Money, Money, Money

George Washington Looks Upon the NYSE

High atop the front steps of Federal Hall, where he was first inaugurated, stands a statue of George Washington. He looks down on Wall Street and across it upon the New York Stock Exchange. This is the financial center of the world. This morning, we headed out to West County to visit our broker and our own little financial center. Afterwards for lunch, we dined out at Yen Ching. At the end, we got fortune cookies. Mine said, “An important discussion involving you will take place today.” This seemed more like post-diction than prediction. Anne’s said, “Your luck will soon be at a high point.” To which she quipped that it is all downhill from here. Our diagnostic meeting confirmed that our finances are in order and as far as retirement goes, everything is going according to plan, but as they say, past performance is not indicative of future results. Continued vigilance is required, but at least we are on the right path for now. 

The Rot Has Set In

Unusual Brick Erosion at Fort Zachary Taylor

Pictured is part of the ceiling of one of the enclosed ramparts at Fort Zachary Taylor, which is located in Key West. Shown is some unusual erosion in the ceiling’s brickwork. Normally, the mortar around the bricks erodes first, but in this instance the reverse has occurred, the bricks have eroded, leaving raised rings of mortar still standing around each one. Fort Taylor, once a 19th-century coastal fortification, is now a state park. So, what we see here is a situation where the center has rotted-out first, leaving just a crumbling shell. I offer this oddity as segue to a discussion of our current administration’s plight.

Roiled since its inception, President Trump’s Whitehouse is now facing daily defections. This soap opera has played out accompanied by the steady drumbeat of the Russian investigation. Trump’s lashing out in frustration on Twitter serves only as counterpoint, but recently a new wobble has developed. First there was DACA and then gun control, in both cases Trump had first publicly adopted a position counter to GOP orthodoxy, only then to retreat in the face of blowback.

Now, he has moved on to tariffs. Yesterday, he proposed new tariffs on metals. The markets immediately panicked. Next week’s deadline for implementation allows plenty of time for this latest self-inflicted crisis to dominate the news and then generate opposition, before it also cravenly slinks away. However, unlike guns or DACA, which both required congressional cooperation to succeed, Trump can impose these tariff unilaterally. Always on the hunt for a win, no matter what, he might just pursue his course and let the world be damned.   

A Black Swan

A Black Swan

A Black Swan

Well, #Brexit went from being just yesterday’s dog’s breakfast, all the way to a full-fledged black swan today. The markets cratered. I got a text this morning from the Perma-Bear, “You stock-market timing guru. Be sure to let me know when the relief rally will start.” You see, I shorted #Brexit, so to speak. I withdrew extra money from our savings, as a precaution for what actually occurred. Now, we can afford to wait a while, before we have to go back to the well. Hopefully, I withdrew enough to weather this financial storm, because old Alan Greenspan and at ninety he is really old was saying this morning that #Brexit is “just the tip of the iceberg”. He could be right, but I’ll be monitoring the situation, because the next shoe to drop could be #Departugal or #Czechout or #Finish or even #Byegium.

Enough of this gloom and doom, because today is Forest Park’s 140 birthday. Anne and I rode in the park this morning, before the day heated up. We got Anne to within striking distance of her mileage goal for the first half of the year and we’ll get her across the finish line later this weekend. We attended the park’s birthday party at the visitor’s center. Forest Park Forever hosted it and the celebration featured an acoustic band, speeches (naturally), lemonade and cupcakes. The cupcakes were really good.

We voted today, for the August primary election for state and local offices. I voted Democratic and as I have already written, Chief Wana Dubie was on the ballot for US Senator. I did not vote for him. Neither did I vote for Young, Bill Clinton or MD Rabbi Alam, both of whom were running for Secretary of State. After voting, it being well past lunchtime, we headed over to Southwest Diner and got a really good parking spot, only to find that the place had closed at two. We went to the Bottleworks instead and split a soup (really chili) and salad combination. They really hit the spot. I also had a pint of their newest concoction, Coconut Crème Ale. It was both smooth and sweet.

The Big Short

Anne on the Forest Park SE Pedestrian Bridge

Anne on the Forest Park SE Pedestrian Bridge

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble.
It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. – Mark Twain

“The Big Short” is Adam McKay’s movie based upon the Michael Lewis book by the same name. It is a historical drama about the great recession, from the point of view of the few that profited greatly from our national economy’s demise, by betting against it. It’s a boy’s club tale, starring Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Steve Carell and Brad Pitt. There’s plenty of fourth wall interaction in the movie, Gosling acts as both character and narrator through this medium. One effect that I appreciated were the many period stills that punctuated the movie. I know, it hasn’t even been ten years, but a lot has changed since then. The movie has a lot of technical financial terms to explain, read boring. It relies on cameos for this function. One of my favorites was Margot Robbie’s bubble bath scene. Hey, I’m a guy. Anyway, it’s a first-rate movie and I highly recommend it.

Truth is like poetry. And most people f-ing hate poetry.
– Overhead in a DC bar

Gosling does a voiceover near the end of the movie where he explains all the ramifications from the great recession, “100s of bankers went to jail, the big banks were broken up and Congress enacted sweeping financial regulations.” Then with a record needle’s scratch, he corrects himself, “None of that stuff happened. Instead, it was all blamed on immigrants and the poor.”

All that is solid melts into air; all that is holy is profaned.
– Communist Manifesto

Then there was Carell’s interview with the Standard & Poor’s bond rating representative. She had just come from an appointment with the eye doctor and was wearing one of those disposable sets of wraparound shades. She was the perfect image of blind justice, until she ripped them off and admitted her culpability, in selling AAA bond ratings for fees.

Peak Paper

We Three Kings...

We Three Kings…

We three Kings [penguins] of orient are[n’t]

The world hit ‘peak paper’ in 2013, and the production of it is now falling, what was once a meme, the paperless office, is now twenty years later becoming a reality.¹ In the 20th-century, the growth of information and the primary means of its dissemination, paper, grew in lockstep. In the 21st-century with the advent of the Internet that relationship was broken. In 2010, Eric Schmidt of Google estimated that “Every two days we create as much information as we did up to 2003” and yet paper production is in decline. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect the e-card ever to overtake the paper valentine, especially if your cardstock missive has its message of love written in candy sprinkles. There is something tactile and pleasing that the holding of a card, letter or book will never have supplanted by a text, email or e-book. There will always be books, but there will also be more e-books. Like the CD/DVD in this age of downloads and streaming, most books will soon be sold around Christmas as gifts.

Let’s turn from the grandeur of macroeconomic to our personal microeconomic situation, with a topic of current discussion in our house, should we keep getting the paper? Anne says yes. I say no. The paper in question is the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, once the flagship of the Pulitzer publishing empire. Like all such dailies it has suffered under the digital onslaught and is now just a skin and bones ghost of its once former corpulent self, but that’s not my main gripe. Nor is the fact that on most days the paper is thrown into the recycling bucket unread. No, my real gripe occurs when we go on vacation, request a hold on the paper, which is accepted by the Post, but then ignored by their delivery guy. If not for the kindness of our neighbors, we would return to a front yard littered with old newspapers, a sure sign that no one is home and who knows what other nasty surprises left inside the house, just a symptomatic dysfunction of print.

¹ “Doing more with less: the economic lesson of peak paper” by John Quiggin

The Tattle-Pail

Chinook Fry

Chinook Fry

Tattle-tale titmouse laid an egg in my house.

Having grown tired of hearing her students tattle on each other, Anne has instituted what I like to call the “tattle pail”. It is really more of a basket, but I like the alliteration of pail. Any student with a grievance can drop a note in the pail, finger the guilty, but most importantly alleviate Anne from their constant tattling. When she introduced this concept to the class, she used as an example two wholly fictional characters: “Joey, farted and didn’t say excuse me – Sally.”

Another institution has come to remind me of late, of some of the immature behavior exhibited by some of her students. I’m speaking of the stock market. At the end of last year the Fed raised interest rates for the first time in years and the market had a fit, “This is hard. I can’t do it. I don’t like paying interest. I like free money instead.” First it was the interest rate bump, then it was the Chinese and then oil. The maturity level of the brokers, financiers and other titans of industry is appalling. If they don’t shape up, I’m going to have to send them all to the buddy room and they won’t like that.