Saturday, January 5, 2013

Cab Thoughts 1/5/13

One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture and, if it were possible, speak a few reasonable words. -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, poet, dramatist, novelist, and philosopher (1749-1832)

Sometimes the smallest things have importance as indicators. One of these small things: Robert Parker is selling a controlling interest in "The Wine Advocate" newsletter to businessmen in Singapore. The move reflects the tilt of fine-wine sales to the Far East and Southeast Asia as economies expand and consumers develop a taste for conspicuous consumption. Parker has been responsible for so many changes in the world of wine--some perhaps worrisome like his numerical rating system. But he was a remarkable influence. It is an astonishing change in the wine world.

How could I know more about Kim Kardashian's baby than I know about Hilary Clinton's stroke?

Pearl Buck's older sisters, Maude and Edith, and her brother Arthur had all died young in the course of six years from dysentery, cholera, and malaria while their missionary parents were in China.

The average age of Americans' cars is 10.8 years

This new finance bill is filled with advantages for the usual suspects. Cleaning this up is not hard, it just is not on anyone's agenda. The Senators even voted down, 14-10, an amendment to list the corporate interests that receive tax perks on a government website. Voted listing the bill's beneficiaries down! Shameless.
One of the unexpected revolutions in the world of energy has been the U.S.' sudden explosion in natural gas production. We may be exporting it in a few years while prices as well as imports have dropped, amazingly without government subsidy. However, where there is success there is a predator. Fracking technology is driving America's oil and shale-gas boom, yet a White House executive order from April directs no fewer than 13 federal agencies to consider new regulations on fracking-although it is already regulated by the states.

An interesting social/religious custom was reported by Marco Polo in small villages outside of what is now Beijing. The small towns eagerly shared their women, wives and daughters, with travelers. (This actually brought the wrath of the Khan down on them until they bought him off.) This apparently is a well-established custom of the region and an exception to 'village endogamy,' in which the people of the same community intermarry to preserve assets and bloodlines. Endogamy brings with it the hazard of incest and birth defects. Exogamy, or marriage outside the clan, refreshes a depleted gene pool. If the outsiders were nomadic, as Marco suggests, the replenishing of the gene pool would be accomplished without challenging the existing order. Much of Europe at the time was very heterogeneous with isolated villages that did not even speak the language of the neighboring villages. I wonder how they escaped this "endogamy."

The very well regarded writer George Saunders graduated from the Colorado School of Mines and, after, went to work for an oil-exploration company in the jungles of Sumatra.

The new anti-fracking movie, poorly disguised as a drama, with Matt Damon, was funded by Middle East money. This agitprop approach has always been around but now it is getting pretty raw. The lack of subtlety cuts two ways: On one hand it's easy to see, on the other it clearly doesn't matter to the propagandist who thinks most will not look hard or care.

Social Security ran a $47.8 billion deficit in fiscal 2012, drawing in even less than it paid out last year, with just 1.67 workers supporting each retiree. The number of retirees and disabled using the system grows by 10,000 people a day.

Both Chile and Galveston,Texas have pension funds that are private, that is the social security money is invested in investment funds. Those two pension funds have shown average returns of 7% to 10% over 30 years. Efforts to privatize American pensions by both Clinton and Bush have been resisted--strange for an economic system like ours to oppose private investment anywhere. But if those funds are invested, they are not available for government appropriation.

Who is Tim Murphy and what was his relationship to the well-regarded Simon Frasier?

Christopher DeMuth in the Weekly Standard makes an interesting if obvious point. Deficit spending once was largely for investments - building infrastructure, winning wars - which benefited future generations, so government borrowing appropriately shared the burden with those generations. Now, however, continuous borrowing burdens future generations in order to finance current consumption. Today's policy, says DeMuth, erases "the distinction between investing for the future and borrowing from the future." The problem, possibly, is that government sees investment spending and consumption spending as the same because both go, unweighted, to GDP. (the suggestion is mine, not DeMurth's) The lesson: never let the government near a formula.

One solution to Prostate Cancer would be to move to Scandinavia. The studies there show the disease has less impact there.

We are 13 years into a secular bear market in the United States. The Nasdaq is still down 40% from its high, and the Dow and S&P 500 are essentially flat. European and Japanese equities have generally fared worse. The average secular bear market in the US has been about 11 years, with the shortest to date being four years and the longest 20.

The International Longshoremen's Association, AFL-CIO, is the largest union of maritime workers in North America, representing upward of 65,000 longshoremen on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, Great Lakes, major U.S. rivers, Puerto Rico and Eastern Canada. Dockworkers on the West Coast are represented by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. According to James Capo of the U.S. Maritime Alliance, which represents management at the 14 deepwater ports along the East and Gulf coasts, ILA members coastwide average $124,138 a year in wages and benefits, "which puts them ahead of all but 2 percent of all U.S. workers. They earn an average hourly wage of $50 - more than double the $23.19 average for all U.S. union workers. They also pay no premiums and minimal co-pays and deductibles for a health care plan that is better than most U.S. employers provide their workers."
Price/Earnings (P/E) ratios are very good ways of evaluating stock market risk. And what influences P/E? In effect, the economic growth rate determines the P/E range and midpoint, and the inflation rate determines the location and trend within the range. Good growth, earnings (E) up, low growth, earnings down. Inflation up, prices down (due to competition with bond yields). However you view the prospect of increased taxes, there is no way to get around the fact that they will reduce general savings. If you reduce savings you reduce the capital available for investment in current and future businesses. If you reduce capital formation, you're going to reduce future growth.
The EPA has been investigating Fracking and its possible relationship to water contamination. Their studies in Texas and Pennsylvania showed no relationship (these results did not discourage a Middle Eastern financed movie from saying there was) but a Pavillion, Wyoming study did show contamination. Except the study was so flawed the EPA, after seeing their results were in conflict with the U.S. Geological Survey, withdrew it. The Tulsa-based energy and water-management firm ALL Consulting concluded: "Close review of the EPA draft report and associated documents reveals a number of concerns about the methodology, sampling results, and study findings and conclusions. These concerns stem from apparent errors in sampling and laboratory analysis, incomplete information that makes it difficult to assess the validity of the results, and EPA's failure to seriously consider alternative explanations for the results of its investigation. . . . Taken together, these concerns call into question the validity of EPA's analytical results and their conclusions regarding the sources of the reported contamination." So the regulator can't do the regulation and investigation correctly. Great.
Unions are big business. There is a fascinating thesis out there that says Obama's election was a direct result of Scott Walker's Right-to -Work success in Wisconsin. The unions recognized they were at risk and responded seriously. They spent five hundred million dollars (a half a billion!) on Obama's campaign and used 450,000 paid workers to canvass significant swing states, campaigning and getting the vote out. They may have been the difference.

Golden Oldie on the "cliff:"

AAAAAAaaannnnnddddddd ...a graph:

Real Price of Gold over 200 Years

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