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.

Friday, April 20, 2018

The New NORML

It’s been a long time coming (as the song said) but finally, The United States (or parts of it) have come to the realization that marijuana isn’t the horrible evil our ancestors viewed it to be.

In a quest to fund government, several states have found it convenient to legalize the “Evil Weed” and collect taxes on its consumption, much as they do with alcohol.  As it is with a lot of things, it’s a bad idea until we run out of ways to collect taxes.  Then, things that were once considered horrible - alcohol, gambling, and cigarettes - are now wonderful because the states can tax them.  Resistance is futile, and the resistance has met its match with marijuana.  States have run out of ways to tax us, so now, marijuana is no longer considered vile.  It’s a revenue source, which makes it ... well, a good idea.

Today is April 20.  Once considered an inside joke among pot heads, it has now become a national media day of recognition.  As it is with a lot of things, once the media attaches itself to something, it is no longer hip or relevant, and becomes a horrible “outside joke” that is a tongue-in-cheek version of what was once kind of cool.  Guys in suits joking about pot.  Yeah, that’s funny.

We are forced to endure the stupid pot references and jokes that border on sexual innuendo because ... well, it’s drugs - and drugs are bad, right?  I liked it better when it was in the background.

One of the great things about following unpopular bands is that you can go to small venues like the Electric Factory, Theater of the Living Arts, Underground Arts, and Union Transfer to see them.  Once they become popular, it’s harder (if not impossible) to get tickets to larger places where they don’t sound as good and are forced to pander to their popularity.  The “inside joke” has vanished in lieu of the popularity.

It will happen - sooner than later - that marijuana will go from the inside joke to the popular choice.  Be prepared to go through the jokes, innuendo, and snide remarks about being high, even though it is legal.  They’ll tax the shit out of it, and you’ll be able to get it from a local dispensary, but at what price?
You may find that you were better off when you had to hide it.

What’s next? The sex trade.  More on that later.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

It's Not All About Starbucks

The events of the past week are ridiculous on so many levels that it's almost funny.

When I read Tweets about it, I had no idea what had happened - only that something shitty happened at a Starbucks in Philadelphia.  Being a scant 20 minutes from the location, I felt odd that I didn't know what was going on.  Well - we all know now, so there's no need to recap.

The finger was pointed at Starbucks, but the real finger should have been pointed at the Philadelphia police department and the individual who called them to quell the so-called disturbance.  You see, Starbucks owns and operates 19,300 locations in the United States alone, and singling-out one for some racist behavior (so they say) is both unfair and ridiculous. Whether or not the two men violated store policy by asking to use the rest room without purchasing anything is minor.  Refusing to leave is the issue, and the cops needed to be sensitive to the problem.  Arresting them was the worst-case scenario.

As it is with today's society, activists jumped on the story.  Partly because it involved two black men, and partly because there is a genuine hatred for Starbucks, akin to the Walmart hate and the Facebook hate.  It's hate, and when something happens to one of those hated franchises, activists are quick to jump on the bandwagon because it's fueled by the attitude of, "See, I told you they were horrible" idea that permeates big corporations in America.

The Big Picture, however, has been lost in the protests and the hate and the racism.  What is the Big Picture?

Pooping and peeing.

Yep.  That very thing that all of us do, and we have to either hide, hold in, or find a place to do it.  When we are out in public, the second thing that crosses our minds is, "Where can I pee?"  I put it second because there's probably something more important than that.  Otherwise, when we are out in public and do not have to pee, we feel like we dodged a bullet of sorts, because there isn't always a McDonald's, Wawa, or other such public place where one can dodge in and grab a quick rest room break without having to purchase a product or plead, "Can I PLEASE use your bathroom?"

It's odd, in this century, to have to worry about such a thing.  After all, it's the one (or two) things that all of us do - even though we don't like to talk about it.  We all pee and poop.  C'mon, America. Admit it.  And generally, we're happy to poop, because it's one less thing we have to think about.  There's nothing quite like a good bowel movement, and the older you get, the more you appreciate it.

It's not like we can duck behind a building or run into a back alley, drop our zipper (men) and pee someplace.  In today's world, there's a camera posted that will likely run your public pee video on YouTube for all to see.

So yes, the issue isn't Starbucks, or racism, or the cops, or whatever else you want to march against.  The issue is public rest rooms, and why there aren't more of them, given the fact that it's the only thing we really need when we're out someplace.

If you want to protest something, start there.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Don’t Just Do Something - Stand There.

So, you want to invest in the stock market?  Well, mama told you there’d be days like these - didn’t she?  If she didn’t, then she’s a fool, and nature abhors a fool. She also should have told you that nobody makes money panicing.  So, don’t join the crowd and sell over macroeconomic conditions that do not necessarily affect your individual holdings. Look at what you own and hold on, because you bought value companies at a good price - at least that’s what I’ve been telling you to do.

The market is in “correction territory,” having dropped another 2.23% today, and closed at a level below the 200-day moving average for the first time since 2016. OK - that’s the technical stuff.  What’s going on?

We have a President in the White House who Tweets his sick mind at 3 in the morning, blasting such stalwarts as Amazon and claiming that he has some grand idea that the US Postal Service is losing money because of them.  Here’s a clue:  The USPS has been losing money for decades, and it’s not Amazon’s problem.  One of the goofy things he said was that he thinks that there should be a “level playing field” when it comes to retail.  OK, so now he wants to re-invent capitalism and retail so that there shouldn’t be any sort of competitive advantage in the world. Wake up, Donnie.

Piling-on was Elon Musk, who thought it would be a good idea to Tweet an April Fool’s joke about Tesla going “bankwupt” and sent the world into a tizzie for, well - not much, even though many in the financial community have been wondering how Tesla can pay their bills without another stock offering.  Many a truth was said in jest.  Suffice it to say, I told you that Tesla was overvalued, and it’s likely headed lower than today’s $252 closing price.

I also said the same thing about Facebook, although I had no idea (nor did they, apparently) about the pending government investigation over their data sharing nonsense.  Hey gang - it’s a free site.  What did you think they were doing with all of those “Say Amen” and “What is your Spirit Animal” information?  It’s not for your entertainment, trust me.

So - OK - what now?  Well —- if you find a nice pair of shoes at a good price, and they go on sale next week, do you throw out your old shoes and buy a pair on sale?  No.  You keep the old shoes and buy a new pair because they are cheaper than when you bought them.
That’s why you stick with your conviction buys and buy more when they’re on sale.  Tomorrow, everything will be on sale.

As for me, it’s Microsoft right now.  There is nothing in this current environment that makes me believe that Microsoft is suffering.  Their cloud business and Office 365 is going to provide growth for them.  The stock is easily worth $120, and the current $89 price is a bargain. Giddy-up.

I’m also buying more Under Armour and DelTaco.  The former is a huge bargain against its intrinsic value, and the latter is still a growth story that is independent of any tariffs or nonsense that Trump might Tweet.  Management needs to control costs, and I believe that they can.  At $10.30 a share, the stock is a huge growth discount buy.

There are a few others that deserve your attention.  Among them, Disney, Walmart, Google, and General Motors.  Tesla isn’t the only auto-maker getting hammered.  General Motors trades at a low P/E and has an inside track on the driverless car thingy.  At $35 a share, and a 4.11% dividend, it’s hugely undervalued.
Google is a stock whose baby has been thrown out with the bath water.  It trades at a forward (expected earnings) P/E of 23, and is a compelling bargain here, both for the company itself and the prospect of those driverless vehicles, through its Waymo division.

If you’re the more cautious type (which can be expected here) you might want to go with some defense against inflation - which I also told you about.  You could go with VTIP, which is the Vanguard Short-Term Inflation-Protected Securities ETF, which pays a lusty 6.06% dividend, beating anything you can get at your local bank.
When inflation increases, cash loses value.  Generally, this means that traditional bonds also lose value, because the bonds’ future cash payments have also lost value.  TIPS automatically adjust value to track inflation.  So, if like me, you think the loose nut behind the wheel is causing the economy to fall into inflation, this could be an interesting (and profitable) investment. Hey - what have you got to lose at this point?

So - if you have followed the value guidelines I’ve laid out, you have little to fear, and should be shopping for more of what you already own.
If you have fresh cash to invest, there are plenty of opportunities, and now may be the time to start taking advantage of them.
Dollar-cost average into them, starting tomorrow - if you haven’t already.



Tuesday, February 20, 2018

We Did it to Ourselves

Perhaps you have enjoyed my posts about the stock market (mostly in the correct direction) or laughed at my good-natured jibes at modern America, or had a chuckle over my disassociated viewpoints about things and stuff.

Well - I’m guessing that is about to come to a crashing halt.

The most recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida - and by “most recent school shooting” it should alert you as to what is coming - has brought to mind several things that you humans have been debating but have brought upon yourselves.  What?

The good-old Second Amendment to the Constitution, for one.  It was written by a group of white slave-owners who also believed that one shouldn’t vote unless HE was a land owner.  This came in a time when single-load muskets were technology, and militias were formed to fight-off British invaders.  Gain some perspective.

Nowadays (I’m sure you’ve heard) we have semi-automatic weapons, and guns that can fire-off hundreds of rounds a second.  Not only that, but the militia has been replaced by an on-call military that doesn’t have to dress-up in their homes to defend our nation. We pay taxes for that.
AND, they supply their own weapons. Go figure.

The part you get hung-up on is the idea that the Founding Fathers were some sort of supernatural sages who foresaw a nation where muskets and citizen army’s were going to be normal.  It’s not.

They didn’t have any idea that children in school would be shot to death several times over the last 30 years, or that people going to concerts would have to fear for their lives, or that people boarding airplanes would have to remove their shoes ... you get the point .... right?

The second amendment is an antiquated notion, and we lean on it out of habit - not out of nevcessity. Nobody outside of the military needs an automatic weapo, and it’s not what the second amendment meant by “the right to bear arms.” You know that.

We entrap ourselves with a lot of old-world notions that have no place in modern society.  You accept computers, cell phones, air conditioning, and other such modern conveniences - yet you will not accept the idea that a notion brought about 200-plus years ago is somehow relevant to modern society.

Meanwhile, your children are being gunned-down in your support of this stupid idea.

So, go ahead and un-friend me, un-follow me, dislike, or whatever - hate me - because your politics or your ideals conflict.

The fact is - if it wasn’t for that ridiculous notion put forth on July 4, 1776 your kids would be safe because you wouldn’t be beholden to an antiquated notion of what you refer to as “freedom” because some guys with their heads in stone on a monument said it should be so.

Get your fucking head out of the sand.