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Wednesday, September 04, 2013

 

White House Runs Amok

As bad as this administration was on foreign policy in the first term, the second term lineup (Kerry, Rice,Hagel,et al) really gave us pause. Could it be even worse in term 2? Only 8 months in, we have our answer, and clearly it is yes. After drawing a line in the sand at chemical weapons use, ignoring it at least once last June, and on the second occasion, dithering for a week while Kerry made snorting noises, Obama called a press conference to announce...what; that we would make a token strike on military targets in Syria to "punish it" for gassing a thousand of its own civilians to death, but first, he would consult with Congress in the form of proposing a resolution in support of that move by the Administration. Assad must be laughing his ass off, not to mention the Iranians, the Russians, the North Koreans, the Venezuelans, the Cubans, etc. Now, as I said in the last post, I would just as soon we weren't involved, given the Syrian rebels are an unseemly mix that includes Al Queda fighters. But saying you are going to do something and then not doing it is a sure way to embolden your enemies, or cause them to miscalculate. It was well over a month ago that Obama finally came to a decision to provide arms to the rebels but they still have not been delivered. Then came the vanishing lines in the sand. Now what? Congress comes back from vacation on September 9 to consider the resolution, and though it will probably pass easily, there is significant opposition. The idea of a military strike is polling only 50-50 around the country. What is Israel to think? Will we be there when chemical weapons are turned on them? Congress likely will have little choice but to pass the resolution. Liberal Dems will vote for it holding their noses, and many Republicans will vote for it too, not wanting to see the office of the Presidency emasculated, in the hope of some day winning a national election again. The fact is that a meaningful strike could do some good by weakening Assad and Hezbollah, but I don't expect anything that significant. More like a Clintonian fly swat, such as the ones he launched to divert attention from Gennifer Flowers, or Lewinsky, or whoever the bimbette of the month might be. -------------------------------------------------------------- Indianapolis was kind of fun. There is quite a nice downtown with many fine restaurants, lots of inviting bars, all of the professional sports stadia and arenas, including a minor league baseball field (Triple A affiliate of the Pirates), and generally safe, well lit, streets and sidewalks. All of the usual restaurant chains are represented, but here are my recommended stops that are purely Indianapolis. Two excellent restaurants are St Elmo's Steakhouse on Illinois and Mesh on Massachusetts Avenue. In addition to the expected outstanding beef, St Elmo's boasts a truly world class shrimp cocktail appetizer with the spiciest hot cocktail sauce I've ever experienced. Really memorable. The fish here is also very good, and so are the Pork Chops. Mesh on Mass is a bit more eclectic with really tasty food and top notch service. The Massachusetts Avenue neighborhood is about a mile from the main part of town, and it is reminiscent of New York's thriving lower East Side or even a row of cafe's in Paris. Near Mess is Chatterbox, a tiny jazz club (as you might imagine one to be in the West Village) where local trios play (very well) 7 nights a week. We visited on a Thursday night and there was no cover charge, only a tip jar to which we contributed generously. The wine was pretty good too. Back downtown was the Tin Roof, a large bar with live music most nights. I saw two very good cover bands playing classic rock which the (much) younger generation seemed to love. There was plenty of room for them to dance, and lots of singing along. Also a real good variety of beer, both on tap and in bottles. All around the downtown are very friendly Irish pubs, and they stay open late. In sum, I wouldn't pick Indianapolis as a vacation spot, but for a business convention, it's much better than most. ---------------------------------------------------- Baseball fans in general, and Mets fans in particular, are agonizing over the rash of Tommy John surgeries performed on young pitchers, particularly hard throwing power pitchers. The latest, phenom Matt Harvey, is resisting the procedure but in the end he will have no choice. One recalls only a couple of years or so ago, the Nats' Strassburg tearing his elbow ligaments despite being babied by that organization. I don't think innings limits or pitch counts are the answer. In fact, it seems some managers, like NY's Terry Collins, don't really understand pitch counts. They think in terms only of pitch count targets for the game, when what really matters is pitches under stress, the longer innings and the innings with men on base. So they misuse the tool. How many times after a stressful inning, with his count up in the 90's did we see Collins send Harvey out for one more inning because he hadn't reached the magic target of 110 yet? The result was usually another bad inning, under stress, when he should have been safely in the shower. On the other hand, there are games when a pitcher can roll up to 120 or 130 pitches simply because he's never in real trouble. The fact is that pitchers are mishandled in youth leagues, in high school, and especially in college, where light metal bats give even weak hitters a chance to extend at bats and innings. They pitch too many innings, throw breakling stuff too young, and throw way too much between starts. Worst of all, they are taught to throw the slider. For a long time, the Dodgers banned sliders for all the pitchers in their organization, starting with the instructional league through the majors. Today, it's considered unusual that a pitcher gets to the majors without the slider as his primary breaking pitch. I contend the old fashioned curve ball puts much less strain on the elbow, and is as effective a weapon as the slider, maybe more effective. My opinion is that the slider is the leading cause of the epidemic of elbow injuries we see. The other cause is the radar gun. When Bob Feller was the hardest thrower in the big leagues, the claim was made that his fast ball reached 90 MPH. Today, 88 is rock bottom for what is considered a major league fast ball, and too many young pitchers aren't happy unless they hit 95 or more on the gun. They are overthrowing, and overworking their elbows and shoulders by pounding every fastball at 95 or more. They should back off to 90, and save the biggest heat for when runners are in scoring position. Movement and location trump speed anyway. One more thing - closers throw hard (most of them anyway), and many don't have sliders. They may make 80 appearances a year but most won't log 100 innings. They do get sore and injured, but how often do you hear of a reliever needing Tommy John? It happens, but rarely. Baseball had better get a handle on this, just as football needs to get a handle on concussions and basketball on ACL injuries. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------- A Wall Street adage goes, "Sell them on Rosh Hashana, buy them back on Yom Kippur." Somehow, that rule did not make the redwavemusings trading formula. Catching up on investment transactions, on August 8, we bought 6,400 shares of ONCS at 32.3 cents, violating our standard rule against transactions at prices under a dollar. This will be the last time, as we now have a sufficient position in the stock but without exposing the portfolio to meaningful risk. On 8/9, we bought 100 shares San Diego Preferred (SDO.PR.A) at 21.90 and sold all 550 shares of STRP, the spinoff from IDT at 5.00. We did not want to own that business as a pure play, nor IDT anymore for that matter. On 8/12, we bought 600 shares of Alumina (AWC), a value buy at 3.63. On 8/14, we sold 100 shares of Stifel (SF) at 40.14. We had paid 19.63 for 37 shares on 4/14/07 and 22.05 for 63 on 12/10/07. On 8/16, we bought 100 shares of BRLI at 27.07, a zero buy. Then on 8/19, we bought 20 more shares of the SPDR Gold ETF (GLD) at 132.40. Clearly, gold has bottomed, at least for now. Also on 8/19, we sold 2600 shares of Frozen Food Express (FFEX), subject of a takeover, at 2.09. We paid 1.28 for 800 on 12/19/11 and 1.18 for 1800 on 3/23/12. On 8/21, we bought 200 shares of ENI at 14.87, a value buy of sorts, still hoping southern Europe might stabilize. Also on 8/21, we sold all 1100 shares of IDT at 17.49. These were between 5/9/11 and 2/1/12, and we booked a gain of about 1.20 a share. On 8/28, we were back to buy another 100 shares of BRLI, this time at 27.95. The Company has been on a bit of an acquisition spree. On 8/29, we bought 100 shares fo Florida Power Preferred (NEE.PR.C) at 24.16. We have waited a long time for the priced of this one to drop below 25 again. With interest rates backing up, the preferred's are coming down in price. Finally, on 9/3, we bought 100 shares of MAIN at 29.54, a value buy, and 200 shares of Pulte Homes at 15.53, a zero buy. Disclaimer time: Neither redwavemusings nor its author is an investment advisor and the securities mentioned here are not recommendations. They may not be suitable for readers (or even me).

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