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

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9:00 AM EST, Wednesday, March 4, 2009. It's too depressing to read the business news. This morning's headlines include (yuch):

+ As Merrill Lynch staggered last year, 11 top executives were paid more than $10 million each in cash and stock, and 149 more received $3 million or more.

+ Honda Motor is seeking a Japanese government loan to help shore up funds at its U.S. operations.

+ Private sector jobs fell 697,000 in the U.S. in February, according to payroll giant ADP.

+ What are the odds of a depression? The Wall Street Journal reports there is a 20% chance our stockmarket crash will lead to much worse,

Whatever happened in Iceland? Michael Lewis is my favorite financial reporter. He went to Iceland to find out what happened. He produced a wonderful (though long) piece for Vanity Fair magazine, which begins:

Wall Street on the Tundra
Iceland’s de facto bankruptcy—its currency (the krona) is kaput, its debt is 850 percent of G.D.P., its people are hoarding food and cash and blowing up their new Range Rovers for the insurance—resulted from a stunning collective madness. What led a tiny fishing nation, population 300,000, to decide, around 2003, to re-invent itself as a global financial power? In Reykjavík, where men are men, and the women seem to have completely given up on them, the author follows the peculiarly Icelandic logic behind the meltdown.

Just after October 6, 2008, when Iceland effectively went bust, I spoke to a man at the International Monetary Fund who had been flown in to Reykjavík to determine if money might responsibly be lent to such a spectacularly bankrupt nation. He’d never been to Iceland, knew nothing about the place, and said he needed a map to find it. He has spent his life dealing with famously distressed countries, usually in Africa, perpetually in one kind of financial trouble or another. Iceland was entirely new to his experience: a nation of extremely well-to-do (No. 1 in the United Nations’ 2008 Human Development Index), well-educated, historically rational human beings who had organized themselves to commit one of the single greatest acts of madness in financial history. “You have to understand,” he told me, “Iceland is no longer a country. It is a hedge fund.”

You can (and should read) the entire piece in Vanity Fair.

Everything is on sale. The asking price is for dummies. My favorite line is "It's a recession. What can you do?" Persevere. You'll get 10% to 70% discounts. My friend, Lucky Marr, used to get himself a $250 room at the Intercontinental Hotel in New Orleans for $79. Says Lucky, "I am happy with them. I stayed at the Hilton on the bay in San Diego a few months back for $150 for 2 nights. The hotel treated me like any other guest." (Not the cheapskate he is.)

Woes in real estate. A lady in line at Time Warner Cable just sold her California condo for $375,000. She'd paid $495,000 for it two years ago. She shrugged off the 25% "haircut." From Bloomberg this morning:

More than 8.3 million U.S. mortgage holders owed more on their loans in the fourth quarter than their property was worth as the recession cut home values by $2.4 trillion last year, First American CoreLogic said. An additional 2.2 million borrowers will be underwater if home prices decline another 5 percent, First American, a Santa Ana, California-based seller of mortgage and economic data, said in a report today. Households with negative equity or near it account for a quarter of all mortgage holders.

The latest scam in California: As you're selling or walking from your house, you rent it. You take a big security deposit and many months rent in advance. Two weeks later, the sheriff arrives to throw out your tenants. Real estate agents recommend doing a title search before you rent.

Over-retailed Overproduced. Over everything. I'm in Ralphs, a supermarket, in La Quinta, California. I'm overwhelmed. Toothpastes take up 12 linear feet and seven shelves. Colgate is the biggest seller, I guess. The price differences among container sizes are staggering.

But wait, that's not all. There's Colgate total clean mint, total mint-stripe; whitening oxygen bubbles, tarter protection whitening, sparkling white mint zing; cavity protection; max fresh mouthwash beads; MaxFresh Breath strips. Then there's Crest, Aquafresh, Arm & Hammer (whose memorable brand is called Age Defying), and Ultrabrite, Close-Up, Rembrandt, Sensodyne, etc. etc

We went over to Trader Joes for the raisins. Here's a portfolio of Harry's Visit to Trader Joes.

The dog didn't budge as it got driven around.

Trader Joes has free food and coffee.

Though why anyone in California needs more food beats me.

This takes laziness to a whole new level. I'm too tired to stir my yogurt.

Peeled and deveined. What's wrong with shrimps? Varicose veins?

This is Trader Joe's famous "Two buck chuck" wine for $2 a bottle. They offer a 12-case for $24.88. The man next to me in line commented that "you don't save any money buying a case."

My favorite California image is from a local posh country club (which incidentally is losing members to the recession).

This is something useful. A large seat to accommodate large people.

Here's a close-up. Note the brilliant brand name.

The small fortune:

Is there a guaranteed way to make a small fortune, the son asked his father?

Yes, his father replied, start with a large fortune.

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.