Technology Investor 

Newton's In Search Of The Perfect Investment. Technology Investor. Previous Columns
8:30 AM Tuesday, January 18, 2005: My weekend accomplishment was filling garbage cans. I read, circled, tore and junked newspapers and magazines. I'm sure I got more intelligent. Things I learned:
1. Health is still number one. I also exercised, played tennis and rested. I feel better exercising than reading.
2. Family is still number two. I got to spend time with Michael. He's more interesting than most magazines, certainly more opinionated than all of them -- in an endearing, kind way, of course.
3. There's a huge amount of great new technology around. But finding investment opportunities is almost impossible. I'm the world's leading technologist maven -- self-proclaimed, of course. I love the new technology to use -- but not to invest in. For a quick hit, look below at the story on Microsoft (MSFT). Look at the mess Intel (INTC) is in, reorganizing once again.
4. Real estate keeps growing because, while short-term interest rates are rising quickly, long-term ones (those in mortgages) aren't rising as quickly. That will keep real estate prices up. There are still sound real estate opportunities around -- but they're harder and harder to find.

Believe it or not, according to a report released by New York City's Department of Finance, the market value of New York City real estate rose 14% in 2004. The report found the increases were broadly based throughout the city, as property values rose in every borough, with Staten Island rising almost as much in percentage terms as Manhattan, which put the total value of property in the city at $616 billion (more than twice Microsoft's market cap.) In one stark indication of the strength of real estate in the city, the Time Warner building in Columbus Circle rose in value over the last year by more than $200 million to $1.2 billion. That's a 20% rise. Fortunately, the Time Warner building is fewer than 500 yards from my apartment and less than 300 yards from my son's new apartment. A developer is ripping down a hotel between my son's apartment and Time Warner and building condominium apartments, none of which will sell for less than $3,000 a square foot. I don't make this stuff up.

Pay off your mortgage. When I was young, stupid and starting new businesses, I was always afraid that one day one would fail, I'd lose everything and I'd end up on the street, homeless. As a result I never took out mortgages on the homes I bought for the family and I never gave a personal guarantee on anything. I always paid off my debts and never stuck anyone for money. But my philosophy was ingrained. Looking back, there were years when borrowing money and investing it in the stockmarket or in real estate would have made me more money than the costs of a mortgage.

I've had several emails from readers. They write they have cash. They have mortgages. Which investments should they make? I ask "What are they earning?" They write, they earn 2% on cash and pay 6.25% on their mortgage. I reply, "Pay off the mortgage." They say "But surely, we can do better than 6.25%?" I answer. You probably can. Maybe you will. But 6.25% is a sure thing... Am I wrong?

Trading is all that works today: Eye a "cheap" stock. Buy it. If it rises, sell it. I bought TiVo last week on a dip to $4. It rose to $4.50 by the end of the week. I sold it. I was afraid of the weekend. I'm always afraid of weekends. You never know what stuff the financial journalists will concoct. And concoct they did with TiVo. Monday's New York Times wrote a devastating piece called "TiVo Struggles to Find Its Niche After Quitting a Deal With Cable" By Monday night, I'd been email a piece that read, "If you wanted to read the obit of one of the most beloved companies in Silicon Valley, I urge you to read today’s New York Times. Saul Hansell, does a fantastic job of profiling a company in turmoil, and grasping for strategy. Any strategy. Blowing a deal with Comcast might have cost CEO Michael Ramsey his job, and TiVo its future. The fate of TiVo also highlights the dilemma facing a lot of “exploding TV” start-ups. The technology does not necessarily translate into profits and a business. Here is my breakdown of TiVo’s miserable financial record.

Total revenues as a public company, $260 million. Total devices sold, about 2 million or roughly $130 a device. Total (net) losses by TiVo as a public company - $514 million. That’s half-a-billion smackers! Loss per device, about $257.

Here are some selected reactions from around the web.
* Jonathan Greene: By ignoring the inevitable future, that DVR functionality was more commodity than secret sauce, they allowed anyone interested in entering the market to cruise past them with ease.
* Thomas Hawk: TiVo has always been a concept stock rather than an earnings story and I sure bet they would love to have a Comcast deal now. Instead Microsoft has partnered with Comcast with the Foundation HDTV Box and is the one that ended up getting a deal done.
* PVRBlog: When the story of TiVo is written, this Comcast negotiation could be the point when the company’s outcome was decided.
* Engadget: TiVo is sort of in a life-or-death situation right now and might have to take what it can get if it wants to stick around. The company is still not turning a profit, they’re facing increased competition from all sides.
* PaidContent: The bigger picture is much the same as it is within the mobile content industry: if you decide to bypass the operators, then you are truly on your own, and that brings with it the benefits and burdens."

Here are two TiVo charts -- one showing the bounce last week. And the second one showing the precipitous drop since early 2004. The lesson here is simple: Don't fall in love with technology stocks because you love their technology. And I do. Where would I be without TiVo's the Australian Tennis Open, now beginning?

Collar your stock. A man is buying an expensive condominium in New York. His income is low. His assets are low, except he has $45 million of Google stock. What would you advise him? Take some money home? Sell some of the Google stock. Or hold all the Google stock, thinking it will go higher?

What happens if he can't sell his Google stock? Then he ought to "collar" some of it. That's like selling it now at today's prices for delivery later. Many executives who were awarded high-flying stock during the late 1990s forgot the great maxim -- take some home. Then their stocks crashed and they had nothing. Will Google crash? Who knows? Personally I think it's among the more overpriced stocks around.

Bank of America has flipped its lid: The Bank of America Corp.'s securities unit fired Andrew Susser, a top-ranked analyst and head of its high-yield bond research group, after his face appeared superimposed on a woman's body on the cover of a serious report he wrote on the prospects for hotels and which he sent to clients. Here's the photo.

The Bank paid Andrew Susser, 39, a highly rated gaming and lodging analyst, around $4 million a year. The cover picture shows a man about to carry a woman wearing a black dress and high heels over the threshold of a hotel room. But instead of a woman's face, Mr Susser's bespectacled mug peers over the man's shoulder. The picture is clearly designed to amuse clients who otherwise rely on Mr Susser, who is noted for his sense of humor, his off-beat research report covers, and his sound financial judgment.

Susser topped Institutional Investor magazine's ranking of high-yield analysts for lodging and gaming the past three years. Banc of America Securities (spelled with a "c") was the fourth-biggest U.S. underwriter of high-yield debt last year, up from sixth in 2003 and eighth in 2000, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The firm's share of the $136 billion market for high-yield sales doubled to 11 percent last year from 5.4 percent in 2000.

One continues to wonder about Wall Street.

Bill Gates gives the demo from Hell at CES. The Consumer Electronics Show is the largest tech event in America. The buzz wasn't about the latest widescreen TV. It was about Bill Gates' keynote speech, during which several Microsoft technologies crashed or utterly fell apart. One demo failed not once but during three separate segments of the speech, as Gates (photo, left) helplessly pressed buttons on his remote control.

The keynote stage had been set up to match the set from NBC's "Late Night," complete with Conan O'Brien — and the comedian didn't disappoint. Addressing the audience, he said after several failures, "Have we mentioned there's gambling in this town? Feel free to hit the tables, you can come back when we get this thing working." Click here for the 2-minute video.

What next for the gondoliers of Venice? They are about to face spot checks on their sobriety after a spate of accidents thought to have been caused by operators’ plying the city’s famous canals while under the influence. New regulations permit the city police to conduct breathalyzer tests on gondoliers suspected of oaring while intoxicated. This is only the latest of a series of assaults on this ancient and noble profession, beginning six years ago with the introduction of police speed traps, then proceeding, last year, to a ban on gondoliers’ forming up in fleets to perform choral serenades. Next year: mandatory seat belts for New York's taxidrivers?

Wondering what to spend your money on? A dear friend just bought a house. Here's the view up the hill and here's the view down the hill. I'm not telling exactly where it is, except it's west and north. I'm beetling out there soon to find my own place in Heaven. Only negative: no broadband Internet service.

Next invasion: Iran. Coming soon. Seymour Hersh writes in a recent issue of The New Yorker magazine. Click here.

The talking dog:
A guy is driving around and he sees a sign in front of a house:
"Talking Dog For Sale."
He rings the bell, and the owner tells him the dog is in the backyard.
The guy goes into the backyard and sees a Labrador Retriever sitting there.
"You talk?" he asks.
"Yep," the Lab replies.
"So, what's your story?"
The Lab looks up and says, "Well, I discovered that I could talk when I was pretty young, and I wanted to help the government; so I told the CIA about my gift, and in no time at all they had me jetting from country to country, sitting in rooms with spies and world leaders, because no one figured a dog would be eavesdropping. I was one of their most valuable spies for eight years running."
"But the jetting around really tired me out, and I knew I wasn't getting any younger so I wanted to settle down. I signed up for a job at the airport to do some undercover security work, mostly wandering near suspicious characters and listening in. I uncovered some incredible dealings and was awarded a batch of medals. I got married, had a mess of puppies, and now I'm just retired."
The guy is amazed He goes back in and asks the owner what he wants for the dog.
"Ten dollars."
The guy says, "This dog is amazing. Why on earth are you selling him so cheap?"
"Because he's a liar. He didn't do any of that shit."

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. That money will help pay Claire's law school tuition. Read more about Google AdSense, click here and here.
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