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

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9:00 AM EST, Tuesday, February 10, 2009. The most efficient way to waste your time is to read (and listen to) all the words about the mess our economy' is in and our government's "stimulus" program to fix the mess. Suffice:

1. We're a talented bunch. In our own ways each of us is repairing the damage, putting things on a solid footing and moving ahead. It's working.

2. The repairs are painful -- big layoffs, factory shutterings, bank closures -- but they're part of the solution. They're not the problem. We overextended (part of the human condition). We built too much capacity. Now we need to cut back. We'll cut too much back. Which means there'll be opportunities for cash. Cash remains King.

3. Government will not solve this. It will make things worse. It will seriously distort the economy. James Tisch, Loews Corp.’s CEO, says Congress is “killing” the hotel business. Washington created much of today's mess -- from encouraging lending to deadbeats to own houses to dropping interest rates to ridiculously low rates, from lightening up on financial regulation to "bailing" out preferred banks but letting non-preferred ones die. There is a serious role for government. It would be nice if I could trust peanut butter.

4. Crises bring out snake oil. Obama says "failing to act could lead to a catastrophe." He warns of a "lost decade." Meantime, he burdens our national debt to where economists warn of serious dangers to the U.S. dollar (especially as the Chinese pull away from owning Treasurys). Some now refer to the U.S. as a banana republic with nukes."

5. Washington is now the epicenter of the economic universe. Politicians need money to be re-elected. Money is raised from the interests and individuals for whom politicians can do favor of many kinds. From Playboy (of all places), "Bailout supporters scrambled to change the legislation in ways that would win support from a majority of representatives. In a matter of days new provisions were added: an extension of an excise-tax rebate on Virgin Islands and Puerto Rican rum (cost to Treasury $192 million); an extension of a special tax break for owners of stockcar racing tracks (cost $100 million); a tax break for making movies within the borders of the United States (cost over 10 years -- $478 million). The stimulus package is loaded with pork. Surprise. Surprise.

Everyone is looking for the next boom. There will be one. Trust me. Boom follows bust. Previous booms included technology, housing, raw land out west, commodities, REITs, bird flu epidemic curers, magazines, the Internet, China, India, Brazil, and radio (in the 1920s). The key is to ride it and get out before it busts.

Obama is spending big-time to weatherize homes and offices.

Time Magazine likes stem cells. Feb. 9's cover says "How the coming revolution in stem cells could save your life."

The New York Times writes,

Consider Thomas Ruskin. A retired New York City detective, he is the president of CMP Protective and Investigative Group, and his business is booming. For personal security, he says, revenue is up three times from what it was six months ago. Clients are demanding more protection — whether or not they actually need it — and paying upward of $100,000 a month for his services.

Divorce investigations have also increased. “In the last 90 days, we’ve seen a tidal wave,” he said. Mr. Ruskin added that the feeling that good times were over had made spouses less tolerant: “It’s mostly for infidelity that has been going on for years and that spouses were willing to accept in better times.”

One wacky idea: legalize marijuana -- marijuana as an economic stimulus:

All the discussion about the economic effect of Marijuana legalization seems centered around the tax benefits and savings in police, legal, and incarceration expenses. That argument alone was enough to convince Milton Friedman and 500 other economists -- including two other Nobel Laureates -- to endorse the Miron report favoring legalization.

It's a powerful argument, and I'll be referring to it. But in today's economic climate, there's an even more powerful economic argument that, so far, nobody's making. Marijuana legalization, over and above the revenue benefits, would provide a strong economic stimulus without the necessity for a New Deal type program. ...

If we take my proposed $10 per ounce tax for both federal and local, this would raise $2.2 billion a year for the national treasury and the same for the state treasuries, without including sales or income taxes, tariffs, license fees, etc. Not enough to balance the budget, but still 'real money.'

For more on that idea Marijuana as an economic stimulus.

And, of couse, a new neighborhood bank. An idea I've written about. Still makes sense. See last week's columns.

"Why your bank is broke." Time Magazine has written a brilliant, simple piece on "Sketchy loans, financial blunders and a string of bad bets have left America's banks nearly insolvent. How an industry collapsed -- and why nationalization may be the only way to save it." I'm hearing the word nationalization more and more. If it happens the publicly-traded shares of the big banks -- Bank of America, Citi, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo -- will be valueless. Here's the beginning of Time's piece on banking:

Even without doing the math, you probably get that the government's financial-rescue effort is failing. The signs are hard to miss. Your friend in finance got pink-slipped. A house sale down the street fell through because the buyer couldn't get a mortgage. A local bank is closing a nearby branch or maybe shutting down altogether.

But do the math, and you can begin to understand how really botched this bailout has been. Since October, the government has deposited $165 billion into the accounts of the nation's eight largest banks. Yet those same financial firms are now worth $418 billion less than they were four months ago, and the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the government's preferred shares are worth at least $20 billion less. In Wall Street terms, that's throwing good money after bad. All told, the government's annualized rate of return on its investment in the nation's largest banks is -1,096%. That's well beyond Bernie Madoff territory; he topped out at a mere -100%. (See pictures of the demise of Bernie Madoff.)

So how could $438 billion — $418 billion of their money and $20 billion of ours — go poof, just like that? Here's the easiest explanation: our banking system has sprung a leak.

Financial firms are built on capital. They take in a dollar, borrow against it and then lend out $3, $4 or $9. Or $30. In the past few years, executives have been using thinner and thinner capital — acquisitions and questionable off-balance-sheet arrangements — to build their money pails. In good times, the more of those cheap sources of capital you use, the more profitable your bank will be.

For the past few decades, banks have been piling up risk, making more and more loans based on less and less capital. Years of economic growth, shallow recessions and record-low default rates lulled bankers into thinking that the future would resemble the immediate past, at least as far as risk went. Turns out it didn't. All it was going to take was a worse-than-average recession — and it looks as though we've got one — and many banks, including a number of the biggest ones, were bound to fail. The shockingly poor lending standards — housekeepers being approved for million-dollar mortgages — have only hastened their demise. "This crisis needs to be understood as something that has developed over the past decade," says Joseph Mason, a finance professor at Louisiana State University's E.J. Ourso College of Business. "This isn't just one black swan. It's a bunch of black swans that have hung out for a while and created a giant problem." (Read George W. Bush's top 10 economic mistakes.)

There's little hope that the type of shares the government is buying in banks as part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) will plug the hole in the banking system's bucket. Paul Miller, an analyst at FBR Capital Markets who has written a number of reports on the capital issues of banks, says the only way to solve the problem is for the government to stop buying preferred shares and start taking direct ownership stakes. Of course, the issue with that approach is that the problem at the banks is so large, Uncle Sam may end up owning a good portion of the banking sector. Few seem to want nationalization. Unfortunately, that could be the only way out.

To read the entire Time magazine article, Why Your Bank is Broke.

Which costs to cut: For years my friends made a handsome living cutting phone costs and securing refunds from telephone companies. These days that business has expanded into cutting the Top 12 Corporation Cost Categories:

+ Shipping & Freight
+ Courier
+ Utilities
+ Payroll Processing
+ Packaging
+ Merchant Card Fees
+ Office Supplies
+ Janitorial
+ Insurance
+ Telecommunications
+ Travel
+ Waste

The New Tight Economy.
+ The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for 30 years she served us nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found. -Calvin Trillin

+ My husband wanted one of those big-screen TV's for his birthday. So I just moved his chair closer to the one we have already. -Wendy Liebman

+ I hate housework! You make the beds, you do the dishes and six months later you have to start all over again. -Joan Rivers

+ My doctor is wonderful. When I couldn't afford an operation, he touched up the x-rays. -Joey Bishop

Superior Irish Logic
Mick and Paddy were walking home from the pub. Mick says to Paddy, 'I can't be bothered to walk all that way.'

'I know,' says Paddy, 'but we've no money for a cab and we've missed the last bus home.'

'We could steal a bus from the depot,' Mick suggests.

They arrive at the bus depot and Mick tells Paddy to go in and get a bus while he keeps a look-out.

After shuffling around for ages, Mick shouts, 'Paddy, what are you doing? Have you not found one yet?'

Paddy shouts back, 'I cant find a No. 91'

'Oh Jeysus Christ, ye tick sod, take the No. 14 and we'll walk from the roundabout!'

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.