“Pass the Champagne!”

We’re getting close to end of another year. It’s been a sobering experience for any of us whom try to see the forest through the trees. The more one looks at things that don’t make sense, the more senseless it is to try. Forget trying to use your experience over the years, or for that fact any experience you’ve garnered over time. No one cares, and no one seems likely to care unless it all falls apart. Call me sentimental, but I remember a time when critical thinking mattered. It seems oh so long ago when it had relevancy, but for now it’s just talking the yarns of Ole. Maybe at sometime the resulting hangover will serve as evidence that staying too long at the punch bowl is not healthy. But as long as the bubbly is pouring I guess who is to say different. Besides, when everyone is inebriated with high hopes of never having to deal with a crisis again because they are now more sure than ever they know just what to do this time, well I guess you just pass the champagne. So let them toast to their new-found ideas, and out with the old and in with the new because we are oh so much smarter now…..

Remember when the USA was the engine of growth around the world and if GDP was under 4% it was a bad thing?……How foolish we were back then…pass the champagne!

Remember when we thought unemployment above 7% for any length of time was considered bad for the stock market?…..How foolish we were back then….pass the champagne!

Remember when we thought that the engine of growth for the world would be free market capitalism?…How foolish we were back then…pass the champagne!

Remember when it was a bad thing if a government nationalized a corporation?…How foolish we were back then…pass the champagne!

Remember when we thought spending a billion dollars was a large figure, and a trillion was near impossible?…How foolish we were back then…pass the champagne!

Remember when nearly 15 million people unemployed was a bad thing for the economy, and would hurt spending?…How foolish we were back then…pass the champagne!

Remember when if you took out a mortgage you would have to pay it back, regardless if there was a typo?…How foolish we were back then…pass the champagne!

Remember when if you were in foreclosure it meant eviction not a rent free time period to be exploited?…How foolish we were back then…pass the champagne!

Remember when keeping interest rates too low for too long would mean you were creating bubbles in the economy or bring on inflation?…How foolish we were back then…pass the champagne!

Remember when the US dollar was something you always thought would have value no matter what?…How foolish we were back then…pass the champagne!

Remember when monetizing the government’s debt was  something that was considered the same as paying one credit card with another and crazy?…How foolish we were back then…pass the champagne!

Remember when praising anything like what’s being toasted now was considered the babble of a bunch of drunkards?

There’s a great deal to be said for staying sober in my book.

Mark

Wrong or Early?…The Perils of Forecasting

If you would like to be revered as the “All knowing” just forecast what you believe to happen and have it come true. If you want to be shunned and mocked, do the same but with the opposite results. If you want unconditional reverence, my advice is get a dog.

Forecasting is done by everyone. We do it all the time when talking with peers or friends. It usually takes the form as an opinion rather than what can be explained as a forecast. You give some type of answer based on what you think will happen and if it does so be it, it was just an opinion. That same scenario changes dramatically when it goes from opinion to advice. Opinions are worthless and cost the same, everyone has one, but advice is usually paid for and has some form of actionable details contained within. Most people treat opinions and advice as equals. That’s foolish, but that’s for another column.

Whether you own a business or run one you need to forecast. Even if you are just planning a one day vacation, you’ll do it. However what most fail to predict, or neglect to calculate into any forecast is this…If a forecast event happens later than anticipated, was the forecast truly wrong? This is where most get it wrong in both business and life.

Problem with forecasting is most take it out of context. It’s a forecast of what might happen, or what should happen, or based on historical data points what is likely to happen. It’s not an all-seeing what will happen. All one needs to put this into perspective is think about your local weatherman. Look at all the scientific knowledge, computer models, historical data, radar systems, and much more at their disposal and look at the results. How accurate are they really? I give them the benefit of doubt most times, but if ones misses that thunderstorm call by saying afternoon and it comes in the morning? Look out is all I’ll say.

For months I’ve written on these pages that I believe there is a terrible storm brewing on the horizon. I’ll be the first to say I have been wrong in how soon I thought it would land, but I have not changed my original thoughts or calls for what I believe is coming. Many have said I just don’t understand the “New Normal” we are in. Some have said, “Why don’t you just admit you’re wrong.” All are fair points, all might have some validity to them, but I keep looking at the data points which most who are calling me wrong not only wont include, but even worse, act as if they never happened. I might be wrong and so be it, but refusing to look at other possibilities based on hard data is just nuts.

If you think there just might be some validity in the thought of early vs. wrong I’ve included the most recent cover of Barron’s below. As far as everyone is now concerned the stock market is healed and better than ever. Based on this alone, you should be readying the plywood for the windows.

Just a forecast from your lonely weatherman.

Mark

Giving Charlatan’s a Bad Name

char·la·tan

–noun

a person who pretends or claims to have more knowledge or skill than he or she possesses; quack.
or…..
A charlatan is a person practicing quackery or some similar confidence trick in order to obtain money, fame or other advantages via some form of pretense or deception.

We’ve all seen them. Just turn on your television on any given day and there they are staring in their own show. Oh wait, their own infomercial. That’s right, don’t want to get the two mixed up, but isn’t that the point of the show? At one time it was a clever ploy to make one feel like the information being discussed had real validity. Now the lines have been blurred to such extremes that watching a reality show might be more educational. (Heaven help us!)
Infomercials are a great way to express an idea or pitch a product. It gives unlimited time and freedom to put the product or service in the spotlight for the viewer to see. I am a firm believer and a proponent of infomercials. I like the ability and the positioning one can do for a product. It’s also a great revenue stream for the media companies to help fill airtime that would go unsold or unfilled. If one doesn’t think the media companies have free time on their hands, just count how many PSA’s ( Public Service announcements) you hear, or how many times you see the same commercials over, and over, and over again for some new and improved pimple cream, or the long-standing radio cry “commercial free hour of non-stop hits.” That’s because the non-stop advertisers have stopped advertising, nothing more.
In good economies and bad the charlatans are always there. They stick their finger in the wind, see what magical tricks they can conger up and sell to an eager public who might be down on their luck, or just have too much luck and need away to part with some of it. Today as I watched TV, even I was taken back by the brazen exploits of one.
The show starts out with a very familiar pitch man. He’s been on for years offering his self-help and how to books for quite a while, but today took the cake. It seems that the “interview” is done by a pair of TV show hosts that look like they belong standing next to a brass pole rather than sitting on a TV set. The co-anchors attire is more Victoria Secrets than Ann Taylor. I feel even Madonna would blush at the audacity of the outfits. Maybe that’s a stretch, but you get my point.
Charlatans have been around since the dawn of time, and don’t look for them to go away anytime soon. All one can do is try not to fall for the shenanigans.
Especially if they’re on full display.
Mark

The All You Can Eat “$” Buffet

Step right up and don’t be shy. Feeling a bit of a rumble in your portfolio? Maybe that’s because it’s hungry. Just step up and feast your eyes on this glorious buffet of stocks. It’s an all you can eat ( ah I mean buy) smorgasborg of funds. No …not just any single fund. All funds, everything. Just pick your fancy and dig in. The price you ask? Who cares…we’ll pay you for dining. That’s right, we’ll pay you. How’s that for a deal. It beats any senior citizen discount any day, any where. Who’s the chef of such a fine buffet? Chef  (uh hum..Chairman) Ben Bernanke. Watch for his new show coming to a TV near you. Maybe it’ll be called “Hot sizzlin’ stocks…Benny style.” You’ll be able to watch it on the TV’s they have in the banks while you’re standing in line. Word has it they’ll have a special channel there just for him, but for now just watch the stock market. You’ll get to see his creations albeit by osmosis of course, but who cares. They are delicious!

Sometimes you need sarcasm or parody to bring home to roost just what is happening in the bigger picture, and more important…why. It’s very easy to now explain. It’s probably never been easier. It’s almost as easy as ordering off the numbered menus at your local fast food chain. It’s all about the Dollar. Forget about corporate earnings, unemployment, bond issuance, all of it. It doesn’t matter. Not a bit. Oh yes, some will say it does, but I must point to the evidence. If real data mattered, why the are the  economic reports that are so bad treated as…”Ohhh so good”..Hmmmmmm? Because Chef Benny will keep the buffet open and serve it up as long as there are dollars to sell. That’s why.

At one time, you had to have an understanding that took years if not decades to master the financial world. Not now, just watch the dollar. The three card monte game that is now available to the participants is…Sell the Dollar…use that money and Buy Stocks. Don’t bother reading the ingredient label, it doesn’t matter, just eat. The opposite holds true also. If for any reason the dollar finds some footing, and starts to go higher..Oh Oh! The market will fall also. That’s what happens when it gets hooked on fast food with no real nutritional value. Great taste, but a lot of empty carbs.

It’s amazing to watch this correlation. All you need to do is now ask..”What did the dollar do today?”..and you will have everything you need to know. Dollar UP = Stocks Down,  Dollar DOWN = Stocks Up.

Who would have thought in the 21st century it was to be the dreaded “hamburg flippers”, and not the “college elite” who work in the pure models of high-powered finance. After all, you do get your dollars at the Fed by using the “Discount window.”

Can I get fries with that?

Mark

What “Captain’s” Understand, and Others Don’t

To say the last 3 years have been challenging would be quite an understatement. Whether you own a business or employed by one, as of late both have been in the same proverbial boat. Both sides have been doing what they can to keep the ship afloat. For some it meant hitting the lifeboats before it took on so much water that no one could be saved. For others, it meant putting a freeze on anything and everything that was an expense, right down to deciding the cost effectiveness of using either paperclips or staples. However, this is where charting the next course can only be decided by the Captain, for the next leg in this voyage is truly about understanding everything that goes into running a ship.

It would appear to most that the seas have calmed because of their lack of understanding of what it takes to actually run or own a business. For the Captain’s and the few employee’s who are of the entrepreneurial class, they are fully aware they might be in the eye of a hurricane.

Everywhere you turn, you see headlines that the stock market has come back with a vengeance, unemployment although at high levels has flattened, corporations are flush with cash, mergers and acquisitions are on the rise, and so on, and so forth. You hear friends and family members repeat sound bites from the TV or radio that “things are on the rise, get with it, now’s a great time to buy, rates have never been lower,” yet when you try to counter they just say…”You’re just being negative” or the more you try to explain, the more their eyes gloss over, so you stop trying.

It’s not easy being a Captain, an Owner, or an Entrepreneurial employee. Don’t look for it to change in the future either. If it was easy, everyone would be one. Your job in this ocean of ever-changing waves and tides is to navigate by what you know and understand, not what the land lubbers tell you. Reading a book titled ” Being a Captain for Dummies” doesn’t qualify them to chart the course of a true ship at sea, though they will argue otherwise.

Sometimes there are only a few decisions to make, but their importance is paramount. Here’s my top 3 at this moment…#1 Stay in port and wait for more favorable weather, #2 Decide to set sail, but never allow anything to compromise the worthiness of both the crew and vessel. Safety, and stamina must be unyielding.. If it’s not vital to the journey, it stays at port, not on the boat, or #3 If already at sea, check and recheck all details for ensuring staying on course, prepare and be open to all crew members what strategies will be employed if another storm is encountered. Can the hatches be battened down quickly, and if there’s no safe harbor within reach, what will be expected of them.

This is why you wanted to be in charge, this is what you understand must be done, and others don’t. They only see clear skies and smooth sailing. Your job is to always keep the ship afloat, after all…You wanted to be in charge, didn’t you?

You chart your own course.

Mark

Why didn’t anyone say “Happy Anniversary?”

Usually one way or another, when you miss an anniversary there’s heck to pay! Try saying to your significant other…”Of course I remember!” and not have a gift of roses, or something else of value (to them!)  Your present will be the doghouse if you don’t, and you’ll be lucky if only that! So tell me, what happens when it’s an anniversary that someone wants or hopes you’ll forget? Well it just happened if you weren’t paying attention, but I was.

Columbus day was quite the holiday back a few years ago but now it’s barely mentioned, but that’s still not the one I’m talking about. No the anniversary I’m referring to is Oct. 11, 2007 the day the stock market peaked at 1576.09 for the S&P, and 14198.10 for the Dow Jones. Just 3 short years ago we made all time record highs, and then need I remind anyone what happened next? For those who do, in less than 12 months they lost nearly 50% of their value trading down in the 700’s for the S&P, and in the 7000’s for the Dow, and most of us thought the world was coming to an end. Pretty scary even for the Halloween season. (pun intended) And what pray tell was the reason for such a debacle? The housing market, sub-prime mortgages, CDO’s. CDS’s, and a whole lot of other acronyms that I still don’t know what they mean.

Isn’t it funny that on the day Oct. 11. 2010 the Stock market hits another high on such a fateful date, and the financial media, the news media, and every other media is quiet. Hush hush to such an extreme that for me the silence is deafening. Could it also be because on this date the “Housing debacle” has now come right back with a new mess? Should I say the words….”Foreclosure debacle” or is that now the new taboo?

In a world where the financial channels celebrate the market rising 1 point because some rodent in PA saw its own shadow, don’t you find it odd they didn’t even mention it? Maybe everyone’s too busy whistling past the proverbial graveyard. Just hope the ghosts of the October’s past don’t get angry because they were forgotten this year. Not all ghosts like to dance in Michael Jackson videos, some can still remind you what scary truly is. For this anniversary, I remembered but I didn’t bring flowers………..

I brought garlic!

Mark

Playing by Your Own Rules

Eventually no matter who you are, no matter where you are in the cycle of life or economic scale, the day comes when you will have a decision to make. The decision will not be small. As a matter of fact more often than not it will be “The” decision. If you haven’t experienced it yet, trust me you will. For some it’s  happened more than once, but no matter if it happens once or even more, you’ll remember it like it was today, forget about yesterday!

Life has a peculiar way of putting you in places you either never dreamed possible, or a place that was originally a dream that has become a nightmare. It happens, it’s life, period! Regardless the outcome for good or ill, the question that must be asked of yourself in retrospect analysis should be, “Did I make the decisions based on my rules?”

When you play by your own rules remember that it’s only you who has the power to adhere to them. Life and everyone else playing this game are using their own rules, not yours, and they could care less about the referee in your game, and that would be you! As harsh as that sounds, it’s also one of the most fulfilling, energizing, and freeing conditions you’ll ever experience. Once you understand in your gut that it’s not others playing by your rules, but you adhering to them for yourself,  the game of life unfolds with all the advantages of a rigged game.

And you’re holding the winning hand!

Mark

Thanks!….”I Feel Much Better Now!”

As of this post, the S.E.C. ( Security and Exchange Commission) came out with its final report on what has become known world-wide as the “Flash Crash.”

It took nearly 6 months of investigations and countless interviews. Guess what? They found ( I’m paraphrasing here ) that the event was caused by a legitimate “Sell program” implemented by an account as a device in a hedging strategy. It found that it was not a mistake, it wasn’t a so-called “fat fingered” order, nor was it the act of intentional manipulation. Get ready, because here’s the kicker…..Although they have put some newer safeguards in place, they can not confidently say that it might not happen again! Just makes you feel warm and cozy now doesn’t it?

After the panic that happened that day, I speculated all the hand wringing, the jawboning, and everything else said about it being a mistake was a load of road apples. I stated having watched the market in detail that afternoon what I witnessed was the result of what happens when no one is buying, regardless of the price. I also stated that if it was a so-called “mistake,” why hadn’t the market gone right back up to that level? Would it not then have been a bargain bonanza?

The market since then has recovered, but it has taken months for people to forget about the implications of that day. I have written extensively that the market has been on shaky ground and could fall under its own weight even as everybody in the media is lauding it. Even during all this rally of the last 6 months my views have not changed. (Actually I’m more convinced than ever.) Some have tried to convince me otherwise, but their argument is based more on what I call “hopium” rather than facts. Only the market in the end will tell us what the truth is, so we’ll have to just wait and see. As I’ve said before, I could be totally wrong, but I’ll let my batting average speak for itself. Always remember in trying to prove if you’re right or wrong against the stock market…”The market can stay irrational much longer than one can stay solvent.”

Be rational…Stay solvent!

Mark

For those who forgot what the S.E.C. said could happen again at any time, Here’s the link from my original post.

“They do not allow cameras there, but they do allow this service to be broadcast. It’s subscription only. You have all likely seen on TV the shots of the exchanges with all these guys screaming Buy….Sell. Well here’s a link provided courtesy of  TradersAudio of what that fateful 15 minutes of panic sounded like.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1mC4tu1NhUA


“Lip Service” Please make it STOP!

Here’s some advice. I normally charge for advice, but I’m in a giving mood today. This advice is for any manager, owner, or anyone involved in some type of customer service implementation or strategy. Ready?…………

If it’s more than 5 questions, and takes more than the click of a mouse to answer e.g,  “Click 1 for Horrible or 10 for Outstanding”  you’re kidding yourself and should get what you deserve, Nothing! If you have a follow-up “Customer courtesy call” and you don’t shop your own call center, you’re wasting my time, your time, and everyone’s money. So please I beg of you, Stop! The longer this facade goes on, the more damage it does to any company offering true customer service. You’re giving your peers a bad name and it’s embarrassing.

Here are a few examples I’ll use that yours truly came across within the last month. Remember, I’m a repeat customer, I buy often, and I pay for membership privileges to these accounts. One would think they truly want my opinion, but oh the “Lip Service” makes them prisoners of their own fate. So here we go…………….

“Please take our survey to tell us how were doing, it will only take 20 minutes to fill out.”………..You’ve got to be kidding me…20 MINUTES!..I’ve also had others only ask for 10 MINUTES!  So I guess some brainiac believed they’re improving my condition by cutting the misery in half?  Yeah, that’ll do it!

“Please type your answer in the box provided. Please answer in detail to your overall experience”…….Sure, hold on while I review my notes. Should I include how aggravating getting this survey is to the experience also? How many words can I type here, this could rival War and Peace.

Here’s a great follow-up call I received from my cable company after an “Upgrade” I just purchased…..Hello Mr. ah Street..ah Sirey…I know my name can be hard for some at first glance..but anyone with experience in meeting or talking with people will tell you, Trick #1…Say who you are and why you’re calling…then politely say, I don’t want to get the pronunciation wrong, can you say you name for me? It’s not that difficult and should be known by anyone dealing with people!  Here’s the rest…….

Caller : You had an upgrade to your equipment yesterday, how’s it working?

Me: So far it seems OK…but I was supposed to get another service also, but it’s not available.

Caller: Oh..That wouldn’t be us…You need to call this phone number..1 800 blah blah blah…

Me: Excuse me, but aren’t you calling me to find out if I have any problems with the equipment?

Caller: Yes but I’m just calling about the equipment, you know, the new box the installer put in, how’s that working?

Me: OK..well..Yesterday when your installer came, the poor guy went through 3 boxes that all of them were junk and didn’t work. It wasn’t until he went through hooking up a 4th box that it finally seemed to work. I felt embarrassed for the installer, he apologized, and I understand it’s not his fault, but whoever is putting these boxes out for delivery and……….

Caller: Sir, that wouldn’t be me who would handle that, you would need to call this other number..1 800 blah blah blah….

Me: What is the reason why you are calling me again?

Caller: To check on how the equipment is operating.

Me: This is the most useless call I have received that I can remember in a Long… Long time…goodbye…and don’t call again……click.

Epilogue: Ten minutes later, my televisions went blue screen stating..”Your service has been temporarily suspended for Non-Payment..Please contact..1 800 _ _ _ _ _ _ _ “. I called and the issue was resolved, I told my story to this customer service agent…The response?  “Oh My!”    The result…just more lip service.

Mark

The Impending Resurrection of…”The Middle Man”

I can hear you all now…“He has lost his mind!”…but I don’t think so, and here’s why……

Anyone who is able to remember the wonderful tones of a dial-up modem connecting to the internet can also remember when a company offered true customer service. Not the so-called “customer service” that everyone encounters when they have a real issue, e.g, “Hello…You’re call is important to us, you are number 453,264 in line. Your expected wait time is…14 months, 22 days, and 13 hours, So please stay on the line….” Gives me a headache just typing that line, but I digress. Before that time you more than likely made your purchases through a so-called “Middle Man.” Before Wal-Mart it was  the local retailer, before Amazon it was the local bookstore, you catch the drift I’m sure. Now it’s the internet, with just about everyone buying something whether it’s a dog collar or a 5 bedroom home on a beach. You want it? Just enter your credit card number….done! However, what you can’t do is experience the product and have all the minutia explained in ways you truly understand. What’s even more valuable than that? The true customer service that came with dealing with the local retailer.

In a world that’s now acutely aware that you can instantaneously compare prices from around the world, what you can’t do is experience true customer service unless you’re face to face with the merchant. The beauty of this model is becoming acutely aware to both retailers, and customers once again. It is a fact, you can not give superior customer service at bargain basement prices. It just doesn’t work, and it never has.

The entrepreneurs that are seeing the value that has always been in the true customer service model are finding that there is, and will always be a market for this service. The beauty of the model if you dare to embrace it, is the fact that you might not be the “biggest”….but you might surely be the “best,” and that will lead you to higher profits, better employees, and loyal customers. That’s a strategy worth aiming for rather than trying to be the cheapest. After all…..It’s hard to compete with “Going Out of Business” sales…..So why try?

Mark