Thursday, October 20, 2016

Planned or prescient --- 2nd debate comments foreshadow last night's debate

At the end of the second presidential debate, an audience member asked if, in closing, the candidates could say one positive thing about the other.  The moderator asked Trump to reply first, he said nothing, so Clinton jumped in.  She said that Trump's children were able and devoted, and that reflected positively on Trump.  Trump, with time to think, then said the he admired the fact that Clinton "doesn't quit, doesn't give up, and is a fighter".

With Trump not willing last night to commit to accepting the results of the election, unprecedented for a candidate, these comments have added meaning.  Trump stated that there are millions of registered voters who should not have the right to vote.  The stooge Giuliani repeated before the debate that the Democrats control the inner cities where voter fraud is rife.  There is no basis in fact for either of these charges, but Trump persists with his "rigged election" statements.

He is, to be blunt, saying that he will not accept the election results if he does not win.  He is a litigation king in the real estate world and this is beginning to look like his fallback, more than just a face saving charade.  His comment about Clinton in the last debate was actually a comment about himself, the person that he admires the most.  Clinton's comment about his children reflects the possibility that they may be the only people able to rein their father in.  Ivanka and Chelsea are apparently good friends.

Trump is known for not playing by rules.  In business, his bullying and belligerence may work, and looking at his deals for tax abatement it seems that they do work.  In the basis fundentals of our democracy,  this is not tolerable.  He is threatening the American voters with an "elect me or else" statement, equivalent to saying "I will mess you up".

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The last debate tonight

What happens tonight in the debate between Trump and Clinton is not really looked forward to, more dreaded than seen as something to enjoy.  If it could be constructive and issues focused on, that would be welcome.  With Trump's antics and front row invitations, that seems unlikely.

Trump's rants about a "rigged election" should not be debated.  They should be dealt with quickly and dismissively.  Clinton surrogates, including her unimpressive campaign spokesperson, have said that since Trump is losing his comments about the election are a last ditch effort.  Advice to Clinton from here would be to not declare victory too soon and just try to discuss issues at every turn.  When Trump brings up e-mails, the Clinton foundation, and speaking fees, deal with them succinctly and move on.  When Trump says things like "she meets in secrecy with international banks to plot the destruction of  U.S. sovereignty", just say that is a complete fabrication and absolutely incorrect.
Don't debate lies.  If Trump brings up the ridiculous Rudy Giuliani or the patsy Chris Christie, just roll your eyes and ignore him.

Remember readers during the primaries when the debates were entertaining, at times a reason to laugh.  Here it's difficult to get back to that frame of mind.  Hillary Clinton is who we have, issues notwithstanding, and Trump is becoming more unhinged and repulsive by the day.  It is not out of line to say he is becoming "dangerous to our democracy".

The most disturbing aspect of this election is how many voters, even if no more than an astounding 40%, seem to be all in for Trump, regardless of what he says.  Ha Ha Ha... not laughing here now but hoping to be in a more detached mood by debate time tonight, looking for the absurd rather than the pathetic.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

"The Wangs vs.The World"

This is a first novel by Jade Chang, about whom there is no information.  There must be, but none was discovered here.  How the book found its way into my hands is unclear but, always searching for new reads, it was discovered.  The book was published earlier this month.

It's a family story.  The father, Charles Wang, is a Chinese immigrant to the United States, coming from Taiwan but originally from a prosperous mainland China family that was disrupted by the conflicts of the 1930's and '40's before his birth.  He becomes highly successful as a cosmetics manufacturer in Los Angeles. With three children, the death of their mother in an accident, and then a second wife, from Taiwan, he spends freely until making, and doubling down on, a terrible business decision in that rough year 2008 and loses his fortune.

The family's way of life is completely disrupted, major house in Bel-Air foreclosed, and the children, ages 16, 21, and 28, are gathered up in L.A., Phoenix, and upstate New York.  In the process, a road trip across the U.S. is undertaken and the family both connects and disconnects in ways that are hopeful and distressing.  The ultimate goal of Charles Wang is to go back to China to reclaim his ancestral property.

This book goes in too many directions to detail.  There are portions about finance, banking, and the art world that are both high brow clichés and yet still well done, at time humorous.  There are the perils of the road, bad motels, unpredictable food, and the varied reception that awaits them as they travel.

This is not a great book. It's good enough, and has a strong dose of realism about today's world. Depending on one's perspective and experience, it still can be one that is difficult to put down.  It worked well here.

In Hillsborough, North Carolina?

Initial reports of the firebombing of a Trump/Pence headquarters in North Carolina stated that the location was Raleigh, NC.  Hours later it mentioned the place as the Orange County headquarters of that campaign.  Yesterday the location was pinned down, in national media, to Hillsborough, the county seat.

That was somewhat of a shock.  The town is known well here as it was my mother's birthplace and the long time home of my grandmother.  This historic town, founded in 1754, was the center of North Carolina's government during the Revolutionary War in the 1770's.  It is unclear how much it grew during the 200 years after that, as the average population was 1,400 in the 1950's, '60's, and '70's when I visited often.  It was a quiet and friendly small town, with a sense of pride.  My history focused grandmother seemed to know everyone there, or at the least she was able to talk about them.

With its attractive location, from the 1970's on it increasingly became home to academics from UNC and Duke, and to literary figures or aspirants who liked the fact that it was a small affordable town with an unusual number of well educated and well informed citizens.  With a population of 6,000 now, it has changed significantly, but the center of this small town still looks the same(at least it did the last time that I was there for a funeral service, in 2006).  The marker in front of my grandmother's former house was still there, "The Piano Teacher's House", but it was beginning to be impinged upon by untrimmed shrubs.

It is such an unlikely place for an act of political violence.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Wells Fargo just wants the problems to go away

There was a comment here on September 23rd about the Wells Fargo customer fraud issue.  While recognizing the seriousness of the charges and the appalling longevity of the problem, the comment here was that the firm's overall good reputation and low key management team would mean they get through this without major disruption and that the stock price probably already reflected the damage. In fact, the question raised was whether the stock should be bought at time, after its fall.

That is still a legitimate question, but maybe for later.  The "low key" style of management has been far too subdued at present, giving the distinct impression that they wanted to say as little as possible and let the problem disappear out of the news cycle.  It has not.  Tim Sloane, the ultimate insider, has now been named CEO.  This could almost be compared to the situation of one of their acquired companies eight years ago.  That was when, after as series of ridiculous acquisitions, Ken Thompson was fired at Wachovia, and corporate insiders were assigned the CEO and Chairman tasks, on an interim basis.

Tim Sloane could very well be an interim CEO for all practical purposes if he continues speaking in platitudes with the usual clichés, that do not acknowledge the significance of the punishing cross selling culture that management had put in place, and bragged about for many years.  If, it was mainly for investor's ears, that all turns out to have been largely a charade, it will lead to a languishing stock price for the foreseeable future.

With the existing customer base in retail that is their primary target for growth, no nationally focused card seeking non deposit customers for example, Wells is in a bind.  It was surprising to read that they have far more far more branches than Bank of America. They are expensive*.  In corporate and international banking, Sloane's expertise, they are no powerhouse.  They get their deals by being the most accommodating, not by being among the most innovative.  To realize real growth there while up against JPMorgan, Goldman, and Citi is unlikely.

This debacle has pulled back the curtain on some issues at the firm that had not been focused on by many.  Management needs to project a more serious and urgent approach to these problems if it is to be effective.  They need to detail some truly disruptive and creative change, which they clearly do not want to do.

*There is a Wells Fargo branch in our small town.  It opened around 8 or 9 years ago, and rarely is there any sign of significant foot traffic in or out of the building.  It took the place of a long established family hardware store that apparently could not develop a way of continuity for the store within a large family, and, of course, its business had over time been affected by Home Depot and Lowe's outlets in nearby towns.  It's in a large space with a large parking lot in a town that is always tight for cars.  The Wells lot stays empty most of the time as it is monitored.  We have an account of some consequence there due to one need  years ago, and go in from time to time.  It is always empty. There is only one banker on the relatively vast floor plus usually one or two tellers.  The branch seems to have limited ties to the community.  As it stands, it is unlikely that it is profitable.

There are five other banks in the four blocks of downtown, more banks than pizza parlors, but not nail salons.  Two of the banks are long established Chase and Citi locations that are fully staffed with mostly local people.  They thrive.  One wonders, why does Wells persist here.  Is there more going on than a customer scam.  Could it be kickbacks to senior managers?  Highly unlikely, but everything about Wells Fargo will be questioned in the near term, with thoughts possibly similar to that. 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

"The New Yorker" continues with fine articles

From time to time there is a comment here about articles of note in "The New Yorker" magazine. They keep coming.  Last week's two best were "Trumptown" by Larissa MacFarquhar, a writer not previously known.  Subtitled "How a West Virginia county turned deep red", it does in 12 pages what many reviewers have tried to ferret out of the jumbled but well received book "Hillbilly Elegy" about any impact on this election.  Also in the issue is "Adding a Zero" --- "Sam Altman, the Yoda of Silicon Valley" by staff writer Tad Friend. This can give one enough information to pretend they know what's going on there, and it does that well and in an almost intimidating way.  Who can compare to these young brainiacs there.

The latest issue has Ryan Lizza, the political reporter of the magazine writing an article, "Taming Trump", that looks at the tribulations and, maybe, successes of the third manager of that campaign.  It remains interesting even on this depressing subject.  The there is the exceptionally informative article by Dexter Filkins about Fethullah Gulen, the iman in the Poconos, and his influence in Turkey.  From reading magazine reports and NYT stories, the impression here had been that Gulen's beliefs were simply being used by Erdogan as an excuse, in recent years, to continue to consolidate all power in the country, moving it from a marginally secular democracy to an eventual dictatorship that takes advantage of the strong belief in Islam by many in that country.  Filkin's describes Gulen's influence as one who is a spiritual guide for millions who oversees a world wide network of charter schools.   His view of Islam is viewed in the West as being more liberal than that of the Islamist leaders of Turkey.  There was much new information here.

David Remnick's profile of Leonard Cohen is still ahead, looking forward to it.  

Postscript, 10/14 ---The Leonard Cohen article is exceptional.  That comes from one who never bought one of his albums.  I did enjoy his subtle popular poetic anthems of the 60's and 70's and have followed his life story.  Close friends have been serious devotees, notably a long ago girlfriend in Phoenix who played the guitar and sang his songs wistfully, and two college friends in D.C. who have Cohen as one of those at the top of their pantheon of songwriters/musicians.  The comments on aging in this piece are interesting, as should be the case by one who has been an "aging" philosopher for most of his life.  And, the photo is a hoot, almost a caricature of what one of my friends may well look like and dress like at that age.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Amazon's allure

Over a month ago, Amazon stock was purchased here at its lofty price, now loftier.  The stock had been owned here in the late 1990's and sold for a nice gain, or so I thought at the time.  Clearly it was sold far too soon, and the same was done with Chipotle and Regeneron.  Some like Google and Apple for a very long time and Visa, Netflix, Facebook and others over the last seven years, have been buy and hold names. I don't want to look at more names that were sold too soon or those on tears in the the late 90's tech boom that were not sold soon enough, like ATHM.  These decisions back in time were just part of the game.

Back in Amazon now, as it has a franchise that has no limit to its ambitions.  With its leadership role now in cloud computing(how did that happen), its "focus?" on selling almost anything and everything, its Prime package that becomes more and more of a value as its customers use it, including video streaming, and the Echo product with Alexa that can now include music streaming, they are not stepping back.  They are attempting to create an integrated purchase system that is akin to Apple's communications systems and Google's search systems, ubiquitous oligopolies as a result of user choice.

The recent new Amazon experience here is with grocery and consumer product delivery.  It's exceptionally convenient.  Everything from paper towels, to detergent, over the counter medications, bottled water, salad dressing and many common grocery items is available, although they don't come close to having all brands and products, yet.  Prices are as good as can be found, at times much better. Advil was part of a delivery here, and what was chosen looked like the price that had been paid at the local pharmacy. It was, but the container from Amazon had three times more tablets.  Getting the first large box received picked up off of the front stoop was a bit of an effort, but apart from that it was a welcome time-saver and value.

In this social network dominated and sharing economy, it seems that companies move to being oligopolies rapidly, relative to the past.  When a company makes that move, and embeds itself into the habits of consumers, it can obviously be powerful.  Can they keep growing?  That is the question here and Amazon is the bet.  Books are still the biggest purchase item here, showing long term habits are ingrained.  Whether the stock can continue its climb is uncertain of course.  At least the company is beginning to report positive earnings after years of spending every dime for investments.

Now they begin to challenge FedEx and UPS, their vendors and now to become competitors, at least for their own deliveries.

$1200 in a year?  It depends on the overall market remaining stable.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

"not consequential yet"?

Yesterday's late afternoon post here ended with the above phrase.  That no longer appears to be the case, even if Trump stays in the race.  Catching up with the news last night, one could see the cascade of comments, and disavowals of support.  Those confirming support did so for "party principles".  In fact, the Republican Party appears to be in complete disarray.

Here, anything tonight related to the debate is seen as possible.  Will Trump even cancel his appearance at the last minute.  Unlikely, but not impossible.  Whether it's countries defending a currency, companies denying a takeover, investors claiming solvency, or politicians maintaining their innocence, they often do so until the bitter end.  But, the end, at times, does come and everything that preceded it is wiped out.

Trump is in trouble.  That has been said before...

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Calls by some Republicans for Trump to withdraw --- not consequential yet

Donald Trump's candidacy keeps getting more and more tarnished.  The number of Republican candidates and insiders calling for him to withdraw grew in the last few days after his 2005 comments on women became public.  He is, by most standards of normalcy, a repulsive person.  If most people don't already know that, then they just don't want to know.  The real leaders of the GOP will stay with Trump until the end.  Simply because Mike Pence was able to work his way through a debate with some steadiness, if not answers, does not make him any kind of attractive substitute. Looking at his record and his beliefs, he is far too right wing to be a viable candidate.  Trump is the standard bearer, one whose views on most issues are fluid, and mainly geared to startling attention getting.

What is yet to come is more trash, manufactured or real, on both candidates, but especially by the Bannon led Trump campaign.  Negative campaigning about Clinton and Trump will continue over the next four weeks until voters are overwhelmed.  With Trump, his core voters will stay with him no matter what.  Are they possibly 30% of the American electorate, could it be as high as 40%.  That seems hard to believe, but where we are today would have been unthinkable a year ago.  As a "New Yorker" article this week described some Trump voters, they just want to put a middle finger up to the so-called "elites" in this country.  No information needed.  How they could possibly have made a billionaire sociopath the recipient of their support is "supernatural", to use a word from a book read and referenced here recently.

Not fully understanding that, one could wonder about the existence of closet Trump voters. Remember the closing races of the Republican primary.  There were some where the Trump percentage of the vote was far greater than any poll projected.  At times he crushed the other candidates.  Where did that come from?  Even realizing that those were solely conservatives voting, how could the momentum have become so strong.

There can be a thought that there is some strange brew of nostalgia, resentment, nihilism, and serendipity that leads to Trump voters who have never been public, will never be known.  There could be a certain personal power in that, a chance to do something different, to take a chance behind the curtain.  There is no such phenomenon likely on the Clinton side. She is the establishment, and the well known.

And on and on it goes.

"Nutshell", a short novel by Ian McEwan

"Nutshell" is an unusual book.  It has a murder, a birth, an unborn narrator listening from the womb, and a dysfunctional relationship propelled by desire, greed, and the need for oblivion.  It is set in today's world, and the digressions that interrupt the narrative are often as interesting as the story at hand, or umbilical cord one could say.  The listening and feeling fetus is quite insightful.

The male lover in the doomed pairing is "not even a colorful character, no hint of the smiling rogue. Instead, dull to the point of brilliance, vapid beyond invention... whose repeated remarks are a witless, thrustless dribble, whose impoverished sentences die like motherless chicks..."

The listening one's lament, "Perdition.  A poet's word.  Lost and damned.  I am a fool to let my hopes rise a point or two, like a futures market after a rout and before the next."  That can be identified with.

From climate change to global politics, the narrator chimes in.  "Fresh-bearded young men with beautiful skin and long guns on Boulevard Voltaire gazing into the beautiful, disbelieving eyes of their own generation."

As the silent observer details the world's urgent problems, he wonders, "If, as the new cliché goes, this is biblical, the seas are not parting for them, not the Aegean, not the English Channel.  Old Europa tosses in her dreams, she pitches between pity and fear, between helping and repelling... she wants to help but she doesn't want to share or lose what she has."

The outlook for the one finally released into the world, chaos but eagerly awaited freedom.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Investing ideas not forthcoming... looking back at Pepsico

Financial markets remain uncertain.  Here, there is much more pruning going on than investing.

When investing, it is often adding to existing equity positions when there is a hiccup for a stock that still looks like an opportunity.  These additions are generally small, just adding for a fee of $7.95 a trade. There are many positions here that have been built simply by having a long term hold approach plus making small incremental additions at what is hoped are opportune times.

Pepsico is one of those stocks.  It was first bought in the early 1990's, date not available even at the broker. At the time, it was purchased because I thought that I had some insight into the firm, as I had been its international business banker in the early 1980's.  That knowledge was clearly dated and I had no ties to the firm when the stock was purchased, but I had experienced its culture - aggressive, competitive, and sharp edged.  They treated their bankers poorly but politely, not bad for themselves of course.  They realized that senior management at banks wanted new business at almost any cost, and they rightly took advantage of that.  When making a large loan to them to build a bottling plant in Argentina with German equipment, my job was simply to source the opportunity, do the paperwork, run it up the hierarchy, and keep the client pleased.  The further it went up, the more pleased my managers were.  Putting this in place led to constant contact with Pepsi, many lunches and dinners as was the style in those days.

That Argentine exposure was not a positive for the bank's stock by the late 1980's.

While that may not have been the right reason to buy the stock at the time I did, it has been a profitable investment. Today that position has a 2.7% yield.  The stock price is multiples of the purchase price and it yielded the stock YUM, meaning the spin-off of KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell, which has led to additional capital gains and has a 2% dividend.

Would I buy it today at a forward P/E of around 20 and with a long term debt to equity ratio of 250%. No.  It's already owned here in size.  Someone looking at it as a new investment could view today's price as the cost of entry to a great stock.  Margins in the soda business are substantial, not unlike the tobacco business.  With Gatorade, Tropicana, Quaker Oats, and other product lines that add up, this is a vast global consumer products company with what is generally viewed as good management.  I have no reason to doubt that, but have no idea now.  In fact, I have never liked the beverage, Pepsi, or its even sweeter and more caffeinated cousin, Mountain Dew.  Nevertheless, many people do.

The best guess here is that it could be a reasonable "toe in the water investment" for stock buyers, but with its size any investor in broad index funds is getting a piece of it in the mix.

Not adding here, but thought about it.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

"Class Divide", an HBO documentary

Last night, this new documentary was watched here.  It is set in west Chelsea in Manhattan and looks at an expensive new private school, Avenues, established in 2012 that was built just across 9th Avenue from low end housing projects.  Interviews with students who attend the school and young people from the projects in the area show the completely divided perceptions that they have of each other.  There was not really new information here, but it was certainly a film that gave an in depth look at the phenomenon of gentrification, or richification, in places like Manhattan.

The telling point was "class" and "wealth" for the most part, rather than any overt racism on either side.  A sense of learned fear drew lines for the privileged students, no matter how open minded at heart, and a sense of inevitability and invisibility contained the project youth whose insights were straightforward and wistful.

"Class Divide" was a compelling film without any outright, or finger pointing, moralizing.  It is worth watching.

Rant summary comment

Now reading Ian McEwan's "Nutshell", a rant by a lecturer, repeated by a secret observer, about the multiple challenges of our age, closes with this comment, "We've built a world too complicated and dangerous for our quarrelsome natures to manage.  In such hopelessness, the general vote will be for the supernatural.  It's dusk in the second Age of Reason."

As is not uncommon in his work,  McEwan uses this new book as a canvas to comment on anything and everything.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

"Avid Reader", memoir by Robert Gottlieb

This recently published book written by the editor Robert Gottlieb was a treat to read.  It's his publishing work life story as well as the story of his life with family and friends.  As an editor at Simon and Schuster, Alfred A. Knopf, and The New Yorker, and then back to Knopf, he spent over 55 years somewhere near the epicenter of good writing.  In this book, he meets and works with numerous well known authors, and rubs elbows with many others related to the overall literary community.

Working directly with writers such as Joseph Heller, Toni Morrison, Robert Caro, John Cheever, Barbara Tuchman, Michael Crichton, and so many others, even Bill Clinton and Bob Dylan, he has many stories to tell.  In fact, so many that he rarely spends a significant number of pages, or even a full page, discussing any one person.

There are seriously interesting tidbits throughout if many of the books that he edited have been read. It was interesting to read that he viewed "Something Happened" as a superior book to "Catch 22". That view has long been held here but it may not be widespread.  He also more or less shares the opinion that John le Carre's writing diminished in quality after his great success in his early years.

Some of the most interesting stories are from his days as editor of The New Yorker, where he replaced the legendary William Shawn.  His relationships with other staff members work out well in a reasonably short time frame, and he builds strong relationships, professional and, at times, almost familial with writers such as Pauline Kael, Janet Malcolm, and Nora Ephron among others.

His own family life and history is detailed throughout in a somewhat disorderly manner, but the composite when the book is done is clear.  He's had a busy life, and at 80 now he stays busy, always reading and at times still editing.  Building up his life from modest means, he now has a house in Miami Beach, an apartment in the best part of the 6th in Paris,on Rue Jacob between Boulevard St. Germain and the Seine, a country house in Connecticut that his wife loves(he is not a nature man), as well as his digs in Manhattan.  He takes advantage of all places not in the country side.

The one thing that was odd about this book, from this perspective, is that it has very few chapters or breaks.  In a book of a little more than 320 pages, there are chapters as long as 95 pages, 65 pages, and 40 pages.  These chapters have no breaks at all, even of a couple of spaces,  as the stories within them are always changing, on the move.  Gottlieb is an editor so obviously this is on purpose but it is different from the style of many books these days.  Maybe he thinks that most readers are like him, a man who is dedicated to reading books at one sitting if possible.

He is an avid reader.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Endorsements of Gary Johnson?

Newspapers or media outlets that endorse Gary Johnson are bailing out in a way that does not work at all.  Gary Johnson, at times, can hardly remember his own name.  That's a bad exaggeration from here, but not inappropriate.  This man is widely unread, the Sarah Palin of this election season.  Why would some major newspapers endorse him.  Because he is a him and wears jeans?

Obviously, it is because the two major candidates are unappealing to them.  How could Johnson possibly appeal to them?  Is it simply his Libertarian party connection.  One could guess not, as some of the newspaper endorsements come from constituencies that are not so strong on the values of that group.  The answer is that it is simply a protest vote that defaulted into Johnson.  If Weld were the presidential candidate, there might be a reason.  With Johnson, it is simple cynicism, or baby stomping feet.

If no candidate satisfies, these newspapers should simply state their opinions on the facts and say that they leave it up to the voters.  Is that unreasonable?

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Comments on "Still Alice" and "This Boy's Life", films

A few nights ago, "Still Alice" was watched here on HBO.  It had been seen almost two years ago when it opened and at the time was seen as special.  A new viewing last night saw not only some new provocative aspects of Alzheimer's that had not been noticed in the film before, but also some new thoughts about how shallow the film is in some ways.

What was newly noticed, on the insightful side, was the comment on the effect of medications, none stopping the progress of the disease but possibly effective in the amelioration of the symptoms short term.  That was known but not fully appreciated at the time.  Also, and completely overlooked before, was the impact on speech which is apparently ubiquitous with this disability.  To still be able to understand others, but to not be able to get the words out, reminded me of ALS.  A doctor here says that there is no relationship, although for the patient it is surely the same dilemma.  That we know. While the perceived wisdom of the medical community is that dementia diseases do not cause death, the film does depict the radical increase of fatigue and withdrawal from life that occurs, certainly a form of death to a family if not to physicians.

What is now seen as somewhat superficial in the film was the family impact and dynamic.  Everyone stays basically the same.  The husband of Alice continues his life work unabated, with only a few nuisance events.  The children stay on the tracks of their lives, excluding one scare that is unexplored. What is missing is the actual physical pain of the sufferer and the complete exhaustion and frustration of the caretakers.  Other than a feeling of loss, where is the sense of regret and resentment of the afflicted person.  Where is the pain of trying so hard, so hard, to act normal to provide a facade for friends and family that ultimately does not work.  Where is the anger at this outcome by family and caretakers that must be restrained.  Where is their complete exhaustion?

It's a good film, a timely film, but there must be better ones out there in the past, or someday soon.

"This Boy's Life" debuted in 1993.  That was in year two of a period of at least 12 years when only a few choice films were seen here, or even noticed.  It was the period of all corporate work leading to periods of a few weeks of all out vacation intensity.  No rest in either mode.

So this film on a Starz network was completely new late last night.  It is the autobiographical story of the childhood of Tobias Wolff, a once popular writer whose work was a little less than brilliant.  This life story led to his fame, and it is certainly a testament to his will to succeed in life.  The players in the film are exceptional.  Leonardo DiCaprio at a young age plays Tobias.  There was no knowledge of him as an actor in 1993 but there he is.  Ellen Barkin is his mother in an attractive role as a down on her luck beauty who enters into a marriage of compromise, then complete deference.  Robert DeNiro as the step father plays the most despicable role in his career it seems.  His depiction of Tobias's father is truly that of an awful self centered person.  One cringes at his every scene in the latter parts of the film.

The only reason to keep watching this multi-faceted melodrama was the fact that it was based on a true life.  It was watched and was not exactly a film that led to a restful snooze.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

"Jackson,1964", reporting by Calvin Trillin

This book, subtitled "And Other Dispatches from Fifty Years of Reporting on Race in America", is a sample of Trillin's journalism that in a composite view shows how the subject of racism has evolved, and not evolved, during a reporter's lifetime.  It is especially interesting due to Trillin's clear, sparse, and insightful reporting style, and from the perspective of events over the last year that have laid bare the country's remaining challenges.

Each chapter in this book could be interesting to many, but making choices leads to highlighting a few.  "Jackson, 1964" covers the "Mississippi Summer Project", a voter registration drive up against tremendous odds, one that only scratched the surface of success but laid the groundwork for significant gains in years ahead, in that state and others.  "The Zulus" looks at one aspect of the Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans, one that focuses on a "tribe" of black faux Indians, parading in blackface to exaggerate their point, and the attention and frustration it caused many as the civil rights movement became widespread.  The Zulu parade, having been started in 1916, was a part of the chaos of Mardi Gras that was expected, and the unique nature of New Orleans is on view in this article.

"Cause and Circumstances" looks at the killing of a black man by a white policeman in Seattle in 1975.  That such an incident causes instant conclusions by different groups has not changed to this day, as we see.  "Remembrance of Moderates Past", written in 1977, begins with this comment by a black lawyer in New Orleans in 1960 as the public school system was being desegregated --- "I keep hearing about white people who say they're working behind the scenes" --- during a time when the business and professional leadership of the city stood silent while the city seemed to be taken over by a bunch of women in hair curlers screaming obscenities at six-year-olds.  "Yes sir", he said, "It must be getting really crowded back there, behind the scenes".  This thought can ring true to many in many places during the height of the civil rights years.

This carefully written book is enjoyable, if that can be said when discussing this subject that is fraught with contradictions and questionable behavior.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Can an equity investor hold their nose and buy Wells Fargo now

Wells Fargo closed today flat at $45.74 after closing yesterday at $45.72.  On September 1st the stock was at $51 and had been as high as $55 in the last year.  It now has a dividend yield of 3.3% and a trailing twelve months p/e of 11.3x, well below the S&P median.  The penalty that it just received from the regulators was limited by what they were allowed to charge, and it is peanuts compared to WFC's earnings.  There is no comparison to the many giant charges related to mortgage securities that have impacted the large financial services companies in general.

With all of the attention on their fiasco and fraud related to opening phony accounts without customer knowledge, it can safely be assumed that their incentive systems will be overhauled as soon as possible.  It is also clear that they have no choice in the near term other than to make management changes.  They do have a succession plan in place and the likely person rising has had no role in the retail banking imbroglio.  It can also be assumed that a major customer outreach program is underway.

With the fines for their fraud not substantial, it now can be recognized that a huge amount of Well Fargo's business is annuity-like.  Their gargantuan mortgage business will keep seeing a flow of servicing fees and interest.  It is unlikely that a significant amount of customers will go out and refinance their mortgages with another firm.  There are costs to doing that, and the risk that Wells will scam them is reduced with government scrutiny.  The same can be said for the average banking customer.  Making changes to banking arrangements is something that most retail customers would like to avoid as it is a time consuming process that can always lead to errors in transfers to a new financial institution and requires establishing new relationships.  WFC's risk profile in the corporate and institutional market has always been low relative to investment banks, of course, and to JPM, in particular, and BAC as well.

The bad news will keep coming as Congressional hearings and Labor department investigations go on.  This is prime time for attention seeking politicians to get their mugs on the screen, indignant and probing , as if they had been seriously examining the industry in the past, or in the previous month. The bad news is presumably reflected in the new lower stock price.  It could decline somewhat more, but one could guess that the worst has mostly happened from a stock price point of view.

It's an investment to think about.  It is not an endorsement of the firm's behavior, but a chance to buy a substantial firm that has many positive attributes and leading market positions at what could be a reasonable price, with a good yield, and meaningful upside if the Fed ever has the guts to raise rates.

Postscript:   Wells Fargo has been well known as a bank with a history of good management.  There had,in my heyday, never been a hint of arrogance from this firm, from its senior to middle management seen from day to day into the 80's and beyond.  Culture sustains itself, and this aberration will be overcome.  As more comes out, any challenge will become more clear.

Clinton estate tax proposal

Sometimes it's not that hard to wonder if Hillary Clinton is trying to lose this election.  She announced her proposed estate tax policy as detailed in the WSJ article today, "Clinton Seeks Big Jump in Estate Taxes".  Her plan would dramatically impact a relatively small number of extremely wealthy families, but it would also hit families with small businesses and any family inheriting stocks and other assets with capital gains.  Also, the complexity of her suggested capital gains reporting, for all taxpayers inheriting such assets no matter how small, will be a boon to tax accountants and an affront to individual taxpayers who think that they should be able to do their taxes without paying for help.

From an election point of view, why would she go into such detail on a proposal that would need to be negotiated with Congress, the outcome of which is completely unclear.  The estate tax issue is up in the stratosphere for most voters and is not a key to how they would cast their ballot.  To those voters who see her proposal as a significant confiscation of wealth, it will antagonize them and no doubt increase their election activity and contributions in the coming weeks, despite the cloud of Trump.

Relative to the actual budget deficit and tax receipts, her overall tax plan is more cosmetic than it is a major additive to funding her proposals.  It helps, but it is done for the purpose of fairness and wealth redistribution.  That's fine.  There is one proposal, however, that cuts right into the upper middle class, those not rich but doing well.  That's eliminating the step-up in capital gains taxes upon the death of someone leaving an estate.  As it has been, when a person dies their assets are repriced as of the date of their death.  If they have gains, they are eliminated as being taxable.  If they have losses, they can no longer be used to offset tax.  For those who save, those who buy and hold stocks and other assets with the goal of building wealth over time, this would be a significant change for many families and small businesses.  It's a potentially huge hit on the upper middle class, those whose children would benefit from their thrift and work.

While the overall number of families and businesses significantly affected by these proposals still may seem limited, Americans are almost naturally aspirational.  For example, a small business run by a thirty year old may be very small now, but if successful could grow into something that Clinton's proposals could impact years ahead.  Her net may be catching a population segment much broader than she realizes.

There was no good reason to promote this now.  Clinton seems to go out of her way to show how smart she is, how fair she is, and what a swell candidate she is.  With Trump as the alternative, she should win the election.  What she does after that and can get through Congress is after the election of course.  Why provoke voters that absolutely should be in her camp, not in Trump's or with Gary Johnson or Jill Stein.  Her potential victory is not a done deal.

Postscript:  Today's early statement that she would go to Charlotte tomorrow was really not smart. Trump soon followed saying he would go there as well.  Thankfully the Charlotte mayor said to both "stay away"'.  They have their hands full.  What was Hillary thinking in saying that she would go there, as if she is some sort of savior.  She must win, but she is not helping us.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Opportunists for Trump

There is a category of Trump supporter that goes beyond the routine.  They stand out in a way that is completely transparent.  They clearly don't mind the attention that they receive or the incredulity with which their statements are met.  They see a chance for something much bigger.

This comment is not focused on the campaign manager from nowhere, Corey Lewandowski, who has now been replaced.  With no experience, he did well by doing nothing.  It could be focused on Paul Manafort, but his aspiration may have been to do what he was doing, and he had achieved it just as he did in Ukraine.  He, too, is gone.  It is also not focused on Boris Epshteyn or Kellyanne Conway, two Trump publicists in the spotlight now who make little sense at all as blindly steadfast Trump supporters and apologists. They are making good money and getting tremendous exposure, but that is their accomplishment.

The "Opportunists for Trump" group has much bigger things in mind.  They are beginning to come out of the woodwork.  The prime one seen here is Steven Mnuchin, Trump's chief fundraiser.  With Yale, Skull and Bones, Goldman Sachs, and success as a Hollywood producer in his background, he startled most who knew him or even knew of him by signing on with Trump.  There is only one answer to this puzzle.  He sees an opportunity to be Secretary of the Treasury and he does not see Trump's quest for the Presidency as a lost cause.

A second example of this showed up today as Andrew Stein wrote an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal today endorsing Trump.  Remember Andrew Stein?  He from a wealthy and connected family in New York that played a leading role in state and city Democratic politics.  He was a constant attention seeker.  He went from job to job, serving in various New York elective offices from 1969 to 1994.  He once was Manhattan borough President, but he never made it to the top rungs of the ladder that were his obvious aspiration.

With his career in politics seemingly over, and his Democratic network diminished, he now sees an opportunity.  Supporting Trump could lead to something, could lead to attention from the media again, and might put him in the second tier of the cabinet, assistant secretary of whatever, of anything, please.

Then we have Rudy Giuliani.  How he would like to be back in the news.  His supportive comments about Trump have been beyond the fringe.  He is embarrassing himself with his obsequiousness.  He is an obvious shill, and an outright liar.  Too bad for someone who years ago had some credibility despite his pompous self image, seen here on the 8th floor of the building worked in.  We must not forget the ultimate champion of this style, Chris Christie.  Christie, who had some mettle just a few years ago, does not seem to realize that he will get nothing for his fawning, while unfortunately Giuliani possibly could in the event of the unexpected.

Waiting for the next blatant opportunist could be a parlor game.  Who could make the best guess for the next one in line.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

"The Pigeon Tunnel", life stories from John Le Carré

As a reader, from time to time of espionage fiction based on real historical settings, I had at one time read a few novels by Le Carré.  From this perspective they were interesting but a bit too involved in the inner workings of the spy services, meaning a bit tedious.  That statement must seem like heresy to some Anglophiles who view Le Carré's work with adoration, but so be it.

Most new books of this genre of fiction inevitably have reviews that state something like, "belongs in the realm of John LeCarré and Alan Furst."  The assessment of the former has just been stated and Furst is a second class spy writer, well grounded in history and the locales of Paris, and with a claim to fame of being in the literary community of Manhattan's upper west side.  If two favorites were chosen here they would be, first, Charles McCarry and second John Lawton.  Their work is, more broadly, historical fiction at its best.

Regardless of this opinion, "The Pigeon Tunnel" is an interesting collection of memories from LeCarré.  Some of the stories are fascinating as he gives accounts of his travels around the world. Some that focus on the rationale or background for particular books of his are less so, as I have not read the books in question.  His two chapters on visits to Russia in 1987 and 1993 were particularly interesting.  Overall, these stories are a mixed bag, but finding the ones that sparkle are worth the slog through some that are factually of note but not as entertaining.  The longest chapter, "Son of the Author's Father", is one of the gems.

David Cornwell, the real name of the LeCarré writer, had a fine career and it continues.  To those who love his work this book is no doubt cherished.  Here it was enjoyed.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Slipping into darkness

This time of year can be somewhat less than upbeat.  The length of the day becomes shorter in a way that is not always fully anticipated.  The weather is beginning to get a little cooler and more cloudy on some days.  The wind picks up and is beginning to shake a few leaves off of the trees.

In fact, the weather is still pleasant but, directionally speaking, a sense of foreboding can come to those who like summer, lots of light, and warm weather.  We know what's coming.  Soon there will be less people out in the evening.  Those early fall storms could be on the horizon.  Summer in fact and on the calendar is almost over.

An attitude adjustment needs to be made to shake off any anticipatory fatigue.  It's been done before many times and must be done again.


Saturday, September 17, 2016

Apple's revived stock price, Deutsche's pending disaster

After media skeptics continually raised doubts about the iphone 7 and had begun comparing Apple's stock to that of a sluggish Microsoft in the mid-2000's, the stock was up 11% in the past week more than 25% above the recent June 27th low of $91.50.  The new iphone is now almost sold out and a new Apple watch seems to be attracting more interest than the first edition.  At the new price as of Friday's close, Apple is still trading at a trailing twelve months p/e of 13.5, below the S&P 500 average, and it has a dividend yield of 2% that will certainly grow over time.  When the numbers work and the embedded core Apple users act, listening to most securities analysts and pundits is not worthwhile.

Meanwhile, back at the bank ranch, Deutsche Bank is the latest victim of U.S. regulators wrath about mortgage securities business seven years ago.  Will this ever end?  The fine proposed by these regulators is a preposterous $14 billion.  The only fine larger was the $16 billion paid by Bank of America, including its untimely acquisition of the massively flawed Countrywide, indigenous operations that were significantly larger than Deutsche.  Securities analysts had been projecting that the fine would be $4 billion to $5 billion, because that was what the company was telling them and what the company expected, or hoped for.

Is this payback for the EU's $14 billion tax bill for Apple, which the Irish government itself is not seeking? There is often no way to figure out the rationale for such charges, and many large U.S. banks like Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan have often paid up whatever very large fines as soon as possible to get bad publicity behind them, even if executives viewed them as extortion.  Most of these fines do not go to holders of such tainted securities, but simply to government coffers as punitive assessments. Deutsche insists that this is still a negotiation, but the stock market wonders and the more that 8% decline in the stock yesterday suggests that any fine, even if reduced, will be much larger than had been expected.  To many, it looks as if Deutsche will need to raise capital to meet its capital standards and this will temporarily put a further damper on its stock.  To repeat, will this ever end?  The fines do relate to some level of misconduct, but why could this not have been concluded earlier?

Friday, September 16, 2016

II Delivering Alpha Conference big shots go market negative

Some of the most active, successful, and influential investors at this week's conference were prone making exceptionally negative comments.  It was surprising and, as it is impossible to know if they somehow were talking their own books, a bit confusing.

Carl Icahn is definitely an aggressive equity investor at all times.  He intimidates companies that he invests in, and with his reputation can often incent management behavior in a way that he almost dictates.  While it is clear that he is still investing, he called these times "exceptionally dangerous".  His words were that whether it's one week or months away, there will be a noticeable correction.  Paul Singer sees a "huge bubble" in the bond market.  He thinks a significant repricing is inevitable and suggests that it could be calamitous for some.  He sees gold as a good investment.  Ray Dalio was highly cautious as well, seeing issues in the bond market, equity market, and commodity markets.  Dalio's view is understandable as when one part of the securities markets to some extent collapses, liquidity is affected broadly and impacts all markets.

The equity market is still performing reasonably well, but with much more volatility than in August. Things are heating up even as summer ends.  It's easy to suggest that the bond market is vulnerable. Staying the course is the main option, being wary of anything but short to medium term bonds and strongly capitalized stocks.  The coming months will be a time to look at any over allocations.

A few campaign comments

The opinion here is that Hillary Clinton should not have rushed back to campaigning so soon.  She would have collapsed on Sunday had Secret Service agents not been around her.  For gosh sake, she was diagnosed with pneumonia.  That is not trivial.  It is assumed that much more rest is generally required for people so afflicted, even often a few days in the hospital.  She must think that getting back on the campaign trail as quickly as possible was a necessity.  Once again that is an exaggeration of how influential her campaigning style has been.  Now she has set herself up for a big problem.  If there is one more health scare, one more instance of dehydration, or a big stumble caught on camera, her campaign will be damaged.  Significant plane travel is taxing on the body. Trump and his media minions will make sure that any problematic physical event will now receive plenty of attention.

The good news is that the few days off seemed to give her a chance to reset her campaign.  She now says that she will focus on her major planned initiatives and not as much as on Trump's obvious falsehoods. They are so transparently not true and the majority of voters should see that.  Committed Trump supporters will not be budged by any logic or any facts.

There is an editorial in the September 10th "Economist" magazine with the title "The Art of the Lie".
It is worth reading, and it points out two important thoughts related to this.  Quoting, "Feelings, not facts, are what matter in this sort of campaigning.  Their opponents' disbelief validates the us-versus-them mindset that outsider candidates thrive on.  And if your opponents focus on trying to show your facts are wrong, they have to fight on the ground you have chosen."

Quoting again, "Well-intentioned journalistic practices bear blame too.  The pursuit of "fairness" in reporting often creates a phoney balance at the expense of the truth."  This is why Trump seems to get a pass on many of his outrageous statements while Clinton has to fight tooth and nail about her e-mails, not about her more important policy initiatives. By the way, Matt Lauer was a joke.

"The Economist" refers to a "post-truth" era of politics.  How to hold a candidate with the bombast of Trump to some degree of accountability is difficult.

As a related aside, it would be nice to think that Clinton's "deplorables" comment at Streisand's LGBT event was due to growing fatigue and not just playing to an audience for applause.  That comment was almost as bad as Mitt Romney's 47% comment in 2012.  At least Romney did not know that he was being recorded.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

15 years ago

This 9/11 seems to have a little more resonance.  The loss of friends is no less meaningful, but for some reason that long ago walk up the hill to our house after a day of hiding was full of memories. The vulnerable structures remain, and building a tower on that site was a defiance by private enterprise that shows the best of this country.  If we could live with that intensity as we face the bigger problems in our society of tech and finance dominating our work lives and compensation, we could just maybe create solutions.  Whether there are any potential leaders can bring that to the table is not clear

In memory of many, but more specifically to my close friend David Berry, KBW head of research.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Wells Fargo's account opening debacle

The fiasco around Wells Fargo's disclosure that it has been fined for setting up bank accounts and credit card accounts without the knowledge of customers will not be a significant financial event for the firm.  Wells can easily digest the fines, as they pall in comparison to all of the fines over recent years related to mortgage securities and mortgage originations in the industry.  In addition, the cost to the bank of reimbursing customers for actual overcharges or late payments is modest.  That said, the reputation risk for Wells is huge.

Investors closely follow account growth, and the success of the overly vaunted concept of "cross selling".  In forecasting future earnings growth, they consider the potential benefit from new accounts.  Their forecasts are now tainted.  Customers, too, will certainly be aghast now that they know that this has been surreptitious practice of some Wells' bankers.  Most importantly, however, is the complete waste of time and the aggravation that this fraud has caused existing customers that have been affected.  Can a reader fully appreciate how much time it takes and aggravation it causes to deal with a problem that one has with a bank account.  People in general are understandably highly sensitive about irregularities in their financial life, and losing sleep over it is normal.

Wells says that it has fired 5,300 employees that have been involved in the scam.  Bizarrely that has been over a five year period.  They have long known that they had a problem.  The incentive system at the bank, closely linked to "cross selling", has somehow incented this behavior and yet has apparently not been modified during this time frame.  Selling commodity products is possible only with strong relationships.  Broad online banking opportunities from multiple sources have dented those relationships.  That's the dilemma for retail bankers, especially those who are just beginning at a firm and need to build a portfolio of clients.

There are questions that arise from this.  First and foremost is whether this is an industry problem and not solely related to Wells?  Second is whether, with all of the mergers that have created our major banks, is this behavior primarily related to one or two regional areas tied to acquisitions by Wells or is it widespread?  Third, what changes will Wells make to avoid a repetition of this, as firing of those involved over the years does not seem to have been effective?

The banking industry certainly did not need another reason for the politicians to pounce on it, but this will surely be campaign fodder.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

The global rise of Trumpism

Whether it is just a sign of the times everywhere, or a reflection of what is going on in this country, an anti-immigrant, nationalistic, style of right wing politics with unusually harsh rhetoric has become widespread.  Donald Trump's uninhibited crowd crazing politics of the negative is not just happening in this country.

In England, Nigel Farage led a party that favored Brexit and won, surprising an establishment that found it difficult to take him seriously. With success, Farage bowed out of politics, at least for the moment, when the task of aiding the transition would have required work, rather than excess, vitriol, and bombast.  In France, Nicolas Sarkozy has risen from the ashes to become a faux centrist right wing agitator full of absurd comments to try to take the mantle of the right from the even more extreme Marine Le Pen.  In Austria, election disputes will be decided in October and it is possible that the anti-immigrant almost Hitleresque Freedom Party could win.  In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel's party was defeated in her home district as a far right party won 21% of the vote and allowed the Socialists to win.  In Italy, polls suggest that 65% of the voting population has moved to the right due to immigration fears.

The unprecedented language and hostility of the Philippines new President Rodrigo Duterte as he spoke about President Obama is further evidence of a deterioration in any sort of decorum in some areas of world politics.  They are a long term ally that depends mightily upon U.S. aid and defense still now, long after they became independent after WWII.

The willingness of Trump to lavish praise on the dictatorship/kleptocracy of Russia and Putin while saying that if he doesn't become President it will only be because the election is rigged is perhaps more blasphemous than all of the above.  And yet here we are.  The media is playing the "try to be fair" game and bending over backwards to accept Trump as a normal candidate.  Clinton has her problems, but she also has her principles.  They are being tested as Trump is given a pass.

Where is the good news here?

Sunday, September 04, 2016

"Hillbilly Elegy"

This first book by J.D. Vance was read here a few weeks ago, immediately after it was published. Usually that means something will be posted soon after.  This book was different.  There were many aspects to it that did not fit into an easy description, at least that was the case here.  By now it has been widely reviewed and has attracted significant attention.

In what ways was this book attractive and identified with here?  First, while never seeing myself as growing up in a hillbilly culture, growing up at 500 feet above sea level on the fall line in Virginia and far from the mountains where "hillbillies" lived, based on what was read here I certainly must been growing up in a "hillbilly" town.  At one point it is mentioned that in Middletown, Ohio, where much of the book takes place, more than 20% of those entering high school as a freshman would never graduate. That number was over 40% in our hometown when I was growing up.  It was a highly divided mill town.

Second is Middletown itself, which is in a part of Ohio that I covered as a corporate banker in the mid-80's, where a major client was Armco Steel.  The deprivation described about Middletown now is not something that was obvious then.  Armco, where some of the Appalachian transplants described in the book worked, seemed to be the ultimate patriarchal company.  They maintained an expansive recreation area with two immaculately maintained first class golf courses for all employees and much more. During my coverage time, Armco was working, we bankers were working, to help it avoid bankruptcy.  Almost three months of meetings with all banks and lawyers in downtown New York*, plus multiple trips to Middletown, made what was read here in this book of great interest.

Third, the book led to reflections about my great grandfather in Lebanon, Virginia, someone I never knew, who was the son of an Irish immigrant and by the early 1900's was a lawyer for some of the largest coal companies in Virginia and Kentucky.  My grandmother told me about him taking her to stay at the Waldorf Astoria when she was 12, as he needed to be there on a business trip.

Fourth, the many drives through Appalachia that were made during the time that I lived in Louisville and going to the hometown in Virginia, were always opportunities to see Appalachia, stop to get gas or a barely edible sandwich, and talk with whomever.  Few people took the opportunity.

Fifth is the fact that this book is all about a mostly dysfunctional culture, and a very resilient one, rather than governance or politics, although that is not avoided.

This has obviously not been a review of this book in any form.  It is random reactions to an interesting book.  It caused some personal reflection on my part,  related to some things that I know and like to ignore.  With what little a reader can gain from what has been written here, it is suggested that this book be read now, not because it tells any type of full story but because it does a great job of telling a piece of one, that is if one reads it as a reflection on what is happening in this unusual election season.  I did.  J.D. Vance tells his family story in what seems to an honest and straightforward way, and it has much broader implications.  At 31, he is already an accomplished and experienced individual, war veteran, writer, and practicing attorney.  What's next?

*I remember many things about those intense all day and late night meetings as seven banks and Armco struggled to agree on anything that would lead to a solution.  One winter night a major blizzard arrived, and I was wondering how could make it back to my midtown studio.  Would there be any cabs, would I need to walk, or would the subways be working if the effort was made to walk to one and from one.  With that on my mind, three J.P. Morgan bankers, with a short walk to their bank and car services ahead, were talking about whether their lanes in Connecticut would be blocked. They were my age or younger.

U.S. Open tennis on television

Yesterday, we watched a few hours of the U.S. Open on television.  It was entertaining for the most part, completely engaging at times.

For many years I had disdained television in favor of seeing the event in person, or not at all.  Sure, on occasion for special semi-final or final matches we had tuned in, but for middle of the tournament matches almost never.  Since we live 20 minutes on the Long Island Railroad from the Tennis Center, we, meaning K, me, or at least one of the daughters, would go to some of the early rounds every year. When I lived in Manhattan, the 7 train was an easy ride there from mid-town.  At other times I was able to entertain clients there at corporate expense in some of the best seats in the stadium, and with available hospitality tents.

The entire scene each year was worthwhile.  The crowd, with so many from around the world in a good mood, the food venues, and even the shops were a diversion whenever one was needed   Even though I played tennis for many years, actively and somewhat competitively until my mid-fifties, just sitting and watching for hours, in person and certainly on television, was not my deal.

It was a pleasure to watch yesterday.  What was remembered as commercials at every changeover or any break in the action seems to no longer be the case.  ESPN stayed with the action most of the time, moving from one match to another.  When there was an infrequent commercial break, relative to the past, it was a bit longer but allowed time for any break needed, or a resupply of chips.

We will watch more as the tournament progresses.  It would still be better to be there, but that will not happen this year.