Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Supposedly tonight will be the first game of this years World Series. The Boston area weather report casts some doubt upon that with an 80% chance of rain, but still it is timefor the fall classic. This years series has some great story lines. American leaguer versus national league. Junior circuit against the senior circuit. Good versus evil. Those scum sucking no good rat fink bastra..oop.. I mean the Boston red Sox with the best record in baseball against the unlikely Colorado Rockies. Boston's dominance of the league and of Colorado record breaking 20 wins in 21 games to get into the series. The Rockies were thought to be out of it as September rolled around. The Red Sox almost blew a 7 game lead with three weeks to go in the season. It has the making of, well lets be honest it has the makings of a boston blow out. They are too good. I hate them. I detest their trend following fleecer of the public owner. I wish Josh Beckett was an Oriole and that Curt Schilling would take his damn bloody sock and go back to the national league. I wish David Ortiz would get sucked into some magical vortex that made him disappear for the next week,. I wish, like Sampson, Manny Ramirez would get a haircut and lose the ability to hit a baseball. But, all of that is unlikely. They have the hitting, the starting pitching and as long as they keep Eric gagne away form the mound, the bullpen. Although Paelebon will probably have to get his era down. After all in the post season it ids a lofty 0.00! I hate them. I will be rooting for the Rockies. I suspect I will not like the outcome of this series. My only hope is that Big Poppi cant be DH in the National League Park. The man can hit but give him a glove and interesting things happen. However, the rat bast..I mean the Sox have home filed advantage so thats not really an edge. More of a delusion.
So tonight the field at Fenway Park( another reason to hate the Sox. What a great stadium!) will be draped in the familiar red and white and blue bunting. A celebrity of some sort will throw out the first pitch. It will be the world Series in all its glory. Except it wont. Today the SUper Bowl looms much larger across the sports landscape. SO does the NBA finals and the Daytona 500 for that matter. Baseball is losing its lofty perch as Americas pastime. Today we prefer the NFL with alls its violence,pageantry and barely dressed cheerleaders. MUch as ROmans eschewed chariot racing for Gladiators we have traded the stately game of baseball for the rock and roll fest of football. Please don't get me wrong. I like football. But I still have that decade long love affair with baseball. Not that , with my track record I have any knowledge of this, but I think baseball is alike a long term spouse for me. She's is perhaps fading with the years and to others she is not a s beautiful as she once was. But I look at her and see only the beautiful smiling young woman she once was.
I think back as I sit here to the first World Series I can remember. The Dodgers-Orioles of 19966. I was 5. I didnt know the combination of Drydsdale-Koufax were supposed to wipe the birds off the face of the earth. I just knew all my friends Dads were worked up about it and spent a lot more time playing catch with us and talking about the Orioles. I did not know it was considered something of a miracle that the Orioles won in 4 straight. I didnt know that it would be the last time Sandy Koufax would explode form the mound, curling and hurling his entire being into an exploding fastball or devastating curve ball. I just knew that my friends and I were enthralled and entranced by each and ever pitch. I fell in love with the game.I remember 1968 with the glorious matchup of Gibson and Lolich. Unfortunately I can still recall 1968 with the powerhouse Orioles being dropped in their tracks by the mets. 1970 with Brooks becoming inhuman to the point of godliness on the third base line, the return of heartbreak in 1971 with Roberto Clemente almost single handidly beating the Birds. The ,ong haired brightly colored Oakland teams of the mid 0's. Reggies three home runs to become Mr. October. I still cant hear We are family without recalling our second los to the pirates in 1979.Cal Ripken catching the final out of the 1983 series just days after my father passed away. One of my most vivid memories is reaching for the phone to share the moment with him before I realized he was no longer there to take the call.Th earthquake series when I lived in central California. There are literally too many to recount here.
Life has changed a lot since then. It was, I suppose, the legendary oft cited simpler time. We played baseball from sun up to sound down back then Kids play today but usually in organized little league and the game takes a second place to soccer and lacrosse here in the mid atlantic.No organized ball for us. In the street, the field across the street, the common area of the apartment complex. We didnt care where. We played with baseball cadged and cajoled from parents for the dollar was a big deal for a new ball. We played with tennis balls liberated from the courts of the upscale development across town. We played with wiffle balls and duct taped them when the splintered until the resemble silver orbs hurtling through the afternoon sky. Gloves were carefully oiled and wrapped each night.If it was raining on a Saturday we watched Joe Gargiola and the NC game of the week to watch teams from across the league play. We fell asleep with transistor radios under the pillow to listen to the RObinson Twins, Belanger, Powell, McNally, Palmer and Cuellar restore justice and righteousness to the universe in the form of 3 run homers and blistering fastballs.There was no umpire and balls and strikes were argued wit the intensity of the Mccarthy hearings.Baseball. We loved, played it, watched it, listened to it, talked about it. A simpler time.
Today, it moves too slow for most. The NFL and the NBA are the dominant sports. if kids play pick up games its probably hoops. Little kids dont get to watch in breathless wonder as the home team takes the filed in a blaze of popping flashbulbs against the red white and blue backdrop of the first game of the series. They are long in bed by the time the first pitch takes place. Life has changed. I look at the world around me populated with taxes,bills,ex-wives, ex-girlfriends, wish they were girlfriends, wanna be girlfriends and miss those days when all you need were a couple of friends, a battered mitt and dirty much abused rawlings to experience the sublime. I look at my son and feel a little sad that he never had a passion for game not involving a TV and controller.life has changed. hell, look at the markets. back then you had the American League and the national league and you had stocks and bonds. Today we have futures, options, options on futures, swaps, stradles, hedge funds, fund of funds, CMs CDO's and virtually every other derivative and contrived trading instrument you can think of. It is a small wonder that faster paced sports have replaced the timeless game of baseball. Still. I miss it.
I will sit this week and watch the games. I shall cheer, perhaps in vain, the Unlikely Rockies. I will curse the Red Sox. I will think back to a much simpler time. In all likelihood I will cook some hot dogs to watch the game. Instead of the cola in a paper cup of my youth it will be scotch in lead crystal glass. But a t some point I will, I hope reconnect with that little boy who held his breath as the teams took the field and the game got underway. With the teenager who could still be captivated away from teenage cynicism when Brooks Robinson stopped your heart with his spectacular play.With the young expectant father who missed his own. With all the moments and times and stages of my life when in October baseball was king and the World Series was serious.
Monday, October 22, 2007
Ah! Sweet Autumn, with falling temperatures, crisp breezy afternoons..my ass. There is no fall here to speak of so far. Temperatures continue to be up near 80 and after only the briefest of respites the air conditioner continue to growl along in a cash consuming frenzy. I now spend more a month to make sure that the wayward sons Asian princess of a girlfriend is comfortable and doesn’t suffer from seating or having her toe polish run than I used to make in a good year. Weather aside we have moved in the autumn sports time of the year. Like the weather it has been something of a disappointment. In proof that there is no justice, divine or otherwise in the world, the scum sucking red Sox and their owner have defeated, nay crushed the brave Indians (Brave my rear end. They folded up like French Soldiers who heard rumors a German coughed in the night). The Trend follower continues to suck up tens of millions a year from unsuspecting investors and use it fund the teams bloated payrolls and the obnoxious fans feverish frenzy for all things red Sox (How a trend follower can continue to lose money when stocks, commodities, bonds and oil trade at continual highs is beyond me but he does. At least he is consistent.) If there were any justice in the world Congress would declare nuclear war on the red Sox nation. As usual, I digress. The ravens have been exposed as a below average team. The alleged offensive genius running things has avoided using his running back (lowest average carries per game among top five rushers but tops in average gain per carry) in favor of a passing game directed either by the weak armed starter or the weak minded back up. The bills! The average Pop Warner 150lb tem could give the Bills a solid run. Not the ravens. Navy continues to play well but was perhaps a tad too optimistic in their scheduling. It is brutal this year. Still, they are winning overall and actually have a chance to beat a truly awful Notre Dame team. Although not a fan, I cannot help but admire the juggernaut that is the New England Patriots. They don’t beat other teams. They annihilate them. Tom Brady could order Chinese take out form the pocket and have time to finish the fortune cookies. The defense is evil in cleats. Why they cheated with the tapes I have no idea. These guys can beat anybody. The Patriots-Colts game this year could one of the true classic if the game. Basketball madness has come and gone and very soon now we can get college hoops with all its intensity. Maryland does no look to stack up well in the ACC but they didn’t stack up well the year they won the title either. North Carolina remains a beast, Georgetown looks strong again and the Gillespie era begins under high expectations in Kentucky. Should be a good year and perhaps take my mind off the inevitable win by the damn red Sox in the series. They are too good and I strongly suspect the Colorado fairy tale ends next week. The World Series at Chez Melvin shall be one of hurled epitaphs and whiskey glasses as I forced myself to be subjected to the vile course of events and somehow endure the pain.
The evil, foul souled entity known as the stock market is finally showing an inability to digest the ever-growing bad news from the financial sector. Virtually every large and midsize financial institution has reported markdowns form a portfolio of cancerous loans and rancid mortgages. MTG, RAD C, BAC, BSC. They all have it and I suspect it gets worse. They reported the losses they had to hoping they go away by next quarter. They will not. There is continual talk of a Bernake put in the form of another rate cut. It remains my opinion that dropping rates will be both inflationary and disastrous for the US dollar. It may give impetus to a short-term rally but the long-term impacts could well be disastrous, resulting in stagflation. It took almost a decade to beat back this huge appetite to of the slovenly beast the last time we faced it, and I fear it could take as long if we allow it to reemerge. Volatility is picking up and ranges widening in the SP 500, two factors I have found predictive in the past of a market change in the offing. I see SP 1420 as the next important downside level.
I continue to own the staples. Low price to book beauties ADPT, EIHI, GNCI and WSCI remain good buys. I am adding to the commercial REITS, my favorites being NFR, CSE, GNV and JRT. I like and am buying or selling puts on tech favorites SYMC, MOT and ATML. I was put shares of CHIC and am selling class against my position. Severn Savings (SVBI) continues to fall and very close to making the gotta buy it list. I am not adding any new names here but I will continue to add stocks as I find them On the short side, both myself and some of the smartest traders I know agree that shorting FXI, the china index ETF is one of the greatest ideas we have ever seen. It has doubled sine August. OF THIS YEAR. It has gone form the 100 area to over two hundred in less than two months. We also agree equally it is going to lead to our total financial meltdown resulting in all of us living in a tent along the concrete banks of the Chicago River. I argued for a tent relocation to Key West or Naples but we eventually agreed we needed to be in the windy frigid city in order to access the type of fast paced financial info that out us there in the first place!
I want to reinforce a central idea of all this. The economic outlook was bleary. Oil prices were at all time highs. We were mired for much of the decade in a senseless costly somewhat imperialistic military conflict. We had a succession of idiots who were either corrupt, stupid or weak as Presidents through the decade. There was a continual stream of scandals among our legislators. The euphoria of the late 1960s had ended up with the result of financial vomiting. Stock prices fell; there was inflation, a weak economy (holy shit-this sounds awfully familiar). The negative attitude remained all the way up until l the hostages were freed in Iran on the day of Ronald Reagan’s inauguration in 1980). However stock prices bottomed in 1975 and is was one of the greatest opportunities of our or any other lifetime! If we do continue to cut rates, debase the dollar and knock the stock market down I think e will be positioned for the same opportunity. Financials, particularly small banks will offer incredible risk reward opportunities for long-term value investors. There will be chances to pick up great companies at great prices and a chance to build large amount of wealth going forward. In the interim we own a lot of good companies at rock bottom prices and are enjoying a great dividend flow. Goes to hell in a hand basket? GREAT. We are going to get rich (er) over the coming years. Doesn’t? GREAT. We already own cheap stocks with tremendous upside and little risk of permanent capital impairment due to healthy balance sheets.
The island continues to slouch towards winter. Despite the warm weather most boats are put away or scheduled to be. Only the USS Greenberg (a 42 foot cruising craft of great beauty with a safety record only slightly better than the Titanic) to spent the winter in the water for sunny day cruising. The fast boats don’t really have that option and are on lifts anxiously awaiting the firs warm day in May. Sunday football gatherings are marked by equal amounts of beer drinking and Billick cursing, except among the Redskins fans who are celebrating the fact that their team is actually winning and looks like they might have actually know how to play the game. For the first time in several years, the red and gold can gloat over the fallen beaten bodies of the purple and black. So far I have had a decent football year. I have been to a Redskins game and went with the Chicago bunch out to Iowa for the Iowa Illinois game. It was an interesting drive with much conversation about how bad the market is, what’s wrong with the world at large. The highlights were an unscheduled stop at Ronald Reagan’s boyhood home and a great time tailgating at 7 in the morning with Mike Ott and his fellow Iowans. Have to confess all those acres and miles of corn a little creepy and was waiting for Joe Pesci and the children of corn to emerge from the fields with shotguns and hoes to wreak havoc on mankind.
A friend and I had a chance to discuss such heady ideas as the meaning of it all. In the end we decided that like Baudelaire we thought the answer probably had something to do with wine and a passion for life. My friend confessed however that the questions of how, what and why still troubled them. In closing I leave you my answers (doubtlessly wrong but I thought I would take a shot at it.)
for all its aches, pains, confusion and messiness, life at its core is more than we think it can be. For every heartbreak there is a first kiss, for every loss there is a gain, for every death a birth. Most people will avoid the fear and the pain and thereby miss the beautiful and the sublime. They will spend their lives in nice safe jobs to avoid risk. They will watch endless hours of insipid dramas and ridiculous sitcoms rather than read and possibly discover truths about themselves and he world they live in.
Life itself. Mozart, John Lee Hooker and Stevy ray Vaughn. A kiss, making love, walking hand in hand down a country road or city street. Life is Beethoven and Shakespeare. It is Robert Parker and randy Wayne White. It is a look across a crowded room that suddenly is occupied by just two. It is a child’s smile and a friend’s tear. It is the taste of wine on lover’s lips. It is a sunrise, sleeping in on a rainy morning. It is loud rock and roll on a Saturday night. It is mathematics; it is literature, Led Zeppelin and Handel. It is a cup to drink from lustfully. As renowned drunk, author and liver of life Charles Bukowski once wrote "We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.” Life is vibrant, romantic, seductive and full of so many possibilities that we often cannot contemplate them all without offering thanks to whatever god we worship in thanks for it
It should be lived with great zest and little fear. To live in a such a way that we race into deaths waiting room bottle of win in hand, lipstick smear (location entirely dependent on gender) light up a cigarette and declare loudly to the timid souls " DAMN! That was fun. What’s next?
Because you are human. Alone of the earthly creatures you have been given the capacity to think to read, to reason. You have the capacity to love and the ability to be intimate for reasons other than procreation. Because you have a big brain and opposable thumbs. Whether by divine decision or evolutionary aspects you and you alone are designed to appreciate and enjoy all that sits before you.
I wish I could help you with this but ,unfortunately we must each deal with and face fear in our own way. There have been a lot of studies that show that most humans are more motivated by fear of loss than by possibility of gain. I find this interesting and think it in large part accounts for the state that thoreau calls quiet desperation. Everyone gets afraid. Including me. Every time I lever up my account to put on a big trade, push all in a poker game, sign a new contract or look into a womans dancing sparkling eyes and realize that not only am I strongly attracted to this woman,that we have so much in common we could be best friends as well as lovers, and just enough differences to keep it interesting, I get that pinch of fear that runs up the spine and makes the stomach flip like a circus bear on steroids. The mind calls up images of times in the past when the when result was not so good. I have gone broke from bad trades and I have been heartbroken. And guess what? I didnt die. It sucked but it didnt last.
I try at such times to focus on the fact that most of the trades have worked to the point that I can live comfortably and afford all my wonderful bad habits and addictions, keeping the book shelf full and the liquor cabinet stocked. I think of all the nights and times of wonderful experiences I never would have had if I had not taken the leap of faith in myself and the romantic nature of the universe. The biggest question is to figure out the probabilities of success and focus on that. If I have a 7-2 unsuited I should probably fold the hand. If the numbers are wrong in any way I should probably forgo the trade. If the woman is not literate,not adventurous,not sensual or romantic I should probably walk..or perhaps run...away. But if the odds are in my favor, and conditions exist for profit be it monetary or just perhaps the anticipation of nights dancing to blues bands under the stars, of quite nights of good food, wine, conversation and intimate moments and thoughts....then fear needs to be pushed aside.
To allow fear of loss, of death, or heartbreak is to lose our ability to live. I would rather die broke and heartbroken in the gutter than to fail to embrace all the incredible possibilities some benevolent deity scattered in front of us....
or to put it more succinctly