Technology Investor

Harry Newton's In Search of The Perfect Investment Technology Investor. Harry Newton

Previous Columns
9:00 AM EST, Friday, June 18, 2009. This is excruciating. How bad? There are stories of hedge funds throwing in the towel, having failed to benefit by the big run-up since March 9 and now eyeing a second straight year of losses. For me the good news is that the Australian dollar is rising. But otherwise I feel like the hedge funds -- disappointed I too missed out. I'm convinced that that's it for now. And stock prices will probably sit flat or slide a little for the rest of this year. Good news: Moody's (MCO) is dropping. I'm convinced its days are numbered. Meantime, I'm mulling, waiting the higher yields on muni bonds that I believe are coming.

Chart of the Day: This shows the Dow adjusted for inflation since 1925. There are several points of interest. For one, when adjusted for inflation, the bear market that concluded in the early 1980s was almost as severe as the one that concluded in the early 1930s. Also, the inflation-adjusted Dow is now less than double where it was at its 1929 peak and trades a mere 30% above its 1966 peak -– not that spectacular of a performance considering the time frames involved. It is also interesting to note that the Dow is up 30.7% from its March 9, 2009 low which is actually slightly more than what the inflation-adjusted Dow gained from its 1966 peak to today.

Oil is up, because OPEC cut production and because hedge funds and asset manager have been piling in, according to BusinessWeek.

It's starting again: CapitalOne has offered me a credit card with huge benefits -- so huge, it's impossible to resist. Plenty of airline lines. Zero APR on purchases until March 2010. No fees, including no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees, etc.

Germany installs gold bar vending machines:

Allegedly there's a 30% markup. But the bars are selling like .... gold bars. Germans are obsessed with hyperinflation, justifiably given their history.

Bailout Nation -- Part 1: This is new book has me fascinated.

Ritholtz points out there are three main reasons why the word "bailout" is such a dirty word (and I agree with him):

1. There is something unjust about some people getting a free ride while everyone else has to pay their own way. We Americans will always help someone down on their luck, but this is not what the current crop of bailouts is about. This is the government financially rescuing people despite -- or perhaps because of -- their own enormous recklessness and incompetence.

2. The process of how some groups get rescued by the government, while others are left to flounder, is in and of itself suspect.

3. Then there are the costs. If we have learned anything about bailouts over the past hundred years, it is that each rescue attempt is more costly than the one that preceded it. As of February 2009, the costs have raced past $14 trillion. This is an unprecedented sum of money, greater than another other single government expenditure in the nation's history.

His Excellent book highlights "Things You Probably Did Not Know About Bailouts":

+ This was not a "perfect storm" -unforseeable random events that just happened. In reality, it was a series of conscious decisions made by investment banks, commercial banks, government officials, regulators, and central bankers that were simply awful.

+ The bailout has cost more so far than the Marshall Plan, the Louisiana Purchase, the race to the Moon, the S&L Crisis, the Korean War, The New Deal, the Gulf War II/Invasion of Iraq, Vietnam War, NASA and War World II COMBINED. That includes adjusting these for inflation.

+ The CEOs of the biggest 15 investment banks, mortgage firms and commercial banks "retired" from the firms they helped to ruin -- and took home over $1.5 billion dollars in compensation !

+ Contrary to popular rumor, AIG was not brought down by the collapse of Lehman Brothers. In fact, AIG's exposure to LEH was balanced. Instead, they were like two swimmers both caught in the same riptide. And the same forces that led to Lehman's demise also killed AIG: too much leverage, too much sub-prime mortgage exposure, too little risk management.

+ When the US bailed out Chrysler in 1980, the UAW had 1.5 million members and the Big 3 had a 75% US market share. Since that "successful" (?!?) bailout, the UAW is down to 400,000 members and falling; the big three fell below a 50% US market share for the first time last in May 2008.

+ Much of the damage to bailed out companies was self-inflicted: The excess leverage, mortgage exposure, deregulation and lowering of credit standards. They were not killed by others, they committed suicide!

+ TARP was an elaborate ruse designed to hide the fact that Citigroup was insolvent.

+ Wells Fargo bought Wachovia for $15 billion dollars, but managed to squeeze a $74 billion tax shelter thru the IRS for the purchase. Net profit, $59 billion dollars -- nice for one day's work.

+ Citigroup had been lobbying for the repeal of Glass-Steagall act since the 1980s. They finally got their wish-and it helped destroy the bank!

Ritholtz has a good blog on the economy at

Bailout Nation - Part 2: From today's Wall Street Journal.

Some executives at banks propped up by government aid have retained a coveted perk: personal use of the company jet. Flight records show numerous occasions when banks receiving federal money have flown their planes to destinations near resorts or executives' vacation homes, including spots in Europe, Mexico, the Caribbean, south Florida and Aspen, Colo. In some cases, it's clear that bank executives were traveling for personal reasons; for other flights, many of which were over weekends or holidays, the passengers and purpose couldn't be established.

For more, click on the plane:

When the lights go out: 12 gadgets to keep you working.
Summer is almost here, and with it a chance of power failures. How will you keep your devices working when things go dark? Computerworld has some ideas. Click here.

Jimmy. Does anyone know how to get off the "Jimmy" email list? I get many each day, pushing everything from pills to cellphones. There's no "unsubscribe" button. Anyone have any ideas?

Apple iPhone 3G S goes on sale today: It is a far better phone than any BlackBerry, with two caveats: (1) It doesn't have a keyboard with buttons, and (2) AT&T's phone service sucks. AT&T's data service is much better than Verizon's.

Mercedes cars are a disaster: After my diatribe yesterday against Mercedes, readers avalanched me with their own problems. Samples:

+ I have an 2005 SL500 and had a failure of the dynamic control system and in the roof sensors —the roof would not go down. Now the key fobs do not work and I dread another visit to Fairfield Mercedes-Benz. They do a good job there but it is a pain just to get it there.

+ Harry we switched from Mercedes to Lexus two years ago and the car is great.
Start button 100% reliable and Lexus service makes M-B service seem like a visit to the painful dentist.

Readers said they loved their Lexus.

Movie recommendations:

The funniest

The most predictable

Worth seeing

Fun, worth seeing

Wimbledon Tennis TV Schedule. Wimbledon begins Monday. It's on ESPN, NBC or the Tennis Channel.

Bad dentist story:
Dentist: I'm sorry to tell you. But I have to drill your tooth."

Female patient: "Ooooh. I'd rather have a baby."

Dentist: "Please make up mind. I have to adjust the chair."

The doctor's exam.
Doctor: "Your complaint is due to drinking."

Patient: "In that case, I'll come back when you're sober."

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.