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Harry Newton's In Search of The Perfect Investment Technology Investor. Harry Newton Previous Columns
9:00 AM EST, Thursday, August 20, 2009: We seriously underestimate the value of liquidity -- of being able to sell our brilliant investments from one minute to another. Without liquidity -- e.g. Harry's brilliant investments in private equity funds (more about them in a minute).

There are two worlds out there -- the public stockmarket, which came roaring back this year -- though don't expect it to continue booming for now. September is historically the worst month.

And then there's the private, alternative investment market. Take private equity funds. (Please take mine.) Once upon a time, a long time ago, the idea was to buy companies, build them up and sell them three to five years later for a huge profit. Wall Street created huge funds -- some as big as $20 billion. They bought bits and pieces of many companies, borrowed megabucks to "juice" up the returns and sat back and waited for the profits to roll in.

The recession screwed that. The excess borrowings didn't help And Wall Street is no good at managing companies. (Its business is fees.) Meantime the dumb owners of these funds (like me) sit, suffer, agonize at our plummeting wealth -- but can do absolutely nothing, except bitch to the management -- which incidentally doesn't listen. Meantime, management has used my money to employ a bunch of flak catchers to give me bullshit explanations of why the world's leading investment bankers have screwed up so mightily for their clients, but not for themselves. (Remember Tom Wolfe's book Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers.)

Exhibit one is Goldman Sachs' Vintage IV fund, of which I own a small piece. Several days ago I received my July 31 statement. It showed a 17% drop (month-to-month), bringing the total drop in value to 23%. That may not seem too bad when you figure what the market did last year. But this fund was sold to me on the basis that it was funds bought cheaply -- like when someone desperately needs the money and we get to buy their piece ultra-cheaply -- as in distress. It seems the world of private equity has now gone way below distress. In Goldman's favor, these July 31, 2009 valuations are really, according to their flak catcher, actually valuations at December 21, 2008 when things were really crook. Maybe they improved this year. Who knows? What does it take so long to get the agony documented? Answer from flak catcher: It just does.

Of course, it would be a lot worse. Take Citigroup. I have money in a disaster called Citigroup Capital Partners II Onshore. That miserable thing is down 39%. It got so bad over at Citigroup that the key person on this fund John Barber -- the major reason I bought in -- left Citigroup in January, leaving his poor investors (including me) to wallow in his disaster. I don't know where he went. Presumably he took all the fees and bonuses he got up front and retired to Australia, or wherever.

I could, of course, sell my holdings. But the market is so thin... You get the picture.

Without liquidity, you have a festering sore.

With liquidity, you have our inviolate 15% Stop Loss rule. You're out. And you can get on with your life.

Lyme disease revisited. A new book is out: Insights Into Lyme Disease: Thirteen Lyme-Literate Health Care Practitioners Share Their Treatment Strategies, available here. One section:

Lyme disease can be treated successfully with antibiotics when - and if - it is caught early, while the Lyme spirochetes are still in the patient's bloodstream and can be reached by antibiotics. If the disease goes undiagnosed, the spirochetes, (which are related to those that cause syphilis), can infiltrate the non-blood areas of the body, such as the nervous system, brain, heart, joints, and cartilage. The disease then becomes a multi-symptom, multi-system illness that wreaks havoc upon nearly all of the patient's tissues and organs.

Once this happens, Lyme disease becomes chronic and difficult to diagnose. It may masquerade as a variety of other illnesses. Many physicians do not know how to effectively treat it. It devastates nearly every aspect of a person's existence. ILADS, the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society, estimates that most chronic Lyme disease sufferers experience a level of disability equivalent to that of a person who has suffered from a recent heart attack.

Some useless, but interesting facts:
+ So far in this recession, 6.6 million jobs have been lost. That wipes out six out of 10 jobs created in the last, unusually jobless economic upswing. -- Wall Street Journal.

+ About 90% of U.S. banknotes have traces of cocaine. Over all, $5, $10, $20 and $50 bills had more cocaine than $1 and $100 bills. University researchers who undertook this useless study said that you can't get high from snorting U.S. bank notes. Shucks!

+ If we leave aside the war-impacted years of 1942 to 1946, the largest annual deficit the United States has incurred since 1920 was 6 percent of gross domestic product. This fiscal year, though, the deficit will rise to about 13 percent of G.D.P., more than twice the non-wartime record. In dollars, that equates to a staggering $1.8 trillion. Fiscally, we are in uncharted territory. -- Warren Buffett in yesterday's New York Times.

Great summer reads:

Doctors can't put this down. Written by a psychiatrist, Stephen Bergman, under the pseudonym Samuel Shem, M.D., the novel is based on his grueling, often dehumanizing experiences as an intern at Harvard Medical School’s Beth Israel Hospital in 1974. More than two million copies have been sold, and the book has been continuously in print since its 1978 publication. A recent edition (Delta Trade Paperbacks, 2003) features an introduction by John Updike, who ranks the book alongside Joseph Heller’s famed military satire, “Catch-22.”

Filled with unforgettable characters who go fully against the cultural grain (a mysterious Mexican tribe of cliff dwellers who run hundreds of miles with ease, a cerebral former prizefighter who's become a hermit in the Mexican hills, a vegan ultra-serene ultramarathoner, two Beat-loving young guns who drink as hard as they run, a hilarious, Kramer-like renegade barefoot runner with logorrhea), Christopher McDougall's first book, tells the tale of the seriously socially challenged and self-named Caballo Blanco (White Horse) and his attempts to put together a 50-mile running race between the elite members of the dwindling Taruhumara tribe and some of the best American practitioners of ultrarunning, a sport for those who for some reason want to go farther than the standard 26.2-mile marathon distance.

Barnes and Noble's eBooks appeal. My son's got a Kindle.. He loves it. I find it heavy, clunky and not friendly. There is another way. Buy eBooks from Barnes and Noble. I just bought my first ebook for $9.99 -- same price as on the Kindle, but much lower than a paperback. I downloaded it and the BN Reader (free) to my ThinkPad laptop. I'll try reading my first book today on my trip to Colorado. So far, I've read a few pages. I find the type, the layout and general viewability better than the Kindle. One huge benefit over Kindle: you get to read your book on many devices -- including iPhone/iPod Touch, BlackBerry, PC and Mac. Here's what the top bit of a BN Reader screen looks like. I clipped this from my laptop this morning:

For more, click here.

Magazine madness. Beware. Magazines are dying. In desperation, some are sending out subscription renewal notices a year or so before your subscription expires. They pocket your money and when they die they give you a subscription to a magazine you don't want.

God bless our present health care system. This is an actual picture from a doctor's office in Deerfield Beach, Florida.


And why not? You have to conserve your energy for the machines.

The media is getting worse and worse. You can't believe anything you read anywhere. Remember my Canadian health-care "letter" scam from yesterday? Here's the latest nonsense. From the New York Times:

A growing body of evidence suggests that doctors at some of the nation’s top medical schools have been attaching their names and lending their reputations to scientific papers that were drafted by ghostwriters working for drug companies — articles that were carefully calibrated to help the manufacturers sell more products.

Experts in medical ethics condemn this practice as a breach of the public trust. Yet many universities have been slow to recognize the extent of the problem, to adopt new ethical rules or to hold faculty members to account.

This column is about my personal search for the perfect investment. I don't give investment advice. For that you have to be registered with regulatory authorities, which I am not. I am a reporter and an investor. I make my daily column -- Monday through Friday -- freely available for three reasons: Writing is good for sorting things out in my brain. Second, the column is research for a book I'm writing called "In Search of the Perfect Investment." Third, I encourage my readers to send me their ideas, concerns and experiences. That way we can all learn together. My email address is . You can't click on my email address. You have to re-type it . This protects me from software scanning the Internet for email addresses to spam. I have no role in choosing the Google ads on this site. Thus I cannot endorse, though some look interesting. If you click on a link, Google may send me money. Please note I'm not suggesting you do. That money, if there is any, may help pay Michael's business school tuition. Read more about Google AdSense, click here and here.