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Saturday, August 21, 2010

 

Short Sleep in Seattle

In case you are wondering what happened to our (more or less) weekly blog posting schedule, and I have been receiving complaints by the way, there was an interruption in our schedule for a lobbying excursion to Seattle, where my regulator friends were having one of their periodic national meetings. And when you are in a great town like that, there is no attraction to spending an hour or two in a hotel business office hammering out a post on a rental computer.

In fact after 6 days in the Northwest, featuring perfect weather (in contrast with Seattle's reputation, we did not have a drop of rain, hardly even a cloud), mostly pleasant natives, and terrific bars, restaurants, jazz clubs, etc., I think Seattle makes our list of ten favorite U.S. convention cities.

Not that the trip got off to a great start. In JFK's Delta airlines terminal, I had to battle my way to a kiosk, trying to obtain an on line boarding pass and check my bag, which became impossible when I hit the enter button 58 minutes before flight time when Delta apparently requires 60 minutes notice of a checked bag. The employees in charge refused to expedite my passage, instead requiring me to re-book on a (much) later flight. But first, they misdirected me to the wrong line, which didn't move, then to three other lines that didn't move. Finally grabbing a supervisor as we neared the deadline for the new (and final) flight, I found someone willing to help, and miraculously I had a boarding pass and a checked bag in just a few minutes. But this was something like four hours into this most exasperating mission.

The scene on the return was only a bit less inconvenient when the kiosk could not find my electronic ticket. At least I made my flight, no doubt the last I will ever book on that airline.

So arriving at my hotel, the Red Lion on Fifth and Pike after 1 AM PDT, which felt like 4 AM to me, I was not in a real upbeat mood, but from that point on, everything was pretty darned good. The Red Lion turned out to be a comfortable and affordable retreat, from the working soda machine I found that first night right to the very nice 5th floor outside deck, suitable for cocktails, afternoon tea, listening to music and getting some sun. I really didn't ask for more since little time was spent in the hotel other than sleeping, and there was not quite enough of that.

Thursday night after the actuaries' cocktail party, I found my way to Jazz Alley, a short walk north off 6th Avenue, and saw both sets by Kevin Eubanks' quartet. Since leaving the Tonight Show and returning to his jazz roots, Mr. Eubanks has evolved a creative and absorbing jazz set with good support from his players. Besides his strong guitar chops, Mr. Eubanks loves to create unique and distinctive sounds and I was glad I had the opportunity to see this show in such a friendly club. By the way, the wines by the glass were very good and cheaper than what we are used to in NYC.

We also had a little more economical, not to mention tastier jazz experience at the decidedly downscale New Orleans Grill, near the ball park on First Avenue. This is an old fashioned jazz stand with Cajun style eats. Playing was Tom Marriott and Flexicon. Tom is a very good trumpeter, clearly inspired by Miles Davis, but he gave me his CD which has more original arrangements and compositions. His quintet was not really up to his own standard of virtuosity but serviceable enough for the conditions. Our group had a very good time.

As in most cities, the hotel bars in Seattle wrap up on the early side, but we were able to find a later night retreat in the form of the Taphouse on 6th, which features 160 (not a typo) different beers and ales on tap. Those taps just cover the wall behind the bar and the selection would be daunting if it really mattered. The regulator who accompanied me that Thursday night remarked "we should have started this morning" and it was love at first sight. There were several return trips that week I can tell you.

As for food, I had two really good meals. The first at Tulio on Fifth a few blocks south of my hotel, where I had lamb that was perfect, but was just one of many appetizing upscale dishes spotted. The second was at Campagne in the Market area behind First Avenue. This was advertised as French style, but whatever it was, it was done with flair.

Downstairs from the Red Lion was the Elephant and Castle English style pub where lunch was very good and very well served. I didn't have much time for lunch but they had no trouble getting me back on my way. For summertime most of the patrons ate and drank outside, and nothing could be more pleasant last week.

On my last night, I discovered Kelle's, an Irish Pub in the Market area, complete with live (Irish) entertainment, indoor, outdoor and upstairs seating. I was there on a fairly quiet Monday night, and my guess is that the place jumps most nights.

An interesting thing is that the President scheduled to come in to speak on Tuesday, but the reaction of many at the meeting was that if that happened, they would simply change their flights and leave Monday to avoid the hassle. So the White House mercifully cancelled though the President still came to Seattle to campaign for Senator Murray who won her primary.

So here are my current 10 favorite US convention towns, a list I am prepared to change without notice: 1. New York 2. New Orleans 3. Chicago 4. Seattle 5. San Francisco 6. Boston 7. San Antonio 8. San Diego 9. Las Vegas 10 Nashville. Obviously, music is a big part of these rankings as is the ability to walk to places. Honorable mention go to Houston, Minneapolis and Washington D.C. Places to avoid - Dallas, Orlando, Phoenix, LA, Honolulu.

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The Obama administration is screwing up on so many levels, it's almost getting too easy, but the latest blowup concerning the planned mosque to be built near Ground Zero is a special example of tin ear politics. Now, I would first stipulate that the imam has done what he is supposed to do in accordance with the law, including obtaining the approval of the zoning board, to get the mosque built. But there is no doubt that the site selected is provocative, and so no one should be surprised that a lot of people are provoked about it. Imagine the uproar if the KKK wanted to build its national office in Harlem and obtained the rights to do so. It would be legal but would it be appropriate? Of course not, and this project is equally offensive.

Rather than support the project, Obama, Bloomberg, and all the rest should be expediting construction somewhere else and putting an end to the controversy. Instead they are simply giving the average American another reason, as if one were needed, to be disgusted with our incumbent leaders.
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At the end of my last post, I mentioned that I would be removing Bank of Granite (GRAN) from the buy/hold list and that getting off so many shares into a decidedly busted market for the stock would have to be done a little at a time. In fact, it took no less than 5 trades, the last of which executed on 8/19. We got prices ranging from 0.92 to 1.00 for shares bought between 1998 and 2010 and took a capital loss of around $24 thousand (commissions included). It could have been worse since we salvaged over $9,000 net of commissions on the sales. Believe me, that was very much at risk since the FDIC would be moving in already if it weren't dealing with a lot of other banks as well. So this was a failure of the average down technique, although to be fair, most of the losses went on the early purchases.

An interesting learning concerns the importance of dividends, which many investors take for granted or ignore entirely. We collected over $3,700 in dividends over the years on this stock, and I might have saved a few dollars by selling at the point the company scrapped the dividend.

And with all this, we still have a small capital gain year-to-date. We're up around $1,700 in the taxable accounts and $7,000 in the IRA. The dogs are being expelled from the kennel, and that is helping to reduce April 15's pain. But tax considerations should never trump our formula. If they did, I would have tried to hang on until 2011 when capital gains rates go up. But that might have cost us the $9,000.

Otherwise, it was business as usual. On 8/18, we bought 25 shares of Con Ed preferred (ED.PR.A) at 90.25. We also bought 400 shares of Great Lakes Dredging (GLDD) for the IRA at 5.27. Finally, yesterday we bought 200 shares of GE (GE?) at 15.16, a zero buy because of its high debt load. Not unusual for us to be buying into a cruddy market, and the economic numbers really look sick lately. Let's face it, if you were running a business, how in your right mind could you hire new people not having any idea what it's going to cost to insure them, what your payroll taxes are going to be, and what hoops you will have to jump through to downsize if it turns out that they are too expensive. With an administration catering to a base that despises corporate America, this is the most unfriendly environment for business in our lifetimes.

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