Tag: money

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Seriously?

Oh, Please! It’s not even Halloween! Fashion Valley decks the mall with mounds of folly—fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la! You won’t forget to spend your money—fa, la, la, la, la, la, […]

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La Croix Sticker Shock Gives Me Nose Bleeds

What a difference branding makes for sale-pricing. Before La Croix became a posh, bubbly brand for environmentally-minded, organic-obsessed, uncompromising-to-spend-less Whole Foods sundry shoppers, my wife and I regularly purchased the seltzer. We preferred the no-flavor water for its effervescence and low-sodium content. I remember when, going back just five years, the local Ralph’s sold cases of 24 12-oz cans for $4.99 during summer months.

But now that La Croix is the Apple of bubbly waters, those cans cost lots more. Today, in the same Ralph’s the exact quantity deeply discounted is twice as much—and that’s helluva savings when one case of eight typically sells for what I used to pay for 24. 

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Home Buying Lessons from the Schoolhouse

Aug. 18, 2017. I travel back to San Diego after visiting my niece in Long Beach. Meanwhile, two blocks from our apartment, my wife attends an Open House for a cute, Spanish-style property listed for $586,000. Anne tells the seller’s real estate agent that we can’t afford to buy the place—an effective diversionary tactic. But the 900-square-footer is within our means, and we will nearly come to own it.

This is my story of wanting and walking away. I take with me disheartening lessons about the home real estate market. 

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The House on Monroe

Feeling a little glum about mum—she was laid to rest back home in Maine yesterday morning—I took a long, late-afternoon walk through the neighborhood. As I approached Mississippi along Monroe Ave., a cute craftsman with “coming soon” for sale sign piqued my interest. I would later discover that the property listed the same day (Aug. 25, 2017). Striking: The unbelievably low price for University Heights: $525,000.

I have not seen such interest in a home! Jumping ahead in time, briefly, I later took my wife to look at the Monroe house. Cars and SUVs of various types pulled over in and around as we approached; I am amazed there wasn’t a vehicular or pedestrian collision. A small mob had formed before the informational brochure holder. One man walked in circles, flip phone to ear, one hand waving, and frantic—no panicked—expression filling his face. Dare I say foaming at the mouth, as he desperately tried to contact the listing agent? If you need a metaphor, think Black Friday outside Wal-Mart. Even this morning, when I shot the Featured Image and its companions, using Leica Q, this little ramshackle rustled as much attention. 

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Seriously, Verizon?

I should have known better. Once burned is supposed to be twice as wary. Right? Disgruntled by pricing and other policies, in autumn 2015, I took my family from Verizon Wireless to T-Mobile, which cut our monthly bill by more than one-third. But in May of this year we made the trek back in part because data speed is so much faster from my apartment than it is with Magenta. Better Red than dead, eh? Wrong. Oh, dumbass me. Un-carrier’s aggressive pricing, and Verizon’s first-ever quarterly loss of post-paid subscribers, compelled the nation’s largest carrier to respond—by, starting in February, to offer comparable unlimited plan that for my family of five lines would cost just $20 more a month while delivering superior, speedy service. But what Red gave, it now takes away. I regret the decision.

Today’s unlimited cellular service plan changes suck some of the most important value from all that extra bandwidth. What good is having something you can’t use? Henceforth, Verizon will offer two consumer options—one (Go Unlimited) that throttles streaming video to 480p on smartphones and costlier option Beyond Unlimited that reduces quality to 720p. Go is essentially priced the same as the older unlimited plan, and it takes away even more: Tethering (e.g. Mobile Hotspot) is capped at 600kbps. There’s no 4G LTE for you, baby! 

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Don’t Believe Housing Market Lies

I once again see disturbing trends rearing their ugly heads in the U.S. housing market. Twelve years ago, I warned about the housing bubble long before it burst—then living in the Washington, D.C.-metro area. Now my vantage point is San Diego, where home prices soar and sales (finally) start to stagnate.

Justification, set against measurable trends, often is a fantastic measure that something is amiss.

Metaphor: In film “The Big Short“, set during last decade, a Florida real estate agent drives around a group of Wall Street investors trying to discern whether or not there is a housing bubble. As they pass property after property for sale, she explains: “The market is in an itsy-bitsy little gully right now”. Eh, yeah. That gully later became a giant sinkhole. This morning, I received a newsletter from a local realtor that claims: “Pending home sales were sluggish in April as low supply reared its head”. Crazy thing, I see plenty of inventory for sale—and for increasingly longer times today than four or five months ago. The newsletter’s assertion rings like a justification worth concern. 

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Fly the Unfriendly Skies

Spanning most of my career, whether working as analyst or journalist, I have repeatedly railed against how U.S. law treats businesses—essentially as people. Reason: Moral dichotomy, where the ethical priorities of publicly-traded companies vastly differ from—and often contradict with—values of the people founding, running, or working for them. Keyword is value, where one usage refers to beliefs and another to money; meaning stock price and proceeds returned to shareholders.

My first, best articulation of this concept came during an April 2006 radio interview—I believe for NPR marketplace—when discussing major U.S. search providers Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo censoring results in China, at the government’s insistence. Behind the action there loomed censorship’s morality, such as restricting search terms like “democracy”. I expressed that there is no moral high ground in business. The high ground is quagmire, because all public companies share a single, moral objective: Make profits for stockholders. Plain, pure, and simple. Sadly, that moral agenda explains why United Airline’s PR week from Hell is Heaven for shareholders. Overbooking means the carrier fills seats; operations are lean and mean (quite literally, the latter). 

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Let the Bears Eat Bear Stearns

I agree with Gretchen Morgenson, writing for the New York Times. The Fed shouldn’t bail out Bear Stearns. The fed crossed a line by keeping afloat a major architect of the housing debacle.

I wrote my first blog post about the housing bubble in August 2005, a year after deciding not to buy a home in the Washington, DC suburb of Bowie. It was already clear to me in summer 2004 that something akin to a repeat of the dot-com bubble was taking place in the housing market.

Had we bought in 2004, we would likely hold a mortgage that exceeds the house’s reduced value. We could never have moved to San Diego. 

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The Corporation

End of last week, I watched a startling documentary, which resonated well with some suspicions I already had. Staunch capitalists probably wouldn’t be moved by “The Corporation“, although hard-core liberals or even communists might delight in the documentary.

My response is neither political nor economic, but rooted in my sense of right, which in part defines good as putting the wellbeing of others above oneself. People or organizations that prosper by harming others do wrong. Many societies recognize cannibalism as wrong, yet those same peoples often do not recognize as wrong another kind of cannibalism: The consumption (or sacrifice) of one person’s livelihood or well being to support another person, group or organization. 

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Housing Bubble Myths Pop

For more than a year I’ve warned that the housing market would retreat with wicked vengeance, with reverberations moving through the US economy as it did earlier in other countries. Today’s Fortune story “Getting real about the real estate bubble” rips apart some of the myths sustaining the bubble.

Shawn Tully whacks the hell out of four bubble myths: “As long as job growth is strong, prices can’t go down”; “the builders learned their lesson in the last downturn. They won’t swamp the market with new houses when the market turns”; “low interest rates will keep values rising, or at the very least, put a floor under prices”; “restriction on development in the suburbs ensure low supply, and guarantee rising prices”. 

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The Empty Commandment

Late last summer, a rap rap brought me to the door and face to face with a Sierra Club fundraiser. I’ve done quite a bit of fundraising myself, and I deplore going house to house. People aren’t home or they rudely close the door. Those folks who take the time to talk often aren’t interested in donating, particularly, as in the case of Sierra Club, if some type of commitment is required. I respect the work the Sierra Club does and pitied this road-weary fundraiser, so I made a donation. For my money, I also got a subscription to Sierra magazine.

The September/October magazine arrived today and turned out to be better reading than some of the other issues. Opening Ways and Means column, “The Devil’s in the Retail: A cult of consumerism is sweeping the planet”, really caught my attention. Carl Pope, Sierra Club’s executive editor, starts by discussing a multi-denominational religious service he attended in San Francisco. Leaders of different faiths—Christians Hindus, Jews, and Muslims, among others—gathered in defiance of what they perceived as a common enemy.