Technology Investor 

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, Friday, July 20: Secret revealed. The perfect investment is your own business. Now is the perfect time to start your own business. Of course, any time is a good time to start your own business. Now is the perfect time to start one. The reasons? Two of them. First, there is a huge demand around for your services or products. Just try buying anything today. Second, all your competitors are screwing up royally.
To wit:

+ My book printer decided not to send out two cartons of my dictionaries because I owed them $900. Yet they failed to call me for the money, or to tell me they weren't sending the books out. I was in Croatia. And I had just paid them $50,000 for printing them.

+ All our building subcontractors are so busy they take days to return a phone call or an email -- if they ever do. Most don't.

+ Virtually all the suppliers we've bought things from recently -- from skylights to lighting fixtures, from stone to glass -- have screwed up, either delivering late or wrong. Or, often, both.

Here are Newton's Rules on running a business today:

1. Call your customer. Tell him or her the truth, no matter how painful. Customers can deal with the truth. They can't deal with lies or ignorance.

2. Answer your customer's emails, faxes, phone calls and letters promptly.

3. Tell your people the customer is always right -- even if he's not.

4. Practice "Newton's Escalating Apology Gifts Program." If something goes wrong, say "Sorry" and send a small gift. Flowers are a good start. Keep sending apology gifts until your customer calls says and says, "Enough already. You have my business for life."

5. Ask your customer for suggestions on how better to improve. Listen to what he says.

6. Put your company's name, phone number and web site on everything you send out. Often I wish I could buy more. But I can't find where I got it..

Oil ETFs are doing well. I recommended OIH and IYE. The first tracks companies that provide drilling, well-site management and related products and services for the oil service industry. These companies are the largest and most liquid companies with U.S.-traded securities involved in the oil service industry. The second (IYE) tracks the price and yield performance, before fees and expenses, of the Dow Jones US Energy Sector Index. Component companies include oil companies and services, oil-major, oil-secondary and pipelines.

Since oil is going to $100, you can't go wrong with OIH and IYE. (Famous last words.)

Don't click on attachments: The inviolate rule with emails is don't open attachments. Lately, some moron has been sending emails with attached "PDF" files, i.e. Adobe Acrobat files. Don't open them. I smell a rat.

Loans, equity and other things: The best investment you don't control is an asset that rises in value and you sell after holding it for 12 months and a day. That way you pay much less to Uncle Sam -- 15% of your gains, instead of 35% (or so). Before you make an investment you need to think of the tax consequences. Of course, the really BEST deal is investment real estate. Buy something. Sell it. Buy something bigger. Do a 1031 exchange and you'll never pay taxes on the gains. I know someone who's sold 47 properties, has done 47 1031 exchanges and has never paid Uncle Sam a nickel on the profits from selling the buildings. He's now very rich and incredulous of this gigantic tax loophole.

Funny email: Reader Andrew Whitten writes:

I just unsubscribed from something……I feel liberated …'s like a drug for workaholics.

He's right. Try it yourself. My incoming emails have dropped dramatically. Now I have time. I'm also being liberated.

eBay is rife with fraud: Especially with high priced items, like laptops. It's gotten so bad, I'd be very dubious about buying anything of value on eBay today. I've tried to alert eBay management to frauds. They seem to have zero interest in tracking frauds. Customer beware.

Watch also for emails from "PayPal." The emails say someone has obtained "unauthorized access to your PayPal account." The email is not from PayPal. It's from a crook phishing (that's the term) for your financial information, like your PayPal ID and password. will tell you which seat has a laptop outlet. Before you book an airline seat, check It will tell you which seat on your airline ride is miserable and which one is truly miserable. Or which one has a laptop outlet and which doesn't.

What role should government play? My rich friends say "keep the government out. Way out." I've always felt we need the government for safety -- for my safety and for the country's safety. This piece by James Surowiecki in the July 23, 2007 New Yorker is called "Fuel for thought." Read on. It's engrossing:

In the auto industry, there’s one thing you can always count on: if a new environmental or safety rule is proposed, executives will prophesy disaster. In the nineteen-twenties, Alfred Sloan, the president of General Motors, insisted that the company could not make windshields with safety glass because doing so would harm the bottom line. In the fifties, auto executives told Congress that making seat belts compulsory would slash industry profits. When air bags came along, Lee Iacocca told Richard Nixon that “safety has really killed all our business.” A few years later, when Congress was thinking about requiring fuel-economy standards, auto executives warned that instituting such standards would create “massive financial and unemployment problems.” And now, with Congress debating a bill to raise fuel-economy standards, for the first time in almost twenty years, the Chicken Littles are squawking again, forecasting doom for Detroit and asserting that making higher-mileage vehicles is technologically unfeasible and economically suicidal.

Of course, much of this is simply stonewalling by executives determined to keep meddlesome politicians out of their business. But sometimes the industry’s fears have been founded on real market research. In the case of safety glass, G.M. believed that consumers weren’t prepared to pay more for cars with safety glass, so Sloan worried that it would be hard to recoup the cost of installing it. Similarly, when, in the mid-nineteen-seventies, G.M. offered front-seat air bags as an option on Cadillacs, Buicks, and Oldsmobiles, they didn’t sell. Fuel-economy standards present the same difficulty: although there are plenty of affordable models that get good gas mileage, over the past two decades some of the most powerful and least fuel-efficient vehicles on the market—S.U.V.s and pickup trucks—have also been among the best-selling. Thirty years ago, so-called “light trucks” accounted for about a fifth of all auto sales. Today, even with a recent slowdown, they account for more than half.

Americans may want to buy the biggest and most environmentally damaging vehicles available, but polls show that, given an option, some three-quarters of them vote for dramatic increases in fuel-economy standards—increases that may well force automakers to sell fewer (or at least smaller) S.U.V.s. We buy gas guzzlers but vote for gas sipping. This isn’t because people are ignorant about how higher fuel-economy standards would affect them personally; polls that explicitly lay out the potential trade-offs involved still find support for tougher standards. And it isn’t as if voters and car buyers belong to two different groups; one recent survey of pickup owners found that seventy per cent strongly favored tougher requirements. The curious fact is that many people buying three-ton Suburbans for that arduous two-mile trip to the supermarket also want Congress to pass laws making it harder to buy Suburbans at all.

What’s happening here? Back in the nineteen-seventies, an economist named Thomas Schelling, who later won the Nobel Prize, noticed something peculiar about the N.H.L. At the time, players were allowed, but not required, to wear helmets, and most players chose to go helmet-less, despite the risk of severe head trauma. But when they were asked in secret ballots most players also said that the league should require them to wear helmets. The reason for this conflict, Schelling explained, was that not wearing a helmet conferred a slight advantage on the ice; crucially, it gave the player better peripheral vision, and it also made him look fearless. The players wanted to have their heads protected, but as individuals they couldn’t afford to jeopardize their effectiveness on the ice. Making helmets compulsory eliminated the dilemma: the players could protect their heads without suffering a competitive disadvantage. Without the rule, the players’ individually rational decisions added up to a collectively irrational result. With the rule, the outcome was closer to what players really wanted.

The same phenomenon is, to some extent, at work in the fuel-economy debate. People believe that bigger and heavier cars are safer in a crash (forgetting that, often, bigger cars are also more likely to crash). And people like the fact that driving a higher-horsepower car makes you look better at the stoplight. So our desires as individuals to protect ourselves and to outclass our neighbors encourage us to buy bigger and bigger vehicles with more and more horsepower. And the market doesn’t create counter-incentives that would push us in a responsible direction, since someone who drives a Hummer doesn’t suffer the effects of pollution and global warming any more than someone driving a Prius does, and isn’t charged more for the extra environmental damage.

The results of this size-and-power arms race are easy to see: between 1984 and 2002, the average vehicle got twenty per cent heavier and its zero-to-sixty acceleration improved by twenty-five per cent, while fuel efficiency stagnated. (By contrast, between 1975, when fuel-economy standards were first introduced, and 1984, average fuel economy improved by sixty-two per cent, without any decline in performance.) This is not because of technological difficulties or a conspiracy on the part of the auto industry. It’s because automakers have listened to car buyers, and put their energy into making vehicles bigger and faster, rather than more efficient. In calling for a law requiring better gas mileage in our cars, then, voters are really saying that they’re unhappy with the collective result of the choices they make as buyers. Sometimes, they know, we need to save ourselves from ourselves.

Catastrophe health insurance: My concept: I pay for everything until I get hit by a bus, or like. I asked readers for advice. Sample responses. (This is an ongoing research project). Email me if you can help. . Latest responses:

From Joanthan Seder:
Consider a Health Savings Account, which can accompany high-deductible health plans. This is very similar to an IRA - you own it, you can leave it to your children, contributions are tax-deductible ("above the line"), income in the account accumulates tax-free - and you can use the funds to pay medical bills.

This is not a "flex spending account" - HSAs were created in 2003 and are designed to help individuals save for future qualified medical and retiree health expenses on a tax-free basis.

New York tax law supports these - making it possible for you to pay medical bills with fully pretax dollars. Unfortunately, Alabama, California, New Jersey, and Wisconsin do not.

I got a policy with a deductible of $4000/person $8000/family, and saved $4000/year in premiums compared to my old full-coverage plan. I got discounts (but not reimbursement) when I used preferred providers.

The biggest obstacles to high deductible plans are state legislatures, which ban out-of-state policies, and which mandate coverage (like chiropractic, mental health, bone marrow transplants for breast cancer, and on and on). You are not allowed to forgo these mandates in exchange for a lower premium. Isn't it great to know that someone's looking out for your interests?

From Jerome Redington:
This type of individual is a perfect candidate for a Health Savings Account (HSA). He will choose a high deductible, get the insurance company discounts and pay the expenses prior to the deductible with tax deductible dollars. Aetna and Golden Rule plus others offer the product. There are both group and individual HSA products.

When others rain on your parade:
A woman was at her hairdresser's getting her hair styled for a trip to Rome with her husband. She mentioned the trip to the hairdresser, who responded: " Rome ? Why would anyone want to go there? It's crowded and dirty. You're crazy to go to Rome . So, how are you getting there?"

"We're taking Continental," was the reply. "We got a great rate!"

"Continental?" exclaimed the hairdresser. "That's a terrible airline. Their planes are old, their flight attendants are ugly, and they're always late. So, where are you staying in Rome ?"

"We'll be at this exclusive little place over on Rome 's Tiber River called Teste."

"Don't go any further. I know that place. Everybody thinks it's gonna be something special and exclusive, but it's really a dump, the worst hotel in the city! The rooms are small, the service is surly, and they are overpriced. So, whatcha' doing when you get there?"

"We're going to go to see the Vatican and we hope to see the Pope."

"That's rich," laughed the hairdresser. "You and a million other people are trying to see him. He'll look the size of an ant. Boy, good luck on this lousy trip of yours. You're going to need it."

A month later, the woman again came in for a hairdo. The hairdresser asked her about her trip to Rome .

It was wonderful," explained the woman," Not only were we on time in one of Continental's brand new planes, but it was over booked and they bumped us up to first class. The food and wine were wonderful, and I had a handsome 28-year-old steward who waited on me hand and foot. And the hotel was great! They'd just finished a $50 million remodeling job. Now it's a jewel, the finest hotel in the city. They, too were over booked, so they apologized and gave us their owner's suite at no extra charge!"

"Well," muttered the hairdresser, "that's all well and good, but I know you didn't get to see the Pope."

"Actually, we were lucky. As toured the Vatican , a Swiss Guard tapped me on the shoulder, and explained that the Pope likes to meet some of the visitors, and if I'd be so kind as to step into his private room and wait, the Pope would personally greet me. Sure enough, five minutes later, the Pope walked through the door and shook my hand, I knelt down, and he spoke a few words to me."

"Oh, really! What'd he say?"

"Where'd you get that shitty hairdo?"

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.
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