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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 Wednesday, June 22, 2005: Yesterday was the longest day of the year. It was warm. It was calm. It was peaceful. It felt things were slowing down.

Leading Indicators Fell in May; Decline Exceeded Expectations: That was the headline on an AP (Associated Press) story yesterday:

A closely watched gauge of future business activity fell more than expected in May, indicating slower economic growth may lie ahead this year, a private research group said yesterday. The group, the Conference Board in New York, reported that its composite index of leading indicators fell 0.5 percent last month, to 114.1. The decline was more than the 0.2 percent drop that analysts had expected. The May decline follows a revised unchanged level in April and a 0.6 percent decline in March.

Ken Goldstein, the board's labor economist, said in a statement that the indicators suggested "slower growth setting in during the third quarter." But he added that this is "not just a domestic phenomenon." He noted that the Conference Board monitors the leading economic indexes in eight countries and that six of them have showed declines or slower growth.

Mark Vitner, senior economist at the Wachovia Corporation in Charlotte, N.C., said that he was not worried about the decline, adding, "This is a sign of a slower economy, but not anything more serious than that."

...The Conference Board reported yesterday that only one of the 10 components of the leading index, stock prices, increased in May. The other components that dragged down the index included building permits, vendors' performances, the index of consumer expectations, manufacturers' new orders for nonmilitary capital goods, consumer goods and materials and average weekly initial claims for unemployment insurance.

In Search of the perfect portfolio management software: Every so often I fantasize that there's a better way of keeping track of my investments than Excel. Yesterday Muriel, my wonderful assistant, was in and we tried Quicken and Money. Our conclusion: both programs are great for paying bills and tracking expenses -- but good for little else. Neither program can handle a simple investment -- like a piece of a real estate syndicate on which you receive dividends. It would be great if you entered the dividends and somehow they made their way to a place which gave you a history of that investment. You could see a rate of return and you could compare it to other investments. But alas, it's not to be. If you reference a dividend to a particular non-stock asset, one program actually deducted the dividend from the original book value of the investment -- as though you were paying off the mortgage on a house.

What got me looking for software was yesterday's publication of my portfolio allocation (which my friend Dan Good refers to as "Harry's Accidental Allocation"). Here's yesterday's allocation.

Private Equity Funds
Leveraged Buyout Fund
Publicly traded Equities
Mutual Funds
Hedge Fund
Muni Bonds
Muni bond funds
Cash and floaters
Real estate syndications
Real estate loans
Private Equity Investments
Private real estate

Muriel and I also wanted software to track and check my various brokerage accounts. The online accounts contain endless entries -- mostly for dividends, which may or may not be there and/or accurate. And there is occasional weird stuff -- like I have no idea where this one came from (I found it this morning):

FROM 5/23 THRU 6/20 @ 6.125%

Interest $1,439.31.

There are three lessons from Muriel and my research:
1. You need to check every entry in your brokerage accounts. Some are bogus. I suspect this $1,439.31 is.
2. You need to figure an Excel spreadsheet with expected dividends and then plot actual received dividends.
3. Muriel and I are stuck with the many Excel spreadsheets we create. What we really need is combination Excel spreadsheet / Access database software. In short, we need decent portfolio tracking software, yet. Anyone got anything that works?

How the press tests software and hardware: Testing stuff is fun. The problem is that it's hellishly time-consuming. By the time you're through, you're on deadline. There's not enough time to test something else. You're forced to say something nice about the shiny new thing.

The Wall Street Journal waxed lyrically on this note-taking program. Evernote holds photos and notes in an endless file. You can find anything instantly. Its best feature is you can clip web pages to it -- and the layout stays the same. That means you can research something on the web and drop all your findings into one file. Sadly, the feature doesn't work well. With complex web sites, like the home pages of the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, you end up with a hodgepodge mess of bits and pieces of web site, which are virtually impossible to read with Evernote. I've had several emails with Evernote management. They are in denial about their problems.

How the price of assets can plummet:
Gruner & Jahr is a division of the German media giant Bertelsmann. It will sell its two American business magazines, Inc. and Fast Company, for about $35 million, 94% less than it paid for them five years ago.

The best father's day present: Reader Edwin van Beuzekom writes,

Hi Harry,
I received a card from my son, it says, Dear Dad From one of your most successful do-it-yourself projects ever!!!
Love Roderic.

Ed loved his son's card.

Congratulations to Sammy Kingsley for being valedictorian of Langley High School, Virginia (suburban Washington, D.C.). She graduated 4.14. More importantly, she hits a mean tennis ball.

Sammy Kingsley and the mean tennis ball. Dig those muscles.

You're not meant to talk to anyone on the New York City subway. Nor are you meant to listen.
+ Yesterday a young Chinese couple were listening to their own iPods. I asked the man if he ever talked to his girlfriend. He removed his earpiece and answered, "Yes."

I then asked his girlfriend if her friend every spoke to her? She removed her earpiece and answered, "No."

+ A while back, a couple were arguing in the subway. The car went quiet, as all ears strained to hear the cause. Finally, the car was treated to him saying, in a very loud voice, "Be reasonable Mary, I made the date with Elizabeth two months before you and I were married."

Impeccable male logic.

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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