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

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8:30 AM EST Tuesday, February 5, 2008: We have an expression in Australia that applies to today's stockmarket: It moves up and down faster than a whore's drawers. There is "logic" you can bring and you'll be right, like the disaster that is the newspaper business:

There are also the disaster that are Apple and Garmin, which I thought, because of my love for their products, would stay buoyant.

The lessons today seem to be: Try your logic. If it starts to go wrong (i.e. moves against your position) cut your stop loss to under 10% -- perhaps 8%. Take your lumps and get out. Of course, my preferred position in today's markets is to stay out. (But no one would read this column if I kept arguing -- stay out; stay in cash.). Look at this chart of the Dow:

Where now? This is not a market for amateurs. Too much is contrary: Oil should be going down because the economy is not doing well. Yet it's going up. Gold should be going up because the economy is not doing well. But it's coming down. U.S. interest rates are low; European rates are high. Money should be flowing to Europe, making the dollar weaker. But the dollar is stronger.

Better to go play golf, or better, tennis.

The subprime contagion strikes and strikes: Three things have bothered me about the subprime contagion:

1. Its cockroach nature. It keeps on appearing. We have no idea where it will end. Or how big its toll will finally be.

2. It has made bankers run for the hills. Without bankers lending, huge parts of the economy shut down. Factories don't get built. People get fired.

3. It creates victims you wouldn't expect in your wildest dreams. What did a pharmaceutical company buy subprime loans? Try this:
Bristol-Myers Squibb, a pharmaceutical company, has revealed a $275 million fourth quarter write-down in relation to its subprime-backed investments. But it could be higher: Read what the company said:

As of December 31, 2007, the company had approximately $2.2 billion of cash, cash equivalents and short-term marketable securities. In addition, the company had $811 million of principal invested in ARS. The ARS held by the company are private placement securities with long-term nominal maturities for which the interest rates are reset through a dutch auction each month. The monthly auctions historically have provided a liquid market for these securities. The company's investments in ARS represent interests in collateralized debt obligations supported by pools of residential and commercial mortgages or credit cards, insurance securitizations and other structured credits, including corporate bonds. Some of the underlying collateral for the ARS held by the company consists of sub-prime mortgages.

Consistent with the company's investment policy guidelines, the ARS investments held by the company all had AAA/Aaa credit ratings at the time of purchase. With the liquidity issues experienced in global credit and capital markets, the ARS held by the company at December 31, 2007 have experienced multiple failed auctions as the amount of securities submitted for sale has exceeded the amount of purchase orders. In addition, in the fourth quarter of 2007, $79 million of principal invested in ARS held by the company were downgraded and others were placed on credit watch. All of these securities retain at least one AAA rating.

The estimated market value of the company's ARS holdings at December 31, 2007 was $419 million, which reflects a $392 million adjustment to the principal value of $811 million. Although the ARS continue to pay interest according to their stated terms, based on third-party valuation models and an analysis of other-than-temporary impairment factors, the company has recorded an impairment charge of $275 million in the fourth quarter, reflecting the portion of ARS holdings that the company has concluded have an other-than- temporary decline in value. In addition, the company recorded an unrealized pre-tax loss of $142 million in other comprehensive income as a reduction in shareholders' equity, reflecting $117 million of adjustments to ARS holdings and $25 million of other marketable securities that the company has concluded have a temporary decline in value. The $275 million impairment charge does not have a material impact on the company's liquidity or financial flexibility.

A true IRS story: Several years ago, the IRS sent everybody I deal with a note saying I was now subject to withholding. The bank and others had to take a cut from my interest and send it to the IRS. Doing the extra calculations were a pain, and some people charged me extra for the extra work. Brendan, my accountant, and I spent fruitless hours trying to figure why we had offended the IRS. The only clue was they felt my wife had not filed her 2004 return. Yet we file joint returns. And they had my return. The good news is that this week I received a note from the IRS saying I was no longer subject to withholding and sorry for the trouble. Yes, the IRS actually apologized. Things I learned:

1. Keep sending copies of your return, even if they already have five copies. The IRS's desk must be worse than mine.

2. Take some copies by mail; some by hand.

3. Send them whatever they want and more.

4. Keep sending ultra-sweet letters, begging them to solve the problem.

5. Patience is ultra-useful. Working with the IRS is working on their time frame, not yours.

This probably doesn't work for everyone. But it worked for me. Thank you Brendan.

Today is Super Tuesday. Time to vote: To me, the most important issue is Iraq. I want out asap.

+ John McCain's web site says "A greater military commitment now is necessary if we are to achieve long-term success in Iraq."

+ Barack Obama's web site says, "Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. He will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months."

+ Hillary Clinton's web site says, "Her three-step plan would bring our troops home, work to bring stability to the region, and replace military force with a new diplomatic initiative to engage countries around the world in securing Iraq's future."

Of the three, Obama seems closest to my position, namely getting the troops as out asap, on at least a timetable. I really wish that a candidate for president could have us out in six months.

Last night my friend Sam Pratt sent me an email, "Why I can't vote for Hillary on Tuesday." I was involved in the fight against St. Lawrence Cement, which Sam led. Sam is telling the truth. Sam's words.

When it comes to Hillary Clinton, there is no shortage of unfair and unprincipled reasons for disliking her -- and if you listen to AM talk radio for an hour, you'll probably hear them all.

I reject the sexism of those who still think a former First Lady has no place in policy debates, just as I reject the absurd theories of those who think she had a hand in the death of her close friend Vince Foster.

Having volunteered on Clinton's first senate campaign, I get mad when I hear Rush Limbaugh savage her as a liar and an opportunist. I'm also grateful to her for keeping Rudy Guiliani and Rick Lazio out of the Senate.

But you don't have to be a sexist or a conspiracy theorist to oppose Clinton's candidacy. I don't dislike Hillary; I distrust her. And my reasons are both substantive, and based on direct personal experience.

When a major issue hit the area where I live, New York's Hudson Valley, Clinton was less than honest with her constituents, and all too eager to take credit where none was due.

For nearly 7 years, our communities were riven with controversy about a vast, coal-burning facility proposed by St. Lawrence Cement here in the mid-Hudson Valley.

The company, a subsidiary of what was then the largest cement manufacturer in the world, had a horrendous track record of both environmental destruction and anti-competitive behavior, with millions of dollars of fines on the books.

The project would have burned some 500 million pounds of coal annually, with a 40-story smokestack, a 1,200-acre mine, and a huge barge facility on the Hudson, an American Heritage River. The controversy was covered everywhere from CNN to Swiss television, and every major Northeast newspapers (The New York Times, Hartford Courant, Boston Globe, et al.) opposed it editorially. The nearly seven-year battle was the subject of a PBS documentary, Two Square Miles.

Given the harsh health, scenic, noise, traffic, economic and other negative potential impacts of the project -- opponents naturally wanted to get the ear of Mrs. Clinton, and we tried everything.

She was approached at campaign whistlestops, at private dinners, and public fundraisers. Printed factsheets were pressed into staffers' hands, and handwritten letters beseeched our new Senator to help end this dangerous idea. But she refused to take any public stand.

Finally, as the leader of the grassroots opposition, I tried the old- fashioned political route. A friend identified a celebrity donor in nearby Dutchess County who was opposed to St. Lawrence's plans, and he called in a big favor. On February 12th 2003, we drove to the Capitol in his limo, and we met with Hillary first in a chamber outside the Armed Services Committee, then took a long walk and tram ride under the Capitol to her offices. Hillary was both charming, and surprisingly well-informed on our issue.

At last, here was my big chance to make a full case for her involvement.

But when I launched into a carefully-prepared spiel, the Senator stopped me: "You don't need to do the presentation," she said. "The plant is a terrible idea. Just tell me how I can help." Delighted, I described the various Federal permitting processes in which she could intervene, and the benefits of her taking a public stand.

She called in her chief environmental policy advisor, and gave detailed instructions: Get a memo on her desk right away, listing the necessary action steps and the policy rationales for each, and she'd get right to work on it. Her performance was smart and convincing, and her celebrity backer and I practically floated down the Capitol steps on the way out.

The rest was silence. After promptly delivering the requested memo, I was never able to get her staff (let alone the Senator herself) to discuss the issue again, let alone take action to stop the plant.

About a year later, Clinton was cornered on the SLC issue by an interviewer from The National Trust for Historic Preservation, who finally got her to say that she thought the proposal was "not the right direction for the Hudson Valley." These remarks were published in Preservation Magazine, which Clinton apparently thought no one would read... because when we then alerted local media to her statement, Clinton's staff denied the remarks and claimed she still had not taken a position.

Only after nearly 14,000 residents and 40 groups wrote in opposition to the Republican administration of George Pataki did this terrible project get scrapped. The company spent $60 million, and yet the citizens managed to stave off the largest cement company in the world -- no thanks to Hillary.

But there was one more damning chapter in our Clinton saga.

After we won, the group I co-founded received an award at the Waldorf- Astoria from the Preservation League of New York. During the award ceremony, it was announced that there would be a video tribute from someone who couldn't attend, but who wanted to pay her respects. Up on a giant screen came Hillary Clinton, talking about how we'd all fought such a good fight together.

Those of us who had been in the trenches for years looked at each other in amazement. All the awful things people say about Hillary were horribly validated: She didn't deliver on her promises, and then she took credit for a victory achieved without her help.

Now, some friends say, "Come now, Sam -- all politicians are the same. They tell you what you want to hear, and then do the opposite. Get over it!" Others say, "Well, Hillary dropped the ball on that one, but I still trust her on health care, education, abortion, the economy, et cetera."

To these excuses I say: Other politicians from five states had the guts to take a stand on an issue affecting hundreds of thousands of downwind residents; why couldn't Clinton?

Why should we expect her to act differently the next time a major regional controversy hits? If she won't stand up for the health of our local children and the elderly, and won't expend any political capital to save a broad swath of her own adopted State as its Senator, why should we expect her to behave differently as President?

And why shouldn't I get behind another candidate who is just as strong on core Democratic issues, such as Barack Obama -- whose campaign overtly rejects this cynical brand of politics?

The whole experience brings to mind the phrase famously mangled by our current President: Fool me once, shame on Hillary; fool me twice, shame on me.

And that's why Senator Clinton doesn't have my vote on Super Tuesday. She will almost certainly carry this State, but our votes can help ensure that at least a portion of New York's delegates to the Democratic convention are awarded to a more deserving candidate.

The blonde girl on the farm:
A blonde city girl named Amy marries a Colorado rancher.

One morning, on his way out to check on the cows, the rancher says to Amy, "The insemination man is coming over to impregnate one of our cows today. I drove a nail into the 2 by 4 just above the cow's stall in the barn. You show him where the cow is when he gets here, OK?" The rancher leaves for the fields.

After a while, the artificial insemination man arrives and knocks on the front door. Amy takes him down to the barn. They walk along the row of cows and when she sees the nail, she tells him, "This is the one right here."

The man, assuming he is dealing with an air head blonde, asks, "Tell me lady, cause I'm dying to know; how would YOU know this is the cow to be bred?"

"That's simple. By the nail over its stall," Amy explains very confidently.

Laughing rudely at her, the man says, "And what, pray tell, is the nail for?"

The blonde turns to walk away, and says sweetly over her shoulder, "I guess it's to hang your pants on."

The library and the book request.
A bloke walks into a Glasgow library and says to the prim and proper librarian,

'Excuse me Miss, dey ye hiv ony books on suicide?'

To which she stops doing her tasks, looks at him over the top of her glasses and says,

'Fook off, ye'll no return it!'

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.

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