Thursday, April 26, 2012


Urban Dictionary has two definitions for WTF. Let's just say World TaeKwonDo Federation is not the one I have in mind.

Let's take a quick romp through this week's market events starting with Wednesday's durable goods report. Even I, as a chartist, knew that was not a good one. But hey, Apple made a boat load of money so up goes the market.

But industrial machinery bellwether, at least in my book, Caterpillar went straight down. Hmmmm.

Thursday, first time jobs claims were below 400,000 but worse than expected. After a burp, the market went up. And then came better-than-expected ending home sales and bang, zoom! Straight to the moon! Stocks took out the mid-April high.

Now wait a minute. Was there crappy housing news last week? And crappy housing news the week before?

I am not saying the market should have done this or that on news. Technicians don't place their bets on that sort of stuff. We care about the market's reaction to the news. Good performance Thursday on a mix of good and bad news is bullish.

But wait a minute. It was not bullish the last time (housing). And why the second major trucker in as many days absolutely crater? (CHRW yesterday, LSTR today). And although it came back quite a bit, air freight behemoth UPS cracked today.

Come on Mr. Market, pick a behavior. Are you shrugging off bad news or are you ignoring it? I am not telling you what to do. That is a losing strategy.  Rather, I beseech (great word!) you to be more than random.

The stocks at the top of the economy - the sexy ones like Apple and Starbucks are soaring. The not so sexy ones at the bottom - truckers, freight, heavy machinery, a few defense stocks (GD), steel, basic metals miners (BHP, RIO, FCX) and a few big chemicals (DOW, DD) are not doing so well.

So, I'll close with the open - WTF?  The DJIA is up 1% while the DJTA us down 1%.

This rally is a house of cards.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Facebook is your god

Bow down before the one you serve.
You're going to get what you deserve.
- Head Like a Hole (Nine Inch Nails, 1990)

Embrace technology. Personally, I'd be lost without the Internet even though I am no longer on the cutting edge (Pinterest? Squidoo? Quora?).

But as any parent and employer knows, the youts (say it in a Brooklyn accent) can't hold a conversation with a live person in the flesh. They plug a term into the web and Wikipedia tells them what it means (and most of the time it is correct). But do real research? Write in long, flowing prose? How about knowing where to stick a stamp on a letter?

Yes, that last one may be irrelevant in a few years but you get the point. For all their sophistication - and they are sophisticated, worldy and multitasking whizzes - they have lost something quite important. Reality. And I don't mean watching other people's realities on Jersey Shore, The Kardashians or Family Jewels. I'll let Survivor slide a bit since a big chunk of the game is dealing with other people live and in (far too much, in some cases) the flesh.

Which brings me to everyone's favorite application - Facebook. I admit, I am on it all day but I do run a business page as well as a personal one. And it has been a blessing allowing me to find and reconnect with people from my past. There is nothing better than getting back in touch and then planning a get together - yes, face to face.

But how many of us rely on Facebook for all of our contact? And even scarier, how many businesses rely on it for their marketing? Keep in mind Facebook is free and is under no obligation to keep running for you. They do not even have to be accountable to you. Witness timeline. Have it our way. You can get it your way at Burger King (who remembers that jingle?).

So now Facebook wants to go public. I don't blame them. Make hay while the sun shines. Get out while the getting is good.

I am not going to say that this is the end of the social media era. Far from it. But I do want to make the point that Facebook is almost everyone's god right now. So far, a benevolent one. What happens when everyone, especially business, is so dependent that the power shifts firmly into Facebook's hands? You WILL pay us $5 per month (Bank of America had competition). You WILL pay as $50 per month. You WILL pay us $1000 per month. Etc...

Facebook is not the be all and end all. Be aware of the changing landscape and don't get caught in the frenzy. Ride the wave but have a backup plan in place.

In the mean time, who wants to LIKE my business page?
I would not mind getting more indebted to Mr. Zuckerberg, at least for a little while longer.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Debit Cards are a Scam

Yes, it is time once again to rail against the banks. While I am certainly not an occupier I do share one view with the unwashed urban campers - banks suck.

This is coming from someone who has defended banks (and tobacco, and insurance companies, and etc..) for the simple reason that they do what they do. Do you get angry with lions when they eat zebras? No, that's what lions do. If you are a zebra and do not want to be eaten by a lion DON'T GO WHERE THE LIONS ARE.

Take tobacco. It is a legal product yet when used as directed it will turn your lungs to char before killing you. I do not understand how there can be lawsuits for that (don't flame me on the false research studies - that is fraud and should be prosecuted). Make it illegal and then sue them. Oh wait, the tobacco lobby. But I digress.

Insurance companies are supposed to take risk off the consumer in case they suffer a loss (of property, health, life) in the future.  That is a key word - future. It does not mean taking risk for things that happened in the past. That is a dumb business model and no companies would ever willingly agree to that.

While I do agree there has to be something available for the public good to help the poor deal with serious problems I do not agree that private insurance companies should be forced to do it. Again, think about what they are supposed to do - insure you. Insure means to take future risk from you for money. It does not mean to rescue you from a bad place after the fact.

Again, I am against fraud and insurance companies that hire armies of lawyers to get out of paying proper claims should be punished.

So banks have to squeeze out every last buck because they cannot make their mega bucks anymore. That's what a good bank is supposed to do.  But get this, I do not have to be their customer.

As blog readers know, I dumped Chase last year and moved to a Credit Union. Aside from not having a branch on every corner in every city in America I can detect no difference between them - except for their fees, of course.

It all started when I go my son a debit card to use for his summer on the left coast. The idea was for me to control his spending by only allowing a certain amount of money on his card. When it ran out, the spending stopped (Hey, Mr. O, did you hear that?).

Lo and behold there was an automatic overdraft feature and I was hit with hundreds of dollars of fees. Starbucks coffee was 4 bucks with a $35 dollar tip to Jamie Dimon.  A credit card would have been a better choice but the bank employee did not pick up on that.

Anyway, I took off the overdraft protection and wouldn't you know it? More fees!  Yes, they allowed the balance to dip below zero. What? It's a debit card! Impossible.

They handed me some BS about clearing times blah, blah, blah yet somehow they know how much is being charged at any given second of every day - weekends included. More fees.

So, this year, my son has a Bank of America debit card and we just got hit with an overdraft fee. Mr. Customer, we did not want to leave you with no money when you needed it so we let it go through. We did tell you on the screen."

"Mr. Banker, I do not want overdraft and again the point was to give my kid a budget."

Sorry, Mr. Customer. Here is a bird you can display on your mantle.

Guess what, Mr. Banker. You can keep your bird and gently place it where the sun don't shine. We are outta here.Why don't you go back to that robo-foreclosure thing you were working on.

Dear readers, debit cards are a scam. I wonder how the banks use that same lame argument with gift cards. Go ahead, try to charge me an overdraft fee on that one.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Yay Liberal Arts Education!

I went to a four year liberal arts college and even though one of my majors was physics (better known as fizzix by my brethren) I got a Bachelor of Arts degree, not a Bachelor of Science. The reason was that we had to take courses from every other discipline. I have to admit, I felt educated when I graduated.

Continuing that learning feeling, I decided one day years later to read a book I felt I should read. Why that was escapes me now but I decided to get Love in the Time of Cholera. It seemed like that is what smart people should read, especially since it was originally written in Spanish. Culture, you know.

I got about five pages in before losing my interest and possibly my will to live. But I did get something from it - the title would be useful to me some 30 years later in this blog.

Love in the Time of Cholera. Investing in the Time of Bailouts. Not much different to me.

In the book, I know now from Wikipedia, one main character was "committed to the eradication of cholera and to the promotion of public works."   Hmmm. A government do-gooder with noble intentions. Forget he cheated on his wife.

That is probably all the similarity to a bailout nation (kudos Ritholtz) but don't forget I did not actually read the book.

Bringing this stream of thought to today, how is the average investor to deal with free money and tax breaks for some and not for others? How can we analyze the value of a company - fundie or technical - when one bad feeling by the Fed results in more money printing and rising prices. Or when the free market is brought to its knees with too much meddling.

The answer might be like the whole global warming debate - which I will not praise or criticize here. One of the points is that warming may actually be a normal cycle of the planet. How about investment distress being a normal condition of a secular bear market?

Another argument is that humans are making the planet worse. Hmmm, zero percent interest rates are making Grandma's fixed income worse. 

I was not of age in the previous secular bear of the 70s, although I do remember waiting on gas lines. But my bet is that it was just as hard to make money back then as it is now. The only difference is that we did not see 1.5% daily market swings every third trading day.

It was a lot calmer and mistakes were just mistakes. Today, they are magnified to become disasters in a hurry. True, the Fed is making it worse with its financial vibrio cholerae but perhaps it is indeed just delaying the inevitable.

Take some antibiotics, drink lots of water and perhaps it is time to step away for a while. May is right around the corner, you know.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Song Lyric of the Day

And she'll have fun, fun, fun 'till the Fed takes her T-bird away.
- The Beach Bernankes

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Event Horizon

From Wikipedia (the all-knowing, all-seeing keeper of all knowledge) - The event horizon is a boundary  beyond which events cannot affect an outside observer. In layman's terms it is defined as "the point of no return" i.e. the point at which the gravitational pull becomes so great as to make escape impossible.

With the stock market tumbling, it begs the question, "was that it?"  Did S&P 500 cross the event horizon into the depths of a black hole (bear market)? Did Uncle Ben turn off the fuel leaving the market's engines to sputter and eventually fail?

Or, was it just another little ol' correction that will make the bears look as foolish as after the last one?

Well, I admit I thought the February high was the end of the road, not believing the market loved free money as much as Jimmy Fallon hawking credit cards. Clearly, I was wrong on the short-term timing but now there is a really good shot that the cyclical bear I thought would take us into the depths before the election has begun.

I'll refer subscribers back to the decade forecast I made a few weeks ago. Look for it in tomorrow's Quick Takes Pro.

I'll also refer them back the canaries (you know what I am talking about).  Damage is starting to appear.

But you name it and there is a technical reason why it is time to preserve capital. Is it karma that Pandora is now playing "Officially Dead" by Veruca Salt?  You cannot make this up!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A PIIG in a poke

Or a poke in the eye.

Spain and Italy are fading fast. Greece should have stabilized but it is falling once again. Portugal continues to scrape along the bottom.

The only breath of hope in the group was Ireland as it has been near 52-week highs.  Pigs on the wing (Pink Floyd)

We ran this chart in Quick Takes Pro yesterday. It shows a strong Irish stock market albeit with RSI divergence, but two of its major banks still looking very piigs-y. Can Irish stocks hold when Irish banks are toast?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Sandy's Helpers

This is not about any market or even about money. It is about something more important and I am going to take advantage of my soapbox to tell it here. If you move on to look for a market related post, I will not be offended. My normal rants and ramblings will return soon.

Ladies and Gents,

As one who works in media and one who has to crank out constant copy, I know first hand how hungry journalists are for good ideas. When someone hands me a story idea, it makes my life downright easy. Most of the effort in producing a newsletter, a column or an article goes into finding something interesting to say. Actually saying it is the easy part.

So, it comes as a great surprise that every media outlet I contacted with a great human interest story has turned a deaf ear, a blind eye and a 404 error on their cyber consciousness. Even the outlets that got back to me to say, "Hey, that sounds like a good story!" have dropped the ball.

So, I am going to take advantage of my own on-line reach and print the story here. If you have any pull with an appropriate media - national, local or volunteer - please let me know.

Sandy's Helpers

One day in March 2010, Sandy Cohen Ajzenman, wife, mother and good neighbor in Woodbury, NY was given life changing news. She had cancer. It was in her brain and it was terminal. This is a story about how a community came together to bring comfort and relief to Sandy and her family.

It all started in January 2010 when Sandy experienced a seizure. Two months later, the doctors told her it was a tumor or glioma and due to its location it was inoperable. She began treatment immediately.

The prognosis for an inoperable glioma is not good and is generally thought to be one year to 18 months. Despite continuous treatment, she took a turn for the worse in May 2011 and by July the decision was made to cease the treatments. Sometimes the treatment can be as bad as the disease and this one came with many serious physical side effects and made her extremely weak.

A few weeks later, Karen Gaspin, one of Sandy's best friends and her next door neighbor until moving to California in 2001, came to visit. What she found was the family - husband Mo Ajzenman and daughter Rachel, then age 17 and a newly minted Syosset High School graduate - overwhelmed by the daunting task of being sole caretakers.

Son Zack, then age 22, had just graduated from Ohio State and was away in Europe with friends. He was called back home in early July to be with his mom.

Older sister Heather, then 25, and was working at Washington University in St. Louis where she is completing her doctorate in occupational therapy.

With the family's consent, Karen invited some of their mutual friends from the neighborhood - Stephanie Abada, Jackee Buckvar, Jodie Cohen and Susan Kahn - to visit and they were shocked at how ill she was. No one in the neighborhood really had any idea of her condition. In fact, Sandy did not talk about the cancer and never gave up hope. But now on most days she did not have the strength to leave the house.

It was then that Karen got the idea creating a community effort to help.

Jodie quickly volunteered to bring this idea to fruition and "Sandy's Helpers" was born. Both ladies made phone calls to find other volunteers and Jodie became point person in charge of scheduling. Karen would be the groups contact with the family to keep everyone updated and answer any questions that came up. With a small group at first, Karen, Jodie and friends Stephanie Abada and Joanne Shenker got the ball rolling.

The effort started slowly. Karen had not lived in the area for many years. And because Jodie's children did not overlap in age with Sandy's the two were not close. It made figuring out who to call a challenge.

The first few phone calls resulted in limited success but soon people got wind of what was going on and an offered to join in. Many of them knew Sandy but not well. One person did not know the family at all but asked to join because she just wanted to help.

Each workday, someone would deliver a full dinner, from main course to side dish and dessert, so that the family would not have to worry about shopping, preparing and cleaning. The variety of meals was impressive, catered directly to Sandy's vegetarian lifestyle and often included her favorite treat, a little bit of dark chocolate. And for the family, especially Mo, eating right helped tremendously during this stressful time in their lives.

It did not take long for the effort to grow to include more than 30 families who have volunteered for almost eight months, five days a week, with no interruption. With Rachel now away at the University of Hartford, the group delivered meals for Sandy, Mo and Zack, who now works in Manhattan but lives at home to help out.

Under Jodie's direction, Sandy's Helpers all stayed in touch by phone and email to monitor daily assignments and coordinate menus to avoid duplication. And the list continued to grow. It was not a surprise to see a weekly email from someone new wanting to join in. Some people wanted to help their friend Sandy. Others said it was the right thing to do.

In order to make it as easy for the family as possible and respect their privacy or even lack of desire on any given day to face others, all meals were placed in a cooler on the Ajzenman's porch. The only instructions were to deliver by 5 pm, respect Sandy's vegetarian choice and do not ring the doorbell. However, Sandy’s dog Drake barked at each delivery. Everyone tried to be quiet so as not to disturb the family but Drake would not have it!

Not one of Sandy's Helpers quit since this began as they continued to create delicious, nutritious meals for the family and provide unspoken support. And one family, Shari Dorfman and Ruth Rosenberg, insisted on cooking every week and took care of major holidays, too.

Before she got sick, Sandy was a special education teacher. She also helped many kids and their families as an advocate for special needs in the school system through SEPTA (Special Education Parent-Teacher Association). And since 1998, Sandy was a volunteer, advocate and director at HorseAbility, a local therapeutic horseback riding school that runs, among other programs, a week-long program in August for children with autism and other developmental disorders. The kids - and parents - loved her.

A few years ago, Sandy cared for her own parents who were both very ill until they passed away a mere two weeks apart. She also travelled back and forth from her Woodbury home to Brooklyn to help Mo's parents, too.

And like a good mother, she sacrificed so her kids could have what they needed. Zack had the opportunity to enjoy hockey. The girls, especially Heather, enjoyed competitive horseback riding. It was not unusual for her to prepare food at 1 am for the kids when they came home late and were hungry!

Sandy always had a good attitude about her situation. "It is what it is," she would say. "I do the best I can." She tried to stay active, sometimes even getting to the gym, until it became too difficult for her.

And unfortunately, as Sandy's condition worsened it became even harder for the family to care for her while trying to maintain normal activities such as work and school. Starting in early autumn, home healthcare aide Zareda Hidalgo stayed with Sandy to allow Mo to attend to business in the city. The family could not say enough about Zareda and how much she helped.

In addition, some of Sandy's Helpers would stop by to talk to her, tell her stories and show her photos. They so were pleased to hear that she loved the food - and their company.

When it has became difficult for Sandy to swallow certain foods, the Sandy's Helpers email list was immediately abuzz with new ideas of what to prepare. Recipes for veggie burgers and butternut squash soup among others were immediately claimed.

Sandy's Helpers is a group of amazing group of women, and a few men, that was always looking to do more. It has also shown Mo, Zack, Rachel and Heather the true meaning of community and support and is a testament to the love that everyone felt for Sandy.

Sadly, Sandy finally succumbed to the disease on February 12. She fought for more than two years, defying the odds for an ordeal that typically ends far sooner.

At her memorial service, even through their grief, it was clear that the family appreciated everyone's efforts. Sandy's Helpers made a difference.

Side bar -
"The support has been so overwhelming that it brings tears to my eyes on many an occasion. I simply cannot fathom the support and love that has arisen from "Sandy's Helpers" and what it has done for my kids and me. Our family now understands what true friends Sandy has made over the years and the outpouring is reflective of that special friendship. February marks the eighth month of meals being delivered to us nightly (as well as many lunches) but the thoughts and prayers continue relentlessly with unconditional offerings of help. I want to thank you. This story can and should be an inspiration to all!"
- Mo Ajzenman

All, thanks for reading. I withheld the names of the rest of these wonderful people just because this is not the best forum for such a message. Again, if you know a media outlet of any size that might like this story, please let me know. I am not looking for any compensation and they would be free to rip it apart and rework it in their own style - in print, television or anything else.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Henery the Eighth?

I'm Henry the eighth I am
Henry the eighth I am, I am
I got married to the widow next door
She's been married seven times before
And every one was an Henry (Henry)
She wouldn't have a Willy or a Sam (no Sam)
I'm her eighth old man, I'm Henry
Henry the eighth I am

Second verse same as the first

- Herman's Hermits, 1965 (cover)

I'm Henry the eighth bear, still taking swipes at a market that keeps going up. The real reason for the song lyrics is the very last line posted above - second verse, same as the first. Will the second quarter in the stock market be the same as the first? That was the hook for today's column on Barron's Online and the working title before the editor went with another.

OK, you got me. I had a rough quarter in stocks. I could never imagined that the Fed with come up with two more iterations of money printing in Operation Twist an ZIRP to 2014. Or that Mr. Chairman would say again he was thinking about thinking about more (that's right, I said thinking twice).

But another 12% for the S&P 500? Come on. Or 18% for the Nasdaq? Can I have some of what you are smoking?

That kind of performance is usually seen after bear markets - directly after bear markets as the indices make some gigunda "V" bottom. (That non-word got the spell checker humming. It though I meant Sigismund - King of Hungary (1387-1437.  Hungary sounds a bit like Henerey, doesn't it?)

Anyway, back to the market. The rally may continue but there are plenty of reasons - new reasons - why it won't.  I listed a few in the column so click on over and have a read. Boost my numbers, please!

Here are two - Italy and Spain. Did you see those markets over the past two weeks? How about another? Greece. Just when you thought it was stabilized, or stabilised in the Queen;'s English, they leave the door open for the need for a third bailout. Their stocks tanked again.

Oiink, oiink!  The PIIGS are still calling.

PIIGS down --> euro down --> dollar up --> stocks down. It's a circle of life to make Mufasa proud.

Oh, there was one more - junk bonds. Was that a breakdown today? We report, you decide. Oops, I quoted Fox again.