Archive for March, 2008

Withholding Craters!

Monday, March 31st, 2008

I am reporting this one day early because this year is a leap year. So, it is fair to make a quarter-over-quarter calendar-based comparison using one less day in March.

Note on the chart how growth in the Treasury’s withholding of taxes from paychecks dropped to nothing in the first quarter of 2008:

Withholding - Quarterly Minus Leap Day

The exact number is -0.09%.
1Q07 withholdings were $473,719,000.
1Q08 withholdings were $473,275,000.

This is the first quarterly drop since 4Q03. Any jobs that were added over the past year are gone – and then some when you account for wage inflation.

Not good.

I will add this chart to my main Withholding page tomorrow, along with an “official” one that includes the leap day.

Those Mysterious Chinese Hedge Funds

Sunday, March 30th, 2008

Remember a couple of years ago when the housing bubble began to burst? And the financial media told us that homeowners could not even figure out who to re-negotiate their mortgages with? And that the mortgage derivatives market had become so complex that nobody could figure out who owned what? And that all the mortgages were being held by Chinese hedge funds for all anybody knew?

What kind of reporting was that?

It turns out that the mortgages were sitting right there on Wall Street the whole time. A big stinking pile of them were right at Bear Stearns. I’m wondering how exactly these things were hidden for so long on the balance sheets of public companies.

Even if it is Enron all over again, at least we know where some of the mortgages are now: they have been purchased on behalf of the tax payers and are safe-and-sound in the coffers of the Federal Reserve Bank. Your tax dollars at work…

Let’s hope that Chairman Bernanke can eventually turn a profit with the fire-sale prices he got on them.

How I Saved Warren Buffet’s Life

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

On November 20, 2006, Warren Buffet was on CNBC saying that he had no personal security, wandered around Omaha with no escort, and said: “Nobody’s out to get me.” He drove by his house with the CNBC reporter, and they showed the house on TV several times as the piece repeated over the next few days.

After I saw that, I went into misc.invest.stocks and wrote a post about how Eddie Lampert, CEO of Sears, was himself kidnapped in 2003. I suggested that somebody pass on my advice for Mr. Buffet to get himself some security, which he eventually did. And it was a good thing because on September 6, 2007, somebody did try to break into his house while he and his wife were at home.

Did my advice reach Buffet? I don’t know, but CNBC people do troll misc.invest.stocks for story ideas, and they have Mr. Buffet on frequently, so there is a good chance that one of them mentioned it to him.

Click here for my original post archived in Google Groups.

If my post did influence Mr. Buffet to hire that security guard, a gratuity might be in order, right?

A Different Kind of Recession

Monday, March 24th, 2008

If the GDP data eventually shows that we are in a recession, I think it will turn out to be a lot different from the last recession.

  1. A weak dollar keeps exports strong.
  2. Deficit spending on Iraq keeps the economy stimulated.
  3. The real-estate mania did not result in billions of dollars wasted on worthless dot-com’s as the stock mania did in 2000. Instead we are left with a lot of perfectly good houses and condos. Pets.com was a total loss, but while developers might not make their profit goals on Miami condos, I don’t see any high-rises being torn down. Instead of smoking craters, we are left with shinny new real estate this time around.
  4. There was no mania in US stocks in 2007 like there was in 2000. Americans put their money in other countries like China and India, and commodities like oil and gold. So, we are unlikely to see anything anywhere near the historic decline we saw in the S&P 500 during 2000, 2001, and 2002. We are simply not unwinding a massive bubble.
  5. Businesses have been running a tight ship in regard to inventories. So, we don’t need to layoff lots of workers until excess inventory is worked off.

Many of us are expecting this recession to look like the last one, like generals fighting the last war. It probably won’t turn out that way.

How to Get Comments onto Pages in WordPress’s Default Theme

Thursday, March 20th, 2008

As you may have noticed, if you use WordPress’s default theme, “Kubrick”, the comments form does not show up on pages even when you have the option switched-on for a page. I regard this as a theme bug. I fixed it by adding the PHP call to WordPress’s comments function to the bottom of the page.php file.

I did this with WordPress v2.3.3, and have no idea if it will work with other versions. Be careful when editing theme files. Make sure to download a copy of the file first with your FTP program so that you can upload it again if something goes wrong. If you blow up your blog, it’s not my fault.

Steps:

  1. Go to your admin panel
  2. Click Presentation
  3. Click Theme Editor
  4. Make sure that “WordPress Default” is selected
  5. Click the “Page Template” link
  6. Make sure that you are editing “page.php”
  7. Find this line near the bottom: <?php endwhile; endif; ?>
  8. Right below it, enter this: <?php comments_template(); ?>
  9. That tells WordPress to add the comments form.
  10. This is code, so each and every character must be typed exactly.

I don’t have a lot of comments on this site, so this hasn’t been battle tested. Let me know how it works for you.