Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Mr Sandman joined Local 113

All men whilst they are awake are in one common world;
but each of them, when he is asleep, is in a world of his own.

— Plutarch
Our own serene, almost sleepy, TTC has been all over the Web lately. Here's from Friday's Toronto Star:
TTC catnaps ignite rider fury amid higher transit fares

With the click of a camera and a tweet on the Internet, one sleeping TTC worker has unleashed a torrent of fresh anger over Toronto’s troubled transit system. What began as a funny photograph posted on Twitter quickly turned into a lightning rod for transit riders frustrated with the TTC.

[T]his isn't the first time a TTC employee has been caught dozing while on the clock. Since Wieler's photo began making the rounds, more pictures of sleepy TTC workers have come out of the woodwork.

[T]he majority of online commenters were bitter, sneering that just weeks after a controversial fare hike, unionized employees with good benefits couldn't bother to stay awake and make change for equally hard-working customers.

Then a bit of the ridiculous slipped in. Here's the indignity, from Sunday's Toronto Star:
Wake up to real issues, TTC sleeper tells public

The snoozing TTC fare collector who has become the poster boy for a struggling transit system and the Internet's latest viral sensation says people need to "wake up" to the fact that there are more important things going on in the world right now than his sleeping habits.

"When you knock Haiti off the front page you know something's wrong," said George Robitaille, a veteran TTC employee, referring to the Toronto Sun's Friday cover photo showing him dozing on the public dime with his mouth open, head back and arms folded over his belly. "You know, I think our priorities are a little mixed up here."
The story has been essentially put to bed by now (or so you'd think). There is no much glory in a collector's job (cf The King of Queens), and probably not much money, so a little nap now and then is not that big of a deal (the Japanese actually encourage this sort of things). But the guy next door, who likes to be informed, turned immediately to Ontario Ministry of Finance's Public Sector Salary Disclosure for 2008: Municipalities and Services.

Through the years, guy next door learned to accept the Toronto subway system, eminently backward when compared to public transit in large cities elsewhere, got used to the fare hikes, to the washroom-coloured wall tiles on his line, learned to stand where there is nothing ugly and menacing hanging from the ceiling while waiting for a train, and got familiar with the mice between the tracks of the Yonge & Bloor and Eglinton stations. He also became reasonably resigned to Toronto's nightmarish budget problems, service cuts, and increases to his property taxes. But, Haiti!...

He wasn't particularly happy with the salary report. TTC employees making above 100K, a world of their own, seem to be the largest group (548) among the various municipalities and service sectors. Twenty-one of them are — Station Collectors. It's not mentioned how many sleep on the job. One must hold a PhD in Tokens, as is making above 125K. There are also four Tower Controllers. Last we checked, the TTC had no planes: it'd be difficult to replace those with crowded shuttle buses when they fail.

But Haiti!...

Mothers all across the GTA admonish their sons, Why can't you be a TTC collector, like your cousin Ira?!

But, mom. Haiti...

The guy next door told us next about his mood, eternal flames and all. Dies irae. Day of a bit of wrath:

Now I can't go to sleep.

Thanks to ds for the pointers!
Painting: A Boor Asleep, Adriaen Brouwer, mid 1630s. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, January 22, 2010

In praise of value

I'm a value investor. As of this week, that is.

I own, for instance, Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan (POT.TO), the world's largest producer of this crop nutrient. A Canadian value to boot. I've traded this stock several times in the past year and made some quick and easy money each time. But I have not yet held it like this, as a  v a l u e  i n v e s t o r. (My good old friend gb used to promptly redefine those stocks which, once he bought them, were just as promptly taking a dive (as it happens, a frequent occurrence), as long-term, value investments.)

Potash prices have been going down, along with the potash miners on their way to work, for a long time now. Potash is the common name for various compounds containing potassium, which are used mainly as fertilizers. An eventual rebound is to be expected, as economies improve and soil fertilization, unlike the Canadian Parliament, can no longer be prorogued.

And if I'm really lucky, the rumoured potential acquisition by BHP Billiton will materialize, and provide a great opportunity to sell. Now that would be good value. (Like striking gold. Or potash.) (Agrium Inc. is still trying to buy reluctant CF Industries, which in its turn finally gave up — for now?! — trying to buy Terra Industries. All this fertilizer business smells a bit. Is anyone still doing any actual drilling out there?) Sir, would you like some potash with that? But I digress.

What really did it, what really whisked me over to the value camp, was the acquisition this week of the Mother of all value shares. No, not this one (BRK.A), this one (BRK.B, the class B common stock):

Which is close enough. And courtesy of a 50:1 Mother of all stock splits. As you know, Warren (I feel I can call him that now) is, still, the Mother of all value investors (or, perhaps, the Father of). When he buys one railroad company, all of them go up, as if everybody will all of a sudden rush to buy trains. So I'm very optimistic.

My experience with the maternal superlatives is mixed. I once had a dream of working for the Mother of all companies in my field. Once I was hired, I wanted to leave within the first few months. Things were far from what I expected. Then 'inertia' took over, and I hanged on in there (for too long). I had, along the way, the best of times and the worst of times. I hope for better results overall with Berkshire.

And with Potashkewan too.

Oh the dickens, what a week!

Charts: Globe Investor