Technology Investor 

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

Previous Columns
8:30 AM EST Wednesday, September 20, 2006: The Fed meets today. Everyone expects it to not to raise interest rates since inflation has ebbed. This has several implications: Waiting in cash for bond yields to rise might be a sucker's game. Borrowing remains cheap. And, despite all talk of inflation, bond yields have recently fallen, and fallen dramatically. Here's the yield on the 10-year treasury note.

The Homebuilders Confidence index fell to a 15 year low yesterday (the biggest drop came in the northeast). Many "buyers" are forfeiting their deposits on apartments and homes that were in construction and are now ready to buy. The prices have fallen so much it's cheaper to walk. The rental market is heating up. Soon there will be good deals for aspiring landlords. See yesterday's column.

How to lose lots of money fast: How much did the investors in Amaranth lose? Here's an email I received yesterday from a broker which sells interests in hedge and private equity funds.

Dear Investor,

As a result of yesterday's news from Amaranth we have received a number
of calls from Amaranth investors regarding the potential for liquidity.
In that regard, we have communicated with our customers and are pleased
to report that the indicative market for shares in Amaranth (based on the
August 31 NAV) is as follows:

Bids are between 10 and 20 cents
Offers are between 35 and 45 cents

Hedgebay Trading Corporation

Meanwhile Amaranth seems to have made the classic trading mistake -- not being disciplined about getting out early enough and limiting its losses. That's why I insist on 15% stop loss orders when buying equities for "investment." What went specifically wrong at Amaranth, according to today's Wall Street Journal:

1. The hedge fund's chief energy trader, 32-year-old Brian Hunter, misgauged when to take his chips off the table. (He's 32. What do you expect?)

2. He repeatedly used borrowed money to double-down on his bets. Buying more futures contracts of the kind his fund already owned supported their price by increasing demand, propping up paper gains. But that support only lasted as long as Amaranth and its lenders were willing to spend cash to buy more contracts. Such trades may also have masked growing weaknesses in market fundamentals, his trading peers say.

3. Mr. Hunter employed a routine commodities strategy, exploiting the difference between the prices of contracts for delivery of natural gas at various future points. He also was buying options to buy or sell natural gas at prices that others in the market thought unlikely but that would provide big payoffs if the prices came to pass.
Both strategies are supposed to be less risky than simply betting that volatile natural-gas prices will move either up or down.

4. By early September, Mr. Hunter had become something of a contrarian. As gas prices fell precipitously because of a storage glut, Mr. Hunter held and increased bets that would pay off exponentially only if natural-gas prices rebounded, either on the prospect of a cold winter or a nasty hurricane that hit natural-gas facilities. That didn't happen, and prices fell more as evidence pointed to a meek hurricane season and a mild winter.

I believe Amaranth's biggest mistake was messing in a field it knew little about -- namely natural gas futures. The company's roots are in convertible bond trading, which is a whole other ballgame.

Fortunately I wasn't invested in Amaranth, but companies who should have known better were, including Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs were. When you give money to a hedge fund, you know little about what they're doing -- unless you ask up front for more specific, regular information and they agree to give it to you. Personally I think nobody -- individual or trader should borrow money to make "bets."

Note that word -- bet. That's the new word for gambling.

How to avoid bugs when flying: Turn on the overhead vent and direct the airflow just in front of your face. "On any given flight there's a 40% chance you'll sit within a few rows of someone with an upper respiratory infection," says Mark Gendreau, M.D. an emergency medicine specialist at the Lahey Clinic and an expert in aviation- related illnesses. "The vent will help tumble away any germs being spread. ... Drink plenty of fluids. The desertlike air in the cabin can dry your mucus cilia (nose hairs), preventing them from filtering out airborne germs." All this from my favorite men's magazine, "Best Life."

It's amazing how cheap laptops have become: You can buy a decent one for less than $1,000. I saw one reviewed by Laptop Magazine for $598 -- the Everex Stepnote LM7WE. It had a big 15.4 inch screen, a DVD writing drive, 512 megs of RAM, wireless and a reasonably fast processor. I was surprised how cheap it was.

When you buy a laptop, you must decide if it's a desktop substitute, or a simple portable for traveling. As a desktop substitute, you want something like Toshiba's Tecra M5, which I used and which has a multitude of options, including removeable drives, batteries, DVD drives, etc. If you want a pure travel thing, get a cheap one. But be aware your options, especially for memory expansion, may be very limited. Personally I find my Tecra M5 -- at 6 lbs -- to be perfectly fine for traveling.

The drunken cowboy:
A drunken cowboy lay sprawled across three entire seats in the posh Amarillo Theater. When the usher came by and noticed this, he whispered to the cowboy,"Sorry, sir, but you're only allowed one seat."

The cowboy groaned but didn't budge. The usher became more impatient:

"Sir, if you don't get up from there I'm going to have to call the Manager."

Once again, the cowboy just groaned. The usher marched briskly back up the aisle, and in a moment he returned with the manager. Together the two of them tried repeatedly to move the cowboy, but with no success.

Finally they summoned the police. The Texas Ranger surveyed the situation briefly then asked, "All right buddy what's your name?"

"Sam," the cowboy moaned.

"Where y'all from, Sam?" asked the Ranger.

With terrible pain in his voice, and without moving a muscle, Sam replied. "The balcony."

The good news:
A story is told of a Jewish man who was riding on the subway reading an Arab newspaper. A friend of his, who happened to be riding in the same subway car, noticed this strange phenomenon. Very upset, he approached the newspaper reader.

"Moshe, have you lost your mind? Why are you reading an Arab newspaper?"

Moshe replied, "I used to read the Jewish newspaper, but what did I find? Jews being persecuted; Israel being attacked; Jews disappearing through assimilation and intermarriage; Jews living in poverty. So I switched to the Arab newspaper. Now what do I find? Jews own all the banks; Jews control the media; Jews are all rich and powerful; Jews rule the world. The news is so much better!"

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.
Go back.