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Monthly Archive for February, 2008

Who Will Challenge Conventional Wisdom?

Who will challenge the conventional wisdom that we, as a nation, can borrow and spend our way to prosperity and expect that prosperity to endure?

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Both Candidates Insult Allies During Tuesday Debate

During the Tuesday night debate between Democrat candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, one of the topics of debate was NAFTA. Tim Russert was the questioner and he did a good job of trying to force both of them to choose a side: are you for NAFTA or against it? Both tried to have it both ways. Even the New York Times is not afraid to point out that both candidates haven’t always been free-trade foes.

But most distressing to me is the fact that both spoke in ways that were highly insulting to Mexico and Canada. As this editorial on IBD states, “Sure, they’re pandering for Rust Belt votes. But do they ever consider the impact of their statements on our allies?”

Both candidates threaten to leave NAFTA unless its “labor and environmental standards” are strictly “enforced.” Enforcement? Hammer? What kind of criminals are these would-be G-men talking about? Evil ruffians out there committing . . . trade.

This not only insults our allies and trading partners, it signals to everyone else that America’s capricious, chest-thumping protectionist ally, Mexico, a third-world nation that is trying hard to transform itself into a first, bears the brunt of this coded jingoism.

That’s because trade pacts these days are about more than just trade — they represent long-term strategic partnerships. But after this talk, who’ll want to sign a permanent trade deal knowing they’ll be threatened by ambitious politicians every election season?

Mexico is not on the same level as the United States and it is probably much harder and more cost prohibitive for them to enforce labor and environmental standards. These candidates are ignoring reality if they think they can force Mexico to meet our higher standards.

Durable Goods Orders Decreased

Yesterday I read a long post from Market Ticker detailing some of the recent, distressing economic and business news. Here are some things that stuck out for me.

First, durable goods orders decreased 5.3% on the month and inventories are rising. Market Ticker says this is always a sign a recession is on the way (or at least evidence that people are cutting back on spending), which makes sense to me. People used to be buying lots of crap, manufacturers ramped up production bit by bit to meet demand. Now that the demand is no longer there because people are limiting their spending, inventories will naturally rise and products will not get shipped.

Second, he berates the short-sighted politicians for setting America up for an energy crisis. The fools have prohibited any nuclear energy development for the past 30 years. We’ve turned our food into energy and we have refused to drill for oil off our coasts, oil which we know is there.

Also, and a most interesting and scary prediction that there will be a war between China and Russia in the future:

Let’s talk geopolitical risk – what’s really driving metals prices. Its not talked about, but it should be. China has north of 1.2 billion people. Russia, which shares a border with China, has 140 million, or about 1/10th of China.

Russia has a net surplus of both oil and natural gas, and in addition has a surplus of land per-capita. China has a dearth of all three. So long as China can pay for what they need, this is not a serious problem.

But as we flush, to believe that China can turn to internal consumption and pick up the slack, with a per-capita income of under $2,000, where ours is more than 10 times as high, is pure fantasy.

I wouldn’t take that bet at any odds.

What I expect to happen is that China will eventually run out of ability to subsidize, and will turn to what nations have always historically turned to when faced with severe internal pressures and a resource-rich nation sharing a border with them.

Quite distressing news overall, but good news if you happen to be a bear.

Dollar-Carry Trades?

An increase of dollar-carry trades is certainly a confirmation of how far our currency has fallen, but I wonder if it is also a sign of impending recession.

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Trade Idea – Sequenom Inc

Here’s a chart of SQNM for your consideration.

SQNM chart

My prediction regarding this stock is that there will be a short term bounce up off of the 200 DMA because the technical indicators all indicate that SQNM is oversold at the moment. If that happens I would short the stock at what I think will be an area of resistance, namely the $7.40-7.50 area, or even as  high as $8.

Overall, the diamond top pattern is considered a bearish signal and often indicates a possible reversal of the current uptrend to a new downtrend. I think there are good chances that this stock will break firmly below its 200 DMA and test lows as indicated by the highlighted area.

Puddle Jumper Loses

The citation to this excerpt is “1 GAREALEST § 11-57″ if you use Westlaw. I just found this amusing title while researching liability for personal injuries on premises.

Puddle jumper loses. Summary judgment was issued to a landowner in connection with an injury suffered by a licensee who attempted to jump a puddle of water located on the property. The puddle was an obvious static condition which the injured party could have easily avoided by taking the sidewalk to the parking lot. The plaintiff failed to exercise due care when confronted with the puddle and performed an obviously dangerous act by attempting to jump over it. Moss v. Georgia Department of Public Safety, 247 Ga.App. 426, 543 S.E.2d 799 (2000).

I guess the lesson here is that you’ll have a tough time suing a landowner after you injure yourself trying to jump a puddle.

How Wal-Mart Can Teach the Health Care Sector a Few Lessons

Medinnovationblog, authored by Dr. Reece, has an interesting post on how Wal-Mart can teach the physicians a few lessons in business and service. All the factors important to improving health care are discussed:

  • Price matters. Wal-Mart’s slogan of “We sell for less” has been a smashing success. Some physician groups have taken the clue by opening and owning their own clinics and by lowering overhead in “cash-only” practices.
  • Access matters. Longer hours, no waiting and quick patient processing appeals to health consumers. Some physicians have responded with open-scheduling, see patients on the day they call.
  • Transparency matters. Patients like to know in advance or at the site of care what things will cost. Some physicians, particularly in cash-only practices, are posting prices in their offices.
  • Predictability matters. Consumers like to know what they are in for. Predictability is what successful corporate franchises, and other in-store clinics, like CVS and Minute Clinics, strive for.
  • Location and convenience matters. Walmart got its start by placing its stores in rural and suburbs where competitors had not gone and where parking was ample and free.

I agree with Dr. Reece that these new clinics are or are going to be one of the biggest innovations in the world of health care. But one potential road block for this innovation is that “in-store clinics take two to three years to show a profit, and at least seven clinic operators – short on capital – have closed up shop.” If anyone can make this innovation work, it is probably Wal-Mart.

$25 million for yanking hospital privileges

$25 million for yanking hospital privileges sounds a little steep to me, though I could be wrong.

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It’s Hard to Foreclose When You Don’t Have the Paperwork

Bloomberg reports that some banks are having trouble foreclosing because they lack the necessary paperwork:

Joe Lents hasn’t made a payment on his $1.5 million mortgage since 2002.

That’s when Washington Mutual Inc. first tried to foreclose on his home in Boca Raton, Florida. The Seattle-based lender failed to prove that it owned Lents’s mortgage note and dropped attempts to take his house. Subsequent efforts to foreclose have stalled because no one has produced the paperwork….

Judges in at least five states have stopped foreclosure proceedings because the banks that pool mortgages into securities and the companies that collect monthly payments haven’t been able to prove they own the mortgages. The confusion is another headache for U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson as he revises rules for packaging mortgages into securities.

“I think it’s going to become pretty hairy,” said Josh Rosner, managing director at the New York-based investment research firm Graham Fisher & Co. “Regulators appear to have ignored this, given the size and scope of the problem.”

So why is there such a mess with banks not being able to foreclose? Well, apparently in the sprint to make money and commissions, “short cuts” were taken. Also add to that the fact that a lot of the original lenders aren’t around anymore. More than 100 mortgage companies stopped making loans, closed or were sold last year, according to Bloomberg.

Here’s yet another indicator that things are getting screwy/scary as a result of declining home values: grandmothers are stripping their properties before they hand them over to the bank!

Markets Likely to Be Within Range Today; Look Out Next Week

Over the past five trading days, I’ve seen the markets trade within a fairly tight range, not wanting to divulge whether they will be going up or going down. Yesterday there was initial hope as the markets gapped up on the open, but alas, they could not penetrate resistance. I watched, sick and coughing, the S&P 500 fail to breach 1368. The markets tumbled after a bearish report released by the Philadelphia Fed.

Anyways, I am beginning to feel more that we are on the precipice of a bear market. I agree with Tim and the Financial Ninja: we are likely to see “serious tankage” if/when the markets break out of their wedge formations.