Friday, December 28, 2018

Rainy day thoughts...

--- "No collusion".  That is Trump's constant refrain about the Mueller investigation.  The media seems to follow his lead.  The primary purpose of the Mueller investigation was to determine if there had been any activity by any foreign government, principally Russia, to influence the 2016 presidential election in a corrupt or illegal manner.  His mandate is to follow the evidence where it leads.  Trump has not been charged with anything.  Yet the fact that his sole focus is on "collusion" could be telling.  In following his standard playbook, could he be confirming that he knew of campaign violations and actively participated in them, beyond the payoffs to silence his women acquaintances.  The media's focus on the lurid is not helpful.

---"Buybacks Come Back to Bite Firms" is the title of a WSJ article today.  It notes that with the market downturn, firms engaged in buying back stock are underwater on their purchase.  That's obvious and hardly newsworthy enough to be the headline on the Business and Finance section.  Buybacks can only be viewed from a longer term perspective. That major banks do this is routine in good times. Their business is to some regulatory extent fenced in, and appetite for any acquisitions has largely been sated.  That tech firms are increasingly joining is a fact worth thinking about.  If the era of reinvestment in new iterations of technology is waning, what has happened to the R&D.  What's next?  This is a reminder that buybacks are not a bump for the overall economy unless they lead to stock market increases that spur consumer spending and capital spending.  Old story dwelled on here many times before, perhaps worth a thought once again.

---The equity market leveled out today, relaxed before the weekend.  Time to think!

---Almost dark here at 4:25pm, a combination of the day's weather and the season.  Looking on the bright side, days will now gradually become longer.  More light is better.  For some that is a very good thing.  Friends who live in Florida, Texas, and Arizona are more enlightened at the moment, so to speak.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

"Educated", on the NYT best seller list for 44 weeks...

Curious about this book, it was finally picked up.  Now I am still curious.  This memoir has become one of those best sellers that won't let go.  Is that because it is a straightforward and easily accessible narrative that delves into a seldom seen world?  This story is about a survivalist family in rural Idaho, estranged from society by choice, attempting self sufficiency with home schooling and herbal medicines.  Rough behavior is the norm and women often come out on the short end of that.  The family is Mormon, but seemingly taking basic premises to mind boggling extremes.

Various reviews have been looked at post reading, and some seem apologetically to like the book while others fawn over it.  One commentary by Bill Gates was well written and interesting, and it put a human touch on the author, Tara Westover.  That was needed here, but still there are lingering thoughts.  The book often seems scripted, too much of a roller coaster ride, haunting beatings to school in Paris, desperate poverty to an education at Cambridge, binge watching the Walking Dead to hours spent reading Hume, Rousseau, and Mill.

This must all be accurate on the surface, but somehow I wonder.  Is the fact that J.D. Vance is the lead blurb praise on the cover saying something.  Did everything in "Educated" happen to somebody in a tableau of a life but is the memoir completely true.  It ends with what feels here like a "new age" take on psychology that makes perception of the self true by definition.

That's the question here, unclear.  And with that, the book was interesting, cringe worthy, and thought provoking.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

News flash...

---The two NFL games broadcast here at 1pm today were Jets/Packers and Giants/Colts.  Were there other games being played?  Both New York teams managed to lose again, although some say they had nothing to lose.  How about the coaches for a start, then GM's.

---Christmas cards were sent yet again, although the number continues to slip.  Yesterday two of those few sending cards here did duplicates, meaning two identical cards from the same person, yet in both cases slight differences in the signature.  Card base is aging.  As an aspiring card counter, that mistake probably was not made here, hope not but could I have sent...

---We enter the last few market days of the year with all major averages down, Nasdaq finally completing the trifecta only in the last few days.  Then there is the Russell 2000 down 7%, aggregate bond down as well, Gold down 4%, Oil down 15%, overall commodity index down 8%, Bitcoin down 76%, is there a theme here?  Maybe a bit of lost confidence in global growth?  Perhaps a rogue President?  Or could my investment choices have been wrong?  Get out the beanie babies, old vinyls, and baseball cards.

I think that a lament here several Sundays ago was ended with "at least there is a new Ray Donovan on tonight".  Ditto.

Friday, December 21, 2018

News and thoughts, our President and the market...

This comment was to be titled "news and thoughts of the day", but then realized it would encompass more than one day.  There is no shortage of topics, but brevity is the goal.

---The equity market has collapsed.  The timing is awkward.  On Monday there will only be a half day of trading so there will be no news there, just enough time to slip in and buy or sell discreetly.  Then a three day week of trading followed by the New Year's Day event, again Monday trading followed by Tuesday off.  For anxious market participants, that means it's unlikely for there to be any hint of relief or clarity until January 2nd begins a New Year.  For nail biters, get out the Polysporin.

---Our incoherent President is on a rampage.  There is no way for anyone to know what comes next.  The departure of Mattis is a big deal, the last adult in the room some would say.  Withdrawing from Syria and on to Afghanistan without any discussion with allies or with members of Congress, even those in his own Party, is without precedent.  It is simply an exercise of power that he uses to spite others.  It detracts attention from his other issues such as the Mueller investigation and the discomfort that Congress feels with his approach to the budget.  The "wall" is a simple concept, for a simple man. 

---For those inclined to believe the mantra "don't look at what he says, but what he does", your faith may be tested.  As Commander in Chief, what Trump tweets at 5:30am is policy.  He can tell the military to move 5000 troops to the border for no reason, or to leave a country as quickly as possible. On domestic issues his impact is not so immediate, but his opinions can be corrosive.  His one vaunted "success" was the tax cut bill, but its boost to the economy was designed to raise stock market prices and then lead to the old trickle down.  So that's done and wealth disparity, which is the biggest domestic problem, has seemingly widened.  Wage increases lag.  More facts will come in the next few months on those issues.

---There are two primary accounts here in my name, one at Fidelity and one at Schwab.  The Fidelity account is run for growth, and today was down 2.2%.  The Schwab account is more conservative and declined 1.1%.  That is just one day.  Taking the time to calculate the loss for the week might be disheartening, so why do it.  Truth is, I have been waiting for the real Trump effect to take hold.  This may be it.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Splat go equities...

U.S. equities ended the week in emphatic fashion, not in a stylish sense.  The major averages were down around 2% for the day.  There were some spectacular drops among well known names.  JNJ was down 10% on a report about the tainted talcum powder that has the trial bar salivating.  Adobe down more than 7% and Costco approaching 9%, both on disappointing results which did not appear to be any kind of disaster from this perspective.  A fragile market is unforgiving.  Techs broadly fell, with the QQQ down 2.5% and market favorites like Apple, Netflix, and Microsoft down more than 3%.  FB was an outlier, just down fractionally.  Other major stocks down 4% were Amazon and Pepsico.  This is not trivial.

The beleaguered transports were the surprise place to be, with autos and airlines stable, meaning dramatically outperforming.  Ford, GM, Southwest, American, and Delta were around flat, reassuring?  Banks did not fully participate in the collapse while healthcare definitely took its full measure and more.

There is no all clear.  Will cooler minds develop through the weekend or will panic build as investors look to year end reporting.  The market no longer rests on the holidays.  Certainly not this year.  Monday will be telling.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Reading John Grisham, a sign of the times?

Most readers are familiar with John Grisham, if not necessarily from reading his books but simply from seeing his name at the top of best seller lists for 30+ years.  Practically speaking he created his own genre of deep south novels about attorneys and crime.  Only a few have been read here, and not one in more than 15 years.  Needing to try something painlessly diverting, his new book "The Reckoning" was picked up.

His basic formula was evident early on, and the setting in Mississippi and surrounding areas continues to ring true in both superficial and very real ways.  The time frame is the 1940's, war time and after.  A main character goes to college at Hollins in Virginia.  She was a high achiever from a relatively well to do family.  It was the case that once Hollins was a Radcliffe of the south so to speak, just one of those "that's right" remembrances.  There is plenty of "safe sex" for readers who don't want to go too far and enough loathsome characters to create a dichotomy that further heightens the goodness of those who are redemptive.  Many of the seemingly irrelevant touches about life in that area are interestingly accurate for the period.

Coming with all of this is the simple writing, not "run Spot run" but an adult version of this.  In this book, there is an amazing tendency towards repetition, as if readers cannot be expected to remember the story from one chapter to the next. The entire focus is the story line and a tug of war between good and evil.  The legal aspects are, as always in his books, a central structure of the narrative.  In pulls everything else along with it.  As with some Grisham books, there is a second story within.  In "The Reckoning" it is the Bataan Death March, as the central character is a participant in that gruesome World War II event.  That part of the book is unequivocally a page turner, well researched and with much better writing, meaning less repetition and a relief from the languid pace of the book in the South.  Did I just write that. It's true.  Maybe Grisham was relieved to get a break from what was expected of him.

Grisham is part of that legion of writers today who write for a movie script.  There is no other way to describe how the story unfolds, with a near the end overseas side trip to London, Edinburgh, and Paris that would provide color and production value, as well as cost and adventure for film participants.  I am a natural target for that type of thing, and admit to enjoying recognizing hotel names, locations, and sites.  Grisham knows what an audience could want.

It is unlikely that another one of his books will be read anytime soon, but this one fulfilled its purpose here.  Once again, I've got it.  To note, there's a remembrance tied in here, as my mother the legal secretary and southerner, world traveler, and lover of New Orleans who was married to a WWII veteran whose theater was the Pacific, yes she was an avid Grisham reader.

Back to the less than upbeat news of the day

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

This dire market...

This will be a brief comment.  Over the last two months, opinions here on the U.S.equity market have been cautious.  It appears that the near term outlook is becoming dire.  Near term is three months, not Thursday or the next few weeks.  This is a time to both sell and buy here, and that is not a usual approach.  I endured and will not repeat all of the gibberish on CNBC today.  The "panelists" could be right, but they all say the same boring things, not to be repeated here. They all play it safe, and are just looking for personal exposure.

I will say few things about what was done here today.  Southwest Airlines was added to as oil prices are coming down and they are primarily domestic carriers.  UPS was sold.  Not a long term position and the Amazon ramp up of their delivery capabilities could have a big impact.  FEDEX has capital gains not factored into this year's tax planning, and they are a better run company so stayed with that.  Two recent positions, one banking and one retail, were sold.  My recent choice to invest in them was based on long ago personal knowledge, and if "Tariff Man" is really on a course  to punish investors with his pride and stupidity, no reason to hold them now, can always come back.  Also added to PYX. Maybe a crazed decision but they announced new cannabis positions this morning, and feel like the chance of some company buying them could be real.  They are cheap, and could be acquired for a relatively small amount that would not be small for existing shareholders, TOTALLY a BET here that I could lose.

Need some Tilray product after that.