Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Mining the Depths

Ryan Howard is still out of work.  If President Trump (just threw up in my mouth) wants to create jobs, why can't he make a new baseball team for Ryan to join?  He has quietly settled into obscurity.

In other news, President Trump (drying out now) has signed another one of his quaint Executive Orders that loosens the restrictions on coal that President Obama instituted.  He (that will not be named) claims that it will "save jobs." That's always his excuse for junk like this -  saving jobs.  Meanwhile, we are not in rampant unemployment, and the jobs he is "saving" are low-income, black lung sorts of things that somehow he supports.
I fail to see how being a Republican makes one opposed to clean energy and preserving our home for the millions of children they are producing.  "Dying industries will come roaring back to life," he says.  How does he explain why they are "dying industries?"  Sometimes, it's best to let dying things die - like he wants to do to The Affordable Care Act.

I suppose it's OK to let some dying things die, but not OK for others?  Perhaps Donald can get Howard a job in one of his resurrected coal mines? 

Hey - it's honest work - even though it eventually kills our planet.  But, that's a problem for a different generation.

Whenever our government runs out of ways to tax us, they turn to previously shunned ideas.  Casino gambling, legalized marijuana, dirty energy, lotteries - find one.  Fifty years ago, nobody wanted to support it. Now that we have eliminated even higher taxes ...

SIDE NOTE:  New Jersey officially has the highest property taxes and auto insurance in the nation. Is it no wonder I want to get out of here as soon as possible?  Are you listening, Maryland and Alabama?

But I digress.  His Trumpness says we need jobs.  That's his Mantra for any stupid idea he comes up with -- "Save American Jobs." It's the same Mantra that local governments come up with when they pass legislation that they would have opposed before they ran out of ways to come up with money.

The answer is never "let's find a new path" or "can we cut something."  Invariably, they regress to some previously horrible idea that they can lean on to either (a) curry favor with an out-of-favor voting bloc or (b) appease a small but vocal group of voters.
Hey - who doesn't like to throw money at lotteries or keep Uncle Bobby alive in the coal mine for another ten years?  It doesn't matter, because they won't be alive to see the end anyway.  It's all about their term of office and what bullshit they leave their successors trying to fix.  Then, it becomes their fault.
Politics.

Meanwhile, the Earth spins (however wobbly) on its axis, and they deny that people have not affected the climate or the fact (FACT) that the Earth is warming and places that were once Glacier National Park are now becoming something besides a Glacier at a National Park.  But, that's just science, and we have to say that it's not really like that because there is politics involved.

The same politics that created controversy over out health care (HEALTH CARE) and makes people believe that the two-party system is to blame for their lot in life.  In fact, it's the politics that is the problem.  Should our health be a political issue?  (I'll answer that) No.

The reality (if I can reduce it to that) is that our health care and our ecological future have become subjects of political struggle.  Sadly.  We deserve better from our elected representatives.

Perhaps it's our fault for electing them - or their fault for forgetting that they are our representatives?

There is still time to decide.



Thursday, March 2, 2017

Oh, SNAP!

For the record (if there is one) I don't have a lot of money.  What I do have is working as hard as possible so that I can have money later. That's called "putting your money to work for you."  Besides paying bills and doing what I refer to as "living," I invest as much as I can, to the extent of what I call "Saving Myself Broke." I don't take vacations or buy a lot of extravagant things.  The most expensive thing I do is buy prescription food for Thor.  He seems to appreciate it.

Anyway ... Our stock market made a major thrust forward yesterday, and it seemed that the time was ripe to sell a stock that I had held for a while but seemed stalled in its own growth - Activision/Blizzard ATVI.  I profited from the sale, and like all my sales, I immediately began to think, "What's next?"  Even at my advanced age, I'm still in growth-stock mode.

I figure on living at least another 30 years, and if you think about how much the landscape has changed in the last 30 years, there is no reason to be in bonds (boring) or cash (no interest) so my focus is still on growth stocks, and nothing is growing faster than any Internet-based business (Amazon, Facebook, Netflix & Google) or companies that provide services for them or the companies that make the chips that power the stuff.

One such company came public today - commonly known as Snapchat - the parent company SNAP began trading today.  Coincidentally, I had some cash on hand. Normally, I don't invest in things like this.  However, I channeled my inner George Costanza and decided to go with "The Opposite," and take a shot.

The problem came with the offering and how I was to go about getting any. From all accounts, the offering was twelve-times over-subscribed, which meant that the shares that were offered had 12 times as many buyers as they had shares available.  I had heard that only institutional (Mutual Funds and banks) buyers would have a shot at it.  Nevertheless, I proceeded.  Analysts on CNBC said that the stock would begin trading about 2 hours after the opening bell, and that the range would be between $23.50 and $24.00 a share - well above the IPO pricing of $17.

It's common for IPOs to begin trading above their offering price.  Once the institutional buyers get their $17 shares, they need to go back to the market to fill the rest of their orders.  That drives up the price to what I am, which is a "retail investor."  I am the smallest of the small, so I thought that my chances to get in were slim and none.  Nevertheless ... I placed an order in my IRA for 100 shares at $24.  For IPOs, one has to make a "Limit Order," specifying a price.

Going by what CNBC had said, I placed my order at $24.  I felt like I had purchased a lottery ticket - and felt like I had the same chance as winning.  After all, what shot does a small-timer like me have to get in on the biggest IPO since Alibaba went public in 2014? A good chance, as it turns out.  I got my shares about a half hour after the order.  It was a big rush, and since I don't have sex, I can say that the feeling was better than sex.  At the end of the day, the stock finished the day at $24.48, which is a small victory for small investors.  It held onto its initial offering price.

Now, onto the risk. It trades at 35-times sales (almost twice what Facebook did in its IPO) which is expensive, and to say the company hasn't made any money yet is an understatement.  When Facebook went public, it was a more mature company.  The hope here is that the money that SNAP raised from their IPO will be put toward building a user base and making it into what they say it is - a "Camera Company."  Time will tell, of course.

Most analysts have placed "Sell" ratings on SNAP and assigned price targets between $10 and $17.  There's no revenue growth, users are declining, and it's an overpriced stock.  Fuck them, I say.  They probably said the same things about Facebook and I know they said the same things about Netflix. I don't know what the future holds for SNAP.

If I did, I wouldn't be working for a living.  What I can say is that nobody ever succeeded without taking a chance.  This seems to be the ultimate chance.  The question I asked myself was, "If you could risk $2,400 and potentially make twice that, or lose it all, what would you do?"

The answer I gave myself was, "I'd risk it."  I felt like the confluence of available cash and the prospect of investing in a true growth company don't come along often, and I needed to take this chance. Either it works out, and my retirement is easier or - it doesn't work out and my retirement is as difficult as I envision it to be.

Either way, I win.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Stock Market [A]musings

As I get closer to retirement, I'm re-focusing on investing and paying closer attention to where my money is going.  I suppose it's the equivalent of last-minute Christmas shopping.  Looking at the calendar and realizing I have two weeks to make something out of myself.  In this case, it's more like 3 to 5 years - but still.

We are at the tail-end of earnings season. Granted, it's not as exciting as the start of baseball season, but for geeks like me, it's pretty close.  Brick-and-mortal retail is getting slaughtered.  JC Penny is closing stores, reporting horrible same-store sales, and their stock has been falling like a lead balloon. Even when I was a youngster, the stores were kind of crappy.  I remember, in the 1990s they changed their focus to attire, and put lots of clothing on sale.  I had a store credit card, and I ran it up bigly buying pants, shirts, and all the stuff that young men makes them think they are well-dressed.  You see where that got me - and where it got them.  They are still struggling, although now it's against the likes of Amazon. They are closing stores and laying-off workers.  That was a surprise to many who thought they had turned a corner.  Me - I'm still struggling, but it's against the likes of better men. Alas.

This coming week, there are some interesting earnings reports coming:
ETSY reports on the 28th.  If the "Stay at Home Economy" is in full flight, they should be doing well.  Granted, the web site is difficult to navigate, and if you don't know exactly what you are looking for, browsing is exhausting. STAY (Extended Stay) also reports.  They are the opposite of the stay-at-home gang.  Let's see how many travelers are willing to venture out of their house and have someplace to stay that is like home.  I'm guessing not many.

Best Buy (BBY) reports on March 1.  My guess is that the Stay-at-Homers will give BBY shareholders something to crow about.  They sell all the junk that make staying at home exciting and fulfilling.  If BBY isn't making money at it, nobody can.  I can't imagine going to Amazon to buy a television that I haven't seen in person.

Also, on the 1st, Lowe's (LOW) reports.  On the heels of The Home Depot's bust-out quarter, let's see how their closest competitor fares.  There is a Lowe's within 2 miles of every Home Depot, so their report may help us figure out which of the two consumers prefer. My thoughts are with HD.

On March 2, Budweiser (BUD) reports. I think their beer is horrible, but their marketing is second to none.  It's probably all about bar sales and sporting events. It's cheap to make and expensive to buy, and any industry that relies on drunks to spend money has my vote. Witness STZ (Contellation Brands). Boston Beer's (SAM) bad quarter might be a harbinger for BUD. They are polar opposites in the beer world, but still selling to similar markets.

Kroger (KR) and Costco (COST) might buck the trend of retail/supermarkets having a horrible time on March 2.  They are bigger than the average bear, and the market bears might have an issue with their quarters.  Don't bet against them.  My bet would be on Costco.

A tiny company I'm interested in is BREW (Craft Brew Alliance) reporting on the 27th.  They are part of the stay-at-home gang, although in a do-it-yourself manner.  The stock trades at 340-times earnings, so anything other than a perfect quarter may present a buying opportunity for adventurous investors.

So, as they say, "Keep your eye on the sky," and watch out for bears.  They are big and scary, but once you get past the growl and fur, it's all downhill.
Keep your eye on the ball and keep investing.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

On the Record

Between watching a marathon of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and talking to a friend about old vinyl albums - the thoughts occurred to me about what it was like buying records in the 1970s versus what it's like now.  Suffice it to say, it's one Hell of a lot different now. Let's travel back to the early-to-mid 1970s.  Places like EJ Korvette's, Record Museum, and Franklin Music sold vinyl albums (we called them records) and 45's.

We used to subscribe to magazines like Creem and Circus to get updates on new albums and concert tours.  In other news, we used to stand in line for concert tickets at 9:00am on Saturday mornings - for "Dance Concerts" - shows where you didn't get an assigned seat. $5.50 for a show.  It was first-come, first-served, and it was the kind of nonsense that led to The Who stampede in Cincinnati that eventually brought an end to "Dance Concerts," but I digress.

It was exciting to find a new record, sit in the Korvette's parking lot and open it - read the lyrics before you heard the record - and go through it, song by song, and turn the record over (by hand) and hear new music that wasn't on the Internet, YouTube, Twitter, or some other media site besides the speakers we had in our bedrooms. It was a huge thrill to find a new 45 that had a "picture sleeve," or a new "double-album" (two records) or one that opened so that we could see photos or had a sleeve that contained lyrics.

I sat outside the Korvette's store staring at Yes' "Fragile" album.  The artwork of Roger Dean was nothing I had seen before. He went on to become an album-cover legend. We'll never see that kind again. Our magazines would tell us when records were being released, and we would pester local record stores until they finally got the damned thing in stock.  The magazines were a month old, and the releases were often older, but not always so.

One such incident was particularly interesting. In April of 1972, John Lennon released a single titled "Woman is the Nigger of the World."  We knew it before the record stores knew.  It was on the heels of "Happy Xmas" (of which I have the green vinyl single) and we were excited to hear what was new from John.  I called record stores asking, by title, if they had the song. Frustrated and probably figuring it was some sort of crank call, I was hung-up on more times than I got an answer.  A few days later I had the record.

In September, Yes released "Close to the Edge."  I knew it, but my local Franklin Music store did not. I showed up on the release date, and asked for it.  The clerk had to go into the box that the albums came in and cut it open for me. Quite the precocious 15-year-old was I.

We would go to EJ Korvette's to buy records.  Every week, they would run an ad with a label that was on sale. It was special when Atlantic would go on sale - since that was Led Zeppelin and Yes; or Warner Brothers, since that was Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, and Zappa.  We used to beg (literally) for $4 so we could buy an album that was on sale for $3.43 (plus tax) and we'd go to the sale rack and pick out something - "Led Zeppelin IV" Black Sabbath "Volume IV" or "Chicago III" - whatever Roman numeral we could find - for cheap.  If we had a couple of bucks in our pocket, we could find a few 69-cent singles to take home, too.

Nowadays, it isn't so.  Mostly, I hear about new music by accident.  Either some YouTube video or something I stumbled across on satellite radio.  Either way, it's not as exciting as waiting for a magazine, listening to the radio, and running to the record store to find something that made us feel like Christopher Columbus.  Discovering new music was a high.

You kids have it too easy.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Thinking About Stuff

Today is Groundhog Day. I don't know where it came from - and I don't care. Embracing this stupid tradition only makes us look like a bunch of superstitious boobs.  I'm sorry if I'm not "down with it," or whatever the kids say nowadays.  I have no time or energy to devote to superstition or stupid traditions.  The idea that a rodent (or anything, for that matter) seeing his shadow or not determines the weather for the next month and a half is as ridiculous an idea as has been devised. The problem is that, sometimes we get so engrained in something stupid that it's impossible to let it go.

 BeyoncĂ© has more black people in her than President Trump has in his Cabinet. His Supreme Court nominee is yet another middle-aged white man.  Our government is full of them.  It's no wonder that we can't accomplish anything for the lower class and minorities - we have none of them in government or anyone who understands what it's like to live from paycheck-to-paycheck, pay bills, or struggle to get along.

The only stress in their lives is whether or not they are going to be re-elected.  Stress for real people is what happens to them if they don't have a job next month.  We don't have book deals, lecture money, or trust funds to draw upon.  It's the grand disconnect that separates us from ... them.

 It's Super Bowl weekend. Or, as marketing would have us believe - The Big Game weekend.  They can't say Super Bowl if they're selling us something.  The grand hypocracy is that the only time they can use the term "Super Bowl" is if they have paid for it.  Otherwise, they have to say The Big Game, as if we don't know that they mean Super Bowl.  It's like when people say "frigging" instead of "fucking," or "the n-word" instead of "nigger."  We all know what it means, and we say it to ourselves in our heads.  Only in the grand hypocracy of thought does it make a difference to those on the other side.  Get a grip, folks.

 I've been writing about our stock market lately.  It's a hobby - an interest - and I'm somewhat invested.  I'm hearing about "Trump Stocks" and stocks that are "Not Trump Stocks," as though our President dictates what companies earn and how they do business.  That's what he has set out to do in his first month, but I suspect that at some point, companies will say, "Fuck you," and continue to do business as they have.  After all, it's all dependent upon his wall and his proposed corporate tax cuts.  Those haven't happened yet, and I'd suspect that it's as much talk as anything.  If you listen to him, you can hear the non-specific terms that he speaks in.  He's big on telling us how great he wants things to be, but low on specifics as to how he will do it.  It remains to be seen what the Republicans will do with our health care.

They have been given the ball, and now it's time to run with it.  My guess is that it's going to be a touchback. The market is up a great deal since the election.  If Donald cannot come through on his promises and live up to his rhetoric, it will all come crashing down around us, and his supporters will have to bear the burden of his efforts. It's a gamble.  The stock market is a futures market - it's only as good as what is coming.  If what is coming doesn't come, well ... you know the answer.  Americans are putting their faith in a man who has declared bankruptcy a few times, built casinos that went out of business, bought the Trump Plaza Hotel for $400 million and had it repossessed, bought a $29 million yacht that was repossessed, started Trump Airlines and never made a profit, and has been married a few times with children all over the joint.

Godspeed, America.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Dow 20k

For investors and people who love numbers, today was a big day.  The Dow Jones Industrial Average crossed over the 20,000 mark.  Is it a big deal? Well, yes and no.  What it should do is make people pay attention to the power of compounding and how investing in stocks is the best way to build wealth over their lifetime.

For some perspective, the Dow reached 10,000 in October of 2009. So, in roughly 17 years your money has doubled. That is just the average.  If you are a good stock-picker, your investment in The Home Depot would have gained about 400%, and your investment in Goldman-Sachs would have gained roughly 300%.  And, let's not mention Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Netflix.  They are not members of the Dow 30, but have gained roughly that amount in the same time period.  What I'm telling you is:  Get your money out of your cell phone bill, cable company, or your ridiculous car payment and build your future.  That's free advice.

When I was 25, the best thing I could think of was US Savings Bonds, which could be bought independently or though a payroll savings plan.  We tried to convince our employer to hook us up, but to no avail.  At the time, they were paying roughly 8% interest, which seemed like a big deal.  By contrast, savings bonds today are paying less than the rate of inflation.

In my 30s, buying a stock or mutual fund meant getting on the phone, speaking to a person, and spending about 15 minutes requesting to buy a hundred shares of Ford Motor Company.  Those days, happily, are gone.

Nowadays, apps like Acorns or Stash can enable you to invest as little as five dollars in Exchange Traded Funds (ETF) which are "market baskets" of stocks in similar sectors.  All it requires is a checking account and an app on your cell phone. Clickety-click - you've just bought a half share of the S&P 500, a Municipal Bond ETF, or another sector of your liking.  The sign-up and purchase takes less time than it takes to put gasoline in your car.  Ask me how.  I'm happy to help.

So, yes; Dow 20,000 is just a number, but it should provide you with some perspective.  It's a big number, and it's a number that should make you think about a few things:
A). How easy it is to invest in stocks today
B). How much more important investing is than buying something that will be obsolete or useless in a year
3). Get to work and realize that you are going to live to be a ripe, old age and you won't have anyone to depend on other than yourself for your financial well-being.

That's my free advice for today. I wish someone had told me that when I was 25.  But, would I have listened? 


Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Lady Doth Protest Too Much, Methinks

In cities across America, millions (?) of people gathered to protest the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. I suppose the center of the movement was women's rights and the idea that a mysoginist is now our President.  The movement is honorable, but leaves me with feelings that are probably going to make you hate me. So be it.

The protest marches were organized in cities.  In those cities, support for Hillary Clinton was big.  Basically, they brought together a bunch of like-minded voters to say, "We don't like this" to something that has already happened.  It's easy to organize people in areas where they have a common goal.  I get the feeling that they didn't think it was possible for Trump to be elected, so their anger is retroactive, when it should have been proactive.  The pre-election rallies were coronations of a sort, and few believed that America would vote for Donald Trump.

Well - it happened, and now we are supposed to say, "I hate you," but we already knew that.  So, we go out and march, and he is supposed to think that this movement somehow makes him doubt what he already believed:  That he was elected by a landslide.  It was not a landslide, and we know that.  In fact, the popular vote went for Hillary, but that popular vote was in places like the ones in which the marchers were organized.  If we could see marches in rural, southern towns or places where the maps were colored red, then I would tell you that there is a real movement going on here.  What we have is the literal example of preaching to the choir.

Donald Trump will ignore this, as he does everything that opposes him.  We have elected a mysoginistic egotist, and it will take more than a million people in blue states to make him change his mind over what he said that got him elected.  After all, it's what he said that got him elected.  Isn't that the point?

So, go ahead and march.  It's your Constitutional right.  You can be angry and feel displaced, but you let it happen.  You thought Hillary was a shoo-in, and you took it for granted.  Now that you know that middle America agrees with Donald's racist, jingoistic, and capitalist viewpoint, you are forced to deal with it.  That's difficult, I know.  You will spend a lot of time and energy being angry and defiant, marching, and organizing rallies for your cause.  That's nice, but the cause was lost in November.

Perhaps that is a defeatist attitude, or perhaps it is realism.  The next 4 years will decide that.  My guess is that Trump's policies will go forward (as it were) as he proclaimed and your protests will go unheeded.  You will lose most of what the last eight years gave you.

My guess is that Trump didn't watch the news, just as many of you didn't watch his inauguration.  You have to realize with whom you are dealing.
He is not your average bear.  Godspeed.