Saturday, July 21, 2012

Great Mysteries Of The World, Part 1: Songs Stuck In My Head


 My friend and ace financial blogger John Hempton not only dreams about physics while he sleeps, but he comes up with world-changing concepts in those dreams, which he writes about when he wakes up, as you can read here.
 I wake up with songs stuck in my head.
 And not just any songs.  Really mediocre songs.  The kind you don’t want stuck in your head.
 This morning it was The Doors’ “The End,” a bunch of musical noodling on top of Jim Morrison’s ersatz poetry (“This is the end/my only friend/the end”), which at the age of 16 seemed incredibly profound, but these days, having crossed the half-century mark, seems like something that would mainly impress a 16 year old.
 I’d have preferred “Love Me Two Times” (the lyrics of which Morrison didn’t write—Robby Krieger did), or “Soul Kitchen,” or the unheralded “Texas Radio and the Big Beat,” one of the best but least enduring of the Doors catalogue (and a Jim Morrison song if there ever was one), which nevertheless somehow manages to get played on Sirius XM often enough to make me want to take back everything I said about that satellite radio monopoly in our last holiday music review, which you can read here.
 A couple of days ago the song stuck in my head was also unfortunate: it was Paul McCartney’s (actually Wings, but, same difference) “Jet,” which is one of those McCartney songs I never enjoyed—even though it sort of sounded pleasant enough on the radio—because it had what remains one of the most outstandingly bad lyrics the Beatles’ least-cynical lyricist ever created (“And Jet/I thought the only lonely place/was on the moon”), which, as you might have guessed, was the lyric stuck in my head that morning.
 How did the genius who wrote “Golden Slumbers” and “Her Majesty” ever come up with that?  And if it had to be a song from the “Wings” era, why couldn’t it have been “Let Me Roll It”?  (Of course, at least it wasn’t “Silly Love Songs.”)
 Now, outside of “Revolution # 9” you might think there wasn’t a bad enough John Lennon song to qualify for this stuck-in-my-head-when-I-wake-up thing, and “I’m Only Sleeping” isn’t exactly bad, but it’s not a song you want stuck in your head, believe me.  It might be more listenable than “Jet” or “The End,” but it’s not exactly an enduring Lennon number, like, oh, “Dear Prudence” or “Starting Over.”
 And it’s not a song I’ve ever actually played on purpose, except when it comes up on “Revolver” after you skip “Eleanor Rigby,” which is, technically, a great song, but not one you ever want to listen to all the way through.
 So why “I’m Only Sleeping” crops up in this mediocre-songs-stuck-in-my-head thing is a great mystery: I haven’t heard it any time recently—and I mean in the last 5 years, that I can remember.  But come to think of it I haven’t heard “Jet” or “The End” lately, for that matter.
 What would be great, of course, is if somehow you could wake up with exactly the song you wanted to wake up with stuck in your head.
 Longtime readers know that the house band of this virtual column is the Arctic Monkeys, whose lead singer and songwriter, Alex Turner, I would put up there with John Lennon on both counts.
 And if there’s any way John Hempton can figure out how, in his abnormally fecund dreams, to program “Red Light Indicates Doors Are Secure” into a person’s random-access-memory upon wake-up, I would greatly appreciate it.

Jeff Matthews
Author “Secrets in Plain Sight: Business and Investing Secrets of Warren Buffett”
(eBooks on Investing, 2012)    Available now at Amazon.com

© 2012 NotMakingThisUp, LLC
                                   
The content contained in this blog represents only the opinions of Mr. Matthews.   Mr. Matthews also acts as an advisor and clients advised by Mr. Matthews may hold either long or short positions in securities of various companies discussed in the blog based upon Mr. Matthews’ recommendations.  This commentary in no way constitutes investment advice, and should never be relied on in making an investment decision, ever.  Also, this blog is not a solicitation of business by Mr. Matthews: all inquiries will be ignored.  And if you think Mr. Matthews is kidding about that, he is not.  The content herein is intended solely for the entertainment of the reader, and the author.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Encore: The New-New Gettysburg Address

 The coolest thing about writing these virtual columns is that you meet a lot of interesting people, mainly through emails but also face-to-face.  After all, people with a specific knowledge of whatever you happen to write about often end up reading, and reacting to, something you happen to write about (especially if you make a factual mistake).
 It is simply astonishing sometimes who reads this stuff.
 The second coolest thing is the longevity of some columns.  For example, I wrote a piece about Best Buy in 2006 (Best Buy + Guitars = No Threat to Guitar Center, Yet) that still gets comments, six years later...mainly from musicians, which may not be saying much, given their general frame of mind, if you get my drift, but still...
 And there was an oddly passionate reaction to a years-ahead-of-its-time-even-if-I-say-so-myself column (Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday), both pro and con, from waiters and waitresses of that place for years.
 But columns don't have to generate comments to prove they're still being read.  Some things appear on the Google Blogger page view statistics that I forgot I wrote.  And I've noticed recently that for reasons beyond my comprehension, a piece from the depths of the financial crisis has consistently generated page views.
 Why, I don't know, but since it was one of my favorites, I thought I'd reprint it here.
 The New-New Gettysburg Address popped into my head when the Feds mind-blogglingly agreed to bail out the holders of credit default swaps written by AIG at 100 cents on the dollar, at a time when the holders of those credit default swaps, which included Goldman Sachs, would probably have given their first-born children for 50 cents on the dollar.
 Oh, and the Average Joe was not getting bailed out of anything, least of all the 120% loan-to-value no-doc mortgage he'd been talked into taking out by one of the many scummy mortgage brokers whose short-sighted, commission-based incentive to close bad deals was the one real driver of the subprime crisis Congress never got around to blaming.
 The column took probably took 15 minutes to write, and another hour to polish.
 And three-plus years later it still appears on the stats of what people are reading.
 Thanks to those readers.
JM

Monday, March 16, 2009


The New-New Gettysburg Address

(With apologies to our greatest President.)

Old Gettysburg Address:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.


It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.


New-New Gettysburg Address

Four or five years ago our Investment Bankers helped bring forth on this continent, and around the world, a new banking system, conceived in Leverage, and dedicated to the proposition that all persons working for Investment Banks can create enormous Wealth for themselves with almost no Risk except to Taxpayers.

Now we the Investment Bankers of Goldman Sachs are engaged in a great Scam, testing whether that Nation of Bankers can get paid without Tipping Off the Taxpayers to that Scam.


We have come to cash our checks.

It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this, for we have Houses in the Hamptons requiring upkeep.

But, in a check-clearing sense, we can not Cash Our Checks so long as AIG cannot make good on the credit default swaps we purchased to Hedge our Leverage. Thankfully, the brave men of Goldman who struggled to Attain Positions of Power in Treasury and the White House have consecrated it, far above Barney Frank’s poor power to detract from our AIG Contracts.

The Small Investor will little note, nor long remember, how completely screwed He got, but we the Investment Bank of Goldman Sachs can never forget what they did to provide us this cash. We thank them for the $8 billion Their Government is paying to AIG in order to Make Us Whole.

We here highly resolve that The Little Investor shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under Goldman Sachs, shall have a new birth of Leverage Without Risk -- and that government of Goldman, by Goldman, and for Goldman, shall not perish from the earth.


Jeff Matthews
Well, Yes, I Am Making This One Up


© 2009 NotMakingThisUp, LLC

The content contained in this blog represents the opinions of Mr. Matthews.
Mr. Matthews also acts as an advisor and clients advised by Mr. Matthews may hold either long or short positions in securities of various companies discussed in the blog based upon Mr. Matthews’ recommendations. This commentary in no way constitutes investment advice. It should never be relied on in making an investment decision, ever. Nor are these comments meant to be a solicitation of business in any way: such inquiries will not be responded to. This content is intended solely for the entertainment of the reader, and the author.

Monday, July 09, 2012

The Federal War Against Jobs, Or, What I Did Before My Summer Vacation


 What I just finished doing before my summer vacation, in between trying to make money in this wacky world of investments, was only a minor skirmish in the Federal Government’s War Against Jobs, but is instructive nonetheless to anybody who actually wants to know what it’s like to run a business in this increasingly bureaucratized “free market” system we identify broadly as “Capitalism” in the United States of America in the Year 2012.  [The writer might have written “Year of Our Lord 2012,” but that would have triggered some sort of lawsuit under whatever Federal Statute forbids mentioning such things in public nowadays—ed.]
  By way of perspective, for 19 years I have been buying and selling publicly traded securities on nothing more than a verbal agreement over a telephone, or through a typed agreement via instant message, with men and women seated as far as 3,000 miles away from wherever I happen to be.
 Of the dozen or so traders I have dealt with on a semi-regular basis over the last two decades, I see half in person maybe once every year or two (or three), while of the remaining half, I have met five in person exactly once, and one of them I have never met at all face-to-face.
 Thus far, there has never (knock wood) [or “touch wood,” as the Brits would say—ed.] been a problem with that way of doing business.
 After all, as in most businesses, you get to know what people are like by how they act—not by what they tell you over drinks in some mid-Manhattan restaurant.  So why waste time schmoozing in meetings with traders or anyone else, for that matter?  [This does not include companies: the writer is happy to meet with companies all day long—ed.]   Investing is and has always been a true relationship business.
 Nevertheless, in their ingenious and escalating War Against Jobs, the Federal Government has come up with ever more ways of dreaming up meaningless stuff that people have to fill out thanks to some new law or regulation that was designed to eliminate some problem that appeared when somebody circumvented a different law or regulation.
 In this case, it is an “Institutional Suitability Certificate” demanded by FINRA [I could explain what this is but why don't you just Google it?—ed.]
with the blessing of the SEC, and it reads as follows: 
[and no, he is not making this up—ed.]

INSTITUTIONAL SUITABILITY CERTIFICATE
AFFIRMATIVE INDICATION OF EXERCISE OF INDEPENDENT JUDGMENT
(Pursuant to FINRA Rule 2111) [1]
In connection with any recommended [2]transaction or investment strategy by a registered broker-dealer, the undersigned acknowledges on behalf of the Institution named below that:

I.               It is an Institutional Account as defined in FINRA Rule 4512(c) [3]

II.              It (1) is capable of evaluating investment risks independently, both in general and with regard to all transactions and investment strategies involving a security or securities; and (2) will exercise independent judgment in evaluating the recommendations of any broker-dealer or its associated persons, unless it has otherwise notified the broker-dealer in writing;
III.            It will notify [vendor] and each broker-dealer servicing the Institutional Account if anything in this Certificate ceases to be true;
IV.            This Certificate and the information contained herein may be shared with broker-dealers or third parties, including via a secure database or electronic platform established by [vendor]; and
V.              He or she is authorized to sign on behalf of the Institutional Account named below.
By signing this Certificate, the undersigned affirms that the above statements are accurate but does not waive any rights afforded under U.S. federal or state securities laws, including without limitation, any rights under Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended, and the rules and regulations promulgated thereunder.
1. Available at http://www.finra.org/Industry/Regulation/FINRARules/.
2. As defined in FINRA Rules. 
3. The term “Institutional Account” means the account of: (1) a bank, savings and loan association, insurance company or registered investment company; (2) an investment adviser registered either with the SEC under Section 203 of the Investment Advisers Act or with a state securities commission (or any agency or office performing like functions); or (3) any other person (whether a natural person, corporation, partnership, trust or otherwise) with total assets of at least $50 million as of the date of this Certificate (whether such assets are invested for such person’s own account or under management for the account of others).

 In other words, as far as I can tell, I am acknowledging that I’m in a risky business, and assuring whoever needs assurance that I won’t hold anyone else responsible for my actions.
 And even though nothing in this piece of paper changes my behavior, since it is no different than how I have been doing things for 19 years, I just spent half my afternoon faxing these pieces of paper to various institutions because today was the deadline. [most firms have minions who do this sort of thing, so maybe if this guy hired some minions he wouldn’t have to fill these things out—ed.]
 All so a bunch of well-meaning back-office  types can check off the box that says they have complied with yet another meaningless rule [“meaningless” in the sense that bad guys will sign anything, right?—ed.]
 Which is totally non-productive, has no bearing on anything in the real world, and was a pure waste of time that would have been much better spent on research, which I will now get back to once this goes up on Jeff Matthews Is Not Making This Up.
 And that is what I did before my summer vacation [“vacation” in the sense of “work all day near a beach”—ed.]

 Jeff Matthews
Author “Secrets in Plain Sight: Business and Investing Secrets of Warren Buffett”
(eBooks on Investing, 2012)    Available now at Amazon.com

© 2012 NotMakingThisUp, LLC
                                   
The content contained in this blog represents only the opinions of Mr. Matthews.   Mr. Matthews also acts as an advisor and clients advised by Mr. Matthews may hold either long or short positions in securities of various companies discussed in the blog based upon Mr. Matthews’ recommendations.  This commentary in no way constitutes investment advice, and should never be relied on in making an investment decision, ever.  Also, this blog is not a solicitation of business by Mr. Matthews: all inquiries will be ignored.  And if you think Mr. Matthews is kidding about that, he is not.  The content herein is intended solely for the entertainment of the reader, and the author.