Saturday, February 17, 2018

Facebook photo assault

The photos being found and the iphone handy, Facebook is under attack, from here.  Joining Facebook in 2009 at the encouragement of a friend, it was not a natural affinity.  It was only sporadically used for many years, with occasional spurts of activity when financial markets were interesting or politics became especially newsworthy.  Photos attached to articles forwarded were regularly there, but rarely anything personal.  My "friends" list was and remains small by almost any comparison, because many of my friends are not Facebook users, never bit.

There are a variety of "friends".  A few are silent, some infrequent, there are the regulars, then the active, and finally the high intensity.  The "high intensity" are just unequivocally posting, at times multiple times daily.  There are four major ones here that come to mind --- two are driven by political opinions, one by a form of inside joke humor as he banters with close friends, and one by joke telling and extreme right antics that occasionally border on ugly.  Over time a some "friends" have been deleted, aka unfriended, and that has likely happened to me at times as well, don't know as don't keep track.

The origin of these species is around three quarters hometown related.  They may live elsewhere but Danville was where they started.  Same here, first 18 years there.  Otherwise there are a few, meaning from one to four, from other places lived and worked --- college in D.C., Louisville, college in Arizona, and my job in Manhattan.  Add a few random others and that's it.

It now feels like a comfortable place to post a few photos as they surface from albums, drawers, and files.  At times there is a self-conscious feeling, bordering on not wanting to get too personal.  Well, not really bordering, as some things remain unsaid.  How long this lasts is unknown. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Where have all the diners gone...

In 1980's Manhattan, diners were ubiquitous, block after block.  Almost everyone had a regular.  "My" diner was on the southwest corner of 2nd Avenue and 50th Street.  It was about 30 steps from my apartment on 50th, just two buildings east of 2nd Avenue.  The diner was mainly for breakfast, occasionally for lunch.  It was a loser move to eat dinner at this completely standard place with absolutely nothing unique and inedible cole slaw, as was the norm at the time in the mostly Greek owned diners.

There was another diner nearby on the east side of 2nd Avenue between 49th and 48th Streets.  This place was unusual.  The cooks were southern black men and the owner was a friendly quirky sort of white guy who always seemed to be there from 5am open to 8pm close.  They served grits with eggs, almost unheard of in the city, not the standard clumpy tasteless hash browns of the usual places. They had fresh fried seafood at lunch and dinner.  Real hamburgers that had taste. The cole slaw was good as was the potato salad.  But this being Manhattan, it was a block and a half away and only frequented when the crawl before coffee was served seemed manageable.  Dinner there at times was an affordable treat but not even beer was available.

Today, those types of diners have largely disappeared.  They have been replaced by more upscale eateries and stores.  If you happen to be at the Met on 5th at 84th and want to grab something quick at a diner while walking to midtown now, there of course will not be anything on 5th, never was, nothing on Madison, once had a few places, nothing on Lexington until you hit a dinosaur a block or two below 72nd, and  3rd Avenue, once lined with diners, has just a few over the 25 blocks.

Today on Facebook, I am posting a picture of "my" diner in 1980.  Why?  Since getting a new iphone two months ago the simplicity of posting photos has made me somewhat deranged.  An infrequent FB poster has gone almost regular.  Events here had already led me to the photo archives and that work is producing results.  There are now faces and not just opinions.

Monday, February 12, 2018

NYT baseball obits

The New York Times does an exceptional job writing obituaries of famous baseball players.  Someone there must remember baseball cards from those halcyon days of the sport in the 1950's and 1960's.  Today there was one for Wally Moon, St. Louis Cardinals and L.A. Dodgers from 1954 to 1965.  His "moon shots" at the first L.A. stadium were famous at the time, just high pop ups straight down the left field line from a lefty.  The stadium was built for his late swings.  Moon's Topps cards were not that easy to get but not so difficult either.  They were perfect trading cards.

Last week there was the obit for Oscar Gamble, famous after the card frenzy days but still a notable player.  The remembrance was more about his hair than his game.  Gene Michael's, a few months ago, was about his managerial career of course, not his time as a shortstop.  He was a focused baseball man every day of his aware life.

This nostalgia type reading about deaths can be refreshing in the morning with coffee.  That sentence does not sound right.  Is that from some film.




Sunday, February 11, 2018

What Monday brings --- opportunity to add or trim

Like many who watch the stock market, looking ahead at the coming week is a time to reflect.  All of the usual has been said by pundits regarding the drastic volatility of the last two weeks.  Is it a normal correction or a major reset, and all of that talk.  Most of the talkers are even afraid to make any projection at all, seeming pleased to show that they remember what volatility means after the last year or so.

Individual investor decisions are guided by individual needs.  How astute an observation?  For most it would seem that it is not a time to be aggressive on the buy side except in special situations.  Anyone who has never found an entry point into Google could watch now.  The problem with pruning a long term portfolio is that often the taxable gains can be substantial.  Yet stocks in the portfolio purchased in the recent past that have modest gains by definition were bought for what were intended to be solid reasons with a dose of intuition that has at times worked well.  Cut back on the new ones with little tax impact or cut back on the old ones with substantial tax impact.  The classic advice is to never make investment portfolio decisions based on tax.  That may often be good advice for institutions but for individuals following "never" is not always right.

The easiest way to cut back here is on index positions, pro-rata extended market, total market, and S&P funds.   Finger will held up outside the door tomorrow to see which way the wind blows.

This downturn is NOT over, no matter what happens tomorrow or in the coming week.  Reasons for a further decline are multi-faceted, from politics and governance, to usual and legal trader games now that there is volatility, and the existing overlay of global events.  The overriding reason is valuation.  The math mostly still works now on the ROE and cost of capital components, but longevity of returns due to Trumpian uncertainties is an overhanging question.  The benefit of the tax bill is done for investment analysis purposes, already factored in.

That's the "thinking out loud" for today --- not so compelling but it is a process.  That process is expected to begin tomorrow.  It may be bumpy.



Saturday, February 10, 2018

WSJ Review --- February 10-11

It has been said here before that the Wall Street Journal Review section on weekends is surprisingly well balanced and interesting.  They may not have the most distinguished writers or reviewers but the books and topics reviewed are well chosen. This week's issue is packed with reading entertainment, and the following are just a few highlights.

A review of "The Rub of Time", an anthology of Martin Amis essays from the 1990's and beyond(being read in pieces here now), is titled "Famous Amis".  That's worth the price of admission.  While there is not total agreement here with all of the self centered reviewer's commentary, that's fine. The effort is made and the book will attract knowing readers if not newbies.
On the same page is Sam Sacks' "Fiction Chronicle".  On the smart, cute, ugly, stupid spectrum, at times Sacks come in as cute and stupid, but at least his reviews are short and give a hint as to whether the books could be of interest.

There's a review titled "Existentialists and Expatriates" that comments on "Left Bank", a book about the famous writers, artists, and expats around the Blvd. St.Germain area in the 1930's to 1950's.  The book, writer, and reviewer are not familiar, but it does seem like something of interest.  The photo of Simone de Beauvoir at Deux-Magots works.  There's an article about a famous Matthew Brady photo of Abraham Lincoln and his son reading a book.  That was new here.  Lincoln was concerned that the book as prop might be mistaken for a Bible and the pose regarded as "a species of false pretense".  Times have changed since Honest Abe.

That's a sample.



Friday, February 09, 2018

White House chaos

It is clear that Stone Age chief of staff John Kelly knew about Rob Porter's inability to get a security clearance and the reason why.  It is also highly likely that, following rules of hierarchy, he told Trump about this two months ago and, in clipped military language, it was dismissed as an issue.  Porter's fealty to Trump was unquestioned, crossing off the most important criteria.  That Porter was efficient and from Trump central casting made this an easy call.  Decision made.  Next.

When information about wife beating became public, the White House speakers praised Porter's work, saying that his resignation was regrettable but understandable. They noted that his departure date was to be determined.  Then photos showed up and they panicked.  Sarah Huckabee Sanders apparently revealed that there is some limit to her well honed lying.  Her male assistant was front and center yesterday.  Ivanka Trump, having been moved from her center stage role by Kelly in recent months, was opportunistically appalled by the photos.  Porter's bags are now immediately being packed.  The story will continue...


Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Trump wants huge military parade

Trump claims that he wants to emulate France and the impressive military parade that he viewed when there. That was on Bastille Day and the parade is an annual tradition in that country.  The truly massive parades of this type are in China, Russia, and North Korea.  They happen periodically but not on a set day each year.  One could say they are at the whims of their dictators.  Yes, I know that there is some pretense of an electoral process in China and Russia, but they are led by all powerful leaders.  North Korea's gulag approach to the family run business makes no attempt to be anything but what they are, other than promoting some strange spiritually ordained power.

What Trump wants is dictator classic.  It fits his style.  Anyone who questions this parade can be labeled as not supporting the troops and being unpatriotic.  An event of the type that Trump wants will be incredibly expensive and divert funds, resources, and attention from military preparedness to create pomp for the Presidential ego.  It seems obvious that such an event would lead to demonstrations by those Americans who do not support this cost and more importantly do not support the showmanship of preparing for war.  The United States has historically been reticent to sink to this level, maintaining the quaint notion that it is not necessary.  It is not part of tradition.  America's strength does not need to be proven.  That's the thought process.

In addition to demonstrations, such an event could be a magnet for aggressive and disruptive protesters, and even lone wolf or small cell terrorists.  The United States has avoided these types of incidents for the most part.  Why provide the target?  If something happened, how could Trump use it to harden his power?  He admires autocrats around the world.  He has a limited understanding of history.  From this opinionated perspective, underestimating the damage Trump can do would a mistake.  He is dangerous, and unfit to be President.  But he is and has the power.

The military parade prospect is unsettling.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Gowdy joins Comey in the Trump doghouse?

Representative Trey Gowdy recently announced that he would not seek reelection to his Republican House seat.  He is now standing up to the Trump crowd, and staying focused on the Russian election interference investigation rather than caving in to the compliant Nunes' released memo on the investigation.  If Gowdy's approach to the Benghazi hearings is any guide, he will not let go easily.

This is interesting.  A casual observer, as well as serious ones, could observe that the Gowdy led Benghazi hearings and Comey's on again off again investigation of Clinton e-mails were two key elements of Hillary Clinton's defeat and of course Trump's election.  In many ways, one led to the other.  In his awkward way, Comey continued with the Russia investigation in a non-linear but determined way, and Trump fired him for that specific reason.  One could surmise that the South Carolina Republican Gowdy now feels free to continue pursuing the investigation without undue political pressure. Trump can't fire a congressman.  He can't ruin a retiring ones chance for reelection.

South Carolina's politics can be quirky.  From Strom Thurmond to Lee Atwater, enlightened minds are not the first thought.  Still, there is a strain of state individuality that exists. They cannot be easily grouped with Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi.  The often quotable Senator Lindsey Graham uses humor to charm or cut, Senator Tim Scott is a right wing African American far to the right of Graham, among Representatives there's "you lie" Joe Wilson and the South American adventurer Mark Sanford.  They don't shy from the stage.

Now Gowdy has it, on a national level.  Could he do something important?





Friday, February 02, 2018

Financial markets wake up --- decline today

This was not a surprise.  It was an overdude due day, misspelling meant, am I loo loo loosing it,yeah mo mo money.  Days like this always jar investors because of their unpredictability and their precipitous nature.  In hindsight, this is minor and some would say necessary.  Hindsight... on October 19,1987 the Dow fell by 508 points, or 23%.  That was huge.  Today the market fell 665 points, or 2.5%.

The decline today did accelerate in the last hour.  Remember watching for those margin calls after 3pm in 2008 and 2009.  We just saw a touch of that.  Energy stocks, bank stocks, and mid-caps
 were hit hard for the most part. Small caps were mostly ignored. Among major technology stocks, Google and Apple were whacked while Netflix and Amazon rose. This is not simple.  High flyer Visa took a big step back and closely followed volatility king Freeport McMoran dropped 8%.  The questionable Sprint bet here was up 5%.  Vaunted BKB fell 3.75%, almost twice the Dow drop. Go figure.

This was a broad sell-off.  One earlier headline read, "Wall Street drops due to robust jobs data".  That's the "good news is bad news scenario" of potentially rising interests leading to inflation and a higher required rate of return for stocks. The so-called "elephant in the room" is a dysfunctional government.  Wall Street wants to ignore that and enjoy the tax cuts.  If there is a domino to fall on that issue it will be much larger and persistent, aka domino effect.  That is not expected yet.  "Yet" is opinion here but not acted on in any meaningful way yet.  How many times can that word be used in one paragraph.

More opinion ---  this was absolutely necessary.  A rising market is not guaranteed even in a stable economy.  Backtracking a bit more and setting a new base would be ideal.  For that to happen more fear is necessary, but please not too much.  No sleep disruption.  That's already taken care of.


Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The State of the State address

Trump's entire speech was watched last night.  His preening pose displayed self-admiration.  The declaration of his "righteous vision" leading to "a new tide of optimism" was a line that he enjoyed delivering.  He gave us high toned history lessons that may have seemed like news to him.  Invited members of the audience were singled out as a testament to their suffering, presumably as a result of the laxity of government before the orange one appeared on the scene.  He no longer made MS-13 code for immigrants, he moved them up to being a visible proxy for those that have arrived here from other countries.  "Friends of America will receive our aid, not enemies of America", he said as did his turn left to pompously show and hold his profile.

Miraculously the television stayed on.  If not, the bizarre story of Sung Ho walking on his stumps "across China and Korea for the love of freedom", see Sung Ho in audience, would have been missed.  Clearly he survived.  The dramatic conclusion to the speech caused Stephen Miller to wet his pants so he modestly stayed seated as the applause rose for his speech.  It left some viewers wondering, "Is Mike Pence as authentically clueless as he appears?  Is that a Paul Ryan cut-out or is he real?"  Those were questions left to ponder.  As the Republican members of Congress chanted "U.S.A., U.S.A", one could fondly remember Sarah Palin rallies or Trump's campaign slogan "Build the Wall" echoing in empty chambers, human ones.  Dignity in the great chamber of Congress was vanquished.

Thinking earlier about what to write, mainstream media was no help.  "The Onion" was too shell- shocked to be clever.  Waking up to CBS this morning, the first news heard here was that 75% of viewers approved of the state of the union address.  "Union?".  After my head cleared it was realized that they chose they had cherry picked the highest measure they could find.  Now most of the media is officially terrorized by the "State".

I came upon this quote from a Martin Amis essay later.  "Change is the business of satire.  Satire is militant irony.  Irony is long-suffering.  It doesn't incite you to transform society; it strengthens you to tolerate it."

Writing about Trump is a challenge.  What is one step above satire, and more effective?  It is needed.


Tuesday, January 30, 2018

"May It Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers", documentary from HBO

This new and engaging documentary was watched last night on HBO.  It was no bathroom break material.  Music can be an emotional experience and this could leave one in a shambles.  It was the history of this folk/country and hard to compartmentalize group, built around the recording of an  album in 2014.  Seth and Scott Avett are the key performers along with an amazingly tight band.  From their home areas in North Carolina to their recording studio location in the L.A. area, to performing at Madison Square Garden, and small clubs around the south,  familiarity with locations added to a personal attraction.  The phenomenon of this group was not similarly familiar.  They are an original force, or so it seems after watching.  Radar alerted.  Google shows that the father of the Avett Brothers, Jim, was at times a performer at Union Grove, NC.  That was a time.

The film is about dedication to their art, family, and the impact of major life events.  All of this is intertwined with their music and the heartfelt songs they write to share their experience.  Here, it airs again tonight on HBO 2.  How many stars are there?  It is recommended.


Monday, January 29, 2018

Grammy's once again

Looking back over comments here, the last time a Grammy awards program was the subject of a post was 2013.  That was probably for good reason, due to lack of familiarity with much of the music.  Yet, with that limitation, plus missing a middle portion of the broadcast, comments will still be ventured, as follows:
---Bruno Mars did well, but he did well in his first appearance in 2013.  He's pretty exceptional, but what has changed since then.
---Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, unknown here, were a hoot.  The accompanying dancers seemed a bit risque for a family show.  I did not mind.
-- For so long it has been hip to be a fan of Dave Chappelle.  He made three short appearances during the show and did not disappoint those fans as he seemed to make no effort at all, looking like he would rather be at an ATM.  Now that's cool.
---Lady Gaga gets attention.  She has a unique style that works.  In fact, it is the strong and nuanced voice that is the real attraction.
---The white boy crooners trend began with Justin Timberlake years ago.  It lives on. Doing old standards plus new whiny ballads advances nothing.  There were several of these singers whose voices were fine but where's the risk?
---Elton John and Hannah Montana liked being together.  She's settled into a less crazed role and he will begin his three year final tour.  From his looks and the hunched way he walked, one could guess this 70 year old wants to go down on the road.  Got it.
---Speaking of Miley, Cardi B seems to be all the rage now. She performed with the more talented Bruno Mars.  Being the female rap crotch grabber was toned down by Cardi for this duo performance, just as it was by Kendrick Lamar in his two appearances. He kept passing by but restraining himself.
---Reading the comment here on the 2013 Grammy's, there were hot tributes to Levon Helm, Bob Marley, and the New Orleans sound at that event.  The tributes in 2018 to Fats Domino and Chuck Berry by Jon Batiste and Gary Clark Jr. were meek, reverential but nothing remotely like the spirit of Fats and Chuck.  That was a missed opportunity to shake up this show.
---The Argentina song by Patti LuPone was painful to watch, but it was small reminder of what she had been.

As for the #Metoo and anti-Trump inspired points of the show, they seemed rote.  That's not meant to discount how heartfelt they may have been or correct they are.  The protests of successful entertainers could be made clear while being less aggrandizingly overt.  Choosing Hillary Clinton for a cameo was questionable.  Remember, she lost the election more than Trump won it.  She was complicit.

This is opinion from the sidelines, no doubt signing off none too soon.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

"The Largesse Of The Sea Maiden", Denis Johnson short stories

These are excerpts:

"I mean it's like I get that glass as far as just touching against my lower lip, and the next thing I know I'm on the Ghost-Bus to Vegas."

"I put down one foot on the Road of Regret, and set out on my journey."

"remember, 1967.  Pets and children wandered loose in the streets.  Respected citizens threw their litter anywhere."

"The daughter of Japanese immigrants, Liz, a black haired beauty even now in her sixties, had become in recent years a physically quite tentative and cautious person... But she stayed serene and cheerful, and greeted everyone, whether a lifelong acquaintance or a brand-new face, with a hug and a smile, saying, Hello Stranger."

"Manhattan in the 1980's had a pulse, heady, potent, but like a wound's.  Do you remember?  Death-camp homeless.  Guerrilla vendors.  Three-card monte.  Trash all over the streets.  How I survived this attack on multiple fronts, I can't imagine."

"The next morning I turned on the news and learned of the death, the previous night, of Elvis Presley... and my mind snapped, my soul sickened, and I went to Memphis.  It was either that, or kill the dog."

"Anybody could turn up at the Chelsea---the next morning, for instance, I stepped into the small doubtful elevator by myself, and on the fourth floor I picked up Peter O'Toole... he listened to me closely, in happy surprise, as if he'd never heard of these movies before, or even of himself... At the moment, I was heading anywhere at all for breakfast, but when I heard the desk clerk's radio playing news that an aircraft, I assumed a sightseeing plane, had struck Tower Two of the World Trade Center, I decided to jump on the number 3 subway, half a block west, and go have a look."


These are not so random quotes from the five short stories in "The Largesse of the Sea Maiden", a book completed shortly before Denis Johnson's death last year at age 67.  Johnson was a unique talent whose books could be uneven, singly or within the pages of each one.  Whenever he published something, it became of interest immediately.  There was a distinct edge to his writing that could lead sentences to jump off a page, paragraphs to be mind bending, or story lines to build momentum quickly.  Whether everything always hung together was irrelevant.  The punch was in the writing.  If there is such a thing as poetic short stories, this may be it.

Clearly, I have no balanced approach to commenting on Johnson's work.  Some of the short stories in this book deal with his usual down and outs, while some cut closer to home.  Whoever the characters, they are often a template for some truth just around the corner.  A National Book Award winner, Johnson was an American voice who used the hip, grittier, or troubled areas of our world to speak broadly.  And he had a sense of humor.  Quite a combination.




Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Property tax assessment game time

It's the same every year.  The mailings have already been coming for two months.  Tax Correction Agency, Zapmytax, Property Tax Reduction Consultants, Assessment Review Consultants LLC, Maidenbaum Property Tax Reduction,  these are all names of vendors who will file a tax reduction grievance for homeowners in Nassau County.  There may be others, who specialize in other neighborhoods, towns, or villages here.

Presumably these outfits have accountants or attorneys associated with them, or maybe not.  They boast that they will never charge a fee for their service if not successful.  NO REDUCTION = NO FEE is their commitment.  In fact, three of these five agencies have the same exact words on their promo literature.  Most list the streets on which homes in an area have successfully filed.  Since this is publicly available information there is no way to know if the agency represented these claims or if any agency did.

When house values began to decline here in 2001, filing was done without help.  The County does not make it easy, with assessed value being some derivative number that has nothing to do with the value of the property in question.  Everything the County provides is basically inexplicable.  Could the obfuscation be deliberate? The trick is simply taking their inexplicable number and looking online at filings for comparable homes in an area.  If a house and property is bigger or better than yours and their "tentative assessed value" is lower, point that out.  A form can be found online to file a grievance, when the system works which is sporadic.

Everything about this suggests collusion, a word of the year, between the tax reduction agencies and the political hacks who run the County.  BUT, if these hoops are jumped through, filing can work.  From 2002 through 2012  a reduction was achieved here every year.  As house prices were on the rise, a reduction was denied in 2013 and not tried for in recent years.

The filing is again being completed.  The ability to physically examine comparison houses is limited now, so online information only will be used.  As before, the application will point out that there has been not significant renovation to this house. NOT EVEN MARBLE COUNTERTOPS.

Here's the deal with these tax reduction agencies.  Their fee is, depending on the firm, 40% to 50% of the reduction achieved in the first year plus miscellaneous expenses.  The first year the reduction is applicable in the 2019-2020 fiscal year for the county.  The 40% plus fee is due 60 days after notice of success.  SO THE FEE WHICH COULD BE SUBSTANTIAL WOULD BE DUE IN MID-2018 BUT THERE WOULD BE NO BENEFIT UNTIL A YEAR AND A HALF LATER.

Not only is this system set up for corruption.  It also has elements of a scam.  If the fee is not paid immediately, all rights are waived in the agreement if the reduction firm sues the homeowner for immediate payment.  The payment due will be charged interest at usurious rates.  SORT OF LIKE A VIG.

Read the fine print.  Don't be elderly.  Know who you're dealing with.  AND DO IT YOURSELF OR USE YOUR OWN ATTORNEY OR ACCOUNTANT.

NOT THESE POSSIBLE PREDATORS.  These property assessments are the benchmark for most local taxes and all school taxes.  This is not trivial.  FILE BEFORE MARCH 1.


Postscript:    More mail.  Property Taxbuster Inc. wants my business.  "We only charge 33.33% of first year's savings."  What happened to honor among thieves? 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Market rise continues

Despite the comment here on Saturday, the equity market continues its upward move.  The highly, hmm, select group of followers of ENS, self-selected, did not rattle others, or ignored what was written. Good for them. Seemingly misunderstood accounting changes related to repatriating overseas earnings made possible by the tax bill are regularly kicking some large stocks down a notch or two on days when they report large write-offs of formerly expected tax reductions, a stock price change that will be recouped within a few days all things being equal.  When various banks and other large global companies report this non-cash charge, even with a cautious approach now I still buy a little extra on the mark down as I did earlier today with JNJ.  These actions do add to market exposure but otherwise seem like easy money.  To reassure anyone who reads here, a regular trading asset was sold today, AOI, to wait for the next opportunity.  Overall market commitment slightly declines.

This is becoming a bit boring.  Big things considered in recent months like ROKU and NVDA were regrettably missed through being overly deliberate, a bad trait in this market.  The most exciting stock watched today was chosen for portfolios years ago, sold here last year but not in one daughter's portfolio, that's Netflix.  Good for her.

There is "an eerie kind of calm" in the market, as a mutual fund and ETF comment in the NYT noted two weeks ago.  The article was every bit as ambivalent is what is being written here... on the other hand...


Saturday, January 20, 2018

Too hot to touch?

Caution/Warning.  Diving into the equity market here in spots might work but staying put, or raising a little more cash, may be wise.  No fuddy duddy here, but this rally is now driven by short memories or none.  On either the short or long side of  many having this discussion, our future is not on the line.  For those with smart hopes getting into this, be careful.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Equity market on fire...

The close today in equity market averages was alarming.  Instead of a back-off on the last day of the week, stocks were stoked until a short pause at the end.  Writing here often has noted the solid, now moving to average, fundamentals of the market and the contrary indications of a dysfunctional political scene.  This week's move showed no concern.

There is the concern here that a correction is near, or maybe that is a wish for a healthy market that needs reality checks.

An example of the out of kilter benefits of investing in equities now is this.  Nike, NKE, never bought before because of always feeling behind the curve, was added here in early August after it took a dive  It was bought at $58, then 56, next 53, then 51, not doubling down, call it 20 percenting down each time.  The analysis had been done and it ran the book.  "Analysis" is a stretch. Looked at the solid financials and decided that the stock was way oversold. Maybe it is not now the only urban sneaker of choice but this logo is global.

With the equity price now at $67 it worked.  This kind of five month turnaround in an investment is not normal in large caps, even if the investment is well researched.  Investors who do their work can stay with this but may be hurt.  Investors with little perspective could soon be scalded.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Amazon's second headquarters --- Philadelphia or Nashville?

Today Amazon announced the names of the 20 finalists for its second headquarters.  There were applications from 238 cities looking for the projected 50,000 jobs that would be associated with this site.  In concept that sounds wonderful, but that would be a massive number of new jobs for any area to absorb successfully when factoring in not just the talent needed but also the infrastructure.

Austin and the North Carolina research triangle area(Raleigh) are of course on the list.  They are already tech centers, but one could wonder if they are somewhat saturated.  Boston would be a likely choice given its educational resources but that is a densely populated area that may not be compatible with the type of campus Amazon must envision.  Areas such as Columbus, Ohio and Indianapolis, Indiana could be questionable as places that would be attractive to live, but putting the infrastructure in place could work.  From that perspective, Washington, D.C. seems to be impossible but Northern Virginia and Montgomery County, Maryland would both cover that base.  Still, why would Bezos want to get even closer to politics.  His Washington Post ownership already does enough of that.

Wild guess here is Philadelphia.  That's meant as the Philadelphia suburbs, perhaps with an executive building in the city center.  The academic resources are there in that once great city and some of the suburbs such as those in the Bryn Maur, West Conshohocken, and Valley Forge(home of the Vanguard complex) area are attractive and have development areas available.  Major highways are in place.  Access to both New York and D.C. is easy.  Add to that, helping redevelop Philadelphia would be a feather in the cap of Bezos.  Great things are there, such one of the most exceptional museums in the country, a legacy of prior wealth.

This is the long shot choice --- Nashville.  There are only 650,000 people in the city but the metro area totals over 1.5 million.  Vanderbilt University is a highly regarded academic institution and the city has professional hockey and football teams.  Don't forget about the Grand Ole Opry.  Some of positive comments may seem to be a stretch, but Amazon could, in its way, own this city, redefine it as a tech mecca in the middle of the South.  The company would avoid some of the travails of older northeastern cities while finding an eager work force in a region tired of just being known for car assembly.

Sorry Denver, Dallas, and Los Angeles, the thought here is that Amazon will choose to have the balance of an area east of the Mississippi.  This is a completely biased comment.  Other suggestions are welcome.  No prizes are available.



   

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

GAC Motors coming...

This morning while going through my morning routine, CNBC was on.  An interesting advertisement came on.  It showed attractive scenes from various places around the world with people commenting, their distinct alphabets writing words on the screen.  No products were clear.  Could this be a new Apple ad?  Finally the answer, a hazy then focusing car and a name, GAC Motors.

This was the first ad ever seen here for a Chinese car company.  They are launching in the U.S. in 2019, maybe late this year.  Speculation is that they will be sold through Fiat Chrysler dealers.  Guangzhou Automobile Corporation is a state owned company, meaning owned by the Chinese government.  Get this! Their passenger cars in China are sold under the Trumpchi brand, their SUV's Gonow.  It is said that they will change their passenger car brand for the U.S. market, but even with that Don Jr. and Eric are probably pining for a lawsuit.  Daddy said sue so much they thought they had a sister.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

NFL playoffs --- brief minimally informed observations

Over the weekend, parts of each of the four NFL divisional playoff games were watched.  In total, viewing averaged about a quarter for each of the games, with part of the fourth quarter watched in three of them.  There was no reason to watch the fourth quarter of the Patriots/Titans game.

For the sole reason that I tend to like all things New Orleans related, the game just ended was disappointing.  The New Orleans pass defender decided to make an inexplicable high school style, that's styled, tackle that was useless and could have been a sure tackle, before what would have been a tough field goal.  The supposed tackle did not even touch the receiver and even seeing it was hard to believe.  Darn.  On top of that, memories of personal and business trips to Minnesota are dreary.  Not football criteria of course.

Philadelphia's victory over Atlanta was welcomed.  It was another last second win.  Philadelphia needs this.  The Jaguars were the only wild card team to survive the weekend.  That was also a positive.  Why?  The former NY Giants coach Tom Coughlin has a senior operational role with that team now and he has somehow made a difference.  Despite being a humorless soul, he brought two Super Bowl championships to New York in his tenure and got along well with Eli Manning, a favorite, a Giant from a New Orleans tribe.  Reasons for fandom here are tenuous.  And then there are the Belichick and Brady led Patriots --- tweedle dum and tweedle dee --- humorless does not go far enough to describe the coach and can anyone really know who Brady is.  They are in lockstep and in another league, or League.

The best Super Bowl, Brady vs. Brees or grimness vs. NOLA life, will not happen.



Saturday, January 13, 2018

"The Chi", pilot was well done --- plus a comment on Starz

This past week Showtime has been airing the pilot of The Chi, a drama set in southside Chicago.  Interesting that the multi-year Showtime hit Shameless is also located there.  One is in a white low middle class to poor ghetto while the other, The Chi, is in a distinctly tougher black ghetto with the same economic mix.  While called "a pilot", there are nine more episodes coming on Sundays at 10pm.  Guess it could also be called the first episode.

The program is engaging and the setting is realistic.  Like many programs of this type, it appears to be an ensemble cast, and which members are determined to be the one or two main characters is not yet known.  The strange part about this initial show is that one of the most interesting characters was murdered.  Already done.  One can wonder whether it will be like Abby in the past season's Ray Donovan, who died early but showed up in flashbacks and Ray's dreams or nightmares throughout.  Or is that long haired 16 year old Chi character just now gone for good.

This will be watched.

While on a cable network program discussion, here in part of the New York area the Starz programming is off the air.  They apparently could not come to an agreement with the Cablevision network, the near monopoly viewed here.  Starz is running full page ads in the New York Times reminding us that we are missing "Power" and "Outlander".  That is absolutely no issue as Power was viewed as an on the edge of tasteless pornograpy and overly thuggish crime drama, for the most part unwatchable, and Outlander was a mystery whose attraction was never understood.  Of the 17 Starz channels now gone only one  is missed.  That was channel 347 which generally had solid programming, some routine but also some recent foreign films that were unexpected and some creative indie films.  Channel 346 also had some films that shared that vision.  If Starz views its bargaining chip as Power and Outlander, they are not in a strong position.  They are nowhere close to being a match in competition with HBO and Showtime solid original content.  They are not even comparable to the advertisement laden AMC.

Enough on this.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

"Vanishing New York, How a Great City Lost Its Soul"

Even writing the name of this book is annoying.  It is written by a Jeremiah Moss, who seemingly is an arrogant, self indulgent drama queen ranting in a way that is way off point.  This book was purchased after reading some incredibly positive book cover style blurbs and a book review in the NYT that was mixed in its opinion, haltingly positive while acknowledging some discomfort with the tone.  What I expected was an interesting history of New York institutions and landmarks and how they have changed, looking at the impact of encroaching gentrification  This book of attacks is not what was expected.

As an example, Moss laments the closing of the Howard Johnsons restaurant in midtown.  He apparently liked to eat there and sees that as indicative of losing the city's soul?  Dude, there is one Howard Johnson's left in America, in upstate Lake George, New York.  There were two but the Bangor, Maine one closed early in 2017.  Having arrived in New York in 1993, he writes about the "legendary" Mars Bar on lower east side where he once sat at the bar with a not too well known poet.  "Legendary"?  It opened in 1984.  Is he mistaking it with with McSorley's.  Who knows.  Any change whatsoever upsets his anal retentive perspective.

He writes about the loss of CBGB's and the Mudd Club.  Max's Kansas City must be in the book somewhere.  Done those here, but they were of their time.  In a vital city they disappeared as they should have.  Different eras have different places.  A better use of Moss's time would be to look for those places that will become markers of his generation's time rather than lamenting the loss that those who experienced it do not feel.

 This is a rambling book of whining.  The hope that it would provide some interesting history was only intermittently satisfied, and often done with the opinions of this guy who is just repeating what he has read elsewhere.  At times the book veers toward the incoherent.  The fact that the "Village Voice" could write that "no one takes stock of New York's changes with the same mixture, snark, sorrow, poeticism, and lyric wit as Jeremiah Moss" is ridiculous.  Who wrote that?  The "Voice" always had its quirks.

Oh well, enough on this.  Manhattan is changing.  It has not disappeared.  Brooklyn changes.  It is still there.  Some of this change is hard to see, some could be viewed as regrettable, some is just obviously inevitable, but it will all evolve in its own way.  New York City has never been about corralling the past.  It is not a museum like Venice.  Moss can lament change as his job.  He seems to enjoy it, and is crying all the way to the bank.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Sports update... or is it fatigue

A few comments on sports:

--- Last night's college football championship game was surprisingly engaging.  These players are not pros, some are still just kids  That can lead to more unexpected plays, errors, circus catches and playground runs than an NFL game.  The games can run on momentum.  Last night's second half with the new freshman Alabama quarterback was entertaining to watch, a phenom created in front of us.  Then again Alabama's beleaguered kicker was stress manifested.  The main unfortunate distractions were Trump showing up and the over the top commercialization of the event.  Does the coin that is being tossed need to have the Mercedes brand on one side?

--- The NYT writes about Patrick Ewing as the new coach of Georgetown's basketball team.  This is followed here based on history with the school.  There is hope that he will do well, but it is uncertain that he can replicate the tough, almost hostile, demeanor of his coach and still mentor John Thompson Jr.   Actually that is not Ewing.  They play their long time rival Johnnies tonight and need a win.

--- The chronic dirty NFL player Richie Incognito is still around?  Realized today that he was part of the underdog Bill's team that I wanted to win.  Now glad they lost.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Trump investigation, fatigue or revived interest?

At times it seems as if both the Republicans and the Democrats share a wish to drag out the ongoing investigations of Trump and his crowd.  The Republicans are hoping that they bore the public to near death with the tedium of half truths and delays while the Democrats are calculating that the pressure on the thin skinned Trump will cause him to do something even more bizarrely inappropriate than the usual.

On December 7th here there was a post here("The ongoing Trump investigation --- wearing out the broad public") that expressed concern about an investigation that could fall short of finding criminal or impeachable evidence directly and incontroverably linked to Trump.  Whether "obstruction of justice" or "collusion with the Russians", crossing the threshold needed for significant charges and change will be not be trivial.  This is not Watergate.  There were many many aspects to that situation including obstruction, but it began with a tangible fact --- Republican operatives broke into the DNC offices.  Everyone can understand something so straightforward.  It was like a television show.

With the Mueller inquiry, the first shoe to drop was the arrest of George Papadopoulos as in "who". While he was a part of the Trump campaign with the unlikely job of foreign policy adviser, the barriers to entry for such a role were low.  He was a brash attention seeking 29 year old who somehow charmed his way into the campaign and sought out Russian contacts in order to impress others.  Whether he was directed to do this and by whom is unknown.  He is definitely not a "smoking gun" for the investigation or for anyone observing.

Now Senators Grassley and Graham have thrown their integrity to the wind and asked the Justice Department to investigate Christopher Steele, the former British spy.  They are not disputing the accuracy of Steele's firm's "dossier" on Trump.  They are saying that he lied to investigators about his contacts with reporters to share that information.  That's big distinction.  This is unequivocally meant to disrupt the Mueller investigation.  That these two Senators have become Trump's lapdog minions is alarming.  The ramparts are up.

More to come...

Friday, January 05, 2018

What me worry, market roars ahead

The equity market has long been seen, over the medium term and long term, as a reflection both of the brightest investors(so-called lead steers) and a consensus built by the weighing machine of market value.  That goes for both the overall market and for individual stocks over time.  What's going on now is a wonder to behold as gains just accumulate like the driven snow outside.  There's a problem though.  While looking at the market in a financial valuation vacuum this rise still works, if one simultaneously looks at the unraveling of years of work on U.S. foreign policy, the backing away from responsible norms of behavior expected by and counted on by others, and the willingness to allow one blowhard to take over our country, the "lead steers" appear to be ignoring what is happening.

What is happening can crush the market.  Leaving the world open for dire events and in fact putting in place the hair triggers to cause them will in no blankety blank way be good for the stock market.  It will divert huge amount of assets to unproductive and destructive purposes.

Listening to and reading market prognostications, there are discussions of old issues that seem beside the point.  Does anyone really want to debate whether the shrinkage of public shares traded due to buybacks and due to private markets is or is not the reason for the persistent market rise.  It is a stupid discussion.  It does raise stock prices but it does not create economic value.  It exacerbates wealth inequality.  Companies plowing back their earnings into raising their stock price through buybacks rather than investing in new business opportunities is a drive headlong into a dead end.

From this perspective, "market milestones" are more something to be understood rather than celebrated.  First things first.  No one should expect that thought process from cable business news or from the retail brokerage marketers.  But DARN, where is that efficient market where brighter minds are somehow presumed to be a leveler of this behavior.

We are benefiting from this market, we are participating in it by still carefully looking for opportunities, but trust in market equilibrium is fraying.  Whether that is a financial valuation concern, an outgrowth of this toxic administration that is aided by its punk apologists, or a concern about the possibility of a blindly coordinated global catastrophe, this trust issue is real.

So that's why CHEERS ABOUT MARKET MILESTONES do not come easy.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

"Bombagenesis" leads to a "Bomb Cyclone"

The day after reading Louis Menand's Talk of the Town comment about "Words of the Year", that's the year 2017, this day has already offered a fine example for 2018. I thought cyclones were mainly in Asia, but the word bombagenesis has a precise meaning that applies to what is going on here now.  It is unequivocally winter here on Long Island.  The snow on the North Shore will not be any record breaker, best guess at the moment in this area is six inches so far, but the winds this afternoon are sending dry snow from the air and rooftops swirling in every direction.  They may pick up tonight with huge gusts, but Sandy removed our tallest and most dangerous tree in 2012 so there is no immediate danger of consequential house splitting.

We are holding in place.  That is not unusual but having no choice is not preferable.  Advance shopping and food delivery was done Tuesday and Wednesday, and it's clear now that overbuying and wasting food will not be the outcome of that in this situation.  Once the snow has stopped tonight at around midnight, temperatures will not rise above 20 for two days, with single digit temps at night.

No mail today and no newspapers or Amazon delivery.  The newspapers are likely out there but, as they come at around six in the morning, they are buried.  Our driveway plow guy has not shown up as he usually waits for the snow to stop, but that could be a mistake if everything freezes solid.  My bet is that he will show up at around 7pm and blindly rip out a few of the stones around the edges of the driveway.  He's the son of the conscientious lawn guy and has always been a cost of the service.  His father drives an old beat up specialty van.  The son has a new huge chrome plated truck each year.  This is not a positive generational transfer.

So here we are.  Everything we need is here with the exception of a new book in hand that is compelling.  There are choices among some that are half read and a genre book that might not fit my mood.  That's another subject.  The stock market plowed ahead with little regard for the weather or big mouth.  I open the door every hour or so to look outside and feel the storm firsthand.  Then I feel fortunate. 



Postscript:  the snowplow team arrived at 1am.  That did not help this light sleeper but everything was surprisingly well done in the morning.  Yesterday's hoped for Amazon delivery was on the porch by 8am.  No trees in the immediate area are damaged, as the winds last night were not as strong as forecast.  Now it is simply very cold.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

The August 28th "New Yorker", late in reading

Among the newspapers, magazines, and books here, at times there are parts of "The New Yorker" that are noted to be read, and then get left behind.  One beside my bed for several months was picked up a few days ago, and this August 28th issue is exceptional from cover to cover.

David Remnick's Talk of the Town comment on Trump and the far right is refreshingly blunt.  "Drive Time", personal history commentary from Ian Frazier, is about driving in metro New York.  Humor is not far away from details of interest.  A consummate New Yorker writer, Frazier has been followed here for years and in recent years with a sense of familiarity.  We had the same doctor and while Frazier does not know that, the talkative doctor seemingly needed to impress me.  Frazier had a similar condition.  The shouts and murmurs humor page had who to me was a new writer for the magazine, Jen Spyra.  That weekly column is often saddled with long time contributors who seem stale.  Spyra's entry was exceptional.

Longer pieces were fine as well.  Elizabeth Kolbert writes about the power to the tech titans, how they are regulated and not regulated, and their impact on elections in the U.S.  As an aside she writes about a computer geek in Tbilisi who was able to influence the 2016 Trump win.  Then comes the article "Trump's Favorite Tycoon" by Patrick Radden Keefe.  That tycoon is Carl Icahn, the long time poster boy for bad behavior in corporate takeover blackmail, or greenmail, who cares only about making money and at 81 can't stop himself.  He's a special adviser to the Trump, receives no compensation because that would require disclosure.

As for criticism, there's a Nick Paumgarten piece on St. Vincent, the unusually savvy pop diva and a book review by the incomparable but occasionally pedantic Louis Menand.  He discusses "Freud: The Making of an Illusion", a new book by long time Freud critic Frederick Crews.  It is an excuse for Menand to give a short history of Freud's life and progression.  This is a classic beat down in a book review, reminiscent of a Janet Malcolm piece many years ago. It is both well written and accessibly entertaining intellectual material.  Then comes James Wood in a review of Norwegian short stories and Anthony Lane on current cinema.

What an issue!  Saved for good reason and finally read.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

"Pachinko", an 80 year saga by Min Jin Lee

This novel is ambitious.  It is a multi-generational tale of a Korean family as it evolves in Japan.  The book has been well received in 2017 by many reviewers.  The subject matter is one of historical interest, and it still resonates today in that tense area of the world.  Lee's characters are developed carefully.  The book was enjoyed here for many reasons, but one was not expected.

Every year in the spring, the literate aspect of the media will dream up that year's "beach reading" lists, or maybe it's "summer reading" or "vacation reading".  It is not known whether "Pachinko" was on these lists, but it could have been.  The story is involving but not too demanding, with the length to settle in with when time is available.  It is informative about a significant but maybe not too well known cultural issue, it is set in historical situations, and intertwines Korean and Japanese behaviors.  Yet readers would not necessarily be required to have a background in any of this, as the story itself is not just multi-generational, but also broadly multi-cultural.  Take what you will and leave the rest.

Notwithstanding the fact that it was read here in what turns out to be the dead of winter, it was an absorbing read.  At its core, it could be seen as heart wrenching soap opera of damaged lives and frustrated dreams.  There are times when the book lags as it becomes maudlin.  It always perks up in time to startle the reader back into a "what happens next" focus.  With touches on gangsters and sexuality throughout, it could be a book for cable television series watchers.  If you are one, you understand that comment.






Friday, December 29, 2017

Elliott Abrams, the next Secretary of State?

Last night on PBS News there was a lengthy interview with Elliott Abrams, the life long credential builder in Republican circles, former State Department undersecretary under Reagan and NSA senior staffer under Bush II.  He was tainted by the Iran-Contra scandal but never indicted. 

He was Rex Tillerson's choice for undersecretary of state but Rex was overruled by the Don.  It appeared that Abrams was too entrenched with establishment Republicans for Steve Bannon, who was the decision maker on "ancillary" issues at the time.  Now that Tillerson would obviously love to leave the job and Trump and his handlers would like him out, there is a need for a solution that would be palatable to Congress and hard to attack by the media.

In last night's interview, Abrams was bending over for Trump.  He defended or rationalized every Trump foreign policy position or action.  It was another pathetic example of opportunism in the mold of Treasury Secretary Mnuchin.  To see an educated man be reduced to this is hard to watch.  May his wishes come true so we can see the ongoing humiliation of a career sycophant. 

The fact is that Abrams could be better than most that are possible at the moment.  At least he has experience.  We will see.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

"Brooklyn Best", on PBS

Tonight on PBS 13 here, there was "Brooklyn Best", which was a half hour program highlighting what's there, what to be from Brooklyn means, and a history of the fabled borough of New York City.  It is a well edited panorama of a world famous place.  A daughter lives there and the guess here is that when she travels and says that she is from Brooklyn, it has more resonance than saying Manhattan and certainly Long Island.

In this short well done documentary, which could have been a promo, there are Bed-Stuy, Carroll Gardens, Greenwood Cemetery, Park Slope, Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Red Hook, Prospect Park, Coney Island, and many other places shown. The effort is to show the character of a Brooklyn neighborhood, of which there were once thousands just blocks apart from each other.  To some extent that character of the borough remains, although the thousands may now be hundreds.  That personal character was reflected by some good friends in my banking life here, where being from Brooklyn gave them a wider berth for offbeat behavior.  Brooklynisma.

We have been to many parts of Brooklyn over the years as visitors, guests, and at times tourists in our own backyard.  From a multi-ethnic city of sorts until the 1980's, it has now become a global place.  It attracts people who fit in.  It is different from another global place like Austin which is a youth hive of activity(younger daughter lives there and it works well for her).  Brooklyn is multi-layered and less overtly hip.

The short program seen tonight is worth watching if you get the chance.  It was produced by WLIW, the non-profit Long Island PBS affiliate that would welcome 2017 donations.  My editorial comment is just that.  Watch if the chance shows up on local networks.