Sunday, March 10, 2013

Still a believer

I've been in the investment business for 20+ years now and still manage to get caught up with believing my own cleverness rather than my own eyes.  As a CFA we create empirical models that examine an issue all ways into the future, past and even in a 'what-if' scenario.  Having done that we come up with a conclusion to sell this and buy that.  Its all very well but on days like today I do wonder if we all actually get out often enough and smell the roses.  If we did, we'd probably use a bit more common sense which often means an all new direction.

I'm in Toronto at the moment, a wonderful city, returning from Cayman to Bermuda the long way.  Why Toronto, people ask.  Well why not?  I like it a lot and I like Canadians too.  Its a great north American city with loads going on.  Nothing like New York, people may say.  That's right, I say even though I do like visiting the big apple.

There was a recent cowboy movie I saw on cable a month or so back concerning a gun slinger in the old west that was being pursued by a posse and nipped over the border into Canada to escape pursuit.  It was a prairie town in the middle of nowhere and this gun slinger of course headed straight to the saloon and picked a fight with a big guy who pummeled him unmercifully. Being a gun slinger he pulled his 45 and called the guy out.  Immediate bemusement was the result.

"Why would I want to do that?" said the Canadian guy.

"Because we have to settle things" said the gun slinger.

"We just did.  I beat you" said the Canuck.

"Well... we just gotta.  Go for your gun," said the gun slinger.

"Well its at home," said the Canadian.

"Why would you leave your gun at home for goodness sake?" said the gun slinger.

"Its not bear season," said the Canadian.

At that moment a number of his friends offered up their guns, choices being shot guns, hunting rifles and the like.  

"No, no," said the gun slinger.  "Hand guns.  Don't any of you have a hand gun?"

"Well, no," said some other guy in a slow voice.  "They don't slow a bear down none.  They only just get him riled up a bit.  Remember old Doug?" he said.

"Oh yes," said another.  "Shame about old Doug.  Those things only have a decent range of 10 feet and you don't want to let a bear come that close."

The point being of course these Canadian guys just couldn't figure out (a) why you wanted one of those short range hand guns that didn't aim straight and couldn't stop a bear and (b) why you wanted to shoot someone else anyway seeing there was only about 8 people in the whole darn township, each of whom had a specific job that they all depended on.  Hence the fist and lack of hand gun solution.

I don't remember how the movie ended up but the point is that I like Canada and Canadians as like New Zealanders they have an intensely practical outlook on life, get on with everyone and allow everybody to do pretty much anything they want.  All in North America too.  And they don't hassle you too much.

All this is a roundabout preamble to this post as today I went to possibly the best sports bar I have ever been to period.  And I've been to quite a few.  This is the Real Sports Bar next to the Air Canada Centre in downtown Toronto.  (That's another reason to like this city -- you can walk anywhere or get public transport that actually works to all the big venues).

The thing they brag about is that everyone really should be able to watch the BIG game on a 2 story high TV screen.  And having done so, I agree!

Great bar!
This being a Sunday, I walked back along the underground PATH network connecting the downtown area under ground to combat the awful cold weather and wandered through a relatively quiet Eaton Centre.  Having been through 2 football matches on 100+ screens playing 20+ different sports I was struck with a couple of big notions: (1) we have become a world of watchers not doers,  (2) content therefore is very, very valuable and (3) delivery systems are also very, very valuable.

None of these are earth shattering conclusions but they came one after another as troop after troop of families entered this sports bar rather than going outside to kick a football, hit a hockey puck or play some other game.  The fact that we've all got bigger too (and nothing to do with those 32 ounce soda mugs either) also militates more towards a sedentary approach to life sadly.  However that said the presence of all those plasma or LED screens also turned my thoughts to delivery systems: telecommunications, broadband and anything that can play content.

Yesterday being Saturday I'd also struggled through a jam packed Eaton Centre and found the most jam packed places to be the phone stands and of course the electronic shops.  I am casually thinking about changing my blackberry which has ceased working on the phone side for something better and wanted a smartphone of some sort.  Lord, there's a lot of them to choose from!

I waded through Best Buy, Wind, Fido and Kidoo trying to find an unlocked phone that would work around the world but being unable to decide that paying $500+ was a good idea (phone alone, not including the plan), I've come to the conclusion not to make a decision just yet.  That doesn't stop oodles of others getting stuck in and as I mentioned before the costs in so doing are not insignificant but people are still lining up to do so.  (One big reason to own phone company shares is their ability to generate huge amounts of cash flow which I witnessed yesterday in the Eaton Centre).

On my 50th birthday I and some friends went to New York for the weekend and we visited a new Apple store where the first iPods had just gone on sale.  The queues went around the block to get in.  One friend and I bought one, another checked his email (already had one) and the 4th called his broker up to buy the stock.  It was at $22 per share.

I thought I'd do a similar test on this Sunday afternoon and see who were doing the best.

The big Sony store was virtually empty.  Sony have had a dreadful time business wise losing money hand over fist for years now.  You could point your finger at the expensive Yen but I just think they've taken their eye off things and lost the plot.

I counted more staff than customers inside.  It was tea time I suppose...

The phone stores were empty too.  Yesterday they were jammed with people but today none were busy at all.

Bell Canada's shop on a Sunday afternoon.  All the phone stores were the same.

There was a new Microsoft stand in the middle of the floor selling the new Surface tablet and it was pretty much dead too.  Now Microsoft seems to have concluded that just selling their software isn't enough and that by not controlling the delivery as well, they were essentially giving up.  Like IBM, Microsoft aren't quitters and while I don't like the Surface and their software much, you have to give it to them for putting a lot of money where their mouth is.  I don't think they're there yet, but don't count them out just yet.  They'll eventually get it.

Late to the game, but don't count these guys out!

But the Apple store as always was just heaving with people.

Who's not buying Apple stuff?  Not these people.

So pundits pointing the finger at Apple and suggesting they are on their way out, can you please tell me why people who don't listen to you scream on the business channels or read your silly conclusions in the trash media simply don't care?  They are still voting with their feet and their pocket books.

Now where's my broker's number?

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