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Showing posts from 2015

Don't Die of F****** Pneumonia

One of my cousins was recently admitted to the hospital with pneumonia, and went straight into the ICU. People tend to ignore pneumonia, or minimize its seriousness. You might have even heard people talking about “walking pneumonia”. That, in technical terms, is BS. Pneumonia is a badass illness. According to Centers for Disease Control, 53,000 people died of pneumonia last year. For those of us over 65, vaccinations are recommended, with the usual exceptions for certain conditions. And it is recommended for many under 65 with certain conditions. There are two different vaccines that cover different strains. You need both shots. Of course it isn’t foolproof. The vaccines aren’t 100% effective, and new strains emerge. Still, there is no reason to get seriously ill from a strain that a vax would have likely prevented.
If you are over 65 and haven’t had the shots, go see your doc. Don’t screw around. And if you are younger, check with your parents, other relatives and friends to make su…

Ten Reasons Stock Buybacks Are The Tool of Lazy Management

Stock buybacks are all the rage. There is even an investing newsletter called Total Yield that adds dividends and stock repurchases and uses that measure as a key criterion for investment decisions. Despite its widespread popularity, I’m not crazy about stock buybacks. In fact, they are increasingly signs of dumb, lazy or incompetent management. Here’s why:
1.They are frequently used as a palliative to offset bad news.About to issue an earnings release with a sales decline and a miss to analyst estimates? Throw in a stock buyback to see if it will relieve some investor pain, or even better, moderate a certain stock price decline.

2.It doesn’t return money to shareholders; it gives money to people who no longer want to be shareholders. Real believers in a company’s story want to hold the stock. Who sells into a buyback? People who no longer believe.

3.It raises questions about management motives. The proxy report, with all those new government-required compensation disclosures, is now a…
As happens this time of year, publishers list their most important/influential/etc. youngsters.  As an example, the May issue of Wired has “20 Unsung Geniuses”.  We think mature adults deserve recognition just as much as 20-something billionaires.  Here is our Sixty Over Sixty list of the most influential, annoying, important or folks we just find interesting.  Here then, sorted by age, is The Sixty Most Important Leaders Over Sixty.
Henry Kissinger.  Still the U.S. best thinker on foreign policy and diplomacy. His recently published book (at age 91) World Order is not only a best seller, it is extraorinary. Jimmy Carter.  Better as an ex-President than President.  His work for Habitat for Humanity is a lesson for all of us. T. Boone Pickens.  Oilman, energy expert.  Creator of The Pickens Plan for energy independence. Frank Gehry.  Showing the world what new materials and CAD design can do to architecture. Warren Bufett. Best investor in history.  Becoming one of the best philanthro…

Is Retirement Over?

Has the concept of retirement come to an end?
Background Retirement, in human terms, is a new concept.  Until the industrial age and the massive shift from farms to factories, there really wasn’t retirement.  One worked the family farm or ranch until unable to work.  At that point one hoped that his children would take care of him during his short remaining life.  Industrialization changed much of that.  While manual farm work was back-breaking labor (and, even with today’s highly mechanized farms, remains so), coal miners, steel-mill-hands, textile plant employees, slaughterhouse and meatpacking plant workers and millions of others had it even tougher, with serious workplace injuries and fatalities common.
Bismarck is credited with the first old-age pension in 1889. The industrial age was dawning, and Germany needed an incentive to convince young workers to leave the farm for factory jobs in the cities.  This was a part of that plan. It became widely copied in form and substance.  It…

Amazon vs. Wal-Mart - My Annual Comparison

Here is a high-level comparison of Amazon to Wal-Mart. Note that Amazon uses a calendar year, while Wal-Mart uses a traditional retail fiscal calendar ending January 31st. I’ve compiled some numbers and ratios from each company for their respective fiscal year periods that include most or all of 2014. Therefore this comparison is slightly off. However, the comparison does include the traditional peak seasons of back-to-school and Christmas in both. To make my job easier, I’m listing Wal-Mart first each time in the following comparisons.
Revenue: (in billions) Absolute:  $485.6 vs. $89.0 Revenue Growth $:  $9.4 vs. $14.5 Revenue Growth %:  2.0% vs. 19.5%
There is no question that the clear growth winner is Amazon – adding $5.1 bil more in revenue in the last twelve months despite Wal-Mart’s base size advantage.  And the rate of growth is indeed impressive at almost 10X Wal-Mart’s.
Operating income: (in billions) Absolute: $27.1 vs. $0.2 Operating income growth $: 0.3 vs. $(0.5) Operati…

Review: The Second Machine Age Work Progress And Prosperity In A Time Of Brilliant Technologies

From time to time one reads a book that is important. The Second Machine Age Work Progress And Prosperity In A Time of Brilliant Technologies by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee is important. In the authors’ view, the confluence of falling technology costs, increased computer processing power, cheap sensors and the quality and ubiquity of networks, are ushering in a revolution equally as potent and far-reaching as the Industrial Revolution. Drawing parallels to the effect on civilization of the Industrial evolution, and how long its subsequent impact has continued, they see brilliant technologies in the early stage of changing about everything. They provide a historical context on the growth in living standards, starting with the domestication of the horse, development of agriculture, which led to cities, afforded great armies and so on.  Things really didn’t advance much from there until the steam engine was perfected, which created factories, mass transit, electrification and es…

Four Reasons to Be Optimistic About Medicare

The most recent trustees’ report forecasts that the Medicare trust fund will be exhausted in 2030. While that is a financially frightening prospect, there was good news buried in the report: the previous forecast indicated the funds would be gone in 2026. I believe there are reasons to be far more optimistic. Here’s why: 1.There are cheaper medical services on the way. Theranos has a totally new approach to blood analysis as an example. Founded by Elizabeth Holmes, and backed by a who’s who, Theranos has micro labs that can be installed anywhere and only require a few drops of blood. Millions of us troop to a Quest Diagnostics center, or one of its competitors, to have our blood chemistry tested for any of thousands of things like cholesterol levels, hepatitis presence, insulin and blood sugar and so on. Quest, of course, bills the patient, and/or the patient’s insurer, including Medicare. Theranos is an example of a better, cheaper, faster option. While its new process must make it t…

Review of The Peripheral by William Gibson

If you are a William Gibson fan, you’ll likely be excited to learn that he has returned to his particular flavor of science fiction. He has detoured into more conventional (but no less enjoyable) fiction recently, exploring conflicts among ad agency/security firms, investment denim creators, spying drones controlled by smart phones, etc, but returns to the scifi genre in The Peripheral. For folks who’ve never read his work, his prose is exactly right-not unnecessarily long, not too spare. Just right.  He is the guru of the near-future; one reads about things in his work that you are certain don’t exist, and then observes them in a few years. This novel however reaches a little farther into time than his previous work. It presumes that multiple presents and futures exist-that is the multiverse or quantum universe hypothesis. Within that framework, he shows his craftsmanship in creating characters that the reader immediately envisions, easily finds believable and become interested in. …