Friday, February 22, 2013

Public Servants - not

Rant against what our government has become - local edition.

I pay just about all my bills online and earlier this month attempted to pay my local real estate taxes. I do this four times per year without incident but apparently I missed hitting the final button to actually submit the payment. You know the kind of website that says "hit this button" and you do but then it gives you one more screen and in tiny letters says you have to hit the other button?   How many of you fall victim to that?

So after a few days of not seeing the payment in the bank account, I look at the website. It says payment rejected with date, time and amount. They knew I tried.

I call the town and they said a lot of people do that. Red flag! If a lot of people do that shouldn't they change it? After all, it is supposed to cut out calls like the one I made. But no, this is public service and if it ain't broke, sort of, then don't touch it.

I plead my case saying I always do this and while I cannot confirm I made no mistake I show how I have been doing this successfully for years.

"Sorry, you have to pay a late fee. "

"OK, can't you waive it? You have proof I actually tried, in good faith, to pay on time. And if so many people have problems then the website is unclear."

"Sorry, it is a state law that we cannot waive fees."

"Excuse me? A state law dictating to the town what the town has to charge for town taxes?

Yes, it is a law.

OK, can you tell me what that law is so I can see it?

I do not know (she was only a clerk, not a boss or lawyer). I will have someone call you.

Yeah right, I thought. Two days later, I call back.The same person answered and was very nice. She said she checked with the deputy receiver of taxes who said, and I quote, "We do not have to tell you what the law is."

My jaw dropped.

"Are you kidding? Do you know how this sounds?"

True, you do not have to tell me but isn't that sort of what customer service is all about?  You do not have to flush to toilet either but it is the right thing to do.

She apologized and I told here I would not bother her any more.

Needless to say, I am now going to contact a few real estate lawyer friends of mine.

1 - why is the state telling the town what to do?
2 - what is the big deal to tell me what the law is or at least how to find out?

I am not going into the "I pay your salary" rant because that is irrelevant. What is relevant is the attitude that government does not have to answer to the people. My cable company pulled a stunt like that on me and I switched to a different provider. Not so many options in a government monopoly.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Naz vs financial bubble

Many analysts like analogs and I admit I like them too. In writing a recent Barron's Online column on financials, I looked at how that bubble compared to the one before it and saw something interesting. Unfortunately, it was left on the cutting room floor. Here is what I wrote fleshed out a bit more.

Before looking at the chart, I have to tell you that the time frames do not line up. In other words, the tech./Nasdaq collapse in 2000 took about 2 1/2 years and the financial collapse in 2007 took only 1 1/2, both rounded a lot. Therefore, in order to get the ebb and flow to match, the data for one of them is stretched to fit the other.

The point is not to say they are following the exact timing but rather they are following the same structure. Is this how bubbles work? I don't know and honestly I am too busy trying to earn a living (journalism deadlines) than pursue this all the way.

But it is interesting.

So what is in the chart? Basically, the financial bubble recovery, based on what the Nasdaq did, "should" have already peaked. I'll blame the government for prolonging this thing with QE/TARP and all the other money they threw at the problem instead of letting the free market clean its own house.

Think about the broad market back at new highs. What 2007-2009 bear market? But not so for the financials with only a Fibonacci 38.2% (closer to 30%) retracement.

After the 2000-2002 bear, the Nasdaq in 2007 only retraced a 38.2% (actually closer to 45% but it ruins the flow). Where was the broad market? At or near new highs and saying "what bear market?"

The bubble markets retraced less than half while the rest got it all back.

Under this scenario - without any true statistical backing - it is time for the financials and the market as a whole to top out again.

Wouldn't it be cool to see the current bubble - bonds - follow the same script? If they do, then there is a lot of pain ahead for the next two years.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Red Robin - Yummm. Wait!

Here is one of today's big movers. Captions say it all.

Earnings, not takeover. Or was it? (cue detective music).

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Stuff that that pickles my gherkin

I have decided that I have been in this business long enough to write stuff here only when I have something to say (vs every day to try to coax you all to love me and buy my newsletter). And as an old timer (not really) what I usually write will be something that ticks me off.

Today, in a well read financial media site, I read something that makes technical analysts look not just bad but plain stupid. We have a hard time plying our trade with the masses let alone trying to prove a point with charts to people who actually know what they are talking about.

To wit:
Starting with technical indicators, a chart of the S&P 500 dating back to 1998 demonstrates how the index has established a triple-top over the period from 1998 through the present.
 No my friend, the market has established a resistance area. 

A triple top is not a triple top until the bottom of the pattern is broken to the downside. Otherwise, it is just a trading range. And in this case, how do we know the market is not going to break out to the upside making it a failed potential double top?

A second chart that gets little attention is the chart depicting the percentage of S&P 100 stocks above their 200-day moving average. This chart presents a fascinating study of buying habits in the S&P 500, and it's easy to see that we're now also at a quadruple-top level in this data series.
This chart gets little attention because more people look at the percent S&P 500 stocks and almost everyone else looks at the NYSE. But I digress.

The author is disingenuous because he used a log scale to accentuate what he calls a quadruple top. And I see a hell of a lot more "tops" than just four. What happens when the data breaks out? Don't forget, this data cannot get larger than 100%.  Putting patterns on this sort of data is pure crap.

If you are going to use charts, use them correctly. If not, please use a disclaimer saying you are making it all up.

Calling multiple tops before they are actually developed is one of my pet peeves. So is somebody writing a caption on a photo saying, "Here is Joey and I at the circus." It's "Joey and me."  Or, writing, "your right about that." It's "you're right."

How about football coach Jimmy Johnson asking in his charting commercial about the 50 moving day average? eyeroll.

Stop trying to look smart with skills you are lacking.

OK, I feel better now. Time for a cocktail.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Tech was not the driver

Who read the market headlines after the close today? "The market bounced back led by tech."  Yahoo! I mean GoogleBing! As long as I am digressing, does anyone remember HotBot, Excite and Lycos? They still exist. So does Altavista but it is now only a facade for Yahoo.

Anyway, the market was led by tech, they say. How does this little list of ETFs look to you?

The tech ETF was number five on this list, barely beating the SPY itself. Retail was the leader followed by biotech and consumer staples. Housing was just a tad better than tech.

Listen up people, do your own fact checking. You are not going to get that from the media. Believe me, I know as I am on so many deadlines each week that it is very tempting to break out the Hershey's (OK, bad example. There really is no household name brand for fudge).
  • Trust but verify
  • All the news that fits, we print
  • More people get their news from the Daily Show.....than probably should

Monday, February 4, 2013

Right on Schedule

In case you've been wondering where I have been or even if I am still on the planet, you can stop. I just had nothing to say.

So here is today's thought - retail is coming back into the market just in time for the top. No, I am not going to call a top here although it is tempting. There is no limit to how far a market can go against what it "should" be doing.

Just a spoonful of QE makes the economy look bright,
the economy look bright,
the economy look briiiiiight
- (Julie Andrews still looks and sounds good at age 77).

But here is some of the stuff happening right now:
  • Money is pouring into money markets thanks to this year's higher taxes pushing all sorts of payments and dividends into last year. Sorry, Al Gore, you were too slow with Al J.
  • Money is pouring into junk bonds
  • The VIX is stupid low
  • Sentiment surveys are at bullish extremes
  • Financial news shows are focusing on the little guy getting back into the market
Right on schedule. After a four-year run from the financial crisis low and after many stock indices are at new all-time highs, the individual investor is finally thinking about buying stocks. You know what that means.