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Harry Newton's In Search of The Perfect Investment Technology Investor. Auction Rate Securities. Auction Rate Preferreds.

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8:30 AM EST Thursday, May 15, 2008: Everyone had a horrible day yesterday (or maybe will today). Many people woke up to the realization that things have changed fundamentally. And I mean structurally. The old days are gone. The way we did business, the industry we were in... all these are gone. To survive today, many of us are facing lifestyle cuts, headcount reductions, office relocations (to cheaper space), entry into a new industry or new job (with different necessary skills), and the possibility of divorce. I write this not to depress you but to say "You are not alone."

The key starts with reducing expenses. It's called staying alive. The second key is asking what has changed and listing all the things. The third key is figuring what is booming and how do I edge that way? There are plenty of things doing well -- but they're probably not what you're doing. I repeat: The key is to keep the expenses low, not to make long-term commitments and not to make dumb desperate gambles. Cash is definitely king.

You are your own worst enemy. But you are also your own best friend.

Wall Street at less than its finest: Wall Street is a product sale machine. It sells you whatever it can sell and make a commission on. It does so without any regard for the long-term riskiness of what it's selling or its appropriateness for you. Hence the obligation to figure what they're selling you is 100% yours. When in doubt -- i.e. when you simply don't understand or have any concerns about the downside -- your job is to say NO.

Please print out the above paragraph. Laminate it and read it every time you speak to your broker or financial adviser.

There are a zillion examples of Wall Street peddling crap (that's a technical term) to investors. Among the most egregious of late have been auction rate securities. I'm not going to bore you with these again. For that, you can go to my other site,

But here I simply want to bring you up to date on Wall Street's egregiousness:

1. Most brokers sold their clients auction rate securities without telling the clients what they were sold, without sending them a prospectus, or worse, without telling them what the risks were.

2. Now that a secondary market has developed for auction rate securities, virtually all brokers refuse to sell their clients' auction rate securities in this secondary market. When asked "Why?" the brokers mumble, burble and evade. The real reason is that if the client loses -- let's say 10% -- by selling his securities on the secondary market, the broker becomes liable for the 10%. The client will sue -- go to arbitration, etc. -- and most likely win. By refusing to sell the securities, the broker has no liability.

3. Some of the auction rate securities are actually being redeemed for cash. In many cases not all the securities in an issue are being redeemed. For example, an issuer might redeem 60% of a particular issue. An investor who owns this security can now assume that 60% of his issue will be redeemed. Wrong. We now have a new practice called "discriminatory redemptions." You get 10% of your money back. Someone else gets 100% of their money back. When you ask "Why?" the brokers mumble, burble and evade. I know this for a fact. I have examples of investors who got discriminatory redemptions What I don't have are examples of investors who got 100% of their money back when they were only entitled to 60%. What I'm guessing is that it's those investors who screamed and shouted the loudest -- as well as those who were the broker's best clients.

Do not dismiss the above as the ravings of a pissed-off investor in auction rate securities. You are right. I am pissed-off. But, in every disaster, I try to draw lessons. And today's is simple: Never, ever, ever trust anything you hear and/or are recommended by Wall Street. I'll go even one step further. What goes for "research" on Wall Street-- i.e. the crap brokers feed us -- is of a lower quality than what you read in this column. And that -- trust me -- is saying something.

Selling out of First Solar. As you know I've been high on First Solar. (So has Jim Cramer.) I recommended you get out yesterday. I did. I also sold stock short at $315.70. I got out because the stock is way overpriced -- as measured by three things, its P/E (121), its earnings growth (flat) and its hype -- much of its recent rise was due to rumors that the Federal Government would renew subsidies on solar. I believe it's going lower. Here's the movement of the last few days:

Now you have absolutely no reason not to back up your hard drive. From an email this morning:

Canadian humor
A Russian woman married a Canadian gentleman. The lady was not very good with English.

One day, she went to the butcher and wanted to buy chicken legs. She didn't know how to put forward her request, and in desperation, clucked like a chicken and lifted up her skirt to show her thighs. Her butcher got the message, and gave her the chicken legs.

Next day she needed to get chicken breasts, again she didn't know how to say it, and so she clucked like a chicken and unbuttoned her blouse to show the butcher her breasts. The butcher understood again, and gave her some chicken breasts.

On the third day, the poor lady needed to buy sausages. Unable to find a way to communicate this, she brought her husband to the store...

(Please scroll down)

What were you thinking? Hellooooooo, her husband speaks English.

Redneck sensitivity
Three Rednecks were working up on a cell phone tower: Cooter, Bubba and Donnie. As they start their descent, Cooter slips, falls off the tower and is killed instantly. As the ambulance takes the body away, Bubba says, 'Well, damn, someone should go and tell his wife.'

Donnie says, 'OK, I'm pretty good at that sensitive stuff, I'll do it.

'Two hours later, he comes back carrying a case of Budweiser. Bubba says, 'Where did you get that beer, Donnie?'

'Cooter's wife gave it to me,' Bubba replies.

'That's unbelievable, you told the lady her husband was dead and she gave you beer?'

'Well, not exactly', Donnie says. 'When she answered the door, I said to her, you must be Cooter's widow'.' She said, 'You must be mistaken, I'm not a widow.'

Then I said 'I'll bet you a case of Budweiser you are.'

Rednecks are good at the sensitive stuff.

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.

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