Sunday, July 25, 2010

Whither Housing?

Doug Kass of Seabreeze Investment Management said on Kudlow (CNBC) a few nights ago that his pick for a surprise was a rebound in housing starting this fall. Generally, I've found that Kass is a pretty good trend reader.
But Gene Epstein, also very good, has a long piece in the latest Barron's which basically says that demography is against a housing rebound for the next five years....
While this kind of conflict makes it tough for regular investors to take a position, the worst is that they could both be wrong...
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Awesome Inc.

Thanks to Amesome, Inc for the new template! Gorgeous! So, truth in advertising, I didn't design this cool wireframe, some pros did it...

Shirley Sherrod

This sad episode was reprised on all the Sunday current event talk shows. I thought we had moved passed all this kind of nonsense. But it is still possible to call someone racist and trigger both predictable and surprising responses.
Just one thing I would recommend to the news organizations: when you are looking for someone to comment, don't dust off Jesse Jackson. If you are looking for a minister, let me give you another choice: T.D. Jakes.
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Sunday, July 11, 2010

JP Morgan Chase

My little falling-out with JP Morgan Chase continues. In the last segment, I had put my Chase credit card away, because, I was put on credit hold/fraud alert because of a $7 charge I made. Details: the card is a United Airlines affinity card - e.g. the user gets United Airline mile credit, and the charge was for one of those little box lunches on a United Airlines flight.
Seemed like a little much to me. Since I'm a JPM shareholder, and I think Jamie Dimon, JPM CEO, has done a great job, I dropped a note saying that it would seem to me that their fraud procedures ought to undergo a review; it doesn't seem too logical to me to put an alert on a frequent flyer using his frequent flyer credit card on a flight.
Anyway, I just received a customer service scorecard, asking if my problem had been satisfactorily resolved, signed by Chip somebody or other.
Well, no Chip: no one did anything; I never heard from anyone until I got your survery...

Monday, July 05, 2010

Why we can't have a new stimulus plan

Double dip recessions are rare things. Even a slowdown immediately after a recession is unusual. But job creation coming out of this one is painfully slow. While there are lots of reasons, here is a key one.
Historically, housing got creamed in a recession. Interest rates rose going in, choking off housing activity. Then interest rates were cut, housing gradually recovered and helped employment. A lot.
Think of how many skilled trades are involved in building a house. Plumbers. Electricians. Carpenters. Cabinet installers. Roofers. Landscapers. Wallboard hangers. Carpet layers. Tile layers. Bricklayers. Concrete finishers.
Then there are the manufacturers and suppliers of pipe, kitchen and bath faucets, lighting fixtures, roofing shingles, lumber, toilets, sinks carpet, concrete, bricks,conduit, circuit boxes, windows, doors, insulation, air conditioners, water heaters and so on.
Well, in this recession there is no housing rebound, so the millions of local trade workers and manufacturing jobs that one would expect simply aren't getting created.
With that in mind, I could almost support a stimulus plan. "but". The first stimulus plan was a disaster. Over half the money went to Congress' pet projects, not to investments that might actually help move the economy.
A plan should be judged by two factors: first, does it improve the U.S. long-run productivity? Ports, rails, airports, roads and energy grid spending falls into this category. But not spending to support raises for people who already have jobs or to bail out broke states. Second, it should create a lot of jobs immediately. It is better to create two $20 per hour jobs than one $40. And it is still better to create four $10 per hour jobs than 1 $20. People need to be put to work.
Congress clearly failed those tests last time, with bogus "prevailing wage" rules and old pork spending so awful that even their friends wouldn't support it before. I don't see how we can trust them to do a better job a second time around.

Friday, July 02, 2010

More cigars

Thanks to Don Mills, I'm trying some new smokes, and so far they are all fabulous. Just finished a Perdomo Reserve 10th Anniversary in the Champagne wrapper. While I enjoy an occasional powerhouse like the Fuente Opus, generally my tastes run to the milder end of the spectrum.
This new Perdomo Champagne absolutely fills the bill. When I finished smoking it, I immediately went online to check the box price. If you are in Memphis/Germantown, check out the Tobacco Superstore and tell Don I sent you for a little extra special deal.