Friday, July 29, 2011

Stock Market: Man Bites Dog

"Man bites dog". This is an old rule for newspaper writers. They need exciting news, to shock the people, and sell their texts. Therefore the media traditionally focus on scandals and shocking stories and don´t bother much with boring good news.

It seems that the stock market, which is strongly influenced by the media, now also follows the "man bites dog"rule. The stock market & media are focusing on bad news now, like the U.S. debt, the European debt crisis, the nuclear radiation in Japan and more.

The good news is blended out, as shown by the falling weekly jobless claims (accorting to reports yesterday, the number dropped by 24,000 to 398,000, a 3-month low) or continuing strong company reports (yesterday Starbucks reported; that profit climbed in last quarter by 6% and sales at U.S. cafes open at least 13 months jumped by 8 percent ). These reports indicate, that the job market is improving and the consumer expenses are still strong. Who cares?

“Optimism is out; pessimism is in" reports the Kauffman Foundation’s in their latest quarterly survey of “leading economics bloggers”. ( Yes, many bloggers are competing with the media and try to overtrump them.

But this could be good for investors, at least those who think long term. They get cheap prices when they buy stocks now because too much pessimism is priced into the values. It seems that negative sentiment delivers an occasion to invest.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Restaurants: Aquagrill, New York

There is not much that beats a day at the beach. And: There is not much after a day at the beach that beats coming home hungry and getting a delicious dish of seafood. You can get both in New York City. The metropolis has not just a legion of high quality seafood restaurants, there also is a variety of nice beaches.

The other day, after visiting Rockaway Beach (accessible by the A-train  drivebycuriosity), my girlfriend and I enjoyed a meal at Aquagrill in Manhattan`s trendy Soho (210 Spring Street at Sixth Avenue The ritzy restaurant specializes in seafood. It was quite delicious.

We started with a selection from their huge oysters menu. They offer 25 to 30 varieties from different coasts, including a lot of local places like New York State, Rhode Island or Connecticut, but also from distant areas like Mexico and Chile. I`m not an expert in oysters, but the examples we got animated me to become a student in the science of oysters.

The fish entrees, which followed the great beginning, met our then lifted expectations. My girlfriend choose the "Black  Bass", which was one of their recommendations of the day. An indulgence, she declared. I decided for the "Bluefin Tuna", also one of the daily recommendations. They were almost a reason to become addicted.

Even the dessert, which they claim they made themselves, was a highly valuable experience. We choose, for sharing, the "Caramelized Mango Tart with Mascarpone Cheese and Macadamia Nut Brittle Ice Cream with a Mango Sauce" and the "Roasted Caramelized Grapefruit with Grapefruit Sorbet". Both were as good as their names promised.

Now I`m thinking about an excuse to go back to this place as soon as possible.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Stock Market: With The Little Help Of Our Friends

What do Intel & IBM have in common? Last week both companies reported strong numbers for the last quarter, and both realized more profits & revenue than expected. Interesting is the fact that they had a common explanation for the positive surprises: That would be the tailwinds from emerging markets.

Intel CEO Paul Otellini reported, that "the rapid rise of computing in emerging markets drove record results". (intel ceo ). He pointed out that emerging markets offer plenty of opportunity:
"In looking at the last three months of reported PC shipments, you can see why we’re so optimistic about the emerging markets opportunity. For example, Turkey and Indonesia are up over 70% each. India is up 17%. Russia’s up 15%. And China is up 14%. The latest data on Latin America also showed growth of 12%. Brazil remains the key driver of this growth and is poised to become the third largest market for computers in 2012.", Otellini told the reporters & analysts.

IBM benefitted from a strong demand growth for their services. IBM`s Chief Financial Officer Mark Loughridge reported, "that more than half of the $15 billion increase, or $8 billion, had come from emerging markets." ( ibm cfo)

Not just Intel & IBM got a little help from our friends, the emerging markets. A recent study from Societe Generale (  ) shows that the emerging markets bolster the profits of global operating companies in general. The study displays that the profit margins (profits as percentage of revenue) are rising in the emerging markets and have now climbed to a record high.

The rising revenues & profits in the emerging markets are raising the overall revenues & profits of global companies, even in a lackluster U.S. economic environment, and therefore their stock prices gain. I believe, that Investors should focus less on the U.S. debt debate and more on the growth regions in Asia & Latin America.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Economy: Steve Jobs For President?

Oh, what a mess. The U.S is almost bust, the media tell us. Their debt is almost unbearable, they claim. Maybe the Americans should take a look at Apple. Last week the Californians reported a quarterly profit of $4,3 billion (revenue 29 billion). The company doesn´t have any debts, instead Apple has now a cash reserve of $76 billion.

The reason: CEO Steve Jobs and his team are very creative, innovative & productive. They reinvented the company and transformed Apple from a minor computer builder to a leading consumer technology company. Steve Jobs & Co. develop continuous new blockbusters, like iPod, iPhone, iPad, and iWhatever.

The Apple people are extremely successful because they are competitive. They produce what the people want. Maybe the Americans can learn from them? Maybe the Americans should elect Steve Jobs for president? ;-)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Lifestyle: Swimming At Rockaway Beach, New York

"It's not hard, not far to reach. We can hitch a ride to Rockaway Beach".  Oh, how I envy the New Yorkers. They need just a subway ride to get to a nice beach, the Rockaway Beach, as the Ramones song from 1977 tells. And this getaway could also lure visitors, at least as long as the current heat wave with temperatures as high as 100 F (38 C) lasts.

Take the subway A train in the direction of Far Rockaway,  you can change at Broad Channel to the shuttle which goes over a bridge to the Rockaway Peninsula (part of the New York City borough of Queens  wikipedia.Rockaway Beach). From Manhattan you can calculate with around 1 1/ 2 hours commuting time.

From the subway station you need to walk only a few yards to reach the waterfront. But because it can be very crowded there, I would recommend seeking a place farther away from the subway station. There are a lot of places to choose. Either way, this is New York City`s largest beach and is 7 miles long, with a boardwalk that goes 5,5 miles.

On a sunny weekday my girlfriend and I took a bus westwards to Jacob Riis Park  wikipedia.Jacob_Riis_Park. There the beach was almost empty and we could see a lot more birds than people. The sand is soft but can get very hot. If you don´t have an education as a fakir you should consider wearing sandals or other beach footwear.

The surf was calm and friendly. We could easily play with the waves, sometimes the water rolled over us, but the sea was not too aggressive.

If you get hungry & thirsty you will find plenty of places to take care of that. We chose the "Bungalow Bar and Restaurant" on the opposite water front (377 Beach 92nd Street, Rockaway Beach, NY 11694  thebungalowbarnyc). We enjoyed sitting on their outdoor deck overlooking the so called Jamaica Bay. We watched departing airplanes from the nearby JFK airport. And we saw lot of birds, mostly seagulls, but also kinds who hunted like hawks (maybe diving petrels wikipedia.Diving Petrel). They fell from the sky straight into the water, trying to catch some fish, and then quickly rose again into the air.

While watching the maritime scenery we enjoyed a collection of oysters, and later had fish & noodle dishes. Their chef doesn`t have any prestigious star, but the meals were generous and tasty. They also serve a variety of drinks, for example Blue Moon beer, which was very refreshing, and they also had an acceptable Chardonnay.

There aren`t many better ways to spend a hot day in the summer.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Stock Market: Gifts From the Analysts

Intel did it again. Yesterday the bellwether of the technology industry crushed the predictions of the analysts.  In the 2nd quarter of the year the chip goliath`s revenue rose 22%, year over year, to $13.1 billion, the earnings per share (eps) climbed to 59 cents.
Analysts on average had expected $12.83 billion revenue and just 51 cents eps. Shortly before the numbers, JP Morgan and other banks had their Intel-estimates cut because they were skeptical about the business of the chip maker.

And Intel wasn`t alone. American Express, Apple, Google, Morgan Stanley, IBM, Ebay and many more reported much better profits & revenue than the analysts predicted. That shows that on average of the analysts were too pessimistic.

Many analysts lowered their expectations shortly at the beginning of this earning season. The information service Bespoke reported that  "sentiment on the part of analysts has been in the dumps with a seemingly relentless stream of decreased optimism"

It seems the majority of the bean counters acted opportunistic and followed a negative "Zeitgeist". A lot of analysts obeyed to the negative media reports about the deficits in Europe, U.S. along with other negative news and trimmed their predictions a way too much. Apparently the majority of analysts are cowardly and underestimate the influence of rising productivity and efficiency gains which enable companies to grow even in a sluggish economy.

But investors can be grateful for all this fear mongering.  The negative sentiment creates cheap prices for stocks and therefore lots of opportunities to invest in the stock market. The pessimism of the analyst is a gift for investors as the results of the companies now show.

Lifestyle: Brunch At Macondo, Manhattan

Sharing with friends is fun, especially sharing a nice breakfast. Some days ago my girlfriend and I shared Sunday brunch with 2 friends at Macondo on East Houston Street in Manhattan´s trendy Lower East Side (157 E. Houston Street, New York City to celebrate my birthday.

We choose this place because we like its style and the atmosphere there. It`s front is open to the lively East Houston Street. Therefore a lot of light falls in and you can watch the buzzing street.
This creates a fresh ambiance like a party scene in a modern Hollywood movie. Especially when the place gets crowed and the life inside mingles with the life outside the eatery gives off an inspiring vibe.

They must have spent a lot for the architect who created the bar, the walls and the rest of the furnishings. I admired the clever composition of things which lets the place look a bit like an setup in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) but still keeps it cozy.  

The food there is ok. They offer predominately latino dishes, for breakfast for example "Huevos Rancheros" (2 baked eggs with tortilla, tomato sauce, black beans, chorizo and manchego cheese) or "Buenos Aires" (grilled skirt steak, arugula, jalapenos onions, tetilla & la pearl cheese).

Buen Provecho!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Traveling: You Never Know

“A journey is like a marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it,” said John Steinbeck once. My last travel back from New York to my hometown Bonn/Germany reminded me of this aphorism.

I had booked a flight with Delta/KLM from JFK airport to Cologne with a transfer at Amsterdam Schiphol, starting on Wednesday July 13th at 6.00 pm. The first plane  took off  - almost as scheduled - at around 6.40 pm. The airline claimed the small delay was due to a technical problem at airport control which caused a little traffic jam with the departing planes. However, we arrived the next morning in Amsterdam around the scheduled time (7.30 am local), with enough time to connect to my next flight, which was scheduled at 9.20 am. A delay of 10 minutes was already announced for the flight to Cologne. While I was waiting the delay was expanded to 20 minutes. But at 9.45 am the boarding would still begin.

Shortly before 10 am the KLM staff announced that the flight had been cancelled because the plane had "a technical problem". It was recommended that the passengers go to the nearest service desk of KLM . The one airline person directed the group of stranded passengers to this area. The situation reminded me of a mother duck walking in front of her offspring.

A line of passengers developed who were waiting for their next boarding pass at the service desk. The next flight to Cologne (at 5 pm) was already booked out by the tim it was my turn. Therefore I accepted the boarding pass for the following flight at 9.15 pm. Due to the inconvenience, I received also a booklet with 3 vouchers: One was for a free telephone call to announce the delay to a friend, another voucher which offered a discount of € 10 for a meal in an airport restaurant (or alternatively some bonus miles for my frequent flyer account)  and a third voucher (travel discount certificate) with a €50 discount if I booked a flight directly  with Delta/KLM by January 1.2013. 

While waiting for the late flight I burnt my time by walking around in the spacious waiting area, reading, spotting other waiting passengers and eating. Schiphol has - as usual - many restaurants. I choose a pasta di mare at Schiphol`s Grand Cafe Het Paleis where I cashed in my discount voucher of €10.  The quality of the meal was a bit disappointing and explains why worldwide there are not many Dutch cuisine restaurants in comparison to Italian, French, Thai etc. Later I allowed myself an apple pie at Starbucks, which was delicious!

Sometimes I checked the crowded announcement board in the waiting area for my flight where it appeared in the late afternoon. When I checked again around a quarter before 8 pm I couldn`t believe my eyes: This flight was also canceled! Apparently they had just one plane for the connection from Amsterdam to Cologne, and it was still in need of repair.

I asked the first KLM person I saw where I can find the closest KLM service desk and was sent downstairs to the baggage claim area. Once again, when I arrived there was already a long line of stranded passengers. While I waited the line got even longer and seemed to fill the whole baggage claim area. But not only passengers waiting to go to Cologne were there. I heard a woman next to me telling her neighbors in the line that she was trying to get a flight to Chicago.

Finally - after around 1 1/2 hour waiting - it was my turn at the desk. I got a voucher for an airport hotel (Dorint Hotel Amsterdam-Airport, a bus shuttle to and from the hotel, plus free dinner and breakfast in the hotel. The airline person also gave me a bag with a "care collection", containing things like a toothbrush & tooth-paste, a razor, a variety of lotions, socks and a white t-shirt. But the staff person could´t get me a boarding pass for the next possible flight. Instead I got just a phone number where I could call the next day for changing the flight. And I was also told that I could trade my boarding pass in for a train ticket to Cologne.

I decided to give up flying for the moment and chose the train ride. That was astonishingly easy. Schiphol also includes a railway station and there is a desk for buying train tickets. There I fast and easily got my boarding pass changed into a train ticket (for the fast German "Intercity") to Cologne and a schedule for the departing trains, connecting and arrival times.

Then I went straight to the waiting area for the shuttle bus to the Dorint Hotel which was at the airport entrance. There was pouring and chilly rain, but luckily the bus station, where already a crowd waited, was very close and had a roof. Soon the bus for the Dorint Hotel arrived. The crowd rushed through the pouring rain and tried to squeeze onto the bus. Many people had vouchers in their hands which started disintegrating because they got soaked in the rain. Luckily I caught a seat in the crowded bus but many others had to stand and at least one man could´t even get on the crammed vehicle. Later I learned that the shuttles bus leaves every half an hour.

We arrived some minutes later at the airport hotel, and already there was another line waiting, my 4th line of the day. But we were under a roof and the hotel staff of 3 persons worked quick and efficiently. Therefore I didn´t have to wait long to get my room key. What a relief!

The rest of the evening was relaxing. The dinner was satisfying. It was a small buffet with bread, cheese and some cold meat, salads, plus one free drink. I choose the Chardonnay. There also was free water on the tables.

The nice hotel room had wifi, but the connection was very slow and didn`t function when I came back from dinner. I went into the hotel bar (sports bar) which had fast internet access, which is maybe an incentive to lure guests to this place.

The next morning I got a wakeup call at 8 am to follow my planned new schedule. The hotel offered a surprisingly generous brunch. Maybe it will be a reason to come back sometimes. I got a large pot of coffee and choose between a nice variety of fruit juices (I decided for the delicately fresh squeezed grapefruit juice), scrambled eggs,  an assortment of meat, fish, cheese, cereals, dairies, salads, marmalades and lots of other tasty things. The caramelized plums in marmalade especially made my day. I also enjoyed some of the pastries and tried their mini-chocolate muffins. The gourmet buffet provided lot of comfort for the tedious day before.

Inspite the sumptuous breakfast I easily caught the planned shuttle bus at 9.30 am, thanks to a quick and efficient checkout. At Schiphol train station I caught an earlier train than planned (shortly before 10 am instead 10.14 am), which took me to Utrecht Centraal (after around 30 minutes), where I then had to change trains.

This short train ride was pleasant. I sat in the upper level of the 2-leveled car where I enjoyed the Dutch landscape which was unknown by me. First I spotted some modern buildings near the airport (Wikipedia describes Schiphol as an airport city, meaning a modern city built around the air-traffic hub, and then the picture changed into fresh green meadows with a golf course and later lots of cows & sheep. After a day on the bustling airport and the waiting in long and slow-moving lines the calm views were very relaxing.

At Utrecht Centraal I effortless caught the fast train (the German "Intercity") to Cologne (going further to Frankfurt). But the "Intercity" was crammed! Every seat was reserved, thanks to the peak holiday season. But some carts were still locked and empty! It seemed they were reserved for passengers with reserved seas that would be picked up at distant destinations. In spite of the overcrowded situation, the German train staff couldn´t get the permission from Deutsche Bundesbahn management to open the other cars. The crammed in passengers got the announcement: "We are not allowed to open our rear end" (in English, (sic)).

Therefore I had to stand the whole time (from 10.47 am till 1.12 pm), but that was no problem for me! I found a place in the tiny train café ("Bistro"); where I allowed myself a Cappuccino. And happily, this kind of bar smelled better than the rest of the train.

At Cologne train station I got a ticket for the subway to Bonn (E 6,80), which I could also use for the bus home at the periphery of the former capital, and I finally arrived around 3pm.

Conclusion: The trip lasted one day longer than expected and was sometimes stressful. However, it showed me pleasant parts of the Netherlands where I have never been before and hand`t planned to see at this trip.

“A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving,” the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu once taught.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Oil: The Big Difference

First the bad news: The stock markets are falling again. The disappointment about last week`s mediocre job market numbers (last month U.S. employers created just 18.000 new jobs) and ongoing speculation about the debts of the European and the U.S. governments are putting stock prices under pressure. The good news: The oil price on the financial markets dropped again.

This is the big difference from Summer 2008. Then the stock market  tanked because of the begining recession, but the oil price climbed to $147, which sharpened it.

Many oil buyers (funds and other speculators) followed then a perverse argument: "Oil is an insurance against falling stock prices", they were told. Many believed this and bought oil when the stock price dropped - a self-fulfilling prophecy. This was perverse because the recession also lowered the demand for oil. In autumn and winter 2008 the oil price imploded then to around $40.

Now oil & stocks react almost in consort to the economic news: They both rise on goods news and simultaneous fall on bad news. Since May, the oil price has dropped on the financial markets from $114 to around $95. This is good for the economy because companies & consumers have now more money to buy goods. Falling oil prices since May have already reanimated  consumer expenses. Last week many retailers reported strong sales growth for June, even though the job market stayed weak.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Restaurants: Tamarind, Manhattan

Do you like it hot? Do you enjoy food with versatile flavors? Then Indian cuisine my be right for you. Indian chefs do not act cowardly when they use spices. But beware, many restaurants serve very rich food.  Cheaper places in particular, use a lot of fat. India is still a country where the majority of the population is very poor. Therefore being overweight is a sign of wealth there, a status symbol.

Hence it pays to spend some bucks more to discover the delights of well made Indian cuisine without endangering the shape. One of the finest Indian places in New York is the "Tamarind". They have 2 places in Manhattan, one in the East Village, the other in trendy Tribeca.
Tamarind - Tribeca NYC

The other night my girlfriend and I visited their Tribeca restaurant  (99 Hudson Street) which has 2 levels. As starters we shared the Bataki Kosha (Duck with mustard, onion, garlic, ginger and garam masala, hand rolled in a rice crepe with black salt and tangerine chutney) and the Kashmiri Tikki (Beetroot patties with ricotta cheese, apricot and fennel).

Then we indulged in seafood: Fish Amot Tik (seasonal fish, which was cotfish, rubbed with garam masala in a mango, red-chili and kokum sauce  - very hot) and Tawa Machli (filet of halibut rubbed with black pepper, coarse grain mustard, dry red chilies, cumin seeds and lemon juice, pan-seared and served with browned cipollini onions and tomato).

Appetizers and entrees were an indulgent experience but the deserts didn´t quite hit our then raised expectations. Nobody is perfect. Anyway, dining at Tamarind was a pleasant experience.