Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Movies: In The House (Dans La Maison)

"There is always a way into their house". This is the leitmotif of the French movie "In the house" (Dans la maison) which is running now in U.S. theaters in French with English subtitles (imdb).

Director François Ozon and author Juan Mayorga weaved a fine mystery tale. They tell the story of a French literature teacher and a gifted pupil who is writing a fictional report (a kind of novel) or maybe not. Ozon & Mayorga keep the audience in the dark about what is fact and what is just imagined by the boy. They blend entertainment with smart object lessons on manipulation, seduction, desire, sex, family and deliver charming disgressions about art and literature. The ambiguity and a lot of surprises make the film enthralling.

Ernst Umhauer, born in 1989, performs the seductive and calculating prodigy with a convincing mixture of eloquence and snobbery. Emmanuelle Seigner, as a bored housewife and the pupil`s (alleged?) object of desire, and Kristin Scott Thomas, as the teacher`s wife, are part of the fun.

"In the house" is a sophisticated comedy and a masterstroke of psychological cinema. This little gem is highly recommended for those who enjoy cinema entertainment beyond the usual block buster productions.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

New York City: Manhattan In Spring

Ah spring! Manhattan shows herself in her fanciest dress. Blossoms are almost everywhere and flowers are prettifying streets, avenues, places & parks.

Soho, Greenwich Villages & The Upper West Side are bathed in sunlight. People are enjoying the springy air and are gathering on Union Square, Lexington Avenue, Bleeker Street, Washington Square, Batter Park and other areas.

Many are happy to put their wintery outfits into the cupboards. The fancy season seems to elate them, they are almost dancing on the streets in the warm sunrays. And the outfits of many girls are a promise for the coming summer.

Ah spring.


Stock Market: Don`t Sell In May, 2013 Edition

It seems there is a cycle of stupidity. Every year around this time you can read the headline "Sell in May and go away" in the media (marketwatch). Last year I dismissed this nonsense riddle with a short post (drivebycuriosity).

Since then, the S&P 500 (as a gauge for the U.S. stock market) gained 15% and has been climbing to an all-time high. This alone should stop the drivel about selling automatically in a certain calendar month.

But there are more arguments:

The stock market doesn´t follow simple rules, if any. In the long run it trails the economic trend, in the short run stock prices respond to a flood of economic news which is often random (noise). Hence selling stocks in a certain calendar month with the purpose of buying them back later doesn`t make sense.

In the long run, stock prices go up. Since its start in the year 1896 the Dow Jones, another gauge for the U.S. stock market, rose 7% per year on average. Hence, in an average year you would loose money if you follow the "sell in May" rule.

Furthermore, I claim that the stock market is still undervalued. The majority of market participants - including the funds - are still pessimistic and underinvested.

I also reckon that we are still at the beginning of a long term bull market that could be comparable to the stock market rally from 1982 till 2000.  We are experiencing a new industrial revolution: Advances in Internet, mobile computing, 3-d-printing, robotics, nano- & biotechnology and other fields are reducing costs, raising efficiency and creating new markets.

The catch-up process in China, India and a lot of other countries translates into high growth in large parts of the global economy that creates continuously rising revenues & profits for global companies like Starbucks, IBM, Caterpillar and other members of the S&P 500.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Movies: Disconnect

Surfing the Internet is fun and you could learn a lot. But you should be careful, otherwise you could get deep into trouble thanks to identity thefts, pornography with minors, online gambling, misused chatrooms and more issues.

The movie "Disconnect" deals with these topics (imdb). Director Henry Alex Rubin and script writer Andrew Stern tell 3 separate stories which run parallel. Each plot shows an Internet related incident that leads to a dramatic development.

"Disconnect" is well made. The stories, entangled through smart editing, are believable and they are enthralling implemented. The cast, including Hope Davis and Jason Bateman, and the solid cinematography are part of the movie´s strengths. 

"Disconnect" deserves a large audience because the film delivers not just solid entertainment. The movie also makes us more aware to handle the World Wide Web with care. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Technology: Inside 3D Printing Convention, Javits Convention Center, New York City

We are witness to a new technical revolution: 3D printing. This week I visited the "Inside 3D Printing" convention, which happened at New York`s Javits Convention Center.

They didn`t produce washing machines and bicycles there, the technology is still in an early phase. But you could see the directions 3D printing could go.

There were around a dozen exhibitors, including "3D Printing Systems" (3dprintingsystems), "Solidoodle" (solidoodle) and "MakerBot" (makerbot.com), who displayed their current offers. The devices I saw there looked a bit like microwaves but they are much more complex.

Those 3D printers have a moving part which looks like a kind of sled but is much more complex. Watching those "sleds" do their work reminded me a bit of icing a cake. But I guess, the picture of a spider, who spins its web by emitting silk, is more appropriate (youtube). Anyway the displayed machines used cables of plastics which melted inside.  Then their jets - working like the glands of a spider - produced shapes like chess pieces, coffee cups, jewelry and many other things.

I  plan to visit the convention again when it comes back to New York City in April 2014.

Economy: Express Train On A Local Track

The current situation of the world economy reminds me of the New York Subway (thereformedbroker). Trains are often delayed and slowed down. Sometimes an express train, that usually runs on a fast track, gets relocated onto a local track, which is slower and has more stops. But anyway, usually you reach your goal and New York`s economy and social life, which depend heavily on its mass transportation system (because of lacking of parking spaces), function very well.

The upswing of the global economy, which started in spring 2009, is slow and had many stops as well. But the world is steadily healing thanks to extremely low interest rates, climbing company profits, tamed commodity prices, rising consumer spending in the US & China and technological progress. As a result U.S. stocks gained more than 120% since the start of the recent bull market and are close to all-time highs.

I reckon that this situation is better than a high growth economy which could lead into overheating, exploding commodity prices and jumping interest rates. Hence the slow-go economy has a lot of breath and could continue its steady upward trend for many years to come, fueled by the new technological revolution (advances in Internet, robotics, 3D-printing, Nanotechnology, genetic engineering and more) and the catching up process in China and other merging markets.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Movies: Evil Dead 2013

Do you want to make easy money in the cinema business? Then you should produce a horror movie. Scary flicks with a lot of gore have been filling the box offices for many years. But it seems that Hollywood got a bit too easy with the highly profitable genre. A new example for the wear out of the genre is "Evil Dead 2013", co-written and directed by Fede Alvarez (imdb.com).

The movie isn´t scary, it is  just stupid. The director lacks the imagination the genre needs and uses just overused cliche´s. Many  scenes are unintentionally funny. The overacting cast didn`t help. Even the solid cinematography couldn´t save the movie.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Stock Market: Don`t Bet Against China

Pessimism doesn`t know frontiers. Even for fast growing China there is a huge pessimism bubble regarding its economy & stock market. "Bets on declines in the largest Chinese exchange-traded fund are surging to the highest level since 2007", reports Bloomberg (bloomberg). According to this media service there are many speculators who are betting on "a slowdown in the world’s second-largest economy".

I believe that those speculators will loose money. Furthermore I see the growing pessimism for China stocks as an opportunity to invest there and buy Chinese stocks. The negative attitude towards the far eastern economy & stock market is already baked in the depressed stock prices. Chinese stocks are cheap thanks to the continuous selling pressure from the pessimistic speculators.

It seems that many are betting on a so called "hard landing" of the Chinese economy and are following China bears like the notorious short seller and hedge fund manager Jim Chanos who has been banging the "China will crash drum" for years. Because of this pessimism the stock market in Shanghai has been on a downward trend since 2010 and missed the global rally.

I believe the China pessimism is ill funded. In the recent 10 years China´s growth rate didn´t fall below 7.6%. Ok, in the first quarter of the year the growth rate of the Chinese economy had slowed down to plus 7.7 % after 7.9% in the quarter before,  thanks to the sluggish exports to Europe. But in March the Chinese import growth speeded up to plus 14%, a clear sign that the far east economy is still on a solid growth track.

I reckon that the China crash many are betting on is highly unlikely because of the secular catching-up process which is fueled by the still high income difference to the US and other Western nations. The Chinese government already started reforms to encourage economic growth and stimulate consumer spending. Beijing also implemented a huge infrastructure program, including ample investments in railway systems and highways, to support the economic growth. And the Chinese monetary policy got more accommodative because the risks of inflation are constrained - at least for now.  

Hence the Chinese stock market could in the run of this year follow the example of Japan´s stock market that started an impressive rally last October after years of underperformance.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

New York City: New Museum - NYC 1993: Experimental Jet Set, Trash And No Star

What is art? There are thousands of definitions. Some of them you could find at the New Museum on New York´s trendy Bowery (newmuseum.org). As the name suggests, it specializes in new and experimental art. If you are interested in cutting edge art, you could discover it here. For instance you could spot an artificial crime scene or peer into a strange engine.

The current exhibition is called: "NYC 1993: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star" (through May 26th 2013). The show is related to the issue of pornography of the era as you could see here.

They claim that the show "looks at art made and exhibited in New York over the course of one year. Centering on 1993, the exhibition is conceived as a time capsule, an experiment in collective memory that attempts to capture a specific moment at the intersection of art, pop culture, and politics" (newmuseum).

Maybe so. But it also could be the case that the artists just wanted to make fun of their profession and the spectators. Maybe they just found an easy way into a popular museum.

Anyway. A visit at the New Museum is at least interesting and surprising.  And on Thursday nights, admission is free.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

TV: Rectify, Sundance Channel

Imagine you would be released from prison after 19 years on Death row? How would you adapt to  outside life after such a long time? How would your family respond, or your neighbors? Those questions are part of "Rectify". This is a new TV series that starts on April 22 on Sundance Channel (sundancechannel). It tells the story of Daniel, who was sentenced for rape & murder after confessing, but got free because a late inspection of DNA samples didn´t match.

I had the chance to watch the first 2 episodes (plus a Q & A with 3 of the actors) at a preview at New York`s IFC theater. I was curious because  "Rectify" is produced by the makers of "Breaking Bad", which is my favorite TV show.

"Rectify" is way slower than "Breaking..", almost nothing happened in the first 2 hours. But the show kept my attention anyway because the storyline creates a lingering suspension. The character of Daniel, traumatized by his horrible past, creates a dark fascination. Also interesting to watch is how he learns to deal with the unfamiliar world around him and how family, cops, neighbors and other citizens of a small town in Georgia (Southern U.S.A.) respond to his strangeness, his history and his mysteries.

The producers collected an excellent cast: Australian actor Aden Young as Daniel plays this tortured soul convincingly. Abigail Spencer, Adelaide Clemens, Clayne Crawford and others as family, cops and neighbors also deliver impressive performances.

The story is set in a small town in lush Georgia which gives the show an appealing ambience.

"Recitify" is an enrichment of the current TV universe and will find a loyal audience.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Stock Market/Economy: Couldn´t Be Better

Today the stock market closed in the red and the media lamented about the slow growth in the U.S. and China. But, being an investor, I am not worried. I believe, the situation couldn´t be better.

1. The price of oil and other commodities is under pressure. It seems that the sluggish growth of the economy and the pessimistic headlines in the media are keeping the commodity speculation at bay.

For years Goldman Sachs and other banks have been drumming the "buy commodities" drum. Many private speculators and funds followed and have been betting on higher commodity prices. Thus they  massively purchased derivatives on the financial markets which are linked to commodity prices. Those purchases worked as a self-fulfilling prophecy: The billions of dollars which flooded into commodities caused high prices for oil and other materials, slowing growth for the global economy since the year 2000. 

If we had much stronger global economic growth then the extensive speculative purchases of commodities would continue and would drive the commodity prices even higher endangering the global economy. It seems now that the weakness of commodities which causes severe losses for owners of commodity derivatives demoralizes commodity speculation. This should lead to lower, or at least stable prices for oil and other materials which would be a huge relief for companies & consumers.

2. Interest rates stay very low as a result of the general economic pessimism. If we had much stronger global economic growth then interest rates would inevitably climb which could hurt company profits.

There is a high chance that a period of tame commodity prices and moderate interest rates has already begun. The economic situation could be comparable to the early 80s when tame commodities and interest rates gave way to a period of economic prosperity and rising stock prices which lasted almost 20 years. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Movies: Simon Killer

It seems that many movie makers are obsessed with mentally disturbed people, at least there are so many films about this topic. It could be a fascinating study if the flick is made by a master like Roman Polanski`s "Repulsion" (imdb). Other movies of this kind are just tedious to watch. Unfortunately belongs the film "Simon Killer" (imdb) into the second category.

The flick shows a young American, named Simon, who is visiting Paris. The character is a highly unlikable person. Simon is a pathetic and notorious liar and seems to need someone who blows his nose all the time. But, for some reasons he gets his way with women whom he tries to exploit. The film lets the audience watch how Simon´s mental problems get worse which is challenging.

Fortunately the movie has some positive aspects which could conform a bit: The cuteness of the girls which is liberally displayed in the frequent sex scenes, a passable cinematography and a strong soundtrack. Nevertheless, I guess "Simon Killer" will be forgotten soon. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Movies: Trance

Europe may be in an economic mess, but the "old continent" produces still powerful movies. "Trance" by Danny Boyle is a proof for this (imdb). The eclectic British film director, who has a reputation for challenging movies since "Train Spotting", delivered again a film which could stir and provoke you.

As usualI I won´t give the plot away  - this is a non-spoiler blog. There is a hunt for a stolen and lost painting: Goya´s "Witches in the air". The quest brings to light repressed memories and leads to hidden layers which get successively revealed.

"Trance" is a roller coaster for the eyes with a lot of sex & violence. The cinematography shows what a modern camera technique (including digital postproduction) is capable to. Cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle takes you on a psychedelic trip and creates a furious dance of pictures which could make you drunk. Together with the slick editing and the hypnotic soundtrack generates the film a intoxicating experience.

American actress Rosario Dawson, who plays a hypnotherapist, shows that she could rise to a new goddess of Hollywood. Her character merges a sharp intellect with exquisite beauty which Dawson shows generously. The brilliant French actor Vincent Cassel as a sophisticated villain underlines once again why he belongs to Europe´s finest. Scottisch actor James McAvoy complements the American-European triangle perfectly.

"Trance" shows that you still could count on Europe - at least in the cinema business.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Economy: Laws Of Economics Don`t Exist? Really?

Last week as I browsed the headlines in the media I got the usual dose of stupidity. The nonsense award of the week goes to the magazine "The Atlantic" (theatlantic.com). They had the headline: The 'Laws of Economics' Don't Exist.

Really Atlantic? Then show me a new Porsche for 10.000 Dollar, rent me a luxury apartment in Manhattan and a Mansion at the Côte d'Azur for just 100 Dollar per month, sell me a flight from London to Singapore for 50 Dollar and grant me a visit at Salzburg Festival for 1 Euro.

Rare goods like diamonds, truffles, tickets for the Metropolitan Opera New York and a dress from Christian Dior are expensive. There is no free lunch. Period. And if something is suddenly in abundance like strawberries in June, its price falls and rises again when the supply dries out.

And there is more. How many US. citizens try to smuggle themselves south across the Mexican border? Many people who live in low income countries try to get into a high income country as the lines of Mexicans at the U.S. border show?

Gold everywhere in the world is traded at around $1.470 per ounce. If gold cost just $100 in UK and $2.000 in France, people would buy it in London and sell in Paris to make a gain of around 1.900 per ounce. A buying spree would raise the price in London and reduce it in Paris till the price at both places was almost the same (there are some costs transporting). This is called arbitrage, comparable to the laws thermodynamics which explain that heat is moving from a hot place to a colder place as long as there is difference in temperature.

The Atlantic columnist claims that people don`t act rationally. How arrogant! It might seem irrational to ruin one's health by smoking or to have unsafe sex. But people do it because they experience a gain (pleasure) which they prize more than the costs (health). Maybe it is irrational to continue reading the Atlantic.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Stock Market: Paranoia As Business Model

The global economy has been healing since spring 2009 and the bull market for stocks is in its fifth year now. But the media still celebrate the cult of doom. Popes of doom & gloom like Noriel Roubini and Marc Faber are still ruling the headlines with their continuous predictions of a coming catastrophe.

Part of this cult are the short sellers who bet on falling stock prices. They borrow stocks from brokers and sell them immediately in the hope that they can buy the shares back for much less.

Jim Chanos, whom you could find often on Yahoo Finance, Reuters and other leading sites, is one of the kings of short sellers (finance.yahoo). He made his paranoia a business model. According to Wikipedia "paranoia is a thought process believed to be heavily influenced by anxiety or fear, often to the point of irrationality and delusion" (wikipedia). "False accusations and the general distrust of others also frequently accompany paranoia" (wikipedia).

The hedge fund manger is famed because he allegedly discovered fraud at Enron around the year 2000. Now he sees fraud behind every bush.

Chanos has been banging the "China will crash" drum for years and shorting China stocks (cnbc). CNBC calls him the most notorious "China bear".

Apparently this tortured soul cannot understand that the growth of China is driven by its catching up process and hence has a long term nature. In the recent 10 years China´s growth rate didn´t fall below 7.6% and is accelerating again. Last week we got news that Chinese import growth speeded up to 14%, a clear sign that the far east economy is gaining speed again.

But Chanos calls China a "roach motel" and claims that the Chinese numbers are faked and that the country is full of "ghost cities" (cnbc). A typical paranoid behavior.

As long as Chanos, Roubini and other crash prophets are still the opinion leaders in the media and can keep a large crowd of followers, the noise they make could influence the stock market. But their accusations have just an elusive impact and are irrelevant for the long term trend on the stock market which is going north.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Economy: Relief From The Gas Pump

This morning we got news that U.S. retail sales dropped in March. I reckon this is a response to the U.S. tax increases and to the high gas prices. The taxes won`t go away, but there is some relief at the gas pump.

According to AAA, an American automobile club, average U.S. gas prices are falling since March 18 (blogs.cars.com). The drop follows months of steadily rising gas prices.

The price of gas is closely connected to the price of oil, of course. But there are 2 different oil prices on the financial markets: There is a price for WTI (Western Texas Intermediate), the American type of oil, and then the price for Brent crude, the European & International type of oil. Today WTI closed on the market at $91.29 a barrel, Brent crude cost $103.11 a barrel (bloomberg). For some reason (pundits claim quality differences), U.S. gas prices ignore the American oil price and follow the price for Brent crude.

Until lately WTI and Brent Crude went separate ways. WTI came under pressure because US oil production & inventories were rising in response to high fuel high prices and technological progress (fracking & deep sea exploration). On the other hand, oil demand is shrinking (demand destruction) because consumers drive less and use cars which burn less fuel more and more often.

But the market for Brent Crude has ignored economic fundamentals and supply & demand. Instead the price of Brent crude has been rising recently because its supply depends to a large amount upon producers in the politically unstable Near Eastern region. Speculation about possible supply disruptions due to sanctions again Iran, the war in Syria and the Palestinian conflict caused many funds to bet on further rising oil prices and to invest in Crude which inflated the bubble more and more.

Since March the price of Brent is under pressure as a (tardy) response to the the ongoing mess in Europe, mixed economic news from the U.S. & China and a lack of new conceerns from Iran and other Near Eastern countries. It looks like many funds are fleeing from oil and switching into stocks which have been performing better.

Chances are high that prices for WTI & Brent will stay under pressure because of rising U.S. oil  production and the ongoing demand destruction. This could translate into lower gas prices in the forthcoming summer season. Cheaper gas would be a relief for consumers worldwide and could rekindle US retail sales in the coming weeks.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Economy 2013: In Consumers We Trust III

U.S. stocks advanced, extending a rally in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index to a fourth day, as retailers climbed amid rising March sales, reports Bloomberg (bloomberg). The Barron`s Blog "Stocks to watch" writes that several retailers, including Bed Bath & Beyond, Limited Brands (Victoria´s Secret) and Zumiez reported stronger March sales than expected (barrons).

It looks like that the engine of the economy, the consumer spending, is still on a solid growth path in spite of the sluggish general economic environment. The consumers are ignoring the mostly skeptical comments in the media. Instead they are responding to the economic tailwinds like healing job market (this morning we got news that the weekly jobless claims fell again close to the post recession low), the rally on the stock market and the rising home prices.

I reckon that this virtuous circle will continue for a while generating more gains on the stock market and further rising retail sales.

Movies: The Company You Keep

Oh those good old times. In the early 70s of the last century there was in the U.S. a terrorist group who robed banks and didn´t mind to kill innocent people (Weather Underground). Hollywood made a nostalgic buddy movie about this issue: "The Company you keep" (imdb).

The flick is set in the present. The former terrorists are now well established persons, good doers and enjoying their life. But they are still bothered by the ongoing hunt by the FBI which induces them to rekindle old connections. The film doesn´t care much about the topic terrorism, it is more interested in old friendship and family connections.

A flock of established and wealthy Hollywood personnel like Robert Redford, Susan Sarandon, Julie Christie, Nick Nolte and Stanley Tucci  bothered to leave their multimillion dollar estates and mansions to participate in this production. Even if you are very rich and a bit on the left side, you could still use some extra money.

Maybe the film could have the title "The money you keep".

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

New York City: Caprices Of April

April has a reputation to be capricious. This year´s April comes up to its reputation. The month started in New York City very chilly. Temperatures were sometimes below 30 F (0 C), but this week the mercury column jumped into summerly 70s F (20 + C).

The New Yorkers show that they are very flexible and capable to adapt. A lot of people put their winterly cloths into the closet and changed quick into a summerly outfit.

Many seem to enjoy the early glimpse into summer. Streets and places are crowded by people who take an early sunbath. Especially parks like Bryant Park, Union & Washington Square, where most of these pictures were taken, are magnets for the sunseekers.