Philippines on the Rebound

May 14, 2010

Following last week’s voter turnout, the Philippines may face a resurgence as a nation, with a promising newly elected president. Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Cojuangco Aquino III, the son of former President Corazon Aquino, seems like an honorable fellow who won’t be swayed toward corruption. The only concern would be whether he would be strong enough to rise above all the political crap dished out by senators, representatives and rivals. Philippine politics can demonstrate failure in democracy as many voters tend to pick candidates based on popularity, looks and, of course, promises that aren’t delivered, rather than on capabilities and integrity.

Aquino can stand on his own, if he sticks with his principles and rebuffs comments from his opponents. Hopefully, he won’t be a lame duck president during the next six years he’s in power (or powerless).

In Line to Succeed?

May 6, 2010

At the annual Berkshire Hathaway Inc. stockholders’ meeting on May 1, my traveling companion came up with an interesting observation that should have really mattered the most (and she’s usually right about 90 percent of the time, I guess) — no successors in sight or mentioned to replace Warren Buffett or Charlie Munger. Sure, both men had relayed that an immediate succession plan would be in effect should either of them be out. But it would help to see these folks on stage as well.

Future stockholders’ meetings exclusively with the octogenarians Buffett and Munger will be limited, and it would be a relief to many shareholders to see the next generation of competent managers. Maybe next year, Buffett would be wise enough to expand the stage’s panel to include top managers so that a surprise successor won’t cause investor flight. Now would be the time to at least hear some new voices, to create a sense of relief that the behemoth of a ship known as Berkshire won’t sink and its passengers (read investors) won’t be scurrying overboard.

For a duo who seem to advocate integrity, allowing the next generation of Berkshire managers to speak would seem like a no-brainer. Unless, of course, the reason being that Buffett and Munger want to hog all of the available air time with investors to themselves. Munger quipped on almost everything from competent CEOs to the state of Greece’s affairs to monetary policy.

From Buffett, “We expect to do dumb things. It’s that we get mad when people do dumb things with our money.”

From Munger, “If you’re scared to do something, maybe you should get your feet wet with a little more failure.”

Buffet Serving

May 1, 2010

In attendance at Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s annual shareholders’ meeting, and the Oracle of Omaha and his sidekick Charlie Munger are putting on a pretty good show, providing quips so far on their investments such as Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and the U.S. economy and the state of Greece’s affairs. More later…

Shitty Deal on the “Shitty Deal”

April 28, 2010

Hmmm.

The New York Times seemed to have skipped it entirely, as did The Wall Street Journal. The Associated Press placed asterisks for letters between s and y. But television news organizations including C-SPAN didn’t bleep it out during yesterday’s proceedings. And Bloomberg News placed it prominently in the first paragraph of one story.

Senator Carl Levin, presiding over testimony from Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s sale of some mortgage-related investments, chose to describe the transaction — borrowing words from a Goldman executive’s email — “a shitty deal”. The profanity probably caught some news organizations scrambling for compliance with regulators on banned words. But I’m sure the Federal Communications Commission will turn a blind eye to the Senator’s multiple utterances of the s-word.

Thailand’s Stand-Off

April 27, 2010

So, in Thailand it appears that anti-government protestors, the so-called Red Shirts, have the upper hand. They have managed to put a stranglehold on the nation’s economy by holding Bangkok captive — namely, tourists are likely to hold off traveling to the Land of Smiles. And Thailand’s military and police forces have done little to remove these protestors from the streets.

Today the Reds managed to shut the capital’s light rail service known as the BTS, disrupting work and forcing thousands of commuters to seek alternative modes of transportation. What will it take to stop these protestors? Many hail from Thailand’s provinces, and when you don’t have much income and face little opportunity in life, heck, you don’t have much to lose.

The King spoke recently, but his words haven’t dissuaded the Red Shirts from giving up their cause, and what cause may that be exactly? To bring back into power ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is persona non grata in some countries? And what will his return bring to Thailand anyway? Maybe more divisiveness between the elite and poor, in a nation whose population is mostly Buddhist?

Thailand has faced 18 coups since its conversion into a constitutional monarchy in 1932, with breakouts of civil disobedience in between. In the past week, sporadic acts of violence have erupted, and you can’t rule out similar bouts.

That’s just about enough of my rambling, for now anyway…

Review: Numbers Rule Your World

April 20, 2010

I really don’t do book reviews, but this is an exception. And I’m still in the middle of reading it, too. Kaiser Fung, a Cambridge-Harvard-Princeton -educated statistician with probably too many degrees than he knows what to do with (sic student for life), recently had a book published with the title “Numbers Rule Your World”.
I’m only a couple of chapters into the tome, and so far it’s pretty good. If you ever wanted to figure out why stoplights are installed on some ramps at highways, he’ll provide you with the answer. (SPOILER ALERT: It’s to help in regulating the flow of traffic.)
The McGraw Hill-published book reads like Freakonomics, with a slant toward statistics and probability in an easy-to-read format and language, to help us to stay informed about everyday stuff that we take for granted. For folks who have inquisitive minds about why stuff is there and what happens, I suggest reading Fung’s book, which was recommended by a friend who also seems to be into understanding innocuous bits of circumstance.
At 208 pages it’s a quick read on those subway trips between your home and work, and you’ll be done soon enough to pass Numbers on to the next fellow or to keep on your bookshelf forever unnoticed (or almost forever unnoticed, anyway).

The Hunt Is Open

April 17, 2010


http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303491304575187920845670844.html


To those involved with the sale of bad CDOs to investors in the past few years, beware — the Securities and Exchange Commission might be coming after you! Karma’s a bitch, huh?

From the mouth of 31-year-old Fabrice Tourre, a Goldman trader who sold a collateralized debt obligation on bad faith in 2007: “Only potential survivor, the fabulous Fab … standing in the middle of all these complex, highly leveraged, exotic trades he created without necessarily understanding all of the implications of those monstruosities!!!”

Poor fellow, he’s smart enough to have graduated from Ecole Centrale Paris and Stanford University, but stupidity comes in many forms. Whatever may happen to Tourre’s career, I wonder if he would appreciate listening to Elton John’s song “I’m Still Standing.”

This deal reminds me of that sketchy transaction between Tishman-Speyer and BlackRock’s lead purchase of New York’s Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village apartment rental complex for $5.4 billion from MetLife Inc. in 2006. As the value of that property plummeted in the following years, each of those companies stood to have lost just $112 million, while larger investors lost hundreds of millions of dollars more.

Newsweek-Hubris

April 15, 2010

http://www.newsweek.com/id/236190

This week’s issue of Newsweek suggests hubris of a premature recovery in the U.S. economy. Recoveries don’t happen overnight, which in this case means less than two years. More likely America’s true economic rebound is likely to take shape over the course of a few years, at least. And there’s no guarantee that this economic recovery as told by Newsweek will be sustainable.

American thinking will likely remain the same, that McMansions will continue to be built and investment will simply shift into another asset that will soon be overvalued as part of get-rich-quick scheme. Attitudes of spending less and saving more should be preached, even as the Federal Reserve continuing to print money and keeping interest rates low.

But consumers are likely to maintain the psychological view that the attainment of material goods still matters and will spend, which might be good for the economy in the short term but necessarily for the long term.


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