Thursday, October 11, 2018

Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There.

Sometimes, the best thing to do is nothing.  Such may be the case now.  The markets are in turmoil.  The Federal Reserve is hawkish on rates. The President says they are "crazy."  Bond yields are going up...

At the same time, companies are reporting increasing earnings. Revenues are up, and the tax break has given them billions of dollars with which to buy back their own stock - which is now trading at a low compared to a year ago.

Meanwhile, my favorite company Square (NYSE: SQ) has lost its CFO, and the sellers have bitten into our former $100 share price, taking it down to today’s $69.  But fear not (he said) Jack is still running the show, and they have multiple assets in house that are being run by other great leaders, so if you’re interested, there may be a time to get in over the next few days.  The Wayback Machine has been set to early summer levels.

For the record (if there is one) I have sold nothing, even though the temptation is there.  I invested in these companies because I liked their fundamentals. The only thing that has changed is the market. Nothing about the companies has changed, so if anything, I have reason to buy more, not sell.  That said, I am most interested in Microsoft, AMD, Target, and (still) Del Taco, who seems to be overlooked in the domestic food industry. We’ll see soon enough, as they have earnings coming up at the end of October.

What else?  Oh yeah - the safe haven of commodities.  You should be looking at copper (CPER) silver (SIVR) and an overall commodities ETF that trades under the ticker symbol GCC.  If you are nervous about stocks, several commodities are trading at historical lows, and you could do worse than investing in silver, copper, and raw materials. Dribble money in over the next few months and be prepared to hold on for five years or so.

If you like bonds, go ahead, but as rates rise, your good old cash will start paying in the 3% range, so that’s also a safe haven for you.  For now though, I’d sit tight and see what happens over the next week or so.  The Fed has yet to decide on another rate increase, and we’re at the start of earnings season.  A lot will depend on what the banks (Goldman, Morgan Stanley, Citibank et al) say about the overall outlook and their revenues going forward. Bad news could be a sell signal. Good news could be -- well -- good.

Just don’t be in a hurry to do anything.  It’s bigger than we may realize.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The [ROCK AND ROLL] Hall of Fame

Eh -- I don't know -- this whole Hall of Fame thing.  Aren't record sales and concert attendance enough? Do we need awards and enshrinement for artistic accomplishments?

The nominees for the 2019 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are out, and I of course, have some opinions. Who would I be if I didn't? Opinionless.

The slam-dunks on the list for me are Devo and Kraftwerk. That's right.  Both of them revolutionized a genre and are landmark musicians.  Isn't that what the R&R HoF is about?  (yeah, I don't know, either). I'd also vote for Rage Against the Machine.  There, I said it.

Otherwise, my Honorable Mentions are Todd Rundgren and Stevie Nicks.  I'd guess that Stevie is in as a member of Fleetwood Mac, but her solo career also stands out and I suppose you could apply the "Landmark" label to her, as well.  My biggest kudo to Rundgren is that he co-produced Badfinger's "Stand Up" album, which is epic.  OK, so he also wrote some great songs, but really -- how many of them could you mention or recite the lyrics to? (I'll give you a minute)


OK then, as for the rest of the list of nominees.

The Zombies.  Seriously?  They fall under the category of One-Hit Wonders, not Hall-of-Famers.
Def Leppard.  Feh.  A one-armed drummer is a novelty, and I suppose that could get them in.
LL Cool J.  I thought this was "Rock and Roll?"
MC5.  A dark horse, and a cult band. Hall of Fame worthy?  no. Stop ten people on the street and ask them to tell you what the "MC" stands for.  HINT: It's Motor City.  Yeah, you didn't know either.
Rufus featuring Chaka Khan. Um ... no. If you have to say "featuring" in your band name, there is an issue.
John Prine.  Another cult favorite, and he'll probably get some write-in votes from fans.
Roxy Music.  Just a bit short of "fame-worthy" status.  Other than giving us Brian Eno, they really haven't accomplished enough to be enshrined.
The Cure.  They might get in, with this weak class.  The same way Goose Gossage got into the Baseball Hall of Fame.  But, we'll know.  We'll know.
Radiohead.  Oh boy.  That would be like putting jean shorts into the Clothing Hall of Fame.  We hate them, but we appreciate what they did in their field.
Janet Jackson.  I suppose she'll get in, if for nothing else but revolutionizing the Super Bowl halftime show.  But this is my ballot, and I say she isn't Hall of Fame worthy.

Which begs the question:  What's with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, if they're going to nominate people like John Prine, Kraftwerk, and Janet Jackson?  Either rename it the Pop Music Hall of Fame, or stop putting musicians in it who aren't rock and roll.  
OK, I get it, it's Cleveland, and that's supposed to be the birthplace of rock and roll - but you have to be real about this.

If they are going to call it the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and nominate bands like Devo and Kraftwerk, then I'm going to support them on both their body of work and their influence on music.  That seems to be the criteria, otherwise, why nominate John Prine?

The whole thing is confusing. Bottom line:  I know what I like, and I don't need a Hall of Fame to validate it. 

Warren Zevon isn't in. Nick Drake isn't in. Kate Bush isn't in.  T-Rex isn't in. There are so many glaring exceptions that I cannot support fringe candidates when there are others who are deserving - mostly posthumously - but deserving nonetheless.
Kristin Hersh.

That said, I still have a problem with awarding art in any form.  Creating art is its own reward, and being enshrined in some "hall" is an ancillary benefit of the gift you have given us.  It seems to me that the award is more about us and our tastes than it is about recognizing you and your art.

So -- maybe this is just pointless?  I already know what I like.

And, so do you.

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?