Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Doc Watson - Tennessee Stud

One of my favorite Doc Watson songs.

That Was Then, This is Now

Heinz: The Slowest Ketchup in the West

Thanks to MIT professor, Kripa Varanas, and his invention of LiqiGlide, there'll be no more slowest ketchups. Consumers will get to savor every drop of their favorite condiment.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Quote of the Day: Alan Simpson

Erskine Bowles and I thoroughly enjoyed our time on the West Coast and received an excellent reception from folks — at least those who are using their heads and have given up using emotion, fear, guilt or racism to juice up their troops. Your little flyer entitled “Bowles! Simpson! Stop using the deficit as a phony excuse to gut our Social Security!” is one of the phoniest excuses for a “flyer” I have ever seen. You use the faces of young people, who are the ones who are going to get gutted while you continue to push out your blather and drivel. My suggestion to you — an honest one — read the damn report. The Moment of Truth — 67 pages, and then tell me if we’re not doing the right thing with Social Security. What a wretched group of seniors you must be to use the faces of the very people that we are trying to save, while the “greedy geezers” like you use them as a tool and a front for your nefarious bunch of crap. You must feel some sense of shame for shoveling out this bulls**t. Read the latest news from the Social Security Trustees. The Social Security System will now “hit the skids” in 2033 instead of 2036. If you can’t understand all of this you need a pane of glass in your naval so you can see out during the day! Read the report. Get back to me. My address is below.

If you don’t read the report, — as Ebenezer Scrooge said in the Christmas Carol, “Haunt me no longer!”

~ Alan Simpson, Letter to California Association of Retired Americans (CARA)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Donald: Made in China

Sometime Presidential candidate, and full-time showman and self-promoter, Donald Trump, is famous for his tough talk about China and import tariffs. In the above video he states: "When it comes to manufacturing, China is making all of these products. And they could be made in North Carolina, they could be made in Alabama, they could be made in lots of our places. And right now they’re not. Personally, I’d tax China very, very heavily."

So this begs the question, why doesn't his clothing line carry a made in USA label? What about all those wonderful jobs in North Carolina and Alabama that could have been created? Where's the substance behind the bluster?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Quote of the Day: Robert Reich on the Higher Education Bubble

"Outstanding student debt now totals over $1 trillion. That's more than the nation's total credit-card debt.

The extraordinary rise in student debt is due to two related facts: the cost of a college education continues to increase faster than inflation, and state and local spending per college student continues to drop -- this year reaching a 25-year low.

But this can't go on. If unemployment stays high for many years, if the wages of young college grads continue to fall, if the costs of college continue to rise and state and local spending per college student continues to drop, and if the college debt burden therefore continues to explode -- well, you do the math.

At some point in the not-too-distant future these lines cross. College is no longer a good investment."

~ Robert Reich, from The Commencement Address That Won't Be Given


The 60 Minutes interview with Peter Thiel who is offering several of the brightest students $100,0000 to walk away from college into the life of the entrepreneur.


Grouch: I don't agree with Robert Reich on many things, but it is only common sense that paying $150,000-$200,000 for a bachelor's degree in Medieval Poetry from one of the nation's finest University is probably not a cost effective investment. Students need to weigh the income potential of their future professions against the costs of their educations.

Deez Nuts

Humorous and unsettling.

Communism Isn't Dead. It Has Evolved.

As China becomes more like the U.S., the U.S. is becoming more like China. In between lies a model that looks like the bloated welfare states of Europe. These countries are currently floundering under a softer form of top-heavy state capitalism. If the past is any indication, the US will do well to move in the opposite direction of Europe.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Facebook IPO at $38 a Share, No Thanks!

Is Facebook really worth $104B as an enterprise? I don't think so. I have no quarrel with Zuckerberg and the other Facebook founders making bookoo bucks. But the pricing for Facebook is more about the hope and belief that someday all this info they've gathered on people can be turned into earnings and cashflow, something that may or may not materialize. As with all tech IPOs, investors buy on the belief that trees grow to the moon, or that a greater fool lurking somewhere around the corner will buy from them at a higher. Time will tell whether Facebook becomes one of those rare tech companies that actually grows long-term or is a short-term fad. I'm not willing to take that bet at these prices, or even use their product to divulge my private information for their exploitation.

Update 1:  My quick back of the envelope calculation would give Facebook a generous $30B valuation, significantly below where it closed on Friday.  I doubt it will drop this far anytime soon, but investors should be wary of this stock until it proves it has sustainable, long-term earnings power.

Update 2: Despite shedding almost 7 points in 2 trading days from its IPO, Facebook still looks ridiculously expensive. An overly generous PE of 50 on earnings of $0.31 a share would indicate a fair value of $12.50 a share. A decent entry point for speculators is probably in the single digits.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Future According to Microsoft

Did Siri really say the best smartphone out there is the Nokia 900 running on the Windows platform?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Dis-Utopian Future as Seen from the 1970s

The 1970s were a turbulent time, not unlike today, with American seemingly on the decline and the world poised for its own self-destruction. The prophets of gloom were all over the air waves and in the print media predicting doom and Armageddon for the human race. Their claims look ridiculous today, after the likes of Norman Borlaug, the boom in natural resources and gas and oil, and the growth in world-wide prosperity. Betting against humans has rarely been a successful wager. The doomsdayers of today will likewise be proven wrong thirty years later.

David Mamet on His Conversion

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Income Potential of MLPs

The past is no guarantee of the future, but for the period 1996 - 2011 the growth of MLP dividends blew away the competition. REITS, utilities, bonds and the S&P 500 couldn't keep up.

Energy Income Partners (, which manages two closed end funds for First Trust ( -- FEN (Energy Income and Growth) and FIF (First Trust Energy Infrastructure Fund)has prepared a chart that nicely illustrates this point.

A common way to invest in MLPs are through funds that track the Alerian MLP ETF index such as the JP Morgan Alerian MLP Index ETN (AMJ). There are two objections to this fund: 1) the high expense ratio for an ETF of .85%, and 2) the ETN structure exposes investors to the credit worthiness of JP Morgan with just took a headline catching $2 billion dollar loss on some foolish investments.

Given these objections and the limited universe of MLPs, individual investors may be better off buying these securities directly. The index is made up of companies like the ones below (a full list can be found at the Alerian site):


Most companies in the index deal with energy in some manner, such as exploration and production, or transport, and have a history of steady dividend increases. Merger activity has also picked up in this sector with Kinder Morgan's planned merger with El Paso, and Energy Transfer Partners planned merger with Sunoco.

The largest MLP at the moment is Energy Products Partners (EPD), and their dividend history is impressive, especially with reinvestments:

1999........ $0.92
2001........ $1.14
2002........ $1.34
2003........ $1.44
2004........ $1.51
2005........ $1.66
2006........ $1.80
2007........ $1.92
2008........ $2.05
2009........ $2.17
2010........ $2.29
2011........ $2.41

Income investors should take a hard look at MLPs for their portfolios to supplement their traditional stock and bond allocations. The last decade was spectacular for MLPs as compared to stocks, and while that is not a predictor of the future the oil and gas boom on private lands is continuing to fuel the growth of these companies.

Disclosure: Long EPD, LINE, BIP.

Friday, May 11, 2012

WMDs Discovered at JP Morgan

Bloomberg breaking the story:

Jamie Diamond losing his street cred:

Reggie Middleton discussing derivatives in banking on 10/19/2010

As Warren Buffett says: "Derivatives are financial weapons of mass destruction." Will JP Morgan's misfortune present investors with a buying opportunity to pick up more conservatively run banks such as Wells Fargo, PNC or BB&T at attractive prices?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Facebook Sales Pitch to Investors

I will not be buying the IPO. I don't see the durable competitive advantage of this company's business model. And quite frankly, I grew tired of using Facebook after about a month. So if a product doesn't appeal to me, I won't be buying into the company. Those who buy the IPO may indeed make money, but I'm looking for companies to buy and hold for 20 to 30 years and I do not see this company surviving anywhere near that long.

Having a Little Fun with an Incredibly Stupid Time Cover

Original Incredibly Stupid Cover:

Dramatically Improved Cover Doctored by SooperMexican:

Cafe Hayek's Don Boudreaux on Hypocrites & Half-Wits

The Santelli Exchange: The Burden on the Young

I came out of college in the midst of what I'd call the most trying economic times since the great depression, in 1981. Paul Volker was busy breaking the back of inflation. Interest rates were in the teens. Unemployment rates were much like they are today. But I was lucky enough to find a job because I majored in a field that was in demand in the marketplace. I found it to be an optimistic time, in spite of the near-time challenges. I don't feel so optimistic today for the futures of my own children who are just graduating college. I wish I did, but I don't. Our problems are so much bigger today than back then, and keep getting bigger.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

U. S. Steel and the Marcellus Shale

A resurgence of jobs, hope and opportunity has come recently to the Ohio steeltown of Lorain, thanks to the shale/hydraulic fracturing revolution.

Quote of the Day: P. J. O’Rourke

France is a treasure to mankind. French ideas, French beliefs, and French actions form a sort of loadstone for humanity. Because a moral compass needle needs a butt end. Whatever direction France is pointing in—toward Nazi collaboration, Communism, existentialism, Jerry Lewis movies, or President Sarkozy’s personal life—you can go the other way with a clear conscience.

~ P. J. O’Rourke, from Bad Advice for New Graduates, 2008

Grouch: The entire O’Rourke article is well worth reading, and the quote above summarized my feelings on the recent French elections.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Social Security vs. Private Retirement

Professor Anthony Davis is on a roll. In this video, he points out that even a retirement plan that forced workers to invest their Social Security payroll taxes only in Treasury bills would generate 17% more in retirement benefits than the current system, which is also subject to change by Congress at any time.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Bears Explain High Gas Prices

Now that the price of gas is heading down, where are the politicians on their soapboxes blaming the price decrease on the speculators. After all, the speculators bet on prices going both up and down.

Just How Radical Were the Founders? Jefferson's Small is Beautiful. Decentralization vs. Domination.

Thomas Jefferson's Ward Republics by FORAtv

What if counties were as powerful as states? And what if the power of the federal government were pushed down to the states? This is essentially what Founding Father Thomas Jefferson proposed. And if you have any illusions about how "radical" this founder was, consider that Jefferson believed these 'ward republics' should have the most power. Why in the world would Jefferson advocate something so crazy?

Here are the benefits of this sort of radical decentralization:

  • It's much easier to vote with your feet;
  • You get near unanimity within your community;
  • The national government does very little;
  • Subsidiary power is highly localized
  • Leaders are more accountable because they are closer and easier to watch;
  • Checks and balances occur both in divided powers and the threat of defection from a ward;
  • Resources remain highly localized;
  • Communities -- whatever they look like -- are more likely to spring up based on the culture and common dreams of the people in the ward;
  • You get radical experimentation;

The closest approximation to the ward republic in modern day society is Switzerland.

HT: Ideas Matter

Friday, May 4, 2012

Charlie Munger on Berkshire and Buffett

"Gold is a great thing to sew onto your garments if you’re a Jewish family in Vienna in 1939 but civilized people don’t buy gold – they invest in productive businesses.”— Charlie Munger.

Cartoon of the Day: The Way the Economy Works

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Fact of the Day: Housing Bubble

In 1989, only 1 in 230 homebuyers bought a house with a down payment of 3% or less. In 2003, the ratio was 1 in 7. By 2007, it was 1 in 3.

Anyone think there might be a correlation between these stats and the current real estate crisis?

The Great Debate: Paul vs. Paul

Well, it's not that great of a debate, but it is mildly entertaining. Krugman espouses his long-held believe that a little government fairy-dust in the form of dollar bills sprinkled by enlightened people in the right places will create utopia. Ron Paul argues for freedom and sound monetary policy, against the Fed, and gets lost in the weeds of his argument. The usual stuff.

Does Government Spending Create Economic Growth?

The common mythology spread by politicians and their favorite economists is that government spending or "stimulus" somehow creates jobs above and beyond what the private sector would create on its own. In reality, what really happens with a "stimulus" is that phantom jobs are created-- those visible jobs contrived from the largess that result in corresponding invisible job losses elsewhere in the economy. A "stimulus" effectively diverts resources from productive uses to less productive uses-- i.e., money goes to those activities and constituencies favored by the current crop of politicians. Witness the most recent stimulus.

As Russ Roberts states:

The standard stimulus package doesn't change incentives. It's a check from the government. The hope is that the receiver will spend it. But when you just send out checks from the government, whoever gets stimulated is likely to be offset by someone who gets unstimulated. The money has to come from somewhere. If you raise taxes to fund the plan, the people who are taxed are poorer and they'll spend less. If you borrow money to fund the plan, the people who buy the government bonds have less money to spend and that offsets the stimulus. It's like taking a bucket of water from the deep end of a pool and dumping it into the shallow end. Funny thing—the water in the shallow end doesn't get any deeper. And even the people who get the money often save more of it than they spend.