Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Headcold Portfolio

I spent half the weekend on cabs, airplanes, or airport terminal benches. The other half of the weekend I spent on over-the- counter meds for a raging headcold, exacerbated by the travelling. Nothing like coming down from 37,000-ft in a pressurized cabin to make your head feel like it’s going to explode.
How do you handle a cold?
I prefer to medicate and hibernate.
Dose me with what ever works best, unplug the phone, and let me sleep it off.

That’s what I did Saturday night, upon returning from New York. I had left town with a cold, but thought I’d done the right thing by going to the doctor for a couple of injections and two prescriptions. Can’t imagine what I might have felt like had I not seen the doc before leaving town.
So I spent the past 48-hours pumped full of prescription-strength decongestants, an antibiotic, and a fleet of OTC meds to ease my head, which was stuffed beneath a feather comforter and pillow against the light of day.

While at the Equities Magazine investors’ conference in New York, we were pummeled with questions about The BizRadio Network. Very interesting that, despite the decidedly negative mood on Wall Street, there is still quite an appetite for good deals. There are still dollars to be invested into the right idea. The interest level was high, and there were plenty of inquiries about what we’re doing with the Network.

Heard some interesting stories, too, about companies that are involved in various areas of the economy: renewable power, healthcare applications, business software applications, and even containers for making your next move a little easier.

And there’s always one odd-ball attendee who won’t leave you alone.
You know the one…peppers you with questions about everything.
Doesn’t know when to stop.
Can’t take a hint ( or a hike.)

This guy was incessant.
Had a comment for everything, and was barely able to catch an answer before asking another question. I finally reached my limit when he tried to pitch some vacation time share scam on me, just for logging-on to a website to watch a presentation.
That's it.
Time’s up.
You’re toast.
Please leave.
That’s the end of my string of patience when dealing with the public.
Be nice, but be firm.
Be hospitable, but be wary.
I told him I didn’t have time for such shenanigans, and it was nice visiting with him, goodbye.
One thing this knucklehead asked did get me to thinking, however. He wanted to know what I thought would be a most likely place to invest. At that point in his incessant inquisition, I don’t remember exactly what I told him, but it was along the lines of looking at where society was going, what our needs are, and what companies would supply those needs.

Only shut him up for a moment.
But upon reflection, I think that’s still sound advice, regardless of your situation. The first baby-boomer just cashed her first Social Security Check, and there will be millions more in the next several years. As we age, and live longer, there are going to be needs in healthcare, energy, and nutrition.
This weekend, I created a Headcold Portfolio of companies who were profiting from the misery that I and ten-thousands of others are enduring with the cold and flu season.

This is not an unlikely quintet: Novartis, Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, GlaxoSmithKline, and Cadberry-Schwepps.

Novartis is into a lot of drug manufacturing. They just decided to not market a diabetes drug in the US that the European Union permitted because domestic approval is too tough to achieve. They also make a wonderful mixture called Thera-Flu, which has helped ease the stuffiness in my chest.

Procter & Gamble is one of the 800-pound gorillas in American Industry, with its fingers in nearly every aspect of the domestic consumer scene. Nyquil is one of its wintertime staples, providing “that restful sleep my body needs.” I have no idea how much of this stuff they sell each season, but it’s worth it.
No medicine cabinet is complete without a bottle of Tylenol. Johnson & Johnson makes several grades of acetaminophen for OTC use.

GlaxoSmithKline is the make of Flonase, a once-a-day nasal inhalant that has weaned me from all other antihistamines. Gone are the hours lost in the stupor of an allergic aftermath.

Cadberry-Schwepps is the final member of my medicinal quintet. I carry several pieces of this company with me at all times, in the form of Halls Cough-drops.

So it’s not too hard to come up with a list of companies whose products you use each day. Even when the village idiot sneaks in and peppers you with questions, there are ideas that can be developed with a payoff.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

On the Road from NYC

Traveling has become a chore.
There is no longer the charm and romance associated with flying to faraway places when you must partially disrobe and be subjected to all manner of inquiries to get into an airport.
Such is life in America in 2008.

I've been on the road to New York this week.
That's a misnomer, of course.
I didn't drive--I flew, and was driven around by cabbies when I got here.
That, too, is a unique experience.

The weather made the news in New York this week.
First snow storm of the Winter.
What wonderful timing.

What a difference a day makes in Manhattan.
One day is sunny and bight.
The next is a study in charcoal shades, accented by the blazes of Yellow Cabs hissing through the slushy streets.

On the way to the airport this morning, I tried to figure out what color New York is when it has snowed. The hues are impossible to define in chromatic terms, unless you attached a dirty adjective to each scene.

Dirty black asphalt.
Dirty brown-grey buildings.
Dirty white snowbanks...pure as the driven slush.

Yet even in its greyness, NYC holds all within its hypnotic trance.
Rumbling through the cold, murky streets on an early Saturday morning, the city still charms.
But I wouldn't want to live here.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Cuba, Castro and the Boyz

Fidel Castro has announced his resignation as president of Cuba and commander-in-chief of Cuba's military today, according to a letter published in the state-run newspaper, Granma.
Granma. What does that mean?

Granma is the yacht that was used to transport the fighters of the Cuban Revolution from Mexico to Cuba in 1956 in the overthrow of the the Bastisa Regime. It’s on display in Havana, according to our crack team of researchers at Wikipedia…right next to the U.S.S. Minow.

Granma appears on the front stoops of everyone’s house in Cuba each morning, thrown from the curb by geriatric women in wheel chairs.

Have you seen pictures of Fidel Castro lately? Looks like Willie Nelson without the braids. Which brings to mind the fact that you never see Willie Nelson photographed with Fidel Castro. Never see them in the same room together.
I’m just saying…
I wonder if Fidel can sing…

The Democratic Race continues to entertain…the Hillary Clinton campaign is accusing the Barak Obama campaign of plagiarism…and the Obamarators are pointing fingers at the Clintonites. Sounds like a case of he said she said what said…

Toshiba will no longer manufacture HD DVDs, effectively ending the long-running battle with the rival Blu-ray for a dominant high-definition format. Does this mean I have to convert my video library from Beta to Blue Ray VHS?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Reich is Wrong

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich appeared the New York Times last week with an editorial about how we the people have spent ourselves into financial oblivion...and his formula for giving a lasting hand-up to the middle class.

The piece was reprinted in Sunday’s Houston Chronicle, alongside a summation that stated “the only way to keep the economy going over the long run is to increase the wages of the bottom two-thirds of Americans.”

Can’t argue with that.

Bringing home more bacon would make any household a happier, heartier place.
Where I fundamentally disagree with Prof. Reich is in how this might be accomplished.

True to his bureaucratic roots, Reich prescribes the government as the fount from which such largess would flow, and completely misses the “lasting” part of his formula. It all gets back to feeding a man fish vs teaching a man to fish, basically.

Prof. Reich proposes providing larger earned-income credits for workers at the bottom of the financial food chain. He would do so by raising taxes on the higher-earning sectors of society. Taxing the rich is a convenient tactic, especially during election cycles.

In a recent blog, Reich suggests funding all sorts of government agendas--including universal health care, better schools and infrastructure reconstruction--by socking it to the upper crust wage earners because…because, well, they can better afford it.

He writes, “…the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans are earning more than 21% of all income -- a postwar record -- while the bottom 50% of Americans combined are earning just 12.8% of total income.”

What Reich fails to disclose is that the wealthiest 1% of the population are also paying 37% of the income tax. According to statistics quoted by Stephen Moore, Senior Economics Writer for The Wall Street Journal, “the top 10% of wage earners pay 68 % percent of the tab. Meanwhile, the bottom 50 percent—those below the median income level—now earn 13% of the income but pay just 3% of the taxes."

Not surprisingly, the former Labor Secretary also prescribes stronger labor unions in sectors that are sheltered from global competition. That could be a political placebo, however, since such sectors are shrinking each year. Reich apparently hasn’t been following the fortunes of General Motors, Ford, or Chrysler, who have been nearly bankrupted by workers’ generous pension plans negotiated by the Unions. What good is a pension if the company that’s providing the promise is penniless?

Reducing taxes—whether by increasing tax credits, or just cutting the rates—is the only way the American republic is going to survive financially. Dr. Art Laffer’s famous napkin-drawn curve, demonstrating the principle of reduced tax burden actually resulting in increased tax revenues, is proven fact.

Reich is counting on a “peace dividend” to break out when the troops come home from Iraq as one source of additional funding.
Don’t count on it.
Most intelligence people believe we will have a lasting presence in that region of the world, much like we did in Germany following the Second World War.

According to his blog, Mr. Reich also advocates “modest” deficit spending by the government to fund projects to spark economic growth.
Sorry, Rob, but “modest” does not exist in the government lexicon, especially when it comes to stewardship with tax dollars. Either you’re going to balance spending with revenue or you’re not; there is no grey zone.

Frankly, Reich and his Washingtonian brethren are the biggest ducks in the puddle. Scolding American consumers for spending beyond their means is much like calling the kettle a Cookware-American.

To me the most-troubling element of the Reich troika for economic wellness is the notion of increasing taxes. That’s just wrong-headed thinking. No government ever taxed its way into prosperity, and the U.S. is unlikely to be the first alchemists to turn fiscal lead into gold.

Writes Moore, Overall, taxes are between 10 percent and 20 percent lower in the United States than they are in most other industrial nations. [Right now,] this gives America a competitive edge in world markets. The United States now has the second- highest corporate income tax in the developed world, after Japan, [and] our personal income tax rate is still low by historical standards.”

But have you noticed what’s been happening recently in many European and Pacific Rim countries, as they’ve slashed their income tax rates? Moore notes that there are now ten Eastern European nations with flat-tax rates between 12% and 25%.
In Washington, the political pressure seems to be to raise them.

Not a lasting competitive strategy, is it?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Missing Art Located

Last week there was news that a missing artwork, worth $8-million, had been mysteriously recovered in New York City. The painting by the late Jean-Michael Basquiat, “Hannibal,” was apparently smuggled out of Brazil after its former owner went bankrupt. It was brought through U.S. Customs with no mention of the painter’s name, and declared to be worth $100.

Here at the new BizRadio Network Broadcasting Complex & Deli, we have discovered a long-lost piece of art, “Long Walk on a Short Pier,” which Buddy Cantu, my producer and part time art enthusiast, believes to be worth at least that, if not more.

Detail of "Long Walk on a Short Pier"

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Chavez' Crudities

Remember the Jim Croce song, "Don't Mess Around with Jim?" The lyrics were all about things most folks with a modicom of sense would never do: Spitting into the wind, pulling on Superman's cape, etc.

Alas, we lost Jim prematurely in a plane crash in 1973, but were he writing songs today, he might have a comeback or a remix of that hit by adding a lyric about barking at Exxon Mobil.

Pretty sure Croce would have found some entertainment value in the ongoing hate/hate relationship between Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his biggest customer, the United States of (Oil Consumers in) America. He's been making squeaky noises about stopping Venezuelan oil sales to America because Exxon has frozen some of his assets because Chavez nationalized oil operations in Venezuela. Chavez reminds me of an over-grown yappy-dog, a chihuahua in a red shirt, yipping and growling at what ever large-breed canine you wish to associate with the US.

I am not too worried about Chavez’ threats to halt oil exports to the United States. As the rest of the world has discovered during the credit and finance crunch, Chavez needs the United States more than we need his oil.
He might find alternative buyers for his country’s crude, but it's not likely any time soon, and the significant cost of such a move would errode his power base, further negating his threat.

Back on Sunday El Presidente Chavez threatened to end oil exports to the US if ExxonMobil wins the legal suit it filed against Venezuelan state oil monopoly, Petroleos de Venezuela.
Petroleos de Venezuelaaah.
I love the way that name rolls off the tongue.
Practice using it in a sentance today, and impress your friends.

ExxonMobil has already won some preliminary legal rounds against PDVSA that are preventing the sale of about $36-billion in foreign assets. Even dictators gotta have dough to roll. So the state chihuahua is back to calling names and making threats and acting like the banana republic thug that he is. Just chill your jet, Hughie. Here’s why you’re not going to do anything of the sort.

First, the US is Venezuela’s natural market for its crude exports. This is true because of both geography and chemistry.
Look on the map.
See V-ville?
See the US.
See anyone else close-by big enough to pick up the slack if we stop buyin'?
Who ya' gonna call, Chuck?

According to an analysis by our crack team of researchers at Stratfor-dot-com, 90% of Venezuela’s 2 million barrels per day in crude exports either goes to U.S. refineries that are explicitly designed to process the poorer grade of crude, or is refined into products that are evenutally sold to the United States.

Venezuelan crude oil is dirty, nasty stuff.
You just can’t sell it to anyone, and only U.S. refineries have been specifically engineered to process the sulfurous ooze. Even with the price of oil at $90/bbl, not many other industrialized countries are going to be in the mood to re-configure existing plants, or even build new, specialized refineries capable of refining Venezuelan crude.

And there’s that geography thing.
The US is the only country in the 'hood with the tools and toys to play with Venezuelan oil. If Senior Bully did decide to take his oil and sell it elsewhere, he’d have to pay increased shipping costs. He’d probably have to discount his price, too—remember, it’s nasty, skanky stuff to process…and I would imagine there’s a hefty PITA* premium most countries would impose for having to deal with this tropical tyrant.

Another reason Little Hughie won’t take his oil away is because he can’t afford to. Remember the Venezuelan government is no Swiss financial center, and there’s a very thin margin of error for fiscal disruption in his country. It is this very money-for-oil/chica’s-for-free formula that has kept this bozo in power up to this point.
Chavez has to sell his oil to keep up the payments to his power base.

Finally, we’ve heard these kinds of rantings from the vitriolic Venezuelan before.
He’s all talk and no action.
He’s a wind bag.
Actually, he’s a gas bag, and if there were many more like him, maybe we could tap them (no pun intended) as an alternative source of energy. This guy makes the Energizer Bunny tired. But he's not going anywhere with that oil.

It would take at least a couple of years to re-jigger someone else's refineries to handle Venezuelan crude, and promises/threats in the past by PDVSA to wean away from its reliance on the U.S. market have not come panned out.
(Sound familiar?)

Then there's the fact that the US could more easily replace Venezuelan petroleum in our production facilities than they could replace the us as their prime customer.

And as a final trump card, if the idiot does goes postal on us, it would be no sweat to pull a trick from his own playbook, and simply seize Venezuelan assets in this country—namely Citgo refineries owned by Petroleos de Venezuela.
That sort of slides off the tongue, too.
Seize assets.
Seize Citgo.

Hugo Chavez not as stupid as he acts, though.
Yesterday he began transferring funds into Swiss bank accounts to dodge the asset freezes.
Crazy like a fox...terrier.

*PITA = Pain In The A**

Monday, February 11, 2008

Looking Forward

I feel a little like a fish out of water.
For most of my life, I have been a Radio morning show host, either playing music, reporting the news, or bringing you head start insights on what the markets are doing, or are setting up to do. I am somewhat unaccustomed to jumping on moving trains or joining you in mid-market stride.

Most of you have been up for hours; you’ve seen what I have seen, and you’re anticipating what I am anticipating. So we will meet here for an hour each morning and swap ideas, theories and notions.

You can brag a little if you want, or even complain if you must. I will be your sounding board; I will be your confidant. I will be your guide as we pose questions and examine possible answers about how you can protect your capitol, grow your stake, and make a difference in your life.

We’ve called this project, The BizRadio Network, the Union of People Using Our Brains to Get a Better Deal. This is the American Dream: to create, to prosper, and to help others around us. To enrich our community and make life better for having been here for a little while.

If you’re looking for an argument with Mike Norman, you’ll have to get up a little earlier. He’s on at 6 now. If I disagree with you, you will find I’ll give you enough rope to hang yourself, and the audience will be the judge.

I don’t have anything to sell you; I am not trying to get your money; I’m not a TV star, and I haven’t written any books. I have, however, spent my life observing, communicating, and commenting on the great human condition, which spans multiple sectors of life.

Together, you and I, we can go forward each mid-morning into the vast world of possibilities that present themselves to us, and make a difference, each in our own way. I cannot promise you more than that…and I won’t promise you less.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Moving the Show...

Today brings to a close an era.
For the past eight years I have been greeting the sunrise and you with my morning show on a Business Radio station.

Starting Monday, I will be sitting here between these padded panels at a later time, 9am CST. It will be a one hour show, which will force me to trim my patter to the bare essentials, but will provide us with a broader field of guests from which to bring on the show, especially from the west coast.

On Monday my guest will be Marc Chandler, the head kahuna of Global Currency Strategy with Brown Brothers Harriman.
I know, that’s in New York, but if you’re wondering what to do about the dollar and competing currencies, you pull a guy from the heart of America’s financial district.
Should be a good show.

I’ve been “doing” the business talk format for nearly a decade.
Never dreamed I’d be in Talk Radio when I started my broadcast career, but this is a format I have grown to love because it is the only source of substantive, actionable content you can find anywhere on the Radio dial, AM, FM or Satellite.

Now I get to sleep later and talk to the smartest people in the world, on and off the air.
The BizRadio Network Orchestra and Chorus is estatic. They never liked the earlier start because it cut into their "rehearsal time." Yeah, right. Whatever.

I thank you for your support of my morning show over the years, and hope you will seek me out in my new time slot on Monday at 9am.
See you on the Radio…

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Bulls, Bears...and Ducks

In a Bull Market you can do no wrong.
There are more buyers than sellers, and unless the CEO is an axe-murder or parties to excess in togas, the stock is going to go ever upward. The rising tide lifts all boats, and everyone is piling on.

In a Bear Market, the axe-murder is sentenced to a lethal injection, the toga slipped at an importune moment, and there are more sellers than buyers.
Last one off the barge is a rotten egg.

We’re somewhere in between, right now, depending upon the day you look at. It’s the final year of the current administration, so all bets are off until November. Really, depending upon the outcome of the elections, you have to figure out which bullet to dodge.

Democrats coming to town mean higher taxes and more welfare programs. Republicans coming to town mean lower taxes (we hope) and probably more war mongering. Which way must you duck to take advange?
I call this a Duck Market.

Things aren’t necessarily “ducky” in a Duck Market. Sometimes you have to settle for the crumbs on the ground after the rest of the flock has passed over.
That’s okay.
Know what happens to flocks of ducks during duck season?
Exactly, and you don’t want to be shot down.

Watch and listen to what the other ducks are saying and doing.
There are some pretty big ducks in the pond right now, too, all honking and hooting about this and that. (So many apropos metaphors, so little space…)
Take notes, don’t let your feathers get ruffled, and when November comes, you’ll know how to lay-in for the season ahead.

Here at the new, temporary broadcast facilities of The BizRadio Network, we work in an idyllic setting. There are gleaming skyscrapers separated by tranquil green spaces filled with trees and grass, ponds and fountains.
There are also lots of water fowl.

One of our associates here recently rescued four ducklings from an aggressive hawk that was thinking duck soup would taste pretty good. She’s bought them up here to The BizRadio Broadcasting Complex and Deli, where I suppose we’ll have to add another use:
Hatchery. (Rookery sounds a little counter-productive for attracting new clientele.)

The ducklings have become the un-official BizRadio mascots. They huddle down in a shoe box, lined with a t-shirt from the underwear drawer of their rescuer. We have all become surrogate hens, feeding and caring for them in a corner cubicle.
Guess there’s a nesting instinct in all of us.

What do you think—should we hold a naming contest for the four ducklings? Submit your suggestions here.
Winner gets to clean out the shoebox on Monday morning, plus bragging rights.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Ashes to Ashes

Today is Ash Wednesday.
It is the first of 40-days leading up to Easter, a period during which many religious persons contemplate their mortality, mindful of the curse ascribed to mankind by God in Genesis—the dust to dust cycle. You’ll see folks wearing a dark smudge on their forehead, and giving up some favorite something in observation of Lent.

I suppose contemplating one’s mortality is a helpful exercise, if you’re obsessed with the notion you’re never going to die, believe you will remain eternally youthful, and are basically bullet-proof. Personally, I face reminders of my mortality during the other 325-days of the year, too. Every morning I awaken with a breathing tube strapped to my grille so I don’t suffocate from sleep apnea. I used to worry about hair turning grey. That was before most of if all turned loose.

I am a walking poster-boy, proof-positive that we’re all going to die, and that date with destiny is one day closer than it was yesterday.
Don’t despair—clean house!
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, and a Swifter from stem to stern.

By the way, this Easter thing is a wonderful celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I fully believe it, along with His suspension of the laws of the universe, and the Virgin Birth.

(That birth event, by the way was like any other; the conception was the miraculous part. Similarly, I believe His death, while quite brutal, was essentially the same experience we will al one day have--a separation of our spirit from our body. The point of Jesus was His coming back to life as a human being, before being transfigured into Heaven.)

I also believe He left an example that His death and resurrection should be commemorated, respected, and kept close each first day of the week, not just at Easter time.

So you won’t find smudges on my face today, but if you look closely you may catch the remnants of a CPAP imprint.
What am I giving up for Lent?
Dryer filters.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Phat Tuesday

Everyone is entitled to be stupid, but some abuse the privilege.
It’s Fat Tuesday.
It’s also Super Tuesday, on which date two dozen states are holding preliminary elections for their choice of candidates to run for the Presidency. If you’re a winning politician, perhaps it’s Phat Tuesday.

New York is still basking in the afterglow of Sunday’s Superbowl win. The oft-fabled “Superbowl Indicator” on Wall Street, however, was debunked in short order by yesterday's 108-point bust in the Dow.

Roger Clemens steps up to a different mound today, giving a sworn deposition to attorneys for Congress…they should have sold tickets to that. His comments are sure to be impassioned, if nothing else. Maybe Roger the Rocket will be inspired to make a pitch for a Congressional seat.

Bobby Knight is leaving Texas Tech…going to open a furniture store in Lubbock. specializing in lite-weight chairs… Not.

Farmers, State Farm, and All State want to raise your auto insurance up to 12%...based upon anticipated losses. That’s a little bass-ackwards. Try asking your boss for a raise based upon anticipated additional expenditures you’d like to make…

Meanwhile, we continue to become acclimated to our new surroundings at The BizRadio Broadcasting Complex & Deli.

Buddy looks like he’s settled in pretty well.

If you missed it, in Houston we’re now found at 1110 on the AM-dial.
Still getting calls from people wondering “where we went.”
Maybe we'll send Bobby Knight over to retune your Radio!

Monday, February 04, 2008

KTEK High-Tech

Where are you?” the caller asks.
I can hear tires singing against the grooves in the pavement in the background.
Sounds like a tollway.
He’s in Houston.
I’m in Houston, and I can’t hear you,” he says, a touch of anxiety in his voice.

It’s a quarter to 7 in the morning, and our new transmitter at 1110am is precluded from powering-up until the sun rises. In February, the FCC has determined the sun comes up at 7am.

“We’ll be on in just a few minutes,” I reassure him. “You can’t hear us until we sign-on in Houston,” I explain. (Or unless you log-on to the internet and catch our stream.)

It’s one of those arcane necessities in the Radio world, dictated by the physics of geography and dial position, and merely managed by the Federal Communications Commission.

In Houston, our new dial position, 1110am, is shared by several other stations in the country. The closest is in Shreveport. There’s another one in Mexico, best I can tell, based upon the programming I can hear skipping through the atmosphere before sunrise.

We knew this would be the case when The BizRadio Network acquired KTEK-AM. We ran across this hurdle when we were running our business-talk programming a few years back on that CBS Radio station, also a “daytimer.”

Funny thing is, the harder it was to pick us up, the more popular we became. Have become, too, if these calls are any indication.

The first few days in our new facilities have not been without challenges. The best-laid plans of mice and men should always have a back-up, and a Plan-C in some cases.

Fortunately, we do.

No one is going to mistake us for MSNBC.
I doubt you’ll confuse my studio with Howard Stern’s (and how would you know??) But it is serviceable, and we believe, for the temporary tabernacle that it is, it sounds pretty decent.
Can’t wait to show you the permanent studios we’re planning. More about that in the Spring.
See you in the morning on the Radio…
Jack Warkenthien broadcasts from The BizRadio Network Broadcasting Complex & Deli