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Harry Newton's In Search of The Perfect Investment Technology Investor. Harry Newton Previous Columns
9:00 AM EST, Tuesday, July 7, 2009. Finally Best Buy is dropping.

This thing has got to drop below $20. Read this piece from The Wall Street Journal's Heard on the Street:

Old shopping habits die hard. At least that is the trend emerging among former Circuit City Stores customers who have left specialty electronics stores behind.

A year ago, Circuit City accounted for roughly 8% of sales at U.S. electronics and appliance stores, according to Census Bureau estimates. But as bankrupt Circuit City has shut stores, little of its business seems to have reappeared in the specialty electronics sector.

The Census Bureau's estimate of electronics and appliance store sales -- which include Best Buy -- fell just 0.9% in February. But they dropped an average of 11.2% over the next three months. Overall retail sales declines actually narrowed slightly over that time.

Best Buy's shopping experience is similar to Circuit City's, with knowledgeable sales staff and a wide selection. But price-conscious consumers are inclined to survey discount stores and online retailers to find deals., for instance, saw sales of electronics and general merchandise rise 38% in the first quarter. Best Buy has increased revenue through store expansion, but traffic has declined even after Circuit City's liquidation.

Investors will get a glimpse of Best Buy's fight for customers in June's Census Bureau data, due July 14. If electronics-store sales don't improve, it may be hard to justify paying 12 times this fiscal year's consensus earnings for Best Buy shares.

Granted, Circuit City's liquidation sales may have soaked up short-term demand for gadgets. That would make way for better times at Best Buy this summer. But with customers already leaking out of the specialty electronics sector, a recession is a tough time to win them back.

More on your prostate. From reader Dan Good:

Another indicator to watch is the rate of change. If your PSA is 4 and it goes to 4.5, it may not be a problem. But if it is 1.5 and goes to 3.0, a 100% change since the last test may be a warning to get a biopsy even though it is under 4.

From reader Lucky Marr, who, sadly, has prostate cancer:

it was nice of you to share my little report...anything to encourage guys to pay some attention to themselves...Had I known my older brother had gone through the same procedure I did, I would have kept closer tabs on myself. Also, if you recall Geoffry Marsh from TCA (Geoffry and I have been good friends for many years) Anyway, he is the one that absolutely demanded (once I was diagnosed) that I immediately go out and buy the "Prostate Cancer for Dummies" book. Best investment I every made. That and the Internet helped me to understand just what my problem was, what to expect and how to deal with it. I will always be grateful to Geoffry for beating me over the head to get that book.

Travel a lot? Try Tripit. It helps you manage your travel. TripIt gives you real-time data, specifically about flight delays and cancellations, and about finding alternate flights when there are problems.

More car rental tips. From reader Ron Acher:

ALWAYS advance book the cheapest, smallest, economy car you can find at any destination. (These are the teaser prices you find on Orbitz to get you to book with them.)

They never have it, so they will rent you whatever larger car they have, but they can't charge you more than the rate for the car you booked.

ALWAYS waive all optional insurances. It's worth your trouble ten times over to be sure you have equivalent coverage from other sources before you
arrive (and at the cheap places, bring proof).

And it is quite correct that city rentals are much cheaper than airport. I paid 35% less doing this just last month in San Francisco.

From Pam Long in Texas

When renting a vehicle in the Dallas, Texas make sure there is a toll tag sticker on the windshield of your rent car. The Dallas Tollway is all automated now. No one to take your coins. If the rent car has no sticker, then the rental agency gets the bill. They upcharge it, then bill you for having been inconvenienced. Could end up costing you many times the cost of a toll tag. i.e., $100's. Better yet, stay OFF the Tollway at all costs.

Little digital cameras are cheap. Take photos of the vehicle before leaving the lot and again when you return it.
Make sure features of the agency's parking lot are in the pics. Call the agency's after hours number and let them know you have left the car in their lot. And that you have taken photos of the car before you left. Heaven forbid I ever need to turn in a rental car after hours. So far, I have never needed to.

I reserved the dinkiest car on the lot to drive 12 miles. When I arrived all they had left was a Ford F250 truck. Yehaw! Got it for the same price as the dinky car. YES!!!!!

Another measure of the M&A madness. The 133 leading German listed companies have ( thanks to the M&A madness of the past few years ) accumulated $265 Billion in goodwill. This equals 44 percent of their capital. In the worst case scenario this would half the equity ratio from 40 to just over 20 percent.

How I Spent My Summer: Hacking Into iPhones With Friends. Neat piece on how kids hack into Apple's iPhone in today's Wall Street Journal. They're not the only ones. Many of my friends carry hacked iPhones. To my tiny brain, it's a huge plus for Apple to have so many intelligent people devote so much time

Are you old enough to remember him? Today's headline, "Robert S. McNamara, Architect of a Futile War, Dies at 93."

Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara at a news conference at the Pentagon in 1965.

From today's New York Times:

Mr. McNamara was the most influential defense secretary of the 20th century. Serving Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson from 1961 to 1968, he oversaw hundreds of military missions, thousands of nuclear weapons and billions of dollars in military spending and foreign arms sales.

Half a million American soldiers went to war on his watch. More than 16,000 died; 42,000 more would fall in the seven years to come.

In 1995, he took a stand against his own conduct of the war, confessing in a memoir that it was “wrong, terribly wrong.”

Someone, one day, will write that Iraq and Afghanistan was wrong, terribly wrong. I wonder who? George Bush?

I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of this story:
I'm surprised Mr. Mohsin agreed to be interviewed. I'm depressed that my tax dollars are so flagrantly being pissed away.

Araz M. Mohsin, a struggling baker before the war, has become rich by working with Americans in Iraq on construction projects.

July 5, 2009
Iraqi Seizes the Chance to Make War Profitable by Marc Santora of the New York Times.

BAGHDAD — For most Iraqis, life after the American invasion has been a tale of loss: loss of loved ones, loss of property, loss of dignity, loss of security.

But not for Araz M. Mohsin.

A baker scraping by when American tanks rolled into Baghdad, Mr. Mohsin recently spent $50,000 to throw a one-night bacchanal at the exclusive Hunting Club here. When guests visit his second home, in Baghdad, he proudly shows off the two peacocks he imported from Dubai, to join a menagerie of exotic birds that he sometimes gives away to friends.

“I have four cars,” he said proudly. “The Land Cruiser cost $80,000.”

The car is parked on a street still littered with debris and lined with blast walls from the sectarian war that was fiercely fought in his neighborhood, Mansour. Fingering his gold watch — the one he is wearing costs $2,000; he reserves a $20,000 timepiece “for big parties” — Mr. Mohsin said that only in America, or an American occupation, was his story possible.

Every war has its spoils, and while much has been written about the multinational corporations whose profits soared as the battle raged, there are also hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people like Mr. Mohsin.

There is no suggestion that he did anything illegal, but in his description of the rise of his business, the Future Company, it is possible to see writ small how such vast sums of money from American taxpayers and the treasuries of other countries could have been poured into Iraq with so little to show for it.

Even an American contract for something as simple as hauling gravel has brought Mr. Moshin tens of thousands of dollars.

The basic infrastructure of the country is still a shambles, and with security remaining relatively stable, Iraq’s political leaders have turned their rhetoric to the evils of corruption.

In May, the trade minister was ousted and later arrested on charges that he used his position to enrich himself. At least a half-dozen ministers may find themselves being called before Parliament to answer questions about their own conduct. Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has said there is a list of more than 1,000 public officials who could face corruption charges.

But other officials point to Mr. Maliki’s inner circle as part of the problem.

A recent survey by Baghdad University of 500 people found that 452 of them believed that the office of passports and identity cards, run by the Interior Ministry, was thoroughly corrupted.

In this environment, Mr. Mohsin makes no apology for making the most of the situation, offering a variation on the 19th-century New York political boss George Washington Plunkitt’s observation: “I seen my opportunities and I took ’em.”

Mr. Mohsin spent the first three years of the war in hiding in the Kurdistan region, but by 2006, he decided to take a risk and work with the United States Army as an interpreter.

“Everyone I saw who worked with Americans, they made good money,” he said.

Once on the job, he wore a mask and, on one occasion, was beaten for his association with Americans.

Although Mr. Mohsin is Kurdish, he grew up in Baghdad and knew people on both the Shiite and Sunni sides of the sectarian fault line.

Eventually, he was stationed at an American base outside Baghdad and began to help the Americans track down extremists, he said. “My guys would come in and they would tell me who was bad and who was not,” he said. “They knew everyone.”

Mr. Mohsin still proudly keeps the documents that prove that he worked for the Americans, but it is impossible to verify the payments he claims to have received.

When his information proved accurate — or at least actionable —the trust of the Americans grew, he said.

After nearly two years working as an interpreter, he saw his chance to capitalize on his connections. Mr. Mohsin was acquainted with some men from Ramadi, then a hotbed of the insurgency, who knew how to navigate among the extremists. Those men, who could operate in an area that no Western contractor would tread, would become his business partners.

After ending his work as an interpreter, he went back to the Americans, knowing they were offering work, and he secured an $80,000 contract to supply gravel to the American base, Al Asad.

“We made $40,000 profit,” he said. His cut was $15,000.

Seeing how lucrative the contracts with the Americans could be, he formed his own company, bringing in friends from Ramadi.

Over Pepsi and chocolate cake at his house in Mansour, the décor of which could be charitably described as frat-house chic, several of his partners sat and listened. The men did not speak English and made it clear that even if they did, they would not be talking much. Only Mr. Mohsin allowed his name to be used.

After working on the construction of a school — a $75,000 contract paid by the Americans, of which he claims $20,000 was profit — he decided to push the envelope.

“I love adventure,” he said, smiling as he fed one of his parrots.

The Americans wanted someone to build a police station in Abu Ghraib, another no-go zone for Western contractors. They were willing to pay $700,000 for the construction of the station, which they named Victory and Peace.

“We made a deal with the local leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq,” Mr. Mohsin said. “They agreed not to destroy the station, and we promised to cut them in on the profit.”

When the project was completed, however, he gave the Qaeda leader’s name to the Americans, and the man was arrested, Mr. Mohsin said, adding that he kept the entire $350,000 profit.

He does not know what became of the Qaeda leader, but Mr. Mohsin portrays the episode as a good deal — for Iraq and for himself. While he boasted of not being afraid to walk the streets of Baghdad, his entourage, including his burly business partners, is almost always at his side.

The money from the Americans only got better. A contract to remove “trash” from a base outside Falluja netted him $1 million, he said. It turned out what the Americans considered trash — generators, cables, air-conditioners, furniture — was actually perfectly usable and could be resold.

“The Americans gave us a contract to deliver stone to a town near the Syrian border,” he said. The contract was worth $1.5 million, and Mr. Mohsin said $1 million of that was pure profit.

But as the Americans prepare to leave, he is unsure of the fate of the Future Company. He said he was likely to leave Baghdad and return to his opulent home in Kurdistan.

Working with the Iraqi government was proving difficult.

He did one job for the government and has yet to be paid. “They are very corrupt,” Mr. Mohsin said.

Should you avoid Airbus? The answer is generally NO. For a sober assessment of the airbus and air travel, read this.

The takeaways from this reasoned article are:

+ Don’t fly third world airlines. The Europeans have blacklisted 194 airlines. Here's the list.

+ Don’t fly Aeroflot.

+ Don’t fly into little places at night. They don't have proper lighting, proper radar and alternate runways.

Two awful puns.
+ An airplane pilot got engaged to two very pretty women at the same time. One was named Edith; the other named Kate. They met, discovered they had the same fiancee, and told him. "Get out of our lives you rascal. We'll teach you that you can't have your Kate and Edith, too."

+ Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, so they lit a fire in the craft. Unsurprisingly it sank, proving once again that you can't have your kayak and heat it too.

The Mother-in-law
The day after his mother-in-law disappeared in a kayaking accident, a Canadian man answered his door to find two grim-faced Mounties. "We're sorry sir, But we have some information about your mother-in-law," said one Mountie.

"Tell me! Did you find her?" the anguished man sobbed.

The Mounties looked at each other. One said, "We have some bad news, some good news, and some really great news. Which do you want to hear first?"

Fearing the worst, the ashen husband said, "Give me the bad news first."

The Mountie said, "I'm sorry to tell you, Sir, but this morning we found your mother-in-law's body in the bay."

"Oh my God!" exclaimed the husband. Swallowing hard, he asked, "What's the good news?"

The Mountie continued, "When we pulled her up, she had twelve 25-pound snow crabs and six good-size lobsters clinging to her."

Stunned, the husband demanded, "If that's the good news, what's the great news?"

The Mountie said, "We're gonna pull her up again tomorrow!"

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.