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

CLEAN-UP IN AISLE FIVE

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.

Godspeed.




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

Memories

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.  





Thursday, May 4, 2017

How Do You Do it?

It first occurred to me in 1996, when my (future ex) wife left me.  She encouraged me to go to therapy because ... well, I thought she thought I needed it. I agreed because I thought it was the best way to save our marriage.  Little did I know ...

She gave me the address of a therapist that she had found, and I went - on a weeknight at some stage of our deteriorating relationship - in the hope that it would salvage what was left of it.

After hearing both of us out, the therapist told us that "we shouldn't be married." That interested me, and I later found out that she had been to the therapist earlier, and only sent me as a knowledgeable participant in her game.
When the therapist asked her where she had gone to deal with it, and whom she had spoken to.  The answer came, "I went back to my parents' house."

When the therapist asked me, I gazed into the ceiling and thought for a second... "No one.  I didn't go to anyone.  I stayed home," was my reply.  The therapist looked at me in awe, and asked again, "So, you didn't talk to anyone?"
"No, I didn't."  I thought that was a reasonable answer, given the fact that I didn't have any friends - or at least any friends I thought I could go to with such a horrible life circumstance...

Rewind:  I came home that afternoon to a home that was bereft of her possessions and a note that said, "I'm sorry I couldn't be the person you wanted me to be.  Take care of the cat. He is very special."

I'm not sure how someone is supposed to react to something like that.  For me, I sat down and made a list of the pros and cons of what was going on, and the financial aspect of each.  As it was, I decided that I could make it on my own, as long as I didn't have any life-altering issues to get in the way of my financial goals.

For the record:  I took care of the cat. He lived another 12 years under my care, and died quietly of kidney failure at the age of 18.  He was my rock.

After looking into our bank account, I found that she had left with half of it.  Enraged, I ran back to her (parents) house and demanded the rest of "my money," since I felt that it was entitled to me as she had left for the security of her old home and I was left with the rest of the bills.  That may be right or wrong, and I'd leave it to a court to decide.  Nonetheless, I got my (our) money back.

Suffice it to say, I survived - however - and managed to exist on one salary where we had previously gotten along on two.  The sacrifice was no more vacations, lavish weekends, or otherwise fun things that two people did.  It was: Pay bills, care for the cat, and feed yourself.

Often, I have gone back to that therapist's words of,  "So, you didn't talk to anyone?"  I wondered if she was in a world of people who routinely leaned on others for their problems or asked for medication to get through difficult times.  I figured that people had their own problems, and didn't need me to compound the issue.  I can deal with it myself.

Because "dealing with it myself" is what I had always done.  Don't bother other people with your problems.  Your problems are yours.  They have their own issues, and don't need you.  It's like that.

I'm an only child, and grew up in an area where there were few people my own age.  My father died when I was nine, and I suppose that combined to make it difficult for me to ask people for help or expect it.
I remember, when dad died, my mother asked a family friend to take me to Gino's for lunch, supposedly to distract me from the reality.  I wondered, "Why is this person who I have never socialized with suddenly taking me out for food?"  He probably wondered the same thing, but was doing so because he was asked.
I was nine years old, and the whole thing washed over me like a wave.  I remember things my father taught me, and our time together; but the impact of his leaving me was lost on my age. I didn't understand.  He was gone forever, but the child in me didn't understand what forever meant.

I understand it now.  it toughened me to death and the certainty of it.  Not that it mattered less, but that the idea of it made it real to me at a young age.  I saw him die in our living room in front of my mother, and I was there for the subsequent burial and consequences of it all.  It hardens a child, even if the child does not realize it at the time. He realizes it now.

I had nowhere to go, other than the neighbor's house while the doctor and whatever medical people came to take his body out of our house. Before they sent me next door, the end had come.  My mother was hysterical. She held her hand up to his nose and said, "I can still feel him breathing!"
The doctor told her, "It's just the air escaping from his lungs."

How can a child experience that and not be changed?

I could not.  And so, I do not ask for your help.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Earnings Season!

It's another earnings season.  For market geeks like me, it's four-times Christmas.  

Applied Micro Devices (AMD) reported yesterday, and the stock has been down ever since.  I suppose it's because chips have topped-out?  It would have taken a massive quarter for them to continue their upside run, so I guess a bottom was in the forecast. Buy if you must.

Pfizer (PFE) [a core holding here] reported revenues that beat the street but earnings that disappointed.  The word from the street is that they need to pursue acquisitions in order to increase their market share and profits.  The stock might be a raging buy at these depressed levels, but do your own DD.  C'mon folks, get sick already.

Apple (AAPL) got clobbered because of expectations over the release of iPhone7, which most of us didn't pay attention to anyway.  It's possible that you can swoop-in and pick this up in the 135 range.  Otherwise, let it run through the summer.  The (supposedly) groundbreaking iPhone8 won't be out until at least October, so bide your time.  There isn't much to suggest that the stock will surge over the already-all-time-high price.  Rumors are that they are working on a Siri-like replacement for Amazon and Google's personal assistant. Let's see where that goes.  My guess is that people want less intrusion into their personal life than more.

On Wednesday, Facebook, Fitbit, Square, Tesla, and Clorox report earnings.  That should be a big day - but I said that about Monday, too - and look what happened.

Facebook looks to continue its run of success.  I don't see anything to derail another positive earnings report.  Unless you consider that the stock is already priced for perfection.  In which case, I'd hold it until they say something.
Fitbit is another story.  They haven't been able to penetrate the personal wearable space.  Garmin (GRMN) has been a major factor and unsung in the space.  Fitbit is the "Kleenex" of wearables.  They call them "Fitbit's" but the company hasn't been able to capitalize on the brand. Let's see what they say.  My guess is a neutral quarter that will leave as much to speculation as anything.

Square (SQ) is an interesting story.  The company went public in November of 2015 at around $13 a share. They should be approaching profitability now.  

Tesla (TSLA) is a complete mystery to me.  They sell fewer cars than General Motors, Toyota, or Ford; and yet their market cap is higher than any of them.  Part of that is the idea that investors think that Elan Musk has some sort of mojo on the rest of the market and his ideas will catch on. They might, but not until the stock capitulates into the low 200s.  Wait on it.

Good old Clorox (CLX) They make more stuff than you realize, and they are expected to earn $1.30 in this latest quarter on revenues of about $148 billion.  If you're looking for a stock to give to your grandchildren, I wouldn't look much further than this.  For you?  Eh.

As for me, I'm waiting on a favorite DelTaco Restaurants (TACO) to report on Thursday.  I like everything this company does, and I suspect that I'll like what they have to say on Thursday.  McDonald's and Domino's can't be the only places to be in fast food.

Godspeed.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Some Pots Don't Have Lids

I'm sitting here, realizing how long it has been since I have touched a woman.  Touched, as in felt, handled, held hands, kissed, or otherwise been familiar with.
Most of you have no idea what I'm talking about.  Either you're a woman who has to beat men off with a stick, or you're a man who has some "game" that leads women to you.  Either way, you probably cannot identify with me when I tell you that I have not touched a woman in an amorous way in over five years.

Yeah.

I say it's been five years, but it may be longer than that.  I said five because it's a nice round number.  It might be six, or eight.  I don't remember - which is the point, exactly.

I will be 60 years old soon.  Sixty.  I have never been in jail.  I have been employed since I was 18, and I have owned my own home for over 25 years.  There must be something wrong with me, right?

I see men who have no idea what cleanliness means, what deodorant is, how their shoes should be tied, how to hitch their pants to their (disappearing) waist line, or if a razor exists or what to do with it -- and yet, they have women crawling all over them, and have been happily co-existing for several decades.

Me - I can't have an argument with a woman without her abandoning me for -- nothing -  and I can't dress myself up enough to make a difference.  I guess it's because I have no money, or no "game," or whatever it is that draws desperate women to men like that.  That's their choice, and I cannot dispute it.

I think I'm an interesting person.  I have ideas, opinions, and things to say.  I clean-up and speak nicely when I'm around people. I'm in decent shape for a man of my age, and I have my own car, a job, and ... stuff.  Not enough, I suppose.

I've run it through my head a number of times, and I can't rationalize the difference between me and the rest of "them."  You know "them."  Those guys.  Them.

Perhaps I underestimate women?  Or overestimate them?  Maybe they want more than what I am, or maybe they want less?  Either way, I cannot pretend to be someone I am not in order to impress someone.

I remember my ex-wife telling me, "I was disappointed in you."  I wondered how, since I never put-on airs or told her that I was something I was not.  I figured that she wanted me to be something that she had built-up in her head, and I didn't measure up to that.  I can't change that.  Meanwhile, the real disappointment came from me toward her.  I was disappointed that she didn't love me for who I was, which is what our wedding vows said.  But, I digress.

When people stop smoking, they spend the first few weeks craving a cigarette.  After a month or two, they still miss it, but they can get along without it.  Once the feeling passes (after years?) they realize that they never needed the cigarettes at all, and it was silly to crave them to begin with.  I'm in the fifth year of being without "cigarettes."  I'm starting to get frightened that I might be weaned off the feeling altogether.

I don't know what I'm supposed to do.  I'm not interested in some one-night hook-up via Tinder or one of those disastrous web sites.  When I have sex with someone, it's a bonding experience, not a notch in my bedpost.  I can't "hunt and gather."

I've tried to dismiss the feeling, as though it's something that is unique to me, but I keep seeing people happily coupled-up and I can't help but think that, at nearly 60, that there isn't something wrong with me -- because there is.

There is.

Millions (literally) of people are couples, and contests give away "tickets for two" to something (which I refuse to enter) and vacations are priced "Per person, double occupancy" because one person traveling alone is more expensive, and even our government screws individual taxpayers.  The world is made for two.

Lonely is an Eyesore.

I sit at bars, restaurants, and shows in my single seat.  I see the glances, the "oh, he's by himself," and I have been asked, "How can you go to a show by yourself?"  Well, it's either go alone or miss it altogether.  They don't think about that part.  The upside is, it's easy to get seats to shows when you're only looking for one.  The downside is ... the downside.

So, where does it leave me?  Right where I was, unfortunately.  I thought that, as I aged, I'd be "A Catch."  The kind of guy that women saw as secure or ... whatever ... and I'd be the guy who "beats them off with a stick."  I don't have a stick.

It is like talking politics or religion.  Say, "I'm lonely" and people turn their heads and pretend to get a phone call.  It's social anathema.  Think about it, but don't talk about it.  It goes hand-in-hand with depression.  Lonely people are depressed because they are lonely, and they are lonely because they are depressed.  Nobody wants anything to do with them.  You can say it, go ahead.

We don't want to be a charity case or some project or puzzle for you to solve.  Some puzzles cannot be solved. Some projects have no conclusion.  It's the reason the whale - the largest mammal on the face of the Earth has a small throat-opening and most of them have no teeth. It's just the way it is, and there's nothing you can do about it.

It's up to us to live with it.  You can't eat steak if all you can eat is plankton.

I know, you were expecting more from me, but that's all I have.

I was expecting more from you, too.



Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Sports Uber Alles

There is no bigger example of how sports rules American life than the NFL draft going on this week in Philadelphia.
For several weeks, traffic has been diverted around the site near the iconic Art Museum, and it will be diverted for several more weeks while they set-up and clean-up the massive structures that are being erected to commemorate the religion that is professional football.

So, what's going on?  Well - a professional football league (the National Football League) is drawing names in a progressive order, to declare which college players will be eligible to play for them in the upcoming season.  Sounds important, right?  Oh - no?  Well, it's pretty important, if you stop to look at what's going on in the city.

Streets around the Art Museum have been blocked off for a couple of weeks, and more are being blocked every day.  We didn't do this much when the Pope came here.  These are young adults playing football, fer-Christ-sakes. Supposedly, the largest stage ever built in North America is being built for ... what?  22-year-old's running up to hear their name called to become part of the National Football League.  That sounds important, right?

Meanwhile, other 22-year-old's are graduating with high honors at colleges across America, and they are fortunate to have a cake and a dinner with their family.  I know, some of them are getting expensive cars and gifts ... from their families ... but there is no national league of (oh, I don't know) accountants or scientists giving them a big stage to come up and get a hug from the head of the Big Accountants of America or the National Scientific American Association (assuming either of those exist) upon their successful graduation with something close to a 4.0 grade-point-average.

Well, wait ... these kids on Thursday ... what? Ran really fast and jumped higher than their fellow student --- um, student athletes -- so it's only fitting that we shut-down an entire city for a month to reward them with a hug from the head of their employer and a two-hour stint on national television.

That seems fair, right?

After all, who will contribute more to society?  A guy who spends four years running an oblong object up and down a grass field for our entertainment or an honor student who discovers a cure for some disease or declaring some new scientific principle?  It's a no-brainer, right?

Yes, the term no-brainer is a particular problem with me, but I digress.

The glorification of sports in society is the problem.  It is fed by the saturation of media and their obsession with people who can jump high or run fast over those who can think or react.  It's not that it isn't important, it's that it isn't that important - or as important as we make it.  
Think about it -  three days, and countless hours of network television time over a professional sports league picking players to work for them.

Get a grip, America.




Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Big Week Ahead

There is a big week ahead in your portfolio-thingy.  Over in France, they are having an election on Sunday.  Yes, Sunday.  The French are goofy.  I suppose they expect everyone to vote, or something? One wonders what would have happened if we had a full turnout last November, instead of electing someone with 49% of the vote with barely 60% turnout.  But, I digress.

Our stock market will react - however it will - to the results on Sunday night.  Sadly, there is nothing you or I can do about it, so we are forced to grimace and bear it.  But, these are the facts:
  • Like the Brexit vote several months ago, the markets may tank, and you will have an opportunity to jump in and buy quality stocks at a discount. Or ...
  • Like last November, the market will react positively, and you will have an opportunity to hold onto whatever you own and watch it increase in value over ... nothing, really.  That's the beauty of the stock market.
Meanwhile, many big companies are reporting earnings on Tuesday.  Among them, Caterpillar, DuPont, CocaCola, Eli Lilly, McDonald's, 3M, and Chipotle.  They are all big market movers, and one suspects that any or all of them will have the power to move the general market one way or another.
McDonald's has had a big run.  Whether or not you support their ideals, the stock is up about 20% year-to-date, so it doesn't matter if you do not care for burgers and fries, because somebody does.  It's difficult to bet against this behemoth, and I'd say that you shouldn't either.

Coca-Cola has been floundering, and they are struggling to re-discover themselves in the face of increased taxes on sugary soft drinks and the backlash on that.  I'd guess that they will have found a way around that, and the stock will continue its upward trend.

Chipotle has been struggling to find its footing after their health scares almost two years ago.  The public's memory is short, and this quarter should be the one that says whether or not they have forgotten.  As for me, I've never eaten at one, so I don't know what you expect.

On Wednesday, Twitter reports.  Stockholders are anxious, and waiting for management to figure out a way to monetize something that almost everybody uses but does not pay for. Something tells me that our long, free ride is coming to an end.  They have to find some way to monetize the content, and it's a matter of time before it starts costing us money to stay in.

On Thursday, Southwest Airlines reports.  They might have something to say about the debacle at United, but there is probably enough positive stuff to talk about without talking about that nonsense.  More importantly, Under Armor, Amazon, Microsoft, Domino's, and Google (Alphabet) report.  Hey - can somebody get together and separate this stuff into different days? My attention span is suffering.

Amazon is a giant force in retail, but I think they might miss earnings. It's about time, don't you think?  This may present a buying opportunity for those of you who are looking for one.
As much as I love Baltimore-based Under Armor and its products, the stock is over-valued, and I think there may still be a better opportunity to own it.  Listen to what they say, because I think it may be a soft quarter and push the stock price back closer to the low-teens where it will be buyable.
Domino's is technology disguised as pizza.  Yeah, they sell pizza, but its an emoji away from your home. other firms are struggling to catch up.  I'd guess that their market dominance will continue for a while.  It's just pizza, but there is little competition.  Your local shop cannot keep up.

On Friday, General Motors reports.  This is the first of the big auto-makers.  Ford's earnings will come on the following Friday.  The best guess is that the auto stocks have about ten percent left to drop, which is odd, since Ford already trades at an obscenely low multiple.  Go figure.  It just proves that it doesn't mean that making a great product translates into stock appreciation.
Exxon-Mobil and Chevron also report on Friday.  Oil is in trouble, in spite of President Trump [cough] and his pro-drill stance.  It's still a supply and demand market, and oil prices may remain low until the summer.  You can buy these, but make sure to pick your spots.

Overall, this is a big week coming up.  If you have money put aside, several big names might go on sale either because of the French election or some misstep on earnings or ... some big brokerage house wanting to drive the price down by reading something into the earnings report.  It's up to you.

As for me, I'm sticking with the buy-buy-buy mantra.  It all evens-out in the end.  If you stick with good companies, your patience will be rewarded.



Tuesday, April 18, 2017

So, What Now?

OK, so I'm no Warren Buffett.  I'm not even Jimmy Buffett, but I do like Chinese buffets - so, I have that going for me - which is nice.  However, I do keep up with things, and I have opinions, which is why I do this.  But I digress.

It's earnings season - again. Seems like it comes around every three months - because it does.  It's junk food for market geeks like me, and I enjoy hearing the reports, especially when they don't involve stocks that I own or markets that I follow.  So, what's going on?

Today, Goldman Sachs (a.k.a. Golden Slacks or ticker symbol GS) reported a less than stellar quarter, and predictably the stock got hammered, to the tune of a 4.7% loss. Since the Dow Jones is a weighted average, their loss was the market's loss, and the DJ Index took a 113-point hit.  The pessimist could look at it as a clobbering.  The optimist can look at it as a buying opportunity.  I say, wait three days and allow the big institutions to sell-out of the stock before you jump in, if you're inclined to jump in.  As for me, I'm inclined to stay on the sidelines, because the banks are going to struggle, and the banks like GS who depend on market conditions to thrive will struggle even more.  Keep your money in your pocket.  Why?

Because Trump hasn't gotten anything done that he promised.  The bank stocks jumped after November 8, 2016 in the anticipation of some reform or other that he had promised.  Meanwhile, all we have so far are a lot of Executive Orders, and no real laws or changes in the tax code, which is what the banks were counting on.  And, the Federal Reserve has merely promised two or three more rate hikes, but until we see it, we have yet to believe it.

Visa (V) reports on April 19, and Bank of America (BAC) reported so-so earnings last week. MasterCard (MA) reports on the 26th - so watch the skies.

If a bank that collects 22% interest and pays out 1% can't make money, what hope is there?  Exactly.  These next two weeks will tell us a lot about what the economy will give investors over the rest of the year.  The meager quarter of a percent interest hikes that will (or may) come will do something, but I wonder if the excitement over "the bank stocks" has played itself out?

I suspect that the rest of the banks' earnings for this quarter will be less than stellar, and it appears that "the market" is looking for any excuse to drive it down.  Perhaps the best strategy at this stage is to keep money on the sidelines, and wait for what I anticipate, which is a big correction - a.k.a. DUMP to the downside, which should provide long-term investors with that great buying opportunity.  You can switch-on the big time machine and go back to November 2016 to grab some of these great companies that will be on sale.

Retail?  No.  There is a paradigm shift going on that is driving big retail either (a) out the door or (b) scrambling to try to figure out how to compete with Amazon and other online retailers who are kicking their butts now. Walmart might be able to beat them, but only by sheer size, and the idea that consumers want to touch stuff and get it at a lower price. The Home Depot is another good choice, since they sell things that Amazon cannot, which is where the safety is. CarMax, McDonald's, and stand-alone stores that can't touch Amazon's giant market share.  Make your own choices.

Technology?  Maybe.  You have to pick your spots.  Facebook appears to be fully valued, and even with their competitive edge on Snapchat and Twitter, they are trading so far above their fair value that they are "priced for perfection," which is difficult to execute.  Be careful. And at that, are they even "Technology," or are they just media plays?  To me, technology is Micron (MU) Intel (INTC) and Nvidia (NVDA) which is where the money is - microchips and the stuff that runs them.  Amazon? It's retail, and you may think it's expensive until it continues to go up, in which case you'd wish you bought it a year ago. Such is life.

Utilities? Maybe.  Rising interest rates will put pressure on utility stocks, whose saving grace is their dividend yield.  Once rates rise to the 2% range, utilities will be seen as too risky when investors can get a guaranteed 2% without breathing hard.

Gold?  It goes up and down (no kidding) but inevitably, rises with the threat of inflation.  As I have said here, the president's "Hire American, Buy American" theme will drive prices up, and those who support this mantra will be forced to pay for it.  The safe haven is gold, and maybe Municipal Bonds. Those areas of the investing spectrum appreciate when there is spending on infrastructure and inflation.  Those things, you can depend on - it says here.

Everywhere else?  It's a gamble, and you don't like to gamble, do you?  OK if you do - here are a few that I have found ON MY OWN - so, as they say, buyer beware.  Go get 'em:

Rocket Fuel (symbol FUEL) They provide data to marketers to anticipate where users are going to shop.  It's called "predictive marketing," and they just entered into a partnership with IBM to provide information to their users.  They are already working with BirdsEye, Bridgestone, Toshiba, and Buick.  It's invasive, but it's the future.

Sirius Satellite Radio (symbol SIRI) If you know anyone who has a new car, they have Sirius XM satellite radio.  The stock rose 20% when they announced the renewal of Howard Stern's contract, but there is so much more to it than that. Net income has risen 20% over the past year, and the stock has more room to run from here, as users realize the value of the services Sirius offers.

Del Taco Restaurants (symbol TACO) The second-largest Mexican restaurant chain in the United States has been under pressure lately, as a few independent law firms have accused management of inflating earnings.  That's usually bad news, but the stock has rebounded from it, which tells me that the claims are specious.  Do your own research, but for me, I continue to hold this stock.  They have announced expansion plans into Georgia, and it's a matter of time before the company gets out of the Southwest and becomes as common a name as Taco Bell. I remember when Best Buy was a limited retailer, too.

Two pure Speculative Stocks:  Limelight Networks (LLNW) and Highpower International (HPJ):
Limelight provides cloud services and content delivery services to companies worldwide. It is looking to report its first break-even quarter on April 24.  If that happens, and they have something positive to say about their future, it's the place you want to be.
Highpower is a Chinese company that manufactures batteries.  The stock is up over 100% since February, and they just signed an agreement with DJI, which manufactures drones.  So, I suspect something other than pure battery power is going on here.  If you're like me, every f**king thing you own runs on batteries, and companies that make the things should be able to make money. Go figure.

Anyway - be fruitful and multiply.  Do your homework.




Friday, April 14, 2017

Where We Wind Up

I don't have enough time or space to opine on why we are who we are or why we are born where we are.  Let's just accept that as a quirk of fate and move on.  After all, who among us knows why we were born of our parents and why we were not born somewhere or someplace else?  How did I wind up here and not in Botswana or Japan?  Why am I a caucasian American and not a slave in 1820s America? If you have a clue, let me know.  There is a comments section at the bottom.

For now though, let's say that none of us knows why we are here or what we are supposed to be doing. That's fair enough, eh?  If this is too deep for you, then just move on to the next Dilbert cartoon in your feed and allow me to work on this by myself.

Many of us work long and hard trying to figure out where we are going in "the next life," without trying to figure out why we are in this life.  I guess we accept it as a matter of fact and move on.  Well, I for one cannot do that.  I ask questions and for the most part, I get no answers.

Where are the answers? I don't know, and none of us know.  All I'm doing here is trying to get you to ask the questions.  The answers are mostly opinions, or acceptance of some reality that you have bought into.  Why am I here? Because I am.  That's not an answer.  If like me, you cannot accept "because it's there" as an answer, you are left with the larger question.  I don't have the space here to expound on it.

"Why am I here?" is the biggest question we can ask.  I don't know why I came across this.  It's probably along the same lines as the "Big Bang Theory" folks who envision the Universe being created some sort of instantaneous event. OK then, who created the creation? How did the creator become the creator?  These are the kinds of things that keep me awake at night.

We are consumed with "Who Made That?" because we can develop an idea about who invented the electric guitar, the telephone, or the microwave oven.  Those are all people who were already here.  OK then, how did we get here, and what force created us and WHO CREATED THAT FORCE?

I'm going to sleep now. Talk amongst yourselves.


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Mighty Thor

He is strong.  Stronger than you or I.  Certainly stronger than I.

He has battled gingivitis, which prompted all of his teeth (save one lower) to be removed, and restrict him to a life of canned food.
He battled high cholesterol, which caused him to have pancreatitis, which put him in the hospital for three days.  After which, he struggled to eat for two weeks, forcing me to find something that he could stomach until he returned to his version of normal.

The ultrasounds that were done during his illness told us that he had smaller than normal kidneys, and the prognosis was negative.  Cats like him didn't survive much past the age of seven.  So, we knew - for whatever good that did us.  Good for him, I guess.

The deterioration was slow.  The numbers decreased as he started eating special kidney diet food and I gave him IV fluids.  Inevitably, the disease would catch up with him, and by his mortality he would succumb.  It was so slow that I didn't realize it myself until a couple of weeks ago, when he stopped eating the special kidney food.  I blamed myself for not being more devoted to giving him his IV fluids, but I wondered if that was the cause or merely my guilt? He's my boy.

And then, he started vomiting.  Last week.  Vomiting up ... nothing ... just a white bubbly fluid.  The kind of thing that makes one realize, "Wait ... what?"

A quick call to the vet, and Thor was on the table.  His weight had dropped a pound (something else I had noticed) and his bloodwork numbers were off the charts - in a bad way.  What was within Stage 3 of kidney failure was now well outside of Stage 4 in less than eight months.  And yes, there are only four stages.  The kind of numbers that, if you had a lottery ticket, would make you a millionaire for life.  Only this lottery, you don't want to win.

I got the call on Tuesday.  The call I suspected but didn't want.  That Thor's behavior was excusable due to his extreme sickness.  His smaller-than-normal kidneys were failing, and it was just a matter of time (a short time) before he had to give-in to an illness that affects 4 out of 5 cats.  There are some extreme measures that could be taken, but none that could extend his life beyond the next 4 to 6 months. The end is inevitable.

Which leads me to think:  Couldn't a big pharmaceutical company like Eli Lilly, Merck, or Pfizer come up with a cure for a disease that affect 4 out of 5 cats?  It seems like a BAZILLION dollar idea, right?  I suppose not.  At least not in time for my Thor. But I digress.

Here we have my Thor, lying on the carpet in his version of agony, with me scrambling to find something for him to eat.  The verdict that came was Meow Mix which, while not on his diet, I figured was within tolerance of a cat about to become ashes.  After all, he has less than a month, so why not make it as happy as possible?  Take the kids to McDonald's.

As it is, he is sitting in the living room (you call that living?) apart from me, while he usually sits with me, wherever I am.  It's a "cat thing" that they don't seem to want to disappoint us by being  less than their best around us.  It translates to us, as I do not want to be less than myself among you.  Thor and I are kindred spirits.  I am struggling to live without him. Nuts, right?

He is on a path.  It's a short path, and I do not know how long it is - but I will live it with him - because he as lived so much with me.  He has been my best friend through some of my worst days.  His nose has been at my front door every day.  His body has lied next to mine every night, and he will be next to me on the day when I finally have to say 'goodbye' to my friend and companion.


Your Next Move

Thursday marks the unofficial (official?) beginning of "Earnings Season."  My second favorite other than the start of baseball season.  Only in this case, you have to be wary of where your money is.  With baseball season, all you have to worry about is where your car is parked.

The banks will lead off.  Among others, JP Morgan and Citibank.  The biggies.  During the last big rally - after Trump was elected (you remember) - the banks led the way because investors thought that they would be the force once his administration got healthcare reform and lowered corporate income taxes - and the Fed raised interest rates.  Well ...

We see how that has gone.  Trump is nearly into his first 100 days and ... nothing. has. happened.  Oh,  unless you count launching missiles at North Korea.  Now, you have something.

Once the banks start reporting, it's either "run for the hills" or "hold the line," since bank stocks control a large portion of the S&P 500 - which is probably where most of your retirement fund is invested.

You will know by noontime on Thursday.  Know now that the "Trump Market" is over.  He couldn't get health care reform passed, and that means that tax reform is on delay, too.  That's something that he failed to tell us during his campaign.

He was only interested in winning. He wasn't interested in telling us the truth.  For instance...

Gold prices would continue to go up as inflation risk increased and Trump himself said that the dollar was overvalued. You could read it here, if you scroll back.

Since he couldn't get anywhere with his domestic agenda, he has leaned on having meetings with corporate executives at the White House.  What that proves, I have no idea - other than making Americans think that his agenda has more to do with making America great than it does with making him and his ancestors wealthy.

Launching rockets against Libya has more to do with his decreasing public opinion ratings than actually supporting an agenda other than making himself popular.  That's the kind of thing that presidents do when they have no other recourse.

So --- bottom line --- watch the bank earnings this week. If they don't keep up with expectations (which is the viewpoint here) then you need to find alternative investments.  May I suggest....

Municipal bonds.
High-yield corporate bonds.
Emerging market funds.
Gold and precious metals.

That's it.


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Mining the Depths

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is still time to decide.



Thursday, March 2, 2017

Oh, SNAP!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Either way, I win.