Friday, December 7, 2012

November Returns

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"Stupid Is As Stupid Does"
Tired of hearing about the U.S. fiscal cliff, yet?  Never give a politician the spotlight.  They seem to think this is their 15 minutes of fame, and are going to use it for every last possible opportunity to make a point.  Because of that, I don't believe it is going to go away any time soon.  Dr. Phil would say the best indicator of future behaviour is recent past behaviour.  When it comes to dealing with this type of issue, they have shown in the past how much they will try to manipulate the situation in, what they think, is in their favour.

Scoring vs. Winning
Sometimes, when we get too close to what is happening in the market, we can get caught up in short term thinking.  When we lose track of the bigger picture, our vision becomes too narrow, and we can miss obvious signs that we are putting our money at risk.  The U.S. fiscal cliff, to me, is a case of trying to score political points while totally ignoring the consequences of doing so.  Have you ever continued an argument past the point where you realized you were no longer making any sense, but continued, anyway, in trying to make the point?

The Power of Example
I wouldn't take much issue were it not for the fact we are talking about the decision makers affecting the largest economy in the world!  It only highlights all of our lack of ability to work together for the common good.  When did it become all about ME, and MINE, and the hell with everyone else?!?  As far as I am concerned, I wouldn't vote for a single one of them.  When we stop trying to serve the interests of the greater good, we have taken a face plant into greed and nastiness and self.  Have you ever seen a time in history when such behaviour ended well?

Real Consequences
The argument seems to be the real consequences of failing to do the right thing now are months, or years into the future.  That belief fails to acknowledge the market is already basing today's decisions on what is expected to happen months downs the road, and that indecision and infighting is not creating an environment conducive to investment and growth.  The longer this continues, unresolved, the greater the chance we face not only a economic recession, but the possibility of a market crash, as well.

23 month return for TSX @ November 30, 2012 =     -8.51 percent
Return for Basic Timing Model Using XIU =             11.82  percent
Return for Advanced Timing Model =                      -4.36 percent
Money for charity =                                              $0.00

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Four Percent Rule

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The 4% rules dictates that, given historical market returns, we can't afford to withdraw more than that amount from our retirement portfolio after age 65 when we, presumably, stop contributing to it.  From what I understand, this is before fees, and other related costs.  On that basis, does it make sense that we should be paying more than half of our potential retirement income to the mutual fund industry in the form of management expenses?  Whose money is it, anyway?  I plan on withdrawing more than 4% from my retirement portfolio.  Given the high fees relative to performance, I won't be parking my funds for retirement in any mutual fund!

Have you looked at your mutual funds, lately?


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

COW (part 3)

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The Consensus
I started my analysis of COW (iShares Agriculture Exchange Traded Fund) by determining the companies which make up the majority of it, and then I did a Price/Earnings calculation for each, based on consensus earnings as at the end of 2012.  The next step is to calculate the expected price difference between now and the end of the year.  We can calculate the difference between today's prices and the year-end target prices. Using the same weightings we derived for each company in the fund, we can then compute each company's contribution, and thus, a year-end price.

The Price
That said, the target price I calculated for COW by the end of the year is $28.78, a 32% increase from today.  Now, if I only relied on fundamentals, COW would be a buy, although I have to say earnings estimates are being cut during the current reporting season.  Dupont, for one, had to do so.

The Charts
If we also look at the charts for COW, however, we can see that it has approached a point of resistance where it is not totally clear whether the price will continue much higher than that.  Still, the upward trend remains, largely, intact.  While it is no guarantee of future performance, that same upward trend has continued into the new year in each of the last four years.  Personally, I have my doubts given the uncertainty over tax rates in the U.S. after the end of this year.  I can't advise people what equities they should buy, but for myself, I would only be willing to hold COW if it breaks above that line of resistance.

What do others think?  Are you convinced?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

October 2012 Returns

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Seasonally, November brings the beginning of the best six months for the TSX market.  The materials sector normally shows strength at the middle of the month with the technology sector continuing in strength.  Technology as measured by the iShares XIT Exchange Traded Fund is currently trending higher, but the materials sector - not so much, yet.  Overall, the TSX was relatively flat for the month of October, finishing slightly higher.

Mutual Fund redemptions have been growing, and I expect that trend is likely continuing, given investor uncertainty over the situation in Europe and the elections/fiscal cliff in the U.S. coupled with continuing high unemployment.  All in all, no news is still better than bad news, but not by much.  It is still impossible to tell, yet, whether, or not, we will get much of a rally going into the end of the year. 

22 month return for TSX @ October 31, 2012 =     -6.98 percent
Return for Basic Timing Model Using XIU =          13.5   percent
Return for Advanced Timing Model =                    -4.36 percent
Money for charity =                                            $0.00

Any predictions for the end of the year? 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

COW (part 2)

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P = E Times X
My continued analysis of COW (iShares Agriculture ETF) is long overdue.  Previously, I provided a list of the companies which comprise 80 percent of the makeup of COW.  I then mentioned the relationship between price and earnings, and how calculating the potential price of the companies in the ETF results in a price we can use for valuing the ETF, itself.  I had written that Price = Earnings per share Times X.

P/E Ratio
How do we determine a value for X?  Given the formula above, we can then restate it as X = Price divided by Earnings per share.  X is what is known as the Price to Earnings Ratio, or P/E Ratio (Price divided by Earnings).  I looked up each of the companies on the list, and determined what, historically, would, seem like a conservative P/E Ratio over the past number of years.  You can see my findings in the chart above.

Growth Rate
What we need to understand about the P/E Ratio is that it is directly correlated to the growth rate of the company.  The faster the company is growing, the more people are willing to pay to take advantage of that growth.  To a point.  I then compared my estimated P/E Ratio to the growth rate for each company.  The P/E Ratio should be anywhere from 1 to 2 times the company's growth rate.  What you see above are the adjusted numbers.  CF is the exception.  The historical growth rate for CF is greater than the P/E Ratio I am using, but I am more comfortable using the lower number in that case.

Target Price
The Earnings per share estimates I am using are the average consensus earnings for all the analysts who follow each company, which are closest to the end of the current year.  Multiplying the P/E Ratio by those Earnings numbers, we get a target price for each of the companies.

So, what price did I come up with for COW, for the end of the year?  I'll show you those calculations next time.  Still with me?  Questions?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

September 2012 Returns

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September was not all that bad, this year, considering its history for being the worst month of the year.  It is a good illustration of how seasonality is based on probability, not certainty.  Having said that, I am still concerned about this market, particularly since we seem to be deviating from what I would consider to be normal seasonal patterns.  In itself, that wouldn't bother me so much, if it were not for the fact the major technical pattern called a head and shoulders, which I wrote about earlier this year, is still intact.  

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The momentum indicators I follow would indicate the market is heading lower.  If that turns out to be the case, the fact we did not make it above the previous high from last February is more bad news.  I would not be surprised to see the TSX drop below the 200-day moving average which is only some 150 points, or so, lower than the close of today's market.  We could get there in a single bad day!  

The returns shown above use the XIU ETF as a buy and sell signal.  The idea is to buy when XIU is above it's 200-day moving average, and sell when it is below.  Bad things can happen in the markets when they are below the 200-day moving average.  The real danger is, however, if we get down below the 11,000 mark.  A pattern such as this would indicate going back to the lows in the last Great Recession.  It will be interesting to watch - the markets normally finish the year stronger, but that was not the case is 2008, either.  If we do see these things begin to happen I will be looking for opportunities to short the market (using inverse ETF's) rather than looking for buying opportunities.

21 month return for TSX @ September 30, 2012 = -7.86 percent
Return for Basic Timing Model Using XIU =          11.97 percent
Return for Advanced Timing Model =                    -4.36 percent
Money for charity =                                            $0.00 

Are you expecting a year-end rally?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Buy Agriculture Now?

Yes, COW
I am not a financial professional, and cannot recommend equities for you to buy.  Having said that, I want to share my analysis with you.  I do this as a means of teaching others a (relatively) simple approach to arriving at price targets.  Why agriculture?  This is a seasonally strong period of the year for agriculture stocks.  Second, my calculations  indicate there is as much as a 24 percent upside to the Exchange Traded Fund (ETF) with the ticker symbol COW on the TSX as at Saturday, Sept. 22.  I will provide additional details of my calculations over the next few posts, but first, a little more about COW.

iShares lists the top holdings in COW by weighting.  By adding the weightings, we can see the top 13 companies make up 81 percent of the fund.  These companies are headquartered in Canada, the U.S., Chile, Brazil, Japan, and Switzerland.  As in this case, ETF's give me the most diversification at the cheapest price.  I could go out and buy each of the 13 companies (or only the one's I like), but the cost of the commissions to do so quickly adds up.

Prices of ETF's such as this one follow an index.  As such, there is no fund manager deciding which company to buy, and when.  iShares manages the fund so it reflects the holdings in the index it is tracking.  The price follows that of the index because institutional providers package up the stocks of companies in the index to sell to iShares when it is cheaper to do so, and buy them back again when they become cheaper than the stocks. As a result, the constant buying and selling of ETF units causes the price of the ETF to mirror the index of stocks.  Price is a function of earnings.  At any given point, we can show the price of a share of stock as being the amount of company earnings divided by the number of shares multiplied by some number.  In other words, Price = Earnings/Share Times X.  Calculate the future price based on future earnings for most of the companies in an ETF, and we can compute the target price of the ETF.

Technical Analysis
Technical Analysis only goes so far when it comes to individual stocks.  That is doubly true of stocks which have a limited trading volume.  A volatile market such as the one we find ourselves in currently compounds the problem even more.  A price of a widely held ETF of widely held stocks is much more predictable than a single company.  The fundamental analysis I am in the process of sharing with you shows me what to buy.  I then use technical analysis to determine when to buy what I have calculated as having a cheap valuation relative to the current price.

Questions?  Comments?


Friday, September 21, 2012

Don Vialoux On The TSX

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Don's research identifies the time period of Sept. 16 to Oct. 9 as a period of seasonal weakness.  He believes the technical indicators are now pointing to a correction.  This correction is, on average, 4.0 percent for the TSX index.  He expects markets to go higher after the U.S. election.  With the debate surrounding the fiscal cliff in the U.S., I expect volatility to be higher than usual, especially if trading volumes remain low.  I think they will get the job done to avoid the future tax increases from automatically kicking in, but it will come at a cost, further weakening people's faith in the system, and the markets.

Anyone have an opinion they wish to share?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Happy Birthday "Occupy"

Robert Johnson asserts that the system of money and politics in Washington is broken, and then they launch into a discussion about education being the real problem.  I am not saying there aren't problems in the education system in the U.S., but I think there is a state of denial which prevents them from seeing that the real issue is the hijacking of the political process by well-financed lobbyists.  While high unemployment may swell the ranks of the Occupy Movement, I sense it is the polarization of the rich looking out for the rich and the poor left to fend for themselves which is at the heart of the protest.  Being out of a job is one thing; losing faith in the ability of the system to bring a return to prosperity (except for the rich) is an entirely different (and more volatile) situation.

Friday, September 7, 2012

August 2012 Returns

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Seasonality at this time of year still favours Energy, Gold, Agriculture and Natural Gas. Natural Gas is the only sector not participating, possibly due to the run up in June and July. North American equity markets continue to trend higher.  My time horizon remains short as we enter into the worst seasonal period of the year based on historical trends.

I had made a choice not to play gold, even though seasonality favours it at this time of year.  First, I would rather invest in gold companies rather than bullion, and a big enough decline in the market causes everything to drop at the same time.  At such times, even gold offers little protection.  Second, I wasn't crazy about the idea of holding a more highly volatile ETF given the high market volatility.  I am now thinking that was the wrong decision, but take comfort in not, potentially, putting funds at risk.  I am all about risk vs. reward, although in this case I underestimated the reward potential  Still, a dollar saved is a dollar I can use later.
20 month return for TSX @ August 31, 2012 = -10.94 percent
Return for Basic Timing Model Using XIU =        9.59 percent
Return for Advanced Timing Model =                -4.36 percent
Money for charity =                                        $0.00

Comments? Suggestions?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

September To Be "Nasty"?

If you are familiar with my blog, you probably know I advocate using the 200-day moving average as a buy/sell signal.  Bad things tend to happen when the market is below its 200-day moving average.  David Mcalvany compares today's markets to 1987 - low volume and high volatility.  The big drop in 1987 came just after the market had sunk below its 200-day moving average (in October).  Currently the markets are above their 200-day moving average, but I do not expect that to continue during September/October.  When that happens, it could be a good sign to take some money off the table, if you haven't done so, by that time.

What would it take for you to reduce your equity portfolio?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Odds Are?

Click Here To Play The Video
The closer we get to the U.S. election date this fall, the less likely it is we will see any intervention in the markets by the Federal Reserve.  Recent economic data has been just good enough to forestall any immediate intervention.  In order to not appear as they are meddling in the elections, there is a period of time just prior to that when they have their hands tied.  Few seem to agree, but to me, there is little that the Fed has left to do.  Perhaps many more would agree with the fact that much of what the Fed can do is already baked into the markets.  Regardless of what the Fed might do, the fact is, we are only a couple of weeks away from what, historically, has been the worst month of the year in the stock markets.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


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Risk On; Risk Off
My desire in writing this blog is to share my years of experience in the stock market in the hope of helping others to be successful.  My approach has evolved over the years, and continues to, as the opportunities arise.  Currently, I am trading Exchange Traded Funds (ETF's), rather than individual stocks.  Lately, the market has all but ceased trading on fundamentals, and is following some irrational "risk on", "risk off" approach.  ETF's add diversification and more predictability during these highly volatile times.

Nothing To Show
Because of the market volatility I am trying to develop more of a trading methodology, with mixed success.  Since I am not at the point where I feel this would be helpful to others, I decided earlier in the year to share my investing club trades in this blog.  The problem is there hasn't been any trades.  Prior to the end of last year we purchased two inverse ETF's.  One makes money as the Nasdaq goes down, and the other as the TSX goes lower.  We are also holding some silver coins.

Moving Averages
None of those positions in our investing club has proven profitable, year-to-date.  With the exception of the Nasdaq, neither has there been any longer term signals which would justify reversing these positions.  You might know from other posts on this blog that I recommend using the 200-day moving average to manage risk.  The TSX has been below its 200-day moving average most of the year except for a brief high it made at the end of February.

Invest Responsibly
I have three reasons for remaining bearish.  In order to take a responsible and more conservative approach, I am not going to recommend bullish trades to my readers or to members of my investing club while the TSX remains below its 200-day moving average.  While I might take a more aggressive approach with my own personal money by making very short-term tactical trades, sharing those would not be helpful to people who aren't sitting in front of their online investment account all day.

Long Term Trends
Secondly, long term trends are negative.  The deleveraging required to restore government budgets and remove most of the unnecessary  risk in financial markets is going to take years to come.  Demographics will not substantially improve before the end of the decade.  If we look at the U.S. markets they have already reached a peak according to the Elliott Wave theory.  Trust in government intervention is almost all that is currently propping the markets up.  Wait until everyone wakes up to the fact it isn't going to make any real difference!

Head & Shoulders
The third reason is the technical pattern called a Head and Shoulders which the TSX is making.  This is a very bearish pattern which, if we break the horizontal neckline just beneath the recent lows, it could mean a possible return to our 2008/2009 lows.

Cash Is King
I know there is a segment of investors who would scoff at my lack of returns this year.  They would say four or five percent dividend returns is good in this environment.  Those are likely the same people who lost half, or more, of their life savings during the last great recession.  Let's see - four percent upside and 30 percent downside, that is not a bet I am willing to make.  As for not knowing when to get back into the market, I know where that point is, and it is NOT here, except for very short-term tactical trades.  In the mean time, my funds are mostly in cash, thank you very much.

That is my outlook.  Does your outlook differ?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

July 2012 Returns

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Seasonality at this time of year favours Energy, Gold, Agriculture and Natural Gas.  The heat wave has done it's part in driving up the price of Natural Gas.  Energy companies and Agriculture have also shown some signs of improvement.  I continue to watch gold closely for signs of a turn-around.  Despite the political rhetoric, I remain unconvinced we have seen the worst in this year's markets. I see opportunities for profitable trades, but am still monitoring the 200-day moving averages closely.  The TSX index remains below it's 200-day moving average while, currently, the U.S. markets seem to have their 200-day moving average as the bottom of a trading range.

19 month return for TSX @ July 31, 2012 = -13.32 percent
Return for Basic Timing Model Using XIU =     8.41 percent
Return for Advanced Timing Model =             -4.36 percent
Money for charity =                                        $0.00

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Evil Corporations, Or Corporate Evil?

The Root Of All Evil
An acquaintance of mine believes that the corporation is the root of all that is evil in this world.  Personally, I don't believe corporations are any more evil than nuclear power is.  By that, I mean to say that nuclear weapons are a misuse of nuclear power.  Nuclear power, like the corporation, is not bad in itself.  Whether corporations are good or bad for society depends on the people within those companies.  To say that corporations have no conscience, is to see them only as legal entities.

Life and Death?
Despite all of the hype and war-related allegories, business is not war.  It can be a struggle, but very seldom is somebody literally holding a gun to one's head.  Terrible things happen in war because of the fierce struggle between life and death.  The death of a company is the death of a legal entity.  Sure, real people lose their jobs when a company ceases to exist, but to compare that to people being killed, is, at the very least, an extreme comparison.

To say the profit motive is the reason "companies" misbehave, is to excuse the behaviour of the people running the company.  Why not just assess a fine to the company for wrong-doing?  Again, to hold the company accountable for the actions of people within it, only shields those people and allows for such bad behaviour in the future.  Worse yet, it passes the real costs onto shareholders (which is why we don't want to invest in such organizations).  Yet, time and time again, I hear the talking heads in the media recommending an investment in so-called sin stocks, for example.  Take the profits and give some to charity, they say.

I believe in the saying, "If they will do it with you, they will do it to you!"  Apart from the fact nobody is holding the bad guys accountable, these days, I don't understand why companies fail to see the benefit of acting in an ethical manner, and why the media and analysts excuse any such bad behaviour.  Stephen Covey Jr. wrote a whole book on the concept of how much easier (and less expensive) it is to transact business in an atmosphere of trust.  When people don't trust you to do things in their best interest, they tend to need more convincing, and bigger guarantees (and more lawyers).  If people representing a company have no difficulty selling a product which is dangerous to its clients, how much more regard do you think they will have for outside investors?

By The Numbers
Just for giggles, I checked out the curriculum of a popular MBA (Masters in Business Administration) program.  While it talks about learning how to maximize or minimize everything and anything business related, it failed to mention a single topic which might be seen as ethics related.  This further contributes to my belief that business, these days, is thought to be about the numbers, and nothing to do with ensuring an atmosphere of trust within which all acts of commerce would benefit.

Those Days Are Numbered
Again, I just don't understand what they are thinking.  Any entrepreneur will tell us we can only ever expect to do business with the people who actually trust us.  Have corporate business people never heard of word-of-mouth, and social media (which I have heard described as word-of-mouth on steroids)!  The idea that there is a sucker born every minute may even be true, but no company can afford to be seen acting on such a belief in today's world.  How long or well would Toyota have survived the recent bashing they received had it not been for the integrity of senior management, and their putting customers first?  The "old boy" network is dying out.  As long as there are other companies willing to remain loyal to the old way of doing things, they will be able to find buyers for whatever they are selling, but those days are going to end soon enough.

Return On Investment
As for the banksters?  They will continue to hide out within and behind their organizations until regulators and customers hold them accountable.  Yet, that day, too, will come.  I suppose they think, until then, who cares?  I say, use and invest in the companies run by people that aren't just trying to stuff their own pockets.  As in the case of Toyota it is clear that integrity is, in fact, economical in ways that can't be achieved by adopting less than ethical approaches.  While I think of it, maybe somebody should let the MBA students in on that well kept secret!  

Do you have an opinion as to whether or not you think corporations are evil?



Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Wide Open
Part of the reason for my fewer than normal updates lately has been my visit to western Canada for my son's wedding.  It is always a great joy for me to meet people there.  For a guy that lives in Southwestern Ontario, and spends a certain amount of time in Toronto, I am simply overwhelmed by the openness, and friendliness of western Canadians.  

I suppose it is because the region where I was visiting is more rural, as a whole, that I seemed to find more people who work for a living rather than living to work (although not, perhaps if I was to spend time at Fort McMurray!).  Probably because of the wedding, there was a large emphasis on family, especially on their part.  People came from far and wide out there to attend the wedding, while few from my family in Ontario could interrupt their busy schedules.

Old Theme
While there, I found myself engaged in a particular conversation over and over again.  I may not notice something if it happens only a couple of times, but several times within a few days I found myself discussing the expectations of people, and how those expectations seem to have changed over the last number of years.  The actual conversations took different form, and involved different people, but each time the theme was the same.  That theme was, in short, immediate gratification.

The Lost Art
Whether it was the store owner, the retired worker, the corporate adviser, or simply, parents, I was surprised when the same theme kept coming up.  In each case, I found myself discussing the seeming loss by people to see any benefit in "paying their dues" or adopting a longer term approach as a means of achieving their goals.

We also see much of this in the media these days.  Apparently we taught our children everything we know.  The willingness of people to accept debt in order to get what they want today is what resulted in the last Great Recession.  Credit, in itself, is not so bad, but neither is saving first, before making a purchase.  I come from a humble family, and growing up, the family home was the only thing we purchased on credit.  If I wanted to buy anything, I had to save, not just ten, or twenty percent of the purchase price, I had to have an amount of cash equivalent to the total.  Think how much money I saved myself in interest payments!       

No Worries?
What I learned growing up was how to live within my means.  We need to budget not just for our expenses, but for our savings, as well.  Most people I talk to have very little in investments, other than the family home.  "No money!", they say.  Imagine if they took all of the money they have already paid in interest and could use that to create an investment account!  Most people point to their credit card when I ask if they have an emergency account.  No wonder Mark Carney of the Central Bank is so worried about household debt levels in Canada.   

A Line In The Sand
I understand the Banksters have done everything they can to get us into as much debt as possible, and how easy and harmless it is made to seem when it comes to not paying off that credit card balance at the end of the month.  Yet, there comes a point when one must draw a line in the sand.  If we are smart, that line is a whole lot less than our total income.  Understand that the world is currently in a deleveraging cycle which could last for a decade, or more.  Everyone is going to be demanding a larger share of our wallet.  We need to ask ourselves where that money is going to come from.

As for my son, everything I have seen would indicate his bride is as prudent with money as the rest of her family - one of her many great qualities!

Which way is your level of debt heading?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

June 2012 Returns

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The behaviour of the banksters continues to be nothing short of appalling.  All of the largest economies are struggling.  Even so, June was positive for the markets.  Seasonally, the latter part of July is good for the gold and the energy markets.  I expect both to improve.  As for the broad markets, overall, I expect some good shorter term trading opportunities, but fail to see any real catalyst which could propel them to new heights.  The Elliott wave pattern of three waves followed by two in the opposite direction would suggest we will see a lower low than the May/June correction we just saw.

18 month return for TSX @ June 30, 2012 = -13.89 percent
Return for Basic Timing Model  using XIU = 9.03 percent
Return for Advanced Timing Model = -4.36  percent
Money for charity = $0.00

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

ISM Reading Below 50

Wells Fargo's Gina Martin Adams on the ISM

An Institute for Supply Management (ISM) Report reading below 50 does not mean the U.S. is in a recession, but the trend is not great.  Industrial stocks in the U.S. markets are weakening.  A continuation of the trend could signal a recession.  I find this interesting given the current trend for companies like Caterpillar which seem to be in the process of repatriating more jobs back into the U.S..  If that doesn't lead to growth in their manufacturing, then it makes me wonder what will?  Still, one reading below 50 does not a crisis make!

Like to volunteer your outlook? 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

An Update From Harry Dent

Harry Dent's June 2012 Update

Canary in the Coal Mine
The major problem I experienced with the crash that resulted in the last Great Recession was that everybody was afraid to come out and tell the general public just how bad they thought things could get, with one exception.  I watched Mad Money with Jim Cramer on CNBC and one night he told his audience that if they had money invested in the stock market that they might need over the following five years, they should sell that portion immediately.  I did just that, but it was already too late.  While I did not lose as much as most people, it was still a big hit to my portfolio (i.e.: life savings).

The Media?
As it turns out, there were a number of people who came forward, later, to tell us what they knew and how things looked pretty bad to them, well before it actually happened.  The trouble is, what they were trying to tell people was not very popular at the time - certainly not with the broadcasting media.  As for the rest, do you think they would actually say anything to you and me, even if they suspected the worst? (That is where the term "whisper number" comes from - they'll say it to close allies, but not publicly).

Odds Are
Cramer took a lot of heat for telling people to sell.  Many in the industry called him irresponsible.  I appreciated the fact he had the courage of his convictions and was one of the few people I have ever heard actually telling people to sell.  The Buy and Hold types may scoff at the warnings, but as Mr. Dent says in this video, if things don't get as bad as he thinks it might, then worst case is we miss a little to the upside.  If he is correct, we miss a lot to the down side.  Any time I find myself in a situation with little chance of gain, and a huge chance for loss, I will gladly sit it out until the odds are more in my favour.

Technically Speaking
When do I get back in?  When the technical indicators say so.  I'll be one of the first to say when I see the technicals showing me a good re-entry point.  I am no investment professional, and can not advise others what they should do with their money.  Personally, I have been short, or out of this market, since before the year began.  I see no reason to change now.  For other peoples' sake I hope Mr. Dent is wrong, but right now, it just isn't a risk I am willing to take.

How do you see your chances?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Buy Energy Companies?

Click Here To Play The Video

John Manley from Wells Fargo talks about his liking energy companies.  He says he doesn't believe oil prices will go as low as people are predicting.  He also thinks oil will stay more expensive longer than people think, and that natural gas will stay lower longer than people think.  He especially likes big dividend paying energy companies.

Myself, I would like to see a break in the longer term down trend in energy stocks before I would buy.  The way I personally would play it is with the Horizons leveraged energy Exchange Traded Fund - HEU on the TSX.  These leveraged ETF's are only for shorter term trades, so if I wanted to hold it for longer term durations I would likely use the iShares Energy ETF (XEG).

How is your energy level?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

I am not really sure why I haven't posted anything here by Mr. Rogers prior to this.  From what I can tell he is one of the smartest people in the room.  His expertise is more in the area of commodities than equities, but that would make him an expert in commodity companies at the very least.

It would seem like common sense, but politicians and even too many economists believe the solution to too much debt is more debt.  Mr. Rogers disagrees.  He also talks about when the economic collapse will come, rather than if it will because of the snowballing debt world wide.  He states that competent people are supposed to be allowed to replace the incompetent ones who lost all their money.  Failing to do so, he says is "Absurd economics and absurd morality."  It reminds me of the author Stephen Covey who used to say we can't talk our way out of things we have (mis)behaved our way into.

Do you think Europe will survive intact?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

An Update From Bill Strazzullo

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The markets are getting close to the levels Mr. Strazzullo from Bell Curve Trading talked about in this video at the end of May.  He said at that time he was expecting a tradable bounce from there.  At this point his prediction would seem to be supported by the technicals.  I think the key term he used was tradable bounce.  Given the situation in Europe as we make our way into the summer season, I see no catalyst to turn the markets around and reverse our overall downward trend in a significant way.  There is only so much the U.S. Federal Reserve can do between now and the U.S. elections coming this fall.

Where do you think we will go from here?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

May 2012 Returns

Click To Enlarge
I would rather not spend a lot of time or energy being negative about the markets and how things continue to go from bad to worse.  I want to be more positive than that.  It is not difficult to understand why people would think stock markets are completely unregulated and out of control, or at least controlled by big money with nothing in it for the small, personal investor.  I still feel small is beautiful, especially under current conditions.  We can run rings around the big fund managers and still minimize our risk with Exchange Traded Funds.  That strategy can be  particularly effective during months like this last May when inverse ETF's allow us to profit while the markets are trending down.  The markets appear to be more oversold than last year, at this time, but that doesn't mean we can't go a lot lower.  It is the fourth year in the U.S. election cycle.  Markets tend to be stronger during the second half of that year than others.  We will have to watch and see!  

17 month return for TSX @ April 30, 2012 = -14.59 percent
Return for Basic Timing Model using XIU = 10.57 percent
Return for Advanced Timing Model (my returns) = -4.36
Money for charity = $0.00

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Smaller Losses, Bigger Gains

Minimize Losses
I have said it before, and I am going to keep saying it.  I believe the single greatest advantage the personal investor has over fund managers is the ability to avoid taking big losses.  My favourite definition of insanity is when someone keeps doing the same thing over and over again, each time expecting a different result.  If we are losing money from our portfolio, we need to change what we are doing - quickly.  I know enough about human nature to understand the reasons it is difficult for most people to adopt such an approach, but it is not impossible to do, either.  Buy and Hold leaves far too great an amount of potential profits on the table for the personal investor.  At the same time it also exposes them to a vast array of expenses and fees at the hands of the financial institutions relative to what they receive in return.

The Nimble Approach
At the other end of the scale we can day-trade for quick, small profits.  For my money, options would seem better than stocks for such an approach.  Few people, though, have the knowledge and skill regarding options trading to actually do so.  The biggest options markets are also in U.S. dollars, so there are currency and tax implications to consider, as well.  So what is the regular personal investor to do?

Trend Watching
My best results have always come from following market trends.  Of course there are long-term trends, and very short-term trends.  Some are volatile, and others are as clear as a straight line on a chart.  But rather than trying to dictate what a trend should look like, I let the market show me.  Based on past trends in a particular equity and a particular market, I set realistic limits and cash in when the opportunity presents itself.  For instance, with a normal trend and a normal sized position in my own personal portfolio, if I make a profit of $1,000.00 on a single trade, I know to take the money and close out my position.  It isn't automatic, but I tolerate very little risk of giving the money back once I have reached that point.

Small Losses; Big Gains
It isn't like I always get the trend right, either.  In those cases, when a trend reverses, I have had to develop the discipline of exiting a position when it starts to lose money.  It has cost me a few wins, but it has also saved me a ton of losses.  Small losses and big gains are the keys to success.  There isn't a fund manager on the planet who can adopt this strategy simply because the amount of money they throw around is far too large.  That, my friend, is why Buy and Hold is the only thing you will ever hear about from the investment industry, backed up by countless academic studies funded by, guess who?

The Money Trail
On the latter point, I want to share that I just read a book in which the author points out that even many of the scientists believe we are chasing the wind when it comes to our theories on climate change.  It doesn't mean our actions are not having a negative affect on global climate.  What it really means is for a scientist to receive substantial funding in that field, their studies have to resemble the current thinking.  It is hard to find our lost keys in the dark if we only spend our time looking where there is a light shining.  Sadly, it is how the world works.  It is also how the Buy and Hold marketing strategy became the Buy and Hold investing strategy.  More on a profitable investing approach for the personal investor, later.

Do you find it difficult to avoid losses in your portfolio?


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Trading Stocks

Trader, Not Traitor
I remember one analyst on BNN in particular as he looked down his nose at the commentator and said, "I am not a trader (emphasis on the NOT), I invest for the long term!"  In other words, he was better than any trader.  Trading, to him, was for the amateurs.  At the risk of repeating myself, surely you and I are playing a different game than any fund manager, let alone the talking heads that appear on television.  The major difference being, what they make from their stocks is mostly a side-show for them.  Most of them are compensated six ways to Sunday and get paid regardless of how well their stock picks are performing.  I have also seen analysts on TV who don't even have any of their own money in stocks!   (Conflict of interest LOL!)

Do No Harm
This blog is about my sharing what I have learned over many years of playing the markets.  I decided at the beginning of the year to publish my trades as teaching moments.  I hesitated to do so for a couple of reasons.  One, was because one trading style does not suit all.  Another was because my time horizon has become increasingly shorter.  I trade during the day.  I don't want to put people behind the curve, trying to imitate me while they can't get in and out as easily as I can.  I cut any losses extremely quickly in the current environment.

Bad To Worse
At that rate, I don't see the benefit of me sharing my trades with the average person trying to buy low and sell high as a means of making a reasonable return in these markets.  The regulators forgot the meaning of their role a long time ago.  High frequency traders manipulate prices in the name of so-called market liquidity.  Highly leveraged Exchange Traded Funds (ETF's) change how markets function.  Dark pools exist for the wealthy fund managers to hide transactions from the average investor.  Derivatives cause nuclear level shock-waves in the markets.  The rules put in place after the Great Depression to prevent it from ever happening again have either been revoked, or totally ignored.

Looking Ahead
Does that mean I think the personal investor should just give up, take what's left of their money and go home?  Not at all.  It just means keeping an eye on what's going on.  With the rate of change in technology and in society, obsolescence is guaranteed.  Buy and Hold has as much chance succeeding these days as the horse and buggy did outlasting the automobile at the turn of the last century.  Nortel, and Research In Motion are recent infamous Canadian illustrations of what has become the half-life of modern day success.

The Goldilocks Solution
If Buy and Hold can't work, and day trading is overkill, then what is today's personal investor to do?  In looking for an answer, I thought about the investing club I started.  If anything, it perfectly illustrates the need for a Goldilocks solution - neither too hot, nor too cold.  Investing clubs do not lend themselves to day-trading, and most fail to make money or serve to educate if the time horizon is too long.  My solution there is the same as here - use technical analysis to decipher medium-term trends and trade (yes, trade!) accordingly.  As a result, the trades I share on this blog are the trades we are making in my investing club.

Next Time
I want to remind people that I am not a professional, and as such cannot advise others what to buy or sell.  However, I have no difficulty sharing with others what I am doing, in the hope of serving as an example.  Next time, we will take a closer look at how we trade in my investing club.

What is your strategy in this changing and evolving environment?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

April 2012 Returns

Click On The Chart To Enlarge

We are pretty much past the favourable seasonality period for the markets until later, towards the end of the summer.  It seemed interesting to me, the number of talking heads in the media that were saying this year was no time to "sell in May, and go away".  Once again, this spring was going to be different.  It always gives me a pain in the butt when the very people who should represent our interests, put their own ahead of ours, instead.  The truth is, we shouldn't necessarily sell everything going into May, but taking some profits might be what a prudent person would do.

First, we generally had a good long run up in the markets since the beginning of the year.  Second, while people  felt protected by the Federal Reserve Bank's actions in the U.S., the latest effort to stimulate the markets is due to end.  Third, economic data has softened, including in China.  Fourth, Europe is, or soon will be, in a recession.  Still, the experts would have us believe that all is well, and the correction in the markets that normally begins this time of year won't likely happen.

If I sound bearish, it is because I am.  I said at the beginning of the year I would share my trades on this blog.  The reason I haven't done so is because I have hardly made any.  The markets went practically straight up at the beginning of the year, with little opportunity to get in during a pull-back, and the U.S. markets are just now beginning to look like they are breaking the uptrend, and could likely go lower for a while.  More on that during a couple of future blog posts.

16 month return for TSX @ April 30, 2012 = -8.07 percent
Return for Basic Timing Model using XIU = 5.61 percent
Return for Advanced Timing Model (my returns) = -4.36
Money for charity = $0.00

Have you taken any profits, going into the summer season?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Japanese Experience

Click To See Larger Chart
I don't know if people are aware of the story, but there is a particular reason Japanese auto imports grew to dominate the North American industry.  The single biggest reason, in my opinion, was product.  They made a better car for less, and targeted the entry level buyer.  Their target market was key, since they were limited by North American quotas at the time.  Why target the lower-priced entry level when they could have tried to go after the higher-end, more expensive category?  After all, that is what the North American car makers would do, and they did - SUV, gas guzzlers anyone?

No, the Japanese were smarter than that, or were they?  The answer is yes, and no.  The Japanese learned from their own experience that customer loyalty was important.  Satisfied customers tended to buy again from the same company.  Not only did they buy from the same company, they tended to trade up, as well.  After paying off their first car, they tended to buy a more expensive one the next time.  If Japanese customers did so, what made them believe the U.S. customers would do the same?  Demographics, plain and simple.  With an older average Japanese population, it was expected the North American population would follow a pattern similar to that of the Japanese consumer.  And it did.  Brilliant, yes; original, no.

Same Old Same Old
Now, the question is, are we going to learn from the Japanese experience.  I don't mean their auto industry, but their economy.  Sure, there are some fundamental differences in the Japanese and U.S. economies, but let's take a look at Japan over the last two decades.  Their problems really began in the late 1980's.  There were a number of banks misbehaving, and a housing bubble that burst (sound familiar?)  For much of the last two decades, Japan has been trying to stimulate itself out of recession.  The central bank continues to buy government bonds to provide liquidity to the government, and the economy.

Is it working?  By all accounts, Japan's economic course is unsustainable.  While growth has never  recovered, to any great extent, the government debt continues to rise.  The last data point in the chart above was 2008.  Their debt level as a percentage of GDP has only increased since then.

No, we have tried giving our money to the rich (one percent) with the expectation of jobs, in return.  Clearly that didn't work.  So whose idea do you think it was in the first place?  Now, we are being asked to believe that when it comes to governments, we can borrow our way around the trouble caused by, among other things, too much government debt from bailing out some of the richest corporations on the planet.  And whose idea do you think that was, and is?

Micro Economics
We need to do as they say, and not as they do.  We need to live within our means, and concentrate during these difficult times on reducing debt, and not just maintaining the status quo.  For you and I, reducing expenses is easier than increasing revenues, although we could all use some additional investment income.  The Japanese experience should teach us it is going to take a very long time before things actually begin to start to get a whole lot better!

Do you think we will learn from history?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Case For Market Volatility

Click Here To See The Video
Signs of Struggle
With an economy which generates almost 18 trillion (US) dollars of goods and services, the European Union is the largest economy in the world.  In the video, Larry Berman gives the litany of problems facing that economy, and consequently, the world economy, as well.  The level of European debt, demographics, and fiscal austerity all add up to a struggling economy and higher than usual stock market volatility for a very long period of time to come.

Volatility; Not Demand
Sovereign debt levels world wide mean political and economic volatility unlike anything we have seen in generations. All this, just at the time the Baby Boomers are beginning to ease back on their spending as their need for housing, and everything that facilitates going to work every day decreases.

New Paradigm
We have just experienced the peak of a period of economic growth unlike anything the world has ever seen.  The engines are low on fuel.  I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but we are not going to see the markets return to all time highs (at least not new highs after adjusting for inflation).  Still, the financial services industry continues their steadfast and unwavering support for the Buy and Hold approach despite the fact it makes a better marketing strategy than it does an effective portfolio management strategy.  As long as they receive sufficient participation, they aren't going to be the ones to tell us the bad news, let alone admit the hoax they have funded all of these years at their clients' expense.

The alternative to Buy and Hold?  Buy lower, and sell higher.  What a concept!

Have you, or are you making changes to your approach?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Peter Hodson and 5I Research

Click Here To Play The Video
Interesting story how a former analyst and fund manager felt enough of a conflict of interest to start his own rating company.  He doesn't give Buy, Sell, Hold ratings since they are used to mislead investors.  Instead 5I Research uses a grade of A, B, C... etc..

In  his company, employees are not allowed to trade the stocks of Canadian companies since that is what they provide ratings for.  He also talks about how management of the companies he would meet with while working as a fund manager would always be giving him a sales pitch instead of being objective.  Compare Hodson's   approach to the major rating agencies that are paid by the firms that they do the ratings of and for.

Clearly, the major rating agencies contributed to the problems leading to the Great Recession.  I have said that I believe the ratings system is broken.  I guess it isn't just me who thinks so.

Monday, April 9, 2012

March 2012 Portfolio Update

Typically, seasonality favours the TSX during March.  Not so this year.  While the TSX was down each week in March, the major U.S. markets were up and down.  Despite the long rally since the third quarter last year, I have been reluctant to chase it.  My own Elliott Wave analysis would suggest a high of 1425.  The S&P 500 Index hit 1419 during the last week of March.

The media talks about the U.S. markets decoupling from the rest of the world markets.  I have my doubts, although the huge government stimulus is having an affect.  Normally the markets should continue higher until the first week of May, but if 1419 is, in fact, the high, then I would not expect any major rally until the last quarter of the year.  According to the Elliott Wave theory, we could see the lows of last fall, again.

My investing horizon remains very short.    

15 month return for TSX @ March 30, 2012 = -7.23
Return for Basic Timing Model using XIU = 5.84
Return for Advanced Timing Model (my returns) = -4.36 percent
Money for charity = $0.00

What are your expectations between now and the end of the year?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Old Scars

Too Little; Too Late
Most people I talk to about their investment portfolios seem to have at least one thing in common.  They have an investment they purchased some time ago which is just sitting there, not contributing to their returns.  Usually, it isn't hurting them any longer, either.  That is because it sank in value, big time, a long time ago.  Now, there it sits - a reminder of that big loss, and too small and unimportant to do anything about - not even sell it.  Why bother to sell it?  Perhaps, one day, it might actually appreciate in value.

We can hope all we want, but it makes for a poor investment strategy.  Sure, the damage has, largely, been done, but why not put that money into something useful?  The reason is simple.  We raise money by selling the investments that are in the black, and we hold onto the ones which are in the red.  Perhaps it provides a little insight into hoarders who can't bring themselves to throw anything out after suffering a catastrophic loss in their lives.

Back To Even
We all have the same tendencies.  When we aggregate these tendencies into market-wide behaviours, trends begin to emerge.  Technical Analysts refer to certain points on the chart as "resistance", and "support".  These points exist on the charts for the very reasons I have just described.  If a large number of people bought the same investment at a level where it started to lose value, that point will later become a point of resistance, since human nature is to sell as soon as we get our money back.  Normally, we don't care how much higher it could go - we were wrong once, so better to take the money and not get greedy, thank you very much.

Depends On Your Viewpoint
When an investment drops to a level where a large number of people previously watched it reverse, they might even be inclined to buy more, this time around.  It is like the investment is now on sale.  These become areas on the chart where support for the price is established.  Once violated, support levels can turn into resistance, and resistance levels into support.

When To Buy
Technical Analysis is not just a bunch of lines on a chart.  There are good reasons to explain why things happen the way they do.  These are only two very basic examples.  Personally, I don't rely on Technical Analysis to determine what to buy - I use historical data and earnings forecasts to do that.  I use Technical Analysis to tell me when to buy once I have determined it to be on sale.  This doesn't work so well when buying commodities, but there are other ratios we can use to see, historically, if they are cheaper than normal.

Moving On
Long story short - I  ask myself, "If I didn't already own this loser, and knowing what I know today, would I still buy it?"  If the answer is no, then it is fairly obvious it has outstayed its welcome.  Time to move on and look for a better use of whatever is left.  Otherwise, it brings to mind the definition of insanity which refers to doing the same thing over and over, again, each time expecting a different result.

Any such losers in your portfolio?  Nortel, anyone?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Brokers vs. Fiduciaries

It's About The Money
If you haven't seen this video, you need to watch it.  It is more than a clever story.  It is also the fundamental basis of why I do what I do.  Most financial advisors are not telling you how they are being compensated.  The goal of corporations is to make money, and the goal of employees, then, should be to help the company make money.  Generally, the more money they make for the company, the better they are compensated.  How much their customers make in the process is, mostly, irrelevant.  I know because I have worked for these organizations.

Also, we don't normally shop at Toyota for a Ford product.  Sales people (including financial advisors) are going to sell you their products, not those from elsewhere.  A friend recently asked me to look at his portfolio, and, not surprisingly, it was jammed with mutual funds owned by the advisor's company.  We don't go to a car dealer to buy a washing machine, either.  It is up to us to know what we need to buy, and not let the sales people spend our money for us.  Even personal investors who already know of the undisclosed conflicts of interest between most financial advisors, the talking heads on TV, and their own financial health shrug their shoulders and say, "What else am I supposed to do?"

The first thing we all need to do is to become better educated.  Get a second opinion.  Ask why the differences exist between the first and the second set of options.  Eliminate unnecessary expenses.  Why pay an extra two percent for a mutual fund when an Exchange Traded Fund (ETF) will accomplish the same result!  Anybody with access to Google can determine the difference between a mutual fund and an ETF!  Not only can we avoid ending up with a lemon by doing a little research online, we can even find better prices.  Anyone who is trying to tell us anything different is trying to sell us their own agenda.

Whose Money Is It, Anyway?
So, then what?  We either make the people managing our money accountable, or we do it for ourselves.  Anyone who can fill in a form can open their own online brokerage account.  Start small, and don't take large losses.  Not interested?  Then direct your own broker.  Listen to what they have to say, but don't let them talk you out of anything - especially selling anything that is losing your money.

We don't do surgery on ourselves, but then we don't just write a blank cheque and tell the surgeon to fix whatever he thinks might be a problem.  We use specialists to handle specific problems (that's why they are known as specialists).  If "make me wealthy" is your only goal, then most of us should fire the people we have given our money to anyway, since they are the only one's pocketing the cash.  It pains me greatly to see other people taken advantage of, but there is also the father in me which knows that some people will never learn until it happens to them.  Don't let it be you.

For a lot of people, it is getting late.  Do you know where your money is?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Checking The Score

How Much Is Too Much?
We can never have too much money!  When I hear the likes of what is being reported about Goldman Sachs these days, I can't help but think they, like so many, have taken a turn down the wrong path.  Too many people think that money is the answer, that money is, in the end, the real prize.  Like drug addicts, the more they get, the more they "need".  I have actually heard stories about people who said they would retire after making a million dollars, or two.  Having actually done so, and more, they were then unable to retire because even ten million dollars was no longer enough!

Keeping Score
I get what they are thinking.  It isn't actually about the money, its about keeping score.  Many goals can be subjective in nature, but money is meant to be counted - that's what the numbers printed on the bills are for.  I have a higher score than anyone who has less money than me.  Because my score is higher, I am better than anyone with a lower score.

Good or Bad?
These people are so far removed from reality, I don't know what it would take to get them back.  I don't know anyone who actually believes that having money makes us better people.  I suppose, it really isn't being a better person that they have in mind. I'm not condemning the possession of money, but in my mind it doesn't necessarily translate into virtue, either.  We do need to be careful on this point, as we are all familiar with the arguments as to how evil money is, and all the bad it can be used for, and how having real money must mean it was obtained at the expense of others.

Skills or Scores?
My reality is coaching soccer.  As a coach, my job was to instill a desire for mastering the skills.  So it made my job a whole lot harder when parents would pay their children for scoring goals.  For me, it wasn't about the score.  If players learned the skills, then the score would take care of itself.  Have you ever seen the best team lose?  What that should tell us is the score isn't always right, and it should never be our only measure of what a team, or any individual is worth.  Still, I see coaches who will cheat because they want a winning score.  When are the grown-ups in this world going to start acting like they really are, in fact, grown up?

If you ask me what we should be striving for, rather than money, it is the the things we have a real passion for.  Not that we should let our passion blind us, either.  Still, I can guarantee there is no stopping a person with a real passion, and there is no shortage of money and compensation for such people. Why? Because they are at their best when they are exercising their passion.  As for having to pay the top one percent incredible amounts of money to attract "the best", I have always said I would prefer to hire the person who is so passionate about what they do  they would do it even if they weren't getting paid.  People then say, "Oh, you can't expect people to work for free!" and I don't - they are completely missing the point.

Our Children
In so many ways I feel very sorry for those people who think that the more money they have, the happier they will be.  I just wish a whole lot of people would grow up, and realize that happiness comes from the inside, and not the outside.  We are teaching a whole generation of children everything we know - all the things that aren't helpful, and things which are outright lies.  What ever happened to wanting a better future for our children?  Does anyone really believe that making them slaves to money, like addicts to drugs, is in any way preparing them for a well-adjusted future?  Should not leaders care?!?