Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Conform and be dull

1) Did anybody notice that in the span of about three months the 10-year note went from yielding over 5% to 4.56% yesterday? Due to an assortment of reasons, I've pretty much ignored my bond portfolio since I took the comps, and boy if I wasn't in for a shock when I did. Look at the freaking yield curve. There is definitely not a lot of confidence out there, especially with the 5 year. This is one wacky economy.

2) So why does it seem the Pats can never beat the fucking Broncos? I mean, I've hated them since John "I'm a bitch and won't play for Baltimore" Elway was engineering his last-minute magic in the superbowl, bring the deficit under 50 points with like 20 minutes to play, and I think the Pats have beaten them twice since then. I don't get it. With one exception in each case, the last 5 years or so have played out like some NFL version of Rock, Paper, Scissors: The Broncos alway beat the Pats, the Pats always beat the Colts, and the Colts always beat the Broncos. It annoys the hell out of me, because I hate Denver so much.

3) And another thing, what is up with the refereeing in the NFL? Granted, I didn't expect much from the douche-bag in the Pats-Broncos game since he blatantly hates the Patriots (for evidence, see his diatribe at Brady in Miami at the beginning of overtime when he switched what was heads and tails on the coin toss). I never expect him to ref a Pats game fairly. But it does seem like, in the Pats-Broncos, Pats-Jets, and Cinci-Pittsburgh game (the three games I have watched live this year) that the referees are going nuts. Apparently roughing the quarterback is any hit that occurs when the quartback is about to think about throwing the ball, a reciever can get a defensive pass-interference penalty by just putting his arm on a defender (especially if his name is Asante Samuel), and offensive linemen stopped holding entirely.

Look, I'm not there on the field, and I get the benefit of replay, but if a defender is about to hit a quarterback/make a tackle and then a lineman is engaging that defender from the side and he is completely out of the play, that usually isn't organic.

If the quarterback has a man in his face as he releases the ball, it isn't roughing the passer if the guy hits him. Neither is it roughing the passer if the player is hit from behind by a lineman, hits into the QB's thigh, and slides down to his ankle. It also isn't roughing the passer if the lineman breathes in his general direction or reaches his hand out at him from behind the line off scrimmage.

And pass interference at this point is absolutely ridiculous. It is called inconsistently, irrationally, and often times on the wrong player. Maybe it is worse for the Pats because of their reputation, or maybe it is just my jaded view thinking it is, but half the time it is called on the defense it occurs because the offensive player initiated the contact. The refs need to remember that the defenders don't know which route the receiver is running, and if he is at the point where the ball is being thrown to, that isn't a penalty. If the receiver touches the defender and the defender pushes his arm away, that is a penalty on the offense.

Honestly, the refereeing is so bad, particularly in the passing game, that I almost don't want to watch the NFL anymore. And I mean this about non-Pats related games as well (though obviously I watch more Pats games than non-pats games), but I just feel cheated when drives are kept alive or teams handed 1st-and-goals by referees. I feel like I didn't watch a game as much as I watched a script, an extravagant WWE match that favors passing touchdowns without receptions, quarterbacks who throw with impunity and can hold onto the ball until the Rapture comes without fear of being hit because they know that their linemen will just hold the rushers and cut-block their legs in a consequence-free environment. And if somehow he does get hit, well, that's a free 15-yards from the yellow flag, a small price to pay to orchestrate a scoring drive by penalty. Hell, why throw a 10-yard out that can be intercepted when you can get 15 yards on a roughing the passer penalty?

Is this really the game I love? Really? Fuck!

4) The Resident Female and I, as well as the Lynchpin, all watched Heroes and Studio 60 last night, and we were surprisingly pleased by both. It seems that NBC's mad push at relevance seems to have paid at least some early dividends. I'm not saying their back to Seinfeld, Friends, ER, TGIF heyday just yet, but they seem to have a few shows with some promise going. I'm as shocked as you.

5) Deion Branch. Okay, this annoys me. Granted, I don't think BB was particularly forgiving in the whole showdown, but the Pats did offer him a fair contract (actually, they offered him 3 of them). But we did need him. Sure, receiver is not the place that a team should dump a large portion of its salary cap, especially one with the offensive philosophy of the Pats, but still. Reche Caldwell? Troy Brown in his 14th season? Okay, I like Doug Gabriel and Chad Jackson, but I don't think they have much this year. But the unintended consequence from this whole thing is that Brady now looks like he was just pistol whipped and forced to watch his dog get run over repeatedly. And can you blame him? The guy takes the hometown discount in order to leave some money for his teammates, and they all end up leaving in no small part because of management. Sure, Givens got overpaid, and Branch probably got more than he should have, but this still stinks.

6) Here are my least favorite teams in all of sports:

10. Texas Rangers - Tom Hicks and his "we're talking about trading A-Rod for Manny as a way to replace Nomar" bullshit earned them a place on this list, especially since he wanted the Sox to pick up more than 125% of that ridiculous contracted that he paid an extra $100mm for. Jackass.
9. Houston Astros - Roger Clemens can chew on the back of my ass. And what drunken southern hick thought it was a good idea to put a hill, complete with a flag pole, in the fucking outfield? Why stop there? Did they nix the idea to have a bunch of tires in the basepath so that the runner needs to step in each one on the way home? Or a moat around the pitcher's mound? "Hey, let's be the only 3-D field in the majors, and toss in a massive metal pole sticking out of the ground just for good measure. " Fucking Texas.
8. Toronto Blue Jays - Now that Hillenbrand is gone, I don't reallly dislike them so much as I just fear them. The Sox can't seem to ever pitch well against these guys.
7. Indianapolis Colts - They will remain on this list until 1) Peyton Manning stops doing those crappy commercials, 2) Jim Irsay moves them back to Baltimore, and 3) They put Jim Harbaugh back at starting QB.
6. Baltimore Orioles - Just something about them drives me nuts.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers - Honestly, if Joey Porter doesn't shut up, somebody is going to pop a cap in his ass. Oh, right.
4. New York Jets - Maybe they slid a place or two because they have blown huge donkey goats for a few years, but there is just something about these division rivals that makes my skin crawl. Even if it is a priviledge to write about and be lectured by Chad Pennington.
3. Broncos - When your blocking scheme is to ruin the livelihood of defensive linemen, you make the top 3 on general principle.
2. Canadiens - Flop, flop, flop! Zee Great White North: where it is like soccer on ice!
1. Yankees - Despite what Rocco and Guido from Jersey say, they are pure, unadulterated evil. It's like the rich kid who is a fuck up, but it doesn't matter because daddy will buy them success, then tries to convince you that they are classy and hard-workers. If classy means paying gaudy and ridiculous amounts of money for a bunch of players who have admitted to either taking steroids or smelling like chilled grapefruit, then I don't ever want to be classy.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

20 Minutes before I have to leave...

So 10 Quick Hits for you:

1) So I think I've finally figured out this whole "grad school" thing: basically, you wedge yourself into an environment where you constantly are feeling broke, bored, lazy, overwhelmed, immature, overly-mature, generally accompanied by a side of worhtless. In retrospect, how does it seem like a good idea that I went from earning a decent salary with fantasic benefits on a regular and sane schedule to a life that involves tending college students like sheep, constantly rehashing a shitload of calculus III, and being paid a pittance for my trouble? More importantly, why would any prospective employer look at this decision and say, "That's a person who always makes the intelligent choice, I want him on my staff!"?

2) Now imagine having all those feeling I pointed to in 1), but knowing that instead of economics you are studying something worthless, like Latin or 17th century French Literature.

3) Another thing I've noticed about life: while you can never earn enough to buy everything you want, and I had always self-imposed a certain level of scarcity in my life in order to save, but man if I wasn't prepared for this crap. I've figured out that, when you calculate all the hours a month I spend working as a TA, and the pittance that is my salary, I'm making somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.50 an hour.

4) Ortiz ties Jimmy Foxx with his 50th homer, and yet for some reason I don't care at this point. I grow weary of the lost cause that is this season.

5) So I recently remembered that I had nearly finished writing my book and that it might be a good idea to start the last few chapters and send it off to a publisher before my semester really gets into full swing. I have a feeling that is not likely to happen. As such, I am currently looking for a co-author who might like to finish this puppy off and be given a co-author credit and 10% stake in the books profits. Any takers? OK, how about 11%?

6) The Black Adder series with Rowan Atkinson and Hugh Laurie (i.e. House, M.D.) is quite entertaining. Although the Resident Female hated it, so what do I know.

7) Am I the only one that found those "Mac, PC" commercials extremely funny during the first generation, but now find them incredibly pretensious? Or how about those VW ones? Same thing there.

8) Screw Flanders

9) Honestly, if I had to do it all over again, I think I would have skipped out on the career in economics and instead pursued a career as being a Warlord in a 3rd World country.

10) Okay, so maybe writing a post while feeling very blue because of massive sleep deprivation isn't the best idea, beacuse point ends up being negative. Aw, fuck it.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

It's started

Check out this article. Yes, just like the tech stocks before it and the Junk Bonds in the 80s, the end of the great "can't lose" investment strategy has started. We've seen for a few weeks now stories on the news about how it is becoming impossible to sell properties around the nation, and now with the massive uptick in interest rates causing more and more foreclosures we can expect the game of real-estate hot potato to finally end. People who planned to ride a 10% increase in home-value to sell six months later are finding that they either have to carry the property or face losing not only the massive transaction costs but also the prospect of not even digging out the original purchase price in a lot of areas.

Unfortunately, spikes in foreclosures lead to three things:
1) Drops in the value of the home, both as the ownership exchange creates motivated sellers and as many residents stop caring for the property (or in some cases are purposefully destructive)
2) Drops in the value of area homes, as cheaper and less cared for homes in the neighborhood at best make more bargains depress the opportunity for supply, and at worst can lower the desirability of the neighborhood by opening it up to lower social strata.
3) More crime. Especially in urban areas and in cases of neglect/long waits on the market, there is a noticable upswing in crime in many neighborhoods where foreclosures exceed 10%. Part of this is due to the second factor: if your home losses value and your monthly payments rise with the interest rates, this can lead to negative equity (that is, the loan balance is bigger than the resale value of the home) which can encourage more foreclosures, which continues feeding the cycle.

It's really sad that so many people were putting their faith in a never-ending housing run-up, but it always amazes me how caught up in these things people can get. This is compounded by the fact that a lot of the people who are going to be stuck with outrageous mortgages in homes they can't afford are in this situation because they thought something along the lines of, "Gee, I lost half my money in the Tech Bubble, so I've got to jump on this Real Estate thing in order to catch up to where I was." And honestly, don't be surprised if these same people flip out in two years when the energy stocks they bought last week are still hovering around the same levels next year.

2) Speaking of energy stocks, I actually am pretty high on Pengrowth Energy Trust (PGH). How is it possible that I am pleased with an investment that I made which has since lost about 13% of it's equity value and has a 15% Canadian tax on all dividends? Because I've more than made my money back on the initial investment, since the stock is now yielding over 12% on it's dividends and my reinvesting those has more than made up for the loss in equity. Basically, I invested at just under $22 in '05 (in my IRA), it peaked at $25, is now below $22, and I've increased my holdings from 100 shares to 155 shares just from dividend reinvestments. Even if the dividends are being taxed by the Canadians, I'll take 85% of a 12% yield over 3% yield tax-free any day. Especially when the earnings have been rising.

Look at it like this: I'm essentially getting a free share and a half every month from a company that isn't really overextended and is making good money.

3) For the record, I think the purpose of this post is the following: there are always going to be run-ups, failures, and nice investment opportunities, but figuring out how to play them is hard. That's why it's best to be diversified pretty well. In terms of full disclosure, I'm invested in the following:

Individual stocks: 12% of my portfolio (up from 10%)
Mutual Funds: 78% of my portfolio
Bonds/Bond Funds (including TIPS): 9% of my portfolio (down from 10%)
Cash funds: 1% of my portfolio.

Plus I'm earning 5.25% on my savings in my One United savings account.

The mutual funds are 20% large cap value, 25% large cap growth, 20% international, 20% small and mid cap mixed, 10% commodities, and 5% REITs.

Basically, I've got my toes into everything, and I don't need to do anything other than rebalance occasionally. Don't put all you eggs in one basket, because market return is acceptable.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

One down, one to go

1) So the Micro comp went pretty well yesterday, or at least it felt like it did. One more day of nuts-to-the-rafters studying (which is like balls-to-the-wall studying on amphetamines), and I'm done until January.

2) I read in the paper that a bunch of political groups, led mostly by Christian Right Conservatives and Catholics, are up in arms about the claims of a scientist that said they can generate stem cells without destroying an embroyo by removing one of the 8 cells in the early stages of life. This is done regularly for in-vitro fertilization to test for major genetic flaws or other problems (like Gattaca light). This process would allow for new stem-cell cultures to be produced. Fantastic news, right? The scientist and society are pleased because they can actually work on curing diseases, and the crazies are happy because there is still another voter on the way. Everybody is happy, yes?

Well, you can imagine that nothing will ever be that simple. In the study, the scientists actually harvested all 8 cells and coaxed them into stem-cell cultures, rather than taking one and preserving the embryo. All the article said was that using a process that is already done on most test-tube babies as a matter of course, their results could be replicated. They didn't say they had actually made stems-cells from an embryo that survived, nor was that the goal of their study. Now all these jackasses who had one of their 22-year-old staffers read the paper's abstract and give them the gist are accusing the scientist of fraud, misrepresentation, and telling them they are "on the ropes" (Alren Spector) and that it is "a big black eye if scientists are making fake and inaccurate representations" (Washington Post, today's issue).

Hello? Is anybody awake? All they said was, "look, here's an idea. We already do this process which doesn't hurt an embryo to harvest cells. We have created stems cell cultures using that same material. We might be onto something here that could cure your alzheimers without pissing any right-wingers off." Now, apparently, they were making false claims that they not only grew stems cells in the lab from an embryo that wasn't destroyed, but that the embryo has grown into Jesus who has come to fix the medicare and social security problems in this country. I hate politics. I really do. How else can, "here's an idea that might satisfy your ethical crisis while allowing scientific progress to continue" turn into "you, sir, are a liar. Liar, liar, and your pants are on FIRE!"

The world will be so much better when I am dictator.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

A solution to the nation's education problems

Fantastic! Reducing school enrollment will lower operating costs, which lowers taxes required to run the schools, which allows for less crowding and parent involvement, which increases the quality of education. Beautiful. Plus, all this kids that are being home-schooled with shite and wacky educations will help stem the need for immigrantion, as they will begin taking up those low-paying jobs that "Americans don't want" because that is all their education allows them to safely do. That's what I call killing two birds with one stone. Thanks, Evangelical Christians!

Of course, this also could mean that the money we save now in education costs will taxed out of our salaries later in the form of welfare benefits. Hmm...

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Not to keep harping on this, but...

Okay, so the Resident Female just asked about how the Sox have been doing since the Yankees series. So, I decided to inform her about the team's snake-bitten month position by position:

C: Surgery on starter's knee, backup hurt his ankle, 3rd catcher is a corpse
1B: Remains healthy, but has been hitting about .250 over the last two months. The star of the team.
2B: Injured thigh and has been relegated to DH even though he has no power. Is able to occupy this spot because...
DH: Has heart palpitations.
SS: Hurt his back. Backup SS just hit his first HR in 250 ABs with a little help from a clueless fielder
3B: Healthy. Just hit his first extra base hit in three weeks
LF: Knee injury has finally put him on the shelf. Same knee problem that ended up finishing McGuire and apparently Barry Bonds
CF: Hurt his shoulder diving for a ball. So far, play has actually improved.
RF: Starter still out, back-up has tendonitis in his wrist

SP1- Just found out he is scratched from next start
SP2- Tore open a cut on his finger, has been largely ineffective anyhow
SP3- Been on the shelf with a broken rib since July
SP4- Traded to Padres
SP5- Cancer

CL- Screwed up his shoulder last night

All in all, that is quite a month.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Oh man

First game I've watched in weeks, and what happens? Oh, just our other stud-rookie going down with what could be a devastating, possibly career threatening injury (though not likely life-threatening).

As for the other stud rookie, well, he's got lymphoma. Get better, Jon. Not that cancer is ever a good thing, but my limited knowledge on the subject does say that having large-cell is better than small-cell cancer and is generally treatable, so I guess that is a positive. Regardless, even though I feel bad for the guy, I also feel weird and strangely emotionless at the diagnosis. Once again, as the choir of writers prepare to pepper us with "get better", "it sure puts thing into perspective", and "this transcends the petty nature of the game, we should all pray for him" columns, I find myself in the perplexing scenario of trying to emote with a person I know little about and find respectful passion for someone that (as of a few months ago) had absolutely no influence on my life. Honestly, I never feel entirely authentic, and I almost feel somewhat hollow and shallow, when I try to say "get better" and mean it. Is that awful to say? I mean, I'm not wishing harm on the guy, and I really do want him to get better rather than worse if given the choice, but is it wrong to acknowledge the fact that his illness really bears very little meaning to me? Does that make me less than humane, emotionally dead, or just pointing out what other people don't acknowledge or don't want to acknowledge? I would appreciate comments.

Thank goodness my brain is a nice pastey mush of endogenous growth and Cobb-Douglas production functions, or else I might be a little bit depressed.