Thursday, April 29, 2010

Annus mirabilis

Birthdays are merely symbolic of how another
year has gone by and how little we've grown.

— Jerry Seinfeld

We started precisely one year ago, with double the postforce and ten times the financial expertise, with an initial grand plan and a statement of direction. Our accomplishments have been properly enumerated already. There is only one principle which we followed dependably: "We fully embrace capitalism on a good day in the markets, but tend to lean somewhat towards the other side on correction days." On chequebook-balancing days as well.

A one-year old is not too smart, but quite moody, irascible, and not yet potty trained. For the party, we decided a few anagrams will do. Tried this once or twice before and it calmed him down.

To start with, a few semiprofound caveats: the stock markets are a treacherous trek to smacks. Exchange-traded funds in general translate into one sexed, hand-crafted gun, though we weren't necessarily thinking of the leveraged variety. Dividend stocks anagram to odd dick invests. Not an endorsement...

A couple of things we were already aware of: mutual fund MER anagrams to fraudulent mum, while resource action (another way to be shown the door) anagrams to mild, cute coronaries. There is no other kind. Note that if we use the plural, as in a bit more massive layoffs, it gets cuter: resource actions anagram to coarse neurotics, which explains what my wise friend kindly calls the Losers' Forum — a necessary gathering place for a bit of venting and commiserating, frequented by those who are a bit on their way out. Generally speaking, reader discretion is advised here. We like peeking in such odd places, and recall a posting or two which made us chuckle. Someone determined he was due a higher severance, but was charitable: "The four weeks they stole from me will go to helping a needy executive." A comment to an article elsewhere but referenced in this forum, about a US kick-back scandal, suggests: "We should change the oath our elected officials take when entering office to the Miranda rights. It will save time in the long run."

Finally, we believe that there definitely must be some hidden truth in this anagramation method: a balanced portfolio is indeed cool and profitable, while ft, posting for one year is revealed as a stooping effrontery.

They say of me, and so they should,
It's doubtful if I come to good.
I see acquaintances and friends
Accumulating dividends,
And making enviable names
In science, art, and parlor games.
But I, despite expert advice,
Keep doing things I think are nice,
And though to good I never come -
Inseparable my nose and thumb!

Dorothy Parker (who also published "Death
and Taxes", 1931), Neither Bloody Nor Bowed

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Tears from a star

In Czesław Miłosz's Milosz's ABC's (transl. Madeline G. Levine) one of his musings starts like this:

ECONOMY. I don't understand a thing about it.
You would expect that from a poet (some will swear economists don't understand a thing about it either). However, that doesn't mean he can ignore it (as economists are not all able to ignore poetry either — POETRY. I don't know a formal model about it.):
I exaggerate my ignorance of economy, because earlier in my life I came to know it from an entirely nontheoretical side, as an insufficiency of money. Already as a twenty-year-old, I had discovered its ominous power, like the power of Fate, disposing of people's destinies despite their wishes and desires. The great American crisis of 1929 drove Polish immigrant laborers out of the mines and factories of France and into the streets, and I moved among crowds of them during my first visit there. In Germany, by depriving millions of people of work, the crisis prepared them to vote for Hitler.
His conclusion regarding the frail us and the fallible science-art of economics:
How fragile is the social organism; how easily its activity can be disrupted, I discovered in America, where at least since the sudden collapse of the market in 1929 people live as they do in California in relation to an earthquake: it could happen at any moment. There is no certainty that plans and intentions for the next year won't be suddenly thwarted. So it's no wonder that the science (or art?) of economics, which is based for the most part on attempts at foreseeing catastrophes, is highly valued, and that one can receive a Nobel Prize for it.
TOMORROW. I'm not certain of one thing about it.

Except, perhaps, that thing about an insufficiency of money.

Monday, April 26, 2010


Ashleigh Brilliant:

Inform all the troops that communications have completely broken down.

%^#$ing brilliant:

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Many happy returns

First of all, if the weekend finds you at a point of no return, do not despair. You still have until midnight Friday, April 30 to correct this.

Second. We did our taxes early this calendar year, therefore we can now afford to have some (bittersweet) fun with the subject.

The Table Talk of Samuel Marchbanks is a collection of Robertson Davies's witty columns, signed with the pseudonym Marchbanks, in the Peterborough Examiner. The book was first published way back in 1949. The good ol' date attests to the enduring quality of everything that has to do with Canadian income taxes (though their appeal is universal), a temporary wartime measure introduced in 1917. Here's what Marchbanks proposes on the matter:
This is a time of year when I think sourly of Government expenditures. I reckon that my Income Tax pays the salary of one minor official, such as the censor of books. [..] Frankly I think it would be a good idea if every taxpayer were told what government stooge he maintained. Small taxpayers would then feel that they owned an eighth of a charwoman; modest taxpayers like myself would own petty officials; wealthy men, who pay a lot of taxes, would be allotted ten or twenty clerks, or a brace of deputy ministers. With this knowledge we could go to Ottawa from time to time and chivvy and nag our hirelings. Such a scheme would give a taxpayer some pride in his taxpaying and would greatly increase bureaucratic efficiency.
Third, while we were engaged in calculating the medical expenses (lines 330 and 331) for several family members, the portion we could claim for each receipt after deducting the insurance refund (if any), the different totals for the one ideal twelve-month period vs. each one's 3% of net income (line 236) or $2,011 (whichever is less) threshold, and the potential refundable medical expense supplement (line 452) for all of this, we were hardly surprised to discover that income taxes anagrams suitably, appositely, and not so subtly into toxic enemas.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

AAPL of my i...

It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift


Apple Inc. (AAPL), April 20, 2010.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Relieve and let go

    I said breakdowns come
    And breakdowns go,
    So what are you going to do about it,
    That's what I'd like to know.
— Paul Simon, Gumboots

The selection of blogs in the sidebar, which is the (slimmer) column on the left, is a list wisely constituted by our friend ml (who's casually reading more on the Web than Google's bot) at the start of this blogging enterprise. Blogs hosted by The Economist and the Financial Times (NB anything with a British accent is worth reading), The Wall Street Journal, and The Globe and Mail. Or Angst is the way, one of our favourites. And others. You are assured of that kind of quality writing (on a wide range of subjects) that you won't find in the (thicker) column on the right. (This is one instance where the left is emphatically better.)

Blogs come and blogs go (this one is, miraculously, still sort of hanging on), and we must replace the fallen. For instance, our recent addition of New Europe, "dispatches from Dow Jones writers across Eastern and Central Europe".

Another one, Laid Off and Looking, has been suddenly laid to rest last month, to the dismay of its readers. Outraged What's the Deal? poses the (implicit) question, then promptly provides the (explicit) answer in his or her comment:

"Here's the deal. Back when the recession started throwing workers into Dante's Inferno, being laid off and looking was very fashionable and, dare I say, chic. We were captivated by these exotic creatures (laid off white-collar workers). As the recession and economic fallout continued well over a year, there were just so many people that were laid off and looking. Somehow, the novelty wore off and, like all fads, the public and this newspaper lost interest. Still, if we exhume the casket, we find that people were buried alive. The problem has not been solved. People are still out of work."

(We'd like to remind readers that the nine circles of the Inferno include Limbo, Wrath and Sullenness, and Betrayal.)

The thing is, out of the 29 bloggers, twenty "have found full-time jobs, while several others are working on long-term consulting assignments." "Overall, it took these professionals a year on average to get back to working. These contributors, along with numerous career experts and guest writers, helped to create a dynamic discussion on the challenges of job hunting after a layoff in a down economy. They explored issues ranging from ways to network effectively and deal with unresponsive recruiters to how to stay upbeat after a long-search and what it feels like to finally get re-hired. [One] topic that sparked intense discussion was how age discrimination impacts the search."

The terminated blog (December 2008 - March 2010) is still out there in the internetic aether, in case you missed any dynamic posts. Or intense comments.

As replacement we chose, for now, a WSJ blog started shortly after the demise of the above. Hire Education is on a rather similar topic — the transition from the sweet life of university to the real, i.e., working, world. "We seek advice from recruiting and career-services professionals. And we go around the Web and around the world to bring you stories about getting a foot in the door."

We notice that there are no science or engineering students among the six bloggers. This might be either because these have a conspicuously easier time landing good jobs, or because they cannot are less inclined to write.

In all likelihood they're busy studying.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

L'argent de poche

The last few days were somewhat hectic as we kept busy letting down the many visitors who presumably want to learn how to get rich and live happily (or who, on occasion, and content with just the happily part, searched for pot and were pointed to our experiments with Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan, POT.TO), dropping by from such faraway places with such beautiful names, many of which challenged our notions of geography: Pompton Lakes, Beaconsfield, Belleville, Beamsville, Saint-Eustache, Anchorage, Dhahran, Silla, Whitehorse, Red Deer, Port Alberni, Vernon, Quesnel, Belmopan, Glace Bay, Iqaluit, Garden River, Maple, La Malbaie, Courtenay, Sherwood Park, Torrance, Mountain View, White Rock, Moncton, Littleton, Albuquerque, Sturgeon Falls...

Now that things have finally returned to their subdued normalcy, we relaxed by indulging in a bit of art. In a good mood, and in an act of generosity, we're sharing here a rather unassuming objet from our own impermanent collection.

Life Savings, c. 15 April 2010. Detail. (From the
private collection in Notre Portefeuille, Toronto.)

Ars brevis, vita longa.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The wrong blog

Hi there, errant pilgrim of the Web!

You, too, from The G&M??

Must be a mistake somewhere. Not sure why you got directed here. You're in the wrong place. (And let's make it perfectly clear, we have no idea who that guy is.)

As a reader of The G&M you must have high standards. You won't find any here.

We know money doesn't grow on trees. (It grows in tall buildings — see at right.) Beyond that, it's anybody's guess. When we display a graph it's only because we have a thing for squiggly lines. From what we've observed so far, the markets are a thoroughly mad affair. Which only someone just as mad can make sense of:
Sometimes stocks or the whole market will go up or down for reasons that have nothing to do with the underlying prospects of actual companies. Sure, you’ll search for a legitimate answer — Was it the rising dollar? Maybe it was the spate of bad earnings reports? — and the media will offer a few as well. But there will come a point where you’ll have to admit, Cramer said, that the moves are "just nuts".
Though we did suggest, rather early in the current mess, that the eliminated workforce are busy spending their severances, so a recovery in the economy will evidently come from the very casualties of its slump. (A sizeable part of the aforementioned hadworkforce are passionately dedicated to trading on their own, and must be recognized for the adequate measure of volatility in the Canadian markets. A strong recovery and the consequent drop in jobless numbers are bound to have a negative impact.)

Financial blogs offer practical advice. Everybody offers advice. We don't. Just as an example, we were all giddy over this week's parity hit-and-run. But naively, just for parity's sake. Big Cajun Man kept his cool and listed promptly a few things you should rush and do while the loons are flying (courteously, and all the while mumbling Thank you!).

We have a low post count. (We'd much rather spend our precious time at The Duke of York, on the patio. Followed by Starbucks, or Aroma across the street, depending on the position of the sun. On the patio.) Plus, this blog doesn't even use real words sometimes. (Either that or it's replete with mispellings.) Bloglogog? Finarcical, shmanancial? Debrial / debriferous? Potashkewan? Hadworkforce??

The only thing we can recommend with a straight face is the sidebar (on your left). In part it points to others', very skilled, work: blogs, Web sites, books, quotes, the news; in part it is generated automatically by a computer: the archive and index.

Sorry. Good-bye. And, thank you!
Photo: First Canadian Place, BMO Toronto headquarters.
Source: Wikipedia Commons.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Irrational protuberance

Citigroup Inc. (C), April 8, 2010.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Parity; disparity

It's happening. Again. Here's the fas ci nat ing, developing story from Yahoo! Finance:

We are giddy with excitement. However. In a characteristically modest Canadian fashion, our own Globe Investor is bringing us the same story in real time, but thus:

Which, let's face it, takes all the fun out of today. Open: 1.00. High: 1.00. Low: 1.00. Yeah, sure. All quiet on the northern front.

This approximations might have been, maybe, appropriate for the exchange rate of beaver pelts, which - as the Bank of Canada's A History of the Canadian Dollar, by James Powell, informs us - were the currency in the early 1600s:
In 1608, Samuel de Champlain founded the first colonial settlement at Quebec on the St. Lawrence River. The one universally accepted medium of exchange in the infant colony naturally became the beaver pelt, although wheat and moose skins were also employed as legal tender.
Maybe. But not for a day like today. Bummer.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Monday, March 29, 2010

Phinancials and PhDs

Before the economy rebounds overwhelmingly and we forget, once again, all about crises, here's a reminder.  (a) Crises come in two flavours: 1. the garden-variety, or cyclical mild meltdown, and 2. the once-in-a-very_lengthy_stretch_of_time type of calamity;  (b) It's worth remembering that, while one pays a couple of limbs or so (in whatever currency is applicable) for education, education too pays:

Another useful piece of advice related to the above and from the same Piled Higher and Deeper site: it is never too late to get learnin'. Your portfolio already took a dive during the recent crisis, now a mind would be another terrible thing to waste...

As to the observation below, never mind. Though it should be noted that the mortal on the left is more adequately equipped, both money-wise and time-wise, to get wasted, more often:

Also, here's one for the careful consideration of the eventually-set-to-learn-and/or-get-married pricey offspring.

Finally, if this applies to you (it did to Norbert), a post in Canadian Capitalist mentions a cheaper way to convert currency, by buying stock in one currency account and selling it in another.

Thanks to ds for the pointer!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The thrill is back

The season situated straight ahead of summer, the one reckoned astronomically to extend from the March equinox to the June solstice, is in that mixture of invisible odorless tasteless gases - nitrogen, oxygen, argon, carbon dioxide - that surrounds the earth. Temperatures are high, the VIX is low, and the tax refund is on its way.

Winter left, and just as well.  Just before its departure we were reminded that fiddling with the numbers will get you nowhere in the long run.  Greece (as you may remember, its GDP has been known to include a manifestly productive prostitution and other underground activities) is now bankrupt, and Lehman Brothers (their accounting may have also been kinda creative) is no longer on the map.  Therefore we duly reported on our income tax return (specifically, Schedule 4 T1-2009, section II - Interest and other investment income) all of the $0.17 in interest earned in our account at Canada's largest bank.  (How does a bank get to be the largest??)

Also we read, in Canadian Capitalist, about the mortgage-free home insurance discount, which we have utilized ourselves.  Readers offered a few opinions as to why ("insurance companies have found that mortgage-free homeowners make lower claims", "they also checked out my credit score - it seems that insurance companies are willing to take into account just about anything that is correlated with claim risk", etc.). If we were to venture a guess, it would be that if something goes terribly wrong it's easier for the insurance company to kick around an already knocked down homeowner rather than a big bank.  (How does an insurance company get to be large??)

Spring is now here.  A friend found a job, one didn't lose his, another is still looking. We had an uncomfortable urge to clean the basement this week, which we resisted.  But we added a top picks summary and a pic from paradise in the sidebar.  Meanwhile, our friend ml feels rich.  He sent us a few links (Rio Abajo Rio, Palazzo delle Luce) and, as the general idea, Christie’s Great Estates.  We suspect he must have already received his refund.

A healthy vernal breeze is blowing from the south.  It's coming from the silence on the dock of the bay.  We feel ineffably musical:

The heart has got to open in a fundamental way.  Gaudeamus!  Spring is in the air.

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

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Rhapsody in fluffy white

Not much seems to have been achieved in Copenhagen on the issue of climate change, but things appear to be working alright for now meteorologically. Here's Boston earlier today. Handsome and elegant in any weather, it's looking good in the coat of soft snow.

Snowy BostonMeanwhile, in Toronto it was just cold.

Twenty years ago, Eastern Europe was welcoming a long-awaited spring. The Cold War was ending. How's that for a promising global warming!...

Season's greetings!

Photo by il.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Frugality forgone

Frugality finality. It's so typical. The moment my proven lifestyle, sized on nolens volens and casually, seemed to have been finally and fashionably embraced by most — disappointment. Simon Houpt and Marina Strauss, in Frugality fatigue hits shoppers from this weekend's Globe and Mail, find strong evidence for the end of frugality.

We admit, we got excited. We envisioned the environmental benefits of spending less and saving more, and we recalled the moral benefits that had long ago prompted our patron saint Adam Smith to speak of frugality as a virtue.

We said you had changed your ways forever. You hit the malls in droves. Dare we say we were mistaken?

In some quarters, money is flowing again like water at Lourdes.
The Globe is "Canada's national newspaper", so they must know. Frugality, RIP.

That which Margaret Wente called the nouveau chic appears then to be already gone. Was this past year or so just a transitory, desultory bit of profligacy fatigue?

One positive outcome of frugality's ephemerality could be the auspicious demise of some of the many frugality-themed postings and entire blogs. The crowds are reading, with such an unfrugal extravagance, all possible and kooky advice out there, proffered with equal abundance. Many also came to this blog, only to leave utterly disappointed. Our quote at the time of that post was "Frugality is misery in disguise." (Publilius Syrus).

Frugality ethereality. I had my suspicions all along. As my friend ml said, What recession? The cafés and the restaurants were crowded all summer. The malls full. Renovation bins throughout the neighbourhood. The guy next door, while not at all surprised to see the streets so animated during what are otherwise working hours, was amazed by all the consumption going on.

The guy next door is unemployed. He knows. What frugality?

Frugality whimsicality. There are contradictory messages. The announcement for a talk on frugality (only £10.-) by Tim Harford this past Sunday, which ml brought to my attention, says:
Tim will preach a timely message about reducing waste, curbing indulgence, and suppressing the need for instant fiscal gratification in favour of simpler and more lasting sources of pleasure. He’ll argue for the rehabilitation of Ebenezer Scrooge, a self-denying hero unfairly maligned by the slanderous ghosts of Christmas.

By the end of Tim’s sermon, you will have learned [...] why frugality is not a miserly vice but the most noble of virtues.
Tim is an economist, so he must know. Long live frugality.

So — which is it? Are the British, as always, different? Are we different?

I don't know. Somehow, I feel lonely once again.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A stroke of luck

This time of year here in Toronto the weather is gloom, boom, and doom. All that talk of green shoots is irrelevant by now. Summer was a blast, but mainly because it was so short.

Trust the business side of things to provide a ray of sunshine.

Weather Network Web screenThis is a snapshot of the Weather Network for Toronto. There are two ads on the right. The top invites you to the new Bacon Deluxe (just look what's in-between those buns), at the bottom there is mention of heart and stroke and odds of 1 in 3. "Best odds ever." You bet!...

Heck, we never really understood the world of advertising.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Ceci n'est pas un lawn

Ceci was a lawn, as grassy and pristine as they come.

geothermal pump installation
geothermal pump installation
Doing the right thing for the environment sometimes means messing up a bit with it first. The alarming photos are of a geothermal heat pump installation. The good news from the trenches is that in the end it's all worth it (at least for a more rural kind of property): cheaper heating during the long winter and cooling during those couple of weeks of summer, and some hot water too. A FAQ also mentions cuts in your personal emissions (something we already avoid in social situations). Can't go wrong.

NextEnergy has a simple explanation of how this works and generally what's involved. Our friend rw indicates that the extent of the digging (for the underground pipes) is dictated by the size of the house to heat, and that it can also be done vertically (which is more expensive, unless of course you hit oil). Several federal and provincial grants make this enterprise somewhat more affordable.

Mind you, last year my front yard looked pretty much the same. Some guys painted Plumbers on their truck but couldn't find a sewer pipe if it dripped on them. Then recently NASA used a similar technique to ascertain there is water on the moon; luckily, NASA employs more competent people.

Back to the geothermal thing. It's also good for the environment. Just installing it should give one a warm feeling.

Photos by rw.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Tricks, no treats

Want something scary? Dark pools (mucky waters for upstairs trades)! Bullet dodging, round-trip trading, churning! High-frequency trading! Flash orders!! And the list (we can only assume) goes on.

Some are too big to fail. We feel too small to succeed...

Something scarier? Try the US debt clock! (No daylight savings for this clock.)

US Debt ClockIf the US numbers are not doing it for you (and you're not afraid of heights), have a look at the big picture: the current global public debt! (If this is global debt, who's buying it? The martians??)

(Scared the living daylights out of you yet?)

B o o ! !   Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The sure things in life — the guides

Updated December 3, 2009: reference the new, 2009-10 Tax Planning Guide

There aren't many certainties in life. A couple, maybe, come to mind, being always mentioned as they are. As luck would have it, CGA Ontario does an admirable job at writing about both clearly and concisely. And then some.

Less taxing taxes. Whether you do your own taxes or not (and unless you have a business or a complicated tax situation you should do them yourself, preferably aided by a computer program), Your Personal Tax Planning Guide is an excellent overview — both the big picture and useful details — of how taxes work in Canada.

CGA Personal Tax Guide coverThe contents are pretty much those of the familiar Income Tax Return guides, but the simple fact that a different wording and shorter sentences are used may clarify lots of matters for the tax-language challenged among us.

The introduction stresses the need for continuous financial planning, and the need to be familiar with changes to the income tax legislation, in order to minimize or defer the payable taxes. This is actually the goal which drives the explanations in this guide.

The following sections cover the specifics:
  • major federal and provincial changes affecting individuals for the tax year
  • income and expenses - employment income and deductions, business and self-employment deductible expenses, investment income and expenses, personal deductions
  • tax planning issues - income splitting, deferred income plans: regular and spousal RRSP, TFSA
  • tax credits
  • Ontario provincial tax issues
  • several handy appendices - marginal tax rate tables, important tax planning and filling dates.
Tax tips are sprinkled throughout. For example:
  • A computer used by a professor to teach and create music was ruled to be a musical instrument and thus eligible for employment deductions.
  • You may include premiums paid for private health insurance in your medical-expense claim.
  • Fees for your child's extracurricular classes may also be eligible for the tuition credit if your child is at least 16, the classes are taken through a certified educational institution, and the program provides occupational skills. Dance or skating lessons are examples of classes that might qualify.
Updated every year, the new edition appears in December.

Where there is a will. Then there is the Executorship booklet. It's a guide to the various duties of the estate trustee, the one appointed to administer the will. These may include locating and examining the will, taking an inventory of the property and debts involved, and administering the estate: dealing with the assets (such as cash, investments, insurance policies, personal possessions) and settling the liabilities (such as taxes). The booklet's stated purpose is to make one aware of what is involved, either for deciding whom to choose for the task, or for accepting such an appointment. It can also be useful in organizing one's affairs and preparing a draft of the will.

Several government web sites are listed, and additional references are suggested. The glossary lists, among other terms, ademption, hotchpot, and per stirpes. This in itself makes it worth the price.

Good grief, more. Several other information booklets are available, such as:
  • Tax Tips for Students - tax information for Ontario post-secondary students; we also highly recommend CRA's own Students and Income Tax
  • ABCs of Accounting - definition of the more common accounting terms, like depletion, engagement, just-in-time, and ethics, some of which in accounting have a meaning different from what we knew; we couldn't locate creative accounting
  • Introductory Accounting for Not-For-Profit Organizations - describes a simple bookkeeping system developed by CGA Ontario for small organizations, and enumerates a series of items to deal with in running such an enterprise — sales tax and GST, workers' compensation insurance, employer health tax, incorporation and insurance, etc.
  • Resource Guide for Business Immigrants to Ontario - lots of useful contacts for anyone contemplating self-employment: professional and trade associations, programs of interest to new businesses — such as Small Business Enterprise centres, forms of business and registration — sole proprietorship / partnership / corporation, licenses, government assistance programs, sources of financing, labour laws, registration for regulated professions, certification, intellectual property, federal provincial and municipal taxes, available export and import assistance.
Free hard copies of all the guides can also be ordered. Most have smiling faces on the cover, including the Executorship one.

Finally, if you're young and looking for a career, and your parents have always been on your case pushing you to become an accountant, this site also provides the information on becoming a CGA.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Badadadada-dada Thanksgiving

Earlier today, long weekend and whatnot, we spent some time talking to the guy next door. Turns out he's been laid off, for a while now.

After decades of hard labour and stress, he assures us he's having, at long last, a real great time.
Slow down, you move too fast,
You got to make the mornin' last.
Just kickin' down the cobblestones
Lookin' for fun and
Feelin' groovy...
Badadadada-dada feelin' groovy...
The slang is dated, the feelin' is current. He showed us an e-mail he sent to a previous co-worker:

I discovered I'm again enjoying the simpler stuff, even taking pleasure in, say, the occasional cleaning of old stacks of papers (or the basement), or doing the boring chores I've been dutifully postponing for years. I remember years ago (we were still in the old building), crossing the parking lot towards the bus station at the end of the day, I noticed a colleague walking ahead of me. She stopped, then stooped a bit to smell the flowers near the manufacturing building. [I was living in a cliché!] At the time I was sure she must have been a student (that age, when we are all romantic and everything). Now that I think about it, I'm inclined to reconsider — maybe she has also been laid off!?
Hello lampost
Whatcha knowin'?
I've come to watch your flowers growin'.
Ain'tcha got no rhymes for me?
Doo-it an' doo-doo,
Feelin' groovy...
Badadadada-dada feelin' groovy...
He worked (in and around the house) this entire Labour Day, last month. When everybody rested. Never having taken a real vacation in so many years of employment, or too many weekends for that matter (thanks to the on-line technology), he got into the habit of being a bit of the contrarian. And now that all that free time he's owed has been granted, in one big chunk, he allows himself the occasional transgression.
I've got no deeds to do,
No promises to keep.
I'm dappled and drowsy and ready to sleep.
Let the morningtime drop all its petals on me...
Life, I love you,
All is groovy...
Guy next door, not one to lay about, updated his skills scrupulously during this period. He's proficient now, for example, at catching fruit flies (mid-air), thanks to the garbage strike which provided Toronto with an abundance of these. He's having a riot every time he opens the credit card bill (the bills, sure enough, keep coming as if nothing changed — which, in a way, is reassuring), and reads the travel-protection inserts that seem to have started appearing the exact week he was, mercifully, let go. We are committed to offering you travel protection solutions that can keep you covered wherever you go. Does he need insurance for traveling around his own backyard? For dragging the garbage bins to the curb and back once a week?

He finds all the recent news about the end of the recession a bit alarming. If jobs reappear, and everybody gets working again, is miserable, and shops patriotically in support of the economy, will people's oh-that-poor-guy feelings of sympathy turn into plain oh-that-lazy-bum resentment?!...

For now, he's thankful. Doo-it an' doo-doo, Happy Thanksgiving!

Feelin' Groovy (The 59th Street Bridge Song): lyrics by Paul Simon. Simon & Garfunkel, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, 1966.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

|| ||| | |||

I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered.The Prisoner. Nor bar-coded?!

Google search's logo-replacement doodle (quite recently into UFOs, crop circles, and such) was today all in praise of the ubiquitous bar code, so we couldn't resist...

Ours was created by Barcodes Inc.'s free bar code generator (in Code 128B). Feel free to scan us.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Live entertainment

Today we received in the mail what at first glance appeared to be an invitation to the open house of a new school. When we looked a bit closer, we decided it's for an upcoming Halloween party.

It's neither. To find out where all this fun is taking place, you also may need to take a closer look (e.g., click on the invitation, see address at the bottom).

Seeking guidance from Investopedia, we immediately unearthed defunct company, graveyard market (the investors can't get out of it, and the investors who aren't in it don't want to be — likely not even at the visitation centre), tombstone (which provides investors with bare bones information on a security), zombies (also known as the living dead), ghosting (a rather illegal practice), and witching hour (the heavy trading of the last hour — once in a while, happy hour in our experience). There are more...

Anyhoo... We are dead sure business must be good. If you're alive and fancy a defunct company, drop by.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Markets at dusk?

In his book The Great Depression Ahead (Simon & Schuster, January 2009) Harry S. Dent, Jr. predicts the following:

The economy appears to recover from the subprime crisis and minor recession by mid-2009 — "the calm before the real storm."

Stock prices start to crash again between mid- and late 2009 into late 2010, and likely finally bottom around mid-2012 — between Dow 3,800 and 7,200.

This points to a sr. dent in the markets right ahead of us, or a jr. dent in soothsaying right behind us...

Image: Boston at dusk, view from the 13th floor. Photo by il.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Animal spirits, the movie

At the end of the day, someone gets the money. Or the girl.

The remarkable writer and Financial Times journalist Gillian Tett, who also knows how to milk a goat (it is wise to have something to fall back on), introduced us to social anthropology through her research in a Tajik village. The action depicted in this post, presented to you courtesy of our friend Hannes Kruger from Leopard Hills Private Game Reserve, was captured in South Africa's Kruger National Park. Not on Wall Street, in spite of the similarities. There, at the closing bell the action is far from over...

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Tears gas

We already knew of real gas, ideal gas, perfect gas, and Boyle's Law. Noble gases. And a few others. Stomach gas too. We learned a lot recently, on a less fortuitous note, about natural gas (natgas in the lingo of experts burned by it).

Extra-strength gas reliefIn physics, a gas is a state of matter that consists of a collection of particles, without a definite shape or volume, that are in more or less random motion. So too in investments, it seems.

This week finally provided some relief, and the opportunity to dump some HNU, which when held in the wrong trend, at the wrong time, or for too long vaporizes through fissures such as daily rebalancing, contango, and the rollover of futures contacts.

HNU.TO July-Sept 2009No laughing gas this one. Not particularly natural either. We understand so much better now why that rotting cabbage smell...

Friday, September 18, 2009

Under-the-covers Economist

Interesting developments are always taking place in the field of economics. After Bhutan, Costa Rica, and a recent French report, it's becoming inevitable:

Man does not live by GDP alone. A new report urges statisticians to capture what people do live by. [..]

In recent years economists have therefore been looking at other measures of well-being — even "happiness", a notion that it once seemed absurd to quantify.
We are scratching our heads trying to determine what would the stimulus package be in case the economy goes into a recession once the new GDH economic indicator is in effect. We speculate it would have something to do with either latex products, Viagra, or both. Which leads to our next dilemma.

Now, we here at financial tactics do not have the means to keep an undercover economist on staff. Not even a fictitious economist, of any sort. (Nor a more prolific writer, for that matter. Hence our low post count.) We therefore address our quandary to the real expert in the field. Virtually, of course.

Dear Economist,

We have a question, which has puzzled us for a while now, for the Undercover Economist in your employ.

Considering that sperm cell counts have fallen by 50 per cent worldwide since 1940, or so according to a Danish study, apparently due to an increase in pollutants such as petroleum by-products and polychlorinated biphenyls (though we strongly suspect this has more to do with the stressful overtime activity that the employed male of the species is forced to undertake), how would you advise (purely from an economic point of view) to handle a prophylactic full of LNG (Liquefied Nomadic Gametes): Carefully drop it into the recycle bin? Relegate it to the compost bin (towards the generation of somewhat fertile soil)?! Dispose of it in the rubbish bin (though what we have over here are mere garbage cans)?

financial tactics, Toronto

Milky Way? Astral plane? Knighting of the ghosts?

As a matter of fact, none of the above. It's one of ft's editorial offices at night. More specifically, the lights of the modem, router, power suply, phone (unlike others, over here we do know how to access the phone mail), mouse, and keyboard.

How can someone make money out of this? It's a legitimate question. Let's see. Sell the office furniture and invest the proceeds in natural-gas futures?

As always, history may offer a better solution.

Professor Thomas F. X. Noble blends cultural, political, and economic topics in his course The Foundations of Western Civilization.
The period from 900 to 1300 was one of the longest eras of sustained growth in world history. Political Europe expanded physically as new states emerged, the European population grew as never before, the European economy achieved unprecedented levels of prosperity, while new technologies were introduced.
The correct answer, then. Do not sell the office furniture. Money is bound to follow. Eventually...


The pigs are pumping ship corrosion-free

Some light is being shed on the copper quandary:

Pig farmers and other speculators may have amassed more than 50,000 metric tons [of copper], Jeremy Goldwyn, who oversees business development in Asia for London-based Sucden, wrote in an e-mailed report after a visit to China. That's about half the level of inventories tallied by the Shanghai Futures Exchange, which stood last week at a two-year high of 97,396 tons.
See China’s Pig Farmers Amass Copper, Nickel, Sucden Says.

Well, now we are wondering who bought all that sugar...

Sunday, September 13, 2009

And no one knows why the wine is flowing...

Good grief, time flies. Who would have thought!? A friend of mine became, just like that, a grandma. (A very young one, it should be noted, just to be on the safe side.) It all happened overnight. Yesterday worried about the upcoming geometry test, today grandma. QED... Hi there, baby. Howdy, grandma!

Iceberg, Greenland
And Welcome, welcome cries a voice,
Let all my guests come in.

Sunset, Greenland
All this business of time flies babies et al. makes one ponder even deeper and wider. So, here it is. We should do our better best, so that the new babies of today and their babies of tomorrows will enjoy this planet as much as we still do. We are all party guests of these majestic green lands, and should pay our respects to the generous host. Time is running out. Let's not throw scraps beyond the garden wall...

Images: Greenland, photos by fs.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Economics in the Malaysian jungle

WWF JeepJeep for hanging jungle apparel out to dry — free. Provided courtesy of WWF.

parang, Malaysian jungleParang — MYR 30. Great for cutting through the dense foliage. Keep in mind that the rattan, with its thorny vines that cling and drag into your skin, may be too thick for the regular parang, at least in the hands of the less adept user.

Bathing with elephants, MalaysiaBathing with the elephants — priceless...

Thank you ds, teammates, WWF.

Monday, August 24, 2009

UofT book sales, a fall tradition

It's once again the end of August. The good times are almost over. It's back to school. It's back to autumn. In Toronto, the kitschy Ex. And, of course, the book sales at UofT.

As second-hand bookstores in Toronto disappear one by one, these sales are a welcome reprieve. The selection is huge, the prices great. A visit to the St. George campus at this time of year is rewarding in its picturesque self.

The first day of each sale is characterized by admission charges (students with id usually excepted), big crowds, long line-ups (excellent opportunity to make a new friend, one who reads), and being able to spot book dealers hunting for bargains and rarities.

Some sales go 1/2 price or just lower on the last day or during the last hours. All accept credit cards.
Victoria College
24 - 28 September 2009
Alumni Hall & the Chapel, Old Vic — 91 Charles Street West (Museum subway station), 416-585-4585
Thursday, Sept 24, 4 pm - 9 pm ($3 admission)
Friday, Sept 25, 10 am - 8 pm
Saturday, Sept 26, 11 am - 6 pm
Sunday, Sept 27, 11 am - 6 pm
Monday, Sept 28, 10 am - 8 pm

University College
16 - 20 October 2009
15 King's College Circle (Museum subway station), 416-978-0372
Friday, Oct 16, noon - 8 pm ($3 admission)
Saturday, Oct 17, 10 am - 6 pm
Sunday, Oct 18, noon - 8 pm
Monday, Oct 19, noon - 8 pm
Tuesday, Oct 20, noon - 6 pm

Trinity College
23 - 27 October 2009
Seeley Hall — Trinity College, 6 Hoskin Avenue (Museum subway station), 416-978-6750
Friday, Oct 23, 4 pm - 9 pm ($5 admission);
Saturday, Oct 24, 10 am - 8 pm;
Sunday, Oct 25, noon - 8 pm;
Monday, Oct 26, 10 am - 8 pm
Tuesday, Oct 27, 10 am - 8 pm

St. Michael's College
27 - 31 October 2009
John M. Kelly Library (Reading Room) — 113 St. Joseph Street (Museum subway station)
Tuesday, Oct 27, 6 pm - 9:30 pm (preview and reception lecture, $20 admission)
Wednesday, Oct 28, 8:30 am - 8 pm ($3 admission)
Thursday, Oct 29, 8:30 am - 8 pm
Friday, Oct 30, 8:30 am - 8 pm
Saturday, Oct 31, 10 am - 2 pm.
Photo:  Old Vic, Victoria College, University of Toronto. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The heavenly motions of the markets

It is always hard to argue against a bull market. And against science. And against the animal spirits.

Sir Isaac Newton, the genius of his age (science-wise, that is), lost extravagantly on South Sea stock by buying, selling, and then getting back into the market just before its collapse. His conclusion:
I can calculate the motions of the heavenly bodies, but not the madness of people.
James D. Stein states in his book How Math Explains the World:
The first and second laws of thermodynamics seem to appear in so many diverse environments that they have become part of our collective understanding of life: the first law says you can't win, and the second law says that it's not possible to break even.
And to put things in some perspective, a pertinent observation from, where else?, Barron's:
The rally of 2009 marches on. We're told it was the best five-month stretch for the Dow since 1938. For the Standard & Poor's 500, there hadn't been as spiffy a July performance since 1997. That is, until one checks where the S&P stood at the end of that July of '97: at 954, versus 987 today — just a 3% rise, after a 12-year slog.

With wit and very little money

It's Simcoe Day / Civic Holiday in most of Canada, when the workers rest (thank you John Graves Simcoe! / thank you Civic!). So we decided to take it slowly (and not only because HNU could not be traded just when natural gas decided to go crazy) and did some quiet reading.

Here's what we learned from Niall Ferguson's The Cash Nexus: Economics And Politics From The Age Of Warfare Through The Age Of Welfare, 1700-2000.

Karl Marx wrote to his long-time comrade Friedrich Engels in June 1864:
The time has come again when, with wit and very little money, it's possible to make money in London.
According to a recent biographer, Karl may have been tempted to become a day-trader by the German socialist Ferdinand Lassalle, who had boasted of his stock market speculations.

A spectre is haunting the stock markets. What's the deal with all these socialists using tools of the decadent capitalism you may ask, with good (if a bit naive) reason. The key, which will surprise you not a little, may be found in a letter Karl wrote to Lion Philips, also in the summer of that year:

I have, which will surprise you not a little, been speculating — partly in American funds, but more especially in English stocks, which are springing up like mushrooms this year (in furtherance of every imaginable and unimaginable joint stock enterprise), are forced up to quite an unreasonable level and then, for the most part, collapse. In this way, I have made over £400 and, now that the complexity of the political situation affords greater scope, I shall begin all over again. It's a type of operation that makes demands on one's time, and it's worth while running some risk in order to relieve the enemy of his money.
The unbearable lightness of trading. And, of course, relieving the enemy of his money. If only he'd made a killing on the stock markets, history may have been different. Marx Financials Inc. could have been today too big to fail... But nothing of consequence happened.

Finally, we read in the Marx & Engels Internet Archive that Engels wrote Marx in 1852, in a hopeful (if a bit naive) spirit:
The minor panic in the money market appears to be over, consols and railway shares are again rising merrily, money is easier, speculation is still pretty evenly distributed over corn, cotton, steam boats, mining operations, etc., etc. But cotton has already become a very risky proposition; despite what is so far a very promising crop, prices are rising continuously, merely as a result of high consumption and the possibility of a brief cotton shortage before fresh imports can arrive. Anyway I don't believe that the crisis will this time be preceded by a regular rage for speculation; if circumstances are favourable in other respects, a few mails bringing bad news from India, a panic in New York, etc., will very soon prove that many a virtuous citizen has been up to all kinds of sharp practice on the quiet. And these crucial ill-tidings from overstocked markets must surely come soon. Massive shipments continue to leave for China and India, and yet the advices are nothing out of the ordinary; indeed, Calcutta is decidedly overstocked, and here and there native dealers are going bankrupt. I don't believe that prosperity will continue beyond October or November — even Peter Ermen is becoming worried.
Regretfully, no favourable circumstances yet. As we well know, just cyclical business as usual...

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Family energy savings and the slow return to prosperity

The world's foremost financial shaman started his latest post with:

Eh? What's going on? Why am I writing on a Saturday afternoon? Is there something wrong with me? No, dear reader, I'm just feeling a bit bored...
As for me, no, I'm not bored, though I am writing on a Saturday night. Instead, I'm poor again. Empty as a pocket with nothing to lose. The #%$* US dollars from my account vanished. For an illuminating cause, but just like that. Yeah baby, no more dance for you tonight.

I am poor again.

To compensate somewhat for this sorry state of affairs, save the day, and edge forward, I'm watching Le plus grande cabaret du monde on TV5.
On voudrait des sous pour acheter des frites, on voudrait des sous pour aller dancer...
The lyrics are emboldening, the dance phenomenal. Moreover, it seems that many more are looking for some kind of change.

At the same time, as someone raised for, and used to, multitasking activities, I'm reading with reasonable optimism through this interesting research paper, 'Smart Family' Opportunities for Energy Savings. It claims to allow families to save up to $10,000 per year per home in energy bills (emission abatement included), by using a range of simple technologies. [The practical Canadian home owner may want to refer to CMHC's Renovating for energy savings and, in Ontario, also to OPA's Every kilowatt counts.]

Who knows.

Sous by sous, one might become riche again...

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Start small, grow rich

Singapore, Taiwan, Austria: what do they have in common?

All these countries have extremely performant and export-oriented economies.

Singapore - iShares MSCI Singapore Index (EWS)

Singapore has an export-oriented economy, one of the most exposed to the global economy. This city-state does not expect to return to growth until the global economy shows its signs of recovery. Most notably, the full recovery will depend on the economic performances of overseas markets such as the US, China, and Japan. However, once the external trades start to pick up, Singapore's economy is likely to be among the first to rebound.

Taiwan - iShares MSCI Taiwan Index (EWT)

Another heavily trade-dependent economy, it will continue to suffer until global economic recovery takes place. Several economic indicators point to a slight easing of Taiwan's deep economic recession during the second quarter of 2009.
Six of the seven components of the index — export orders, average monthly overtime in industry and services, book-to-bill ratios in the semiconductor machinery industry, monetary aggregate M1B (currency in circulation, current-account and passbook deposits [M1A] plus passbook savings deposits), stock prices, and producers' inventory — showed positive movement. However, the barometer, which uses five colours to measure the health of the economy, continued to flash blue, indicating recession, for the ninth month in a row.
Austria - iShares MSCI Austria Investable Market Index (EWO)

The latest Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) released by Bank Austria showed a slowing of the downturn in June, and points to a turnaround of Austria's industry most likely in the summer.
Decline in new orders, stocks of finished goods and output lose momentum. Layoffs remain at a high level. Industry poised for stabilization but a clear recovery is not anticipated.
Sources: Economist Intelligence Unit, Bank Austria