Link to Profile Semperoper, Dresden Sieg (auf dem Siegesäule), Berlin Brandenburg Tor, Berlin Skyline, Frankfurt am Main

Monday, August 20, 2007

What's with the Hot Meal Thing

A colleague was headed out to lunch at the same time I was headed to the bank to pick up some cash, and asked if I was going for a real meal ... which was a curious comment. So I asked, "What is a real meal?"

"You always go for sandwiches ... that's not a real meal. You need to have something hot at least once a day."

I asked the Partnerin about this, and although she frequently skips lunch during her hectic day, she echoed the sentiment.

Is this a German thing, or did I miss something in school? (Where I always brown-bagged it, btw.)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

By the Way

A number of financial experts are still telling everyone to be calm, that the problem mortgages are only 2% or so of all outstanding mortgages ... but a lot of the panic selling seems to be coming from the bankers, who are in the best position to know about the real quality of the mortgages that have been issued, packaged and sold. Hmmm!

And before the markets get a bailout in whatever form it might come, shouldn't someone be asking the bankers to repay the bonuses they took for issuing all the crappy mortgages?

Post Script

Well, if I had left my position open while we were out to dinner, I would have made a little bit more ... but the old saying goes something like "Bulls and Bears make money, pigs get slaughtered."

And this hardly makes up for the money I have lost with my so-called "investments."

Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend

But I'm not sure they're mine ... Diamonds Trust Unit Series 1 (DIA:Amex) that is. I decided while I was sitting at my desk and not doing very much useful or engaging work today that when unemployed at the end of the year I would make my living "scalping" the market. That's when you do a few quick intraday trades in the markets to take a few hundred or a few thousand dollars out for the day. Needless to say, this is not investing, and it is not for the feint of heart.

Scalping got a black-eye during the dot-com days when it seemed everybody was quitting their job to day-trade. It seems any fool, yours truly included, can day trade when everything is going up up up ... but everyone runs for cover when the markets head south, like they have been doing the last couple of weeks, including today. This is actually when it can be much more fun.

The nice thing about scalping is that you can make money regardless of which way the markets are trending. The not-so-nice thing about scalping is that you can lose money quickly if you aren't disciplined.

To play this game, you need a trending market or issue ... something with volatility. No shortage of that these days.

That still doesn't mean that it is easy money. You've got to put some of your own money at risk, you've got to take a position, and you've got to settle on a couple of exit points ... one if you are losing, and one if you are winning. It's no different than playing the tables at a casino. There is an element of luck, but you make your money by cutting your losses and riding your winners.

What makes this a viable strategy is that the trending is far more easily anticipated than picking the right horse or a number on a roulette wheel. But don't kid yourself that the game isn't rigged against you. All the financial prices you see on the TV networks are delayed prices, so if you're going to play this game you are going to want to lay out a few bucks for real-time data. In other words, you start out in the hole.

Then you spend an inordinate amount of time watching your market or issue bounce around in price ... look at the spread between bid and ask and volumes advertised at each to get a feel for which way things are going ... trying to read the market sentiment.

So having decided to go re-activate a part of my brain that has been largely dormant while I work in a German industrial concern, I couldn't wait to get home to play today's melt-down. I ventured in with a somewhat tame bet on the Diamonds, which are structured to follow the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which seemed like a good candidate for someting that has depth of volume and the potential to move. If I were my old self, I would have been playing OEX puts and calls, but then again options are for pikers and I was trading them when I had no money at all, which is the case with most option traders ;)

When I jumped in the DJIA was coming off the lows of the day and the broader indices were showing some signs of coming back to life, so the trade to make was a buy ... to go long.

Well, I'm actually up about a couple hundred bucks at this point ... lucky me. I might be able to make a living at this after all. But having put myself in the game, I can't go shopping until I close the position, so the question is one of how much money I want to make today. Enough to buy a bottle of Absolut?

p.s. - I got out with enough for that Absolut.

"Dow Jones Industrial AverageSM", "DJIA®", "Dow Jones®", "The Dow®" and "DIAMONDS®" are trademarks and service marks of Dow Jones & Company, Inc. ("Dow Jones") and have been licensed for use for certain purposes by State Street Global Markets, LLC pursuant to a "License Agreement" with Dow Jones and have been sublicensed for use for certain purposes to the Trust, PDR Services LLC and the American Stock Exchange LLC pursuant to separate "Sublicenses." DIAMONDS are not sponsored, endorsed, sold or promoted by Dow Jones and Dow Jones makes no representation regarding the advisability of investing in the Trust.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Art of the Squeal

Donald Trump is calling for Federal Reserve rate cuts ... possibly even a full-fledged government bailout .. to help those suffering from the "credit crisis," which makes one wonder just how much of the crappy paper his young apprentices were holding in the Don's portfolios when the melt-down started. The Don, who has several spectacular bankruptcies under his belt, tells us he's just thinking of the little guy and that he has a sincere desire to maintain public confidence in the markets ... which could be true, but could also be code for "I just need enough liquidity to unwind my positions, but it wouldn't hurt to also get a good price on the way out ... thank you Freddy & Fannie."

Speaking of handouts, if you want to jump into property development, now is not a bad time to do it if you pick the right end of the market ... take a look at the "Affordable Housing" game, which is where everyone who couldn't hold onto their houses is going to end up in the next year or so. As a developer, you won't make as much money on the rent-rolls as you might like, but the local governments and even the Feds typically line up to throw tons of cash at you in the forms of grants, subsized loans, and tax credits for rehabbing thinkgs like old factories into multi-family housing and bringing the units onto the market, making these deals definitely profitable. And don't let the moniker "Affordable Housing" mislead you ... a lot of this stuff comes onto the markets at near-market rates. It really is quite a racket.

The Art of the Deal is Copyright © 1987, Donald J. Trump, and was published by Ballantine Books, an imprint and registered trademark of Random House, Inc. The copyright notice had this amusing caveat: "The Art of the Deal is a commonsense guide to personal finance. In practical-advice books, as in life, there are no guarantees, and readers are cautioned to rely on their own judgment about their individual circumstances and to act accordingly."

Uh huh? Then why did I buy this inspiratonal gem if I was going to follow my own gut?

Oh yeah ... always read the tiny print

Oh, Good ... It's not just me

Years of computer and PDA use have taken their toll on my ability to hand-write anything ... but I find I am joined by the rich and famous as well ... see this blurb at Mark Cuban's "Blog Maverick."

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Spam Count for the Week Ended 11 August 2007

779 spam e-mails and attachments totalling 22.7 MB of mailbox space in one week, a new high. Time to consider a new e-mail address.

Spam, at least the term 'Spam' in the context of the canned "Deviled Luncheon Meat Spread" that is, is a registered trademark of HORMEL FOODS, LLC LTD LIAB CO MINNESOTA 1 HORMEL PLACE AUSTIN MINNESOTA 55912. Hormel and its various subsidiaries in Delaware, Minnesota, and Texas have been working feverishly to trademark Spam for just about any other purpose they can, and they have dozens of registered trademarks to show for their efforts, but when it came to registering the mark with respect to e-mail or junk-mail, they lost. So the term 'Spam' in image above is a protected mark, but the term in the title of this post is not. Always read the tiny print ... you might enjoy it.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Happy Singapore National Day

OK, it was officially yesterday, but I'm only half an hour past yesterday and only then because I was with a bunch of Germans who also spent some time there and now look wistfully back upon those happier days of expat life. Of course I am still living the expat life, so I guess I don't need to look wistfully back. It's kind of nice to recount some of our favorite stories ... I, for one, never had a bad meal there, and I'm looking forward to getting back there for some chili crab and drunken prawns. I even enjoyed the cheap popiah I had in the food court in the basement of the Funan Mall ... I was the only westener eating there that day, and boy did I stand out among other things for being one of the taller people there. Good times indeed. The Partnerin and I may pop over there this October. We'll see.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Plus ca Change

Did I mention I quit my job? I think I needed to remind myself of that today, because my boss came to me to pick up on a conversation I had with his boss on Friday, where he asked me if it would be possible for me to stay on longer. I like the ueber-boss, so I didn't reject the notion out of hand ... I told him I have no professional plans, but I do have personal plans and that I would need to think about it over the weekend, which I did not. The Partnerin and I flew to the North Sea instead, but that is another story.

I didn't mention in my earlier posts the reaction at my resignation ... Given the boss's complaints, I would have thought they would have welcomed my quitting. After all, these are people who crow about firing the "dead-weight" and about running a "lean and mean" organisation. One of them remarked while walking down the hallway on Monday afternoon that "lunchtime is for wimps!" (note bene: I replied "Aren't you a Big Swinging D*@K ... you can take the boy out of Wall Street, but you can't take Wall Street out of the boy).

In contra to all that that, some of my colleagues joke that management's griping about my work was their way of managing my expectations and keeping me in my place. Perhaps this is how they rationalise their own misery.

Instead of being grateful for me pulling the trigger to end a bad hiring decision, after they had gotten over the shock that one of their minions would actually quit, the first question was "How long can you stay?" I told the ueber-boss, "If this were America I would simply give you two-weeks notice and then leave." And I left it at that. But the irony, that people who said they didn't like my work but then were afraid to lose me, was not lost on me.

So today the boss comes in and says, "I hear you and Mr. X spoke on Friday about the possibility for you to stay on for a longer period of time. Have you decided?"

That is just his style ... no outline of how long, or what they want me to do. I've been coming dutifully every day to my office and slowly ticking through accomplishing my little goals through the end of my notice period with the intent to collect the pro-rata bonus my contract calls for. In other words, I've been wrapping up a year's worth of work in nine months. But the real crime is that I really don't have so much to do, so I am commuting roughly two and a half hours a day to sit somewhat bored in front of my computer and make nice spreadsheets and graphs. Some of you might say "Nice work if you can get it!" Well, I got it, and it isn't so nice if you want to do more with your life.

Again, by German standards the money is pretty good. But what price do you place on job satisfaction? Maybe I am lucky and a bit spoiled ... I'd like to think, however, that I have been living a somewhat reasonable life so that I do not need to be a slave to my job. This is why I can quit to pursue whatever while most of my colleagues drag themselves to jobs they hate to pay the mortgage.

So I think about what staying another three months really means ... perhaps a substantial down-payment on the airplane I looked at buying on our way up to Juist last weekend. It is a pipe dream for me to even consider it, but a few thousand euros more in the pocket would certainly not hurt to make that possible. I don't need an airplane of my own, but I am tired of sharing a plane with a number of other club members and being subject to scheduling conflicts. Pure indulgence made possible by staying on a mere three months more.

But at what cost. I'm so bored that I am ready to pull my hair out. I'd like to think I have talent and that it is being wasted. On the other hand, I've been lazy ... I have not even started looking for the next job. As the Partnerin points out, I need something to do. I do not necessarily agree; I think I will fill the days with golf and flying, but noth are not such cheap pursuits and at this rate I will burn through my savings in about ten years.

I figured I would be dead in ten years anyway, but the Partnerin does have a point that I do need to think about my retirement years. There are several pension accounts, but they will probably only keep me going from 60 to 72 ... I always figured I wouldn't care about life after 72 since I would be so infirm that I would only need the social security payments to feed and clothe me, and I would blow the rest while I could still walk. Then again, people are living longer, so mayne I need more savings ... or I could simply start drinking more. Seems the average life expectancy for a male in Russia is only 57 years, largely because of the high rate of alcoholism. But this is retirement planning with a sick twist.

And the biggest laugh I get from all of this is that the guy who kept telling me how displeased he was with my work is now in a position of having to ask me to deliver more of it for a longer period of time and for more money. As Mastercad might say, "Regret: Priceless."

So I need to decide in the next few hours whether or not I sell my soul for another three months, or do I really move on in the pursuit of happiness. The Partnerin worries that I will never find happiness. I would counter that the fact that she asked me yesterday at 7000 feet over Dortmund if they made headsets in pink is enough to make me happy, but that is another story indeed. Meanwhile, I will sleep on the queston.