We’re Number One !!

Here’s something that we don’t see very often.

A U.S. city, state capitol, no less, declaring bankruptcy.

That’s almost as unheard of, as say, Athens declaring bankruptcy, except that the buildings in Harrisburg are in a greater date of disrepair.

That decision to do the unthinkable can’t inspire too much confidence in municipal bonds, even though the city comptroller has indicated that they are still current on the General Obligation notes.

The cynic in me believes that the decision to declare bankruptcy isn’t entirely coincidental.

With all of the world’s attention focused on Greece and the EU, we’re starting to feel a bit left out on this side of the pond, and if there’s anything that we need, almost as much as oxygen itself, it’s the spotlight.

I think that Harrisburg is looking toward Florida for its inspiration and wants that Andy Warhol moment in the sun.

Florida, as well as some other states, is challenging New Hampshire’s hold on being the nation’s first Presidential Primary state.

For some reason, it seems important for a state to be the first, probably because that’s where the big campaign money goes, as serious candidates need to get their toehold early or fall into the abyss.

And that spending blitz isn’t just restricted to media campaigns.

Take for example the tremendous boost just given to the New Hampshire hospitality industry as Mitt Romney, in return for an early endorsement, agreed to provide Governor Chrisite with an unlimited supply of McRIb sandwiches when it is re-introduced onto New Hampshire’s McDonalds’ menus.

FIrst out of the box has its benefits in most every competitive arena.

No doubt that Harrisburg didn’t want Greece or Italy going first. You just know that when that first one goes, the rest will just domino.

Harrisburg simply didn’t want to get left in the dust or ash heap that their $300 million trash incinerator bond had them headed.

Sure, those are quasi-nations within the framework of the European Union, but in an “America FIrst” sense of indignation, Harrisburg did what so many other municipalities around the countyr just didn’t have the nerve to do.

No one strives to be #4.

Besides, how else does a relatively sleepy backwater state capitol get its share of attention and maybe eco-tourism, which is not to be confused with eco-tourism. Instead, think “Keynes to the City” as being an eco-tourists most favorite guided tour through bankrupt Harrisburg.

There’s no special formula or way to predict who will demonstrate the nerve to take on the unknown. It obviously takes a crisp understanding of risk and reward ratios.

I’m sure that every X-Games participant goes through an extensively elaborate algorithm to determine the appropriateness of their next humanly implausible action.

Sometimes “nerve” can be a funny thing.

There was a time that I had the kind of nerve that didn’t mind letting it all ride on a single horse race or spin of the roulette wheel. But during that same period of time, I would break out in tremors at the idea of executing a stock trade on my own, much less look at the paper losses.

But then something happened. I don’t have any clue just what it was, but it all changed.

The entire risk-reward perspective had become turned on its head.

These days, I can’t stomach the idea of losing even a quarter in a slot machine, but am not really moved by a six figure paper loss in a single day.

I’ve been functioning like that for quite a while, but today I seemed to take a step backward.

With the market continuing to climb for no real reason, here it was, mid-week, the time that I usually like to grab some remaining pennies on the table. I was still delighting in the fortuitous timing of Alcoa announcing another set of disappointing numbers only to have the disappointment well cushioned by a continuing euphoric market.

Well done, Klaus.

This time, despite the fact that there were a number of opportunities that I would have normally taken, I found myself selling only Goldman Sachs and Time-Warner calls.

I struggled with the decision to sell calls on Sallie Mae and Mosaic.

I mentioned Mosaic yesterday as it was the target of a potential takeover rumor.

Sallie Mae, on the other hand, has just showed some nice strength going into earnings next week.

Yet, I couldn’t find it within me to make the sales..

I’m rarely undecided, but the “FOMO” hit again.

Fear of missing out. I was worried that I might miss a quick upside move in either and leave a lot on the table.

The other day I read a nice piece by Phil Pearlman, the resident staff psychologist at StockTwits.

His blog title, NetFlix is on Tilt, examined the tendency to overcompensate for stock losses, using a poker players’ analogy.

Admittedly, I know knothing about poker, but I liked his take on “Tilt”.

For me, avoiding fear, greed and envy were always primary requirements for keeping your head above water. I always looked at those as raw human emotions, but “Tilt” didn’t quite fit that category, but it was also worth avoiding. When asked, Pearlman confirmed for me that “Tilt” was not an emotion.

Still, I was left with the feeling that some kind of emotion has to be responsible for causing one to enter “tilt mode”

The tendency to do stupid things in order to erase other stupid actions isn’t an emotion, it’s just part of human DNA.

In my case, I had nothing stupid in my near past that needed to be compensated for, but I felt that if I went on with my usual modus operandi and sold the calls, I was going to be left out of the game. There’s nothing worse than watching that big shiny ball roll down the playing surface and not being able to do anything to get back into play.

I understand that kind of “tilt”, but I also get Pearlman’s kind, as well.

Neither is good for long term survival.

By the time the market closed on Wednesday, half of the index gains were gone, and in hindsight, I should have made the sales.

Is “regret” an emotion? It’s also just another one of our traits, but it is related to envy. Envious of what could have been or just regretful for what never was.

In the meantime, word came across that Slovakia pulled it together and its Parliament endorsed its role in the expansion of the rescue fund.

For another few days, Greece is spared from what everyone believes is the inevitable.

But it doesn’t matter.

Thanks to Harrisburg, American pride is restored.

From a grateful nation, thank you for taking on an unnecessary municipal project, passing the blame onto a previous city administration’s cronyism and faulting pressure applied from the State House for making the ill-fated decision.

Can you say “tilt”?

A real leader would have blamed it on the Greeks.

But at times like this, a grateful nation will take any winner as it own.

Here’s to Harrisburg.

First in our defaults and first in our hearts.

 

 

  

 


Do you Know Where Slovakia Is?

About 5 years ago Sugar Momma and I, together with our kids were travelling on a sleeper train from Venice to Budapest.

What seemed like every 20 minutes through the night, there was a loud knock on the door of our berth.

Border patrol guards.

The one nice thing that you could say about Marshall Tito, the now long dead ruler of Yugoslavia, is that while he was a live, there really wasn’t need for all of these border guards that came into being after Yugoslavia got split up into its forced component pieces.

I’ll always remember one specific guard who responded to Sugar Momma’s dreary eyed question, “Where are we?”, with the answer, “Slovakia. You’re in Slovakia. Have you ever heard of Slovakia?’.

He didn’t look pleased when she told him that she’d never heard of his country. He then said something in Slovak to his compatriot.

Then he laughed and returned our passports. At least he didn’t point his rifle in our faces.

My wife and I returned to our sleeping car room and she said, “You know, that soldier boy was sort of cute”.

Now before you start getting on my back, I know that Slovakia was never part of Yugoslavia, but for purposes of the above illustration, let’s just assume that it was.

Slovakia Flexes its MusclesFast forward those same 5 years and all of a sudden Slovakia is as big a deal as Malta had been last week.

On Tuesday, all the remained for the Euro rescue to go forward was final approval from the Slovakian Parliament of the plan to expand the Euro Rescue Fund.

Whereas the likes of Malta and others didn’t take the opportunity to flex its muscles, Slovakia jumped at the chance, befitting its role as home to Zdena Nazarejova, winner of numerous Women’s European Bodybuilding and Fitness Championships.

Only in a world defined by the oddities routinely found in the “Twilight Zone” would you have seen a Reuters headline that read “Latin American stocks little changed before Slovak vote”.

As it turned out, today was a very eventful day.

For starters, after the market’s close, word came out that the Slovakian Parliament failed to approve their nation’s participation in the EU fund expansion. As the poorest of all the EU nations, they probably felt they had less to give and besides, they had already gone through years of fiscal resposnibility and austerity just to gain EU entrance.

So while we await formation of a new Slovakian government in the aftermath of this rebuke to its leadership, there was opportunity to see what else was going on in the world.

The fact that there seems to be significant movement on the release of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held for more than 5 years by Hamas was noteworthy.

Myanmar releasing 3000 political dissidents? Wow.

The arrest of an Iranian-American for conspiring to asasinate the Saudi Ambassador to the US and then bomb the Saudi and Israeli embassies? Get me the screenplay.

Ukraine sentencing its previous Prime Minister to 7 years of prison after having been found guilty of negotiating with Russia over natural gas prices? Same old. Same old.

Herb Greenberg making a triumphant appearance on Jim Cramer’s MadMoney after a much too long absence.

Now that’s newsworthy.

But with all of this going on, all the market was thinking about was the start of earning’s season, as Alcoa was poised to announce after the closing bell.

It was so bizarre to have essentially no trading range through the day.

I did purchase shares of Alcoa on Monday and promptly sold calls. I don’t usually buy shares right before earnings are announced, especially if there’s already been a 20% run-up in price.

But given the fact that Alcoa had been serially projecting earnings downward, my thought was that we should have been prepared for bad news.

Which in fact came after the close.

Did I forget to mention that I also sold some Alcoa weekly puts right before the close?

In the after hours, Alcoa slid to $9.79 after having closed at $10.30.

I also purchased some more shares of Mosaic, using some of the options premium proceeds from the past couple of days.

By the time I logged the purchase into the Portfolio Holdings and Recent Transactions page of the site, Mosaic had jumped up about $2, apparently over some buyout rumors.

I like capital gains as much as the next guy, but I hope the rumors aren’t true. Mosaic has been one of my most reliable stocks in terms of generating great options premiums. At first it was month after month and now, life is even better as its week after week.

I look at Mosaic as my annuity plan. I’d hate to see it disappear from my screen.

But for me, the big news continued to be Greenberg’s return to Mad Money.

At one time as an addicted viewer to Mad Money, my favorite segment was the East vs. West, when Cramer would take on Greenberg via satellite from San Diego. They would discuss their differing opinions on the merits of stocks in the news.

Probably by coincidence, Greenberg’s audio feed would always seem to get abruptly cut off, giving him the next to last word. The look on his face upon realizing that he was silenced was priceless.

What are you going to do?

But what really made this event so special was that my Sugar Momma gave me a special dispensation to watch Cramer’s Mad Money in our family room.

Cramer had been banned many years ago, because she complained that he gave her a headache.

Sigh. The things you’ll give up for love.

But this time she allowed it.

She came back downstairs near the end of the segment and asked who the “other person” was.

“He’s kinda cute. But is he always that hyper?”

After having seen the movie “Contagion” a few weeks ago, I would have thought she would have realized that this was more a case of environment exerting its predominance

For some reason her question reminded me again of the Slovak border guard incident, but at least Greenberg was neither there to hear the comments, and as far as I know, he doesn’t carry a rifle.

But in the event that he does, I won’t comment about what appeared to be matching shirts.

Muted Plum, I think.

That’s a color that never would have existed in Tito’s Yugoslavia or in any of the former Soviet satellites, but it’s an entirely new world.

To welcome in that world, I’m going to see if I can get away with catching tomorrow’s Mad Money episode.

If I get a rifle pointed to my face, I’ll know that my Parliamentary body has chosen to flex her muscles.

 

 

  

 


Really? The Recession is Over


Reality and reality don’t always coincide

The official word came out that the recesssion was over.

Unfortunately, as incomes were also reported to still be falling and the unemployment picture is only as good as the next revision, it’s hard to rejoice at that reality.

Especially when wages are now lower than when the recession began.

I’m certainly not one to argue with the proclamation, but since the recession was reported to have ended in June 2009, you’d think that enough time would have passed for some tangible obvious improvements.

Although I’m, not one to argue, by far those that posted comments on the New York Times report, took exception to the reality as reported. Although aomw of the recommendations may have shown an equally questionable understanding of reality.

Of course, talk of a “triple dip in housing” can’t be what recoveries are made of, but that’s the latest fear, which should be taken seriously if you believe in the reality that housing drives the economy.

Reality does sometimes have a way of catching up to the real reality.

Take the Occupy Wall Street situation.

No doubt that its been spreading, growing and gaining steam. It’s even being exported to other cities and college campuses, despite the fact that no one has actually reported on the aims and objectives of the original Occupy Wall Street group, much less the spin-offs.

But that’s changing. Today, camera crews were actually beginning to show up, demonstrating that media outlets are perceiving the reality of the situation, although maybe it’s just a slow news day, what with the Kardashians keeping a low profile, as they prepare for the upcoming Jewish harvest holiday of Sukkoth.

As if Jews didn’t have enough problems.

Fortunately, those problems don’t include the Kardashians.

Since I only watch CNBC and don’t have a Daily Show kind of staff to scour all the networks and cable stations, I can only comment on CNBC coverage.

And today, there was some. They were right there.

Despite the perceived reality that the Occupy Wall Street protestors were a collection of society’s professional laggards, John Carney reported otherwise.

In fact, they seem to be pretty mundane, having even organized into committees to establish standards of protest behavior. Doctors, lawyers and college graduates will generally do those things that reek of structure.

They even are reported to have a drug usage policy, and rather than being “use as much as you can, dude”, the policy is that there should be no drug use.

Advil is reportedly acceptable and there may be other exclusions for certain extraordinary circumstances, like needing a buzz.

That doesn’t really support the dirty hippy characterization, neither reeking in a literal nor figurative sense.

While there’s probably enough detestable behavior to go around, maybe much of it even emanating from Wall Street, pointing out the obvious may not bring us closer to a meaingful soluion, especially if the obvious is not the root problem at hand.

The reality is that the Federal Reserve’s mandate to keep interest rates low can only continue as long as wages stay low and discretionary spending is curtailed. Since their dual mandate also includes keeping employment high, at the moment that can only be accomplished by keeping the cost of employment low.

Remember “supply and demand”? What better way to bring unemployment down than by being able to pay the same total dolars but for more employees?

There’s lots of political pressure to go to a single mandate, although others would just as soon get rid of the Federal Reserve altogether and have you eat your gold reserves in the event of residing for extrended periods in your nuclear fallout shelter.

That solution probably isn’t very realistic.

The European Central Bank, on the other hand, has only the single mandate, that of maintaining price stability. But there too pressure is mounting to ease up on that mandate in order to get an employment surge.

Obviously, despite what the protestors believe, it’s not easy being a banker.

European bankers must especially be wondering “what’s next?”. The market was buoyed today by some rumor of a secret plan concocted by Merkel and Sarkozy that will make everything alright.

Actually, there’s not yet a plan. Instead, there’s a commitment by them to come up with a plan. This comes on the heels of the market moving news last week that the EU fiscal crisis was going to be taken seriously.

Small steps, but over-sized responses.

Sarkozy, being the chief proponent of politicizing the ECB in order to bring more full employment is the reality. But so too is Merkel, since she’s got the money, but maybe not the political will nor backing of her fellow Germans, much less the Slovaks and Maltese, who really have little at stake.

The fact that they have little at stake is reality, as well as the reality that they can throw a wrench into the works every bit as easily as Germany or France.

Greece could as well, but that would require some effort.

So that’s not going to become a reality because of the reality.

Whether today’s market move was a reality borne of a dream or not didn’t really matter to me. Although I watched my assigned shares of Halliburton, Freeport McMoRan and QQQ head even higher today, I didn’t mind, especially since I still owned more Halliburton and Freeport McMoRan shares.

As usual, despite knowing that entering the market to pick up shares whenthe market is already up 200 points isn’t a long term winning strategy, I was flush with cash and had to do something.

So I added to positions in Mosaic, ProShares UltraShort Silver ETF, Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan. I also picked up shares of Alcoa, despite the fact that it’s just moved up about 25% and reports earnings after Tuesday’s close, kicking off yet another earning’s season.

While the market stayed up, I sold calls on all of those, as well as Halliburton and British Petroleum, while I looked for more upside on the likes of DuPont, Rio Tinto, Transocean and some others, that I don’t yet have hedged.

The reality is that despite a nice week, the past few weeks had been brutal. Despite what looks like good news at the end of the day and despite the very nice month’s worth of options premiums, the bottom line hasn’t been terribly good.

Sort of like what most of the nation seems to be going through, as long as you believe that 99% represents a majority of the nation.

So is the recession actually over?

As a famous past President once said, “it depends on what your meaning of the word ‘is’ is”.

The term “jobless revcovery” is time worn, but that’s what it looks like we’re seeing.

The people that those occupying Wall Street are presumably protesting against try to paint a different reality.

They claim that they can’t find people to fill their jobs. They claim that people would rather collect unemployment for an extended period of time than go to work.

That reality may apply to some people, since just about every situation applies to someone. Who knows, Chaz Bono may win this season’s Dancing with the Stars.

Hard to imagine that could be reality, but it could.

For all I know, today’s reality was second guessed by those citing the semi-holiday feeling to the day, since there was no bond trading, in commemoration of Columbus Day.

You remember Columbus Day, don’t you? That’s a day that we commemorate something other than the reality of Columbus.

Suspending belief is sometimes a useful tool. It’s worked pretty well for Columbus and it can work for us, as well.

So, yes, the recession is over. There are jobs galore and throngs are gathering on Wall Street to demonstrate the overwhelming gratitude of 99% of the nation to those who actively seek a greater tax burden.

Reality is awesome.

 


Show me the Numbers

Other than  my family the two things that I love most are numbers and comedy.

I like fried food, too, but now I’m not allowed to eat them, because my numbers are too high.

Sort of ironic. Those numbers I hate.

With so much debate going on about the concentration of wealth in our nation and the unfairness of the tax code, I’m somewhat perplexed that the beautiful objectivity of numbers could be so bastardized.

Living near Washington, DC, I truly understand the beauty of “spin”, but how do you spin a number itself?

Whereas many accept the Bible as the ultimate truth, believing the same about numbers doesn’t violate the first commandment and isn’t really counter to our western belief in monotheism.

In fact, the concept of monotheism couldn’t exist without numbers.

Well, at least one number.

Abbott and CostelloThere’s probably no valid reason for me, however, to have such faith in the sanctity of numbers. I should be cynical based on an old Abbott and Costello routine from a few generations ago.

Costello clearly demonstrated that 13 times 7 equalled 28. He also proved that 28 divided by 7 equalled 13.

And for the perfect trifecta (or Troika, as that’s become a popular word in the world of European Finance) 13+13+13+13+13+13+13 = 28

The Gospel of Comedy may trump all other truths.

These days, the numbers are sliced and diced by all sides to demonstrate points about inequities.

Amazing how one side feels that the disenfranchised are being unduly carrying a tax burden, while the other side believes that the disenfranchised are represented by those people that would be effected by the “Buffett Rule”.

“50% of Americans don’t pay taxes”

“The top 1% of earners carry a greater tax burden than ever before”

Both of those sound patently unfair. And there’s no shortage of other factoids being tossed around. Refute one and you’ll be answered with another factoid. Refute that, and so on.

It was 1982 and I was very fortunate when I first started investing, in that the market was beginning to wake uo from a long slumber. Although after what had been referred to as this generation’s “lost decade” in investing, I guess the best investment would have been a 30 year Treasury at 17% back in the late 70’s, or those great MAC bonds that helped rescue New York CIty after Gerald Ford seemed disinclined to help.

See, that’s the beauty of words.

Ford was portrayed as having told New York to “Go to Hell” in the city’s newspapers. That’s spin.

To borrow and butcher Tom Hanks’ line from a Leagiue of their Own”, “There’s no spinning in numbers.”

By the way, there is one other thing that I love, although it’s more of an addiction.

I love anagrams.

Back in 1982 the concept of trickle down economics was widely introduced by Ronald Reagan. You know him, he’s the guy that both sides embrace with a big, wet hug.

The concept sounded great. After all, the wealthy were the benefactors of society. Of course they would take their increased wealth and shower it down upon the masses.

Well, my love of anagrams always led me to the words “age, rage and anger”, whenever I looked at the word “Reagan”.

Of course that just reflects a person who at the time was still young enough to not fall under an earlier generation’s warning to not trust anyone over 30.

There I was in Public Health School, learning all about maldistribution iand inequities, yet I was also a investment class wannabe with a growing fascination with the stock market.

What amazes me is that no one has decided to look at the supposed inequity in a systematic way, by looking at changes at the margins, let’s say, compared to 1980, which ended by ushering in the Reagan era.

My guess is that it actually has already been done, but that without a sexy sound bite, good luck getting popular traction.

Funny thing, but it has already been done by the Congressional Business Office. The non-partisan CBO.

Back in 1980, the top 1% of the population received 9.8% of all income. By 2005, it was up to 18.1% or an 85% increase.

But when it comes to tax paid, the top 1%, and that included me, rose from 15.4 to 27.6%, or a rise of 79%.

In other words, the same tax code that allows most senior citizens on social security to not pay federal income taxes has also significantly trickled up benefits to that top 1%. They made much more money, yet paid much less taxes.

Of course, then the next debate falls to the source of those earnings, specifically capital gains versus earned income.

I also love charity.

But in my case, it’s donating to charity. In that regard, I really have a hard time understanding why the $100 that I donate only really costs me about $60 after considering tax deductions, while Warren Buffet’s secretary ends up being charged $85 for that same contribution.

But that’s another blog. Maybe in that blog I’ll look at the same comparative numbers since 2000. In which case the differences aren’t quite as pronounced. I guess that’s one way of getting the numbers to do what you want.

In the meantime, the numbers treated me well last week, as it hopefully did for most others.

In addition to the nice paper gains, again I sold a number of call options during the last 48 hours.

In fact, I sold such weekly options on 22% of my portfolio and received an additional 0.68% return in premiums on that portion of the portfolio. Those numbers felt good and Ill be happily paying my captal gains taxes on those.

I’ll be losing some of my Halliburton and Freeport McMoRan shares, but may find myself buying them right back, if the price is right.

In that case, the numbers are truly subject to interpretation. Some of those Freeport shares were assigned, resulting in a capital loss on shares.

So it’s off to Quicken to see whether there’s any value in taking a tax loss on those shares or just buying them back within that 30 day period and forgoing the loss in an effort to create new options income and maybe capital gains.

Wash rule be damned. You don’t own me. Sometimes it’s just worth giving up the advantage of the loss that the tax code gives. The code giveth and the code taketh.

Sigh. Rich people’s problems.

A Europe exercises increasing dysfunction, on this side of the pond we look better and better by comparison, but their dysfunction just compounds our Rich People’s Problems.

At the Finance Minister’s recent meeting in Poland, that weren’t very hospitable to TIm Geithner and weren’t very receptive to the advice that he was willing to share, that was borne out of experience.

If they’re not willing to listen to Geithner, I think that I have a suggestion that should be acceptable to all parties, even Malta and Slovakia

Maybe those European Finance Ministers should all just take a math lesson from Abbott and Costello.

 

 

Why I Owe Steve Jobs a Debt

Like what seems to be all of America, I had something to say about the passing of Steve Jobs.

I don’t own any Apple products. I was wrong when I thought the uber-cool factor was gone once my Sugar Momma bought an iPod Mini. A long time has passed since then and it’s still going strong.

Obviously.

Then I was wrong when I thought being lampooned on both The Simpsons and South Park was the kiss of death.

More popular than ever. Innovation and buzz will do that.

Of course, my kids have had their Apple products since conception, or so it seems.

I awoke this morning to my son’s call telling me that I was on the front page of the New York Times.

Normally, that would make me nervous, seeing as my annual envelope for good news had passed, with the Nobel announcements having already been made.

Apparently one of his friends saw a Tweet that I had sent that was displayed on the Times’ front page, probably along with several billion other Tweets.

Back when Napster was around, I used to always be amazed that at a specific moment in time I could find other people that shared the same music tastes, centering around obscure 1960’s Hungarian Rock and Roll. I don’t see that as  a popular offering at the iTunes store. Too much emphasis on Bob Dylan.

Now I’m amazed that at a point in time someone sees something that has tangential meaning to them, takes a screenshot, posts it onto Facebook and so on.

At least I made it into the New York Times without it having to be a paid obituary.

The Tweet, as if you really cared was unusually philosphical for me these days.

“You can’t have focus without vision, but Steve Jobs’ focus never obscured his vision.”

Heady stuff.

Apple LisaDespite not owning any Apple products, I do have a soft spot in my heart for Steve Jobs and remembered so fondly, albeit indirectly in the Option to Profit book.

Back in about 1983, I was insanely almost ready to plunk down $10,000 for the new Apple computer, dubbed “Lisa.”  For a brief time that computer captured everyone’s imagination, albeit not market, but was solely responsible for the drastic increase in newborns being named “Mouse” by their die-hard and tie-dye wearing parents.

As much of a chick magnet as a Lisa computer could have been, I walked out of the little Boston boutique camera shop and early authorized Apple dealer thinking about what else I could do with that kind of money.

I could have bought about 25 laser disk players and at least 10 movie titles, including such classics as Smoky and the Bandit III and Mad Monkey Kung Fu.

Apple early logoI could have bought two of those insanely arcane straight out of the box  IBM PC’s.

Instead, I started buying stocks. My first was Raytheon and I held it for 3 days, getting enough profit to pay about 4 months rent.

How un-zenlike was that trade off? Apple for Raytheon?

I still kept kept freeloading in that little Boston shop, Ferranti Dege. where I had been playing with their Apple computers since about 1978. I can still remember the little sign that they had hanging out above the door, long before the rainbow was associated with another type of cultural revolution.

Show that logo to someone today and they would likely associate it with the forbidden fruit of gay love.

Don’t bite. Don’t Swallow.

I could be wrong about that.

In the meantime after suffering through a Tandy TRS-80 computer with a word processing program that could only handle documents of a single page in length, and painfully setting up a workplace 4 workstation IBM network using Novell v1.2, I finally got to an environment where Macintoshes could be used, even though they were not supported by MIS.

No matter. They were so easy to use, add SCSI devices, network. You name it.

But yet, I never purchased one for home.

Then Microsoft stole the operating system. We all know they did, even though a court ruled otherwise.

I bought my first PC, networking was relaltively easy, and it cost a hell of a lot less.

Although I never bought an Apple product until getting my oldest son a first generation iPod for his High School grauation, Apple became a fixture of my investing world.

Following the unexpected death of my stock broker, Bob, Apple was one of the first purchases I made without having my hands held.

It was also one of the first upon which I sold call options and I traded them like crazy, as Apple was in the $50 or so range at the time. Apple was volatile and the options premiums were great. I used premiums to buy more shares, just like a drug dealer takes his profits and then parties. 

In all likelihood, those Apple options premiums paid for the iPod, and then the next iPod and quite a few after.

But It’s been over a year since I’ve owned any shares.

In addition to being wrong about Apple being poised to lose its coolness, I was also wrong about Apple’s price coming back down to a level where I would be ready to purchase shares again.

In Google’s case, I waited until it went to $300 a couple of years ago. Now I’m ready to buy Google again at $500, after last losing them to asignment at about $550

For Apple, I had my sights set on $350, but now, I just don’t know.

Now that Tim Cook has re-established Apple’s charitable matching program, what’s next?

A dividend? A stock split? Back in ancient times, those both happened, but those were truly ancient times.

Mainstream for Apple? Is that what it’s going to take to reassure investors?

How about reassuring consumers, the Apple investor’s best friend?

While Apple flip flopped between a loss and a gain in Thursday’s 183 point gain, I took the opportunity to sell weekly Mosaic options.

Again.

I also bought back my October ’11 ProShares UltraShort Silver ETF calls.

Again.

Steve Jobs’ passing for me has a feeling of one of those “where were you when”” moments.

These days it’s easy for me to remember, since I’m most always in my La-Z-Boy.

Although years from now I may not remember where I was when the news came along, but I’ll always remember the path I took to get to where I am today and the role Steve Jobs unwittingly played.

It’s time for an iPad. It’s never too late to change your history.

 

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See “Of Patriots and Plagues” for more on Steve Jobs

Porn, Pot and Policy

I’m old enough that I should be able to exercise some kind of self-restraint.

I’ve already confessed to my need to “Feed the Beast” and nothing seems to be able to tame that desire other than the lack of available cash. Unlike others that have to commit felonies to feed their beast, that’s a place I’m not willing to go.

Yet.

In terms of falling prey to consumption, fads and bodily desires, I’ve been pretty good at resisting those temptations, especially if you have a lax definition of “pretty good”.

Sort of like the floating definitions of “short term” and “long term” in investing circles.

Convicted?

One of my favorite Twitter people, is a guy who goes by the nom de plume of Dasan. I’ve looked at his website, Dasan Stock Digest, and he’s a very credible guy, as far as investment professionals go. Also, a West Point graduate, therefore, if there are indeed any morals charges outstanding, they’re probably sheer folly. Not too shabby a pedigree. My guess is that his subscription service is far more worthy than my Option to Profit service had been. I base that solely on knowing what my service was like. And that’s enough.

Among a universe of people using social media to do nothing but self-promote (see @TheAcsMan ) or to hide behind a veil of anonymity to hurl Molotovs, he’s self-effacing, humble, funny and has a keen sense of observation. Any of the preceding sets him apart from much of the universe. That and his penchant for changing his Avatar on at least a weekly basis, although I haven’t entirely ruled out Witness Protection as being a the root cause of that behavior.

Oh, and before I forget, he marches to a different drummer. Much like the classic line in “Back to School” when Rodney Dangerfield says after Sam Kinison finishes his tirade about US policy in Vietnam: “Good teacher. He really seems to care. About what? I have no idea”, Dasan uses the “%” symbol, rather than the StockTwits standard “$” to designate a stock by its ticker symbol.

Why? No idea. Do I ask? No, I fear for my children’s safety.

Can you say “Rebel”?

Pot PartyFor the past two days, his Tweets have inspired my choice of blog topic. On Monday he Tweeted something about crystal meth. Maybe it was just meth. Maybe it was about pearls or some other gems. I don’t really recall. I was too busy trying to figure out how to scratch my way out of my skin to be paying too much attention.

The Tweet that got my attention on Wednesday was this one:

“The only CNBC I’ve watched in the last decade is ‘the Business of Porn’ and that Pot special they run all the time at night.”

Clearly, this guy is not a good influence, but he certainly got me thinking about how I’m spending my life.

Mostly, I’m spending my life glued to two monitors.

One sits silently, just flashing reds and greens. Today, lots of greens. Mixed with the predominant reds of just a few days ago, it’s been mostly a nice shade of ash.

For any wise guy readers, no, the other one monitor is not chained to my ankle.

The other sits not so silently and is tuned to CNBC from about 6:30 AM to 6 PM, at which point is time to watch the local news.  If you want to know why I no longer watch Jim Cramer, I’m not telling

I almost stopped my habit earlier today to protest Simon Hobbs’ pronunciation of Moshe Orentuch’s name as “Mushy”, but then I realized that I actually liked Simon Hobbs. He seems to have greater insights into the psychology behind European actions than anyone else on air and his accent doesn’t overly confound me., unless he ventures into a Yiddish neighborhood.

Since Europe and rumors of Europe seem to be important for us these days, he probably has as much to offer as the next guy, assuming that the next guy is Charlie Sheen.

Which coincidentally brings me to pot and porn.

Szelhamos taught me to never talk about sex, poltics, religion or money. As I’ve noted many times, he would quickly disavow that policy and was as good as anyone at introducing inappropriate conversation into the mix. Policy itself, was off the table as well, since it was a derivative of politics.

All politicians were “crooks and bloodsuckers”.

Luckily, with his undecipherable Hungarian accent most people had no clue what he was saying, but he did use the word “sucker” often enough as to render it intelligible, regardless of the context.

He didn’t include drugs and rock and roll into his admonitions, because they really didn’t exist in his world, as addictions themselves, of any kind, were just moments of temporary weakness.

His definition of temporary may have been derived from Wall Street, though.

But I clearly need to break my dependence on CNBC, although I do enjoy most of the on-air personalities and just love hearing many of the guests spin whatever it is that they want to spin, as if everyone has a Never Never Land zip code.

What better place to begin my weaning process than with special episodes on porn and pot? Admittedly, I’ve not seen either of those in their entirety, as I have a harder and harder time focusing my attention long enough to sit through a one or two hour structured or scripted show. And of course, there’s that little problem that they too are on CNBC.

Both of those topics, besides the obvious economic story, are issues of public policy.

I’m not a libertarian, but I do believe that so much of what we consider to be off limits would just lose its mystique and special aura if only we stopped paying so much attention. Why we exercise selective approval of vices is beyond me, its clearly not done for public health reasons.

Did I become an alocholic because I grew up in an era when the legal drinking age was 18?.

No. I grew up to be a jerk.

Coherent policy would be nice. Ben Bernanke didn’t beat around the bush at yesterday’s congressional hearings on that issue. In fact, he even ventured that the lack of discernible policy or even meaningful attempts to create policy was in part responsible for the growing “Occupy Wall Street” phenomenon.

In the meantime, any kind of policy coming out of DC, or Europe, for that matter would be delightful.

I often used to think that in the last years of Szelhamos’ life he would have done well with some pot.

Maybe porn, too. Policy would have been superfluous.

Since there’s really not a solution that’s palatable to the entire EU, especially to those most on the line, I think those finance ministers who the Financial Times reported are seriously looking at the Greek situation, should probably seriously look at some porn, instead.

Maybe passing a little joystick around the conference table and before you know it, there’s a solution.

Probably a funny one, too.

Too bad someone ate the notepad that it was written on would be the likely outcome, but still, policy makers need to light a little bit of a fire under themselves, or at least adopt a Rodney King attitude.

While wrestling with heady issues as these, I watched the monitor continue flashing green today.

Again, there was no real news, but why ask why?

I sold some more calls on Freeport McMoRan, as well as some new ones of Halliburton and QQQ. All of those expire on Friday. Deep down, my contrarian self tells me that we will get some truly significant news by Friday and the market will continue its thus far unwarranted climb.

I guess that China must have decided to change their mind and quietly go about unbridled infrastructure expansion and feeding its people since our best and brightest proclaimed otherwise on Monday.

Thanks to big jumps in Mosaic, Rio Tinto, Halliburton and Freeport McMoRan, I had a really good day today, at least on paper. Still doesn’t make up for the very bad days those shares have had the past couple of weeks, but I’m trying to scratch back Renminbi by Renminbi.

At some point, my big fear is that if we don’t come up with some coherent economic policy, the Chinese will swoop in and take control

Bad enough they own so much of our debt and dump IPO shares of dubious companies on our shores, but do we really want them taking over our Pot and Porn industries?

For me, that alone is reason enough to come together and hammer out economic policy.

Now pass that Doobie and don’t turn the channel.

 

Correction: In an earlier version of this posting, I may have lead some readers to believe that I condoned breaking into your neighbor’s home and stealing copper piping. To be clear, my intent was to bring attention to Hank Williams, Jr.

 

Come on Eileen

By 11 AM on Tuesday the market had calmed somewhat, but the jury was still out.

Listening to Ben Bernanke, our venerable Chairman of the Federal Reserve, answering Congressional committee questions, it’s comforting to know that he’s calm, under very trying circumstances.

In fact, even the committee members seemed somewhat subdued, maybe even reverential. Truthfully? To me they looked as if they had had some Kool-Aid.

More surprisingly, some of them even seemed to be asking real questions and not looking for the local news sound bite. Sean Duffy. Never heard of him, but he really asked insightful questions. He even got Bernanke to suggest the mechanism of valuing Treasuries may be tantamount to a QE3.

This morning’s Plunge du jour was courtesy of some Belgian bank, Dexia, which apparently is a major player in the Eurozone sovereign debt arena. They seem to be having some short term funding issues.

Most Americans don’t even know that Belgium exists. Sure, they’ve heard of the waffles and maybe even the fries, but few know anything about Belgium or its two state system.

Fewer, will have ever heard of “Dexia”.

I know that I haven’t, yet today, it’s rocking my world.

Dexy's Midnight RunnersI must admit, when I first heard of Dexia, my thoughts went to that one hit wonder band, Dexy’s Midnight Runners and their hit, “Come on EIleen”.

That song is particularly meanigful to me because it was receiving incessant airplay when I first met the woman who would go on to become my Sugar Momma. We still both enjoy that song some 28 years later.

Still rocks my world.

But the other thing that came to mind was “dexies” which is just another name for Dextroamphetamine, such as the active ingredient in Dexedrine, which just happens to be a key ingredient of crystal methamphetamine.

For the few non-druggies that read my drivel, “dexies” are used in the management of ADHD, that 20th century malady that we all suffer from.Dexies

How it works, no one really knows, because “Dexies” are actually a stimulant, but has paradoxical actions in people correctly diagnosed with ADHD.

Based on the way today worked out, I’m of a frame of mind to believe that “dexies” played a pivotal role all through the day.

Looking at the subdued tone during the Congressional hearings, the only possible explanation is that all of the Type A, extraordinarily hyperactive members of Congress, and their equally hyped staff members, must have had their bottled water tampered with. There is no other plausible explanation for the absence of insanity and fidgeting, calling out of order and all of those other uncontrollable behaviors usually displayed during these hearings.

The typical roomful of alpha males was well controlled and orderly.

Strangely, they were channeling “One Flew over the Cuckkoo’s Nest”.

While Bernanke was in his usual calm state of mind and tone, his responses reassured investors and the market made up about 150 points.

Unfortunately, that euphoria didn’t last long and the market made its way to a 200+ loss going into the final minutes.

What we then witnessed was a very memorable, although probably not unprecedented, 400 point turnaround in about 30 minutes.

I looked up the half life of “dexies”. That is the amount of time that it takes to clear half of the active ingredient out of one’s system

Why is that important?

Do you recall a recent study that showed that there is a high association between hyperactive personalities and successful careers on Wall Street and business in general?

Neither do I, just go with it.

Now the conventional wisdom is that the market started its turnaround when the Financial Times of London published a report that the European Finance Ministers were looking seriously into the Greek debt crisis.

Maybe I’m wrong, but to me that meant that they hadn’t been doing so previously. Couldn’t we just have avoided these past two months of agony if only they had started looking for solutions, say in August?

Maybe that month long August vacation extended into September this year. No one on the continent really wants to do any “serious looking” until well after the end of summer.

So any reasonably rational person knows that news could not possibly have driven the market to that stunning turnaround.

Based on my extensive research into neuropsychiatric arbitrage, it’s clear to me that somewhere around 3:30 PM all of the paradoxical actions of those dexies had dissipated, leaving a universe of money starved traders with lots of pent up energy and the need to dominate the room.

And they did in an unscripted concordant symphony of buying.

It was as uncontrolled as any off the medication kid would be after a couple of cotton candy cones. Just imagination an entire classroom filled with medication lapsed ADHD kids and then multiply that by a lot.

Going into the early Bernanke Bump I took a small plunge and picked up some shares of the very badly beaten down Morgan Stanley at about $12.13. I did as I’m programmed to do and quickly sold October 2011 $13 options.

I don’t mind that Morgan Stanley closed the day at $13.90. I hope it goes to $25, even though I’ll lose my shares at $13. Even with assignment, my ROI would be about 20% for less than 3 weeks of holding.

I liked that so much, that I picked up even more shares at $12.50

Last month I did the same with the beleagured Bank of New York. My shares were assigned and I happily moved onward. Just in time, because at the close of Tuesday’s trading Bank of New York found itself on the short side of the New York State Attorney General over some foreign currency trading action that allegedly defrauded pension funds in excess of $2 Billion.

Glad I moved on.

The rest of the day was just a series of disappointments.

No Chris Christie run for the GOP nomination, although he did publicly endorse the new Wendy’s line of hamburgers.

At the same time, Apple’s new CEO Tim Cook failed to dazzle with the iPhone 4s introduction. Everyone was expecting an iPhone 5.

Yawn. Although the video of Chrisite eating a deep fried iPhone 4s was a nice touch.

And with nothing but disappointing news, the market could do just one things, that is if you believe in that kind of cause and effect.

I don’t, especially since this neutrino faster than light discovery raises doubt about the whole concept of cause and effect.

Instead, I think it’s the dexies at play that are to blame.

Sometimes you crash after the amphetamines wear down, especially if they were being used to manufacture crystal meth.

But I doubt that’s what was going on during the congressional hearings, probably just plain old dexies there.

As far as the trading floor goes, I’m not quite as certain.

The turnaround in the market today was mirrored in the weather here.

It had been a few cold, dreary and rainy days, but then at about noontime, the sun burst out.

Just in time for a Szelhamos birthday celebration and just in time for those 400 much needed points.

Today would have been Szelhamos’ 89th birthday.

Years ago, so the story goes, on one particular day I was being especially testing of my mother’s nerves and she said to me in her finest Hungarian “On one nice day you’re going to put me in my grave”.

I was told that my response was “today’s a nice day”.

I probably should have been on dexies.

But today turned out to be a nice day all around.

Happy 153 points, Happy Birthday.

 


It’s Getting Cold

I’m glad I’m sitting indoors today.

Even Laszlo the Dog doesn’t want to go outside. It’s cold, dreary and the grass is wet after a record 13 inches of rain in September. I suppose that dachshund bellies are close enough to the wet grass that they’d rather take a respite from romping on days like today.

Laszlo is sharing the La-Z-Boy with me.

My thoughts are with my kids who are going to the Sunday Night Football game, seeing the Ravens versus the Jets. It’s going to be very cold and with rain in the air. Not my kind of day or night.

Listening to the TV commentators repeat what great football weather it is, my thoughts turn in another direction:

Morons.

Lately, the weather down here has been good for only one thing. Growing mushrooms.

Watching Herman Cain jump out of a van and gather mushrooms from my lawn is a clear message that there’s been more than enough moisture and that economic times are truly trying.

Imagine if that image was really true. The very idea of paying for my own personal lawn grown mushrooms on a Godfather’s Mushroom Pizza is abhorrent to me, but not as abhorrent as eating a Godfather’s Pizza. It’s that same concept, that of paying a monthly fee for the right to use a debit card to spend your own money, that’s beginning to rub lots of people the wrong way.

I guess that Bank of America had that same Herman Cain image in mind. After all, what better strategy than to follow in the footsteps of a winner.

In reality, Herman Cain, instead of gathering other people’s mushrooms and offering them off for re-sale, is gathering votes in straw polls in Florida and Kansas, having just won the Kansas Women’s GOP Straw Poll, probably the most prestigious of all of the Women’s straw polls in the former dust bowl.

Bank of America.should consider using Godfather’s Pizza’s consulting firm. That firm is so out in front, they already have a fallback ad campaign if Cain falters.

In that event, look for life-sized posters of their new spokesperson, Chris Christie, who is already hunkered down in the Godfather’s test kitchen, but is coyly resisting the coaxing to come out.

As the sun is setting early in the eveningI know, from having lived a lifetime on the east coast, that when the cold rainy days in October arrive, it’s time to hunker down for the winter and resist the need to go out and face the elements.

Sure, there may be an occasional nice warm day, and sure, despite knowing better, there’s always the hope that winter will skip coming around this year, but that’s never the way it works out.

I keep thinking that when our youngest son finishes college in a couple of years, Sugar Momma and I will move to California, her home state.

But the other day she asked me what I would do if we moved to California. Would I still spend the entire day parked in front of the computer and the “annoying” people on CNBC?

The problem is that I don’t think that they’re annoying, by and large. I think Judge Judy is annoying, yet she doesn’t.

The reality though, is that I’m glad that I’m sitting indoors everyday. I don’t venture very far from my La-Z-Boy, especially during market hours. I don’t think that would change very much even after a move to a sunnier and warmer climate, although I might be more apt to head outside to shake off a particularly bad trading session. Maybe a quick glance at the ocean’s soothing shores or the sight of a drive by shooting would help to settle some frayed nerves.

This past Friday, after a particularly brutal week, where my “God’s Bounty” portfolio of Freeport McMoran, Mosaic and Rio Tinto was emasculated by some other deity, I needed that kind of light hearted romp. Even the Lord’s precious metals got swamped, but in hedging my bets, I went with Zoroaster, playing the short side of silver.

Turns out, the movie “Contagion” isn’t very funny. It also turns out that this monotheism may be a seriously cramping  belief system.

But early on Sunday, there was potentially good news, maybe even market moving news, hearing that Ali Baba is interested in buying Yahoo!

I don’t know what positions Malta or Estonia will take on a proposed buyout, but we need some good news soon.

As opposed to the upcoming winter, I know that spring is coming. I also know that despite global warming things won’t change that drastically during my lifetime to substantively change the natural order of things.

With that said, the natural order of things clearly included Yahoo! become a laughing stock and Ali Baba being in a position to buy it, hook, line and sinker.

But when it comes to the stock market, it appears that there is less and less concordance, correlation and connection.

News has become largely irrelevant, at least in terms of predicting market reaction.

The old adage, “Sell in May and go away” had been largely written off for years, just like “Dogs of the Dow” hasn’t worked terribly well of late.

But as we closed out the third quarter this past Friday, it seems that the old selling adage may have finally been a winner.

Does that mean “buy and hold” is coming back, too? Maybe Communist hunting is next.

I do know that “buy low and sell high” hasn’t been working out lately. Maybe that one will be back in vogue soon. Maybe even sooner than spring’s predictable blossoms.

Looking at the early Asian markets trading, right now it’s not looking very promising, as we get ready to start a new quarter.

Despite the paper losses of the past few weeks, for me its been a good options premium period. With three more weeks left to go for the October cycle, I’m already ahead of the September cycle.

That’s a small comfort, since September was the second worst month of the year, but I’m hopeful for some good opportunities.

Like some of the old stock market adages, it’s hard to know when to let go of the optimism. But by the same token, you can’t completely dismiss the optimism. Otherwise you’d have to face the dark side and become an avowed short seller.

I’m not going there. At least not yet, the deperation hasn’t hit that level.

This coming week our weather forecast is for a couple of nice, very warm days. Maybe a little bit of movement in Europe, a little bit of merger and acquisition news and a little bit of global warming can all help get rid of this gloomy and cold overhang.

In the meantime I’m going to watch the football game safely in the warmth of my home and look for my kids in the stands.

I know that it’s highly unlikely that I’ll spot them, but if you hope and wish for enough unlikely things, sooner or later one of them is going to happen.

I just hope it’s the right one.

Sorry kids. You’re on your own on this one. Hope you’re bundled up.