Tuesday, August 15, 2017

If You Can Keep Your Head ...

... when all about you are losing theirs, and blaming it on you ...

Noted liar and exaggerator (President) Donald J. Trump was at it again today.  In an unhinged and ranting press conference at his digs in New York, he (among other oddities) compared Robert E. Lee to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, proclaiming that we may be tearing down their statues too, someday.  Well now.  One can only assume that we will never be tearing down a statue of Trump.

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

 But make allowance for their doubting too.

In other news, Dick's Sporting Goods (DKS) reported horrible earnings today.  The stock has lost half its value in a year, and is a perfect example of a great store and horrible investment.  They cited weakness in hunting and outdoor gear as a reason for the disappointing earnings.  OK, then.  If your margins are that thin, I guess that's the reason investors have suffered.  Fortunately for me, I can shop there and nothing else.  That seems like the choice.

The brilliant earnings report from Extreme Networks made its case in the price of the stock today, as it nearly returned to its $11 high.  I hope to retire soon.

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
 Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies

We have to wait sometimes.  It's the game.  We will get an earnings report from Cisco Systems (CSCO) after the market close on Wednesday.  The stock has been a 3.8% bond for the better part of the last 9 months, as investors wait for that home run that doesn't seem to come.  So far, it's been singles and doubles, and the company has prospects, but we wait for them to be brought up.  Perhaps tomorrow ...
If you can make a heap of all your winnings
 And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings
 And never breathe a word about your loss;

I'll breathe a word about my loss in JC Penney.  Horribly, I listened to what I thought was an informed authority and risked it on a turn of pitch-and-toss.  Well, the pitch was a toss, and I wound up selling it two days after buying it for a loss.  What it taught me was to go with my instincts, which are substantial, and not listen to the words of someone who may have ulterior motives. Such is life.

And so hold on when there is nothing in you
 Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

I'm holding on.  Pfizer and DelTaco.  In the case of Pfizer, I'm being paid a 3.9% dividend to wait.  However, the waiting is grating on me, and I wonder how long I can stay ... long.
DelTaco (TACO) is a different story. As faithful readers know, I have touted this company for a while, and have been adding to positions until I now have a significant portion of my investment tied-up in the company.
They keep executing.  Beat and raise, as they say.  They beat estimates and raise the next one, yet the market fails to reward us - and them.  My faith doesn't wain, and if you haven't yet bought in, there is still time.  The stock is mired in the $13 range, and trades at a discount to its peers in the casual dining/restaurant segment, with significant growth opportunities ahead of it.  There is nothing in their earnings reports or forecasts to make me want to sell, and I'll hold it until the market regains confidence in the sector and specifically, the company.  As for me, I have considerable confidence in both.

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
 If all men count with you, but none too much;

So, OK - don't count on me too much.  Do your homework, and remember - it's only money.

Meanwhile, you might want to look at favorite Limelight Networks (LLNW) and keep an eye on Square (SQ). Square has dropped a little from my purchase at $26, and I fear that I'll have to be patient with them until they get to the $24 range, at which point it should rebound.
Acco Brands (ACCO) is interesting, at 11 times forward earnings.  You use (and steal, probably) lots of their office products.  There's value, and you're always looking for a bargain, right?

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

 And — which is more — you’ll be a Man, my son!

So go - be a man, or whatever.  

Monday, August 14, 2017

It's Nice to be Right Once in a While

I'm pretty sure I've mentioned Extreme Networks (EXTR) before.  I've been holding this stock for a while, and wondering why it has been down over the past 3 months.  Sometimes, the market doesn't know what's going on, and investors have to trust their instincts a hold onto stocks that they bought because they believed in the company when they made the purchase.
In the case of EXTR, I fell in love (bad to do, I know) with the company when I figured out what they did and how if worked-into the way companies are doing business today.  It's a growth industry, and as such, one has to endure a certain amount of doubt from the so-called "investors" when something happens that they find a reason to sell.
The stock went from the $11 range down to the $9 range in the relatively short time period of three months, on almost no news - other than the fact that the company was signing-up new businesses and otherwise moving their business forward.  I had to tune-out the noise and trust my instincts - which were rewarded today. To those who sold into earning, I say, "I'll see you in 10 years."
Next up is Cisco Systems (CSCO) who reports on the 16th.  I've held that for a while, waiting for the big news.  My faith will be rewarded, I think.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Cord Cutters, Your Time is Nigh

It's earnings season [again] and you know that gives me a stiffy.  Aside from the financial mumbo-jumbo and forecasts of such, there is some interesting stuff going on in the media sector.

CBS reported a few days ago.  Mega-Chairman Les Moonves said that they will be forming a streaming channel for sports.  He did not have any details, but said it would be along the lines of what NBC does with their streaming content.  OK, then.

Disney reported earlier today.  Bob Iger said that their ESPN branch is going to be streaming content on the Internet, but like Iger, had little in the way of details - price, actual content, or accessibility - but suffice it to say, the idea is to form an Internet-only portal for sports similar to what ESPN does on the cable end.  Oh and, they'll be pulling their content from Netflix (NFLX) in 2019.  So, if you want to see a Disney movie, you'll have to subscribe to their channel.
In addition, he suggested that they may be forming a "Star Wars Channel" and a "Marvel Channel."  At least, when asked about it, he didn't rule it out.  Disney has plenty of content, and the idea of forming individual channels for fans isn't beyond the realm of possibility.

After all, Sirius Satellite (SIRI) radio has individual channels for Howard Stern, The Beatles, Pearl Jam, Billy Joel, and all sorts of specialized content.  Over 200 channels, and if you can't find something to listen to, the problem is with you, not them.

So, why wouldn't video media use the same tact?  Actually, it seems like it's about time.  There's money to be made, and plenty of people willing to pay - which is where the problem comes in.  Follow along:

Today, my cable/Internet bill is $208 a month.  Let's say I cut the cable (aside from local TV, which is $10 a month) and go with Internet-only service from Comcast.  That should cost me in the vicinity of $70 a month, after I have purchased my own router, at a cost of about $100.

Needing content, I'd go with Netflix ($12 a month), Hulu ($10 a month), Amazon Prime ($99 per year), and add-in the pick of your choice (HBO On Demand or Apple Music) at another $10 a month each.
If you like sports - which is the kicker [pun] - you're into the ESPN/CBS bundle for (probably) another $20 to $30 a month (?).  So, let's do the math:

With the $70 a month for Internet, plus all the extra streaming services, they are into your checking account for approximately $135.  All that for the sake of "cutting the cord" vs. the $208 you were paying before.

The point here is, big business has a lot of meetings.  My company has meetings every day.  The other point is, big business doesn't like to lose money.  You cutting the cord means they are losing money.  They don't like that, so they have meetings to figure out how to keep from losing money.  They win, because you still want HBO, sports, and well ... entertainment.  What you may or may not realize is that most entertainment is controlled by the same half-dozen corporations.  So, you cutting the cord means that one or the other of them will have to make-up for your lost income.

So, despite your best efforts, you have two choices.  (1) Go without your desired entertainment for the savings, which is noble or (b) Spend almost the same amount of money you were spending when you had cable and still get to see your precious sports and shows, and flip between a several options to find the show or sporting event you want to watch.  Inconvenience in the name of saving a few bucks.
Those are the short hairs they want to have you hang from.  Rest assured, in some way, they will find a way to get you to pay something close to the money you're paying now.  It's in their next meeting. They don't like to lose.

It's simple - and complicated.  Good luck with your decision.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Before You Get Too Upset About Pete Rose ...

... listen to these lyrics from songs older than you.  Gain some perspective, and stop worshipping celebrities of any age.

Gary Puckett and the Union Gap - 1968. "Young Girl"

Young girl, get out of my mind

My love for you is way out of line

Better run girl

You're much too young girl
With all the charms of a woman

You've kept the secret of your youth

You led me to believe you're old enough

To give me love

And now it hurts to know the truth
Young girl, get out of my mind

My love for you is way out of line

Better run girl

You're much too young girl
Beneath your perfume and your make-up

You're just a baby in disguise

And though you know that it's wrong to be in love with me.w

OK, then.  That's one.  How about this Beatles' classic, "I Saw Her Standing There" 1964.

Well, she was just 17,
You know what I mean,

And the way she looked was way beyond compare.

So how could I dance with another (ooh)

And I saw her standin' there.
Well she looked at me, and I, I could see

That before too long I'd fall in love with her.

She wouldn't dance with another (whoa)

And I saw her standin' there.

And, this Sherman Brothers classic, first performed in 1960, and later by a 37-year-old Ringo Starr ...

You come on like a dream, peaches and cream
Lips like strawberry wineYou're sixteen, you're beautifulAnd you're mine. (mine, all mine)You're all ribbons and curls
Eyes that sparkle and shine
You're sixteen, you're beautiful and you're mine
(mine, all mine, mine, mine)

You're my baby, you're my pet
You walked out of my dreams, into my arms
Ooh, what a girl
We fell in love on the night we met

You touched my hand, my heart went pop
Ooh, when we kissed, i could not stop

Now you're my angel divine
You're sixteen, you're beautiful, and you're mine

Sixteen? That's kind of young for an old man like Ringo.

The point is, (if there is one) young girls have been the target of songwriters and movie scriptwriters for centuries.  We are crucifying Pete Rose because he claimed to have sexual relations with an underaged girl that he thought was sixteen.  OK. So then, why did you buy the songs?

Pete isn't so horrible, compared to you.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Our Curious Stock Market

Without going into a long song and dance, let's look at a few details:

Firstly, today the Dow Jones Industrial Average breached the 22,000 mark.  That was enough of an event for them to make up "DOW 22,000" hats and make a big deal out of it on CNBC.  Is it a big deal? Yes and no.
It's a big deal if you own shares of Apple, McDonald's, Boeing, and United Health who, combined were responsible for 867 of the move from 21,000 to 22,000.  The Dow is a weighted average, so stocks with higher share prices (like Goldman Sachs, who was responsible for the last 1,000-point surge) have a bigger influence.
Conversely, if you were a shareholder of IBM, Goldman (recently) and GE, you were negative 462 points. So, as you can see, the largest companies are responsible for the gain.  All those in the middle (the other 23) were just hanging around. That's a bigger influence than a handful of winners and losers.

It's why the S&P 500 and NASDAQ 2000 are better gauges of market progress than the storied Dow. And, for the record, the S&P has been trading sideways for all that time.  Nobody makes hats for that. What I'm telling you is to take this "Dow 22,000" talk with the proverbial grain of salt.  So, let's move on.

Pfizer (PFE) reported a nice quarter, but my patience is wearing thin.  It's pretty much a 3.9% bond, since the share price doesn't seem to move on any sort of news, and they rely on the dividend to lure investors.  CEO Ian Read said that they have several drugs and exciting prospects for 2020.  Excuse me, but it's 2017.  What can you do for me now?  I'm leaning toward getting out, and finding something more suitable for my growth + value agenda.  I'm looking at BorgWarner (BWA) and Expedia (EXPE) and leaning heavily toward Expedia.  There is a lot of value there, and while I missed out on some of it, there is still room for it to run, and that's what I'm interested in.  And, as such ...

Square (SQ) my new holding, reported a stellar quarter today, and I'm excited about being a shareholder.  It was said that Square is "The Tesla of Payments," which brings me to my next point: What's up with Tesla?

Are they a car company or a tech company?  While I greatly admire Elon Musk and his ventures into solar power, space travel, and electric vehicles, I still think that the share price is ridiculous. If I miss out on it, so be it.  My value-oriented approach doesn't lead me toward investment. Consider these comparisons with another auto-maker, Ford (F).

Ford:  Share price = $11.00. P/E 11.52 with a 5.48% dividend.  Third quarter EPS: .31 Third quarter revenue $33 billion.  2017 estimated revenue $142.3 billion.  Return on Equity: 12.0. Return on Invested Capital: 2.5 Long Term Debt to Capital: .82

Tesla:  Share price = $325. P/E -4.77 with a 0 dividend. Third quarter EPS -1.83 on revenue of $2.51 billion. 2017 estimated revenue $11.32 billion.  Return on Equity: -24.3 Return on Invested Capital: -7.5. Long Term Debt to Capital: .57

Do you see all of those negative signs (-) in front of Tesla's numbers?  One wonders how Tesla's Market Cap is $197 billion and Ford's is $43.5 billion, or roughly 22% of Tesla's.  How many Ford cars do you see on the road?  Ford produces approximately half a million vehicles in a year, while Tesla says they are in "Production Hell" and struggling to keep up with orders of about 5,000 a month.

This isn't to denounce Tesla, it's to question why one company is valued so much less than another, when the lesser company clearly has market share and production. But, that's our stock market.  It's a "futures market," and value depends on what you are supposed to do, not what you are doing.  Ford's problem (if they have one) is that they are doing what people expect.  Tesla's value is in the idea that they will do what people want. Meanwhile, buyers are placing $1,000 deposits for cars that they have neither seen nor driven.  Let's see Ford try that business model.  It makes me question the wisdom of consumers, as well as question the wisdom of investors who continue to buy TSLA and have driven the price of the stock up to $360 after earnings were reported today.

OK - just don't let the water get over your head.

Monday, July 31, 2017

That's All I Have to Say About That

We live in a world where all one has to do to be considered a woman is to add breasts and parade around in women's clothing.  That's it.  He's a she, now, and you're a horrible person if you still call him "he," because - well, she wants to be called a woman.  Inside, there are all the man parts, and none of the women parts, but we are forced to do it because "she" wants it that way.  OK then.  That's a degradation of standards.

When you lose track of standards, anything passes for ... anything.  That's how the ball starts rolling downhill, and this ball has been rolling downhill for decades.  It didn't start with confusing sexual orientation, and it won't stop there either - but it isn't helped by it, and I chose to lead with it to demonstrate a point, such as it is.

We have elected a president who, by some standards, is the "people's choice."  What Lyndon Johnson called "The Silent Majority" was heard loud and clear by our Electoral College, and we now have sitting in the White House a man who is best known for putting his name on buildings and telling people on a TV show, "You're fired."

Part of the problem is that our best and brightest don't want anything to do with the job, so people whom we would elect in a heartbeat prefer to sit on the sidelines and earn billions of dollars while they figure out ways to keep their fortunes intact while the government gives it away.  That's capitalism.

You can put a suit and tie on an idiot businessman [slash] celebrity and call him "president," but that doesn't make him a presidential.  It's a degradation of standards.  But, we still have to call him the President.

It's like that.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Week Ahead

As usual, during earnings season, there is something going on.  This week more than most.

On August 1, two of my companies report.  ACCO brands, which makes almost all of the office supplies that you are stealing from work reports.  We are expecting 26 cents.  In the last quarter, they beat expectations and confirmed guidance.  As a result, the stock declined into the last three months.  I am expecting another earnings beat and anticipating the stock improving on its current share price - if not for anything else - just for a sheer value standpoint.  While the world has been watching Facebook, Amazon, Google, et al., hard product companies like ACCO continue to earn money.  Let's see what Tuesday brings.

Pfizer also reports on the first. Jim Cramer refers to it as a "bond," since it regularly trades in the $32-per-share area and pays a 3.8% dividend.  That kind of makes it a bond.  Shareholders like me aren't interested in holding a bond based on drug prices.  If they do not make some comments about the next year and some acquisitions and/or new drug innovations, this shareholder is out.

Most importantly, on August 2, Square (SQ) reports.  As they say, the stock is "priced for perfection," and I anticipate perfection in their earnings release.  The mobile pay space is interesting.  Some think that PayPal should buy Square, and others think that it is an interesting acquisition target otherwise.  It's a volatile stock, and I'd like to see something positive come from management this quarter so that we can get through this trading range.

On August 3, Extreme Networks reports. They have been quietly growing market share, even as their share price declined from $11 to nearly $9 now.  I'm looking forward to a positive quarter and some upward revisions on earnings and growth, which I anticipate growing the share price back toward the $11 mark that we saw earlier. I haven't seen anything to make me think otherwise.

HERE'S THE BIG NEWS: With some cash left on the table, I purchased shares of JC Penney (JCP) on Friday.  In spite of closing stores and increased pressure from the likes of Amazon and online retailers, most feel that JCP can not only weather the storm, but profit during it.  I'm inclined to agree.  Like most things in life, if you aren't prepared to take a risk, you won't reap big rewards.  JCP is a huge risk-reward scenario, but I think that, at $5.40 most of the risk has already been priced-out, and the only thing left is reward. Their next earnings report is in a couple of weeks.  No less an expert in retail than Dana Telsey has made it her top pick.  You might not know who she is, but she has been a staple in retail analysis for two decades.
If it's good enough for Dana, it's good enough for me.  Take a look and make your own choice.

It's hard to quantify, but next week might go a long way toward whether I can retire in a year or have to wait for three or four more.  I'd just as soon go out sooner than later, which is why I work so hard at this.  You might say, "Why not just invest in mutual funds and quit worrying?"

It's the worrying that makes it worthwhile.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Winner, Winner, Mexican Dinner.

OK, so you can have your Amazon, Facebook, Netflix, and Google (FANG) and we all have them, if you own an S&P 500 Index fund (which you should), they represent the top holdings and most of the gain you have had over the past 5 years.  That's great, and it's right in your face - or on your computer - whatever.  They're easy to spot.  The virtual low-hanging fruit.  Buy them, don't buy them - the market moves on them, and it's probably just best that we own an index fund and let it run on its own momentum - of which there is plenty.

The fun, and to me, the interesting part comes in finding the high-hanging fruit.  The companies that require a little effort and sometimes patience.  One of them is yesterday's Limelight Networks, which is up again today off of yesterday's great quarter.  Another is Mexican casual "fast-food" chain DelTaco Restaurants (TACO) which reported earnings today.  I waited with clenched teeth and sweaty palms, because the casual dining segment has been a mess. Some have prospered and others have failed.  The view here was that DelTaco is a growth story, and its growth continues.  The big "if" was the profits and earnings.  I'm happy to report...

That's a beautiful thing, coming from the restaurant group.  Eight-percent growth, meeting or exceeding earnings, and raising guidance.  The guidance is the key.  If they didn't raise guidance, the stock may have suffered, as investors were probably looking for an excuse to sell it and move on.  As it is, there is no reason to sell this, and there may even be a reason to buy more.  After hours today, the stock is up 29 cents to $13.10, which is basically where it has traded at the high end over the past month or three.   Let's see if Wall Street expresses confidence in them by driving the price up into the 14 to 15-dollar range.  That would show me something.  As for now, I'm a happy long, and I'll look forward to 2017 and 2018.  Maybe I'll get to eat at one of their restaurants?

As for the rest of the goings-on, Starbucks deserves a look if you have a long-range time horizon.  The stock is down after reporting a quarter that didn't give anybody a stiffy.  For those of you with longer term horizins, there may be a buying opportunity.  Just like their coffee, let it cool off a bit before you start sipping.  And, you should sip, not gulp.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

One Down, Several to Go.

When the CEO of a company you are invested in says something like this (below) I couldn't think of a better reason to (a) have tremendous confidence in the company and (b) encourage me to buy more.  Regardless of whether it's a huge conglomerate like Ford or Boeing, or a tiny microcap like Limelight Networks (LLNW) I am thrilled to be in this, and looking forward to watching them grow in 2017 and beyond.

As for the numbers:

Limelight Networks, Inc. (LLNW) (Limelight), a global leader in digital content delivery, today reported revenue of $45.4 million for the second quarter of 2017, up four percent compared to $43.6 million in the second quarter of 2016, and up one percent compared to $44.7 million in the first quarter of 2017. Currency headwinds negatively impacted year-over-year comparison by $0.3 million, or one percent.

Gross margin was 47.1% in the second quarter of 2017, an increase of 390 basis points from 43.2% in the second quarter of 2016.  On a GAAP basis, Limelight reported a net loss of $1.6 million, or $0.01 per basic share, for the second quarter of 2017, compared to a net loss of $57.9 million, or $0.56 per basic share, in the second quarter of 2016. The second quarter of 2016 net loss included a $54 million provision for litigation related to the settlement of the Akamai lawsuit.  Non-GAAP net income was $2.9 million, or $0.03 per basic share, for the second quarter of 2017, compared to non-GAAP net income of $0.6 million, or $0.01 per basic share, in the second quarter of 2016.

And thus goes the first report of my earnings season.  Tomorrow, we hear from DelTaco (TACO) after the market close.  I'm still contemplating adding more, but it might be prudent to wait and see what they have to say.  Chipolte had a nice quarter, as did McDonald's. But Buffalo Wild Wings stunk it up, and the stock was halted.  Ended the day down about 9% after saying that the price of chicken wings was a headwind.  Gee, when your business is serving chicken wings, I'd think that you should be better at managing that obstacle.  Having eaten there a time or two, I wouldn't buy the stock based on my experience.

The casual dining area is difficult, and if DelTaco can impress with a strong quarter and put out a nice forecast for the remainder of the year, it would present an attractive buying opportunity for long-term investors.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Earnings Season! Rabbit Season! Duck Season! Earnings Season!

You know the drill.  It's been three months since they last reported, and God forbid we go more than twelve weeks without having our opinions changed about companies that we liked at one point - or hated - whatever.  Twelve weeks isn't long enough to age wine, let alone figure out what's going on in the high-end world of finances, but it's here, so we deal with it.

Alphabet (nee Google) reported after the close tonight.  The numbers looked pretty good to me.  They beat on the top and bottom line, increased hits and decreased the costs - but Mister Market saw fit to drop the hammer on them after hours.  That tells me that you might get a bargain if you're a buyer.  Wait for the legendary three-day period before jumping in.  It takes a long time to unload a $900 a share stock.  Let it settle-in.

Otherwise, yes I eat my own cooking. Last week, I picked-up shares of Square (SQ) at $26.  I suspect it hasn't run its course yet, and there is still a lot of settling to be done in the payment space.
I sold shares of Micron (MU) to finance it, so I'm counting on the semiconductor companies to be through with their run and make this a good trade.

As for another favorite, Rocket Fuel (FUEL) they have been purchased by a private equity firm, and the transaction was a net loss for me.  Proving that not all takeovers are positive for shareholders.  Nevertheless, I sadly sold my shares for $2.65 and will be using the money to make an attempt to gain back that loss - which is usually a sucker's bet - but I'm a sucker, so I'll go with it.

Limelight Networks reports earnings on Wednesday.  The stock has been gradually climbing out of the $3 range, and is at $3.18 as I write.  I'm planning on buying more before they report.  I am confident that their market in India is strong, and will provide the company with strong growth and earnings into 2018.  We'll know more after their call, but that's the game we play.

The rest will go into a stock that I like, but as Karen Finerman would say, "I'm long and sad."  DelTaco has been trading downward for a month or so.  Several analysts have put a price target on it significantly higher than the current $12.08 price, so this believer is still buying.  Currently, I own over 300 shares.  I'll either look like a giant nitwit or a genius - but that's the game we play.  There is too much growth in this company to be ignored.  An earnings call should come next week.

I'm standing pat on the rest of the calls. Cisco, Pfizer, Extreme Networks, and Square all report in the next couple of weeks.  I'm more confident in EXTR and SQ than PFE and CSCO, but I have been surprised before.  Sometimes, low expectations can work in our favor.

Face east and get on your knees.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

OK, so What Now?

If you believe that the market is fairly or over-valued, it presents a challenge to find companies whose stock prices are not inflated beyond the measurements that the stock market places on them:  Price-to-earnings (P/E) and all of those rational multiples that stock prices are supposed to be based on. Ask a Tesla (TSLA) investor which rational measurements he is investing in, and he won't have an answer for you.  The stock is overvalued on every aspect.  You invest because you believe, and sometimes, you have to throw value out of the window.

I sold Micron (MU) at $29.50 because I had some profits and didn't trust the semiconductor industry.
(By the way, I lose faith in companies the same way I lose faith in old cars.  Once I lose confidence, they have to go, regardless.  And, as Jim Cramer says, "Nobody ever lost money taking a profit.")

Oh, and for the record (if there is one) I sold Snap (SNAP) at my buy price.  Once it ran up into the high 20s, word was that it was unsustainable.  My regret is that I didn't sell it then, but at least I didn't lose anything in the process.  In the mirror.

So, that leaves me with (as they say) money on the table.  There are several options, and I took them all.
Option 1:  Buy more of what I already own.  Going over the portfolio, I have the greatest confidence in Pfizer (PFE) going into 2018, so I increased my stake in them.
I also still like DelTaco (TACO) and have bought more over the past two weeks.  They report earnings next week, and I am still confident that their outlook will be bright enough that investors will see the value, and the $13 share price of today will get closer to the general target of $17.

Option 2:  Keep it in cash until the market corrects.  Feh.  I don't see a huge correction going on.  Plus, if we're buying value, then a correction will likely leave me with a break-even situation, which isn't a big problem to have.

Option 3:  Find the so-called 'next big thing.'  There's the problem.  What is it?  
Banks?  Eh.  We keep waiting for interest rate increases to drive earnings, but the numbers won't support it. Citibank (C) is the biggest value to tangible book value in the group, and I'd flinch at buying it now. Your best revenge would be to try to gain back some of the 22% interest they're charging on your credit card accounts.  And that's not the problem.  The problem is that they aren't adding new investor accounts.  Go figure.
Energy?  Maybe, but for the near future, oil prices are stagnating or going down, so it looks like energy companies will continue to struggle for space and commodity price.
Retail? If you want to gamble, go to Las Vegas.  Whether or not you believe that Amazon is killing everything doesn't matter.  Amazon is killing everything.  Buy TJ Maxx, Target, or Walmart if you want.  In fact, I'd recommend it.  It's just not what I'm looking for now.

After mulling-over the possibilities, I settled on the mobile pay thing.  ApplePay has their niche, and PayPal dominates the web with Ebay.  More and more, people are using their cell phones (are they really phones?) for paying at restaurants and retailers.  There is one company that is on the periphery that is making money doing it, and they may be worth the gamble.

For one thing, the space is so crowded, it's ripe for takeovers and mergers.  Don't buy a stock based on that, but having it in your back pocket is a nice option.  The company:  Square (SQ)
While the stock is up from $16 to $26.33 over the past three months, and has doubled its IPO price of $12 in 2015, there is still room to run.  This is based on negative earnings, and when they report on August 2, it's possible (probable?) that they could report a profit of as much as eight cents a share.
Their system is tied into Visa and MasterCard, and sellers can get analytics through the company's web site of sales data. There is also a SquareCash option that allows cash transfers, like PayPal and Venmo.
From a M&A standpoint, it puts Square in the crosshairs of Visa, MasterCard, PayPal, Apple, and a host of other financial institutions who may be willing to expand their scope.  The risk (of course) is that they will pay more than the present $26 share price.  That's where the profits and expected earnings come in.

If potential investors (merger candidates) see Square as a profitable threat to their own business (PayPal, Apple) or a legitimate add-on to their company (Visa and MasterCard) then you have the potential of a deal.  If Square flounders and doesn't build a client base, then those merger candidates will be content to allow Square to die on its own. I'm willing to bet that it won't happen, and Square will be successful.

Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Google (FANG) have had their run. Their businesses are known, and the risks are evident.  Tesla (TSLA) is a company I love but a stock that scares me.
You can buy General Electric (GE) at a huge bargain, collect the dividend and wait, if that's your game.  I wouldn't say no to that.
General Motors (GM) is a nice bet here, based on their huge value (six times earnings) because God knows, it's hard to turn down a bargain.
The drug stocks (Pfizer, as I said) are good here, and I'm still long Pfizer and loving the 3.8% dividend.  I like Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) too.
Technology keeps motoring along, and I'm counting on selling Micron wasn't a huge mistake.  But, there's always something else, isn't there?

I'm looking for something exciting, innovative, and new.  It's risky, but then, everything new is risky. I think that the industry is still new enough that it hasn't been shaken-out yet.  I'd bet on PayPal and Apple to be survivors.  That's not a big risk.  I want to be bold and stick my neck out.  It's stuck out with Square, Limelight Networks (LLNW), Extreme Networks (EXTR), Rocket Fuel (FUEL), and DelTaco (TACO). I think I've written about those before.
Hey - the world is a big place.  There's plenty of room for growth amidst the value.

Let's revisit this in 6 months and see if I was right.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

My Beautiful Boy

"I'll see you soon. You be good."

That's what I said to Thor every day when I left the flat to go to work.  I would, and he would.  We kept our promises.  That's how friendships work.

I have written about him here before.  (you could look it up) Our relationship was forged from the first day we saw each other.  He in a cage at the PetsMart and me looking for a new companion.  Every other cat had a placard with an explanation of how they wound up there:  My owner was allergic.  I moved to a place that doesn't allow cats. He doesn't get along with my children. Etcetera.

Thor.  Just the placard with his name and age, "Between 1 and 2 years."  "How did he get here?" I asked.  Nobody at the store knew.  Somehow, he appeared - as if to wait for me?  When I took him out of the cage, he placed a paw on my cheek. The shelter women were aghast.  "He never does that with anybody!"
"OK then, I guess this is my cat," I said.
And the rest, as they say, is history.

I saw him through the loss of almost all of his teeth, pancreatitis, weight issues, and kidney disease - which would ultimately be his demise.  But, not without a fight.  I found solace in the fact that, if it weren't for me, he would not have lived the life he did.  He beat all of them, except the kidneys.  Logic tells us that four out of five cats succumb to it.  My heart tells me that he should have been the fifth.  


My home is empty now.  When I call, "Hey buddy, I'm home!" nobody comes to the door. He won't, except in my heart.  I'll always come home to his nose poking out of my door, waiting for his dinner.  You could sit on the deck and watch the birds, chew the grass in my flower pots, or just sun yourself in the warmth of its glow.  It made me happy to make you happy.

We humans don't get many chances to help. People can help themselves.  Machines run and fail.  Grass grows, and flowers bloom without our help.  With dogs and cats, we can pick them out of the darkness of their shelter cage and let them roam around our home and find their peace.  It's what makes life worthwhile for some of us.  

He returned the favor.  He gave me unconditional love. When my life stunk and I wanted to give up, I couldn't, because he depended on me, and I was grateful to be in his service.  It gave my life purpose to make him happy.

When he got sick, and needed fluid injections, pills, and special food to keep him going - it was a financial burden, but I took it on because I got a huge return on my investment - his love.

Eventually, as with all things, they come to an end.  If you want a pet that out-lives you, get a tortoise or a parrot.  Otherwise, you're doomed to relinquish their mortality on your emotional need.  That's just the way it is.

In Thor's case (and this is about him) I felt like I should have been able to do more - but there was no more I could do.  I couldn't force him to eat when he was so sick that food had no appeal. I couldn't make him sleep with me when all he wanted to do was be off on his own, under my desk.  He's a noble beast, and doesn't want me to see him at anything other than at his best, even though he was suffering.  It was his battle, not mine.  I wanted to make it mine, but he would have none of it.

Finally, the illness claimed him.  His tenacity and willpower would give-in to his pain, and he couldn't take it anymore.  I came home and found him on the bathroom floor - prone and listless. It was painful for me to see, and I selfishly hoped that he would pick himself up and make another run at his food, but no.  In fact, he had soiled himself, and when I got the carrier out to take him for his final vet visit, he climbed in as if to tell me, "It's time." He was crying, 'Uncle.'

The thought occurs:  When I came home tonight, I couldn't find him. Eventually, I found him prone in the bathroom - where he never was before - prone and listless. Perhaps he was there because he wanted me to find him, and knew that it would be the first place I looked? It's extraordinary, but it makes sense to think that he would have wanted help in his final hours, and knew that he had to be in the one place that was open.  They are smarter than us.

He fought a brave fight.  Daily fluid injections, four medications, and countless attempts at finding something that he would eat.  All for naught.  In the end, he was better than me.  He made the effort when I wanted to give up.  He wouldn't let me give up because he wasn't worth giving up on.

Until the end, when it was just too much for either of us to endure.  Finally, I had to say, "Goodbye."

You be good.  I'll see you soon.

Friday, June 16, 2017


Unless you've been asleep in a cave, you heard that Amazon (AMZN) bought Whole Foods Markets (WFM) in a deal valued at $42 a share to Whole Foods shareholders, and $13.7 billion to Amazon.  It sent waves of concern through the stock market today, as investors of retailers everywhere started looking under their skirts for a sign that something might be creeping up on them.

All of those names you see above had their stocks hammered or at the very least, bitten into over this deal.  So, what's going on?  Are we headed toward a one-retailer world, or is this just yet another over-reaction to a short-term stimulus?  Or both?

One strange thing that happened is that Amazon's stock went up after the deal was announced, to a degree that equated to almost getting the Whole Foods property for free.  That's odd, especially since the deal was funded from debt.  Somehow, Amazon shareholders didn't care about that.  So, we'll wait for that other shoe to drop.
The other strange thing is that the stock of Whole Foods traded above the $42 offer price for most of the day, and closed at nearly $43.  That tells me one thing:  Somebody influential is expecting another offer to come to the table.  Will that happen?

CNBC analyst Karen Finerman thought that perhaps Walmart could step-in and make a counter-offer for more than the Amazon offer.  There's a low chance of that happening, but apparently, traders thought that there was enough of a shot that it was worth an extra dollar of share price in exchange for the risk.  Let's see what Whole Foods' shareholders have to say about this deal.  A 9% stakeholder, Jana Partners, has been putting pressure on Whole Foods to sell or do something to increase its market share.  They were tired of the moniker Whole Paycheck, which was my impression the few times I shopped there more than 20 years ago.

Now, to the nuts and bolts.  For those of you who think that the Internet rules retail, consider that 92% of all sales is off-line (which includes gasoline - and let's see Amazon get into that) and only 20% of 25-to-34-year old's buy their groceries online.  Those are two big trends, and it's up to Amazon to buck them with this purchase, which one presumes they aim to do.
As far as grocery sales are concerned, Amazon does about $5 billion a year in that "Amazon Fresh" thing that they sell to Prime members.  Whole Foods does $16 billion - so perhaps there is future earnings here?

Are you willing to allow someone else to pick-out your fruit and vegetables and deliver them to your home?  Perhaps I'm old-school, but I enjoy shopping. I like the idea of picking out my own things and taking them home myself.  Is that what Amazon is banking on by buying Whole Foods?  OR ...
Are they planning to make another purchase - such as Lyft or Uber - to enhance the home delivery segment?  Already, Walmart is paying employees to take products to customers on their way home.  This is just one step behind the Uber concept.  Something tells me that Amazon isn't done.

And, what about other businesses?  Would you be willing to buy your prescriptions online and have Amazon deliver them?  Look out, CVS, Walgreen's, and Rite Aid.  Buying a car? Let us deliver it to you.  Carmax, look in your rear-view mirror.
The Universe of possible acquisitions is almost unlimited.

Meanwhile, Amazon has gone from "asset light" (online only) to "asset heavy" (brick and mortar) and one wonders what Jeff Bezos' long range idea is here.  Are they building a network of distribution centers?  It's no coincidence that most of Whole Foods' stores are close to Amazon distribution centers.
Grocery stores are traditionally low-margin businesses, and that's why the sector struggles.  Great companies like Kroger, Costco, Sprouts, and others (see above) are struggling financially while still giving great service and wonderful shopping experiences to consumers.  It's more than the great experience, and the problem is that it's difficult to do both.  That's where Target struggles, and why they will either have to rebuild themselves or give-up selling food altogether.
The latter will be a great concession, since it was a commitment that they made (albeit half-heartedly) to compete with the likes of Walmart.

So - what do we do here?  We watch Amazon for the next move forward and marvel at their preoccupation with world dominance.  If I was a WFM shareholder, I'd hang in, waiting for a counter-offer.  The possibility of some government interference is low, but there is still the possibility of another, higher offer.
What to buy? Well - groceries.  But stocks? My money is on Walmart.  I can't see them laying down and allowing Amazon to roll over them.  Besides, I'd suspect that there is almost no overlap between Whole Foods' customers and Walmart customers.  They are both entrenched in their habits.
And after all, there is room for more than one dominant retailer.

At least for now.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Let us Review:

Over the past several months, I have diverted from the usual opinions of life in these United States and my own struggles with it into the areas of personal finance and our crazy stock market.  I'm hoping that you have been reading, and in some cases, I hope you have taken my advice to heart - or pocketbook - however you see fit.  So - let's see how some of my opinions have fared:

On December 31, 2016 I wrote that "precious metals are ripe through 2017," and backed the opinion up with some horrible ideas about President Trump and his goals.  The particular investment I am in is an ETF that is 65% gold, with the remainder in silver, palladium, and platinum.  Since January 1, the fund is up from $58.53 to $63.56; a gain of a little more than 8%.  I'll accept that as a win, considering the risk involved. If you want your investments to gain more than 9% in six months, maybe you should try betting on football.

On April 12, I reiterated my stance on gold, as well as hi-yield corporate bonds, emerging markets, and municipal bonds. 
The iShares hi-yield corporate bond ETF (LQD) was at 118.31 on April 12.  Today, it sits at 120.05.  OK, then.
The iShares Muni Bond ETF (MUB) was at 109.14 on April 12.  Today, it is 110.65.  Tax-free, mind you. (I have to find a positive in there someplace)
The iShares Emerging Markets ETF (EEM) was at 39.31 on April 12. Today, it is at 41.61.
Gold, we have discussed.
So, this particular idea package would have left you up in general, but you could have done better.  Suffice it to say that these things should be part of a larger portion of your investments.

On April 18,  I said that you should "stay on the sidelines" regarding shares of Goldman Sachs (GS). The stock was at 225.50.  Today, it trades at 222.44.  Sidelines would have been a good choice.
I said that Facebook (FB) appeared to be "fully valued."  It was at 140.96.  Today it is at 149.60. You win some, and you lose some.  I still say, wait on this.  You may get a better opportunity.
I said that The Home Depot (HD) was "a good choice" in the retail sector.  It was at 146.91.  Today, the stock is at 152.96.  Alright, then.
I mentioned CarMax (KMX) and McDonald's (MCD) as well. CarMax was at 57.17, and has come down off its springtime high near 65 to settle at 59.61.  McDonald's was a no-brainer, and is up to 151.48 from around 130 at the time I wrote about it.  I can't take credit for that, since a blind chimpanzee with a pencil in his butt could have picked that one.

The riskier picks I have made are still on the table. I wrote about Highpower (HPJ) and Limelight Networks (LLNW) on April 18.  Highpower had a little run, and it sitting at 4.75, which is near its price when I mentioned it.  Limelight is up about 15% (from 2.50 to 2.95) but is still a huge speculative play.  It could just as easily be back to 2.50 or up to 3.00.  I'm holding it, as if I don't need the money for another five years, which I do not.

The other was DelTaco Restaurants (TACO), which I said "hold it" on April 18.  The stock is volatile,  as is the casual dining industry. If you're inclined to follow me, wait until the stock trades below $13 to jump in.  It's at $13.50 now, and it's approaching my "Don't Buy" price.  (ask me what that is, and I'll tell you) Until then, I'm continuing to make my weekly investments.  With a new CEO and their growth plans still in place, I'm anxiously awaiting their earnings report in August.  Other stocks in the industry have made significant jumps in price, and I'm thinking that rotation out of those names into smaller companies like DelTaco might help get the shares back to the P/E levels of McDonald's and Domino's.  

Overall, I'd say it hasn't been a bad half-year.  I'll continue writing about this stuff if you agree to do your own research and take my ideas and opinions with the significant grain of salt that they deserve.


Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Animals

I don't remember where I read it, but I read it somewhere:  Dogs don't show pain.  They can be in awful agony, and their expression shows no pain.  Things that would put you or I on short-term disability are invisible to dogs. I guess they don't want us to see them in pain, being our best friends and all.

I've never owned a dog.  I'm a cat person.  Cats fit into my lifestyle.  I can care for them, feed them, and leave them for most of the day without worry, as long as their litter pan is clean and they have something to drink.  With dogs, you have to be around to walk them, or fear that they'll pee on the floor.  Not that I'd blame them.  I couldn't sit in a place for 12 hours without the urge to pee somewhere.  I love dogs, but one has to realize ones limitations.

I have shared my life with two cats over the past 26 years.  The first one stayed with me through my divorce and was at my side as we both struggled with desertion.  The cat sat by the front door for a few days, until I said, "She isn't coming back."  Eventually, he acquiesced, and we shared another 12 years together.  He was fortunate, since, during our marriage, I was the one who fed him.

After he died, I went a year without another cat.  I didn't realize how long it had been, but once I felt that the time was right, I sought-out another feline companion.  Sorrow has a long healing period.

I have documented that process, so I will not repeat it.  Suffice it to say, my time with Thor has been both satisfying and a learning experience.  The animals teach us, even though they do not realize it, an they bring joy to us, even though they do not intend it.

He is sick.  His kidneys are failing.  They were tiny to start with, and now their diminutive size is working against him.  He is too young to be going through kidney failure, but old to be doing it with such a small organ.
The satisfaction I bring out of being his caretaker is that he would surely have been dead long ago were it not for me.  Some would see it as a rationalization, but I see it as a truth.

He had gingivitis when I adopted him.  Two years later, while cleaning his teeth, almost all of them fell out.  He was left with a couple of teeth and a still-healthy jawbone due to the diligence of caring for his oral health.  Had he been left to suffer, his jaw would have deteriorated, and he would have died.
Pancreatitis caused him to spend three days in hospital and countless more at home without an appetite.  I struggled to find food that he could eat, settling on chicken broth and the juice from Fancy Feast fish packets until he was healthy enough to chew.

His last set of bloodwork numbers were bad enough for me to think that he was lucky to be alive, let alone still walking and purring.  That was several months ago.  The decline has been slow and steady, and his mood has likewise been declining.  Lately, he sits alone rather than with me, and sleeps in some secluded spot until I find him and gather him up to sleep with me.  It's my selfishness that I require his company, and his selflessness that he wishes to be left alone.

We struggle with out desires.  His desire to be left alone to deal with his declining health and my desire to share as much time with him as possible while his health declines.  We are at crossed purposes.

As these last few weeks (months?) wind down, I will fight my desire to have him at my side while he fights his desire to show his weakness.  I will win, because I am bigger and stronger, but I will feel his pain because that's what I do.  The thing neither of us knows is how much longer we have together.  I suppose that is true of every human/pet relationship, but in this case, we have a finite time and we know it.  I think he knows it, too.  He has to know that he isn't the same cat that he was five years ago.  I know I'm not the same man I was five years ago, and I'm just a stupid human.

We will carry on.  He will get his daily fluid injections (which he has gotten increasingly tired of - as have I) and I will continue to struggle to find food that he will eat - until he stops eating - which I have been told is the next step.  His phosphorous levels will get so high that he will lose his appetite.  Once he stops eating, it won't be long before the inevitable takes command, and I have to do what I have been fearing.

And then, it will likely be another year before I subject myself to the unconditional love and acceptance that a cat gives me.  After all, there's only so much more of that I can take.

Saturday, June 3, 2017


Bill Maher is in trouble.  Again, or now, I don't know.  I think he has been in trouble before over things he has said.  But, here's the thing:  We come to know and appreciate people for their outlandish viewpoints and even celebrate them for it.  Except:  When that viewpoint opposes what we think or want to hear.  Then, it's offensive all of a sudden, and they are punished by the very people that accepted them for being outlandish.  In fact, you can only be outlandish to the point that it offends some people.  After that, you're on your own.  It's a strange place.  Ask Kathy Griffin.

"This is America. We have the freedom of speech in America.  And, you'd better say what you're supposed to say."
- Tom Smothers, 1967

This week is the 50th anniversary of the release of The Beatles' "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album.  While I appreciate the occasion, it is yet another even-numbered anniversary that somehow has more significance than others.  Why wasn't the 49th anniversary a big deal last year?  Because we love even numbers, and nobody ever made money selling "49th Anniversary" merchandise - and, isn't that what it's all about?  OK, let's get beyond that.

For me, the album wasn't a big deal, and for years I struggled with it.  After all, I heard so many people talking about what a grand leap it was musically, and how influential it was.  For me, it was not only not their best album, but I didn't get why it was so highly acclaimed, since the original release wasn't a huge deal to a kid who, at that time had every Beatles' album, Monkees' album, and boxes full of 45s.  As a nine-year-old, I was musically precocious.
Why wasn't it a big deal?  Only now do I realize why.  My father died in May of 1967.  It's probably for that reason that the wind was knocked out of my sails, and this monumental thing that happened a month later would pass by the wayside as a speck in the timeline of my life.
Sometimes, you have to be there - or wish you were not.

Which led me to think about the things that we believe, or believed that we saw happen, or otherwise.  Thousands of people say they were at the game where Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points. It in fact, happened at the Hershey Sports Arena in Hershey, Pennsylvania; where the attendance was 4,124.  I'd guess that many people believed that they were there because they heard the game on the radio or placed themselves in the game for whatever reason occurred in their mind.

I have seen photos of things that happened in my childhood, and believe that I remember those instances, even though I cannot tell (beyond the shadow of a doubt) that I remember the incident or the photograph of the incident as etched in my memory.  What is it that separates our memories from the re-telling or re-imaging of them?  Can we be sure that we actually remember those things, or just the recreations of them?

Do people think that they saw The Beatles on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in February of 1964 because they saw video of it later, or were they actually there?  Their first appearance drew 73 million viewers, but I'd guess that there are five times that many who would testify to seeing it live - including me, as a barely 6-year-old child.  The only thing I can use to back up my testimony is the picture sleeve 45 of "I Saw Her Standing There" that was purchased during that time.  So, I'm not exactly gilding the lily here.
Moreover, in those days, there was no DVR, OnDemand, or other ability to "binge watch" stuff.  You either had to see it live or miss it altogether. Hence, the millions of people who would stay home for Milton Berle or Sid Casear in the early days of television.  You either saw it live or never saw it.  Imagine that, Millennials. [brains exploding]

So, perhaps my memories have merit?  Perhaps I really did see those early Ed Sullivan shows, the Gemini rocket launches, the John Kennedy funeral procession, and perhaps I'm right when I believe that my grammar school teacher wheeled a TV into our schoolroom to watch coverage of Bobby Kennedy's assassination?  It was June 5, 1968 which was a Wednesday - so...

I'll go on believing that, because otherwise, I'm living a lie - and nobody wants to do that.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

How Could We?

We knew more about him than we knew about any presidential candidate in history.  That's not an exaggeration.  He was present in our everyday lives, and on television every week for many years.  Buildings and golf courses were named after him.  We knew.

We knew, and still, the masses (albeit not the majority) voted for him, knowing what a pompous jackass he was.  They justified it by saying, "He says what he thinks," which is another way of saying that he says what nobody should say.  That's the problem.

We elected him to the highest office in the land, and maybe the world. President T***p.  I can't type his name, because it might come up in a Google search and I don't want to be investigated by the FBI after I say that I hate his guts and I wish he'd fall out of an airplane.

Oh - wait --- the FBI?  They're powerless, right?  Nevermind.  I hope Trump falls out of an airplane.  There, I said it.  Hey, you never know.  He might open a door that he thinks is a bathroom and ... explosive decompression.  It happens.

We can only hope.

He is an embarrassment to America and Americans.  People around the world are wondering, "How could you elect him?" And sadly, we are left with the same questions.  It's the principle reason why the allegations of Russian election fixing are paramount in the news.  How else could he have won if not for fixing the election?  I have no idea, since we knew what a skunk he was to begin with.

Mister Trump was a horrible person.  He bankrupted casinos and airlines, played an ass on a network television show, and otherwise endeared himself to those who enjoyed theater.  Theater is different than running a country.  We put President Trump in charge of running our country.

The mind boggles.

So, there he is - running our country.  Giving up secrets to the Russians, Tweeting at all hours of the day and night, snubbing leaders of countries that were once our friends, and generally behaving like a private citizen who won some sort of lottery and is now in charge of the free world.  It's a pathetic fraternity prank.

His supporters are rejoicing - today - but I wonder how much they will be rejoicing once they find out how much of their tax deductions he will take away, and how much of their health coverage will be left to the dust.  His mantra of "Make America Great Again" will be a distant memory when they find out that building his ridiculous border wall will cost them huge chunks of their health care and ta deductions that they took for granted.  The day of reckoning is coming.

He has been in office for barely 5 months, and already the winds of impeachment and "appointing a special prosecutor" are blowing.  One wonders what the next 6 months will bring. He's such a loose cannon, I suspect that he will eventually say or do something that he and his Republican supporters cannot worm their way out of.
Already, NBC Nightly News has devoted 13 minutes of a half-hour broadcast to the latest Russian security leak.  How much longer can it continue?

Not much longer, one hopes.  Although, the thought of President Pence frightens me equally.
But, we'll burn that bridge when we come to it.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Separation of the Classes

It's probably me - yeah, it's definitely me - but the separation of classes in society affects me in ways that maybe nobody else experiences.  Unless you're like me, in which case, I'm sorry.

Life separates us into classes.  There is more than the typical "lower, middle, and upper."  There are sub-sets of those classes, and even though you might consider yourself one or the other, your middle class identity is dependent on your idea of what "Middle Class" is. I'd guess it's not what you think, and I can prove it.

For purposes of this discussion, let's exclude the upper class and the lower class.  If you are lower class, you aren't reading this. If you are upper class, you don't care.  That leaves the...

Middle class - the idea suggests anyone who isn't living on food stamps or earning a six-figure salary at some corporate job, but my research suggests otherwise.
There are variations of middle class.  There's a middle class who is just above lower class, scraping by on credit card debt and living week-to-paycheck.  They call themselves middle class because of their annual salary, which is a bullshit way to evaluate anything.

There are levels of Middle Class. It's not just one thing.  There is the middle class who is like that.  There is also the middle class who has two homes - one here and one in the mountains or at the shore, and doesn't identify with the other middle class.  That middle class is closer to the statistical middle class that we are supposed to identify with.

Some of them have lavish homes in the suburbs. Others have homes in more than one location - even though they are saying that they are part of 'us,' it is clear that they are not. It's either some expensive home, or other extravagance that we know is out of our reach as "The Middle Class," and we are left wondering ... how the fuck?

That's my usual response: "How the fuck.." with the middle being "...can they" and the end being "...that?" With a question mark.  I suppose I prefer the company of those who are economically challenged, otherwise, why would I be asking these questions?

I know how much money I make, and I have an idea how much money they make - and I cannot make the two equal the same "Middle Class" qualification - so, I figure there must be some other sociological classification that they fall into, or I fall into.  Either way, it's disturbing to realize that I am not in the same social circle as people that I am equated with.  Why don't I fall-in with the same people I am supposed to be in a "class" with?  Economically, I'm not close.

And therein lies the rub:  My discomfort with people.  In general, or sociological; whatever.

For all we know, this void will grow
And everything's in vain, distressing you won't leave me open
Feels so right that I'll end this all before it gets me.
- Seether

And so, it's like that.