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Friday, December 30, 2011

2012: A Year not of Doom but simply a 'Wake-up'

Well, today was the last stock trading day of 2011.. yay~

It ended -69 points today..  yay~

AP reported, "The Standard & Poor's 500 index closed 2011 a fraction of a point below where it started the year." meaning all the ups and downs, rosy forecasts and talk of green shoots, soft patch, rough patch, dips, blips, bleeps and bloops, and ultimately everything ended as it began...  yay~

Of course that never stops experts from trumpeting stocks to watch for 2012- that's always been the name of the game- 'Buy' when market is surging, 'Buy' when its plunging, and 'Buy' all days in-between.

We've no idea what 2012 will bring but we believe it will be bad,  though not Doom & Destruction 'bad'.  We're no 'doom & gloom' site and do not look at 2012 as the boogeyman year others have painted it to be.  There will be difficulties and troubles but we do not accept the notion of Apocalypse, anarchy or anything along those lines.

We have taken no pleasure in providing information this year that was troubling or unsettling.   Its just that 2011 could easily be called 'The year of continual Denial' and that word is just an anathema to us;  we loathe the denial state because it is so utterly unproductive and stagnant to the mind and soul.
We believe 2012 will be the year of the 'Wake-Up'-- the year people generally realize there's no government 'cavalry' coming to the rescue to fix things immediately.  It will be a year where more everyday people finally begin publicly demanding more of their elected officials and stop believing the pollyanna spin pushed in TV and print news;  clever catchphrases just won't cut it in 2012.

We'll continue to be here in 2012- through all the many ups and downs (and yes there will be 'Ups'- life works like that)  When there's something genuinely good to report, we will happily do so.  And if things get really bad, we will be here to boost spirits with constructive and productive ways of getting through it all.

Just remember, that while after all the Intense build-up leading to Christmas as THE day, that there was a Dec 26th, then a 27th.   Do not look at 2012 as a Doomsday date..  Do not believe the Mayan prophesy bullshit or any other fearmongerers...  2012 is just a sequence of days.. a continuation of life; a journey that whether it be personal, national or global, is one of ups and downs.

See everyone on Monday or Tues. depending on whether anything worthwhile occurred this 3 day weekend to write about~

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Pet Peevin'

I have many pet peeves and they vary from those pretty much everyone agrees with, like people who purchase 20 items in a '10 item or less' line, to important issues like rising costs of living, to irrelevant, trivial things like how TV soap operas constantly break up and re-unite characters just to then re-break them up soon after.  (If you ever watched a soap, you're nodding in agreement on that)

Now when it comes to coverage of finance and the economy, I have quite many peeves but I'll just delve into one that repeats quite often in corporate mainstream news-- a 'positive' or 'optimistic' story that really is anything but...  Something just irritates me beyond words when I read them.

Let's take some time to really delve into one of these puff pieces:

US job market ends year in better shape -- (AP)  "The long-suffering job market is ending the year better off than it began.  The number of people applying for unemployment benefits each week has dropped by 10 percent since January. The unemployment rate, 8.6 percent in November, is at its lowest level in nearly three years."


OK, let's stop there a moment.   The writer makes his claim so matter-of-factly yet consciously chooses for the most part to avoid delve into why the statistics are what they are.   First, notice its not New people applying for unemployment that went down, but rather overall applications.  Whats' the difference?  Well once you reach 99 weeks of benefits you can't apply anymore.. that's it-- Done.  And This is year 4 of the recession-depression so there's a whole lot of people who still need benefits to survive yet legally prevented from applying again.  Secondly, the 8.6% unemployment is a total joke.   When people stop looking for work because they've given up hope of finding employment, they're taken off the statistical classification of what 'unemployed' is.  Thus the number magically goes down.
Its funny- the article actually mentions this truth--  in paragraph 12., "In November, the unemployment rate fell to 8.6 percent from 9 percent to its lowest level since March 2009. About half that decline was attributed to the 315,000 people who gave up looking for work. When people stop looking for a job, the government no longer counts them as unemployed."


And yet Mr Know-Nothing AP writer, you had the audacity to treat 8.6% as a positive stat and reason to say the US is in 'better shape'   Grrr...


Let's continue with this fluff article...  


"Factory output is rising, business owners say they're more optimistic about hiring and consumer confidence has jumped to its highest level since April. Even the beleaguered housing market is looking slightly better."


Is it?   Just 14 days ago AP had this headline:  "US Factory Output Declined Sharply in November"   Guess that writer didn't bother to tell his colleague who said its rising.    Consumer confidence did go up to 64.5 but its important to understand the context-- '100' means consumers believe the economy is on good footing, it has been under 100 for over 4 years now, and the Consumer Confidence Board bases its monthly findings on a sample of 5,000 people.  Remember, the population of the US is now around 310 million.  And finally, what is housing optimism built around?  The building of rentals.  Do these rentals have tenants lined up?  No, not really but they're being built anyways.


~ My how they are building more dwellings all the time!


Here's more optimistic nonsense...


"The economy likely grew at an annual rate of 3 percent or more in the final three months of this year, analysts say. That would top the 1.8 percent growth rate in the July-September quarter, and the 0.9 percent growth rate in the first half of the year.  Employers have added an average of 143,000 net jobs a month from September through November. That's almost double the pace for the previous three months. Although it's below the pace from the first quarter of 2011... The Associated Press surveyed 36 economists this month who said they expect the economy to generate an average of about 175,000 jobs per month in 2012. "


Where to begin?  Every time the government announces figures on GDP, it always ends up adjusted weeks later.  For instance, this is Reuters' headline from today:  "U.S. GDP Third Quarter 2011: U.S. Economy Grew Less Than Estimated Last Quarter"  So forgive me if I don't blindly accept 3% growth in 4th Q.  Also, this punce who wrote the AP article I am forced to eviscerate, treats 143k jobs created as a great thing.  It takes a minimum monthly creation of 225k new jobs to keep up with rise in population.  We're creating a little more than half that and media trumpeting as success.  Even the writer admits that's still below the jobs created betw. January-March of 2011.


I could go on... I won't.
The question I always try to ask myself is -Why are shit articles like this written?  Does the writer really want to lie like that or is it a moronic editor of a paper or news gathering agency who demands something positive?  Or maybe its readers themselves who on the whole Refuse to accept the reality of things, and articles like this are welcome comfort.


I can't answer for others..  Personally I can't stand fluff.  


There's a somewhat popular though not too "classy" saying-  "Don't pee on my leg and tell me it is raining".    


Perhaps for many people out there, they would prefer it.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Good, Bad & Ugly of 5yr stocks- Part II

The last business week of the year is usually a slow one in the stock market-- trading volume is low, most people are on vacation, and so any ups or downs really don't mean anything beyond the immediacy of the moment.  So we're not really going to waste time covering it until next week.

We did want to continue a little game we played a week or so ago called 'Good, Bad & Ugly" where for fun, one finds out how much would a $100,000 investment in a particular stock be worth today, if purchased  exactly 5 years ago today.

Let's start with some 'Good':
YUM! brands (They own Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, KFC...)


December 28, 2006  --  $29.40  (3401 shares based on $100k)
December 28, 2011  --  $58.98

People love their pizza and other greasy fast food..  that initial $100k investment would be worth $200,590 today.

McDonald's

December 28, 2006  --  $44.33  (2255 shares based on $100k)
December 28, 2011  --  $99.58

A person who held onto McDonald's stock would have seen a profit of over 100% and a net worth of  $224,552

Dollar Tree 

December 28, 2006  --   $20.06  (4985 shares based on $100k)
December 28, 2011  --   $83.90

This would have been an excellent stock to have bought 5 years ago.  Today, you'd have a net worth of $418,245, a profit after 5 years of over $318k

Now once again, we merge 'Bad' and 'Ugly'.  Obviously no one would hold onto a crashing stock for five straight years but for academic exercise, we'll pretend there's some silly-stupid people out there who would and these would be the repercussions:

Alcoa

December 28, 2006  --  $30.01  (3332 shares based on $100k)
December 28, 2011  --   $ 8.52

A silly-stupid person who held onto Alcoa for 5 years would have $28,388 left from an original $100k investment.

Sears

December 28, 2006  --  $167.93  (595 shares based on $100k)
December 28, 2011  --   $33.33

The stock has dropped slowly up until the last few months.  Nonetheless, that $100k investment is now worth $19,831, a drop of over 80% in 5 years.

American Apparel, Inc.

December 28, 2006  --  $ 9.19  (10,881 shares based on $100k)
December 28, 2011  --   $ 0.76

Yes, American Apparel is worth less than $1 per share, and a silly-stupid person would have $8,269 left after his/her initial $100k investment

The Morale: Stock market is a crap game.  You can win big, you can lose big...

Question is-  Do you feel lucky?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

What's another $1.2 Trillion among friends...

Once upon a time, many many weeks ago, there was this big battle in Washington between elephants and donkeys over extending the debt limit to $15.14 Trillion dollars. This was supposed to carry the nation's obligations to after the 2012 election.   And after lots of back and forth posturing, and much brouhaha, it was predictably passed because no one had the courage to say 'Stop the Madness' and actually Mean it... 

And to prevent any public frictions that might affect any individual or political party's ability to win an election, the agreement was that the cap on the debt would automatically by raised until 2013 whenever the President requested it officially unless Congress voted to block the debt-ceiling extension.  Lawmakers would have 15 days within receiving the request to vote, which was and is largely symbolic because the president can veto it and Congress would be unlikely to muster the two-thirds majority to override it.

And along the way, that extra money went to pay interest on its debts to China, provide aid to post-Mubarak Egypt and the Libyan rebels during its needless military enterprise to assassinate Ghadafi. It also went to Europe, specifically its banks, cleverly diverted through the US run International Monetary Fund.  Why those adorably sweet, naive American people really got little to no direct benefit and yet hardly complained a peep.

And now this...

Obama to ask for debt limit hike: Treasury official (Reuters) -- "President Barack Obama  is expected to ask for authority to increase the borrowing limit by $1.2 trillion, part of the spending authority that was negotiated between Congress and the White House this summer.  The (original) deal called for raising the debt ceiling by $2.1 trillion to serve the nation's borrowing needs into 2013 and also included mandatory cuts to the federal budget deficit. Since then, the extension has been increased twice by a total of $900 billion.

The debt limit currently stands at $15.194 trillion and would increase to $16.394 trillion with the request."

$16.394 Trillion...

Well, maybe some of this additional $1.2 Trillion will go to actually help Americans, and not just in sneaky ways that hurt far worse in future like the social security draining payroll tax break.

Kinda doubt it..

P.S.   Oops--forgot this part.   US GDP was just revised down to $15.176 trillion.   So that means if every single penny of GDP was diverted to pay the US debt and nothing else after the debt hike occurs, we'd still owe a little more than $1.2 Trillion..

Heyy.. isn't that the figure the President is requesting?..

Monday, December 26, 2011

Desperation means Desperate measures

Back from Christmas weekend..

Nothing too much to write about today- nothing news worthy took place.  

So instead, lets take a moment to play Nostradamus-- peer into the crystal ball, or make sense of the tea-leaves..

I saw this headline over the weekend from Yahoo Finance:  

A Down Stock Market Guarantees Obama Will Lose in 2012 --  ""A lot of people look to elections to try to decide which way the stock market is going..." says Robert Prechter, founder and president of Elliott Wave International. "Mine is the opposite, I look for mood as the major cause."...  "We think the stock market actually is a better predictor of who's going to win the election, than the election is of where the stock market is going.  This coming year, if my scenario works out, stocks are likely to be lower. And if that's true, the incumbent is likely to be thrown out, not be reelected.""

I agree with both the assessment and the fact that 2012 will be a horrible year for the stock market as it finally wakes up to reality that it can't pretend all is well and get stronger while the global economy is seeping further into depression.  Eroding earnings reports between Jan - March will be wake-up, and then all bets are off.
So what should one expect to see from government in '12?

Well, you better expect Obama to do Anything and Everything humanly possible to make sure the market shows a positive for 2012, even if the overall economy is the same or worse.  The market can go drop itself into an abyss in 2013, but this year-- Gotta Get Re-elected... Full Speed Ahead!

That's just how politicians think.  This one is no different.

And if the above headline is correct, expect Obama to tell Bernanke (though he really needs no prodding) to open the financial spigots and start Quantitative Easing 3, 4, 5 and so on--  trillions.. zillions..  quadrillions... whatever $$ created out of thin air and backed by nothing, to ensure the market has fresh money to speculate in, especially in commodities (Hello higher prices of food, gas, clothing, etc..)  

Gotta get that Dow up.. gotta get re-elected.  

And by the same accounts, expect Obama to direct the Federal Reserve and US Treasury to directly and covertly pump as many trillions of US taxpayer dollars as possible into Europe and their banking system to stabilize the euro zone with a nice one-year long can kicking.  

No way in hell will the President allow the incompetents in Europe to mess with his re-election bid.   And remember, Sarkozy of France and Merkel of Germany are facing re-election in 2012 as well, so you do the math...

Now... it is A&G's educated opinion that in 2012, all the king's horses and all the king's men aren't going to be able to prop up this global banking cartel again.   

Its THAT bad out there.  
But still, you better expect in 2012 a concerted Full Push by Obama and all world leaders to keep this game going.  And with the right mixture of fear of unknown and naivety of optimism, most of the populace will be openly and actively wanting Federal action.

And I know.. I know.. those disgusting Republicans want the stock market to go up too...  Its really a shame how brainwashed most are into believing a strong market means a strong or recovering US economy.  The Dow should be at 8,000 if based solely on the reality of things.  That means its up another 33% through artificial and manipulative means.

Its really no different than the payroll tax deduction passage "celebration" last week..  I mean really, How stupid can people be?! --  To hell with social security's ability to remain solvent tomorrow as long as I, Mr or Ms Worker can pocket $20 more a week Today.

Your elected leaders are counting on that same mindset in 2012...

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The truth behind today's jobless numbers

~  You don't have to have horns and a tail to be evil

Well the artificial, utterly-pretend "Santa Rally" is doing well today.. Dow is up something or another... Does it even really matter?  Its more manipulated than play-doh.

According to AP, "Stocks gain after claims for unemployment benefits drop to the lowest level since April 2008"  But see, there's a missing element which shows this stat is a complete distortion-- these aren't "new" claims, i.e. people just recently unemployed.  These are people who were getting benefits who currently aren't.  Remember, unemployed individuals can not get benefits after 99 weeks, so the stat implies less people are needing unemployment benefits.  That is bullshit, pardon my french.   Its just more and more people who still need benefits aren't allowed to apply anymore... thus, a lower number.

Now I guess the goal of the article was to read it and feel hopeful or optimistic that things were getting better.  It even mentions that somehow this will translate to more Christmas shopping,  "Economists think the improving job market, strong holiday shopping, and cheaper gas prices will leave consumers with more money to spend".

Doesn't it make you sick that these people can actually make a living by writing this?
~ "American Financial media-- you make me proud"

Seems lately CNN/Money is the only mainstream news source who even tries to report reality.  This was written today:  "The U.S. economy was weaker than previously thought in the third quarter, according to a government report...   Gross domestic product, the broadest measure of the nation's economic health, grew at a 1.8% annual rate in the quarter. That's down from the previous estimate of 2% growth.

Growth less than 2% is considered so weak that it can essentially feel like a recession, leaving consumers and businesses worried about spending and the economy at risk of actually falling into a new downturn should there be a financial shock..."

Hmm, somehow the cockroach investors weren't concerned about that.

Can't have a Santa Rally on That can you?

Its really all a game.. a horrible, depressing game where genuinely bad people with wealth and influence make more and more profit while the masses of people, generally good and decent, must financially suffer while being spoon fed a pack of lies that their well being will only improve when the market strengthens.

We're not a predicting/forecasting type of blog but we would wager that 2012 will be the year global investors and banks stop laughing in our faces and take the severe financial hits they should have taken  and deserved to have taken in 2008.

Call it a hunch.. We call it a sure bet.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

More media lies & Understanding where we are- truly

If there's one type of finance/economics related news article I despise reading in this current recession-depression more than any other, its any article related to real estate.  The reasons are simple: 1) With almost 100% certainty the article is nothing more than propaganda to seek to instill false confidence in the market and 2) The constantly lying, biased, agenda driven National Association of Realtors (NAR) is Always quoted, and quite often the only source the writer of such stories goes to.

Here's another false optimistic puff-piece article written today, this time by Reuters:  Home Sales Hint at Recovery After Deep Slump -- "Homes sales surged in November, adding to hints of recovery..."


OK, that's how the article begins.. very happy.. all is well.. no need to keep reading further.  The news headline skimmers get to have a nice smile.  Now what was the statistical basis for all this hopefulness?


"The National Association of Realtors said on Wednesday that sales of previously owned homes increased 4 percent from October to an annual rate of 4.42 million units.  At November's sales pace, the 2.58 million unsold homes on the market represented a 7.0 month's supply, the lowest since February 2007 and a sign a backlog of inventory that has been weighing on the market was slowly clearing."


Ah.. The NAR.. that same group that admitted last week it fudged its figures for the past five years resulting in inaccuracies as to how it kept track of sales figures.  "(NAR)  had overstated home sales from 2007 to 2010 by 14.3 percent"


The article goes on to give reasons to justify the statistical blunders as if they were accidental.  Don't want to anger your only source of quotes for real estate news, you know.


So the gist from the article is finally.. Finally the corner is being turned..
Uh-huh.. OK, so what does CNN/Money write?


Foreclosure Sales Still Pummeling Home Prices -- "Nearly five years into the crisis, foreclosures are still weighing heavily on home prices.  A whopping 46% of homes sold in November were either short sales or REOs -- as homes repossessed by lenders are called, according to a survey by Campbell/Inside Mortgage Finance. "


Gee, that doesn't sound good..  Hmm, maybe... just maybe that is why home sales surged in November?   And since the survey wasn't done by NAR, maybe its actually.. um.. believable?


"There is no shortage of distressed properties: More than 6 million borrowers are delinquent 30 or more days, according to LPS Applied Analytics. Two million are already in the foreclosure process, and most of these homes will be repossessed or sold as short sales.  "The huge glut of distressed properties coming to market is why there will be no home price rebound this coming year and maybe into 2013," said Guy Cecala of Inside Mortgage Finance, a publisher of mortgage information and news."


Wait a minute.. Reuters said there's 'hints' of recovery.  NAR indicated it.  And yet 2013 is over 12 months away and even then, prices still may not begin to rebound.


Who's right?
~ Well at least HE's happy...


Alright, I'm going to try my very best to explain as simply and clearly as possible what is going on the last few years to the American people.  Officially a recession began in December 2007.  As a nation, we really weren't aware of it till October 2008 thanks to the market crash.  December 2011, and its year four.  A recession of 36 or more months is officially a Depression.  That is what we are all in.


While time has passed, rather than those in power enacting laws to make our lives better, or at least to arrest and charge those who caused this mess, we're given words-- lots of pretty words.   Words like recovery, hope, green shoots, soft patch, blips, dips, dings and 1000 cutesy-cute terms to make most people blissfully unaware of how bad things are and how solutions are not coming soon.


Now we talk often here about how trillions of dollars have been spent to prop up the banks and Wall St.   Why?  Here's the deal-  the leaders sincerely Do want the economy to improve and things to get back to normal But ONLY by returning to the original system and set of rules which caused the problems we're dealing with now.  


In other words, the government and Fed's strategy is to improve the economy by getting you and I to spend money we really don't have  i.e.  get into further debt, so that companies will see a returning consumer base and thus, start rehiring again (though at lower salaries).  This is what you do in typical recessions... of course this isn't "typical" but, you know..
Now,  notice since the recession began, there never was any talk out of Washington about personal debt forgiveness?  I mean None.   It would have cost just under $3 Trillion to cover the entirely of American personal debt.  That $3 Trillion would have ultimately gone to the banks holding the debt and everyone would have had a clean slate.  This would have meant instant stabilization of housing because why would one foreclose on a property if the remaining underwater mortgage debt was gone.  Also, no need for personal bankruptcy.  Over 1.5 million Americans were forced to file in 2010 alone.  No need to file if you don't owe anything.  And it would have essentially meant hundreds of millions of 'New' customers free to buy homes, cars and anything else wanted or needed.  We keep being told the US economy is 70% driven by consumption so isn't that what we all want... consumers?


It's all a business ultimately.  Government has no motivation to help you keep your home or your possessions.  Its only motivation is as long as you have a workable FICO score, to keep borrowing, and stimulate the economy.  And if you and I end up foreclosing on our homes or going bankrupt?  Oh, that's totally fine- the legal mechanisms in place help stimulate the economy as well- legal fees, sheriff's notices, auto repo, auctions, etc.  


So here we are-- Christmas 2011, and we're in a bad fix as a nation.  And we have really terrible leaders- both currently in office and those seeking to become the next head of state.    And we have two parties that are owned by the same interests yet fight over Everything and nothing.   


But on the positive, people are waking up-- slowly.  They are realizing that as individuals and as a nation, real solutions are needed to make life better and get things back on track.   



And the corporate media is going to have to work harder than ever before in 2012 to pull the wool over your eyes...
~ Elmo says: Wakey-Wakey.. HeeHeeHeeHee...

Payroll tax cuts- more harm than good

Everyone seems to think the way to jump start the economy is through tax reductions.  Republicans, for instance, push the Lie that the only thing holding corporations back from mass-hiring, is a dramatic reduction in corporate taxes on businesses and personal income taxes for the very affluent.  This will magically get America working again(at dramatically reduced wages) and any deficit in tax revenue these tax breaks would cause, can easily be made up through "Flat Taxes" where even the poorest of the poor have to pay because you basically tax on purchases including basic essentials.

Now many Democrat politicians (those owned by Wall St) are just a stupid as Republicans.  Obama last year pushed though a 1 year payroll tax which he and many Democrats are seeking to extend into 2012.  Now the Republicans are for it as well, but just have differences as to whether the tax will be a 2 month extension or for another year.

No one really bothers to take the time to explain what this tax cut really is--

So we will...

Last year, we addressed this issue by writing, "To make up for the loss of the expiring Making Work Pay tax credit -- the middle-class tax cut that no one really noticed -- the White House extracted a one-year reduction in the Social Security payroll tax paid by employees from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent.   This means a larger Social Security deficit which fiscal conservatives will use to their advantage later on as a reason for cutting back benefits and increasing the age of retirement."

Now this really needs to be understood on many levels...

First, when you pay into your Social Security payroll taxes, the funds are matched by your employer.  So every $10 you keep in your pocket, your employer keeps in his/her pocket, and thus $20 Less is going to pay for Social Security, which only causes the date of its ultimate insolvency to speed up.

Second, not everyone pays equal amounts in payroll taxes.  If you make $30k a year, that 2% saved equals $600 that a person pockets to be used for bills or such.   OK, we understand to a person making $30k, that is a lot.   Now the payroll tax Also benefits the person making $300k a year as well as the person making $3 million/yr. That means to the person earning $300k, he/she is pocketing $6,000 that would go to fund Social Security, and the $3 million salaried person gets to keep $60,000.

Now don't forget what we mentioned a paragraph ago.. the employer matches funds.  So a $30k salaried employee keeping the 2% difference equals $1200 less into Social Security; $12,000 based on the $300k salary, and $120,000 less based on the $3 million salary.

~ "We think payroll tax cuts are just Fahbbbulousss, dahling~

To keep things very simple, the median salary for a US worker is somewhere around $45k.  So let's pretend that is the exact average salary based on 160 million employed Americans.  The payroll reduction of 2% based on $45k equals $900 per person, then double it to cover employer payment and you have $1,800.  Now multiply by 160 million and in essence, last year $288 Billion dollars was diverted from Social Security so that clueless, spineless politicians could seek to curry favor among voters while offering no real solutions to fix the economy.

Now in 2012 for the first time in 3 years, there is a cost of inflation adjustment for those receiving Social Security equaling 3.6%.  If the payroll tax break is extended, you take that 2% not going into the fund, and the 3.6% more leaving to go to recipients, and now fund is being drained by a rate of 5.6% more than 2 years prior.  Then take into consideration that unemployment is still unofficially around 17%  (8.6% officially?  Sister, please!) and that means you do not have a growing population working and paying any taxes into the fund..

And one day sooner than even projected today, someone's going to come along and say that Social Security is insolvent and draconian measures i.e. benefit cuts or extensions of age to which one can receive benefits, will occur.  Some may try to end the benefit program altogether if political will ever allows them safe cover..

See where this is headed?

And all because want people want Now! and then worry Later

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

What is an 'Ant?' & What is a 'Grasshopper'?

Our blog is called 'Ants & Grasshoppers' and it has been growing in readership by leaps and bounds since its inception a mere 15 months ago.  Thousands upon thousands of you visit here, and currently we are viewed in over 45 nations.  To this, we say a sincere Thank You.

But this posting is not about self congratulation. Rather the goal is to explain something that may or should be apparent but isn't often so--  what really is the difference between the ant and the grasshopper?  Certainly as the original Aesop fable illustrated, the ants were hard working and industrious; always preparing for the oncoming winter until there was no more food to gather and with first wintry wisp of wind swirled about.  

The grasshopper basically played his fiddle and did little jigs, assuming all would work out alright in the end.  In some versions of the story, the cold, hungry grasshopper is taken in by the kindly ants who share some of their food, and all live happily ever after.  In other versions, the ants rightfully scold the grasshopper for being a lazy layabout and bugger of a beggar,  thus letting him starve and die in a freeze, which the grasshopper does.


Now, let's take this premise into a modern context.  For example, when there is an approaching hurricane or major snowstorm, what does the ant vs grasshopper do to prepare?  Well, a very smart ant might know that they live in a part of the world where hurricanes or fierce snowstorms are yearly possibilities and have basic supplies (water, canned food, batteries,etc.) set up well before any weather report.  But even if not, the ant will go to the supermarket with a couple days to spare.  He/she will purchase food that isn't electricity dependent, gather other supplies from places like Lowe's & Home Depot to protect their dwelling, take emergency cash from bank, fill the car tank with gas, etc.   Essentially the ant will put him/herself in the very best position to survive and deal with unexpected contingencies.

The grasshopper will tend to a-hem and haw... and yawnn.. and bitch and bellow that its not going to be so bad and continue with their daily routines.  Then in the final 24 hrs or so when it clear the weather event will be terrible,  he/she will only Then go to the supermarket where shelves are near bear, and stand in endless lines.  The grasshopper will look to others for assistance because of an ignorance or stubborn unwillingness to make any preparation steps on their own.  The grasshopper will expect coddling since it is so accustomed to being coddled by government; everything magically working out, i.e. how the Fed steps in and artificially propping the market, banks and now Europe for over three Bleeping years!

One is self reliant.. intelligent.. resourceful.. a survivor..  One is simply pathetic.

If you truly are the 'Ant', you should feel proud.  Sincerely.  There aren't many like you in this world... not anymore.  We're so dependent as a society on others and the government to provide everything and make everything ok.  Most have no clue how to hunt or fish or prepare food for cooking.  Many people would be completely helpless if electricity went out for extended period of time- how to keep cool (or warm depending on time of year), how to wash clothing, etc..

Nothing about basic human survival is ever taught in public schools so unless you come from a family where this knowledge can be passed down or you've experienced a powerful hurricane or other act of God firsthand, chances are, there's still much you have to learn.

But let's go beyond this because the ability to survive something bad is not the only way to differentiate between 'Ant' and 'Grasshopper'.   Do you seek to stay informed and in touch i.e the news?  If someone presents information to you that is negative or troubling, do you really Listen or do you instantly change the  subject?  Or minimize it as affecting others elsewhere and thus not worthy to make a fuss of?  Do you believe things are getting better, and if so is it because you know specifically why or do you simply believe and hope it?

The ant pays attention to the world around him/her.  The ant knows whats going on in their neck of the woods and any other parts of the world where the ant's survival may be affected in some way.  The ant makes contingencies; prepares.  Even if nothing comes about and all is well, the ant isn't concerned about vanity or how others perceive.  The ant only wishes to put him/herself in the best position to survive and thrive.  The ant also gets pissed off-- he/she yells and vents and wants to punch the pavement in anger that others' are putting their lives at such risk.  Or course they do this After they prepared.

The grasshopper pretty much doesn't give a shit.  Whatever..  La La..   He/she is more focused on themselves- focused on the moment; focused only on their specific life and its rots.   The grasshopper can't be bothered with the rest of the world--that's their problem and no matter-- ultimately everything is going to work out.  Governments will step in-- kick the can a bit..  problem  solved.  Grasshoppers think ants are stupid little creatures, hustling and bustling about when the day is so serene and calm.

So once again, which are you: an 'Ant' or a 'Grasshopper'?

In 2012, we'll find out soon enough.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Good, Bad & Ugly of 5yr stocks

Monday evening.. let's see what's going on in the lovely world of finance:

North Korea's leader Kim Jong Il died-- investors weren't happy with that  (I kid you not- Asian shares dropped on the news).. AT&T drops bid for merger with T-Mobile-- investors didn't like that either; they prefer mergers & acquisitions (love one company gobbling up and decimating another)..  and European finance ministers disappointed investors when they failed to come up with the full amount of money pledged for a EU bailout fund.

So the market dropped 100pts to close at 11,766 but hard to cheer that when all it takes is the latest rumor that Santa's North Pole toy making facility has production up 10% or Kringle & the Missus are on speaking terms again, and you'd see a mindless mass of people rubbing up against another to create the friction to explode into that cutesy-termed late December 'Santa Claus Rally'

So don't trust the markets, especially between now and New Years unless it drops dramatically and based specifically on Europe.  Otherwise, its just roaches being roaches.

For the 2nd half of this post, for fun sake, we'd play a game called "Good, Bad & Ugly of 5 year Stocks" or  "How much would X be worth today?"  We all know pretty much all the bad stuff to affect the overall stock market occurred starting in 2007 when the recession was officially declared (though it took President Bush a Full year to openly admit it in public comments-- gee, what a stubborn man).

So let's pretend you had $100k invested in some popular stocks back in December 19, 2006 and held on to them today.. I wonder what its worth today vs then..  Would you make a profit or take loss?  Or maybe a little of both?   Let's pick some random stocks starting with smart investments, or the "Good"...

Coca Cola:

December 19, 2006:  $48.38   (based on $100k, that's 2066 shares)
December 19, 2011:  $67.39

~  Guess people really love soda.   If you held on to Coke, your investment would be worth today would be worth $139,227 after 5 years.   That's pretty good...

Netflix:

December 19, 2006:  $26.20   (based on $100k, that's 3816 shares)
December 19, 2011:  $69.82

~ Quite a good investment that would have been.  Even with its recent dramatic drop-off due to stupid policy decisions alienating its consumer base, your investment today would be worth $266,433.  Now that's Really good.

Now if you really want to blow your mind, imagine you knew the precise day Netflix' CEO was going to announce that its rental and online viewing units were going to be split into two and chagring $8 a piece, thus causing the stock to plunge.. July 13th and you sold all your shares that day when the price was $298.73/share...

Your $100,000 investment would have become just about $1.4 Million dollars.

Pretty nice, eh?

Apple:

December 19, 2006:  $82.20   (based on $100k, that's 1216 shares)
December 19, 2011:  $382.03

~  There were no touch iPods or iPads back in 2006 so one can see how those two devices really helped spike up their share price.  If you held on to Apple, your investment would be worth today $464,548 after 5 years, a very nice boost of over 400%

So we did the 'Good'.. Now let's merge the 'Bad & 'Ugly' into one.  Now obviously someone who owned a consistently dropping stock would never ever hold onto it to the point of complete worthlessness but for fun, let's pretend a very silly-stupid person owned the following stocks on Dec 19th 2006 and still possessed them today, how much would they be and how bad the financial losses?


General Electric:

December 19, 2006:  $37.57   (based on $100k, that's 2661 shares)
December 19, 2011:  $16.86

~ Back in 2006, GE used to own NBC/Universal and all the entertainment subdivisions that went along with it.  A silly-stupid person who held on to GE stocks for 5 years would find a net worth today of $44,876, a loss of over 50% on initial investment.


Sony:


December 19, 2006:  $42.68  (based on $100k, that's 2343 shares)
December 19, 2011:  $16.71

~  I admit I find it a shame Sony has dropped so far considering for so many years it was the #1 company of electronic goods, but increased competition from the likes of LG, Samsung and Panasonic, as well as the terrible tsunami of this past March means that initial $100k investment in 2006 would be $39,151 today, a loss of over 60%.

Bank of America:

December 19, 2006:  $53.35   (based on $100k, that's 1874 shares)
December 19, 2011:  $4.98

~That initial $100k investment is now a whopping $9,334 but since B of A is a 'bank' in name only and really more of a zombie bank propped up by Fed i.e. taxpayer money, $4.98 shouldn't be a shocker.

Well, no real 'moral' of the story.  Some stocks go up, up up.. Others crash hard.  If you think you're savvy enough to peruse through the Wall St. Journal and find your personal 'Netflix' that will make you millions, good luck to you.  I just hope you're not using the family nest egg behind your spouse's back to do it..

That'd be a Bad idea..

Saturday, December 17, 2011

I Shop to Return; I Return to Shop

As people crash into malls for the last full weekend before Christmas and news is all aglow next week about 'stunning' sales figures, rebounding economy and all that hokum, I thought I'd play Grinch a little bit and douse that illusion.  The following is from Associated Press and for once they write an article that reflect economic reality for most people:

Take that back! Returns are big for the holidays --  "Quite a number of people who rushed to snag holiday discounts on TVs, toys and other gifts are quickly returning them for much-needed cash. The shopping season started out strong for stores, but it looks like the spending binge has given way to a holiday hangover.

Return rates spiked when the Great Recession struck and have stayed high. For every dollar stores take in this holiday season, they'll have to give back 9.9 cents in returns, up from 9.8 last year. In better economic times, it's about 7 cents.

Those fractions of a penny add up. Stores are expected to take in $453 billion during this year's winter holidays. Merchants make up to 40 percent of their yearly sales in the last two months...

"When the bills come in and the money isn't there, you have to return," says Jennifer Kersten, 33, of Miami. She spent $300 the day after Thanksgiving on books, movies and clothes for her nephews. She returned half of it...  "

~ I'm also quite Scrooge-like today because for the past 3 weeks I have been deluged with advertisement emails from companies teasing and tempting me to shop for the holidays. Today alone, I've had to delete 8 such ads.  Now that in itself is not a problem, but when every company treats as wonderful, '20% off when you spend X' or '20% off when you buy X number of things', it just seriously brings out the 'Bah Humbug' in me.  

Remember girls n' boys: A True sale is at Least 30% off unless it is an item that is rarely ever discounted usually, and if a sale says, 'Buy one, get one 1/2 off", that really means 25% off each item and that's not all that super...

Happy Shopping~

Friday, December 16, 2011

Bank of America & Double Talk

Well its the end of the week.. Dow dropped 2 pts and everyone on Wall St is all bummed out that there's no December "Santa Rally" which is a sweet, cutesy way of saying cockroach investors traders are  deeply pissed off that there weren't large pre-Christmas profits to siphon.  Aww, don't worry guys and gals-- still 1 full week left-- just put those extra thick blinders on like horseys wear, to the problems in Europe.

Anyways, I ran across this headline today:  Fitch Downgrades Seven Global Banks (Reuters) -- "Fitch Ratings, the third-biggest of the major credit rating agencies, downgraded seven global banks based in Europe and the United States, citing "increased challenges" in the financial markets."

Now among the seven was Bank of America which it dropped down one notch on its long term ratings.

Because it seems the theme this week in A&G's postings has been Professional Liars- first the National Association of Realtors then National Association of Retailers, I might as well complete the trifecta with bank spokesperson:

"Jerry Dubrowski, a spokesman for Bank of America, which has had ratings cut by all three agencies, said in an email, "This decision is driven more by concerns about the global economy than the specific credit quality of Bank of America. We continue to maintain strong liquidity levels and to build capital."

Really?  Hmmm..  That's not what Fitch said..

"A statement from Fitch said that Bank of America "will continue to lag major U.S. peers in capital strength while at the same time carrying higher-than-average overall risks," particularly in mortgage-related legal claims." (Charlotte Observer)

In other words, the paid non-sexual 'whore' for Bank of America tries to spin a positive yarn that the decision to drop their credit rating had little to nothing to do with them, and more to do with the global economy on the whole, and they're capital reserves are good.   And Fitch basically says, 'Um, no- You specifically are a higher than normal risk and lag behind others in acquiring capital"

When you compare the two statements, it kinda makes one laugh at how Pathetic it is to be a spokesperson for anything, much less a zombie bank...  which is a good way to end a business week I think..  with a warm smile...

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Europe's Shotgun Marriage

~  Aww.. Snuggly-Wuggly Nosey-posey Eskimo kisses.. Awww~ 

Its only been 1 week since the EU's 'make or break' summit in Brussels. You remember- the one where Britain got ridiculed by the other nations for having the courage to want no part of it..  the summit that all the investor roaches around the world cheered on Friday with a rise in the global markets based really on empty hope.. the summit that would allow the rest of the world to breath a big Whewww sigh of relief and re-focus on Christmas shopping:

Brussels accord on the verge of collapse (Telegraph UK) -- "The German Chancellor faced open rebellion against the key plank of her Brussels accord. The leaders of Hungary and the Czech Republic told a joint conference in Budapest they were ready to reject the planned treaty changes and implied plans for a centralised tax system... 

"Poles marched under banners that read: "We want sovereignty, not the euro." They were protesting against the Brussels deal that could see EU countries, including those outside the eurozone, face penalties for breaking tough centralised spending laws...

"Meanwhile Mario Draghi doused the other big hope – for radical European Central Bank (ECB) support – warning that the bond buying programme was "neither eternal nor infinite." The head of the ECB said there was little he could do to restore growth."

Maybe everything will work out happily in the final moments like a TV sitcom... Some magic 'kick the can' solution out of thin air at the last second, like often before..  But we still advise you to tread cautious this holiday season for no matter what, there is a December 26th..and 27th..  And the way things are going, you might wish you had some cash in that proverbial 'coffee can'.

Stimulating economy: 10 billionaires vs 10k millionaires

This posting maybe a little on the controversial side because it addresses a concept called income redistribution which is quickly labeled and dismissed by some as Socialist or Communist.  But I wanted to look at the difference not from wealth possession but as an academic exercise showing how massive wealth held by a very select few, i.e the 1% does not stimulate the economy in any meaningful way compared to a more evenly distribution among the masses.

In this exercise, there are two Groups and each has $10 billion dollars to be divided equally among members.  Group A is composed of 10 individuals with a net worth of exactly $1 billion each.   Group B is composed of 10,000 individuals who each possess exactly $1 million each.

Now for purposes of this exercise, each individual's wealth is to be taken away unless they fill certain criteria:

Each billionaire member of Group A had to spend $400k in automobiles, $10 million in residential real estate and spend $2500/month ($30k/year) on discretionary spending-- clothes, restaurants, etc.   This would mean each person in Group A would have put back over $10.43 million into the national and local economy and still have a little over $989 million left over.

Each member of group B had to spend only $50k in automobiles, $250k in real estate and spend $500/month ($6k/year) in discretionary spending.  This would mean each person in Group B would have put back $306k into the national and local economy and still had $694k left over.

Now let's look at the financial breakdown...

Automobiles:

10 billionaires x $400k = $4 million into auto industry
10k millionaires x $50k = $50 million into auto industry

~ 10,000 millionaires would end up collectively pumping $46 million MORE into the auto industry than would 10 billionaires...   Next...

Residential Real Estate:

10 billionaires x $10 million = $100 mill. into real estate market
10k millionaires x $250k =  $2.5 Billion into real estate market

~ 10,000 millionaires would collectively inject $2.4 Billion dollars MORE into the residential real estate market at $250k per person than the 10 billionaires each buying property costing 40x more...   Lastly...

Discretionary spending:

10 billionaires x $2500/mo or $30k/year = $3million into local communities
10k millionaires x $500/mo or $6k/year = $60 million into local communities.

~ 10,000 millionaires would collectively place $57 million MORE into discretionary spending i.e. local businesses in a calendar year than the 10 billionaires.

Remember, each group had $10 billion.   When you add up all the numbers based on the spending criteria of this exercise among 10,000 millionaires vs. just 10 billionaires, $2.603 Billion Dollars more is circulated into the national and local economies when spent by the millionaires vs the billionaires.

Just something to think about...

Holiday Shopping- fact/fiction

Here's an excellent exercise in how truly horrid the media is..

Which of the following two articles is the truth?

A)  Holiday sales look brighter than before (Reuters) -- "An influential retail trade group raised its forecast for U.S. holiday retail sales on Thursday, citing strong results in November and expectations that consumers still have more shopping to do.  The National Retail Federation said it now expects holiday sales to rise 3.8 percent to a record $469.1 billion. That is up from the group's October forecast, which called for growth of 2.8 percent... "

"The reason for the updated forecast is that NRF, a retail industry trade group, found that industry sales for November rose 4.5 percent year-over-year, and that the average American has completed far less of their holiday shopping than in previous years -- an indication that many shoppers bought for themselves in November and have lots of shopping left to do."

OR

B)  Holiday Sales appear to have Stalled.  Are Big Discounts Next? (CNBC) --  "After early bird discounts fueled a Black Friday  buying boom, retailers are seeing sales dry up halfway through the holiday sales period, a consumer survey completed Sunday showed. The trend may force discounts as deep as 70 percent on coats and flat panel TVs as Christmas Eve approaches."

"Forty percent of consumers are completely done with their holiday shopping at this point, up from just 28 percent who were finished at the same time last year, according to the America’s Research Group/UBS Christmas Forecast Survey...  "While Black Friday sales appeared to give the retailers an early leg up in the season, I believe that continued high unemployment and economic uncertainty will keep spending muted for the vast majority of American consumers,” said Patty Edwards of Trutina Financial."

So how can two articles be Sooo different??   Well its simple really-- the Reuters article bases the entirety of its article on the findings of "an influential retail trade group" who has an agenda to generate confidence and excitement in the shopping season. The second article bases its findings on a research group.

Which is the accurate story- A or B?  

I'll let You decide-   you're told what to think enough as it is...