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

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9:00 AM EST, Wednesday, January 21, 2009: All over America there are hurried conference calls to discuss "assets" that have suddenly stopped being assets. The "assets" might be the Hancock building which I own a tiny piece of and has now defaulted on $700 million of debt. See today's Wall Street Journal. Or it may be semi-developed land in California or Arizona, which I also own tiny pieces of and you now can't sell for love or money. And then there are the companies who can no longer borrow the money they always borrowed from their bank. Several things permeate the calls:

1. The assumptions on which the investments were made are now all wrong. Rents have fallen, not risen. Tenants have left, not arrived.

2. The firms that organized the deals are in trouble. Most have no new deals in over a year. Paying the rent and the salaries are now increasingly difficult. The owners dump in their personal net worth to keep the firms alive, but that money is running out.

3. Investors are desperate, suddenly facing the likelihood that their personal net worth has declined dramatically -- perhaps to zero. I hear of houses up for sale and erstwhile-rich investors "going back to work." I hear serious ignorance. It's amazing how many investors put their money into things they knew little about and understood even less. I've concluded that financial sophistication is no higher among people who have money than people who don't.

4. The skyrocketing cost of borrowing money -- if you can find it. I routinely hear rates of over 20%. You can go on ETRADE and find debt you can buy yielding over 20%. Some of it looks pretty good, though I don't own any. My risk profile is presently ultra-conservative. That means I'm scared. Cash is King. I remember my mantra: When in doubt, stay out.

5. Lenders are confused. Should they foreclose and take over yet more assets they have zero knoweldge of, skills or interest to manage? Should they let the borrower / owner continue to manage the property, albeit with a little more communications than in the past.

The prevailing theory (also called conventional wisdom) is that in five years all the assets will miraculously become valuable and liquid. Nirvana will, once again, prevail.

Frankly, I doubt it. Let me put on my economist's hat. In the past ten years, we "hollowed" out our economy, exporting much manufacturing to concentrate on finance, which we were allegedly good at. We invested our own and the world's monies. For a long time there was too much money for too few opportunities. So we made up opportunities. The more we made up, the more became increasingly dubious and risky. Sub-prime was just one area. In the end, the financial business was 20% of our GDP and created hundreds of thousands of high-paying jobs. That business is now finished. Our investment banks are no more. Our commercial banks are broke, in desperate need of capital to shore up their balance sheets and to keep the FDIC from closing them down or, worse, nationalizing them.

That realization -- which I've written about before -- became startlingly evident yesterday when State Street bank fell 56%, Bank of America fell 29%,J.P. Morgan Chase fell 21% and Citigroup declined 20%. Those are huge one-day falls. As a result, the Dow fell 4% and the S&P 500 fell 5.3%. My friends tell me we've breached a technical point and we're now going even lower on the stockmarket.

Barack Obama's Inauguration. Impressive words. I cried a couple of times. I pray he can pull this off. For the video. For the transcript.

Now that's a crowd -- over a million.

Australian Open Tennis began this past weekend. The huge time difference makes this ideal for TiVo. Enjoy. (M Men, W = Women, D = Doubles. All times EST.)

Your most embarrassing moment.

In Sydney, Australia, one of the radio stations pays $1000-$5000 for people to tell their most embarrassing stories. This one netted the winner $5000.

I was due later in the week for an appointment with the gynecologist. Early one morning I received a call from the doctor's office to tell me that I had been rescheduled for early that morning at 9:30 a.m.

I had only just packed everyone off to work and school, and it was already around 8:45 a.m. The trip to his office took about 35 minutes, so I didn't have any time to spare. As most women do, I like to take a little extra effort over hygiene when making such visits, but this time I wasn't going to be able to make the full effort. So I rushed upstairs, threw off my dressing gown, wet the washcloth that was sitting next to the sink, and gave myself a quick wash in "that area" to make sure it was at least presentable. I threw the washcloth in the clothes basket, donned some clothes, hopped in the car and raced to my appointment.

I was in the waiting room only a few minutes when I was called in. Knowing the procedure, as I'm sure you do, I hopped up on the table, looked over at the other side of the room and pretended that I was in Paris or some other place a million miles away. I was a little surprised when the doctor said, My, we have made an extra effort this morning, haven't we?" but I didn't respond.

When the appointment was over, I heaved a sigh of relief and went home. The rest of the day was normal...some shopping, cleaning, cooking, etc. After school when my six-year-old daughter was playing, she called out from the bathroom, "Mum, where's my washcloth?" I told her to get another one from the cupboard.

She replied, "No, I need the one that was here by the sink. It had all my glitter and sparkles in 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.