have watched a decade-long decline in sales be hastened by the lagging economy. True enough, but then there was the obligatory price comparison that put “the average cost” of a traditional burial at $7,200, “compared with $1,400 for the crematory fee, some form of memorial service and an inexpensive urn.” Noting that Hillenbrand, parent of Batesville Casket Company, recently paid $435 million to purchase K-Tron International Inc., a manufacturer of factory equipment, the WSJ article quoted Ken Camp, chief executive of Hillenbrand, “We are a very significant player in an industry that isn’t growing.” I thought that was an excellent quote, especially the part about an industry that “isn’t growing.” However, the article does not follow up on that comment to suggest that while the cremation segment is expected to grow steadily, the casketed burial segment, over the next 15 years won’t exactly fall off a cliff. In fact, the numbers suggest holding steady with only a mild decline over the same period. Instead, the article reports that Matthews’ casket revenue is also down and a custom casket maker’s business is off 50 percent. Put in its proper context, Hillenbrand’s acquisition of K-Tron certainly makes sense from a business perspective to diversify itself. While there was nothing incorrect in the article, there was something that bothered me about it. And I think it is this: Just putting a price comparison between burial and cremation out there without looking in detail at what each type of service involves, will send a clear take-home message to the reader that cremation is $5,800 cheaper than burial. The uphill battle continues with trying to present cremation as something other than just the cheaper alternative to earth burial. In funeral service, the concept of “service” continues to lose its battle to be seen as the significant topic of discussion over the manner of “disposition.” 
A postscript to last week’s issue on converting to a Roth IRA. When contemplating a conversion from an employers’ 401k to a Roth IRA the law states that a person must be separated from his/her employment to do so. 
Edward J. Defort
Taken from the Feb. 25, 2010, edition of the Memorial Business Journal