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Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Fiscal Cliff Notes

6 nights in National Harbor, following closely on the D.C /Orlando trip, left your blogger in a state of some physical and mental alcohol induced fatigue, so there have been no posts in almost three weeks.  During that time, recovery was sufficient to allow a trip to Birdland Friday night where I thoroughly enjoyed the Phil Woods quintet.  Phil Woods is 81, a prostate cancer survivor, and has emphysema, which is a challenge for a saxophonist.  He plays while hooked to an oxygen tank, and as he half jokes, learned a playing technique where he only has to breathe out.   He plays with a great "working band," which means they are very much together and enjoying playing with each other.  It would be hard to single out any of the side players, but I must say that pianist Bill Mays is in a special category.  The set was very approachable while still giving the players ample opportunity to demonstrate their chops.  A highlight actually came during Phil's short break when he laid out while the band played a delightful version of Jimmy Webb's "By the Time I Get to Phoenix."

Later in the post, I will run through some of the great jazz scheduled for the remaining three weeks of the month, when the City is alive with the holiday season and is just the most fun place to be.


Otherwise, it's all fiscal cliff, all the time, as CNBC viewers know only too well.  On the one hand, you have talking heads in despair that a compromise does not appear within reach; on the other, the WSJ and Tea Party types are in equal agony because they listen to various GOP legislators trying to sound reasonable and worry that the GOP will give in on the issues by negotiating with themselves instead of with the President and Senate Dems.

I have to admit that it does seem foolhardy to try to predict how this is going to go.  The conventional wisdom is that failure to make a deal will be an economic disaster.  Maybe.  I think a worse disaster would be a deal that essentially kicks the can down the road on entitlements and real deficit reduction.  I'd prefer going over the cliff, incurring the tax increases and the sequester, to that.  But that's just me. 

It does occur to me that politically, Dems probably see little or no advantage to any deal where they compromise on tax rates or on entitlements.  If we go over the cliff and bad things happen, they will have Congressional Republicans to share the blame.  So I don't expect to see the Administration move much at all.  For Republicans' part, they have to be torn.  Congressional Republicans won an election too, and they need to keep faith with their voters.  On the other hand, the temptation must be great to let the Dems have their higher taxes and let them own the recession that will be all but inevitable.  That could set the GOP up for a massive rout of the Dems in the off-year vote in 2014.  However, is anybody willing to risk such bad policy when we are very near, if not already past, the deficit tipping point? 

I think one point where the GOP will draw a firm line in the sand is on the Obama request to waive Congressional authority over the debt limit.  This proposal is on the order of FDR's ill - fated Supreme Court packing proposal and should be a non starter.  So I am confident that the GOP will hold the line on that.  But otherwise, I don't know for sure.  When you see guys like Senator Coburn (OK) getting weak in the knees, it has to make you wonder.   
The amazing world of New York sports is as unpredictable as ever.  The Jets are not playing well, but somehow they are eking out wins during this soft schedule stretch, and if by some miracle, they ran the table, they might sneak into the playoffs.  The Giants looked to be in the midst of their second half swoon, and with Washington and Dallas winning, things were getting uncomfortable.  But then they get off the floor and played Super Bowl like football against a pretty desperate Saints team.  In basketball, both the Knicks and Nets have started very well, and the Knicks keep winning no matter who gets hurt, and almost no matter who they play against.  And the Mets raided their own treasury and somehow came up with the money to keep David Wright at the hot corner.  We'll see how much is left for Cy Young winner R.A Dickey.  Meanwhile rumor has it that if the Yankees could get around the drug and alcohol problems, Josh Hamilton could patrol the shallow confines in right field in the Bronx.

When Saul Steinberg died last week at 73, it brought back memories of the bad old days in the 1980's when Michael Milken ran a junk bond ring out of Drexel Burnham Lambert that provided high yields for Steinberg's and Fred Carr's insurance empires and financing for Carl Icahn and Victor Posner's corporate raids.  Milken went to jail, Carr's and Steinberg's insurance companies ultimately failed, and Icahn and Posner turned everything they touched to manure.  Forbes memorably ran a cover that displayed Michael Milken's Amazing Money Machine, but the cover story actually called it pretty square, explaining why the incestuous, rigged deals would eventually backfire.  Did they ever.

We also lost Dave Brubeck this week, at 91.  The inventor of the California cool jazz sound, Brubeck was a great arranger composer and his groups often played in odd meters, and hence the name of his classic album, Time Out.   I saw him at Planting Fields a few years ago and he apologized for not being still able to play the songs the way he could decades ago.  He needn't have, since even at his best, Brubeck was often criticized for being "ham handed."  In truth he always had physical problems with his hands.  His genius was less about his playing chops than the intellectual power that he brought to the music.  It didn't hurt to have Paul Desmond on sax either.
Many of my favorite jazz players will be in action in New York this month, and if you have the slightest inclination, you should enjoy the Big Apple at its festive finest in December.  Tomorrow, Tuesday, Bria Skonberg has a one-nighter at Iridium.Also, the ageless Roy Haynes kicks off his 5 night gig at Birdland.  Eddie Palmieri takes over the Rose Hall stage at Jazz at Lincoln Center Friday and Saturday, but I am likely to try to score a ticket to see the Preservation Hall Jazz Band at Long Island's Tilles Center Friday night.  December 18, Nat's little bother Freddy Cole comes to Birdland for five nights to captivate the ladies, but there will be stiff competition in the form of Christmas Samba up at Dizzy's, featuring guitarist Romero Lubambo and the wonderful Anat Cohen on reeds.  Taking over Smoke the weekend of the 21st is the Javon Jackson Quartet featuring George Cables, part of Smoke's Coltrane tribute.  They are followed in on the 24-26 by "Black Pearls," that is drummer Louis Hayes  and the Harold Mabern Quartet (that will include Eric Alexander). The week of the 26th will be just crazy.  Wynton Marselis makes a rare appearance on Dizzy's stage, running though New Years Eve, playing the music of Louis Armstrong's Hot 5's and 7's.  The Grammy nominated Birdland Big Band will be holding court at Birdland all week, and on the 27th, veteran drummer Jimmy Cobb takes over Jazz Standard for four nights with Jeremy Pelt, Javon Jackson, Vincent Herring and Buster Williams!  And on New Years Eve at Jazz Standard, the Mingus Big Band will feature Helen Sung on piano.

Finally, at the end of December, Harlem's famous Lenox Lounge will close its doors permanently.  That's a sad thing.  Surely, someone out there can buy it and reopen.

On November 20, we bought 400 shares of Genie Energy (GNE), a value buy at 6.01.  On 11/21, we sold 100 shares of Bunge Foods (BG) at 72.14.  We paid 54.01 at 12/19/05.  On 11/23, we paid 24.20 for 100 shares of Raven Industries (RAVN).  On 11/26, we bought 50 shares of Cincinnati Bell preferred (CBB.PR.B) at 45.48.  We also sold 400 shares of TAT Technologies (TATT) for 5.65 out of the IRA.  These shares were acquired when the company took over our Limco Piedmont shares.  It appears we lost about 50% on this sale.  On 12/3, we sold 300 shares of Great Lakes Dock and Dredging (GLDD) for 8.88, from the IRA.  We paid 4.52 for 200 on 3/1/10 and 5.65 for 100 on 5/10/10.  On 12 /4, we sold 100 shares of our railroad, Genesee and Wyoming (GWR) for 72.89.  This was a nice gain versus our purchase price of 26.44 on 1/23/07.  Somewhere along the line, we got 35 for each of 200 shares of Ceradyne via takeover.  We paid 17.53 on 4/30/09.  On 12/5, we bought 200 shares of ENI (ENI), a value buy at 17.17, and a high risk maneuver, considering most of its business is in southern Europe.

Neither Redwavemusings nor its author are investment advisors, and the securities mentioned here are not to be considered recommendations as they may not be suitable for anyone (else).

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