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Stay with sectors that benefit. Stay away from stocks that are no. Another voice from the pandemic.

Central to my investment philosophy are two ideas:

+ Stay with stocks that are benefiting from today’s crazy world.

+ Stay away from stocks that are not benefiting.

Since we’re working from home, stocks we use daily — Zoom, Amazon, Apple and DocuSign — are clearly to be preferred.

Since we’re working from home, stocks we don’t use daily — all the gas stocks — are to be shunned.

But are they also to be shorted? Here’s Exxon Mobil over the past two years. Pretty awful:

Dumb me. I didn’t short it, though I knew XOM was toxic.

I can’t wrap my head about going long (good trends) and going short (bad trends) at the same time.

But I really should try. So far I’ve just stayed away from toxic.

My favorite “toxic” stocks today are the banks — not because of the “trends” but because of my horrible experiences with them.

Take Citigroup, please.

This is a chart of Citigroup over the past 2 years

For eons I’ve been a MasterCard Citi customer, accumulating miles on American Airlines and never once stiffing Citi on a monthly payment or paying late.

One day Citi decided (without my buy-in) that it wanted to send me a  card with new “Touch to Pay” technology. Fine, I said. Until they told me they’d have to change my credit card’s number. I said “No Thanks.” I had linked the card to many AutoPay accounts. And telling them all  was too much for my tiny brain.

OK. We went along for a year or so. Then this week, Citi simply closed my old credit card, bouncing my auto-pay payments to Verizon, DirecTV, etc. Charming.

After an hour on the phone with Citi, I learned (a) I couldn’t have my old number back, and (b) I’d have to contact all my AutoPay vendors myself and tell them of my new credit card number which they are sending me via FedEx. They can’t give me the number over the phone. Why? Who knows.

So as payment for my inconvenience, I asked Citi for some free miles (also called “Harry jerking Citi’s chain”). They said they’d think about it and would I call them back in a week or two? Or, preferably, never.

What a horrible, arrogant, unthinking, customer-insensitive company Citi is. I would never put a 25 year+ customer through this nonsense — and all for Tap To Pay, which my iPhone does just fine. And I don’t want from Citi.

I updated the above chart of Citigroup by comparing it to the four other large banks — Bank of America, JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo (you can see WFC way down at the bottom).

The New York Times today has a piece on the latest bank earnings which benefited by “trading.” Click here.

I wish they’d devote some energy to customers like me, to making our lives easier. But they won’t. Which is increasingly why more and more of my “banking” is now being done by Fidelity: Checks. Wires. Investments. Stocks. Increasingly, the whole banking shooting match.

Try this: On two recent occasions I asked Fidelity to bring into Fidelity $1 million from my checking account at JPMorgan Chase. They money came in to Fidelity while I was on the phone with Fidelity. I was blown away by the speed.

P.S. This morning I found out that Citi fedexed my replacement credit card to the wrong address. Whoopee!

Another Voice from the Pandemic, courtesy the Washington Post

This is my third reprint from them. I print these Washington Post stories because there are still too many of us who believe our President’s magical nonsense  about covid being just like the flu.

It’s not. It’s really dangerous. If you get it, you might recover or you might die. The odds are you won’t die. But the odds are great that you’ll be affected miserably for weeks, months, years or maybe forever.

The sad stories of people who got it are strong motivation.

You don’t want covid.

As told to Eric Saslow

She’s dead, and I’m quarantined. That’s how the story ends. I keep going back over it in loops, trying to find a way to sweeten it, but nothing changes the facts. I wasn’t there with her at the end. I didn’t get to say goodbye. I don’t even know where her body is right now, or if the only thing that’s left is her ashes.

From normal life to this hell in a week. That’s how long it took. How am I supposed to make any sense of that? It’s loops and more loops.

She transported cars for a rental company. That’s where all this must have come from. People fly in from somewhere for a meeting and fly out a few hours later. You’ve got germs from all over the world inside those cars. I didn’t like the fact that she was working so hard, 69 years old and still climbing in and out of Ford Fusions all day, driving from Indianapolis to St. Louis and back with bad knees, bad hips, diabetes, and all the rest of it. Sometimes, she hurt so much after work I had to help her out of the car. I guess I should have told her to quit, but nobody told Birdie anything. She liked to drive, and we needed the money.

I think she’d been feeling bad for a few days, but I don’t remember much about what happened early on. She wasn’t a complainer, and I’m not always the best at noticing. There was a cough somewhere in there. Probably a touch of a fever. But this was a few weeks back, when those things didn’t mean so much. I thought she had a cold, or maybe bronchitis. She would get that sometimes, lose her voice and be fine a few days later, no big deal. But then she woke me up at about 4 in the morning and kept pointing to her throat. She said she couldn’t sleep. Said her eyes hurt. Said it felt like somebody was pounding on top of her head. Birdie’s usually one of those who wants to rub some dirt on it and keep moving, so when she told me to take her to the emergency room, I knew it was serious. I knew she was sick.

First it was a fever of 103. Then the doctors decided it was pneumonia and went ahead and admitted her. Then it was pneumonia in both of her lungs. If anybody was thinking it was the coronavirus, I didn’t hear it — at least not at first. Nobody in Indiana had it yet. Even if it was killing people in Washington state and starting to infect people in New York, it was basically happening on TV.

The best precautions weren’t taken in the early stages. A few nurses wore gloves or masks when they came to see Birdie, but that seemed normal for treating pneumonia. I didn’t wear anything, and nobody really asked me to. I was lying next to her in the bed or sitting in a chair and holding her hand. She didn’t have much other family, and if I got up to go out into the hallway for a few minutes, I’d kiss her goodbye.

Would it have gone any different if they knew what it was? Maybe. Or maybe they would have quarantined her right then, and I would have lost a few more days with her.

See, I could analyze this to death. I’ll be doing this for the rest of my life.

Tony Sizemore, whose partner was the first person known to have died of covid-19 in Indiana. (Photos by Chris Bergin for The Washington Post)

It was hard for me to sit there. I’m almost ashamed to say that, but it’s true. She was in the bed, and I was usually a few feet away in the recliner. It was two or three days in that room, but each one felt like a year. I’m not a natural caretaker, and never claimed to be, but it seemed like no matter what I tried, I couldn’t help her. It was just watch, wait, touch her forehead, apologize. I couldn’t do anything. Nobody could.

She was taking so much oxygen, but it was never enough. She had two little tubes put in her nose, and she couldn’t get enough air. They put a big mask on her face to get her oxygen back up, and that made her claustrophobic and panicky. She got real freaked out. I tried to count breaths with her. I kept saying: “Easy. Easy. In, out. In, out.” I couldn’t distract her because she was so deep in her head with panic. It labored her to talk. It labored her to breathe. I said, “Don’t talk then, honey. Save your energy.” There was a TV in there, but neither of us could focus on it. I sat in the quiet with her, for whatever comfort that might have brought her. I don’t know. I listened to her breathing. I watched her. When she was asleep she was taking these real quick, short breaths, like she was gulping air more than breathing it. When she was awake, she was kind of mumbling to herself. Maybe it was the medication they were giving her. I hope to God it was the medication. She was talking about how her eyes hurt, her insides hurt. She would clutch her fists and hit the bed and stuff, and you don’t really know how to help somebody in that frame. I mean, when she’s just clutching her fists and moaning and — I don’t know. I don’t know what I could have done. I sat there for as long as I could and then I got up every few hours to pace the hallway, or I’d drive eight minutes home to feed the dogs. I was starting to go a little crazy myself. I couldn’t keep sitting there, feeling helpless, listening to her breathe.

It was an awful time. I should be thankful she’s not suffering anymore, but she did suffer some.

It got worse. Her breaths got raspy. Shorter. They put her on life support. They rolled her across the hall one afternoon and tested her for the virus. At some point in there, I went home after midnight to check on the dogs, and when I came back early the next morning there was a sign that said “No Visitors” taped to the door of the hallway that led to her room. The whole thing became confusing to me. They said I couldn’t go in. They said nobody could. I sat in the waiting room for hours. I peeked through the window down the hallway once and saw them moving her to a different room. It looked like she was sleeping with the tube down her throat. The doctor said she was heavily sedated to stay comfortable. I’d like to believe that, but I don’t know if she was comfortable or not.

When they said the test was positive, that’s when I started thinking this virus was a death sentence for her. She had every underlying condition it attacks. Damaged lungs. High blood pressure. Her body wasn’t strong enough. She was lying there waiting to die.

The doctors told me to go home, but I didn’t. Most of the time I sat by the elevators in the waiting room. Nobody else was in there. Sometimes one of Birdie’s friends would come sit with me. The doctors kept saying, “No change.” “No change.” It had been five days now since she’d woken me up pointing at her throat. They sent a chaplain to talk to me. Their voices kind of kept getting softer and softer. Everyone knew what was coming. I was up most nights and sleeping some in the day. My body wore down. I started coughing, and they told me I didn’t have a choice. They said I needed to go home and quarantine.

I walked circles in the house. I’m 62, fairly healthy but not indestructible, and now I’m worrying about Birdie but also about my own mortality. Pretty soon the hospital started calling me to ask about unplugging her. They said her kidneys were shutting down. That it was my decision. I told them: “How can I turn her off without looking at her? I can’t take your word on this. She might be doing jumping jacks for all I know. I need to see her.” That’s when they started talking about setting up a video call, so they could take her off some of the meds and I could say some kind of goodbye.

The doctor called the next morning. Birdie died at 10:20. So I didn’t have to unplug her, and I didn’t get to see her.

They held a press conference since she was the first to die in Indiana. They said we got to say goodbye over video. I guess it’s a nicer story. I don’t really blame them. I’d like to find a way to sugarcoat this thing, too, but I can’t. Anything good I could say about this would be a lie.

They told me to isolate and stay home for 14 days from the last time I saw her. I’m kind of losing track of how many it’s been. I have some depression issues, and it would be real easy for me to go to bed and pull the covers up over my head. I could bury myself in this thing and let my mind keep running loops. I’m staring at her clothes in the closet. Her curling iron is on the bathroom sink. Her car’s out front that we owe money on. I have no idea what I’m going to do. I don’t know what bills are paid up and what aren’t. She handled most of that. She looked after me in some ways like she cared for everybody, whether she knew you or not. That was always her nature. Anyway. Yesterday afternoon, they cut the power off, but I figured out how to get it back on.

I haven’t eaten much, and it’s probably making me weak. I’m bone tired and coughing like crazy. They called me back to the hospital for a chest X-ray, but the doctors said I looked good. No fever. No trouble breathing. They decided not to even give me a test. They have 12 nurses quarantined over there now and a whole floor of people with the virus, but I got lucky. They told me I’ll be fine.

You can find more Voices from the Pandemic here.

My favorite picture from Charrons’ parking lot, Chatham, NY, yesterday

You can buy this photo of the president at a Trump Rally. It sticks on your window. It gets the owner (pictured) a lot of attention. He got out of his car and proudly stood by the photo while I photographed. Neat.

Ladies and gentlemen, Chris Rock

Here’s what the image looks like. If you see a link below, click on it. You’ll see the funny Chris Rock introduction to Saturday Night Live last weekend.

More photos from yesterday in the Columbia County, NY woods

We’re getting close to the end of this incredible Fall. Come up. This may be the last weekend for leaf peeping in Columbia County, NY. I suspect that Fall in Asheville, NC might still be going strong. This is their PR:

Asheville is home to some incredible scenic fall drives. Chief among those (and the top favorite with our Facebook fans) is the Blue Ridge Parkway, which winds around some of the highest peaks in the eastern U.S. Roll the windows down and enjoy the crisp breeze and prepare to be dazzled by the pop of color around every turn.  Dozens of overlooks along the way provide the perfect photo opps.

Final comment on the pandemic

I have a contest with my tennis partner to be the first down to 182. I’m 186. I used to be 180. Today we played our 215th game of tennis this quarantine. It’s fun running around the court. But it generates an appetite …. you know the rest of the story. See you tomorrow — Harry Newton