Thursday, August 9, 2018

Space Force

When I read the story today, I though maybe it was something from The Onion - or maybe I should check my calendar to see if it was April 1.  We're making a Space Force.

The latest lunatic idea from the Trump Administration is called Space Force, which is an idea that would have been turned down by every producer of 1980s television, but is somehow relevant in his "Us Against the Universe" idea of government.

As though it wasn't bad enough that he is a white-supremicist Nationalist, he has to go a step (or a Giant Leap) forward and proclaim that he is not only a Nationalist but a Universalist as well - if that's even a word.  Or, maybe it is now.

Appropriately enough, he handed the announcement over to his Second-In-Command Mike Pence - who strangely, some people feel is a better choice given a Trump impeachment - but that's another story for another day --- and announced it in some strange fashion with a press conference that could have been called by me for all the attention it was given.

"A fifth branch of the military," they called it, and we are supposed to accept that. Meanwhile, we're a trillion dollars in debt, can't decide on health care, a living wage, or a solution for the dying Social Security Administration.  Somehow, we can make up a new branch of the military AND ask taxpaying citizens their opinion on a new logo.

Which one do you prefer?  I prefer the one that will get me off of this planet the quickest while these two nincompoops are in charge.

Seriously - Space Force?  What the fuck is going on?

Friday, July 20, 2018

Curbed My Enthusiasm

I can’t get worked-up over nonsense.

I have no idea why some people get crazy over who wins an award, a game, or some other so-called expert who proclaimed a champion prior to the game being played.

As it is, I cannot get worked-up over any game or competition that does not involve me or my capability to earn a living.  As it is, the only things I can get motivated for are my job, paying my bills, eating, and exercising - which would appear to be the minimum requirements for living in the world today.

Once I lose that motivation, you’ll see me on Broad Street, across from Wawa looking for a few pennies to get a breakfast sandwich or some coffee.

Perhaps it won’t be long?  So, remember what I look like, and stop by and see me sometime next year when I’m holding a sign and squatting on a grate.

It might represent the last thing I care about.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Bears, Beets, Battlestar Gallactica

Listening to Michael Hedges' music always clears my mind. Similarly, a trip to the Hirshorn Gallery or the East Building at the National Gallery of Art, or MoMa -- you get the picture.  It's a cleansing experience, and makes me appreciate art and what good it does for us.

On the other hand (it's always the other hand that gets in trouble) it clears things up for me and allows me to see the incongruities (geez) in life and the things that we take for granted.  Like today ---

Hundreds (thousands?) of people stood in long lines at Build-A-Bear Workshops to get a bear for the price of the age of their child.  For those of you doing math, that means that a 4-year-old could get a stuffed bear for --- four dollars.  Need I go further?  Inexplicably, more than half of the bear-enthusiasts were turned away because ... well, they ... um ... over-booked.
Yes, the company did not anticipate that huge numbers of humanity would stand in line for several hours to get a stuffed animal for a kid ...

... a kid, by the way, who will never understand the value of five dollars. How long does it take mom and/or dad to earn that money?  A half-hour? A half-minute? Regardless, the value of the prize is lost on a kid who only wants a cotton-stuffed version of an animal that could eat him in a minute.

The parents, however, driven by guilt and a strange sense of giving, want to do that for their kids, because - well, they're our KIDS and we'd do anything for them, including taking valuable time off of work to stand in line to get something that they could just as easily order online for maybe three-times the cost?  After all, nothing is too good for our kids ...

... including talking on our phones while we are driving them around, texting while driving, or any other dangerous activity that you might be involved in while your precious children are present. But, I digress.

After all, you're looking out for them, right?

OK then, that includes voting, and I'm hoping that you did, because a scant 40% of registered voters did so in the last presidential election.  I'd guess that your vote would be more important than standing in line for a stuffed animal - right?

According to statistics, no. So, perhaps we should be working with retailers to encourage you to go out and vote?  Maybe, if we provided the same incentives that baseball teams or retailers provide, we could get you to stand in line to vote?

Hot dogs for a dollar. A free t-shirt. Twenty-percent off your taxes?  Whatever it takes to get you off your ass enough to care as much about the future of our country as you do about getting a fucking stuffed animal for your over-privileged child.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

More Coffee?

Starbucks is closing 150 stores, and General Electric has been removed from the Dow Jones Industrial Average.  That’s a big day.

Perhaps Americans have enough coffee, perhaps Starbucks has achieved their growth target, or maybe it’s just a sign of the times?  After all, old brick-and-mortar retail is suffering, and while you cannot buy a cup of coffee on the Internet (yet) there is plenty of competition over the coffee space, and consumers might be tiring of paying eight dollars for a product that they can get at home with a Keurig or someplace else cheaper.

Perhaps they are coming to their senses? Or, perhaps I give consumers too much credit?  Either way, the joke about a Starbucks across the street from a Starbucks is too real to ignore, and it might be time for them to step back and try to re-invent the company in some way.  It’s coffee, after all, and how much renovation can they make?

As for investing in SBUX - if it gets to $48 start sniffing around.  Now, at $56 it’s an expensive stock, and trading at too high a multiple to be attractive.

The stodgy old Dow Jones Industrial Average is making a long overdue change.  It’s a price-weighted average, so a $13 stock like GE has no place in an average of companies that are either higher priced or actual growth stories.  Why they picked Wallgreen’s Boots Alliance is beyond me, but that may be a story for another day.

In the investing world, the Dow is antiquated, and real-life traders and analysts don’t really pay attention to it. It’s more of a newsy-news story when it reaches some new plateau like 25,000 or whatever number is next on the zero list.  You should be paying attention to the S&P 500 and the NASDAQ 2000 for a real read on what “the market” is doing.  The Dow is price-weighted, so a move in a $300 stock like Boeing matters more than a move in a $66 stock like Walgreen’s.

So, it’s not really a big deal, it’s a cosmetic change to something that only matters to the people keeping track of numbers.  The problems at GE won’t be hurt or solved by this. It’s a giant battleship that will take years to turn - if it can be turned - and whether or not it is in an arbitrary average of stocks is neither here nor there.

Don’t buy or sell GE or WBA based on this.  WBA is slightly undervalued, and if you believe that people will still be doing major business at drug stores in ten years, have at it.  As for GE, if you have a time horizon and don’t mind watching the stock go to perhaps $9 or $10, start dripping money in.  You’ll have to trust that management can divest itself of the bad aspects of the business and make the best of the good parts.  After all, that’s what good management does, right?

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Forced Patriotism

If you believe, as I do, that "The Star Spangled Banner" is a song about a war that we lost, and how the big positive of the deal is that "the flag was still there," then maybe you'll get this.  Whatever ....

There has been a lot of bluster, screaming, outrage, and other stuff over the National Anthem and what people do while it is played - at sporting events, mostly - because that's where they play it, mostly.

Stand, kneel, sit, take off your cap ... do whatever they tell you, right?

And, for the record, I have stood at Fort McHenry and looked out at the place where "the flag was still there," and yeah, I got a little chill thinking about it, but that's where it stopped.  Mostly, it's because of the ceremony of the thing.  Otherwise, it's just a song praising war.  But I digress...

The kerfuffle started when a few NFL players decided to do something other than stand at attention while the song was being played.  That caused one of those Internet Outrages that have become so popular.  One wonders what would have happened if it was 1971.  I suppose TV stations would have gotten a hundred phone calls and newspapers would get twenty letters. But, as it is, the Internet allows us to vent our outrage instantly and have the comments pile up like horse dung on a parade route.

So, the National Football League (emphasis on National) in its infinite wisdom (?) has decided that, after much debate (?) that players must either stand in silence during the anthem or wait in the locker room until game time.  Show your protest, but do it on your own time.  There's nothing to see here.

Either stand and salute, or be fined, they said.  One wonders how forced patriotism is patriotism at all. Or, is it fascism? Or worse?  I don't know. Talk amongst yourselves.  I only know that making people do things doesn't make the people better.

When I was a kid, I was forced to attend something called Vacation Bible School.  I cherished my summers off from school, and being forced to attend a daily "school" regardless of its intent, didn't make me a better person.  It merely reinforced the idea that I had no control over my life, since I had neither a driver's license or adult free will.  So, off I went.  Was I a better kid? No, but that didn't mean that Vacation Bible School wasn't a raging success, because we all showed-up.  I never asked the other kids in school whether or not they wanted to be there, but I digress ...

Here we have this National Anthem thing, and somehow, if you don't stand, remove your cap and salute the flag, you are somehow not a patriot - whatever that is.  Last year, I went to an Alabama University football game.  When they played the anthem, almost everyone there stood with their hands over their heart (or where their heart was presumed to be) while the song was being played.  I didn't, since I wasn't brought up that way.  I wondered if they were better Americans than me. No.

It's just a song, really.  And, ask yourself (as I have) why do we only play it before sporting events?  Why not movies, theater, concerts, or other stuff like prior to the start of our work day?  What gives sports the exclusive rights to the thing?  And, what ties sports into patriotism?  So many questions, and I guess that makes me horrible for asking, but I'll ask anyway.

I have the idea that most of the people who stand and do all those things while the song is being played don't know why they're doing it - other than, "Somebody told me to."  Well, as my mother used to say, "If somebody told you to jump off the Ben Franklin Bridge, would you do it?"  Blind obedience and forced behavior doesn't make you a better American than the other guy.  It just makes you more subservient. 

And what has being subservient ever gotten anyone in America?  Wasn't the country founded on not being that?

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

No Guns, Just Stuff.

I really hate to write about such mundane things as investing and life, because they don’t get nearly the page views of my rants on gun culture and the ridiculous state of politics in America - but here we go.

What have I been doing lately, while the market has been going nuts (up and down) and some people have been scared out of it. I hate to sell and trade, but sometimes, it’s necessary.

I sold my position in Extreme Networks (EXTR) after a double over the past year.  In retrospect, I could have sold it much higher, but I usually wait for earnings, and this latest report was absurdly negative, so I decided to cash-in my profit rather than wait for the upturn, which may take more than a year.

I also sold 25% of my stake in Square (SQ).  As much as I love the company I felt like the stock had run-up to $55 from my purchase price of $26, so I felt it prudent to take some profits and watch it go, if it does.  There has been some selling over a recent battle with PayPal (PYPL) and frankly, I’m not worried.  The way things are today, the market reacts negatively to any sort of competition.  Whether it’s Amazon, Costco, or WalMart, it seems that there is little tolerance for any sort of competitive interference.
it’s odd, because the market itself is based on competition, and companies like Square have been able to prosper in the face of it - so, I just turn a deaf ear to it.

Where is the new money going?  General Electric (GE), which I have been buying since its seeming low at around $12.  It’s difficult to turn a battleship, and GE may be one huge battleship that will take years to turn.  As for me, I’m still buying now that the stock is at the $15 range, and I continue to be looking at it as a turnaround story.

UnderArmour (UA) has run-up too much for my liking recently.  I started buying it in the $11 range, and was hoping it would stay there for a while so that I could accumulate more.  Unfortunately, a couple of positive earnings quarters and upgrades have sent the stock into the high-teens, and I’ll hold it here waiting for either a positive catalyst or a negative that would prompt me to buy more.

DelTaco (TACO) continues to be a hold. The stock has been quietly gaining ground as the casual dining segment begins to find its footing.  As I have said, I have faith in management, and I own enough that I don’t look to add more, but merely hold on and wait for the market to catch up with this wonderful story.  It may take a year or more, but - where am I going?

Regional banks are a new story.  With rates rising, and tax breaks making the space a reliable place to be, I continue to hold Key Bank (KEY) and have put in an order to buy more if it goes to $20. The stock is fairly valued here, but could dip into the 20-range, which I feel would make it a buy.  There are other regionals, including Regions Financial (RF) Huntington Bancshares (HBAN) Philly-local The Bancorp (TBBK) and OFG Bancorp (OFG) that are compelling, but - do your due diligence.

Oil continues to go higher, and my investment in Cenovus (CVE) has been a winner, running from $7.25 to $11.00 as the price of oil has risen.  The thing about investing is, you can’t get worked-up over short-term pain that you may experience as a consumer.  Rather, you have to appreciate that it’s going to happen, and take advantage.  I hate oil like a passion, but there’s no doubt that the place to be is in the oil and natural gas space.  It’s not too late.  CVE is valued at $21 a share.  Wait for a dip and get in.

Meanwhile, long-term holdings Pfizer (PFE) and Cisco Systems (CSCO) continue to chug along.  Even though it appeared that there was a selling opportunity in Cisco after their latest earnings report, I felt like the CEO had enough positive things to say that the long-term outlook was sunnier than the short-term, which is where we tend to look.
As for Pfizer, the long-term story is more compelling than the short-term selling opportunity.  Both CSCO and PFE pay an appealing dividend, so I’m content to be paid to wait.

Meanwhile, I’m looking for an opportunity to sell Acco Brands (ACCO) as I feel that I’ve waited long enough for something to happen. Looking in the $13 range to get out.

Still compelling: Microsoft, Salesforce, Hanes Brands, Allergan, and Slumberger.  Do your research.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

I Am Tired of Your Gun Culture

Some things are just too hard to figure out with our small people brains.
Lawn darts killed three children between 1970 and 1994, and as such, they were made illegal in the United States and Canada.

On 19 December 1988, all lawn darts were banned from sale in the United States by the Consumer Product Safety Commission after they were responsible for the deaths of three children since 1970.  In 1989, they were also banned in Canada.
In 1982, some nutjob poisioned  some Tylenol capsules.  As a result, we can’t open a bottle of pills or a beverage without going through a major operation, even though authorities never identified who was responsible.

The Chicago Tylenol murders were a series of poisoning deaths resulting from drug tampering in the Chicago metropolitan area in 1982. The victims had all taken Tylenol-branded acetaminophen capsules that had been laced with potassium cyanide.  A total of seven people died in the original poisonings, with several more deaths in subsequent copycat crimes.

Cigarettes kill us (supposedly) with second-hand smoke.  As a result, people can’t smoke in public places because that endangers the general public, although not immediately.
Meanwhile, children are being shot and killed in schools across America, and little or nothing is being done about it. If cigarettes, lawn darts, or Tylenol had the political power of the National Rifle Association, (why isn’t it the National Gun Association?)  we’d still be able to smoke in public, open a bottle of pills, or play a game on our lawn without violating the law.

As it is, there is a dedicated band of gun nuts (yes, nuts) who feel like our Constitution allows them the right (Right) to kill people with their weapon of choice, while other less offensive weapons have already been deemed illegal by whatever law you want to apply.

Your right to form a militia has been replaced by our military, and your right to "bear arms" has been replaced by the military’s ability to do the same thing in lieu of your living room.  It’s simple, really.
The Second Amendment is an antiquated idea whose time has come and gone. It is time for the NRA and their financial supporters to realize this, and come to the conclusion that our so-called rights infringe on others’ rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness - which I also know is in that Constitution that you so heartily support.