Friday, May 08, 2020

Job losses during a crisis, observations

---Today, after a day or two of thought and looking at this unusual stock market, rising amid the crisis, there have been reductions in certain areas in recent weeks.  Today there was the thought that certain things are absolutely needed.  As summer approaches, air conditioning is the ultimate necessity in many parts of the country.  Eat a healthy meal that costs more or have air conditioning working, no question, peanut butter and jelly sandwich and twinkies are fine. So today added some CARR, aka Carrier, and TWNK, aka Hostess Brands, to my equity account.  Comfortable with these choices this as summer approaches.  With schools being closed and everyone in the house, compromises might be essential.


---Thoughts below from two days ago, now becoming a topic on CNBC today.  Today posted due to my unique situation.


---As the current global pandemic crisis eventually passes, many suggest that significant change is still ahead of us.  Focusing on all aspects of that is mind boggling, brain addled into incomprehension.  Sean Hannity and Stephen Miller may have no such fear, but for the rest of us mortals focusing on singular aspects of change is better.  Let's be wrong on this just one thing at a time.

---When many smaller businesses receive Federal money under various assistance programs, they are required to maintain employee's jobs for a limited period of time.  In situations like this at mega businesses, most state that employment levels will stay the same after the crisis, just furloughed for now.  In other businesses, large and small, the job cuts will by necessity hit fast and furious after that time(excuse the silly reference).  In past situations like this, it eventually becomes an opportunity for firms to let go of mediocre employees who have maintained their jobs by being marginally competent, respectful of their bosses, and really friendly to all.  That will happen again, but this time it may cut deeper.


Sunday, April 26, 2020

Where this goes, nobody knows...

The global pandemic is still evolving.  So much is unknown.  It is a perfect time for conspiracy theories, and they are rife.  In India it is about tribalism, in China it is about African immigrants who work in regional cities, and in this country it is not a large issue, but news programs highlight every little issue, and this seems to be about rallies wanting the freedom to get sick and infect others. "Free Alabama, Free Georgia"  Trump rails, contradicting his own advice of the day before.  Of course, a President who suggests that injecting Lysol cleaner into our lungs might solve cure Covid 19, "it's amazing, and in a matter of seconds you're cured" might be a bit off kilter.  But that's already old news from Thursday and the news programs would do well to drop it.

Of importance to life and work in this country, auto loans and especially leases now may become the housing loans of the major recession of 2008/2009.  Cars are our babies, new ones sustain happiness and self regard.  And this week the most lenient credit card lenders, Capital One and Discover, lowered their borrowing limits broadly.  Something is going on there.  Unemployment rates will rise.  Advertisers of all stripes are trying to adapt, "we will all come out of this stronger" said just like that or in varying ways, but closing with "Buy a Toyota, lifetime assurance" or some other brand.  An eerie note is that in our weekly local newspaper, 24 pages with a few articles, local sports, local deaths, and half devoted to real estate housing ads, there were ten advertisements for funeral homes this week, unusual.  It's dying business.

Nostalgia attack are not uncommon.  More later, well at least I hope so...




Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Beyond the coronavirus, aka Covid 19

Covid 19 is not just in the news, it is the news.  It has affected everything about the way we live, and it is a global event.  "Say something everyone does not already know John."  While at the moment it is leading to a recession and unemployment will continue to get higher, the longer term effects could be more dire.  Food lines in the U.S.A., now, isn't that dire already for many.  This brief but awkward comment is about a functioning global and national economy. 

As this develops over time, will it lead to a wealth gap that continues to widen?  Will it have an inflationary effect on everything, not just toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and lysol which appears laughable now as a passing phenomenon.  Break open your 1960's fallout shelter and see if that canned food is any good now.  Spam lives forever, that's the food and not something on the computer. Do lower airfares now, which are an amazing bargain to overseas destinations, become outrageously expensive when everything is pared back, and traveling is selectively monitored by governments. 

Leadership in this country is coming from the states, encouraged by a President who does not want to lead.  He does like to talk and be the center of attention.  There are eventually positive outcomes that can be imagined, unclear now.  Let's imagine them.  Is that a song?


Saturday, April 11, 2020

Dismantled Federal Departments now in chaos

"The Fifth Risk" by Michael Lewis was published in 2018 after having major portions excerpted by Vanity Fair and The Guardian during 2017.  The book focused on three Federal government departments, Energy, Agriculture, and Commerce, led respectively by Rick Perry, Sonny Perdue, and Wilbur Ross.  It detailed the dismantling of those departments by these Trump loyalists, and the replacement of senior civil service officials with extensive knowledge that reported to them, to be replaced by Republican party hacks who were rewarded for their loyalty, and not their expertise. At the time, there were parts of the book that were humorous, if dark humor is allowed, as the incompetence of these appointees bordered on the absurd.

At this point, it appears based on their performance, that the Education Department, Housing and Urban Development, the Labor Department, and most irreparably The State Department all suffered similar fates.  Now in this time of almost unprecedented crisis due to the corona virus global pandemic, major parts of the government are close to dysfunctional.  This is not to suggest that many of these shallow souls are not trying their best at this critical time, but the project management skills that Lewis cites as the fifth risk are simply not there.  Federal departments are rife with unqualified, disinterested, and self serving employees who until a few months ago were focused on what trips they could take, what hotels they could stay in, and where they would eat dinner.

The unwillingness of Trump to establish national mandates leaves the governors of states forced to make decisions that are viewed as political.  Most would rather not be put in that situation.  The virus respects no borders, and different protocols in adjacent states makes the United States look ludicrous to the rest of the world.  Trump has ceded U.S. leadership in Asia to China and the Middle East to Saudi Arabia and Russia, and in this crisis he provides no leadership at all, in fact while deriding other countries for some of their actions, ones that he would have done well to emulate.

What's the news here personally.  I am not sick, at least not yet, but a friend of mine has been ill for over two weeks with all of the symptoms present. For now she is totally quarantined, mild fever from time to time, chronic mild cough, constant fatigue, but hopefully "getting better".  That is what she always says, but now it seems like she really is!  In New York, just about the worst thing a person could do is go to the hospital unless there is an imminent life threatening emergency.  Hospitals are contagion zones.

Enough cheery news.  On the political front, two Democratic governors have distinguished themselves in this crisis, Andrew Cuomo of New York and Gavin Newsom of California.  If Biden for any reason falters, they are ready.  The always ambitious Cuomo gets more publicity because New York is now the world epicenter of the virus by far, but Newsom is impressive.  He took early action in California that, so far, has been effective in limiting the virus there up to this point.

More at another time...




Wednesday, April 08, 2020

A short account from a Covid 19 area

When my physical therapist arrived yesterday afternoon, he was dressed in his best clothes and not his usual outfit from the rehabilitation facility that he works in daily.  Something was up.  His mother had died early that morning at 2:30am(the logistics of that time are familiar to me from two years ago), and they had contacted their long time local funeral parlor in Brooklyn.  He was told that they could not take her, already overwhelmed with "customers".  He then called a funeral parlor near his house in central Nassau County, Long Island, and was told the they would only take her if the medical examiner confirmed that she had not died of Covid 19, aka caronavirus.  His mother was 89 and had a debilitating stroke last year, but after the required test proved negative she was accepted.  She had basically died of old age.  Nothing is simple in virus time.  Everything has changed.




 

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Observations in virus time...

---The HBO series "My Brilliant Friend" is now halfway through its second season.  This is exceptional film making.  The principle players in the film, both as children and young adults, had never been actors and actresses before being chosen for their roles.  Other players were identified in the same way. They learned their roles and played them as real people, as much of their roles related to their real life experiences.  The main set, built to resemble a slum area, is realistic. Others parts of the film are in real locations, beaches and small regional towns.  If one does not share this unequivocably positive view, you must  admit that it is definitely different.  It is in Italian with subtitles, easy to follow.

---The HBO series "The Plot Against America" could have some parallels to the current day.  Each viewer can decide that on their own.  It rewrites history and shows Charles Lindbergh winning the 1940 Presidential election, defeating Franklin Roosevelt.  The heroic pilot sees no role for America in a European war, and sees the Nazis and Hitler as important to defeating the Russian Communists.  It is seen through the eyes of several families in New Jersey, both Jewish and Christian. At times, for me, it was viscerally unpleasant to watch.  Yet the film making is convincing and alarming.

---Here, in real time, so much has changed in the last month.  While this extremely volatile stock market offers significant opportunities for future gains and stupid mistakes, the economy is in serious trouble.  Unemployment is ramping up and will continue to do so.  While Congress is passing bills to alleviate the damage, the personal toll of so much change is wrenching to many.  Social distancing is a concept that can help, but many jobs are essential and families and close friends will be together.  Our President seems unhinged at times, just making stuff up and overriding medical experts.  He had a "hunch".  Yet he definitely enjoys being at the center of the action and speaking every day on televised news briefings, with a new favorite word for reporters who ask questions that he does not like, "snarky".  More to come, unfortunately, and with his base strong his poll numbers are somehow rising.  More to come...

Friday, March 27, 2020

Places of virus

--- New York City, Nassau County NY, and New Orleans are top hits of the week for Carona19 in the U.S., must be Glendale, Arizona next.  No joke, I hate seeing the streets of my major places here and around the world empty.  Gives me the feeling of "at least I have been there", not a positive way to think.  Hey, television guys, show me those empty streets of Paris, London, Venice, and Vienna once again. Amsterdam omitted for some reason.  Are you there?  Good choice.

---Looking at equity accounts, they are impossible to deal with now.  Just watching mostly, trimming a few and adding to a few, but must admit adding to secured government cash accounts.  Bought Boeing on Wednesday, just way too low that day.  Sold some early year purchased mid-cap tech stocks that looked promising earlier, did the research, but liquidity concerns led me to give up on them for now.  Aka, sold them.

---Not to be morbid, but various recent obits show some lower east side raised New York tough guys and same in Boston southies who were in my business not with us anymore.  A few like Cooperman from the Bronx still around, making sense but talking his book.  As to JP, lower east side dialect and always ready to yell and curse at me, he became a true friend, one of those ManHan guys who could not accept me at first.  Fine person, dedicated to family, church, and his job, and you only had to really know him to understand that.

---As to old friends, Dick Kovacovich on CNBC again today, former Wells Fargo CEO.  Still around, and an incredibly nice person who became my pal at big events where finding someone to talk with was paramount, needing to look engaged. He was already President of Norwest, and just liked to talk about anything in a smart way and drink a bit (Danville note, reminded me of Butch).  He recommends PNC as a buying opportunity, but too early for me.  Bill Miller still out there, my age, his suggestions interesting, worth looking at, but still talking his book.  Cooperman, formerly of Goldman, was once impossible to get an "audience" with, and now is a regular on CNBC.  Talking his book still somewhat, mostly restraining his robust language, but eager to be remembered for his considerable charitable giving now.  He should be.






Monday, February 24, 2020

Back in banking days, a trip gone awry, 1990...

As referenced in two prior posts, my job at Manufacturers Hanover Trust had become Director of Investor Relations in 1988.  Even at the beginning of the role, there was wide latitude in places to call on investors and who to call on.  Then in 1989, based on their polling data, I was named "best Investor Relations Director at money center banks" by Institutional Investor magazine.  As MHT was generally viewed as a beleagured institution, it was a stunning surprise to all, including the CEO.  After that, it was basically carte blanche for me, conferences, cities, countries, institutions, all visited at my discretion with the approval of my boss, the CFO.

When I was arranging a trip to Zurich, Geneva, Frankfurt, and Amsterdam, the continental European countries where some institutions were buying U.S. equities as investments(Germany not at all, but our office there was large and wanted us to visit), I asked the CFO if he wanted to join me.  He was always welcome, but he surprised by expressing interest.  As usual my secretary and I worked with the travel department to arrange the trip.

Everything was set.  Two days before our departure the Travel Department sent the agenda to the CFO's office.  On the Sunday evening of our departure, we met at Kennedy airport for our 9pm overnight flight to Zurich.  As he looked at the travel documents that were my responsibility, he was aghast.  "Business class?  I travel First Class." As it happens my secretary had handled the arrangements with the Travel Department and the person she dealt with in the travel department had not flagged the fact that members of the Executive Committee, of which the CFO was one, always traveled First.  Hmm, I would have been there too.  He called the Travel Department and found out that there were now no First Class seats were available.

Nice guy, the CFO, he accepted the situation and said no problem but with the admonition that next time Executive Travel should be used.  Oh, even a separate department for top brass, news to me.  Could this get worse?  Of course. When we boarded the Swiss Air plane, we had aisle seats and were seated directly across from each other as requested.  Seated on the CFO's right was a medium sized dog, looking perfectly at home.  To the dog's right was an obviously wealthy older Swiss woman.  Apparently dogs were not allowed in First.

We arrived in Zurich.  Now to a nice hotel, what else could go wrong?  While a famous old hotel, in a prestigious location, "old hotel" was what could be seen at first glance.  As we approached and stood at the reception desk, a slim tall black woman in a slinky dress walked up next to us and said "hi boys".  As we walked toward the stairs to head to our rooms, she whispered, "any company?".  Remember the Kinks song Lola?  I will never be sure if the CFO caught that whole sequence or took it in, but when we checked into our rooms they were messy, beds barely made up.  "We're out of here", he yelled through my door.

At this point it was late afternoon, no hotel, no dinner reservations, no 6pm vodka and tonic for my boss, and I could at least use a cold one.  He roused the Executive Travel Department in New York, late night there, and told them to find another hotel, one with a decent restaurant.  They used their clout to find a room in the Hotel Baur en Ville, a grand hotel of the old aristocracy.  It was old, but exceptional.  The hotel restaurant had just closed,  but they discreetly opened the door when we arrived, saying the chef had stayed for our arrival as we slipped in.  He came out, telling us that ordering from the menu was no longer possible but he would prepare our dinner, and hoped that we would like it.

Vodka tonics were quickly served, an amazing bottle of white wine hit the table, and after that my memory fails.  I do clearly remember us agreeing that it was one of the best meals we had ever had.  My job was secure!

There may be a follow up to this post, as so much more followed on this investor calling trip.  We will see, but not today.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

February 19th Democratic debate, short takes...

Last night the two hour debate among six Democrats seeking the nomination for President was watched.  At the conclusion, there was purposely no follow up watched here, meaning no interviews and no newscaster commentary.  Picked up a book and read before dozing off.  This morning only the scrolling stock futures were watched on CNBC, volume off, so no political commentary would be heard.  Why?  What follows will be brief thoughts untainted by the opinions of others taking claim to the narrative.  Was that a good idea?  Let's see.  At 6:30am, caffeine hopefully beginning to kick in, here are brief comments on each candidate.

Mike Bloomberg --- as fully anticipated by all, the newcomer was the prime target of the others who have already been grinding away for months.  At times he was not as articulate as had been expected but overall he stated his points clearly and focused on defeating Trump.  When challenged on his party loyalty, stop and frisk, attitudes toward women, he gave a response and did not elaborate in any long winded way.  When attacked by Warren and Sanders for being a billionaire, he was not defensive, except in one instance under attack by Warren over confidentiality agreements.  Most importantly, for the most part he let the others five fight among themselves.

Bernie Sanders --- came out firing, he attacks "corrupt" large corporations and his opponents on the stage.  His many aspirations are laudable but that word keeps coming up.  He does not see any issue with having 100% federal government control of the health care system, and is absolutely certain that is the most efficient and "fair" way to proceed.  How to accomplish that is unclear, but his belief is absolute.

Elizabeth Warren --- her life story and personal anecdotes were part of the show again.  When she started one with "I met a man in Reno", my mind flashed to Johnny Cash.  Her capacity for exaggeration and at times plainly distorting views of other candidates was on display again as was her "just two cents" comment on the "greedy billionaires", again she obfuscates on two percent for a sound bite.  She is intense and wants to win, that's clear.  Her positive goals at times get lost in her personal presentation style.

Joe Biden --- he seems a bit desperate as he speaks, eager to talk about his past experience, knowledge of foreign policy, where he has been(Johnny Cash flash again --- "I been everywhere man...).   As always he has an uncanny ability to misspeak, in minor ways on the stage last night.  And he does that Hillary Clinton act of pointing into the crowd to acknowledge someone, as a way of showing his close personal contacts.  Doing so at end, kneeling and pointing he just looked old.  His virtues as a centrist were made clear, but boasting about his popularity in black and latino communities was not news, and not effectively done.

Pete Buttigieg --- his persona as the smartest student in the classroom is well known, and as he interacts with other candidates his style aggravates them.  His temperament is more distant than personal.  When he challenges others, he is direct and articulate, not collegial at all.  His more centrist view on health care is not full throttle, as he emphasizes that change is incremental.  This is his version of telling the truth, not common in an aspirational politician.  In this debate he was more confrontational, especially with fellow centrists Biden and Klobuchar.  This was not his best performance, his approach showing some signs of  fraying.

Amy Klobuchar --- her approach was measured and rational once again, but basking a bit about now being in the spotlight.  The homespun woman from Minnesota approach continues.  She does not take criticism lightly and that comes across as a bit thin skinned.  Her policy commentary is not revelatory in any way.  Her steadiness may be an asset. Those voters looking for a compromise candidate could  find this as attractive.  It is possible that she would frustrate Trump more than the others.as he always wants a fight.

That's it.  One observation overall is that every candidate went out of their way to talk about the black and latino middle class.  Why not just middle class once and a while, no further clarification.  Trump knows how to capitalize on this in his ugly way, as we have certainly seen.

After the show, I went back to my book, "Bubble in the Sun", a light, entertaining, and informative history about the boom of Florida during the 1920's and what led to that.  Learned last night that the Ormond Beach Florida golf course that my father and I played on during summer vacations when the textile company closed, was not built by the Rockefellars, as he told me, but by the Flaglers, Henry Flagler being John D. Rockefellar's more private partner.  So my father was basically right. It was a beautiful public course built in 1892, rare at that time in this country, no big clubhouse as mansions as homes were the style of the rich at that time.  The book has been recently published and is by Christopher Knowlton, an author previously unknown to me.

Footnote:  To a large extent, the opinions about the candidates above are straightforward.  I do acknowledge that I am not a fan of Elizabeth Warren.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

College basketball professionals?

College basketball is different from other college sports.  That's an opinion, viewed as a fact here.  The attention it attracts is phenomenal and the television advertising must be commensurate.  Unlike football, where the eventual goal of turning pro and going to the NFL can be a large opportunity with so many players needed by each team, the NBA, with max 12 active players on a team, means the great majority of talented college basketball players have limited possibilities to cash in, to be blunt.  Playing in Europe or China is available for only a talented few.

On televised games, the announcers are programmed to point out the true scholar athletes(he has a 3.8 GPA, or has already graduated and is attending pre-med classes, or plans to attend law school next year, he is a volunteer at a school for handicapped children, so many positives...).  Do they ever say that he did well in his remedial reading program this year, and his tutor says that his grades are above 2.0, can still play next month. 

Watching games this year, it is fascinating to hear the announcers describe the number of students who are transfers.  "He played at  Western in his freshman year, then after a year at community college, he played for State, and then transferred this year to Eastern, and became eligible to play last month."  If this is anything like the old time role as a college student, please correct me.  Louisville seems have built its current team primarily on savvy choices of college transfers, but do have one player from a Louisville high school.  In the 1970's, players from Louisville high schools would have been half of the roster.

A college experience at an academically adequate university can be a positive life long experience.  For the exceptionally talented player, even a year at a school like Duke can set them up for future academic advancement, Louisville not so much.

There is no answer forthcoming in this rambling comment.  This issue is a current one, not new here.  When watching a game and seeing a player sustain a significant injury, knee or ankle or a concussion, wondering what their future is worth a thought.  An advertiser funded insurance pool, guaranteed payments based on need for five years after graduation, thoughts...

Sunday, February 09, 2020

Another yarn of early banking years

In 1988, when the position of head of Investor Relations at Manufacturers Hanover fell my way because no one else wanted it, I decided to call on the securities analysts covering the company at their offices.  At the time, that was not protocol, basically unheard of, but waiting around for analysts to visit me at my beleagured firm seemed silly.  Calling them directly, setting up appointments without the aid of a secretary, was also odd.  It put me on the map quickly and got me out of the building.  My previous job in the so-called Strategic Planning Department had been excruciatingly boring.

One of the first calls was on the bank analyst at Goldman Sachs(called Bob here).  Like almost everyone he was negative on the stock, but like most firms he had a neutral rating in print, as the investment bankers may have a deal in the works.  When he spoke to investors, he was not positive about the company.  It was clear that he was somewhat offended that I was calling on him at his office.  The long maned and somewhat flamboyant analyst had a PhD. in electrical engineering, but math whizzes gravitated to the money that could be made on Wall Street.  Ushered into his office by a secretary, we shook hands and he immediately went into a rant about a prior investor relation's head at MHT who had been removed from that position, replaced on a interim basis by a bond analyst, and then there I was.  When meeting with analysts part of my pitch was that I would arrange meetings with members of management that they wanted to see.  This was unprecedented at MHT, and at most firms.

My "successful" predecessor that Bob liked was a New York blue blood type, a Vietnam officer and helicopter pilot, and a big spender on food and drink for analysts that he entertained, (for ease of writing he will be called Clay). Clay's expense budget was huge and he was viewed by management as an excellent contact to the "arrogant" analyst community.  His view that was he was irreplaceable as no one in management understood what drove the stock price.  The Chairman named a new head of the Strategic Planning Department, a stubborn New York Irishman(called Kevin here) but also a Vietnam veteran who had been on the ground during the Tet offensive, a Captain in the quartermaster corps at a dangerous time for everyone there.

Still following this.  Not sure.  I will continue.

Kevin, as head of Strategic Planning, had Investor Relations reporting to him.  In his first meeting with my predecessor he was asked to explain what he did and how he approached Investor Relations.  Kevin asked about the expense budget as well, with fine restaurants almost nightly on the bank's tab.  Clay said to him, "people of your ilk would not understand this".  Kevin promptly went to the Chairman and said he would not do the job if Clay was in Investor Relations.  Done, so much more to this but that is the backdrop to what follows.  It was my job, Clay was put in another position where work was required. That was not for peoply of his "ilk", so he retired to his family home in the Westhampton on Long Island, saying that he was managing money.

The Goldman analyst followed up by asking to meet with the head of the International Division of the bank(Doug), who was a year or two younger than me but whose father had been President of Bankers Trust Company.  He was highly regarded as a possible CEO someday, and intimidated other bankers senior to me. A Brit who was much more experienced than me, and senior to me, could hardly speak without his voice quivering when asked a challenging question by Doug.  He stumbled and I explained as a follow up.  That was not a bright move by me, to correct one my managers in front of someone senior, just an honest but rather stupid mistake.  It made an impression on the younger Doug, as he became a bit intimidated by me, even as he was making a zillion dollars more and headed for the stars, his expectation, not to be fulfilled.

So Bob the Goldman analyst asked for a meeting with Doug, the Executive VP head of international banking.  That was arranged and the meeting was held, Doug and Bob acting like they barely knew each other.  It all seemed fine to me, with Bob asking mostly softball questions and Doug explaining the opportunities for business that were attractive in his sphere of influence.  Usual fatuous talk about how MHT was better positioned than its competitors in many areas of the world.

The next day I received a call, picked up by my secretary, and after some chit chat which she did with anyone who called, she told me that it was Doug on the line, "important call" she said.  Doug then began to ask me about the meeting with Bob and what I thought about it.  "Wasn't he a bit arrogant?" and "Did he understand anything I said?" and "Where did he come from?" and "What did you think about him?".  I gave straight answers but did faintly hear some other voices in the background, not relating to that at all.  In answering Doug's questions I explained that, yeah, Bob comes across as a bit arrogant but he really understands banking and is a capable analyst.  At the same time I realized that there was a speakerphone on, and others were there.

They were all together, Doug, Bob, and Tony, and were baiting me, to try show how uninformed this new Investor Relations head was.  I asked, are there others with you?  Laughter followed, and Doug said he was with a few friends.  He quickly finished the call, saying "thanks".  Only later did I learn who was on the call, and Bob eventually became a regular on the phone with me, treating me as if I was human.

Those creeps.  Doug was fired from MHT the next year(for general incompetence and lack of loyalty, my guess), Tony stayed a Hampton's playboy of sorts, and Bob was named the 2nd best analyst for large banks in Institutional Investor magazine. He became a huge supporter of my efforts, but not of my company, until much later.

We eventually became friends when serendipity put Bob and his wife at the same hotel on a vacation trip to Lisbon in 1998.  Kathy and I were invited later that year to a gathering at his house in the Hamptons, you guessed it, usual suspects.

This must end.




Thursday, February 06, 2020

Investor's dilemma

One of the more competent regular panelists on the CNBC program that airs on weekdays from noon to 1pm, said today that "you can only invest in so many stocks".  He was trying to explain why he had chosen to sell a stock even though he believed that it had great potential.  One could wonder, "when we get to this point, is there a correction ahead?".

In a January 19th  market commentary here, the closing comment was "Could this possibly be a bubble?  Of course it is and I don't want to miss it".  The saga continues.  Of stocks mentioned at that time, HAPP, FTCH, SAGE, and YNDX have been sold, three with modest gains and one with a slight loss.  BIID has gained over 10% since that time due to a satisfactory settlement of a drug patent dispute that was news to me.  A medium sized position in TWLO was sold yesterday with a slight gain as I realized that it was a mystery to me, missing today's 7% decline. Yes, it seems that for part of my portfolio, I have become a trader.  Keeps me busy!

Paycom(PAYC) is a significant longer term holding with solid gains in place, but it declined 9% today on what looked like a stellar earnings report that beat expectations. Not all expectations it seems.  Smile Direct Club continues its rise after several purchases in January, up in the aggregate 12%.

The Stock of the Day here, if there is such a thing, is QTT, that's Qutoutiao.  It's a mobile app company based in Shanghai that is possibly comparable to SNAP, but in China.  It also seems to encompass comic books and cliff notes, as well as an application like Medium.  Dived in two days ago and now up 15%.  Maybe it's reaction to the Corona virus and the thought that people will need to stay at home more, and need entertainment.  The stock must be watched, just like the virus.  Two days after the purchase, it is a mystery to me how QTT hit my radar.  That's a bit of a concern.

This does not seem completely normal, talking about me or the market?  Proceed with caution.



 

Sunday, February 02, 2020

Short comments of the day...

---After Ginni Romitty announced her retirement from IBM, the stock rose over 5% on a day when the overall U.S. averages were down 1.75%.  The only market consensus now is that the new CEO and President, both insiders, could not possibly be worse.  New shareholder here based on the news after many years of shunning the stock.  IBM was my banking client for international business in the early 1980's and the arrogance of my contacts there was in the range of rude to ugly.  The firm moderated that attitude over many years, until Romitty upped the ante again.  The Board was reticent to deal her even as she failed to invest in cloud projects.  It's been a long time coming...

---The February 3rd New Yorker magazine has a profile of James Corden, titled "Mr. Happiness".  The 41 year old polymath of the present, whose late night program airs mostly when I do not, is an interesting person with a varied career, having had his ups and downs. The profile is fascinating.  There were a few times when my eyes were open during "Carpool Karaoke" in the past, but I had no idea that it had become such a phenomenom.  Now "You Tube" will get more action to catch up.

---In the same issue, there is an essay by Jill Lepore, "In Every Dark Hour", under the smaller font header "The Future of Democracy".  In five dense magazine pages, she reviews the state of democracy in the world since 1917, with even a few backtracks to more distant times.  The name "Donald J. Trump" is mentioned only once, in a paragraph that includes the names Putin, Erdogan, Orban, and Bolsonaro, but his time in power is the real subject.

---Sports update:  An American woman not named Serena has won a major title for the first time in over ten years.  Sofia Kenin was born in Russia but came to the U.S. with her family when she was three years old.  She defeated Garbine Magurza, a two time major winner, who was born in Venezeula but moved with her family to Spain when she was five years old.  Novak Djokovik defeated Dominic Thiem in five sets, keeping the dominance of the top three intact.  There was a hope here that Thiem could break through and it looked possible after three sets. Great match, remarks by both about Kobe after.

---Super Bowl next:  San Francisco will win the first half, Kansas City will win the second half, half time will be the winner.














Saturday, February 01, 2020

Ancient history participant in the banking world...

In 1991, there was significant consolidation expected among the large banks in the U.S., particularly in New York and California.  Residual credit issues from the 1980's and the need for cost cutting were the primary reasons, and higher capital levels were required.  The big speculation at the time in New York was whether Manufacturers Hanover, my employer, would be combined with Bank of New York or Chemical Bank, or whether those two would merge with each other.  It was not just speculation, the negotiations were underway.  Another thought was whether any of the three banks would be acquired by Citibank or Chase Manhattan, all considered more viable at that time, yet their difficult days would come as well, and soon.

The President of Manufacturers Hanover had been recruited from Chemical Bank the year before, where he had been one of three Presidents there, under a Chairman and two Vice Chairman.  To say this was a unique arrangement, not just in banking but in corporate America, was an understatement.  Top heavy?  The Chairman of Manufacturers Hanover was still firmly in charge of the troubled company, and realized that going it alone was not possible.  The intrigue inside and outside of the banks was a source of speculation in the markets, the media, and among the employees of those institutions, rife with rumors.

My hours worked during that time were daunting.  Having secret locations for negotiations and planning around Manhattan to avoid scrutiny was commonplace.  At  8pm one evening in early June, I went out to dinner at a small and discreet French restaurant on East 48th Street with the CFO,  who was my boss, the Controller, and the head of strategic planning.  The CFO was filling us in on the status of the negotiations, the challenges faced, and the fact a choice was being made between merging with Chemical Bank or Bank of New York.  Bank of New York was less stressed and smaller, but with limited international operations where big cost cuts would be possible.  Chemical was generally viewed to be the stronger bank with its blue blood culture, but its capital levels were no better than MHT at the time.  Unfortunately for Chemical, as well, they had entered into a huge interest rate swap in 1990, actually a big bet to supposedly hedge their balance sheet, and the swap was massively underwater.  That was not public at the time.  The brainchild of that swap was the new President of MHT.

Anybody still reading?  Is this possibly boring?  Oh well, this will continue.  Keeps me busy!

At dinner that night on 48th Street, I was quizzed by the others about what our largest shareholders were thinking, as they were my contacts.  Clearly they thought mergers were necessary for the industry.  MHT's largest shareholder by far was Fidelity Management, and various portfolio managers there bent my ear daily with rational thoughts and opinions.  My job required that there be no disclosure of confidential information and they did not expect that, or want it(illegal for them and me), but they could opine.  A few days before in Boston, the new President and I had a meeting at Fidelity HQ,  and at the dinner that night the CFO asked me to describe their thoughts.  Basically, I related their position. What they wanted was the most beneficial deal possible, certainly, which depended on the exchange ratio, cost reduction possibilities, and management leadership choices.  They expressed no preference about which merger partner, but liked the merger of equals concept.

Hearing that, the detail oriented, knowledgeable and usually soft spoken CFO yelled "Damn it", which was added to in a lower tone of voice as "that motherfucker".  At the quiet tables around us, heads turned.  As it happens,  the President, in a meeting with the CEO and the Management Committee earlier that day, had told them that Fidelity much preferred Bank of New York as the merger partner.  The President, reviled at Chemical after his departure to a rival, was talking his book and lying, no other word for it.  His cover was blown.

Manufacturers Hanover and Chemical Bank announced their tentative merger agreement the next month and completed the merger in January 1992.  The President had sealed his fate and found a job later at Toronto Dominion's U.S bank HQ in Chicago for a short time, aggravating everyone there, and eventually became Chairman of Greenpoint Savings Bank in Queens, where he promptly moved the executive offices to Manhattan.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.  Eventually the new Chemical Bank merged with Chase Manhattan, actually bought the massively mismanaged Rockefeller bank if truth be told, but the name Chemical Bank was justifiably retired, and subsequently the new Chase merged with(bought) JP Morgan in 2000.  In 2003, they parted ways with me.  It was an exhausting run, but the travel required in my investor relations role kept me on the road part of the time, limiting internal politics for the most part, until it didn't.

Enough of this.  Avoided names above to protect the...






Sunday, January 19, 2020

What can be said about this stock market?

Simple, it keeps rising.  What goes up must at least take a breather, or a thoughtful plateau, or risk becoming overbought.  Action here is primarily just staying with the existing portfolio choices, adding to some occasionally and trimming others, but also making some new bets on names that look interesting.  Sucker bets or astute analysis, a bit of both probably but generally net positive outcomes with entertainment value.

For example the Chinese coffee chain Luckin(LK) was bought in mid December and sold with more than a 25% gain last week.  If held until yesterday it would have been up more that 40%.  No regrets on having a gain, but can't help but look at the recent price without a tinge of regret.  One of the biggest losers here in 2019 was NIO, a nascent Chinese electric SUV manufacturer that was bailed out of with a material loss.  Dived in again two weeks ago with a larger bet and up 20% now.  Smile Direct Club, SDC, was bought two weeks ago and is now up 25%, it works, I'm smiling.  DVA, a dialysis center network, probably not a club but with the same characteristics, is up more than 20% in two months.  Meanwhile the market in general rises.

In the past, biotech has never been a strength of my investing "skill", over the years mixed results.  A few painful losses, one large gain, but probably net negative.  Those clinical trials make or break many stocks that by nature are not well diversified.  Now with more than my toe in the water, investments over the last six months that have been made in companies, using ticker symbols, like ALXN, VRTX, ABBV, JAZZ, and NXPI, have been moving up, soaring was a thought, while new entries in the last week like BIIB, back again, and SAGE up slightly and NBIX is down 3% since purchase.  A small investment was made a few days ago in HAPP, a Chinese start-up that is a maker of herbal health products, such as edible fungi powder.  HAPP is Happiness Biotech.  Is this legal, does it work?  Is this a sign of overreaching?  Will I be happy, or smile?

How about FTCH, a luxury clothing and accessory brand seller, trying again with that one too, with their biggest focus on the Middle East and Africa, or PDD, focused on household products and garments in a little market called China, both Amazon wannabes, PDD a more realistic bet probably.  Don't forget YNDX, an innovator in self driving cars in Russia, vodka dispensed from the dashboard.  Then there is SE, Sea Limited, a digital financial services and gaming platform in Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia.  It loses money every year, every quarter, and has negative shareholder equity, something beyond my comprehension.  Yet it has a list of well known niche U.S. hedge funds as top investors, and the stock keeps rising.  Yes, own that one too.

Could this possibly be a bubble?  Of course it is and I don't want to miss it.





Monday, January 13, 2020

Remembering recent events, following current ones...

---Two articles this week raised the issue of memory in folks getting older.  The "getting older" category clearly now includes me, something that would have been disputed not too many years ago.  In the New Yorker, 1/13 issue, John McPhee's piece is "Tabla Rasa, Fragments of Memory", as he looks back at set ups for books and essays that he did not write but had considered.  His view is that his memory is fully intact, but that it now works in a retrospective way that is different from younger days(my words, not his).  His "fragments" are entertaining.  Yesterday's New York Times Op-Ed page has an article by a neuroscientist who writes "Memory Need Not Fail Us", suggesting that for most people memory remains intact, but concerns about not recalling events, people, and places quickly or in detail leads to unnecessary doubt.  His thought, your organic computer now has much more to sort through than it did at age 40 or 50.  Yet one wonders.  Is it simply short term OCD that builds as one ages and can't stand not knowing where everything is instantly.  So what, you can't remember what you had for dinner last night but do remember exactly what you had at Sparks on East 43rd with clients in 1985 or at breakfast at the Park Hotel in Siena in 2001.  Of course, dinner last night was not memorable, those were.  Where is this going?

---Speaking of the New Yorker magazine, two articles of note in December need to be mentioned.  In the December 2nd issue,  Dexter Filkins' "Blood and Soil in Narendra Modi's India" is an alarming description of a developing ultra nationalist Hindu regime, fascist comes to mind, in that once multi-cultural country.  The December 9th edition has Jianyang Fan's "The Hong Kong Protest Movement and the Fight for the City's Soul" details the conflict there, and the mainland communist encroachment on that city's values and heritage.  Fascism, Communism, ism's very similar.

---Watching the series "Killing Eve" here via Netflix.  The televised series had been hard to follow week to week in the past, but seeing it sequentially does not make it that much clearer.  It is a complex story, as spy stories can tend to be.  Russian assassins, M-15 intelligence officers, rogue cadres, double agents, it's an effort worth making.  From the many interesting locations, the reliably cool soundtrack, and an underlying comic attitude, this is exceptional viewing, my opinion.

---Also in the current issue of  the New Yorker Evan Osnos writes about China, and his considerable expertise and background is unquestioned here.  "The Future of America's Contest With China" is a lengthy article, but at times Osnos has developed a tendency to become a preachy windbag.  His story telling of the past is much better than his current editorialized style.  It is worthwhile and at times entertaining reading about a serious subject, but no lectures please.




Sunday, January 05, 2020

Current observations...

---In looking at the candidacies of Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer for the Democratic nomination, with their extensive television advertising, their rationales for running as clear long shots are worth a look.  The first thought that comes to mind is that if Trump could win the Republican nomination in 2016 and then the Presidency, anything is possible. Well, why not?  The second thought, as always in these situations, is that the purpose is to gain national recognition and exposure as an opportunity to be appointed to a cabinet post of consequence in the event that the eventual nominated Democrat defeats Trump.  The third thought is simple and, especially in Bloomberg's case, that this is the best opportunity to influence the national debate.  Bloomberg's advertisements directly attack Trump, with clips of Trump's overt lies when speaking to his adoration rallies.  Bloomberg's proposals, as depicted, could make sense to moderates, liberals, and libertarians, but certainly not to today's core Republicans. If the country can elect a narrow minded billionaire from New York with no knowledge of history to be President(I did not say racist), why not a smart Jewish one?  Bloomberg and Trump know each other well, not as friends but as successful New York City businessmen who have interacted with each other by necessity.  Bloomberg has no illusions about Trump, and has no interest in a balanced approach.  His unequivocal rationale for running is that he views Trump as dangerous.

---Speaking of dangerous, the current Middle East situation is tenuous at best. Trump somehow managed to get through the period of betraying the Kurds in Syria. That led to the destruction of border cities by the Turks and the loss of life has not clearly been determined, 40,000, 100,000, no worry they were not American and some of them were "bad people", Trump quoted.  Now the situation with Iran is heating up, getting hotter, and one can wonder who is advising Trump.  Even John Bolton, supreme Iran hawk now gone, is concerned when interviewed.  Soleimani was a dangerous person, but killing an Iranian general in Iraq may bring Iran and Iraq closer together, not the objective one could hope.  Is Putin pulling the strings?  Ha, but this far from a laughing matter.

---The impeachment process moves along.  It is minimally important.  McConnell can deliver the votes in the Senate.  As an aside, Adam Schiff is not exactly a likeable spokesperson for the Democrats.  He always takes his comments a step too far, giving Trump an edge to use with his base and with the limited amount of those on the fence in this country.

---Can the NFL playoffs be mentioned?   Go Titans, goodbye Patriots for once.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Christmas 2019

We're still here. A friend visited yesterday. She brought Cardenal Mendoza as a gift.   I contemplate my good fortune. The Virginia tradition that I grew up in was that Christmas mornings were allowable for church and good cheer.  After church good cheer meant eggnog, brandy, or a glass or three of wine with family gathered.  Big dinner in early afternoon, scraps supper and clean up in the evening.  Toasting a glass of Cardenal Mendoza at the moment to all of you. That's Spanish for a religious beverage I think.  Must be.  Merry Christmas to all.

Saturday, December 07, 2019

Market rising, no blarney?

---This first week of December was one of stock picking, actively remixing and adding.  With trading commissions gone away, friction free trading is another incentive.  Retail investors like myself certainly can't move the market, so trading obliviously and freely is an option.  Add a little of this, sell a little of that, say goodbye to that tired maxed out holding, and take a flyer on something new.  Hmm, need to stop and think.  Are things going too well?

---I fail to understand the furor over that Peloton advertisement.  When it dropped 10%, a position was started.  Little thought was given to this decision, as a few days ago a friend recommended that she introduce me to someone by saying "she's a Peloton instructor".  Sure, that sounds positive.  BUY.  That's Peter Lynch style research in this type of market?  Heck, I'm dabbling in PYX again and restarted a position in Goldman Sachs after their Malaysia debacle finally seems contained.  Then again, the entire position in Kraft Heinz was sold, despite it being a major Warren Buffett investment with a modest gain.  Buying brands with moats has always been one of his beliefs, but who wants a moat around Cheez Whiz, Oscar Meyer, Kool Aid, Lucky Charms, Cool Whip and an array of brands from the 1950's, even if they own the everlasting Ketchup market.  Maybe these brands are still blockbusters in Brazil and with expats in Asia, but developing markets will develop.

---The NYT article on Pete Hamill today, or maybe it's part of last Sunday's edition, was a great read. Still writing, barely walking, has an intelligent dedicated wife, a life surrounded by books, and back in his childhood neighborhood in Brooklyn and writing about it.  No more stickball., no more Breslin, no more booze, no more roaming around the City, but she's a good partner and he's doing well for now.

---Watched "The Fugitive" last night for the umpteenth time, but it has been maybe five years since last seen.  What a great old style American movie.  It was really involving, as my memory must be receding a tad.  Into the third season of TREME now, still some left to watch thankfully as college football and the NBA do nothing for me, and there are slim pickin's on the movie channels.

And that's absolutely everything that I have to say today, while Avoiding Politics.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Timely real world observations...

An advertisement shown during yesterday's NFL game had Cardy B endorsing Pepsi.  Health food I guess, beverage for the masses.  She points out that not only do you get that great soda, but also on every can there are numbers that can be checked on the internet for cash prizes.  According to Ms. B, cash is the only gift worth receiving during this holiday season.  So let me get this straight.  Pepsi cans are Lotto tickets?  Now that's a winner.  Somehow I don't think Michael Bloomberg would approve.

The halftime show, a Dallas tradition that could be compared to the Super Bowl, had the English pop singer Ellie Goulding singing in a slightly twangy Nashville style voice and wearing a bizarre hat that concealed her face much of the time.  Social media pounced on that, and she will be immortalized for wearing a lampshade.  She was surrounded on a multi-level stage by more Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders than anyone knew existed, no doubt spawned especially for this easy on the eyes extravaganza.

Currently the Bad Boy Mowers Battle of the Atlantis in Nassau is a college basketball event.  Any company with the dough can sponsor anything.  Living in New York, I would never have known about Bad Boy Mowers without this tournament.  No problem now.  I wonder if they are faster than the one George Jones rode on the country highways for his shopping trips?

Would I refer to the President as a putz face?  Would I call the Vice President a bootlick?  Would I call Hannity a blockhead?  Would googly eyes be a reference to Treasury Secretary Mnuchin?  Would Elaine Chow be called, no, not even going there.  Hey, I would do none of that!  I was President of the National Honor Society in High School and none of those slurs would be presidential.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Watching...

---Treme is being watched via Netflix, halfway through Season 2 with more coming in the 4 Season series that was on HBO.  The television film is a montage of stories in post Katrina New Orleans.  It began in 2010 and was filmed primarily in New Orleans, with a few variations as one character moves to New York for a job and others venture in and out of Houston.  The stories and characters can be of varying interest, each to their own, but the music is a consistent positive force.  The primary actors are well known, but most of the musicians are the real thing, well known for their music.  Even some of the actors are musicians as Wendell Pearce learned to play the trombone for his role and the exceptional Lucia Micarelli is a Julliard trained violinist, a Korean Italian from Queens, New York. Among other roles she played with Jethro Tull and the Honolulu Symphony.

Other actors include John Goodman, Melissa Leo, and Steve Zahn, whose character or his acting are consistently obnoxoius, can't decide which.  This show was a collaboration between David Simon and Eric Overmayer.  Simon was the primary force behind "The Wire", and Overmeyer had joined into that during the series.  The references to New Orleans habits, customs, celebrations, and food are genuine from my perspective, although looking at reviews from that time a critic named Rolf for the Atlantic mostly panned it.  Guess that's a positive!  Treme is a treat to watch again.

---The last few nights on TCM have had some classics of the late 60's and early 70's, when those in college had time to see them and talk about them.  Among them were Serpico, Cool Hand Luke, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, and Klute.  Having almost completely forgotten McCabe and Mrs. Miller,  watching and listening(Leonard Cohen score) last night was so mesmerizing that I forgot to watch the debate.  A blessing?

---Seemingly dominating the news, the house impeachment hearings, while important, are a grinding bore most of the time to watch.  Watergate had more interesting characters and the Clinton/Monica hearings more unattractive ones on all fronts, but this is just really serious business.

---Tonight's Thursday NFL game, Houston vs. Indianapolis, has possibilities for distraction if it's competitive and the referees aren't picky ones that like to see their flags on the field constantly.  Sometimes they can seem like needy attention seekers.


And that's my 2 cents worth, for real, not a politician who says that and purposely conflates it with 2%.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Interesting combination?


Recently there has been media commentary about Berkshire Hathaway, and Warren Buffett's $128 billion hoard of cash equivalent reserves. There is speculation about what next?  Will he make a major investment in a public company, buy a company outright, or return a massive amount of capital to shareholders. In this market there are few of the obvious deep value investments that he always aspires to do.  Few companies are troubled enough to need a bailout, and the stock market keeps melting up.  My question?  Would he buy Fidelity Investments, a private company that was founded by and has always been controlled by the Johnson family in Boston.  As is well known, it the largest discount broker by far, and has a significant institutional business as well.  They are every investment bank underwriter's most desired partner.  Goldman Sachs knows Buffett and Fidelity well, based on past interactions, and would be a probable underwriter that would accommodate Buffett's need with reasonable fees.

Charles Schwab is a public company and has a current market value of $56 billion.  In recent months that stock, SCHW, was under pressure so on October 9th a position was started here, with a few additions after.  At this point, 30 days later, it is up 17%.  Something is going on in that sector it seems.  In a certain sense as it continues to grow, Fidelity will almost necessarily need to become a public company to satisfy family interests and provide more liquidity for their former and current employees.  Are the winds of change pushing Schwab higher?

This would be a complex transaction.  How it could unfold is just a guessing game, but it could be worked out.  IPO, investment combination?  Just a thought here.  A guess would suggest that the market value of Fidelity could be twice that of Schwab.




Sunday, November 03, 2019

Did you know that...

---Some recent photographs from the past have been unearthed and posted on Facebook due to an iPhone upgrade.  Those upgrades are done automatically, with some warning, and most are routine.  A recent one added capability to the iPhone 7s that allows older photos to be significantly altered, in many cases improved.  In particular this applies to photos that were taken on settings that made the photo too dark, or without enough contrast.  It's sort of amazing.  Unusable photos come alive and routine photos become special.  No fees have been received from Apple for this comment.  They will be accepted, no shame.

---As usual from this perspective, at this point in the NFL season most televised games are simply there for quick checks, not for watching.  Once again, from a home area perspective, there is no incentive.  Jets are hopeless and Giants somehow foiled again, not good teams.  Moving to the NBA, the Knicks and Nets are starting poorly.  "Wait 'til next year" may be an appropriate thought for the Durant waiting Nets, but that mantra is always the same for the Knicks.  Narcissist inherited rich simpleton Dolan must be out before anything good can happen there. How does this major city so often field such poor teams, proof that money isn't everything which many would say is good for professional sports, but not for my viewing pleasure.

---How's this for suspicious thinking.  Is it possible that the White House resident twit Stephen Miller actually writes some of Trump's tweets for him, all more than a sentence or two?  Trump says what he thinks in New York gutter talk, and then Miller translates, even having intentional misspellings or exaggerations to show that these are real Trump tweets.  Joke is on the media, on the public?  Trump's history is that he reads almost nothing and writes almost nothing.  Yeah, "All Quiet on the Western Front" is his favorite book?  Does he read now, other than headlines and anything about himself.  Who controls his communication?  A strange quasi Nazi Jewish Duke grad who is 100% repeating and supporting every Trump statement?  Does this make any sense?  It would certainly be easy to repeat Trump's tweets and comments word for word as Miller does if he actually writes them.

---Looking at the stock market week ahead, no great insight here.  Still focused on Nokia, a recent investment that is underwater by 30%, uncertain what's going on.  In Finland, where they are based, Nokia is meant to be a source of national pride.  Unlike in the U.S., they apparently accept forward thinking investment even if it hurts near term profits?  Balance sheet is strong, earnings mixed with some losses, risk/reward can only be positive with its 5G focus. This is not investment advice.  The other stock focused on now is Capital One(COF), once a darling of financial investors but now just muddling along.  True believers for many years remain adamant, Dodge and Cox is the largest holder, parts of Capital Group are there, and Davis Select Advisors is still there.  Chuck Pohl, Chris Davis, and others are nothing if not loyal.  Capital One advertising is ubiquitous and well done, and in a commodity business does that make a difference?  Have modest position, still thinking?





Monday, October 28, 2019

Watching televised baseball today...

Other than the tendency of a baseball game to have its slow points, something has changed.  In league championship games and the World Series those times can be minimized by the excitement of having a favored team, usually.  Why are the announcers driving me to distraction, aka nuts?  Here's the thing.

Technology has enabled the monitors that feed them their lines to get into the minutia of baseball history in a way that is close to absurd.  "Yes, that was the first time since the 1959 World Series that a left handed hitter hit a bunt single off a left handed pitcher in the top of the ninth inning in a game four."

"You're right Joe, it was Eddie Slaughter, the nephew of the fabled Enos "Country" Slaughter.  What a character Enos was, so many stories, maybe later. You know Eddie hit that bunt single despite having an intensely burning case of jock itch, so bad that he had hoped to make an out.  They even had a dermatologist in the tunnel treating him between innings."

"Got you. On top of that did you know that the dermatologist got his MD at Washington University in St. Louis and he practices in Houston.  Reminds me of the Series today, you know, Washington beat St. Louis to get to the final to play Houston."

"What a coincidence. What goes around comes around. Didn't they have Tinactin then?"

"Back to the game, it looks like he will throw a slider just off the plate.  It's a home run.  Do you believe that?  Almost a line drive, straight to center, 440 feet.  That's the first time since the 1969 Series that a ball hit that low went that far."

"Slider, do they have a White Castle concession here?  Maybe someone could grab an eight pack between innings.  This could be long one."

"Tom, you've got some jokes going tonight.  Sounds good though.  What a great game."


Postscript:  Watched the first three innings of the World Series last night, checked back in the fifth for a minute, and then luckily put my book down and turned it back on at the beginning of the 7th inning.  Finally an exciting game, especially as my favorite from the beginning had been Washington, absent the Mets who at least gave it a good try this year.  The announcers and their script providers were totally unprepared and just kept repeating the same thing over the most of that time about the Astros pitching rotation miscalculation, same over and over...








Friday, October 25, 2019

Unusually significant moves up or down on earnings reports...

In the last week, there have been huge reactions, negative or positive, when companies have reported unexpected earnings.  Stocks like Ebay, Nokia, Bud, and Twitter down almost beyond reason, while Paypal jumps dramatically after some earlier pullback.  Normal pruning or adding going on here, although did add to Nokia on its radical decline.  Mistake, maybe, but its balance sheet look fine, even if income statement is not so robust.  It does make money, but invests heavily in 5G. 

Amazon bounced well after an earnings report well below analyst expectations that led the morning market commentators to make dire comments.  The company's history of investing now and letting the stock take care of itself is so well known that the actual investors brushed off the news, at least for now. 

So on to the World Series tonight in the nation's capital. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Is this finally it? and other thoughts...

---Forget about the impeachment hearings and the information being uncovered there.  Forget about the ridiculous actions in Ukraine led by Trump and his foolish camera ready henchman Guiliani.  Drop the focus on Trump also calling on China to investigate the hapless ne'er do well Hunter Biden.  In starting a new war in the Middle East, Trump has trumped himself.  His thoughtless and uninformed decision, made in a mere phone call, to trust that the Turkish autocrat Erdogan would preserve stability in Syria as the U.S. withdraws has led to a full scale attack on the Kurdish population.  These U.S. allies in the fight against ISIS and vicious elements of the Assad's Syrian autocracy had been staunch and capable partners.  Now Russia is back in again, likely supporting Erdogan and Assad, and at least 150,000 Kurds have been displaced in the last week.  The number of casualties is unclear at this time.

Sound complicated?  Has anything in the Middle East ever been simple?  In just a week's time, an offhand decision by Trump not vetted by the military or the professionals in the State Department(which clearly excludes Pompeo who has been at a Christian leadership conference in Nashville) has turned recent relative stability into chaos. If he is interfered with, Erdogan is now threatening to send another wave of migrants into Europe, notwithstanding the country's membership in NATO.  The assault on the Kurdish areas is massive and ongoing.  Executions of Kurd fighters have been filmed, too gruesome for network television.  By the time any truce has been arranged by Trump, the avowed peacemaker, the damage will be done.  Mike Pence has been dispatched to resolve the crisis.  Nitwit to the rescue!

---There is another Democratic debate tonight, if this is what these gaggles of cross talking aspirants can be called.  Biden will be in focus as a result of Trump's repeated attacks on him and his son.  Sanders general health will be watched.  Warren will likely intensify her attacks on successful American companies.  In fact, the airing of this debate had been overlooked here until a few hours ago.  Watching baseball still may be attractive, if this team from Washington is capable.  Should the obvious comment be made?

---The Showtime series "The Circus:  Inside the Greatest Political Show on Earth" is generally entertaining, at times insightful.  The next episode will be a challenge.





Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Thoughts on October 9th --- age, luck, intuition...

---Not to be morbid, but there are days, not infrequent, when one of the most interesting parts of the New York Times are the obituary pages.  There are lengthy obits of people not so well known but important, with plenty of history to cover.  Today there is Beverly Watkins, an Atlanta based blues guitarist who worked since the 1950's with bands backing various blues and soul artists, and played in bars at nights for many years while "cleaning houses and offices and working at carwashes during the day".  She had her first album at 60, and won an award for best new artist at age 62.  Another is about Gunter Kunert, unknown here, who was an East German writer of satiric novels who was allowed by that government to spend 1972 as a guest professor at the University of Texas.  Calling himself a "cheerful melancholic", he later emigrated to the U.S. and taught at several other colleges.  Then there is Wayne Fitzgerald who spent a successful career making the opening sequence of movies and t.v. shows, including some of the most famous soap operas, no doubt watched by my grandmother, her "stories".  The most fascinating one today is about Pierre Le-Tan, a Paris based artist who did everything from "The New Yorker" covers to advertisements for chic French brands, covers for books by well known writers, and paintings that hang in museums in Europe.

Only very rarely do I find an NYT obit of someone that I personally knew, but at times of people that are related to others that I had contact with, often in business.  My age must have something to do with these observations?

---Along that tangent, while watching the financial and market news these days I occasionally notice people that are related to people that have been part of my circle in the past.  Today that observation was almost certain.  A fund manager at a mid-sized but highly regarded asset management firm was being interviewed on CNBC this morning.  Her parents worked at MHT.  Her last name matched.  She looked like her mother, good thing, and hair was identical.  She had the slight but unmistakable accent of someone who grew up in Minnesota.  I listened to her comments carefully as my inclination was that she was astute.  Another example, a senior fund manager at a major east coast asset manager is related to friends from the 1970's.  I never knew him, but I was making a pitch at this firm when he was much younger and in attendance with others.  Researching today a company based in Louisville, I noticed that his firm was one of the major holders.  Guess he should have some long term insight?

That said, there are some investors still around that were known relatively well;  Miller, Danoff, Pohl,  Gendell, to a lesser extent Cooperman and a few others. Watching what they do is of interest, but not necessarily what is followed.

---The financial markets remain volatile, and unpredictable as a whole.  Investors and analysts on news programs have opinions:  "Europe is where to invest now";  "Value stocks are back";  "Emerging market bonds are an opportunity, or not";  "Health care is a demographic imperative, must buy";  "Small caps are dangerous, no flexibility in a downturn";  and on and on.  Only thing to do is invest in personally researched companies and ignore the chatter, my thought for the day.  BUT, dry powder is important as is diversification.  These are just reminders to myself, back to that age thing!

Luck helps. I like to call that intuition




Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Whatever... ramblings off my medication

---So called "senior economics reporter" Steve Leischman on CNBC today lauded stocks with substantial buybacks and solid dividends, as did a previously unheard of portfolio manager who said that her portfolio was recession proof because of that approach.  Hmm, nothing those companies can think of to reinvest in?

---On the same channel, Jim Cramer used the decline today of Stitch Fix(SFIX) as an example indicative of a pending economic and market downturn.  An unattractive market may be developing, the last two days certainly have been brutal, but SFIX is not indicative of anything.  It is a made to order apparel company that identifies as a technology company.  Katrina Lake is a charismatic leader who can charm some investors, but opinion here is that it is a hustle, if not a hoax.  Charmed two years ago here, rode some ups and downs until finally getting out breakeven and wasting time.  Almost sounds like a relationship!

---The HBO program "Succession" continues to be a compelling and perplexing fictional drama.  It's clearly based on a Rupert Murdoch type character and associated family members, sans a Wendy.  Oh well.  The number of characters to follow can become daunting, but the financial wheeling and dealing is realistic at times.  That was watched last night while taking a break from the Washington and Milwaukee wild card game, a perfect break as the real tension in that game was the last two innings.  Washington is my new team.

---Is anyone else annoyed by the Iphone software that does constant spell check on what is written.  Pauses are met by word guessing by the software which seems to be driven by words used, places seen, people mentioned, and phrases in former writing.  It is especially aggravating when, while quickly writing something, I only later see that spell check overrode what was intended.

---Payments system stocks invested in recently have seriously faded.  Buying the dip was ill timed.  The stocks remain attractive longer term.  My basis is not at this time.  Average down or wait?  Did add another today, PAYC, plus IBKR.  Go figure.


Friday, September 27, 2019

Signs of market downturn, other thoughts...

---Watching various payments related stocks under pressure makes me wonder.  Do they foretell an economic slowdown?  Paypal, Salesforce, Adobe, Master Card, Square, and Visa seem to be under pressure.  Most have been strong performers over the last year, and have business models that do not lead to any significant credit or trading market risk.  They represent activity.  If  flow slows, their tax on the economy does as well.  As stocks, five remain attractive.  Square is a mystery, at this point either a huge opportunity or an ongoing bust.  As barometers of the economy at the moment, these names are worth watching.

---Ken Burns series "Country Music" has been entertaining to watch.  Trying to cover a subject like this is going to get multiple positive and negative reviews.  Music fans can be highly opinionated, an understatement.  Episodes three and four were exceptional, from this perspective, and the later ones had to cover the merger of country and pop, not easy to deal with some of the easy listening for many observers.  My knowledge is worse than spotty.  In 2003 I spent six weeks in Texas after breaking out of the bank.  In talking about music with a new friend there, she said that her favorite singer was George Strait. When I asked who that was, she was astonished, absolutely beside herself.  Living in New York was my excuse, but she did not accept that or think it could possibly be true.  I found it hard to believe that she grew up on her family owned 400,000 acre ranch even though she dressed and cursed like a cowhand.  Hard to imagine, but found out that was true as well.

---The so-called Trump fiasco regarding Ukraine and the Biden's is dominating the news cycle.  Impeachment proceedings are beginning.  Somehow this does not interest me.  Let's simply focus on getting a bipartisan infrastructure bill through Congress as soon as possible.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Oh my, the UN speech and more...

--- President Trump's speech at the U.N. today was similar to a campaign trail speech in content, but with the curious flourishes that writer Stephen Miller adds for eloquence and historical significance.  While commenting on that is not necessary as readers have their own opinions, at times Trump's words veered seriously into advice for other leaders in a way that could be seen as borderline offensive.  It seems that there are no borderlines that can't be crossed for Trump, except the one with Mexico.

---Until today, the stock market remained without real trends, stable but fully valued some say.  The comments on trade today roiled the markets a bit, the hostile remarks about fellow major member China were almost without precedent at a U.N. presentation(although commentators tried to excuse that because he said a nice word about Xi), and getting specific about an individual stock, Micron Technology, was highly unusual in this setting and must have made the managers of that company cringe.  The market was broadly negative.

---Undeterred, a new speculative position was added today.  ALKS is a U.K. based drug developer with some interesting patents.  It has not performed well recently and is near a 52 week low.  Still, among their top 10 mutual fund holders there are only two index funds, the remainder are discretionary funds that choose to own it, some reputable firms.  Among analysts, ISS-EVA, one that is followed here, has an outperform rating, one other firm has buy rating that's a year old and there is a sell from stodgy Credit Suisse.  An intriguing story seen today is that the firm holds the patent to Naltrexone, an old drug that has been used with modest success for addiction therapy.  Now some say it has significant pain relief attributes, while not being an opiate. The company is balking at further development while some in medical circles are eager to use it.  The current stock price clearly has little or no value ascribed to this patent.  Speculative position, but as usual I find a "reason" for my actions.  Or should that be "rationale", since this type of informed betting is an enjoyed activity, and of course not an addiction!

---More talk among Democrats in the House about impeachment proceedings.  Trump would actually enjoy that.  More ways to rile up the base against the elites.  No matter what they find, few Republicans will peel away from Trump unless there are credible reports of incest or bestiality.  That will not happen.