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Wednesday, June 26, 2013


Summer Fun Begins

I know I promised that in this post, I would provide the entire investing/trading formula in one post for the first time, but I'm afraid I will postpone that effort until the next post.  There's just too much juicy stuff to discuss.

Item: As Obama appointments endure close Senate scrutiny, Susan Rice gets named Obama's top security advisor.  So he found a place to finally position the incompetent US diplomat without needing Senate approval.  It must be noted that, even discounting Rice's pathetic performance as administration shill in the Bengazi episode, Rice has an unrelenting record of failure, including her work in Africa, at the UN and so on.  Apparently competence is devalued in the current White House.  As further proof, we have the nomination of James Comey as FBI Director.  Mr. Comey was nominated because he is a Republican who bucked the Bush Administration, not only on the warrantless wiretapping program but also on the Special Counsel fiasco on the Plame case that persecuted the innocent Scooter Libby even after it was known to all that Armitage was the leaker. Presumably Obama thinks that Mr. Comey's nominal Republican roots will provide enough cover to get him confirmed. We'll see.

Item: U.S. belatedly provides weapons to Syrian rebels.  Of course, too little too late, since Hezbollah and the Russians have already saved the Assad regime.  But do we even know what we are trying to achieve there?  Do we know what we would get if the rebels replaced Assad?  More and more, the Syrian Civil War actually looks more like a sectarian struggle between Sunni's and Shia's.  In that case, I don't know what our role is or should be as the temptation to wish a pox on both their houses is considerable.  If that sounds a little like the morass that Afghanistan has become, you're right.  And our premature withdrawal from Iraq has left that beleagured country with its own daily sectarian violence.  In short, Obama has made a total mess of the Middle East everywhere you look.  Why should anyone be surprised?  What experience and competence did he bring to this job anyway?  And that all leads to...

Item: Obama moves forward on regulatory initiatives to deliver results promised to his environmental activist supporters.  This Administration does everything for political purposes, and when politics fails, they retreat to strong arm measures.  On the environment, Obama clearly has declared war on coal, but make no mistake, he will deliver enough on all fuel sources to keep his environmental donors (whose real agenda is anti-corporate, anti -industrial) quiet.  Those interests in natural gas and nuclear who think their cleaner fuel sources are going to be embraced are delusional.  Obama said he will approve Keystone but only if it does not add to environmental damage.  But that has all been assessed.  The fact is, Obama and his EPA can find any excuse to shelve the project if they deem it necessary to keep their donors in line.  There is no reason not to make the decision now, but Obama wants to see whether the greater pressure will build for jobs or for climate control.  Then he will make a political decision.  As for the anti - frackers, the studies and evidence continues to show that fracking does not cause gas to get into drinking water.  Poorly sealed old conventional gas wells do.  But that won't stop the anti-frackers who can't be confused by the facts.  When environmentalism is your religion, anti-industrial positions are adopted on faith.

Item:  Term ending flurry of Supreme Court decisions sets chins wagging nationwide.  The Court's long awaited decisions on many controversial cases predictably caused sharp criticism (on political grounds) from people who should know better, including the President, radio commentators of every political stripe, and of course, from the dissenting judges.  To hear Obama's comments, one wonders if it's actually possible that he avoided taking a constitutional law class during his seven years in the Ivy League and law school.  It would seem so.  Have we ever had a President who seems so unfamiliar with the Constitution?

As for me, I have my opinions, but would rather not go into a lot of detail without actually reading the opinions first, which should be up on the Supreme Court's website.  I have to say that on first impression, (news reports, biased and otherwise) it should make for some interesting reading.  I was pretty sure the DOMA was going down, and happy to see that it did so basically on a state's rights rationale.  When DOMA passed, I thought it odd that the Congress would define marriage, which is a state licensed institution.  As for the change in the Voting Rights Act, liberals seem to have had the expected hissy fit that anyone would tamper with their Civil Rights legislative icon.  Actually, the Court called for the Act to apply when current data is used, and to not discriminate in its application on the basis of old data.  That sounds reasonable on its face, but I have to wonder what Constitutional justification there is for any such discrimination.  I think Roberts' logic might be off there.  Having said that, it seems that there are plenty of legal grounds for citizens and the Justice Department to challenge unfair discrimination, wherever it occurs.

The WSJ effusively praised the logic in Justice Thomas' majority decision on the Texas admissions case, so I am anxious to read that one.  He continues to be the most underrated Justice, IMO.
Thursday night I am going to see Counting Crows (leading off - The Wallflowers) at the Hammerstein Ballroom.  Then Friday night, it's Birdland for the Big Band and Anat Cohen.  But summertime is jazz festival season, and you should check to see who's coming to one in your area.  The DC festival is over, but here's a quick rundown of some of the others..  At various venues, Westchester County's festival runs from June 19 to August 29.  Recommended acts include the Dezron Douglas Quartet and the Mike LeDonne and Groover Quartet.  Summerstage in Central Park this summer will have Bobby McFerrin, Kenny Garrett and Lee Konitz among others.  Saratoga Springs Freihofer's Jazz Festival, June 29-30 will have Buddy Guy, David Sanborn, Kevin Eubanks, McCoy Tyner, John Scofield, the Presevation Hall Jazz Band, and Tony Bennett.

The Louis Armstrong House Museum will have three great shows this summer, July 4 and 20, and August 17, featuring some of New York's top young talent.  The Anderson Twins lead a sextet, then its Bria Skonberg and the Hot Five, and finally Jon-Erik Kellso & Earregulars.  These headliners have all played with David Ostwald at Birdland.

Go to www.belleayremusic.org for details concerning the Catskill Mountain Jazz series, featuring Bill Charlap, Kenny Barron, Paquito D'Rivera & Dizzy Gillespie's Big Band.

Hartford Connecticut's festival takes place at Bushnell Park, July 19-21.  Arturo Sandoval will be the headliner.  Bellefonte, PA has the Jazz PA festival July 26-27 where Sheila Jordan headlines.  Newport, RI has an awesome lineup August 2-4 including the Bill Charlap Trio, Chick Corea, Eddie Palmieri, Lew Tabackin, Natalie Cole, Roy Haynes, Wayne Shorter, and Herbie Hancock.  The Litchfield Jazz Festival in Goshen, CT August 9-11 brings in Geri Allen, Eddie Palmieri, Vincent Herring and Eric Alexander to headline.  Finally, Morristown, NJ on August 17 will have Bucky Pizzarelli's Guitar Summit and Rob Paparozzi & Hudson River Cats.

On 6/10, we sold 100 shares of Graham Corp (GHM) from the IRA at 27.32.  In fact almost all of the transactions to be reported this week were in the IRA.  We had paid 23.28 on 1/18/11.  On June 11, we bought 15 shares of the Gold ETF (GLD) at 132.26.  It looks like we are catching a falling knife on this one, but the formula drives us to buy on the way down.  They don't ring a bell to tell you you're at the bottom.  On 6/12, we bought 100 shares of Main (MAIN) at 27.99.  On 6/13, we bought 100 shares of Kaman Corp. (KAMN) at 33.24, a zero buy.  Then on 6/14, we sold 100 shares of IDT at 20.38, versus a purchase price of 9.35 on 12/21/11.  On 6/17, we paid 23.65 for 100 shares of San Diego Preferred (SDO.PR.A).  Preferred stocks have been marked down as interest rates back up.  On 6/19. we sold 100 shares of Hartford Insurance Group (HIG) at 30.11.  We had paid 26.76 on 10/29/10 and 26.43 on 6/13/11 (these purchases were actually of Hartford Preferred which has been converted).  Then on 6/21, we bought 100 more shares of MAIN at 26.99, a value buy. 

On 6/24, we bought 100 shares of Bio Reference Labs (BRLI), which returns to our buy / hold list after an absence of over 5 years.  We made money in this stock but sold it fearing that technology was available that would allow doctors to analyze blood work without sending it to a lab.  That technology has not been adopted, and BRLI has continued to thrive.  So, we'll build a new position.  We paid 28.18.  Today, we added another 100 shares of the Sabra Health Care Reit (SBRAP) at 24.71.

Sunday, June 09, 2013


Heading into summer...

Item #1 - Senator Lautenberg died, setting up a vacancy in the US Senate for Governor Chris Christie to fill.  The Dems immediately tried to fill the media with reasons why the Governor should not name a Republican, or should call a special election in 2013 (though it didn't have to be called until 2014), or even sillier, bow to the inevitable and appoint Mayor Booker of Newark to the Senate now.  As if any Democratic Governor would do anything like that given a similar opportunity.  In the end Christie gave them half the wish list, selecting an October date for the special election.  Why spend the money for a special election that close to November?  He doesn't want the Booker voters coming out to vote for his Democratic opponent.  For the very short stub period, he named his Republican buddy currently serving as New Jersey Attorney General, with the stipulation he won't run in the special.  So he screwed his own party to assure his own re-election.

Item #2 - Weakest manufacturing report since the Great Recession issued - So what is causing the economy to go into another second quarter flatline despite the loosest monetary policy since Arthur Burns money printing press was mothballed by Paul Volcker?  Part of the problem is that Europe and Asia are also weakening and exports are down.  But our economy continues to underperform due to nonsensical federal government and blue state policies.  Economic activity is all but paralyzed by the spectre of ACA implementation, the unwillingness of Democratic leaders at all levels to buck environmental extremism that continues to put off pipeline and fracking projects, and regulation that is simply making for a lousy business climate.   Of course, the left doesn't see things this way, so there is not much constructive dialogue going on.  Meanwhile, though the sequester might be damping activity a bit, there is no discernible reduction in government services that is bothering anyone, leading one to believe that, in fact, the money not being spent now was simply wasted previously.  So you can expect no agreement on budget issues for the forseeable future either, since Republicans will see no reason for additional tax increases.

Dems will point to our deteriorating infrastructure and say that gasoline taxes should be increased to pay for those fixes.  But I think gas taxes are plenty high enough thank you.  There is no reason to believe that motorists can expect any return on gas taxes - they just go into the general revenue mix anyway.

Item # 3 - Detroit will be biggest municipal bankruptcy ever; Illinois suffers rating downgrade - Despite the best efforts of the former NBA star, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, Governor Snyder has named a financial manager for the city who seems to have decided that the only way forward is to declare bankruptcy so he can dissolve the sweetheart union contracts and pension commitments that Detroit has no hope of being able to afford.  Detroit is a victim of industries that declined, frankly unable to compete because of the burden of a unionized workforce.  Its population is down to about 700,000.  Mr. Bing came into office faced with a nearly hopeless mess, and we will stipulate that he made an honest and exhaustive effort to fix things.

Illinois suffers from a lot of the same maladies, exacerbated by corruption at all levels of government.  The governor and the legislature have chosen to stick their heads pretty much in the sand, so the downgrade was anticipated and expected.  As far as I can tell, there is no positive response in the offing.  If I was vengeful, I might add that this is the millieu from which sprang our President (oops, I guess I did).

Item # 4 - Passings include Richie Havens and Ray Manzarek - In the mid 60's, when FM radio was young, DJ Murray the K went to work for WOR FM in New York.  He was among the first to spot the revolution in popular rock music that the Beatles had spawned.  So he moved on from the R&B oriented shows he used to promote at the Brooklyn Fox and put on newer acts that only his listeners knew much about, because it was only on WOR that their albums were being played.  But that changed overnight.  My buddies and I went to the first of these shows, I believe in 1965 or 1966.  On a single bill, we saw the Chambers Brothers (Time Has Come Today), the Blues Project (with Al Kooper), Janice Ian (Society's Child), The Doors (Light My Fire) and Richie Havens (Follow).  I saw The Doors live again at Forest Hills in a concert where they played the first hour and Simon and Garfunkel played the second.  If that seems incongruous, it didn't seem to matter to a full house of fans who were simply awed by what was happening to rock (and folk for that matter).  It should be said that Jim Morrison was completely dominant fronting The Doors.  I like to say that people went to see them with the same attitude one brings to a NASCAR race.  You kind of love what's going on, but you're on the edge of your seat waiting for the (likely) crack-up.  You really didn't know what Morrison might do, and that was part of the attraction.  But it was poetry put to rock, and thinks to Manzarek's keyboard work, there was a strong element pf jazz improvisation to the arrangements that meant the songs never got tired, never got stale.  Manzarek said that John Coltrane was a major influence on him, and though I am sure he never felt he was quite in that class, he was probably as good at the rock keyboards as anyone before or since.  In later years, Manzarek did what he could to keep the legend alive, and to see that his friend Morrison would be remembered as a great artist, and not merely as a symbol for the self-destructive drug culture of the rock era of the 60's and early 70's. 

I saw Richie Havens many times live after that first show, in concert at Westbury, at Rosemont (PA) College, at Haverford (PA) College, and memorably, as the first half of another memorable concert at Forest Hills.  (The second half was Janis Joplin!) Havens is best remembered for his high energy performance at Woodstock, where he sang the amazing song High Flying Bird from his incredible first album, Mixed Bag.  Richie wrote some of his songs, but I always thought his best work was creating great arrangements to cover other artists, particularly the Beatles and Bob Dylan.  He could bring the greatest melodies out of those Dylan tunes, which were often hidden in Dylan's versions given his unique approach to "singing," But listen to Havens' vesion of Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands, for example and it's like hearing the song for the first time.  Similarly, when Havens recorded Lady Madonna and Strawberry Fields, two great Beatles songs, the hooks were so much more powerful than even in the Beatles' version.  Havens was a pretty good guitarist too, playing with what was called a unique "open tuned" method that allowed him to accompany himself more powerfully than most singers could. 
Our next post will include two features you may not want to miss.  First, we will do what we haven't done in quite some time - review the entire Musings stock trading rules (the mysterious formula) so that those who are newer readers can more easily follow along.  We will remind readers that the formula is not recommended for anyone else.  Still, there may be a thought you might want to adapt as you review your own financial planning.  This will be the first time the entire method will appear in a single post.  Hope I don't forget anything.

Also, it being summertime, we will preview the many great jazz festivals lined up here in the eastern states.  For those in the D.C. area, I would simply say for now that yours is wrapping up this week, so consult your local media for times and locations of any remaining events.

On May 28, we sold 400 shares of USA Trucking (USAK) at 6.40.  This was a taxable loss we could use; we paid 14.46 for 200 on 10/15/07 and 13 for 200 on 4/6/11.  On 5/29, we sold 200 shares of Boyd Gaming (BYD) from the IRA at 13.05.  We paid 9.30 on 7/21/08.  Then we switched to the buy side as higher interest rates cooled off the rally.  We bought 100 shares of MAIN for the IRA at 29.60 on 5/30.  On 5/31, we bought 50 shares of Cincinnati Bell (CBB.PR.B) at 47.94.  Then on 6/3, we bought 100 shares of Bryn Mawr Bank (BMTC) at 22.86.  On 6/5, we bought 50 shares of NVEC Corp. (NVEC) at 51.77.

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