Perry Glasser

Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

MINIMUM WAGE LAWS: THE BIG BUCCANEER BIG LIE

In Business, Economics, Political Economy, Politics, Uncategorized on April 30, 2014 at 12:11 pm

Big Lie Propaganda embraces the idea that the more preposterous a lie and the more it is repeated, the more likely some fools will be bound to believe there is something to it.  After all, they can’t keep saying such bullshit unless it is at least partially true, right?

The current debate on minimum wage is a case study in Big Lie operation.

This Weasel is so terrified of exposure, it is disguises as a  mongoose.

This Weasel is so terrified of exposure, it is disguises as a mongoose.

THE WEASELS

Owes allegiance only to profit

Owes allegiance only to profit

Weasels, who only live to be re-elected, are running in small circles trying to figure out which way to go on the minimum wage issue. On the one hand, Buccaneers will be displeased should they vote or utter words that might displease their Masters; on the other, a LOT of people in the service economy–the same economy those Buccaneers created–get to vote.

What’s a poor Weasel to do?

Go for votes or go for the money?

Weaseldom is no easy life.

 

FACTS

As John Cassidy has eloquently shown in The New Yorker, there is no relationship between minimum wage and unemployment. None. Not a scintilla.

Nor is there any negative relationship between unemployment among teens and any rise in minimum wage: in fact, the opposite seems to be the case according to research conducted by John Spenser.

There will be lies often repeated. That just makes them Big Lies. It does not make them true.

LOGIC

Let’s suppose you won and run a Mom-and-Pop store in a strip mall, party goods, perhaps. You employ 4 local people kids at 30 hours each, a total of 120 hours each week of sales and service employees. You deploy them as you need them. Two of them are smart and honest enough that they operate the register when you do not.

You do not hire 3 full-time employees working 40 hour weeks. For one thing, if you do, the Fed is going to require you to offer benefits you cannot afford. For another, you are smart enough to know your employees come and go: they graduate from high school and go off to college or, if they are older, they want and take long vacations when the grandchildren are in town.  Anyone in the demographic middle is, as you know, looking for a 40-hour-week job, and will give notice in a heartbeat.

You wish them well, and you consider your cost of training a rolling cadre of new employees a cost of doing business.

So if the minimum wage rises, will you fire anyone?

Of course not. If you have the brains of a carrot, you are not employing anyone out of some charitable impulse. You are in business to make money, not employ people.  You run your business with as few people as possible.

Will you endure less profit to meet a new law?

No, you’ll raise prices here and there.

It won’t matter if you have competitors: they are in the same boat.

If you have huge competitors, they may be able to endure the new wage with less profit for a while longer than you, but ultimately they, too, will have to follow suit.  You cannot compete with Wal-Mart or Target on price, buy you can kick butt as a matter of service.

WHY THERE IS RESISTANCE

Buccaneers are aware that they own most Weasels, but that Weasels have to be re-elected, so they issue solemn warnings of ruin and destruction if the 16-year-olds at McDonald’s get a 25% raise. Most Buccaneers have trouble envisioning any time beyond the next quarter, anyway.

At issue is only how large a profit can be made without any raise in prices.

Do you know anyone who will pass on the fries if the price goes up a nickel? Me neither.

The Weasel-Buccaneer Dance will go forward, and wingnuts on the right will see the Death of Democracy in the debate.

Try to ignore that crap. It’s been decades since we saw a minimum raise hike.

It is time.

 

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FINANCE FOR THE CLUELESS: INVESTING –THE EIGHT DO’s

In Business, Economics, EDUCATION, Finance, FINANCE FOR THE CLUELESS, Personal Finance, Wall Street on April 23, 2014 at 12:17 pm

If you are unsure you should dip your trembling toe into investment waters, reread FINANCE FOR THE CLUELESS: INVESTING – THE DON’TS right here at Dollar$.

 CAUTION TO THE HARDHEADED 

If you are persuaded that the game is rigged and that age hates youth, deliberately having made money management and life-planning a cruel losing joke, consider that the bad guys will someday kick the bucket.  When they do, will you be among ageing schmucks still claiming injustice or do you want to position yourself to take your place as a leader?

The choice is yours.

If you are a twenty-something ready to grow up, or a thirty-something ready to take your share of the American Dream, you have  come to the right place.

Dollar$ will not equivocate. Here is what you must do to GET RICH SLOWLY.

Should you discover you need to get rich quickly, Dollar$ urges you to bet on race horses. At any racetrack, you will breathe fresh air, find friendly company, free parking, and can probably purchase a half-decent meal. You will quickly go broke, of course, but during the 1:12 it takes for a decent thoroughbred to run 6 furlongs you can scream yourself silly and dream of riches. Quarter horse racing is even faster!

OPEN AN ACCOUNT

Choose a brokerage like Schwab or Ameritrade, any organization that fits your digital lifestyle. Investigate apps or web sites; choose the brokerage that seems most navigable to you for research, purchasing, and tracking your holdings. You will want more as you learn more, but you need to be comfortable with an interface.

The Internet has leveled the cost of doing business, about $7.95 for any online stock trade, so in terms of costs brokerage firms are interchangeable.  At issue for you is service and minimums.

Most brokerages require a minimum amount to open an account: as this is written, Schwab is asking for a measly $500—perfect for the Clueless.

FEATURES

  1. Options. If you can get approved for Options trading, get it.  You will not use this until you have considerable wealth, but it costs nothing to check a box.
  2.  Margin.  Again, check it off and leave it the hell alone until you know what the hell you are doing, and even then think very, very, carefully about borrowing money from your broker to make an asset purchase—which is what Margin trading is about. Remember, your broker is not your partner. Your gains are your gains alone (W00t W00t!), but your losses are your losses alone. If you owe a margin debt, you will owe what you owe no matter what happens.
Margin accounts may have uses, but can be dangerous.

Margin accounts may have uses, but can be dangerous.

You know Tony down at the docks? The guy who lends money to people with no collateral? He is happiest when you pay him, but he does not care if your team lost, the deal went south, or your honey made off with your boodle—he only wants his money and interest back. When he does not get it, he becomes surly. He makes you sell your car, cash in in your kid’s college fund, and if necessary persuade you to these measures by realigning your knee caps with a baseball bat he keeps handy for just that purpose.

Think of your Margin account as Tony. Don’t let anyone get medieval on you.

3. Check Writing. Take it.  Add a measure of liquidity to your assets. You can write an emergency check if you need to—which you should not, but shit happens.

4. Reinvest Dividends. Absolutely. Dividends are how companies share profits with shareholders. Dividends are not interest, but in effect, reinvesting dividends is how your account will draw compound interest.

“He who understands compound interest , earns it ... he who doesn't ... pays it.” Einstein

“He who understands compound interest , earns it … he who doesn’t … pays it.”
Einstein

 

THE EIGHT DO’S AND WHY

1. Buy stock in at least 3 companies traded on either the New York Stock exchange or the OTC (Over the Counter) markets. Be sure these companies are in very different economic sectors. In other words, do not buy 3 media companies, or 3 retail companies, or 3 technology companies, but perhaps buy 1 of each.

You require a measure of diversity. You can buy diversity in a mutual fund, of course, a basket of stocks managed by professionals, but then you pay fees for professional management. Dollar$ cautions the clueless, who by definition are starting small, that the fees will bleed you white. Why start your financial life with a tapeworm?

Diversity is insurance against misfortune. While one sector of the economy may take a hit from unexpected circumstances—such as a change in a government regulatory posture or a political event in a faraway country— the only circumstance that will affect all 3 of your sectors are changes in the overall economic picture, such as a change in interest rates.  For the investor who wants to GET RICH SLOWLY, those dips can be shrugged off because unlike you and me, companies that sell goods and services can within limits raise their prices to recoup what was lost. The price of lumber goes up, the furniture business takes a hit, but next year the price of furniture rises. It’s not as though people will start sitting on the floor.

What constitutes a sector is very subjective. Is Walt Disney a service company or a media company?  Different online research will yield different sector guides. Here is one website that will allow you to bore down to Market Cap leaders by sector.

The final arbiter of what is what is you, Binky, so give special considerations to companies that are conglomerates. General Electric, the oldest company in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, founded by Thomas Edison, makes washing machines, jet engines, and runs an insurance business.  What sector is that?

2. Buy stock in companies that are at least 20 years old.

Ten-year-old companies have a modest track record of survival; twenty-year-olds are even better.

Yes, Dollar$ is aware that young companies are set to grow quickly, but they frequently are headed by untried management and are closer to going broke. Most corporations live little more than a person’s lifetime though the exceptions are remarkablebecause they embrace a culture of change and innovation. 3M Corporation was founded in 1902 to make sandpaper; now they make Post-It notes and Scotch Tape.

Young companies will also gather imitators, which mean ever-increasing competition will drive revenues, but not costs, downward. Someone is bound to improve on the original idea.  If the good Lord in 1985 had whispered in your ear, “Computers,” you may have chuckled at the Divine Wisdom that loaded your portfolio with Kaypro, Atari, Commodore, and Wang. Like last winter’s snow, those companies are now gone.

Avoid the bleeding edge.

3. Buy stock in at least two companies that are multinationals.

DSC_0230Doing business in places where general economic growth is not dependent on the value of US currency is simply prudent. Dollar$ would never bet against the financial muscle of the United States, but Dollar$ is aware that infrastructure build-out in the 3rd world is inevitably followed by consumer demand for a higher standard of living. You do not have to buy stock in a Chinese company to participate in the Chinese economy; you do not need to need to buy stock in a Chilean company to participate in the Chilean economy.  Logos and trademarks Americans see every day are all over the world: UPS, Disney, Starbucks, Pizza Hut… the list is endless.

If you have qualms about such things and think they are imperialistic, ask the folks in Red Square how they like burgers at McDonald’s, or ask Chinese citizens if the prefer iPhones to ‘Droids.

4. Buy stock in companies that pay dividends or, even better, have a history of raising regularly dividends.

Many companies do not share their profits with shareholders via dividends because managers hoard cash for future business investment. While Dollar$ respects the managerial strategy, Dollar$ notes such companies do not suit a strategy to get rich slowly. The Clueless want an opportunity to have their dividends accrue ever more stock.

Better yet, companies that pay dividends suffer less in a downturn because their dividends offer investors a yield, a cushion against losses.

5. Buy and Hold—even if it means going white-knuckled.

On September 16, 2008 the general stock market as measured by the Dow Jones Industrial Average crashed 10 percent in a single day. The Buccaneers who ran major financial institutions were competing to take greater risks for greater profits than any responsible bank should, fudging on what “banking” meant. On Sept 12, 2008 the DJIA was at 11,421.99.  By November 21, it was down to 8046.42 a breathtaking loss of 29 percent in 6 weeks.

Iceland went broke, Lehman Brothers went out of business, and for the first time ever, US citizens heard the phrase, “Too big to fail.”

Anyone who sold to defend his or her assets for fear of total ruin took themselves out of the game. They may have felt safer, but by doing so, they gave up any chance of recovery.

As Dollar$ writes, the DJIA stands above 16,000—which means sellers in 2008 have missed 100 percent gains measured from then, only six years. By selling into a panic, they gave up every opportunity to gain back all they lost and more.

True, if you owned stock in Lehman Brothers you took it in the neck, but if you had a diversified portfolio, over all, you survived and may have even made money.

A wise man once said, “You can’t go broke on a small profit.”

6. Buy shares and add to your portfolio regularly.

Ideally, you may be able to invest with a check-off system from your salary, an arrangement that will allow even those of us lacking personal discipline to take advantage of the maxim: Pay Yourself First.

Regular investing will allow you to take advantage of “dollar-cost averaging.” When stocks are up, you’ll buy fewer shares: when stocks are down, you’ll buy more shares. On average your cost will be somewhere in between. Free yourself from trying to guess if today or tomorrow are better days to buy; let time be your friend.

If your companies thrive and move steadily upwards, your average cost will always be below their current price level.  Over the long haul, stocks historically have gained 7-9 percent annually. Never try to time the market—just be a steady buyer and Get Rich Slowly.

7. Buy Mid and Large Cap companies.

“Cap” refers to capitalization, the sum total of the value of all the shares issued by a company.  Every company issues a different number of shares, so a company floating a million shares priced at $100 per share is worth $100 million dollars, but a company with 5 million shares priced at $50 per share is worth $250 million.  That’s right, the company trading at the lower price is worth more.

Large Cap companies are slow as battleships, but not likely to sink quickly; Mid Cap companies are more nimble and want nothing more than to grow to be Large Cap. They will take more risk, but have a record for taking risks and winning because they really were once Small Caps.

There are plenty of Small Cap companies, and investing in them is a respectable strategy, but Dollar$ does not recommend that to the Clueless: one needs a larger portfolio to overcome the inevitable losses small companies encounter. While a few Small Caps will experience spectacular growth, more will fail or stay stagnant. On average, an investor might do well, but only if the investor has a sufficiently diverse portfolio, unavailable to the Clueless without professional management—which must be paid for.

8. Sell when the reasons you bought a company change or the fundamentals of the business change.

You selected  XYZ company for your portfolio for reasons. Maybe you personally liked the product or the service; maybe liked the company’s competitive position; maybe you liked the company’s record for paying dividends; maybe you read and were persuaded by  the company’s strategic plans; ideally, you liked some combination of all of those.

But if those any of those change, why are you still holding the company? Never fall in love with a stock; review your portfolio regularly, at least every 3 years. Save your loyalty for a lover.

NOW WHAT

Discovering companies that fit the Dollar$ profile from the universe of thousands of companies is, in fact, easy.  You chose your broker because it offered digital tools for Research. Try the “screening” or “filtering” system—pick an economic sector, indicate your requirements in terms of dividends, choose from Large Cap or Mid Cap, etc.

  • Read about the company’s businesses. If you do not understand what they do, go no further. Invest only in what you understand.
  • Invest only in companies that sell services or products you would buy whether you were a business or a consumer.
  • Buy shares in companies that are ranked first or second in their industries.  
  • Be disciplined. Avoid trendy and hot stock tips, whether from your Uncle Fred or a TV pundit who is obliged to scream “news” at an audience every evening. Near term, they may be right: let someone else make that money while you sleep soundly.
  • Invest and relax—let your money work while you sleep and pay no attention to daily, monthly, or even annual trends. You are going for the long haul, and the long haul is steadily upward and has been for hundreds of years.

MINIMUM WAGE AND JOBS – PITY THE WEASELS!

In Business, Economics, Economy, EDUCATION, Finance, Political Economy, Politics, TAXES on March 29, 2014 at 10:59 am
FINANCIAL RHETORIC

FINANCIAL RHETORIC

Business leaders and their in-pocket legislators are raising their voices to crescendo levels about how a rise in minimum wage laws will destroy jobs. This contempt for logic once again brings Dollar$ to the keyboard to dispel the fog of self-serving rhetoric.

Raising the minimum wage reduces profit; it has nothing to do with the number of jobs. Dollar$ knows of no successful business operated as a public service to create employment opportunities.

Weasels are chasing their tails in fits of anxiety. On the one hand, all those underpaid Citizens vote, on the other hand, Buccaneers fund re-election campaigns.

What to do, O what to do?

Pity the poor Weasels!

This Weasel is so terrified of exposure, it is disguises as a  mongoose.

This Weasel is so terrified of exposure, it is disguises as a mongoose.

Minimum Wage

Minimum wage laws are safeguards against worker exploitation, allegedly set at a level that guarantees a living wage. What constitutes a living wage is open to debate, but whatever that may be, it stands to reason that over time, as inflation makes the cost of living rise, minimum wages must rise to keep pace. They are regional, as they should be, matters of state law. Federal guidelines for federal workers set a benchmark. The current federal minimum wage for non-military projects is $7.25 per hour and goes back to July, 2009.

Everyone knows this. Even Weasels and Buccaneers.

Everyone also knows that the purpose and function of business is to make profit. Dollar$ loses no sleep over this, and Dollar$ implores you to sleep soundly as well. Making money threatens nothing you hold dear. Profit is the engine of every aspect of our society. Irving Berlin wrote music to make money; Shakespeare wrote plays to sell tickets. Michelangelo sold his skills to Renaissance patrons who bid for his services.

Organizations pursue profit like water flows downhill or electrons through wire, following the path of least resistance. Effective management will deploy labor in the most efficient way possible to maximize profit. That’s simply good business practice.

Everyone knows all this, too.

The Buccaneer-Weasel Chorus

So Dollar$ reads with wide-eyed wonder when the Buccaneer-Weasel Chorus lifts their voices to sing about the perils of a raise in the minimum wage laws and how that will cost jobs.

Even Weasels and Buccaneers know this cannot be true.

If it were so, then lowering the minimum wage would create more jobs, and none of us believe for a minute that Ronald McDonald, Mickey Mouse, or your kid on the corner selling lemonade would be hiring if they could pay the help less: they would, instead, be pocketing the difference in wages as increased profit.

No real Buccaneer runs an organization to create jobs. True, the pursuit of profit will make a successful organization expand, and this expansion will incidentally create opportunities and jobs for employees, but Mickey Mouse does not open theme parks in China, France, and Tokyo as a public service to out-of-work Chinese, French, or Japanese workers—Mickey sails under the Jolly Roger and owes allegiance to no nation.

Flag of Business Loyalty

Flag of Business Loyalty

  • Like Mickey, your kid is selling lemonade on the corner because your kid wants profit. Like Mickey. your kid sets prices by calculating the cost of sugar, water, lemon juice, and ice, and then calculating a sales price that makes her labor worth her time—that’s the pursuit of profit.

Neither Mickey nor your kid hires additional labor as an act of charity or public policy because the pursuit of profit requires efficient deployment of labor.

Why hire three lemon-crushers when one will do? What’s the minimum number of ticket-sellers at the gates to the Magic Kingdom on a Fall day in Tokyo?

Raising the Minimum Wage

  • Raising the minimum wage will not put high school kids dishing ice cream out of summer work—someone has to do it because summers do not last.
  • Raising the minimum wage will not put sales people out of work at WalMart—WalMart hires no floor help as an act of public spirited charity; they already hire the fewest number of people they can.
  • Raising the minimum wage will not mean be fewer people in food services—someone still has to flip the burgers and Ronald already they already hire the fewest number of people they can.

Raising the minimum wage reduces profit, and this is why Weasels are chasing their tails. On the one hand, all those underpaid Citizens vote, on the other hand, Buccaneers fund re-election campaigns.

What to do, O what to do?

Pity the poor Weasels!

Send your personal Weasel a note indicating you are willing to pay a nickel more for your next cheeseburger so that the person serving it to you can buy her kid eyeglasses or can make the rent.

Who among us would not?

PERSONAL FINANCE FOR THE CLUELESS: INVESTING, THE CAPITAL MARKETS

In Business, Economics, EDUCATION, Finance, FINANCE FOR THE CLUELESS, Personal Finance, Wall Street on March 26, 2014 at 12:27 pm

Dollar$ is well aware of the gazillion resources online where some union of Wizards and Buccaneers blow rhetorical fog that is an alleged explanation of stocks and bonds.

Dollar$ submits that these explanations are deliberately arcane, part of the investment community’s strategy to hunt and bag the Clueless. After making what is simple appear complicated, up pops a talentless sales goon who for a small fee offers to manage your money.

 

WHERE WIZARD HIDE

WHERE WIZARDS LURK

Dollar$ seeks to dispel the fog.

When the Clueless understand what anyone can see, the Clueless are no longer clueless. No situation terrifies Buccaneers and Wizards more.

These are the same stalwarts that over a generation persuaded America that job training is a cost to be borne by the trainee and that education and job training are synonyms. An entire generation has accrued so much debt that they are indentured servants.

It is time to turn the table on the bastards.

Leap beyond the jargon of P/E ratios, large cap, small cap, technical analysis, book value and all the rest, grasp the basics, get started, refine your wisdom as you accrue wealth, seek financial and emotional independence.

A Fantasy

Suppose you are downloading 3 seasons of the Walking Dead because you are far too cool to watch broadcast TV at scheduled times, planning a long weekend of beer, pizza, a fluffy blanket, and a lover watching monsters eat brains. What could be more romantic?

Suddenly, as if in a vision, you imagine a way to supply the world with a new and better widget. Your lover shows up, you describe your plan, and your lover enthusiastically says, “We’ll need some money to get started, but eventually we will make wheelbarrows of dough.”

Hot damn!

Nothing comes easy, but after two years of running the business on a shoestring at 16 hours per day, you’ve proven the concept. You can make and deliver a quality widget for less. You need now to expand enough to get out of the basement. You want to hire some old-school experts in widgetry, and you need 10 employees. You are figuring with the profits that are forthcoming, eventually you will have 10,000 employees. The sky is the limit.

Scariest start-up ever

Scariest start-up ever

Do not laugh. This is how Amazon.com started, with Jeff Bezos sitting on the floor wrapping packages. This is how Facebook started, with Mark Zuckerberg gathering a cadre of code-writing geeks in a Harvard dorm. This is how Hewlett-Packard began—in a garage in Palo Alto. Maybe the scariest start-up in recent history was Fedex: on the first day in business in April 17, 1973, Fedex required 14 jets and 389 employees to deliver 186 packages to 25 cities. The idea was to compete with the US Post Office by charging MORE.

What lunatic would invest in that????

Ideas turn into goods and services that make our lives rich and our wallets fat. This is the miracle of America capitalism.

Capital Markets – Access the Money!

Participation in the public capital markets are the only way for Citizens to partake in that miracle.

Businesses go to the Bond Markets to borrow money. When a Citizen participates in the bond market, the Citizen becomes a lender. Lenders are guaranteed income determined by the face value of the bond, interest based on the rate of return, and an eventual return of principal at a predetermined date. Since part of the investor’s risk is the bankruptcy of the issuing organization, the rate of return (interest) is determined by how solid the issuing organization is.

Note that the investor does not participate in the growth of the issuing organization.

Note, too, that some organizations are not businesses promising interest based on future profits, but are municipalities promising interest payments based on future tax revenues.

Dollar$ hastens to point out that bonds are appropriate for investors with low risk tolerance—the aged and the nervous.

 

Citizen

Citizen

Dollar$ also points out that no investment is without risk. Ask Citizens who held bonds issued by the City of Detroit. Mostly, those bonds are held by large organizations such as labor union pensions funds, but when the fog lifts, those are Citizens. Instead of interest and eventual payment of principal, investors in Detroit’s bonds hope to get twenty cents on the dollar.

Businesses go to the Stock Market to sell shares in the company to willing investors who expect or hope that the good idea will make the value of the shares rise with the good fortune of the company. At some point, if the shares of stock are traded, the investor makes a gain or, if the value of shares goes down, incurs a loss.

For citizens to participate in the stock market requires only that the citizen have a broker, a clear idea of the advantages and disadvantages of different stock investment vehicles, and an investment strategy.

Dollar$ will be writing more soon.

PERSONAL FINANCE FOR THE CLUELESS– SPENDING #2 CREDIT

In Business, Economics, EDUCATION, Finance, FINANCE FOR THE CLUELESS, Personal Finance on March 14, 2014 at 12:00 pm

imagesKQE1806T

Credit Card?  Debit Cards?

Spending gets dangerous when the naïve, foolish, and young believe that the plastic in their hand is free money. The problem is so chronic in America that an industry has grown up to rescue people from the consequences of their own lack of control. Never mind that the lack of control is imparted by Consumer Culture.

This is America. If we get you in trouble, we will blame you, but we will always be eager to take your money to get you out of the trouble we put you in.

Dollar$ will save you the rant and the familiar charts, but instead give you the rules.

Never use a Debit card.

There is no exception to this rule because there are no circumstances where a debit card is accepted that a credit card is not.  In fact, those same places accept cash, as well. The less cash you carry, the less likely you will succumb to impulse-buying.

Vendors LOVE debit cards because they transfer your bank balance to their pockets instantly. But a credit card affords you as much as a 3 week float, the time delay between the moment you buy and the moment you pay. In that 3 week period, your money snoozes, perhaps makes your checking account free, perhaps draws interest. It may not be much, but isn’t that nickel better off in your pocket than somewhere else?

If you overdraw with a debit card, your bank will impose usurious fees;

A lost debit card carries large liability if you do not immediately notify the bank of its loss; After 2 days, if your debit card has been in use by a thief, your bank will only offer you suspicion and may hold you responsible for up to $500. But should you lose a credit card, by law, you are only liable for $50.00.

Never ever carry a balance on a credit card.

This is your life we are talking about. Fees and interest mount. The catastrophic results will cripple your economic life, cripple your romantic life, and harm your children as you struggle for years to pay for goods and services you only thought you needed because of the compulsions of consumer culture.

If you have self-discipline problems, throw your plastic away.

If you are carrying credit card debt, pay it off first

You have no financial obligation more pressing, not even saving for retirement. If the leeches are into you for upwards of 20 percent per year, you are like a runner in a marathon bleeding from an artery. The harder you run, the more you bleed. You will eventually drop dead and never cross the finish line. Close your wounds! Spend less until you are free.
There are no services that can pay off your debts other than debt consolidation, a plan that may put money in your pocket month-to-month, but extends the life of your loan. Use debt consolidation if you must, but it’s even better to PAY IT OFF!

Good Debt

Dollar$ make a distinction between taking on debt in a good way vs. taking on debt like a runaway teenager set loose in a mall.

Consumer debt. Borrowing money to satisfy the false cravings instilled by Consumer Culture is always a bad idea. The satisfaction is temporary; the object or service bought will quickly need to be replenished; the payments will go on long after the object is of any use or pleasure.

Leverage. Borrowing money to invest in ways that will create revenue at a faster rate that the interest accrues is always a good idea.  Dollar$ knows you are not General Motors, so we are not talking about durable goods that will pay for themselves by producing more cars sooner. However, Citizens can avail themselves of some opportunities.

untitledReal estate. You have to live somewhere, and mortgage interest is about the last substantial tax deduction available to a Citizen. Mortgage rates are historically low; do not buy a home unless you expect to live in it for more than 5 years. If you are buying residencies as investments with the expectation of putting in sweat equity, Dollar$ salutes you. If you are buying real estate in hopes of a quick flip because prices are soaring rapidly, Dollar$ reminds you of the vast tracts of empty homes in Las Vegas where speculators were left with unfinished projects because real estate boom was swamp gas.

Auto. You need a car, and it is indeed an asset that will enhance your revenue opportunities because it will take you to and from work. In some places, however, automobiles and parking spaces constitute luxuries. You don’t need a car if you live and work in lower Manhattan.

Education. There is no better investment than in yourself. Your earning power over a lifetime soars with a college degree. Dollar$ does NOT subscribe to the Buccaneer mantra that you learn the skills their businesses need right now because these loons cannot predict the future beyond the next quarter.

Dollar$ urges you to major in what you love, but minor in how you will make a living.  Become a Graphic Designer with a minor in Business. Study Literature and minor in Computer Sciences.

Commodities Speculator

Become a generalist: in the digital economy of the 21st century, you will have 6 – 7 careers. You will need to be flexible. If you study a specific vocational skillset, your job will, eventually, be either automated out of existence or outsourced to the 3rd World. Buccaneers will tell you otherwise, but they are the very same people who will be outsourcing your job, expressing regrets, and suggesting you borrow money to return to school to retool.

Screw them. Take control. Lead the happy and productive life.

BITCOIN IN WONDERLAND

In Business, Economics, EDUCATION, Finance, Personal Finance, Political Economy, Wall Street, Wall Street Journal on March 14, 2014 at 10:37 am

Curiouser and curiouser!’ cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English); ‘now I’m opening out like the largest telescope that ever was!

Bitcoin Speculator

Bitcoin Speculator

Just when Dollar$ though the Bitcoin story was dead and safely buried, someone nibbles a few crumbs of Bitcoin Cake and we are back in Wonderland.

Beware of strange substances that are labeled Eat Me.

The Wall Street Journal reports that a Silicon Valley startup called Xapo is trying to become “the Fort Knox of bitcoin.”

Start with how the Journal ought to employ fact-checkers. Xapo is headquartered in Hong Kong, safely away from pesky US regulatory agencies. Sure, they’ve got offices in California, but so does every other financial firm in the world.

Magic Beans

The bitcoin business proposition is like the story Jack and the Beanstalk. (When it comes to bitcoins, metaphors from fantasy and fairytales are unavoidable.) Give us your real cow, and we will give you magic beans! Overnight they will grow to the sky! When you get up there, you’ll meet a giant who wants to devour you! To survive the giant, you have to be a thief and run like Hell!

Bitcoin: Give us your real money! Bitcoin value will grow to the sky. All you need is the heart of a thief!

The Xapo Proposition

Xapo claims to have raised $20 million to construct physical vaults, “the company says are in mountainous regions.” The vaults are to be guarded 24/7. You’ll need an eye scan to enter. Once each day, employees will descend into the vaults to verify passcodes for daily transactions. Indeed, Xapo indicates it will require 24 hours to complete any transaction.

There are no physical coins, of course. What will be down there will be computers Xapo promises will never be connected to the Internet.  The mountain locations are, naturally, top secret. They may, in fact, be in the back of your Mom’s lingerie drawer. What could be more secure?

Xapo has several competitors, testimony to the idea that a lot of people sell snakeoil.

Liquidity

The bottomless credulity of the cyber-community originates with vitamin deficiencies caused by a steady diet of cold pizza and Red Bull for breakfast, watching Goldfinger too many times, the conviction that one can get rich without ever getting out of a chair, and an unshakeable libertarian belief that the arms merchants, sex traffickers, and drug dealers MUST have an untraceable non-government issued currency for money laundering.

Bitcoin Banker

Bitcoin Banker

Criminals are famous for patience and trust. What 3rd World potentate on the lam requires liquidity? Money launderers of all sorts will  have no issue with a 24-hour waiting period.

Security

Xapo’s website reads, “The Xapo Vault offers fully insured storage for long term savings.” The Xapo website indicates that the insurer is “Meridian Insurance.”

Dollar$ best efforts to find Meridian came up with a few casualty and auto business insurers in the Silicon Valley area. There is no chance that any of them could sustain a few million in claims should Xapo somehow go under, never mind the billions in catastrophic losses made possible by the disappearance of an exchange like the late unmourned Mt. Gox. Could Xapo be arranging employee dental care with Meridian?

But Dollar$ wonders most what currency Meridian or any other insurer will use for indemnification. Will your stolen bitcoins be replaced by dollars, yen, or more bitcoins?

Criminals will stick with fiat currency or gold. Only the naïve and stupid will pursue their bitcoin dreams in Wonderland.

PERSONAL FINANCE FOR THE CLUELESS–INSURING

In Business, Economics, EDUCATION, Finance, FINANCE FOR THE CLUELESS, Personal Finance on March 12, 2014 at 2:32 pm

 

WIZARD OF FINANCE

WIZARD OF FINANCE

 

Four Financial Functions

Of the four personal financial functions, Saving, Insuring, Spending, and Investing, Insuring may be the least well understood.

Dollar$ broods on the why this is so. Insurance is not hard to understand, but Wizards who specialize in selling financial products lie awake at night dreaming up complicated products to befuddle the Clueless, which products more efficiently separate the Clueless from their dough.And so we come to the First Dollar$ Law for the Clueless.

NEVER BLEND FINANCIAL PURPOSES IN A SINGLE VEHICLE

Someday you will meet an Insurance Broker Wizard who will tell you that the best way to save for your retirement is with a life insurance policy. You may also meet his cousin, the Real Estate Broker Wizard, who tells you to purchase a house you cannot afford because it is an investment; you will meet another Credit Card Wizard who will happily point out that with this wonderful card that costs next to nothing, whenever you incur debt, you buy free airline miles, nights in a hotel, or tickets to see Bruce Springsteen while enjoying a free trip to the Poor House!

Do not work with these Wizards. They are sharpies presenting proposition bets, but as Marlon Brando explained to Frank Sinatra, do not take a proposition bet. Ever. You willhave a wet ear.

 

Wizards charge fees for a service, to which they are entitled, but a Wizard who sells additional services will want to collect MUST do so for a higher fee than you might pay for buying each of those products separately.

Over the life of a policy, which can be decades, even small fees mount up.  You are ALWAYS better off paying for pure products.

Rather than plagiarize, Dollar$ is happy to refer you to a short, lucid explanation from CNN talking about Universal vs. Term Life. CNN concludes, “The lesson: If you need life insurance, get term insurance. If you want to invest for retirement, invest in IRAs, 401(k)s or similar retirement plans.”

Smart folks at CNN.

The Industry

To understand what you should or should not personally do, you first have to understand the industry.

Dollar$ swears the explanation will be short.

Let’s say we live on a nice, tree-lined street. Beyond ordinary town services, our neighbors agree it is to everyone’s benefit to preserve the neighborhood’s good looks, so we form The Dollar$ Neighborhood Association. Everyone throws in a few bucks every year as a matter of civic duty. From time to time, you sponsor a block party, and the DNA buys a keg of beer.

One terrible day, a storm comes through town, and three of those trees are torn up. Luckily, no one is hurt, no homes are damaged. Town workers haul the downed trees away.

The DNA checks its accounts. If we skip the beer this year, we can afford to replace the 3 downed trees.

Property values are preserved. Our lives remain lovely.

  • The DNA is a very small scale mutual insurance company.
  • The stockholders are the people of the neighborhood.
  • The beer is the annual dividend paid to shareholders.

For Profit

A for-profit insurance company works the same way, but they charge larger fees, invest all the money they get, and need millions of clients to spread the risk.  After all, a tornado could wipe out the whole neighborhood. Better to make our community at least statewide.

Whatever a for-profit does not have to pay out, is profit that they keep.

Actuaries, skilled mathematicians, calculate rates by studying masses of data and crunching numbers. Do you know what percentage of women between the ages of 11 and 40 will break a leg next year?  Neither does Dollar$, but there are actuaries who do. They also know how much it takes to fix a busted leg, and they build all those data into health insurance rates for women between 11 and 40.

For-profits may pay dividends to shareholders (who may not be policyholders). It won’t be beer.

If a for-profit does not invest well, it may go bankrupt. Consider what might have happened to the DNA if 10 trees were destroyed. What happens if a hurricane hits New Jersey, the Mississippi overflows it banks, or an earthquake hits Manhattan? Lesson: Buy life insurance only from a well-established company that has been doing business at least 75 years. Anything else is an upstart liable to go belly-up the day you need them.

Action Items

Insurance protects the purchaser from man-made or natural accidents that have financial repercussions.

Dos and Don’ts for the Clueless

Insurance is not:

  • A guarantee that a loved one will live forever;
  • A bet that should things go wrong your heirs will become rich;
  • An investment;
  • It is never a gamble you win by losing. “Great news! I died and now my family is rich!’

The more people swim in the risk pool, the less expensive insurance is for everyone. The more neighbor in the DNP, the more trees can be replaced. The more low risk people buy health insurance, the happier Democrats will be because they will be paying in, but not taking as much out. If that sounds like a scam to you, you are probably younger than 35 and have never been sick.

Do not worry: you will be sick someday.

  • Never insure your children’s lives, unless your kid is Shirley Temple and so provides a revenue stream.
  • Term life insurance is a pure insurance product. In the event of disaster, it pays big bucks. At the end of the term, it pays bubkis. Buy it.
  • Take the difference saved by buying inexpensive insurance and invest or save it to provide wealth or revenue later.
  • Buy term life for as long as dependents will need to replace any income lost to death. That’s usually 20 years after the birth of the last newborn child in a family.
  • Buy enough life insurance so that survivors can continue their lives uninterrupted—do not underestimate this. If a spouse will need to pay for childcare, insure the spouse is cared for.
  • If you have no dependents or heirs, you need no life insurance; but you should consider disability insurance.
  • Disability insurance is more crucial than life insurance. It does not have to be your fault, but if your neck breaks in a car accident, you might survive for decades and need financial resources for all that time. Social Security will no pay what you want or need.
  • Mortgage insurance does NOT protect you: it protects the mortgage holder, not your heirs. You kick the bucket, the bank collects.
  • In America, health insurance has become mandatory. This is controversial, but is no different from mandatory auto insurance about which no one complains. Dollar$ suspects the Weasel mindset is at work here.
  • Insure revenue-producing property from fire and theft. Your auto provides you with  the means of getting to and from a job. Be sure your auto insurancee will be for a renter if you lose your car temporarily.
  • Insure your house from fire and flood. Flood insurance is tricky and varies from state to state. Do your homework.
  • Insure your possessions that would need to be replaced, and insure for replacement value. If your house burns down with a 10-year-ol refrigerator in it, will you be buying a 10-year old refrigerator, or will you need a new one?
  • Liability insurance makes sense if you own assets someone else can attach in the event of your negligence. Someone trips over your rug, takes a header down the stairs, and sues for financial assistance for a lifetime in a wheelchair. Will they go after your kid’s college savings account?  (Yes.) Will you want insurance against that personal liability (Double Yes). Should you put assets in places they cannot be attached? (Maybe—now you need an attorney, but if you have that much dough, why are you reading “For the Clueless?”)
  •  NEVER buy a warranty extension on an appliance. A defective product can be returned. If it breaks too late to be returned, take the money you saved buy not buying extended warranty protection and apply it toward the purchase of a new product.
    Carry as little personal liability on your car insurance as you can. Brokers are going to disagree, but in a world where health insurance is now a legal responsibility of every Citizen, why are you paying for someone else’s health insurance?

PERSONAL FINANCE FOR THE CLUELESS– SAVINGS #2: INCOME

In Business, Economics, Economy, EDUCATION, Finance, FINANCE FOR THE CLUELESS, Personal Finance on March 10, 2014 at 7:04 pm

My two Gen Y friends, call them John and Mary were out with me celebrating Mary’s return to the workforce after five months of unemployment.

John and Mary are chronically broke. Ordinary car repairs are a disaster. Every month, they juggle creditors. Who to pay, who to delay?

Mary, a college grad, now has a job she enjoys, though it does not pay much. John works at two hourly wage jobs, about 60 to 70 hours each week. While we eat sushi, his eyes drift half closed through most of dinner. John and Mary live in a less desirable part of town in a decent enough place owned by a relative willing to subsidize their lives by accepting about 75 percent of market rates in rent.

I asked John why he did not attend college. Maybe two years at the local community college? He looked startled. I felt I had offended him.

“Can’t afford it. Got to pay the bills.”

“Why not borrow for school?”

“Loans are too expensive.”

Think Out of the Box

John thinks he is trapped. From time to time, he  gripes about the system, whatever that means.

GEN Y LIFE

GEN Y LIFE

Is there any way out? He is already working more hours than anyone should.

But he is in his 20s.

How will he manage when he is in his 30s? His 40s?

John and Mary’s lives cannot go on like this forever. A tire blowout should not constitute a financial challenge. The only alternative to getting older is death, not a great alternative. John and Mary are going to get older, Dollar$ hopes. Everyone should live forever, but to make that a good thing requires financial management.

What Should John Do?

No  amount of thrift will help John and Mary. They need income. Since being an entrepreneur requires capital they do not have, John needs to go school. It’s his only way out.

John needs to pursue a career, not a job.

Dollar$ recommends, QUIT A JOB BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE!

This is a no-brainer. John needs to quit  the job that pays no benefits.  He is squandering two wasting assets:

  • Youth
  • Energy

They are wasting because as time passes, they diminish in value. He needs to quit before those assets are exhausted.

What can he do with the free hours he will create by reducing himself to working only 40 hours/week?

BORROW. GO TO SCHOOL. STOP KIDDING AROUND. THIS IS YOUR LIFE. AND YOUR LIFE IS YOURS TO CONTROL. NEVER ACCEPT VICTIMIZATION!

 The Cruel Science

Economics and Finance are unforgiving. In the U.S., a non-college grad can expect to earn $25,000 less EACH YEAR. In a working lifetime, that’s well over a half million dollars lost.

Wouldn’t you borrow $30K now for a half million dollars later? Why accept a life of used cars, inferior healthcare, crappy neighborhoods, lots and lots of old clothes, and fights about money, the cause of most divorces in the US.

John might say,“We are not into the system,” but, sorry John and others who would Occupy Wall Street, the last ‘60s communes are long gone. Hippies discovered that farming was back-breaking work.

Suck it up and face reality.

Good or Bad Credit?

John is not a lazy guy. He is as good as they get. But he may be confusing the two kinds of credit

CEO of MasterCard and Visa, c. 1400.

CEO of MasterCard and Visa, c. 1400.

Consumer credit is poison. Borrowing money to pay for something you consume or own is the American financial disease. You bought some bit of crap and now what? The road to Hell is paved with credit cards. Visa and MasterCard charge rates that a thousand year ago would have had them burned for usury.  Banks lust for chuckleheads who never pay off on time.

Do you want to be the bank’s best friend?

Use a credit card only for food and gasoline. Better yet, use cash. You remember cash? Green coupons with the presidents’ pictures on them? Dump your debit card. It exposes you to losses a credit card does not and offers you no float. The second you spend it, the second you lose it. At least a credit card delays payment by 3 – 4 weeks: the float.

Leveraged credit is the stuff of investment.  Borrow money when its purpose is to increase revenue at a superior rate to what you pay for the loan.

Let’s see: A student loan these days—which can be partly used to pay for John and Mary’s living expenses—may run 8 percent per year.

Hmmmm… Eight percent of $30,000 borrowed to pay tuition is about $2,400 per year. Throw in some principle—say the loan costs $3,000 each and every year until it is paid off, maybe 15 years or so, with no payments until the education is finished.

That $3K per year to buy entry to a world where salaries are $25K per year more! That might net John as much as $22,000 each and every year.

Leverage those assets! Get out of the Box!

Youth and energy have market value, but not if you allow them to lie waste away!

 

WEALTH INEQUALITY

In Business, Economics, Economy, EDUCATION, Finance, Political Economy, Politics, TAXES on March 8, 2014 at 12:40 pm

bossy sisterWhenever my big sister played Monopoly, if the game was going against her she would toss the playing board in the air. My hotels and houses would scatter across the living room carpet as she shouted, “Salugi!” (a New York-ism pronounced “suh-LOO-gee”)and lunged across the table to confiscate most of my deeds, especially Boardwalk and Park Place.

When I was able to read the rules of the game, I learned there was no allowance for tossing the game in the air or confiscating my property. My sister was cheating! But since I was 8 and she was 14, she was able to meet my accusation by beating me up.

The History of Wealth Redistribution

My sister was a revolutionary.

To be sure, Dollar$ reminds readers that rebels object to rules, but revolutionaries rewrite them. Rebellions are common; revolutions are rare.

The folks who threw the board in the air in the past have cried, “Justice!” not “Salugi!” They had names like Washington, Lenin, Mao, and Castro.

Note that political persuasion—Left or Right—has nothing to do with revolutionary status. Mao and Washington might have discussed military tactics, but Dollar$ suggests they would have come to no agreement about economic systems or the function of government.

The Function of Governmentpreamble-20532-20120118-55

It’s less complicated than Monopoly.

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Washington (the dude on the $1) believed that the function of government was primarily to protect the rights of the individual, rights that most often needed protection from government itself. If no military personnel have been billeted in your living room, thank Washington.

Washington may have noted that to promote the general welfare required some redistribution of wealth to insure equal opportunity and to insure domestic tranquility, but that does not guarantee equality of status among citizens.

Washington’s pal was the first Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton (the dude on the $20). Hamilton understood that wealth concentration in institution like banks were a social good, provided the bank used that concentration of wealth to fund the visions of a greater society, lending money to visionaries and giving stability to the economic infrastructure by protecting wealth from being squandered by a ruling class on personal indulgences. Hamilton, an orphan at 11 and the illegitimate son a British West Indies plantation owner, would likely not endorse a notion that the function of government was to protect the rights of the filthy rich to become obscenely rich.

The Situation Today

Some of Dollar$’s best friends sink into fuzzy thinking when talk comes around to how wealth is created and distributed in the United States. They lose sleep fearful that someone, somehow, somewhere, is leveraging assets to optimize profit.  They simple-mindedly believe that economics is a zero-sum game and cannot imagine economic growth. If an organization makes a dollar, someone must be a dollar poorer.

No. That simply is untrue. If it were so, you and I would enjoy the same standard of living as Washington and Hamilton. But the fact is that economies grow.  At issue is how they grow, not whether they should grow at all, though there are indeed some who think that a good idea, too.

The deluded friends of Dollar$ from time to time propose bold programs to redistribute wealth, programs they understand as pursuing Justice.

There two reasons those cannot and should not work.

1. Nowhere in the US Constitution will one find the word corporation. True, we reserve the right to free assembly, but that does not elevate any assembly of citizens devoted to profit a guaranteed right to speak lies in its advertising or compensate its directors and executive officers so rapaciously that shareholders who hope to partake of the boons of the system see their profit participation reduced by rapacious Buccaneers.

Oliver-Wendell-Jr-Holmes-9342405-1-402
Not Sherlock; not Mycroft, just Oliver

2. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. noted Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society. The idea is carved in stone on the IRS building in DC., but let’s note that corporations do not pay taxes, they collect them.  If you think they not, you are submitting to a distraction, a buy-in to the fallacy above.

Dollar$ hastens to explain that citizens are consumers. Tax us, and we bleed money. Bleeding, we consume or save less, neither of which are good things, though it does not follow consumers should not be taxed. Civilization is messy, but must be purchased. But to a corporation, taxes are a cost of doing business, like labor, supplies, and logistics.

Raise corporate tax rates, and corporations will only raise their prices.

Guess who pays the difference?

Today’s  Lesson

Remember, friends, we cannot pursue social justice by confiscating wealth. We can, however:

  • Limit executive compensation by law to some multiple of the lowest worker in an organization;
  • Create progressive income tax brackets that limit the shift of American wealth to the rich from the poor;
  • Lower repatriation taxes so that companies that keep their money off-shore are encouraged to bring it home where they can invest in more factories and create jobs here–better to collect 15 percent of something than 30 percent of nothing;
  • Demand that higher education is a matter of national security, and so to insure the blessings of liberty are  free to all;
  • To insure the blessings of liberty on ourselves and our posterity, give tax breaks to organizations that train employees instead of demanding that future employees borrow so much money to gain perceived needed skills that students have a choice of poverty of a life of indentured servitude;
  • Regulate publically traded corporations by disallowing aggregation of profits as cash without paying shareholder dividends, a means to share in that profit. Can we stop the nonsense that hoarding cash is good corporate financial strategy when all it does is spike share prices that are subsequently used to calculate executive performance compensation? (Are you listening Apple Computer?)
  • Return to personal income tax rates that  reflect the needs of our society. Under Eisenhower, we built the interstate highway system and taxed marginal income as much as 92 percent.

We don’t have to throw the game board in the air to start over again: all we need to do is play by the rules.

BITCOIN DENOUEMENT

In Business, Economics, Economy, EDUCATION, Finance, Old Farts Financial Network, Personal Finance on February 28, 2014 at 2:43 pm
Mt Gox Depositors

Mt Gox Depositors

Mt Gox sought bankruptcy protection in Japan today. The Bitcoin exchange is no more.

Dollar$ wonders if Japan can supply sufficient protection from a mob of angry depositors carrying torches and pitchforks led by CEO Mark Karpeles’ mother. A half billion worth of the non-currency has vanished.

Poof!

 

20-Something Thinking

Dollar$ admits to little sympathy to the casual 20-Something investor who figured the Old Farts Financial Network needed some shaking up.  After all, everyone knows that sex traffickers, pornographers, drug dealers, and arms merchants in dire need of a traceless currency would never steal. They have financial rights, too! Bitcoin was a product that was needed!

The OFFN plainly did not understand how the internet is a network of stalwart enlightened libertarians.

The 20-Somethings also believed that profits of 1,000 percent in a year was the justified return to them for their courage, foresight, minor hygiene problems, and a steady diet of cold pizza and Red Bull while sitting in front of a computer screen.

Really, kids, you have to get out more.

They know for sure that to get wealthy in America today is a plausible idea and a hell of a marketing department.  Anyone knows that!  Just ask the good people  at WorldCom, Pets.com, Enron, Furniture.com, or any other get-rich- quick scheme the OFFN lived through in the past few decades. 

Could Boomers have all the good stuff because they worked for it? Why know anything when you can invent a brave, new world and hope to be the last fool out the door before the collapse.

Looks like it is too late, now.  bitcoin