Monday, November 12, 2018

Ugh, equity market has an ugly start to the week... GE's troubles...

Concerns about new Apple Iphone sales volumes being below expectations, a fiasco in Malaysia for Goldman Sachs, and gloom from the new GE CEO all contributed to a significant equity market decline today.  Bond markets were closed for the holiday.

GE keeps spiraling down.  CEO Culp was interviewed on CNBC this morning before the open.  There was one stunning statement that woke up this former banker.  Culp stated that GE had $40 billion in back-up bank lines and they had only dipped into them for $2 billion.  Back up lines are just that, meaning that they are in place to reassure creditors that a company will always be viable as a counterparty and all trade letters of credit guaranteed.  Any dip into these lines is a bright red flag.  I mean, how stupid is the CFO of this company to allow this to happen at all, or was it desperately needed.  Either reason is not good.  Culp made the mistake of talking about the stock price, rarely a good idea for a CEO.

Upon questioning Culp said all existing liabilities are manageable but being closely monitored.  That is code for Long Term Care Insurance, which GE capital was a leader in.  When divesting major parts of GE Capital, the company could not sell a significant part of this portfolio, and is managing it in-house.  The tail risk of this type of insurance is immeasurable, and seemingly always underestimated at GE.  Actuarial tables don't tell the story, as people who bought this type of relatively costly insurance generally had good reason to believe that it would be needed.

GE was once a uniquely successful conglomerate under the egomaniac Jack Welch's reign of terror.  Under Jeff Immelt, all investor goodwill accumulated under Welch was wasted through many flawed acquisitions that kept the attention seeking Immelt in the headlines.  Flannery was a bookmark.  Culp has a huge challenge.  At some point GE will be investable, not there yet.

Apple's news rippled through technology stocks broadly, and recently acquired "winners" here like ON, AMD, and ROKU did not fare well.  This type of activity in technology stocks does not bode well for Asia markets tonight.  No projections here, trading some but mostly just watching.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

"These Truths", Jill Lepore

If New Yorker writer Jill Lepore was not already viewed as prolific, now case closed.  This tome, subtitled "a History of the United States", clocks in at over 900 pages including the index.  This is not something that one would read on the subway or even in bed.  It's too heavy, in weight that is.  This is a project that seems based in what some might called inclusive history.  While undertaking the task of truth to  history, this retelling makes a clear point of highlighting the role of women, immigrants, and all minorities.  It is welcome reading, although at times it seems a bit forced as a chapter might be interrupted at length with a digression that is deemed inclusive.

At times it just reads as history, as other times it reads as history told with a perspective on today's events.  It is filled with current colloquialisms, nuances, and phrases.  Compared with traditional history books, from the Beards, to Spengler, Toynbee, Keegan, and those written as college texts that combine the efforts of many historians under the auspices of a publisher, that is a huge difference.  It does make the writing seem personal, which is not at all bad.

Reading the book piecemeal so far, the last chapter that takes the reader to the present, "America, Disrupted" is exceptional for the most part and the chapter "Efficiency and the Masses", that details the Gilded Age, Industrialization, and the lead up to World War I is packed with interesting details that were new here, or at least not remembered.  "The Face of Battle", a chapter about the Civil War, falls short from this perspective, still thorough but somehow not much new.

It may be a month before this book is on the bookshelf, as other more focused books will be welcome breaks, such as "The Library Book", now started, by Susan Orlean, yet another New Yorker writer.  And then there are the newspapers daily... some days are better than others.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Election results boost market...

So much for all of the pundits last night wondering about how negatively the Republican party's loss of the House would affect the markets.  It seemed odd at the time, and today the Dow and S&P are up 2% and the Nasdaq up 2.5%.  The markets have liked the corporate tax cuts but apart from that they have been rising in spite of Trump.

With the possibility of some restraint on his power, the concerns about the negative impact of tariffs on global trade, misguided immigration policy, and threats about breaking up technology companies because they don't fall in line with Trump's arbitrary personal vendettas have been somewhat allayed for the moment.  The results are a breath of fresh air for most investors.  Trump has no idea.

Amazon is up 7% today(Washington Post and Bezos), the VHT health care index is up 3.5%, Google and Apple up 3% each --- this is a relief from Trump threats rally.  Somehow the preposterously truth challenged President will claim responsibility for the market rise and his loyalists will fall in line.

Results certainly did favor Trump in some races for Governor and the Senate, and since the Trump train chose to visit areas that already were leaning his way that looks good.  That said, Florida is concerning.  Missouri as well. Georgia looks to some like a disappointment but my God, what a change just to get so close.  Votes still to be counted.

And Dave Brat is gone.  How nice for Virginia!

Democratic Party field for 2020...

The Democrats are not exactly in disarray when it comes to the next Presidential election, but any clear leader is completely lacking.  Whether this could lead to something positive like more voter involvement or something negative like voter fatigue is up in the air.  There is time, but this needs to shake out over the 12 months.

The landscape is broad.  There are as many as five possible candidates from New York.  Andrew Cuomo, despite his disavowals, is clearly and almost manically setting the stage to be "drafted".  Michael Bloomberg is straightforward as always, busy analyzing his chances and setting up behind the scenes support.  New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has unlimited ambition, despite his limitations that are obvious.  Hillary Clinton, having adopted the state, is absolutely willing to be pulled into the race as she and her husband are addicted to the spotlight. Her hints are transparent.  Then there's Kirstin Gillibrand, who looks at Obama's limited Senate experience before running and sees a model for her run, as well as being a more palatable female candidate than Hillary.

Kamala Harris is a star of the West, not enough experience to have much baggage but articulate and carrying a big blue state.  Cory Booker has made his exploratory work clear.  Eric Holder is doing some groundwork, but already seems to be a longshot, as his stature as a politician is much harder to see than his stature as a jurist.  Some talk about Mitch Landrieu of Louisiana, Terry McAuliffe of Virginia, and Martin O'Malley of Maryland, but anyone of those would need some major breakthrough to be viable.  Not likely,  but nothing is impossible anymore.  Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Steve Bullard of Montana, John Delaney of Maryland, and a partridge and a pear tree.

This year there is also a new category of candidate, strong losers.  Into that bucket goes Beto O'Rourke, the strong competitor to Ted Cruz in Texas and Heidi Heitkamp, who lost her Senate seat in North Dakota as she stuck by her principles, and voted against the Bret Kavanaugh knowing that it would hurt her chances(Kavanaugh is deeply flawed, not because of what may or may not have happened in high school but because he is a rigid right wing idealogue on many issues and an ardent Trump supporter, open to political driven decisions as a jurist).  O'Rourke taps into the deep nostalgia of Democrats for a Robert Kennedy style candidate who elicits real enthusiasm.

Then there is the celebrity and business crowd.  Oprah keeps saying no way but here name is kept alive by others.  Howard Schultz of Starbuck's success wants a role in civic engagement.  Tom Steyer has strong opinions that he backs up with activity and funds from his hedge fund success.  Mark Cuban?  There are more that are being missed here.

Key to all of this are the ambitions of perceived party stalwarts like Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren.  Biden is perhaps a viable candidate although a bit shopworn.  The opinion here is that Sanders and Warren would be poison for the party.  They would be far too left leaning for crossover Trump voters and anathema to the "deplorables". Yet they are clearly setting up for possible campaigns.  Those two love attention.  Without question, each of the three have significant name recognition so must be taken seriously.

Certainly, there are others that have been overlooked in this review of candidates.  Will this be interesting to watch or just painful?

POSTSCRIPT:  I have been alerted to the omission of Amy Klobuchar from this comment. That was not intentional.  She belongs in this list as well, and may be one of the few that could stand toe to toe with the hostile Trump and stay balanced and focused. 

Monday, November 05, 2018

Bryan Kemp, mid-term 2018 winner of most repulsive campaign...

It was announced this evening that Bryan Kemp, Republican candidate for Governor of Georgia, has won the hotly contested Virgil Goode award for most repulsive campaign in the 2018 mid-term elections.  As the current Attorney General for the state of Georgia, he backed up his consistent lies and bluster with blatant voter suppression action, excluding thousands of voters from the polls, primarily African Americans.  Yes Bryan Kemp, he approved his messages of divisiveness, and the phony twang with which it was delivered.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Two highlighted NYT obits today --- McCovey and CIA writer... does that make sense...

Today's New York Times has two featured obituaries that have personal importance.

The first one concerned the death of Willie McCovey at the age of 80.  McCovey played for the Danville Leafs of the Carolina league in 1956.  The ball park was not far from our house and my parents would take their seven year old to games several times a year.  They would always have popcorn and they always let me have a Nehi orange soda, a major treat.  The stands were never too crowded and at one game I walked about ten seats down, stood over the home dugout behind the netting, and as Willie came out for a bat I yelled "hit a home run Willie".  He glanced and smiled, and then went to the plate and hit a hooking line drive down the right field line that just barely stayed fair for a home run.  I can still visualize the event today.

The second obit of note was of Victor Marchetti, who wrote the 1974 book "The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence".  It was a groundbreaking book at the time.  Why important to me?  At that time there were three goals in my life --- to become some sort of writer, to live in New York, and to travel internationally.  The last two were certainly achieved.  In 1974 I was living in Goshen, KY outside of Louisville, a teacher there.  To pursue that first dream I introduced myself to the book editor of the Louisville Courier Journal, at that time an esteemed regional newspaper.  She agreed to let me become a free lance book reviewer for the paper, and Marchetti's book about the CIA was one of my reviews that was published.  I worked hours and hours on that article, and $25 was my reward, actually not that bad, inflation adjusted.  That stint of writing reviews was the height of my writing career.

In 2003 I saw a game in Candlestick Park, and Willie was acknowledged by the announcer as being in attendance but I was not close to his wave.  Writing adequately was a significant positive for my career in banking, because it was not a widely held skill in that industry.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Thoughtful comment, plus routine annoyances...

---"Waiting for Eden" is a special book.  This short and sparely written book is far more powerful than its size.  Sentences can be so perfectly written as to stop a reader in their tracks.  The author, Elliot Ackerman, is multi-tour veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.  The narrator is "just on the other side, seeing all there is, and waiting".  Eden was his fellow soldier and friend who survives a Humvee detonation, and the narrator watches his friend's wretched ruined life in a hospital while his wife tries to comfort him.  Not an appealing book to read?  That was my first thought.  Glad I ignored that first thought.

---Facebook's ad pop-ups have become incredibly annoying.  Am I wrong in thinking that the number has been expanding rapidly.  There are so many that are unrelated to me at all.  Targeting?  Logging onto FB at my desktop once or twice a day, opening up leads to a succession of annoyances that make thinking about doing what was intended almost impossible at the start.  Facebook sells these ads.  If my observation has any relevance, the companies that pay for them may be disappointed.

---Speaking of pop-ups, have others experienced on other sites ones that advertise something that has just been purchased?  Is that trying to sell you more or eliminate cognitive dissonance?  I have no need for more Jockey boxer briefs nor do I question my usual purchase.  Ever since an online order a few weeks ago, my free online access to my hometown newspaper has pop up ads seeking my attention for their products.  This is becoming Orwellian.

---My iPhone now has a revamped, or updated, spell check system that starts guessing words faster than I enter them.  On completely routine sentences it is successful at times but more often it just slows me down and, yes, the word "annoying" is again appropriate.  This is relatively new.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Brief comments once again...

---The entire pipe bomb scare seems a bit fishy here.  How could something so comprehensive be orchestrated and yet be done so ineptly?  Was it just done to screw with the public's mind before the mid-terms?  Was it just an example of what could be done?  Could it have played out just as the perpetrator designed or will we learn soon that it was some random crazy or two?  Not one pipe bomb go off, anywhere?  Thank goodness for that, but there is more to be learned.  Were they all just put together with a flaw?  More info needed.

---The equity market stays volatile, but it seems that lately the ups are not fully compensating for the downs.  It is certainly a stock picker's market for the first time in a while for those inclined toward risk.  After the big bump during the market day, there seem to be a few concerns about the earnings reports of Amazon and Google.  They look fine here.  It's also a nitpicker's market.  Still may decline over the near term.

---Saudi Arabian leaders seem to be following a Trump playbook.  Say one thing today, another tomorrow, repeat... They are buying time, and may succeed.

---The Red Sox look unstoppable.

Saturday --- seems now to be "some random crazy".  Of course I am well aware that Trump's incendiary remarks and contant lying at all times could lead to this, but if someone did not know that then they don't want to know that.  Meaning, why write about it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Brief comments...

---Elizabeth Warren more or less made a fool of herself in the last day.  Her DNA test stunt will backfire.  Craving attention, she took up Trump on his challenge about her distant heritage and dropped right down to his level.  She would never win a national election, so can't be upset by her action.

---Melania Trump has taken a step into the media spotlight recently with her Africa trip and a major interview.  She should have stayed in the shadows.  With her callous right wing opinions she revealed, in her own words and her distinct accent, that she sounds like the way Nazis were portrayed in old World War II films.

---The stock market is having what is called an "oversold rebound" today.  The reason for the bounce back eludes me.  Steady as an investor, I don't mind.  Tech leads the way as that was being punished partially for political reasons rather than financial analysis results, so that makes sense.  The guess here is that when Jim Cramer on CNBC last Thursday was emphatic that it was far too soon to buy, shaking his head in his pompous way, that was the signal.  Time for a rally.  He is wrong more often than not.  Joking about his actual impact as he is a maven for retail investors, not real players.  What's next is unknown.

---Recently various pundits and supposed analysts on CNBC have once again begun touting international stocks as the right place to be.  For their audience, it is almost always the wrong place to be.  An investor can own international through multi-national U.S. stocks, and have the benefit of the most transparent capital market in the world.

---American League --- favor Boston for sure.   National League --- undecided, although leaning toward L.A., as Dodgers vs. the Red Sox would be like old time baseball card collecting days.  Who were the Brewers and Astros in the late 1950's.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Market drops, Trump talks...

This is hardly worth saying.  When the market was going up, Trump took credit.  When the market has a correction, Trump goes into blame mode.  Saying the Fed is going wild, saying the Fed is loco, has gone crazy, has a ridiculous policy, and on and on.  No self reflection, no self control, no perspective, that's our President.

This is unprecedented, at least in the post WWII era.  When there is market turmoil the President, the regulators, and most responsible legislators band together to project a sense of calm and control.  This President goes on the attack, as if he has panicked too.  Today he commented on the Federal budget deficit(it is normal for any entity to borrow by the way) and said "I"am paying higher rates and "I" don't like it.  The Federal budget is his?  This is the rant of an aspiring autocrat.

We have a sense of why the market corrected yesterday.  The continuation of this substantial decline, sharply at day's end, could by some be partially attributed to a complete absence of executive leadership.  Will Treasury Secretary Mnuchin provide any substantive advice. No. Will the fawning Larry Kudlow do so?  Absolutely not. Pence knows nothing about markets. Wilbur Ross is napping.  Sarah Huckabee is yapping.  Melania is trying on shoes.  Hope Hicks is gone.  Who is in charge?  Is it just the fringe economist Navarro who has the President's short attention span working by talking in sound bites?

And on and on...

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Two hugely consequential events...

Here at 4pm, contemplating two major events today.  One is man made and on paper and one is from nature and will negatively impact countless lives.  The equity market's sharp decline would be major news on any other day.  With Hurricane Michael ongoing, it could feel inconsequential.

First, the market decline seemed overdue.  Equities kept edging up despite multiple reasons for concern.  Today it was not just rising rates or a few disappointments in earnings.  It was not simply a rejection of tech's dominance.  It was, at least for a day, a panic of portfolio adjustment.  Is it possible that the weather's unpredictability, the rapid surprise of the overwhelming power of this storm, made investors in mass question the vulnerability of their investment portfolios.  That may be a stretch, just a thought.

We will simply watch as the storm progresses, as the television news will show us the same segments over and over again.  Once again reporters will be holding onto street signs, wading through water, and struggling to stay upright.  It seems like a right of passage for the profession.  At this point, it appears that the devastation could be widespread.

It does put market events into perspective.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Current events...

The article and photos on the Trump family wealth in the New York Times yesterday was almost unprecedented in length .  It covered two fifths of the front page and seven full NYT pages within the first section.  There were many things in the article that were familiar here, a few that will be mentioned.  A reader will only understand if they have had the patience to read the article.  Just to begin, the article begins with and at times reverts to many things that have been written about before in the paper of record and elsewhere.  Much more detail is added.  A few brief comments:

---With some knowledge of New York after having been here for 38 years, it can safely be said that what the article describes about Fred Trump's real estate business is, simply, the truth about how it works.  Lawyers are essential to get anything done, rule and regulation skirting is their job, documents are hard to pin down as accurate or not due to the overwhelming amount that exist, and who people know is immensely important.  Litigation is a part of the life.  That's where Donald Trump's fortune came from and that was well known.  Fred Trump worked within that system and would not have been seen as dishonest inside it.  He was a long term and valued client of several major banks, one of which was part of my life.  Compared to his father, Donald Trump was a different story, and that is not really news.

---Donald Trump was a successful self-promoter, working one creditor off against another until, by the early 1990's, no major New York bank did business with him other than operational services such as clearing.  Foreign banks and some U.S. regional banks trying to become big shots were his sources of bank funds after that time.

---One bizarre fact, totally new here.  The mailing address for the shell company that was a key part of the money laundering and tax evasion schemes of Fred Trump and Donald Trump is about one mile from our house on Long Island.  A senior Trump partner lived here, and ran the company out of his house.

That's enough.  More would be tedious, if this has not already been so.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Market comment...

Do I dare try to do this anymore?  The market today was relatively static overall, but it feels as if there is a rumbling of something to come, a tremor.  The climb of gold, GLD, was an unusual event relative to the past year.  Inevitably contrarian approaches to this market will arise, and the thought  always is whether someone knows more than others.  Someone does, but who.  That varies.  As an example, in a widely watched interview with Warren Buffett two weeks ago, he touted airline stocks as undervalued and suggested owning the big four as he does.  Having Delta and American here, they had a bump after that day and have been dropping ever since.  Oracle of Oh.

Facebook continued its collapse at the rate of 2% a day and until this abates, few will come in as it looks as if some major positions are being dumped.  Small fry like me just watches.  Two tech additions in recent months have been going in different directions, although both slipped today ---Roku down 5%, but no worry as it's been a rocket overall and Red Hat, -2% for today and down as a position.  Banks are stagnant recently as they should be.  They have done well and can sit and rest for awhile. They are not research plays, not even their own research for the most part.

So that's my two cents worth, if that much. Since CNBC is not a daily payment, is that saying this is worth something more.

Jonathan Miles reviews Gary Shteygart

The Sunday New York Times Book Review, 9/30, has a review of  Gary Shteygart's "Lake Success" by Jonathan Miles.  Miles has been a favorite, and he certainly does not overload on publishing.  As a reviewer of Shteygart, he is a good choice.  Humor is a central part of both author's writing, but done with skilled powers of observation that speak to serious issues as well.  About one third of the way through "Lake Success" at the moment, that approach seems to be on track.

There are two differences.  With Miles, when a book is finished, a bigger message resonates after all of the clever language and story lines are done.  With Miles, some major characters have depth even after the hijinks are over.  With Shteygart, a book can be immensely enjoyed during the read but, when the book is done, it is done.  If that makes sense.  Maybe "Lake Success" will be a surprise, but if not so what.  To quote the Miles review, "Gary Shteygart holds his adopted country up to the light, turns it, squints, turns it some more, and finds himself grimacing and laughing in almost equal measure."  A current book that can do that is needed.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Tech majors as utilities?

There is a thought developing among many of varying political persuasions that the major technology companies are too powerful, and have too much information.  Those focused on include Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and Twitter, but names like Netflix and Adobe would probably fall into this net as well, others could.

It is clear that most of these companies are more efficient and at the least as effective at information management than the government.  Should they be regulated as utilities?  Possibly around the edges and subject to some ground rules would be the thought here, but a coterie of those on both the political right and left are now beginning to look for something more stringent.  The need for competitive markets is a concern in various areas of retail business and the manipulation of information for political purposes is another.  Another not at all trivial issue is whether the social networks have been engineered to create addictive behavior that leads to more information in their hands for advertising purposes, and  leads to unproductive use of time by all ages that could otherwise be spent productively, hey even on first hand relationships with other people.  These are legitimate areas to focus on, but regulation done right would be best if not punitive.  This situation evolved due to a vibrant private sector that encouraged innovation, independent of stodgy government oversight.

The danger now is that we are in the age of Trump.  How can any transition to some regulatory guidelines be managed in a way that does not further the censorship aims and overreach of this President?  Well meaning advocates of regulation could be exploited by his minions looking for power and more.  How this plays out is an important issue.  No big insight here, more to come...

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Preparing for war...???

From rejecting the Transpacific Partnership to dropping out of the Paris Climate Accords and to alienating our allies while kissing up to the most dangerous countries on earth, Trump is on a solo course to an accident.  He is unstable and living in his own reality of made up facts.  Talk about "fake news".  As with the inauguration crowd, he now creates fiction about the hurricane disaster in Puerto Rico.  From whole cloth, he weaves lies.  This is abnormal.  Now as he preemptively raises tariffs on China, first $50 billion now set to kick in, now another $200 billion to follow within a month, and just suggested another $267 billion on the way.  These are being levied while negotiations are currently, supposedly, underway.  The lunatic fringe economist Peter Navarro says something and Trump just repeats it.

Almost anyone who reads this does not need it to be repeated.  That's the thing with Trump and his team that maintains the Bannon mentality of just wearing out the opposition with attacks and lies.  Trump simply enjoys demonstrating his power, like a bully on a playground.  "Simply" is the operative word.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Interesting info about investing from the WSJ...

Yesterday's edition of the Wall Street Journal had its monthly analysis, "Investing In Funds & ETFS".  Here are highlights as seen from here.

---The top 50 funds by assets under management, are led by index funds.  S&P index funds were up by roughly 19.5% over the past 12 months.  Total market funds were up around 20.5% on that basis. In comparison, there were a few discretionary fund stand-outs among the 50.  Will Danoff's Fidelity Contrafund is up 25.6% and Charles Pohl's Dodge and Cox Stock fund up 18.1%.  Both were known well in the 1990's and early aughts.  Small cap funds fared well, with the IShares Russell 2000 up 25.4% and the IShares Core S&P small cap up 32.5%.  Growth stocks fared did too, with the QQQ up 28.8%, Fidelity Growth Company fund up 31.7%, and T Rowe Price Growth Stock up 22.7%.

---Among categories, on a year to date basis, the Multicap 1.7 billion Miller Opportunity Fund is up 25.3%, Bill Miller, same age as me, still thriving.  Small cap names are still being managed exceedingly well by some, as in the $1.6 billion Alger Small Cap Focus fund up 46% through August.  Overall, well managed growth funds have been the place to be, value funds not.  Bond funds, however reassuring to some, have not performed well as expected in this rate environment and the outlook is generally not positive.  REIT's are showing some life, for those who know how to choose them and deal with the tax impact, not a skill here.

The takeaway is that the market has been an wonderful opportunity in general, but not one that has attracted as much attention as prior bull markets.  As long as many are calculating the end, that may stay true.  Still, with this over 9 year bull market, careful analysis and considerable caution seem to be required.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Photos on Facebook, remembered in various ways...

Over the past nine months, posting photos on Facebook has become a regular activity.  We took photos when traveling, on holidays or special occasions, of children growing up, and other times randomly.  All of the photos taken by me are remembered, with a few exceptions noted with "unknown location" or a similar comment.  The camel in a field  near a beach with apartment houses in the background is an example of that previously posted.  There are differences among the memories.

With almost all, the place is remembered, with many the surrounding circumstances come to mind, and with some a detailed memory of an event or activity still seems fresh.  One like that from 36 years ago is posted today, and everything associated with it is a good thought.  I guess that's healthy.

There are photos of Kathy from albums she kept before we met, and a few from her childhood.  She told me about some of them over the years, and others are simply interesting on their own to me, maybe some to others.  In her teens and early '20's, she kept albums that are more like scrapbooks.  They contain not just photos, but also ticket stubs, brochures, itineraries, museum passes, letters from people she met on the trip, and comments written in margins on the pages, as well as her artwork on some pages related to an event. These are entertaining.  She did some of that with books that she put together of our trips, but nothing like her youthful ones.

There are a few childhood photos of me, but little beyond that.  When taking a two and a half month trip to Europe in late 1971 with two college friends, or trips to Little Exuma or Jamaica in the 1970's, photography was not what I did.  My two friends on the Europe trip both had cameras, but my attitude at the time was that I could buy post cards or look in books for pictures of the sights and preferred to stay in the present and soak experience in, if that is the way it can be characterized.  As for taking photos with people, the guys were just that.  Somewhere there are two or three photos of me sent by one of them after the trip, no idea where they are.

When Kathy and I began traveling in 1981, it was expected by her and I bought right in. That has become apparent to those who check in on Facebook as "friends", and others who follow without signing up as a "friend".  Given the events of this year, I guess that this will continue...  Be forewarned, there is a large drawer in a basement cabinet in the ping pong room that is filled with piles of photos that did not find there way into albums.  Precarious steps down but...

Thursday, August 30, 2018

More brief comments...

---Warren Buffett was interviewed on CNBC this morning for about 20 minutes.  He was his usual low key and congenial self, and not predisposed to give any broad directional comments about today's equity market.  As always, he looks to invest when he sees value, and not purportedly time the market.  He does currently have huge cash reserves now at his company, so obviously has not seen a major opportunity recently, actually in the last three years.  Comments of interest... he continues to modestly add to his Apple position, one in which he owns 5% of outstanding shares... he owns approximately 9.5% of the shares of each of the four major airlines, Delta, Southwest, American, United and that was not known here... but he is not as attracted to consumer branded products as he once was.  It was all interpreted here as having a degree of caution at the moment, but those airline investments?

---In the current New Yorker, there is an article about the journalist Glenn Greenwald.  It is fascinating, if at times a bit confusing.  Here, Greenwald has not surfaced much since his interactions with Edward Snowden and Julian Assuage were widely publicized.  The range of his interests and his style of life are covered here.  While he is the scourge of the elite Democratic establishment, he writes of Trump, "he is a criminal surrounded by fifth tier grifters who, under normal circumstances, would be generation Power Points to defraud pensioners."  Pinning down the mercurial Greenwald is not easy.

---This September 3rd issue of the magazine packed with things of interest... Louis Menand on Francis Fukayama's latest book, a review that must be read again to begin to fully understand it... Jon Lee Anderson on the Ortega regime in Nicaragua... a comment on the HBO program "Succession", an eight show series that presumably will continue, and was a program about business titans in general that was well done for the most part, despite some flaws I liked it...  Anthony Lane reviewing a documentary about John McEnroe by a French director, just in time for this U.S. Open...  and more of interest.  When there is an issue like this it is a treat, especially because magazines are so much easier than books to read in bed while waiting for sleep.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Random market comments...

---Toll Brothers builders reported strong results today, which was seen by some as an affirmation of the housing market.  Their average house sells for $840,000.  That's across a range of cities, not just New York.  They are luxury builders that are not representative at all of the broader market.  In fact, this could be viewed as negative news because what it really affirms is that the bifurcation of wealth is becoming more extreme.  In the long run that is not sustainable, economically or politically.

---In recent days Elon Musk has shown that his brilliance does not extend to understanding how the stock market works.  Like everything else, he wants to solve it and control it in a way that seems to be becoming an obsession.  He needs to be told that his job is to focus on his businesses, only make decisions based on business needs, and not on trying to influence the stock price.  The market may not appreciate what he sees, but if it works the market will catch up.  His angst is the cause of market concern now.

---Trump has suggested that consideration be given to earnings reporting by corporations every six months and not quarterly.  Some in his cabal have convinced him that quarterly reporting is too time consuming, too costly, and not constructive to long term investing.  That is a terrible idea.  For some industries the argument could be made, I guess, but to many firms the variability in their operating environment makes quarterly reporting a necessity.  For financial firms, a quarterly credit check is essential for investors.  If Regulation FD is followed to the letter, six month reporting could be feasible, MAYBE, but Trump and his team are working to weaken Reg. FD already.  This makes no sense.  Hedge funds and active traders would just have a more open playing field and traditional investors would be less informed.  What should be done more rigorously? Companies in general should stop giving quarterly guidance.  Underscore that.

---When watching CNBC, there is the recurring thought here now that Jim Cramer is trying to put himself in position to be Secretary of the Treasury.  Ludicrous right, well maybe.  He frequently goes to extremes to rationalize Trump's policies now.  He loves attention and he has watched the constant CNBC contributor Larry Kudlow become a key economic adviser to Trump.  Cramer has been in his current gig for a long time and such a change would be a capstone to his minor celebrity life.  The creepy Mnuchin cannot be enjoying his role too much these days as he, at times, openly disagrees with Trump, in particular on trade, and has recently been more in the background.  He has just watched Trump minions bite the dust.

Watch Cramer for half an hour if you can stomach it, and see what I mean.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

So what goes with this equity market?

U.S. equities remain strong but investors are on edge and pundits, as always, are skeptical.  With 94% of Fortune 500 companies having reported second quarter results, 84% of companies have beat EPS estimates and 72% have been above revenue estimates from securities analysts.  That's pretty astounding.  We are getting into "It can't get any better than this territory" which sounds positive but to investors can be a bit scary.  "It can't get better?"

The big worry of the moment is about major tech names.  Many of China's major tech names, notably Tencent and Alibaba, have disappointed investors recently and seen share drops between 10% to 20% over the past few months.  Tech is global so this is not trivial.  Facebook and Netflix in the U.S. have retrenched in recent months, for totally different reasons, that's big tech showing some vulnerability.  Amazon, Google, and Apple remain solid.  On the consumer side, housing starts have been on the low side but consumer confidence remains strong.  Whether that confidence is due to consumer wealth capacity growing or due to looser lending standards in a more competitive retail market is the real question.  Opinion here is that it is the latter, which requires some thought.

Where is the right balancing point between desired wage and productivity growth and the possibility of some unexpected hiccup in inflation?  Really, all seems quiet on that front but that is the looming question.  The other overhang is having an unbalanced leader who could roil the geopolitical front or the domestic political front in a serious way at some point.  Who knows, but if he manages to make a major blunder the market has room to move down 10% without destroying anything but some retail and traders, but not institutions.  If he does something catastrophic, look out below.  We watch...

Still invested here at usual range of limits, a bit risky if one is into age based investing but that's not done here.

So we watch...

Friday, July 27, 2018

Short takes...

--- Here in New York State there are political advertisements for Andrew Cuomo running mutiple times a day on all major networks.  He has no serious competitive opposition, at least that is the general consensus.  He appears to be setting up a presidential campaign which he would surely lose if  he by chance became the 2020 Democratic  candidate.  Just in the last few days he has added free four year college for all who are not upper middle class to his promises, echoing or competing with Elizabeth Warren(another national non-electable candidate).  Warren at least seems sincere, plus ambitious at all costs, but Cuomo is pure ego with a weak track record.  Yet he is undeniably setting up to run.  Where all of his advertising money is coming from is unknown, but being a successful New York politician has traditionally been lucrative.

---Speaking of New York, the city, and their attack on Uber and Lyft is amazing.  Has anyone ever tried to get a licensed yellow cab in the outer boroughs, especially at night. They still rarely exist.  Even in Manhattan on a day of bad weather, waits can be daunting to impossible.  Uber and their likes need some oversight but the city wants them at the trough of legalized bribes that characterize the traditional yellow cab industry.  Still preposterous governance.

---There is this phrase in the lead Talk of the Town article in this week's New Yorker, "In truth, however, many Republicans are more comfortable with Trump that they care to admit."  Sorry to suggest this, but that should be expanded to "many Americans".  This supremely ill informed demagogue channels the uneducated gut reactions of large segments of this country.  We can hope for his fall as the 7/30 New Yorker cover suggests, but exaggerated concern should be the dominant thought of those concerned, and it is not exaggerated.

---Trump's understanding of healthcare, economics, and trade is so limited that it should be viewed as embarrassing.  As President the news commentators mostly try to treat him seriously.  Among administration officials, the leading whore of late is Larry Kudlow, a conservative but mostly thoughtful television economist for many years(by the way, he has no degree in economics).  Always in favor of limited regulation and free trade, he now backs every Trump statement, no matter how contrary to everything he espoused during his career.

---It is clear that the economy is doing well, but the dynamics of a strong economy are not a six month event after tax cuts.  The groundwork for economic growth is years in the making, and much of what is going on dates back to actions by Barack Obama and, as much as I hate to say it, even George Bush.  Trump only praises himself, even as he is in the midst of destroying long term global marketing arrangements for farmers.

---And finally, the huge EU penalty on Google is not based on research or analysis of any type, just an exercise of power by petty European bureaucrats who have no understanding of the pace of change in technology..  Read what almost any informed expert says about this.

Sunday, July 15, 2018


Not posting much at all...

The men's tennis semis were exceptional, the final today was a formality.  Tennis is such a mental game when players are close.  Once a passable local player, I would feel guilty when knowing how to play, missing a point on purpose to get to the next one... more etc.

One thing that I am really pissed about... On local television there are adverts for casinos in the Catskills now... they have white guys with beautiful Asian girls...  no problem here with that as a concept of course.... but there are no Asian people at all within a hundred miles, so are they just advertising something else shipped in... It's obvious and does not feel right....

Seems offensive from my perspective...

Kathy was as she was, our girls are too, and some NY State agency does this....  what could be called biased stereotyping...

Monday, June 18, 2018

Hometown mentioned in today's New York Times...

As follows, "Mr. Stewart's embrace of the Confederacy reached an apogee in his 2017 campaign.  He showed up to an Old South ball in Danville, Va., and, surrounded by men in reinactment regalia and women in hoop skirts, declared the Confederate flag a symbol of "our heritage", not of hate.  And he appeared with the white nationalist Jason Kessler, who went on to organize the torch-led protests in Charlottesville..."

Friday, June 15, 2018

Three Billboards...

Each year this is the time to catch up on films that were highlighted at the Oscars and other awards shows.  They arrive on Netflix, and head here. This week there has been "All The Money In The World"(not a great film but an informative reminder of an event and a time period), "Lady Bird"(a well done small film with great lead in Saorise Ronan), and "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri"(remarkable).  "I Tonya" and "Darkest Hour" are on the way.

Three Billboards is fascinating, with twists and turns that keep the film flowing and performances that were special.  The writer and director Martin McDonagh is highly acclaimed as a playwright in Ireland and known best here as the writer and director of the now classic film "In Bruges".

It was a film that had hooks aplenty, one here that was a bit of a revelation, a personal one. With both Lady Bird and All The Money, a break was taken halfway through as home viewing allows.  Three Billboards flew by, no break needed or wanted.  It will likely be watched again in a month or so, a second viewing is required.  There was so much to see and hear.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

"Calypso", essays from David Sedaris

This just published collection of essays by Sedaris were all previously published in recent years, primarily in The New Yorker,  but also a few in The Guardian, The Paris Review, Conde Nast Traveler(UK), and Esquire.  As his many followers know, Sedaris has a unique style of viewing the world from a perspective of well written, insightful, at times sardonic, humor.  He has a touch that works and he will say absolutely anything.  There must be a segment of his fans who are closet readers, not necessarily wanting to be associated with his free form publicly but still there.  He appears to be truthful to a fault as on the second page he writes, "Yes, my hair is gray and thinning.  Yes, the washer on my penis has worn out, leaving me to dribble urine long after I've zipped my trousers back up.  But I have two guest rooms."

The effect of his humor in short bursts is what magazines are for.  As a 260 page book it can be a bit overwhelming.  A picture of the last five years of his life is taken in, as well as perspectives on the death of his mother, the suicide of his sister Tiffany, the aging of a father in his 90's, as well as a health problem or two of his own.  Serious events are dealt with in a straightforward way but from his perspective it eventually works as humor.  Central to all of this is his eccentric family, which almost has its own language that shelters them all as they go on.

The book was a nice two day break from the stupid one, but he is still there.  Sedaris writes, "I later learned that what I suffered was called blunt force trauma.  It's remarkably similar to how I felt after the election, as if I'd been slammed against a wall or hit by a car.  Both pains persist --- show no signs, in fact, of ever going away.  The damage is permanent.  I will never be the same as I was before the accident/election."  While his home area of Raleigh, NC, as well as an island village off of the coast in that state, are basic to his existence, Sedaris has for many years had his permanent residence in rural England.  He's lucky again.

Monday, June 11, 2018

"Patrick Melrose" on Showtime

This five part series was exceptional.  When the series was first being promoted it was intriguing, so the first two of the five novels by Edward St.Aubyn were read about a month ago.  Those books ranged within each from being an impeccably English comedy of manners to depths almost beyond what Bret Easton Ellis has written.  The writing is such that individual sentences or paragraphs seem worth writing down, and certainly worth a dog ear or a pen mark as I often treat books poorly.

The film interpretation took the luxury of not dragging a reader through the despair in the novels too incessantly.  The characters were presented with their annoying, at times aggravating flaws, as well as what could be called their desperate humanity.  Can it be said that humor was abundant through all of this?  It was.

"Patrick Melrose" is done.  What an attractive longer series it could have been is the thought occurs to me now, as there is little out there that is this compelling.  Benedict Cumberbatch was unequivocally the star.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

"The Economist" 2018 Pocket World in Figures...

This annual small fact packed book arrived today.  As usual it has two page fact sheets on 100 countries plus a variety of other broader statistics.  For example:

---New York is the 10th largest city in the world.  The three largest are Tokyo, Delhi, and Shanghai.  With less but a bit surprising, Lima has 10 million people and Baghdad 6.8 million.
---The U.S. is 48th in life expectancy, just behind Guam and Cuba.  The top five are Monaco, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, and Italy, at five hanging in there, giving hope that enjoying life leads to longevity.
---The cost of living is highest in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan.  The United States in seventh.
---The U.S. has the highest prison population in the world at 2.1mm, China, a far more populous country is second at 1.6mm, third is Russia at 600,000.  As a percent of the population the U.S. is #1 as well, followed by Turkmenistan and El Salvador.
---As a percent of the population, the number one country publishing books is the U.K., followed by Iceland, Denmark, Slovenia, Taiwan, and France.  The U.S. is 15th.
---Internet users as a percent of the population ranks the U.S. as 43rd,  just behind Azerbeijan, Malta, and Barbados.

Had enough.  Probably.  If not, this vest pocket book could be entertaining on the subway or in the waiting room at the dentist's office.

Friday, June 01, 2018

Short takes... TRUMP TIME

---Donald Trump Jr. stayed busy last week retweeting Roseanne Barr's vile tweets.  When she deleted hers, he did not delete his forwards.  This entitled nitwit should be named Chip.

---It seems obvious that something is wrong with Melania Trump.  A President's wife has generally been hands-off territory for the press related to personal issues.  Did she have some sort of breakdown?  Did she overdose on her Xanax or whatever allows her to play her role?  This "kidney procedure" issue began almost three weeks ago just after her "Be Best" campaign for children was initiated in a speech on the White House lawn.  That was ridiculous and just a gift to late night comics.  It could look like she was almost set up for public humiliation.

---President Trump's speech in Nashville was campaign classic, at times more vindictive as he craves the recognition of his most ardent supporters, speaks in exaggerations that veer into overt lies, and can't help but admire dubious partners in foreign affairs.  The low light was his talk of MS-13, once again consciously equating this awful fringe group with undocumented immigrants generally.

---Trump's incoherent approach to global markets and trade is explained by primarily one thing --- the exercise of power.  His arbitrary leveling of tariffs, taking them off, and then extending them is harmful not only to business interests but also to U.S. consumers.  His explanations demonstrate no knowledge and no nuance.  Long term damage is already being put in place as businesses and countries are not able to do reliable long term planning about hiring and investment.  This will be felt next year and beyond, not in the immediate time frame that concerns Trump, is that one day, up to three months... that's about it.


Wednesday, May 30, 2018

"The Chinese Exclusion Act", PBS

Last night this program, as part of the American Experience series, had its initial showing on PBS.  As a history program about Chinese immigrants in the 19th century and beyond, it was informative and will no doubt be valuable in classrooms for years to come.  It was watched intently here.  Much of the time while watching, it was hard not to think about how much better this program could have been.  For those who were enamored, this may seem like nitpicking but here goes.

The program was incessantly repetitive, in stories and in the photos meant to bring life to the narrative.  The soundtrack was intensely grim and had little nuance while adding huge dose of melodrama that was not needed.  Yes, this was a "grim" subject and one that documented unfair, exploitive, and racist treatment of the Chinese as they arrived on the west coast in small numbers from the 1840's and onward.  The racism was institutionalized by Congress in the Exclusion Act in 1882 at around the same time that the attitude toward freed slaves began to deteriorate.

In telling this story, the Democratic and Republican parties were at odds on issues, but to me it would be difficult for a viewer who was not especially familiar with the era to have any idea what those parties represented at that time, yes a nitpick but a big one it seems.

The idea here is definitely not to relay the history.  Just for that the program is worth watching.  Moving to the 20th century the program reflected some strange biases and here's an example that was aggravating.  In talking about progress for the Chinese in the mid-20th century, the program highlighted some statement by President Kennedy.  There is no memory of or well known record of that at all.  The program was correct to point out the efforts made by President Roosevelt as the Chinese were necessary allies against the Japanese.  However it completely ignored Harry Truman, who actually did something more than talk.

In 1948 when Mao took over in China, there were 5000 Chinese students in the United States on visas for college attendance.  Permanent immigration for Chinese was only minimally allowed at that time.  Under Truman, these students were deemed to be at risk if they returned to the newly Communist country, so they were allowed to stay(Kathy's parents were two of them).

In 1973 Nixon went to China, of course, and some formal relationship began.  In 1979 China began to allow visitors(tourists) for carefully monitored small friendship tours(my parents were on one).  Beginning in 1980,  American citizens of Chinese descent were allowed to begin applying to bring over relatives who were considered to be at risk or had been treated harshly.  Reagan allowed that immigration(Kathy's mother brought over five of her siblings and their families in the following ten years).

The documentary mentioned none of this, just a still fashionable shout out to Kennedy who did nothing.  That was truly annoying.

So mixed reviews here for a well meaning documentary.