Technology Investor 

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

Previous Columns
8:30 AM EST Monday, April 17, 2006: On Friday I covered hot media stories -- ethanol is in, housing is out -- and their implications for stocks. I also summarized Fred Hickey's latest High-Tech Strategist newsletter and his recent purchase of put options on a broad range of tech stocks. I also talked about Private Capital Management and its purchases of newspaper and media stocks. Also Coca Cola's launch of Blak. If you missed the column because of the Good Friday holiday, click here.

Oil hit $70 in trading in Asia today. There are three reasons it will go much higher:
1. Rising demand -- especially from fast-growing China and India.
2. The world's major oil fields have peaked.
3. Political turbulence. Ironically, those countries with the biggest oil fields are also those with the largest political instability -- from Saudi to Nigeria. For more on the mess in Nigeria, click here.

Oil will go well over $100. That will have broad implications for us all -- from the energy we use to heat our houses, to the cars we drive, to the investments we make. For more on alternative energy, read Thursday's column, click here.

Europe's rigid labor laws. That's the phrase zillions of articles have recently mentioned. It's called Europe's urgent need to reform. There are European success stories. My favorite disaster is France. How bad is France? The answer is that it's worse than you ever imagined.

In France, it's virtually impossible to fire anyone. When a big, unprofitable department Paris store wanted to close, it had to get the the municipal authorities to declare the building unsafe. Still, the employees received 18 months full salary as severance. But still they weren't happy. A radio station in Paris ran an interview last Christmas with a disgruntled employee annoyed at the fact that she could no longer buy Christmas gifts at a discount in her own department store. She had to pay full retail in other stores.

My friend's secretary took pregnancy leave - five months of full pay. Then she got a one month extension. Then she never showed up, thus, in essence, quitting her job. She asked my friend, the employer, to fire her so she could collect unemployment benefits. My friend said he couldn't, because he is barred, under French law from firing her while she is on pregnancy leave. Until she returns to work, she is still on pregnancy leave. Meantime she accrues vacation pay while on pregnancy leave.

My friend hired a "contract" worker to replace his secretary while she was on pregnancy leave. French law allows you to hire a contract worker to replace the worker on pregnancy leave -- but for very little else. If you hire a contract worker, , you must pay her or him the same salary as the worker being replaced -- despite the fact that the contract worker is clearly not as knowledgeable about the job as the original employee. My friend paid a contract replacement secretary €9,000 a month -- $10,900 a month, i.e. at the rate of $130,745 a year. A lot of money for a green secretary.

The mandated work week in France is 35 hours. That applies to office workers. If your people work longer than that, you must pay them overtime pay which, after a few hours, can stretch to 50%.

There are rules on everything related to employees. And new rules are being issued weekly. The only people benefiting by all this nonsense are the government bureaucrats which issue the rules and the lawyers who interpret them. My friend's secretary, her pregnancy leave and her demand to be fired, has cost my friend "several thousand" dollars in legal fees.

The rules are so burdensome they are a significant bar to opening a new business in France or expanding an old one.

The picture is not bleak all across Europe, nor do the three leading countries have precisely the same problems. Spain, Britain and Ireland have had years of strong growth. The Scandinavian countries have managed to cut back on social welfare spending and yet retain basic protections and guarantees even as they have stepped up growth in the past few years. And Germany has produced better-than-expected growth figures.

In his last two years in office, the former chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, a Social Democrat, was able to push through changes that have made a difference, including a sharp reduction in unemployment benefits.

Germany also has new rules enabling employers to fire workers in the first two years. But France was convulsed by general strikes and huge street demonstrations when its government announced similar rules that would apply to workers under 26 years of age.

Verizon's Broadband Access shines: Our weekend country house lost all its phone lines and DSL early Saturday during thunderstorm. Our phone company, Taconic Telephone couldn't fix it over the weekend. Not one single repairman turned up for work on Sunday -- despite hundreds of their neighbors being without phones. Fortunately, Verizon's cell phones and its wireless broadband access data service continue to work. And work flawlessly. I can not speak more highly of Verizon's Broadband Access data service.

Why am I amused by this? A friend lives near Palm Springs. He takes his small dogs "for a walk" in baby carriage because he wants them not to chase the local jackrabbits (also called lepus californicus).

The hunters.

The prey -- lepus californicus. (I didn't make this name up.)

This amuses me also:

The story of Easter:
Three blondes (natural) died and found themselves standing before St. Peter. He told them that before they could enter the Kingdom, they had to tell him what Easter was.
The first blonde said, "Easter is a holiday where they have a big feast and we give thanks and eat turkey."
St. Peter said, "Noooooo," and he banished her to hell.
The second blonde said, "Easter is when we celebrate Jesus' birth and exchange gifts."
St. Peter said, "Noooooo," and he banished her to hell.
The third blonde said, she knew what Easter is, and St. Peter said, "So, tell me."
She said, "Easter is a Christian holiday that coincides with the Jewish festival of Passover. Jesus was having Passover feast with His disciples when he was betrayed by Judas, and the Romans arrested him. The Romans hung Him on the cross and eventually He died. Then they buried Him in a tomb behind a very large boulder."
St. Peter said, "Verrrrrry good."
Then the blonde continued, "Now every year the Jews roll away the boulder and Jesus comes out. If he sees his shadow, we have six more weeks of basketball."
St. Peter fainted.

Harry Newton

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. Thus I cannot endorse any, though some look mighty 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 Claire's law school tuition. Read more about Google AdSense, click here and here.
Go back.