It’s a fish eat fish world (after all)

I am preparing to read Mark Kurlansky’s “Cod.” OneScreen Shot 2014-10-13 at 11.48.09 AM
nearly done and one I’m skipping-to-return-to after Cod.

Kurlansky is a wonderful writer (“The Big Oyster” and “Non-Violence” are books of near-absolute perfection in description and revelation. I counted 25 altogether.)  I didn’t get beyond the first 6 pages when I saw this quote by my benchmark favorite historians, the Durants.

It applies, I believe, in new ways to “our new” global market.
Fish eat fish.

SO THE FIRST BIOLOGICAL LESSON OF HISTORY IS THAT LIFE IS COMPETITION. COMPETITION IS NOT ONLY THE LIFE OF TRADE, IT IS THE TRADE OF LIFE—PEACEFUL WHEN FOOD ABOUNDS, VIOLENT WHEN THE MOUTHS OUTRUN THE FOOD. ANIMALS EAT ONE ANOTHER WITHOUT QUALM; CIVILIZED MEN CONSUME ONE ANOTHER BY DUE PROCESS OF LAW.“   —Will and Ariel Durant, The Lessons of History

rb Note: And maybe not by due process of law, too. 

Kurlansky, Mark (1998-07-01). Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World . Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.

PS In line with Dodd-Frank’s outcome (not intent) 4 top banks are acquiring small banks. “The whales are swallowing the minnows at a record pace,” says Fred Green, president of the SCBA… “Large banks in America will soon have a more commanding market share than ever before.” Dodd-Frankenstein IBD 10/16/14

 

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Stop Marketing Nightmares

Screen Shot 2014-10-12 at 1.04.54 PMYesterday, a friend asked me the favor of helping develop a media plan for a new client. He knows that I am knowledgeable on this from time in a big agency in NYC (accounting side, drat!) and from a great deal of time spent  on my clients’ marketing in the financing process. My response could disappoint to him. What do you think?

Michael-Ray:

Media plan… Um, a bit premature and you will see why below. I hope this is useful, despite my impudence. <grin>

Michael, the message and market will determine the media. The following questions will help with that first step.

  • Who’s the audience? What are they like?
  • What is the (sales) objective?
  • Will there be a (regional) test?
  • Where does the industry target “hang out”?
  • What are the top meetings in the industry?
  • What are the top-selling, or best reviewed products in the industry?
  • What (solution) is missing from the industry?
  • Why should buyers choose THIS product?

Based on the findings from these questions you create a media mix. You have a much better idea of which media, for example trade magazines vs. local radio or even Internet websites, works for this audience. Of course, if you’re going to go with a complete Internet presence, the answers above are still critical.

Lots of people are looking for one-size-fits-all solutions. And there are plenty of people out there providing them. Facebook will give you campaign for $1050 a month. How targeted it is, and how well it works and, importantly, how measurable it is… I have no idea.

There are media investments in print that are used to support advertising campaigns. Few people expect big results from these, with the possible exception of fashion and some other retail. But nobody’s buying a Gulfstream solely from ad in The Financial Times. Most sales occur after repeated exposures.

A serious campaign would test and refine its message before spending a lot of money. Additionally, they read the seasonality questions and “low hanging fruit” like conferences where the subject is already being discussed, and the solution is provided by this product.

In closing for now… My favorite product marketing campaign story is Red Bull. I understand the brand spent not a penny on print. By targeting its youth audience around sports and music promotions it became a multibillion-dollar product in just a few years.

Thinking out media in advance offers numerous advantages.

rb

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Objectivity and Confidence in Investing vs. TV Tips

Screen Shot 2014-09-12 at 11.43.50 AMWhy do I always have the sense that TV stock recommendations are loaded? And never in my favor.*

This might be some curse cast on me. But is it a coincidence that most TV stock “recommendations” come from people who sell advisory products? You might say I’m being too harsh, ‘these are professionals!’ (I say, “Yeah, well, how’s that going for you?”)

Heck, it’s my money. Don’t I have an obligation and commitment to protect it–myself?

Not losing any money is goal one. That’s what Warren Buffett says. Also Phil Town. Robert Kiyosaki and Donald Trump say the same thing. (You might not be a fan, but they support my big point.)

Shouldn’t we listen to people who make A LOT of money? Or should we dumb-out to  contract-players on TV?

Ok smarty pants Rob, you’re thinking. What makes you better? Smarter? More knowledgeable than the pros?

Well, let me share a few things. You decide.

My sources include: Motley Fool, Phil Town’s “Rule One” calculations, Investors Business Daily, calculations of underlying volatility, option price-stock correlation and time, and; a good RealTime charting system. Today, I’m very happy with Thinkorswim. I test these–daily and weekly–for their reliability. These are numbers, not opinions or as the trading industry likes to say, “views.”

I use my metrics in a unified process to check volatility (eg, highest in the short- and long-term) and medium-term/low beta stocks. There are other things, too. This gets you seeing. I use IBD’s SRM ranking. I check the options price/stock ratio. There’s a series of 10 year activity that gives me metrics on the future price. My strategy is to seek value + income which can be reinvested. If I see a company with lots of “green” lights, I may buy and trade its issues. PERIOD.

This is not the easiest way to invest. It takes time. I’ve invested (lots of) money in my own education. And what I have, now, is in way to stack the deck… in my favor. I set bold objectives. I put (professional?) pressure on myself for weekly results. While I cannot control the market any better than those people on TV, I know where I’m going. I guess the idea of having a strategy is important to me. I like putting the odds in my favor for a change.

And that is an outcome I have yet to hear offered on TV.

I want less noise; so I zoom in to a longer term chart, rather than cling to the one-minute chart. Again, strategy is important to me, so statements like “I am long/short… such and such” are meaningless to me. As is, “such and such looks strong/weak here, so…” Or this one:  “I am recommending to my clients that…” These are rarely strategies. These are tactics. Maybe. (Or darts.) And if you look at most of the underlying companies, their big stock moves have often already occurred.

Let me be clear. I am not a day trader. I run a company or two of my own. So this is not a career. I just hate indiscriminate and costly use of my money. So I avoid it like the plague.

Others agree with me. Bloomberg’s Barry Ritholtz is on my side. But then, he is one of those rare folks who explain why he feels the way he does, citing research to do so. A handful of others do this, too. Emerging markets leader, Mark Mobius. Motley Fool’s Tom Gardner. My friend Dodge Dorland–former President of the NYSSA (New York’s CFA Institute Chapter) and partner in Landor Capital Management.) They base decisions on research backed with objective decision-making. This breeds confidence in their own decisions. Not false certainty, or worse, hope.

Simply put, It is my profitable pleasure to be in the company of smart and wise individuals who know their minds. And keep their heads.

You might want to do this, too.

* This just occurred to me recently. CNBC was touting GT Advanced Tech (GTAT).  I was following  Invensense, Inc. (INVN). CNBC’s tip flopped. My homework will turn out ok. Their homework was, apparently, eaten by “the dog.”

 
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Just a word about Apple

Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 1.23.19 PMWhy is Apple important? (as a company? a product?
as a… fill this in?)

Simple. Because many of us simply like different. It sometimes just feels, better. And if it consistently WORKS BETTER, too,
where’s the hold up?

Check out the link below. And then compare last’s year to this year’s event. Consistently different, eh? And that tells you… ?

APPLE Corporate Conference 2014

 

 

.

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Political Tourniquet: A Comment on Improving Governance

The following comments appeared the same week in the Southampton Press, The Newport Daily News and The Palm Beach Post.
Wolffer Vineyards

Wolffer Vineyards


Good governance is rarely simple. Spot zoning proves it.

Spot zoning is ad hoc exemption from City regulations. Singular decisions, however, lack leadership or vision. These are merely a political tourniquet for visionless governance. More dangerous, this political Band-Aid erodes the validity and respect for local government.

There is another way. The genius, vision, or political courage can be directed to a City’s comprehensive plan, encompassing a master plan. In Newport, RI where I led redrafting of the comp plan, spot zoning held such sway the City Council shut it down days prior to its release. The document is that powerful.

Some think that appeasing developers provides an economic boost. This is shortsighted. Spot zoning tends to irritate the noisiest of polar adversaries (are you for it, or against it?) Over the few decades single purpose construction, for churches, shopping areas and special-use schools, have increasingly been abandoned. Some of these obstruct thoughtful planning, when they may well be historical white elephants. Adaptive reuse can work, but each locality must decide if it is a visionary policy or a management option.

A visionary comp plan helps direct the community’s skillsets and assets at broad civic aspirations, even for the most difficult architectural, business management, traffic flow challenges, and their interdependence. A rational plan calms popular emotional objections with greater clarity of mission. As a living document a good comp plan assists the municipality and businesspeople in managing risk. So, as it addresses financial and social costs its focus is on vibrant neighborhoods and effective public services.

Efforts to ease building conflicts with spot zoning waste time, cost money, and evaporate social capital. Even so, numerous American “resort towns” including Newport (RI), Palm Beach and WPB (FL), and Southampton (NY) utilize spot zoning. Applications that fall outside existing zoning standards are, for various reasons, accommodated. Boards are disabused. Residents exasperated.

If economically sensible, human sensitive development can happen in New York City, it can happen elsewhere. Working alongside Mike Bloomberg, planner Amanda Burden addressed borough-by-borough needs and invited developers to build to them. Once ignored spaces, like the elevated railway on the west side of the City, are now new draws for humans (and dogs) and small business.

In West Palm Beach, the ten-year plan developed by the late West Palm Beach city planner Dan Cary retains its luster. To underscore planning’s usefulness, the award-winning documentary, “Urbanized,” highlights West Palm Beach for blending traditional planning with New-Urbanism.

Any community looking forward to preserving a proud heritage deserves intelligent thinking and a business-wise sense of historic evolution.

Now. Does this level of informed decision-making sound like hard work, or a just, sound, reasonable and fair approach to community?

Robert Bailey, West Palm Beach, Florida

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Mankind and the limits to progress

An Arabian Proverb

“Mankind is divided into three classes: Those that are immoveable, those that are moveable, and those that move.”

* Also attributed to Benjamin Franklin

 

Mankind and the limits to progress
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Brilliant: Gandhi and Precious Patience (Brilliant-Precious-Patience)

When Gandhi was studying law at the University College, University College LondonLondon, a white professor, whose last name was Peters, disliked him intensely and always displayed prejudice and animosity towards him. Also, because Gandhi never lowered his head when addressing him , as he expected….there were always “arguments” and confrontations.

One day, Mr. Peters was having lunch at the dining room of the University, and Gandhi came along with his tray and sat next to the professor. The professor said, “Mr Gandhi, you do not understand. A pig and a bird do not sit together to eat.”

Gandhi looked at him as a parent would a rude child and calmly replied, “Do not worry professor. I’ll fly away.” And he went and sat at another table.

Mr. Peters, reddened with rage, decided to take revenge on the next test paper, but Gandhi responded brilliantly to all questions. Mr. Peters, unhappy and frustrated, asked him the following question. “Mr Gandhi, if you were walking down the street and found a package, and within was a bag of wisdom and another bag with a lot of money, which one would you take?”

Without hesitating, Gandhi responded, the one with the money, of course.”

Mr. Peters , smiling sarcastically said, “I, in your place, would have taken the wisdom, don’t you think?”

Gandhi shrugged indifferently and responded, “Each one takes what he doesn’t have.”

Mr. Peters, by this time was fit to be tied. So great was his anger that he wrote on Gandhi’s exam sheet the word “idiot” and gave it to Gandhi. Gandhi took the exam sheet and sat down at his desk trying very hard to remain calm while he contemplated his next move.

A few minutes later, Gandhi got up, went to the professor and said to him in a dignified but sarcastically polite tone, “Mr. Peters, you signed the sheet, but you did not give me a grade.”

Brilliant-Precious-Patience… qualities that should all run together, more often. 

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“The Noontime Nerd” Friday August 22, 2014

Economics is not boring. It is vital. Though it’s mostly businesspeople and politicians (before elections) who will acknowledge this. So,

Clarity being rare, it is exciting to see when someone, or more, expresses a mass of data succinctly and meaningfully. Here you have John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge (Schumpeter column. Fantastic read!) collaborating on a seminal piece. “The State of the State.” Who else could be trusted with such a critical piece of our global political economy–and the West’s need to get into the game again.

http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/141477/john-micklethwait-and-adrian-wooldridge/the-state-of-the-state

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Where there are heroes, how to fix politics

There is a character in the best businesspeople that I like, and which I never saw in any community organizers that I met. And I have met a number of them, earlier in life. Businesspeople tend to do what they say; and they tend to take responsibility for their commitments.  We all know exceptions. But, I said ‘the best’ businesspeople.

I am not talking about corporate employees. These are not always businesspeople—they are cogs in a wheel who know some the business’ business. I am talking about the man or woman who can do just about every job on the floor, in the software design, on the sales team, in the bakery. You get the picture.

This is leadership at its most fundamental level. This is where our political leadership would come from if politics were not so dysfunctional. But who, in her right mind, wants to work in a broken system. When I lived in Newport (RI, the bluest of the blue states) I brought several meetings to a screeching halt with this simple statement:

If the system is broken, it doesn’t matter who runs it.

Business people understand this without a lot of prodding. And so, business people run things, better. Smooth-ness is their joy and passion. They are sometimes well rewarded and sometimes not. It depends on the risks they take, the time they put in, and the ability to stay in the game as they adapt and evolve.

The widow of a former democratic US Senator once said, “There are only two reasons people enter politics—for love or for power.”

Business people, in contrast, bear greater cost and manage a far greater responsibility—lasting value. These are the under-appreciated heroes of our time.

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Rebalancing Others’ Influence Over You

TUG OF WAR

ARE YOU OFF BALANCE?  THEN LET’S START!

Have any of  these  ever happened to you?

1) It occurs to you that may be able to help someone. You have an idea. You have a contact. Something. You give them a call and share it with the friend. He’s excited and promises to send the background that will help you make a presentation for this great idea for him.  A day goes by. Then two days. Then you get busy and distracted with things that are important to you. What just happened?

Next, 2) You have a great call, or meeting. You pledge to take some step, and you do. The other person gives you a date to reconnect. You follow-through with both, they have disappeared? Huh?  Next,

3) You have an agreement with someone and they sign it. You have a series of near-personal conversations on the phone. So, you know about the person’s family, how they started in business, where they vacation. THIS, you think, is the kind of business I swan to DO! You make a connection coincident with the agreement between you. The person stops talking to you. You will get your money (maybe), but… What just happened?

Robert Cialdini’s, “Influence”

You just meet up with human nature.  Somehow you have to work at rebalancing influence; neutralize it, or make it yours again. Odds are it is happening to you more than occasionally. With the speed of change in markets, banking, corporate transitions and even interpersonal relationships you may have asked yourself–Can I (ever) get ANY leverage over human nature?  Sure. But it takes some perspective.

Experience is the best provider of such perspective. And studying the right teachers helps. One such teacher is Robert Cialdini. If you haven’t heard of him yet, you owe it to yourself to dig in, see how you feel about his ideas–try them out for yourself–and decide if they are for you.

Like any good teacher, useful input appears when the student is ready.

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