Posts Tagged 'stock market'

I’d rather smoke a cigar

I was about to head down the hill to buy a cigar.  It’s one of those forbidden pleasures I engage in a couple of times a year.  In order to curb my usage, I only buy one at a time.  That gives my guilt complex a chance to work on me before I actually lay out the cash.  It’s an awful habit.  Mouth tastes like the inside of a shoe for two days.

So I said to Sweetie “You know what…I think I’ll shlep down the hill to get a cigar.”  She said with a beautiful smile “Go ahead.  You’ll enjoy it.”    OK, I said, I’ll just check my e-mail.  Bad decision.

My home page is Google.  I love it because it pops up quickly and doesn’t shatter my eyeballs with tons of graphics and come-ons.  Unfortunately, it also has the NY Times headlines.  I’ve lately begun to suspect that the Times has joined the ranks occupied by every other rag.  Sensationalism, depression and woe are the watchwords of its day.

Food safety problems slip by inspectors

Stocks Plunge on worries over financial sector

Driver shot dead after rampage in Jerusalem

Francisco Franco is alive and will do outreach for Obama

Well, maybe not the one about Franco.  But all the rest are true and are designed to heighten your depression (isn’t that an oxymoron), drive you to drink, and draw you to the flame.

The Times is in good company.  For example, in the past, I would mount my rowing machine in the early morning, flip on the TV and check the CNN headlines.  I’d even listen to their inane analysis of why we’re in the mess we’re in.  They used to have this little graphic in the lower right corner of the screen that constantly rolled by with the S&P, the Dow and the NASDAQ.  I am blessed with less than perfect vision so I had to squint to read it.  No squinting, no bad news. Perfect, or so I thought.

Last week CNN figured that I’m not sufficiently depressed by market conditions.  So, in addition to the old squint-requisite graphic, they installed a much larger version that covers a full 20% of the screen.  Only Mr. Magoo can avoid it.  I’m drawn to it as it screams negative numbers, heading more negative, relentlessly negative.  Even if the numbers are positive (as rare as the Dodo), I watch like a deer in the headlights as they descend toward the negative.

It’s impossible to pay attention to anything else on the screen or hear the prompter-reading personality offer his negative prognostications.  I can’t pay close attention when I hear that the president who led the Countrywide Mortgage disaster is now making millions scooping up the bad mortgages he created and then selling them back to us using taxpayer money.  No, I’m gripped by that awful market graphic.  If Angelina Jolie were to parade across the screen with both lips and both breasts fairly exploding in my direction, I would probably miss it.

I can’t watch it.  So, thinking that the local news is somewhat more benign and focused on milder events like double murders, arsonists, three-year droughts, and train wrecks caused by engineers who think it’s cute to let a 16 year old run a zillion ton locomotive through my neighborhood, I click to Channel 5.  Even if Mark Kriski is a doofus, how bad can it be?  Escape is near.

 I am greeted by a less expensive version of the CNN market graphic.  The major difference is that Channel 5 can’t afford the cost of instant market updates like CNN.  Instead, the graphic changes only about every twenty seconds.  Not fast enough for day traders, but adequate for folks like me who are frozen in time and space.  So instead of watching the CNN market ticker descend two or three points at a time, it now drops in huge chunks.   Sort of like the face of a glacier falling into the sea.  I’m mesmerized waiting for the next chunk.  I can’t even relish the occasional trashing of the English language or the butchering of people’s names so ably performed by the morning crew.

Maybe I should get that cigar…and smoke it on the rowing machine.


Parallel Universes

Sweetie and I shlepped to Santa Barbara on Tuesday for an investment seminar.  I always think that Santa Barbara is just up the road…until I get close to Carpenteria and find that we’ve still got miles to go.

We hadn’t been to a Bernstein seminar since just before the bust of…when was it…the late nineties.  I vividly remember that meeting.   Sanford Bernstein Investment Management was founded by a New York Orthodox Jew with a conservative mindset.  The firm hadn’t invested client money in Internet companies while others gorged on them.   Bernstein clients watched and stock prices skyrocket while Mr. Bernstein dragged his fanny and their money through Ford,  J.P. Morgan and General Foods.   Folks at that 90’s Bernstein seminar were  pissed that they weren’t sharing the wealth.  But old Sanford had the last laugh when people finally said “sell my Internet stocks” and their less astute brokers said “to who?”

This seminar was a bit different.  Yes, it was at an expensive hotel, the Biltmore.  I feel awkward and out of place in expensive hotels.  Must be my Ukranian roots.  Sitting down for lunch, I knew right away that things were tough…no lamb chops.  Overcooked chicken was the featured entree.  The only thing that looked familiar were the people in the audience.  I thought, as I did at that 90’s gathering, if a terrorist were to spray the room with bullets, lots of well-to-do Jews would pass their wealth to their heirs sooner than expected.

The two hour message offered by some young (everyone is young to me) investment mavens was, in brief, “Hang in there…the market will rise again.”  I thought…I should live so long…then again.  We ate the chicken, arm wrestled the bread tray, skipped dessert, got back in the car and went home.

The next morning we drove down Highway 33, exited at the oil wells, and arrived at  Foster elementary school in Ventura.  It’s in a heavily Latino low to middle income neighborhood.  The Ojai Music Festival was sponsoring a Chumash Indian music participation program for fourth graders.  Julie Tumamait entertained the bright-eyed kids with stories, dances, flutes, drums, and rattles.

The classroom was crowded with the decor bordering on organized chaos.  The kids’ regular teacher, a lovely young woman, seemed at times the very picture of a drill sergeant.  I was amazed at how she kept her composure, all the while monitoring her charges and simultaneously grading their homework.

I think Julie must be almost as old as I am.  She’s the Valley’s resident Chumash expert and shows up at anything faintly related to her ancestors.  Sweetie and I have photographed lots of kids participating in all kinds of Music Festival programs.  It’s a daunting challenge for the instructor.  The kids usually start out with sort of a “what am I doing here” look on their faces.  They move on to studied indifference.  Keeping them from engaging their nearest neighbor in some sort of mayhem is common.  Getting their attention and keeping them interested is the goal.  Julie was a master.

She began by providing background information.  I don’t think anyone heard it.  Next, a video of Indian dancing accompanied by Julie’s jousting with the remote control.  The kids were indifferent.  Having set them up in this manner, she then went for the jugular.  Forming forty kids in a circle, the center of which was crammed with chairs and desks, she handed out all manner of rattles, drums, flutes and whatnot.  She showed the kids how to hop up and down while moving clockwise and blowing on or beating their Chumash instruments.  It was a sight to behold.  The kids were ecstatic.  They couldn’t get enough of it.  It went on in various forms for nearly thirty minutes.  I was exhausted…and all I was doing was taking pictures.

Before we left the classroom, we both hugged Julie and told her how happy we were that she survived.  So was she.  And she had to do it again half an hour later.

So what’s this got to do with old Mr. Bernstein you say.  I’m not sure.  Maybe it was the contrasts.  A bunch of adults listening to investment strategy versus kids who barely have enough lunch money.  Old folks wondering if their legacy would last til they keeled over versus kids who have no idea of mortality.  Skeptics who’ve heard it before versus kids who haven’t.

Bet the kids would love lamb chops.


The market makes me crazy

Back in the 70’s the market crashed…again.  Like it does every time I get comfortable.  And then my broker says “Ya know, we’ve been through this before.  Just hang in there and things will right themselves.  After all, look at this chart.  Look at the peaks and valleys.  Look at the upward trend since before you were born.  Look at the nice colors.  It tells the whole story.”

Anyway, about the 70’s.  Sweetie (sorry Nita) and I had a few bucks in the market.  Back then it seemed like a fortune.  Today, it would be just enough to buy a decent wardrobe at Second Helpings, the local thrift store.  The market went down about a third.  We were nearly wiped out.  I thought “Crap, I’ll probably have to keep working til I’m 40.  Bummer.”  I got so fed up and crazed by the drop in value that I said “sell.”  At least my broker didn’t say “To who?”  Three months later the market recovered all of its loss and we were out a third of our fortune.

I always remember that experience every time the market goes into free fall.  It helps me keep my composure, my sunny outlook, my belief in the market muses who whisper in my ear  “Remember what you did in the 70’s Fred?…don’t make the same mistake.  Don’t be a loser.  After all, the charts say “Have patience, look at the pretty colors, believe in the inevitability that history will repeat itself.”

Gurus also tell us that you can’t time the market.  What they really mean is that even with supercomputers and phd’s in economics, no one can predict what the market will do in the short term.  In the current market, short term means the period of time immediately preceding my first stroke.

If you think about it, timing (aka guessing) the market is worse than predicting the results in Las Vegas.  In Las Vegas we can guarantee that, if you play for two days, you will lose.  No doubt about it.  If you play the market for two days, you will play the market for two days…that’s it, no guarantees.

But the current market is even more of a gamble.  I’ve been watching it closely and have made a number of observations.  First, never pay any attention to what the market does in the first half hour after the open.  If it goes up, you will be happy (unless you’re a short seller) for thirty minutes.  And then you can watch the gains drain away, click by click, on that disturbing little table that CNN sticks in the lower right corner of the TV screen.  Why anyone needs to see it in real time is beyond me.

Or, you can clandestinely open up Internet Explorer, click on the NY Times icon and hope to hell the numbers on the Times home page are blue, not red.  And, even if they are blue, you can feel your heart race and your forehead tighten as the blue numbers go from triple digits, to double digits, to single digits…to red.  Ah, the wonders of electricity and the Internet.

But my most important observation, and the one that you should pay me big bucks to hear, is this.  Never count on what the market will end the day at until it has officially closed and a wooden stake driven into its heart.  I’ve had my dreams of a blue-number closing dashed at the very last moment.  Like today.  Drove home, listened to NPR in the car, walked in the house, and said to Sweetie “Gee, it’s a banner day.  The market’s only down by 78 points three minutes before the closing.”  It dropped another 150 points in less time than it takes to say “Don’t count your chickens…”

I spoke with Peter, my broker, a couple of weeks ago and offered what I thought was a perfect solution to the drop your shorts before closing phenomenon.  I said “Close the market at ten minutes before 4pm.  That’ll teach em.”  Peter replied “But they’ll figure it out in a couple of days, a week at most.”  So I said “Then have an unannounced closing.  Sometimes ten minutes before the hour.  Sometimes ten minutes after the hour.”  He said he would talk to his boss.

Meanwhile, I’ll just stare at the old peaks and valleys chart and pray for peaks.


Faint heart never won…

Sweetie and I went to Tom’s today.  It was time for her haircut and for me to bring the OVLFF deposit to the bank.  I have the enviable job of collecting the receipts from the Library Foundation bookstore and the contribution box in the library.  The plastic box has been a faithful collector of the coin of the realm from good-hearted souls who think we should actually have a place where people can get free books, use computers and relax without being confronted by the pressures of the day.  People are odd, aren’t they?

When Sweetie was done and looking more beautiful than ever, we got back in the car and started the drive up the hill.  We turned on NPR.  I don’t understand why automakers insist on embedding that silly antenna in the car’s windshield instead of the good old whip antenna that is so attractive to young vandals.  The windshield solution is only good if I’m parked inside the radio station building.  It is seriously challenged going up the Dennison Grade.

We heard Henry Paulson say that he had determined that using the $700 billion bailout for the purpose originally intended was no longer in vogue.  He said he had a different solution that would be much better at reducing my blood pressure, relieving my stress level and increasing my sexual potency.  I wondered if Sweetie could handle it.

My initial reaction was “Gee, that sounds reasonable.”  But that was immediately followed by “I bet the stock market will think he doesn’t know what he’s doing.”  The market went down by 400 points.  As my good friend Tony said a week ago when I mentioned the market crash…”Which one?”

Paulson’s comments were followed by NPR’s discussion with an economic guru about what has become the question of the moment.  Because of the economic turmoil (a kind euphemism for what has become a debilitating recession), should Obama take it easy in the first days of his presidency, catch his breath and go slow.  Or should he go balls out, damn the torpedoes, and do the things he promised us.

I thought about the Iraq war.  How much time did President What’s His Name and Congress spend debating it?  About the same amount of time I take to decide on my menu selection at Sea Fresh.  Yes, it’s true that it turned out to be not so good an idea.

So let’s see.  What needs to be done?  Health care reform is a very good thing.  Investing in renewable energy will end our dependence on the sheiks.  Putting folks back to work rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure will put money in their pockets.  Ending that dumb war will save some bucks and help mend our fences with the rest of the world.  Getting rich folks to contribute a bit more is a nice idea.

Obama has a mandate from the people.  The people want him to do more than be cautious, deliberate, and glacial.  It took eight years to bring us to where we are today.  We don’t have eight years to put us back together again.  Ronald Reagan got a smaller percentage of the popular vote in 1980 than Obama did.  And the great actor said “Full speed ahead…to where I’m not sure but it’s better than dicking around where we’re at.”  Or something like that.

Yes, I know that Obama needs to reach across the aisle.  But, frankly, the Republicans are ready to grab a lifeline from anyone who throws it.  So, go Bama, do it now.  Don’t wait.  He who hesitates.  No guts, no glory.  A chance like this shouldn’t be wasted.  Carpe diem.  I’m with you.

You can even have some of the coins from the library collection box.


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