I was at the campus gym this afternoon. Stretching before getting in an hour of running. As I was stretching I overheard two undergraduate females next to me having a conversation about what they were going to do after graduation. One of them mentioned how she wanted to go to law school, but that the ones she wanted to go to were difficult to get in. Then the other one mentioned how she wanted to go to graduate school as well, but didn’t know for what or where. The next words out of the aspiring lawyer were quite interesting. She said something of the sort,
“I guess grad school is the only way to go. I mean what else is there to do? Seems like grad school is the only way to go these days.“
I didn’t know what to do think regarding that comment. The initial reaction is, well, yah, jobs are hard to find these days, so it’s probably prudent to look at alternatives. But then, the comment can also be seen as slightly belittling graduate school, almost putting it at second fiddle next to jobs. In any case, I’m not here to defend graduate school, since I don’t know what will happen to me once I graduate, but I haven’t taken a step back in a long time to see what young people think of grad school. Has it changed since I was coming out of undergrad? The job market sure has.
To those people that play poker for its competitive atmosphere or its mathematical excitement, it is not gambling. However, to the outsider or the concerned family member or friend, poker is gambling and any attempts to justify it are simply excuses. I am more in the former camp, but I also know that there are varying degrees of how one plays poker that determines how much poker is a game of skill versus luck. Playing poker is very similar to investing in stocks or mutual funds. A person can play it such that luck is the overriding factor in whether he or she wins (like playing the lottery) or the person can become informed and knowledgeable in all the aspects of the game (like the game of life). Educated poker is about rules, probabilities, psychology, and strategy. Educated investing is about laws, microeconomics, macroeconomics, markets, company details, management details, buying strategy, and selling strategy.
Poker and investing is gambling when…
1a. You pick random hands to play even when the odds are against you.
1b. You pick a random company to invest in.
2a. Even when you know you have a losing hand you keep raising and hope to bluff or scare your opponent into leaving the hand. In other words, you risk going down with the ship. You don’t know when to cut your losses.
2b. The company you invested in keeps missing its target numbers. Instead of cutting your losses, you hope for a turnaround that seems further and further out of reach. You don’t know when to cut your losses.
3a. You don’t even know the probabilities well enough and what the odds are of the next community card being in your favor. You are playing blind, so to speak.
3b. You know what the company basically does, but you don’t read its quarterly reports or anything about P/E ratios, operational cash flow, debt levels, etc. You will be blind to micro-economic problems that can drop the stock like a rock.
4a. You misjudge your opponents’ hands. Being too optimistic in your chances, you turn blind to the fact that your opponent might be holding a pair of Kings because you are hoping that two diamonds come down on the turn and river.
4b. You become attached to the company you invested in and are blind to emerging companies with better technologies or other competitors whose pipeline is looking better than your company.
5a. You keep losing hands. Your track record of winning in poker is below 50%. However, you have a hard time stopping and your losses eat inside you even when it’s over.
5b. You keep losing money in your investments. Your track record of picking sound investments is below 50%. However, you have a hard time letting go and you keep pouring in money into the same losing investments.
6a. You have no long-term poker-playing strategy or your strategy is not working. However, you ignore this or you have blind faith that it will eventually turn in your favor. Gambling is about false hope, blind attachment and ignorance of your true abilities.
6b. You have no long-term investment strategy or your strategy is not working. You know when to buy but have a hard time determining when to sell.
7a. You are too emotional. You take losing hands very hard. They eat inside you hours or days afterwards.
7b. You are too emotional. You take losing investments very hard. They eat inside you for days and even months afterwards.
8a. You are too risky. You regret bets that don’t pan out. You wish you didn’t plop down $20 on a hand that you knew you’d probably lose anyways.
8b. You are too risky. You regret investments that don’t pan out. You wish you didn’t plop all that money on a technology that had only a tiny chance of succeeding.
I like the saying that poker is short-term luck and long-term skill. The goal for the player is to decrease the length of that short-term luck to as short as possible. By maximizing skill, you minimize luck, and the game becomes less about gambling and put you more in control of the outcomes. The problem with playing the lottery or slot machines is that no matter how much you learn or the type of intricate strategy you use, the big chunk of luck can never be reduced. However, poker and investing can be done such that the luck or gambling aspects of the game is greatly reduced.
Why do you think the same poker players are at the final table in poker tournaments all the time? Doyle Brunson? Why do you think investors like Warren Buffet are consistent winners in their investments? The homework those guys do can be loosely equated to Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods’ attention to detail.
One of the worst mainstream romantic comedies I have ever seen. And I’m not ripping on it because I’m a guy or anything. I actually enjoy rocoms a lot. When Harry Met Sally, You’ve Got Mail, Pretty Woman, Devil Wears Pradaand While You Were Sleeping are all very enjoyable movies. However, most of the main romantic leads from the late 1980s and 1990s have retired their hearts and given way to a new generation of actresses vying for the coveted “Awwwww” award. Actresses such as Katherine Heigl, Kate Hudson, Anne Hathaway, and Drew Barrymore to name a few.
Well, 27 Dresses (2007) was the latest attempt that I saw. It is directed by Anne Fletcher, whose only other movie directed is Step Up. That’s already a bad sign. Now before I begin, the movie has a 3.7 rating in Netflix, but only a 2.7 for raters like me (IMDB: 6.2, RT:41%). I must say, Netflix is good. I hated this movie. The chemistry was horrible. The dialogue was pathetic. Heigl, with the exception of a few “awww” moments, doesn’t feel like a good romantic lead. The main male lead was weak and almost bordered on creepy, versus the rocoms in which male leads play a more prominent and endearing role (especially the first three I mentioned above). The ending was lame and unrealistic. Let’s move on, shall we…?
Warning: Lots of spoilers in review!
The romantic chemistry between Jane (Katherine Heigl) and Kevin (James Marsden) was non-existent. for almost the entire movie. Jane was in complete disgust with Kevin. And I don’t mean just dislike or lack of any passion, but a complete hatred of everything that he stood for, especially against weddings and his stalkish actions. She must have angrily told him to get away from her at least five times in the movie. He even betrayed her trust when she was finally warming to him when his article about her appeared in the papers. The article lambasted her as a career bridesmaid with no hopes of marriage and rips on the weddings she has attended. I don’t care how she eventually realized he was right or that she had followed his column for years, but you don’t just forgive someone after being so blah and even angry at him for so long. And you don’t just fall in love with someone because of that and because you fight all the time (which is the reason she gave him when she pronounces she loves him). It’s stupid.
JANE (Katherine Heigl)
So it’s obvious from the title that the 27 dresses was the gimmick in this movie. That’s fine, except that there was nothing else in addition to it. They at least tried giving the Jane character some depth by developing the crush she had on her boss or her relationship with her sister but that was about it. Heigl seemed like an awkward big woman who had a hard time deciding whether she wanted the audience to take pity on her or to fall for her rare moments of cuteness or appreciate her emotional outbursts and sarcasm. Her multiple anger sessions at Kevin seemed too over the top, “Can you please find somebody else to be creepy with?”, “You write the most beautiful things. Do you actually believe in love and marriage and just pretend to be a cynic or are you actually a cynic who knows how to spin romantic crap for girls like me?“, and yet she has drunken sessions with him. Heigl doesn’t have the romantic comedy aura that a Meg Ryan and Julia Roberts has. She’s too sarcastic, not cute, not sexy and not playful. Which leads to a bad romantic lead.
KEVIN (James Marsden)
He is such a loser. When a girl is so obviously disgusted at you, at some point, you have some pride and move on. The only reason he didn’t is because he wanted to write an article about her, and he took pity on the fact that she was a bridesmaid for 27 weddings and couldn’t land a freaking man. And what kind of guy writes a column on weddings? There was not one moment in the movie where you felt any sense of manliness and strength in him. The dialogue was pathetic. Lines like “You’d rather focus on other people’s Kodak moments than make memories of your own!“, “Love is patient, love is kind, love is slowly going out of your mind” or “I cried like a baby at the Keller wedding.” are so numbingly stupid. Add everything together, and the fact that Marsden looks so much smaller than Heigl, and the Kevin character becomes one of the weakest male romantic leads ever.
GEORGE (Edward Burns)
Speak up! What’s with the soft voice and sensitivity? And what was up with that kiss to Jane at the end? You’re telling me you couldn’t tell for all those years that your assistant liked you? And that kiss you planted was plain horrible. That’s why she didn’t feel anything. Jeesh. And who kisses his fiance’s sister the day after the sister spoiled your engagement party. Absurd.
TESS (Malin Ackerman)
Shut up. You are a liar. You are a fraud. No matter what you lied. No chemistry between her and Jane either. Ackerman will be in Fletcher’s next rocom, The Proposal, which is due in 2009 and stars Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds.
TRENT (Maulik Pancholy)
Huh, a token Indian sidekick at a magazine workplace? Sorry, it didn’t work. Reaked of attempts to remind the audience of Harold and Kumar.
10. Yahoo rejects Microsoft’s $45 billion takeover offer – February 11, 2008. This one has to rank as one of the most stupid business decisions ever. Since Yahoo practically started the internet search business back in the 1990s, they have quickly given up their dominant position to Google in the past ten years without a major fight. By the middle of 2007, Google had a 53.6% market share of the search engine business, versus Yahoo’s rapidly shrinking 19.9%. Microsoft’s $44.6 billion in cash and stock offer was literally a lifeboat and gave Yahoo the best chance for long-term survival. Yahoo rejected the offer and a later offer in May valued each Yahoo share price at $33. Yahoo’s share price had been languishing around $19 in recent years. Yahoo’s CEO and founder Jerry Yang demanded $37/shr! Eventually Microsoft got tired of Yahoo’s demands and pulled all negotiations off the table. What is Yahoo today, end of 2008? The share price is $13.03 and Yang was ousted in November. Although Microsoft still has lukewarm interest in Yahoo’s search business, the main opportunity for Yahoo has passed.
9. Housing prices continue to go down town – It’s amazing how so many analysts and normal people knew that the meteoric rise of housing prices was due to risky ARMs and other loans that were impractical and ticking time bombs. It’s amazing the federal government did not see this coming or chose to not do anything about it. Because of the dot com bust from a few years ago and the recession soon after, the Feds turned a blind eye and let free credit run rampant. The bomb went off in 2006, and median housing prices have gone on a free-fall from an inflation-adjusted high of $275,000 in 2005 to near $200,000 at the end of 2008. It will take a good while to sort this thing out. Housing prices are still historically high and with high unemployment rates, increasing foreclosures will continue to flood an already over-supplied realty market.
8. Unemployment rate – The United States has been pretty lucky in terms of unemployment rates for the past two decades or so. Ever since the recovery from the high inflation, 9.0+% unemployment rates of the early 1980s, the rate has stayed well below 8.0%. Since 1995, the rate has performed even better, only touching above 6.0% once during the short recession recovery in 2003. In January 2008, the rate was around 5.0% but had already been steadily rising throughout 2007. Since this January, the rate has put on the rocket boosters and is now at 6.7% nationally, with no signs of slowing down. Several states, such as Michigan (9.6%) and Rhode Island (9.3%) already have unemployments rates above 9.0%! Another five states have rates above 8.0%! Stats were from Nov 2008 and look to be higher when December stats come out.
7. What happened to the commodities bull market? – Oil, gold, silver, platinum and copper. All were at multi-decade highs in 2007 and even in 2008. Since then? Crude oil prices have dropped from $150+/bl to $37/bl! Most commodities lost more than half their values. Exchange-traded funds such as SLV, GSG, and XLE all dropped more than 50%. The one exception so far has been gold. Although gold prices have dropped from a high over $1000/oz, they have not dropped below $700/oz, and have recovered into the $800s since then. Gold is an unique commodity and it appears that it mostly trades as a safe-haven currency than a physical commodity. In looking at the chart of GLD (below), gold prices have solidly bottomed out at $70/shr and is looking like it will have a strong 2009.
6. Remember the $168 billion original stimulus package? – That amount seems so little nowadays especially when Obama is bandying around an $800B to $1 trillion stimulus package. Add to that the $750B bailout package given to financial companies and automobile companies. This is a year of bailouts and stimuluses and so far they have not helped the economy. Instead, the state of the economy is at its worst at the end of 2008. The expected package by Obama will be an early focus of the Obama administration. I think most people could use an extra few hundred dollars in their pockets.
5. The survival of American automobile companies – General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler became the poster child of the current economic crisis hitting main street. On display was the millions of jobs, especially blue-collar jobs, in America at risk of disappearing due to the recent decades of mismanagement, overhead and foreign competition of the US auto industry. With the finance industry easily getting a $750B bailout, it seemed absurd that an industry that for decades represented hard working Americans and unions had to literally beg for a few billion dollars to survive. It was obvious where the attention of politicians were. Although Bush recently said that $18B of the $750B bailout would be immediately used to prop up GM and Chrysler, the long fought battle was wasted time and energy by the attention garnering and bureaucratic Congress.
4. Bernard Madoff arrested on $50B Ponzi fraud scheme – When the $50 billion Ponzi fraud scheme by Bernard Madoff was revealed in early December, it was the main headline of major news websites for a mere few hours. Since then, as more details trickle out, the fraud continues to take a back seat to the macro-economic recession covering the globe. In any other year, the news of a legendary and consummate businessman (and a former NASDAQ chairman) being arrested for a fraud-scheme covering possibly the largest dollar amount in Wall Street history would ripple for weeks, if not months. However, with white collar crimes dominating the post-dot-com era (Enron, Worldcom, Martha Stewart, Tyco and the 2008 unraveling of the hedge fund industry), the public is now immune to financial fraud. Quite unfortunate. (See here for What is a Ponzi scheme)
Corporate bankruptcies on the rise in 2008.
3. Bankruptcies and those near it – It has been a sad year for many corporations as they head towards bankruptcy. Many of them well-known with years of solid profits. The list continues to grow and the impact of the recession on the consumer and his/her buying habits is only beginning. Circuit City, Linens ‘N Things, KB Toys, Frontier Airlines, Mrs. Field Cookies, Steve & Barry’s, Whitehall Jewelers, Mervyns, Sharper Image and Waffle House are some of the big name bankruptcies. And this list doesn’t even mention financial companies, which I discuss in #2. See this list for a more comprehensive list of corporate bankruptcies in 2008.
2. The demise of the hedge fund and mortgage finance industry – The derivatives market has become a multi-billion (if not, trillion) dollar investment industry that is complicated and largely misunderstood, even by the most astute financial advisors. Derivatives, as its name suggests, are investment products that are created off of actual traditional investment products. That means their intrinsic value is conjured up and their existence puts them closer to full-blown gambling. The current financial laws and oversight are not suited for such trading. Over the years hedge funds and derivatives took on more and more of the investment strategy of major financial corporations. Derivatives that were based on risky mortgages and insurance eventually collapsed as housing prices plummeted with lendees’ inability to pay the mortgages. The result has been a credit lockup unforeseen in decades. Major financial companies toppled and its effects are still not fully known. Major companies that totally collapsed include Bear Sterns, Lehman Brothers, Washington Mutual, ANB Financial, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and AIG. See this list for a more comprehensive list of financial collapses in 2008.
KBW Philadelphia Bank Index - performance since 2004
U.S. Recessions since WWII (Courtesy of CNN)
1. Recession or Depression – Which leads to the number one financial news in 2008. Are we in a deep and difficult recession or a depression? In early December, it became official that the U.S. went into a recession in December 2007. To some analysts, this is good news because it means we are closer to coming out of it. As you look at the chart on the right, most recessions last around one year. Based on the official Dec 2007 start date, historically we would already be on the tail end of the recession. However, to other analysts, this is bad news because the worst is yet to come, and we are already twelve months into it. With no light seemingly at the end of the tunnel, these analysts portend a long recession. Bad news from around the world keep coming in and the bottom of the current economic crisis still has not occurred. Oil prices continue to drop, gold prices have since rebounded (bad for economy), and the dollar index has begun dropping again. Signs of major inflation on the horizon are evident, especially with the massive bailouts and the Feds lowering the overnight interest rate to its lowest level ever, 0%-0.25%.
The entire 2008 Top 10 in Finance is all bad news. Most of them have to do with the current economic crisis. The key hope is that the Bush administration is finally over and 2009 brings a more adept and intellectual administration that will do just about anything to get America out of the economic dump. An administration that seems focused on the middle class and job creation. However, with it comes more and more national debt and the mortgaging of the future. There seems to be no alternative. This will most likely lead to long-term inflation when countries such as China, India, Russia and other Asian countries continue their rise to redefine the existing economic world order. This is not to say that the United States is doomed to be a second-bit player, as we know that is unlikely. However, the country needs to refocus on what made it a superpower in the first place, investments in technology, jobs, science, and innovation.
Something interesting happened in the game between the New York Rangers and the Anaheim Ducks tonight. A goal was awarded to the Rangers in the final second of the game even though the puck did not cross the goal line! Now before I explain how that can happen, I am unaware of this possibility in football or baseball. Even if a wide receiver is interfered with in the end zone, the consequence is simply a pass interference penalty that puts the ball at the goal line. In baseball, the closest thing might be a balk with the bases loaded that forces in a run without the benefit of any doing by the offensive team. However, in basketball, there does exist instances in which a basket is counted even when it has not gone into the net… which is called goaltending.
So, what happened in the Rangers-Ducks game to warrant a goalless goal? Nikolai Zherdev was on a breakaway towards an empty net when he was tripped up by Chris Pronger. In normal situations, Zherdev would be awarded a penalty shot. However, a penalty shot in this situation would be unfair to the Rangers. The official NHL rule book actually addresses this situation:
26.1 Awarded Goal – A goal will be awarded to the attacking team when the opposing team has taken their goalkeeper off the ice and an attacking player has possession and control of the puck in the neutral or attacking zone on, without a defending player between himself and the opposing goal, and he is prevented from scoring as a result of an infraction committed by the defending team (see 26.3 Infractions –When Goalkeeper is Off the Ice, below).
That’s awesome. I actually would’ve preferred a penalty shot on an empty net to formalize the goal. I equate that to an intentional walk in baseball in which the pitcher still has to throw four balls wide of home plate to formalize the bases on balls.
If you do a search on Awarded Goal in the NHL rulebook, there are actually several instances in which a goalless goal may occur. Most, if not all, occur when the goalie is removed for an extra attacker. My favorite one is Rule 67.5. To summarize, if the goalie builds a snowman in front of the net before he leaves the ice for an extra attacker, the opposing team is awarded a goal. Hahahaha!
“What this game has shown is that the Redskins have actually been very lucky with their six wins. Simply look at the point differential. They have scored 171 points but have given up 168! That 3 point differential usually means a .500 record. The Eagles even have a +76 pt diff. The division leading Giants have a +97. The Cowboys have a -3. Seems like the Redskins are closer to the Cowboys. I’d have to say the Eagles are 2nd best in East now. Both Eagles and Giants beat the Steelers, while Skins got destroyed.”
The Redskins were 6-2 before losing to the Steelers. Redskins fans attempted to deride my analysis as simply a Giants fan hating on the resurgent Skins. One fan even said “I think you’re crazy man.” However, ever since my comments, the Redskins proceeded to lose four of their next five games and now sit in last place in the NFC East with a 7-7 record. Their point differential is now a horrible -35. Let’s look quickly at the rest of the NFC East:
Point differential is a very telling statistic of how good a football team is. Although the saying “A win is a win is a win” is true, how well you win or how bad you lose a game provide clues into the momentum of a team. Point differential captures the spread between the strength of the offense’s ability to score points and the defense’s ability to limit points. It also captures the ability of the special teams to do both as well. When a good team consistently maximizes this ratio, the point differential steadily increases and builds over the course of the season.
How telling is the statistic? In 6 of the 8 divisions in the NFL, the division leader has the best point differential. The AFC North, where the Ravens (+112) have a tiny edge on the division leading Steelers (+110) is basically a tie. The only division where this is not true is the AFC West, where the Broncos -40 leads the Chargers +44. In 7 of 8 divisions, the cellar team has the worst point differential. Once again, in the AFC West, the Raiders -143 is worse than the cellar Chiefs at -132. It is the teams in the middle, where their inconsistency in winning give true meaning to “Any Given Sunday.” Division leaders and bottom feeders do not strongly abide by that saying because they consistently win or lose.
I am surprised that ESPN does not have point differential as a column statistic. The NFL website does. Since point differential is a derived statistic, (Points for – Points Against), ESPN’s thinking is that there does not need to be a column for it.
Patriots flying high
So, what team had the greatest point differential in a season since the16-game season was instituted in 1978? Yup, you guessed it. The 2007 16-0 New England Patriots, whose +315 was 127 more than that year’s second place Indianapolis Colts’ (+188) and 413 more than the AFC East’s second place Buffalo Bills (-102). The next team with the best point differential since 1978 were the 1999 St. Louis Rams, whose +284 led to a 13-3 record and a Super Bowl. Which team had the worst -274 point differential since 1978? The 1981 2-14 Baltimore Colts. The 1990 1-15 Patriots had the second worst point differential with -265.
Point differential is now used extensively in the NBA because of how telling it is. The amount of games in a season and points in a game in the NBA coupled with the consistency of the players and plays provides a more predictable environment. However, good teams and bad teams in the NFL also prove year in and year out that point differential is also a good indicator of the strength of a team.
Let me get this straight. Both Andy Pettitte and Plaxico Burress hurt themselves. Albeit one with drugs and the other with a gun. And yes, they hurt their teammates (Pettitte’s might be arguable) and the integrity of their respective games. But physically, they only hurt themselves. The Giants proceeded to suspend Burress for four games and put him on the non-injured reserve list; essentially ending his season. The suspension obviously resulted in major financial repercussions for Burress. The Yankees, meanwhile, welcomed Pettitte back with open arms for the guaranteed $16 million. Even with the Mitchell Report coming out just 10-days after Pettitte exercised his $16 million option.
Now comparing Pettitte and Burress is like comparing apples to oranges. Pettitte has always been a model citizen and family man, whereas Burress has been a headcase of suspensions, fines and showmanship for the Steelers and Giants. You could also bring up the fact that Pettitte used HGH to help recover faster to help his team. Not much moral support for Burress being late to a bazillion team meetings or shooting himself in a club.
However, Pettitte still hurt the integrity of the game of baseball. To all those fans that don’t care if players use steroids or HGH, imagine a game without integrity. Full of gambling and drugs. The game would become a farce, much like wrestling is now. So as much as fans are tired of hearing about performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) in baseball, it’s a necessary fight. Although Pettitte apologized, you can see how differently fans treat PED-using players based on their remorse. Pettitte and Giambi? Back in good grace. Clemens and McGwire? Who are they?
Which brings me to my point. Pettitte is very very lucky the Yankees welcomed him back and fully supported him. The news conference with Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi sitting to his sides as he apologized and answered questions must have been tough to watch for some hardcore baseball traditionalists. There was no compromise regarding salary. The whole contract was honored and fans even cheered for him because he owned up to his mistake. He proceeded to go 14-14 with a 4.54 ERA and a team high 204 innings. However, he battled shoulder problems all year and closed the season with a 2-7 record.
Now Pettitte is a free agent. He owes the Yankees. The Yankees would like to bring him back for $10 million. Pettitte does not want to take a pay cut from his $16 million. His agents are shopping him around, especially to Joe Torre and the Dodgers. Although Pettitte has been saying all year that he wants to pitch in the new Yankee stadium (even jokingly picking a locker in the new locker room on a tour there), when asked if he would take a pay cut to stay with the Yankees, he dodged the topic and deferred to his agents. One, Pettitte will be 37 next season. Two, Pettitte is no where worthy of a top of line $16 million contract. Three, the Yankees saved his career this past season by welcoming him back. Four, the Yankees saved his reputation by allowing him to show complete remorse and prove himself on the field. Five, he owes all the Yankee fans who supported him this past year.
Is he really going to argue over $6 million in pay? I’m sure he doesn’t need the extra money after earning tens of millions in his career. If it’s about getting what he’s worth, well, he’s not worth $16 million. He needs to give a nice Christmas present to the Yankees and their fans. Stop being business-like, show some gratitude towards the team that saved you and the fans that stood by you.