May 17, 2020

Wasted Promises


A long time ago, I was one of thousands of "GOTO" beta testers who routinely received invitations to play online game while they were still under development. I could easily go into great detail about how and why hundreds of games never made it out of beta testing. I could name dates, places, and people directly responsible for grave errors in execution that doomed these games.

But I won't. Some stories are better left in the dustbin of history.

I learned today that a very famous developer died a few years ago. I was wondering why I hadn't heard from him. There is no public information about the cause of his death. I won't speculate. A part of me is sorry to see him go, another part is not surprised.

My name wound up in a database for game testers back in the early nineties. I'm not quite sure how it happened. I often went to the Tokyo Game Show where I met many important personalities in the early days of persistent world online gaming and as result, I volunteered for a couple rounds of beta-testing. Before long I was receiving invites for games I'd never encountered. I lost count of how many games I tested a very long time ago. I haven't tested any games in about a decade now.

It was quite a shock to stumble across a familiar name. I can't call him a friend, but he was someone I heard from off and on all through the time surrounding 9/11.  Two or three years both before and after that tragic event he and I would exchange the occasional email about the potential of online gaming to change the world. He was seven or eight years younger than I am. Very ambitious. Very skilled in a variety of computer programming languages. He was a master of algorithms responsible for increasing frame rates without losing animation quality. He was also arrogant, condescending, and elitist.

I fought against cyber-bullying long before the word itself was invented. I argued long and hard against it in hundreds of game forums and USENET discussions. I could not believe the majority of people involved in these wonderful new realities were sadists of such high caliber. A decade ago I basically left gaming. My favorite game was canceled. The bullies had completely overrun every other game out there. Game companies had begun catering to the petty whims of the bullies at the expense of everyone else. And so we wind up in the modern age where the most popular and profitable games are all completely designed for and controlled by the most sadistic and infantile people that ever lived.

For most of my life, I believed humans were mostly good, generous, caring people who went out of their way to help the people around them. I believed in America because I believed in Americans: the most generous and helpful nation that had ever existed on planet Earth. We rebuilt nations we defeated in war. We fed people who humiliated and abused us in international gatherings. American generosity, creativity, and persistence inspired the rest of the world to try and be better people.

Somehow, the internet age has destroyed the greatness of America. I don't understand it. The most arrogant and condescending among us have grown in popularity around the world. Cynicism, sadism, and glorification of the most evil forms of human experience have risen to the top of the heap, drowning out the basic humanity of the entire world. Much of this cruelty originates right here in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Political leaders don't even pretend to care about the people anymore. They overtly and loudly advance doctrines and policies specifically designed to increase their bank accounts while impoverishing most Americans. The CIA and other "law enforcement" agencies routinely channel illegal narcotics into the American heartland in order to fund the overthrow of nations that challenge the profitability of global corporations, many of which are owned or operated by people with deep roots in ancient aristocracies.

I don't know what the future of the world looks like. I only know this is the not the global culture I have spent my entire life working to build. I fear for the generations yet to be born. I cannot even imagine the dystopian future that awaits them.

It did not have to be this way, but here we are, and I am too old to continue fighting.


May 08, 2020

Unexpected Windfall


As always, I am not recommending anyone purchase any particular stock. However, interest rates at banks are far below the rate of inflation. Keeping large amounts of money in your local bank causes the value to decline dramatically, even though the numbers grow ever so slowly. Therefore, I am recommending downloading Robinhood and investing in your favorite company, or perhaps companies. As a small incentive, if you use my link to download Robinhood, open an account, and deposit some money, you and I will both receive one free share of stock worth about $4. Here's my link:

https://join.robinhood.com/brianm3790
----------

Thursday morning I was in a panic. My savings were depleted. My unemployment insurance had been canceled because of comments by my previous employer. I was getting daily calls from companies I owe money. I had sent out nearly 200 resumes and received around 140 rejections, the rest had not replied at all. I was looking at my meager stock portfolio wondering if I would have to sell it off just to eat. I emptied my Coinbase account and took a long, hard look at the $200 in my Acorns account. I sat down and wrote Thursday's blog entry, "Moving Forward by Pulling Back". Despite my falling funds, I needed some groceries and cleaning supplies. I had a little money remaining on my Acorns "Spend" debit card, so I headed for Walmart.

Walmart had been completely rearranged. There were arrows on the floor controlling traffic and warning signs everywhere about social distancing. Almost everyone wore a homemade cloth mask. Customers and staff alike were rude and short-tempered. I got what I needed and got out of there as quickly as I could. Never in my life did I imagine a trip to Walmart could entail so much stress and discomfort.

I arrived back home, put away my groceries, poured a fresh cup of coffee, and sat down to check my accounts. I was very surprised to find a large deposit in my checking account. It turned out OJFS had reversed their earlier decision and settled in my favor. The deposit was four weeks of unpaid unemployment insurance, both federal and local. This was completely unexpected. I paid a couple of those bills, bringing the accounts up to date. Then I transferred 10% to my Robinhood account. One of the golden rules of investing is always pay yourself first. Technically, in this case I paid myself second, but close enough!

Naturally, I have been continuing to research companies for investing. Robinhood allows the creation of custom lists. I have a list of thirty-nine stocks that I follow. I compiled the list based on three criteria: less than $20 per share, some connection to cutting edge research, and hopefully a record of dividend payments. I purchased two new companies, FuelCell Engery (FCEL) and EndLink Midstream (ENLC). I also picked up 100 shares of Western Prime Group (WPG). At $0.72 a share it was at the second lowest price I have ever paid. Naturally, no one is paying dividends this quarter and probably not next quarter either. Not that it matters. Despite this unexpected opportunity to expand my portfolio, I am still in a defensive position and still planning on doing little or no trading for the next few months.

While not as diverse as it could be, my current portfolio is much more diverse than any of my earlier iterations:

My current portfolio:



May 04, 2020

Moving forward by pulling back


As always, I am not recommending anyone purchase any particular stock. However, interest rates at banks are far below the rate of inflation. Keeping large amounts of money in your local bank causes the value to decline dramatically, even though the numbers grow ever so slowly. Therefore, I am recommending downloading Robinhood and investing in your favorite company, or perhaps companies. As a small incentive, if you use my link to download Robinhood, open an account, and deposit some money, you and I will both receive one free share of stock worth about $4. Here's my link:

https://join.robinhood.com/brianm3790
----------

Despite the vast majority of the country being trapped at home due to "shelter-in-place" orders by state governors (or perhaps because of it!) volatility rocks the stock market on a daily basis. In the most recent news, a major retailer that millions of consumers depend on for products and millions of investors depend on for dividends, declared bankruptcy and sought legal protection from its bond holders (J. Crew files for Chapter 11).

Every day some new calamity or success rocks the market and my meager portfolio jumps or crashes right along with everything else. Last week, mostly through a series of trades on Wednesday and Thursday, I moved my portfolio into what I consider a "defensive" position. In my definition, "defensive" means focusing on companies I know well with proven track records of surviving multiple economic problems, companies that routinely offer innovative product lines that I am happy to buy or recommend, and companies that regularly publish a clear vision for their future. (Ford Motor Company, for example, is my ultimate safe haven.) A "defensive" position is a place I don't mind sitting on for months regardless of market turmoil while still remaining liquid enough that if I must, I can sell everything off and transfer the money into my checking account. The last time I was in a defensive position was March through November of 2019. This was my current portfolio at market close on Friday:

I will probably keep my portfolio in this condition until the crisis passes. I rode this volatility wave to the best of my ability, but now I am out of tools. Things are changing too rapidly for me to follow and there is no way I can do more with my limited knowledge and experience. It was a good run and I am content with my success. I have about $280 in cash available for either investing or withdrawal if some amazing deal suddenly appears or if I need a quick infusion of grocery money. I don't know what will happen as the summer unfolds, but I would much rather have my meager savings sitting in my Robinhood account than sitting in a bank savings account. Several friends have been suggesting different stocks to me, but for now, I think I am content to ride out the next few weeks in a defensive position and see what happens.



April 25, 2020

Disappointed but moving forward


As always, I am not recommending anyone purchase any particular stock. However, interest rates at banks are far below the rate of inflation. Keeping large amounts of money in your local bank causes the value to decline dramatically, even though the numbers grow ever so slowly. Therefore, I am recommending downloading Robinhood and investing in your favorite company, or perhaps companies. As a small incentive, if you use my link to download Robinhood, open an account, and deposit some money, you and I will both receive one free share of stock worth about $4. Here's my link:

https://join.robinhood.com/brianm3790
----------

Unfortunately, I was forced to end the experiment I started on December 19th. I held onto it as long as I could, but COVID-19 and my former employer have forced me to sell off stocks in order to keep my pantry full. It started almost three weeks ago when my former employer reported to Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services that I had been "fired for failure to meet job requirements." That was not the reason they gave me. I was told, "we are letting you go to pursue other opportunities." I am not sure what happened in the background, but OJFS reported to me that my unemployment insurance compensation was being canceled as a result of the report from my former employer. It wasn't much, $184 a week, but it kept the lights on. This meant I needed to get some cash into my bank account to cover automatic deductions for utilities and so on. This is why I sold off most of my 5G holdings a couple weeks ago. I locked in profits and prepared for the inevitable need to withdraw cash. I also experimented with Call Options on the hope I could turn them around quickly for another $20 or $50. That did not work, either. Life is like that sometimes.

Way back in December, when this experiment first started, my account was worth $539.40 and looked like this:

Over the next month I added cash and made additional purchases until I reached a peak of $932.94 on January 17th:

At that moment I was very enthusiastic. I felt I had made solid purchases. I had a reliable income from my job. The market was stronger than ever. The FCC had announced auction dates for 5G bandwidth. Rumors of a weird pneumonia in the Wuhan City, the heart of China's technology zone, were just beginning to percolate but no one was really worried about it.

A month later the market crashed and despite another cash infusion of $200 my portfolio had fallen so far it was worth only $866.29:

On March 1st I woke up with a sore throat and fever. As far as anyone knew, COVID-19 had not reached Ohio except for a handful of cases in Cleveland. My job required someone be present, no exceptions. There was no one to replace me if I called in sick. So I took some cold medicine and went to work. On March 2nd I woke up feeling even worse. Early in the day, about 10 or 11, I called in and started the elaborate process of notifying everyone important that I would not make it into work. At 4:15pm they called me back to inform me, "we are letting you go to pursue other opportunities."

A very strange way to fire someone, I think.

All that week I was terribly sick. Looking back now, I cannot help but wonder if I had COVID-19. There were no tests available, but many of my symptoms were consistent with published symptoms of the disease. I didn't go to a doctor, so it could have just been a seasonal flu. It was mostly in my throat and sinuses, not my lungs.

Once I got better enough to realize what had happened, I was very angry with my former employer. Not only had I cooperated in everything and learned an entirely new set of skills, the Friday before I had finally finished all the coursework to apply for a CDCA certification. The last requirement for the job was completed. All I needed to do was fill out the paperwork and pay the licensing fee. I had never in my life desired to work in recovery, but I had done the preparation work, done the job, and completely reorganized my life. Once I was well enough to think straight, I felt very cheated. Everything I had done and none of it mattered. For a company based on compassion it was a very cruel way to treat a reliable employee.

Ohio had not yet declared a quarantine, but I knew it was coming. I sold my truck and stocked up on food. I got all of my bills caught up. I added another $1000 to my Robinhood account. The bottom had fallen out of the market. On March 17th, after the deposit cleared, my Robinhood account looked like this:

Within days, Ohio was put on quarantine along with everyone else. I had high hopes. My pantry was full. My brokerage account was low, but stable. I applied for unemployment and received my first check. President Trump announced his stimulus package. I was not happy to be trapped at home. I was not happy with people suddenly depending on me to do their shopping and provide them a place to sleep. I was not happy with the string of automated replies from companies where I sent applications. Nonetheless, I rolled with the punches, spent a lot of time watching television, spent a lot of time studying the market, spent a lot of time trading stocks, and even bought a couple of Call Options.

Unfortunately, my former employer somehow managed to get OJFS to cancel my unemployment compensation. I don't know who I angered, but clearly someone at the company has decided I am scum of the Earth and is determined to do everything in their power to attack me. I don't think I'm being paranoid, but I suppose that's always possible.

Lacking any other options, I liquidated much of my portfolio and started the time-consuming process of returning cash to my bank account. In total, I have withdrawn $880. This leaves the current state of my account looking like this (April 25th, 10:08am):

Overall, I think the past four months have been a successful adventure in investing. Altogether, I profited about $220 from a cash infusion of $1535. Even now, after selling off all of my most promising stocks, my account balance is roughly twice what it was when I started on December 19th. Perhaps most important of all, I have cash back in my bank account to keep food in my pantry and the lights on. Clearly, I will never get rich trading stocks and options. Nonetheless, in a time of extreme risk and through one of the worst market collapses in history, I pocketed a small profit and kept my pantry full. I still need to find work after the quarantine ends. I still hope to add more money to my account and profit from 5G. I won't enjoy anything near the kind of success I had hoped for because I had to sell off the stocks I bought at rock bottom prices. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity and while I wasn't able to exploit it to the full advantage, I was able to get out with a small profit and positive balance in my account.

I hope everyone reading this did even better.


Amazon has canceled all Print On Demand services.
Therefore,
If you want to read my books you will need an Amazon Fire:


April 17, 2020

Call Options


As always, I am not recommending anyone purchase any particular stock. However, interest rates at banks are far below the rate of inflation. Keeping large amounts of money in your local bank causes the value to decline dramatically, even though the numbers grow ever so slowly. Therefore, I am recommending downloading Robinhood and investing in your favorite company, or perhaps companies. As a small incentive, if you use my link to download Robinhood, open an account, and deposit some money, you and I will both receive one free share of stock worth about $4. Here's my link:

https://join.robinhood.com/brianm3790
----------

This has been a very interesting week. Volatility in the market remains high, disguising a very slight but very definite upward trend in my meager portfolio. I moved some cash around, selling off stocks in a profit position, increasing my holdings in a couple positions, and buying my first two "Options". Late Friday night, long after the market had closed, I ordered Robinhood to transfer $600 back to my bank. There is a certain irony here. Back on December 19, 2019, when I began this current series of trades, my Robinhood account was just under $600. Through December, January, and February, I deposited $1535 in total, including $1000 from the sale of my truck. On February 20th, the market began a sharp decline that lasted just about one month. This was the sharpest, deepest percentage decline since 1929. This was my account on Friday, April 17, 2020 at about 10:00 in the morning:

At the very top of the screenshot above you will notice two Options. After some study, I decided to jump into the Option market and see how it goes. An "Option" is a contract to buy or sell 100 shares of a given company at a given price on a given date. A very simple explanation for a very complicated financial product with a whole host of laws and regulations governing its creation, the responsibilities of the person who creates it, the responsibility of the person who sells or buys it, and the responsibilities of the person who finally completes it. All of these regulations give rise to many different variables that must be considered when dealing with Options. For example, here is the complete data associated with the first option I purchased.:

There are two types of Option contracts. A contract to buy 100 shares of stock is a "Call Option". A contract to sell 100 shares of stock is a "Put Option". Every Option contract has a fixed price for the stock being offered. This price includes the premium associated with buying or selling the contract itself. The total of the agreed price plus the trading value is called the "Strike Price". When I purchased the option above, the premium for the expiration date I chose was $1.25 per share and the fixed price for the stock was $5.00, therefore the strike price for the Option at the moment I purchased it was $6.25. For as long as I own this Call Option, my breakeven point is a market price of $6.25 per share. This is the price I must receive in order to buy the stocks and then sell them without losing money or making money. Naturally, if the market price rises above $6.25, then I can make a profit by completing the contract and selling the stocks. This is called, "In the money". Below the Strike Price would be, "Out of the money," and at the strike price would be, "At the money".

The Option itself has a market value determined by a variety of different things. The time remaining until the expiration, the stock price obligated by the contract, the popularity of the company, and so on, are all different things that determine how much the Options Contract itself is trading for at any given time. This price is not as consistent as prices of normal stocks because volume in the Options market is usually much lower than the normal stock market. Most often, this price exists as a spread dependent upon the existing bids. The current market value displayed at the top (in this case, $1.33 per share) is the median point between the bids and offers currently existing in the market. For example, if you slide down the screenshot above to the section labeled, "Stats", you will see the current spread for this Call Option is $1.31 to $1.35. At the moment this screenshot was captured, there were 7 bids with a median value of $1.31 per share and 3 offers asking $1.35 per share.

At the bottom of every Option display in Robinhood is a section labeled, "The Greeks". I have not finished researching exactly how to interpret these figures, so I will try to go into them in detail at a later date. Basically, the four are statistically derived numbers indicating factors such as expected volatility, expected price movement, and so on.

Some quick references:
myStockOptions: Options 101
Robinhood: Investing with Options



April 11, 2020

One last reorganization


As always, I am not recommending anyone purchase any particular stock. However, interest rates at banks are far below the rate of inflation. Keeping large amounts of money in your local bank causes the value to decline dramatically, even though the numbers grow ever so slowly. Therefore, I am recommending downloading Robinhood and investing in your favorite company, or perhaps companies. As a small incentive, if you use my link to download Robinhood, open an account, and deposit some money, you and I will both receive one free share of stock worth about $4. Here's my link:

https://join.robinhood.com/brianm3790
----------

A week ago yesterday I reorganized my portfolio. This past week, I reorganized it again. I keep doing more research. I keep reading more newsletters. I keep modifying my existing strategy for long-term growth. On April 4th, my top priority was locking in existing profits, grabbing some cheap stocks with solid upward potential, and holding about $400 cash in my account in case I needed it. The end result looked like this:

More research last week indicated that a couple of the companies I had chosen did not have the upward potential I expected. Either their market was too limited or their balance sheet carried excessive debt coupled with insufficient genuine revenue. In one case, both situations existed. So I dropped several stocks on Tuesday, managing to lock in a small amount of profit on each. Altogether it came to less than $10, but at least none of them left at a loss.

On Wednesday I found a newsletter specifically focused on high-dividend stocks. Even better, the editor and founder of that newsletter had just published a report on the potential of certain 5G related stocks to pay good dividends far into the future. Notice the word, "potential". Naturally, neither the editor nor myself would ever imply unequivocal future growth. No one knows what will happen in the future. After all, just consider the huge and fast market drop experienced after February 20th as a result of the COVID-19 quarantine. No one except a few members of a select committee in the U.S. Congress saw that coming. Those committee members took advantage of their early knowledge to liquidate their stock holdings on February 14th, the Friday before the February 17th announcements of the majority of state quarantines. A month later, March 17, almost all of the quarantines that would go into effect were in effect. The imposition of nationwide quarantine guidelines caused every investor, whether institutional or individual, to scramble for safe cover. We were not quite at the level of Revelation Chapter 6, but the amount of desperation felt far and wide certainly approached it.

Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?”
----Revelation 6:15-17

On Friday, March 13th, Marc Lichtenfeld of The Oxford Club had this to say:

Stress about financial matters breaks up marriages, causes health problems and is miserable to live through. We've all been there.

So if knowing that your time horizon is long enough to make back potential losses and that trailing stops will protect your capital isn't enough to keep you calm, don't expose yourself to the market or that stress.

Having a plan in advance of a bear market will make it much easier to withstand when it finally arrives.

Even the experts with decades of experience were expecting stocks to come crashing down and never hit bottom. Fortunately, about two weeks ago they did start recovering. I was satisfied with my initial reorganization, but something felt off. I couldn't quite stomach having sold out of Marvell Semiconductor, for example, even though I cleared nearly $50 just from that one sale. About 25% of the profit I secured the first week of April was from that one stock. Nonetheless, I was looking around for something just as good, but hopefully a bit cheaper. After searching around awhile, subscribing to another newsletter, and selling off the companies with structural flaws my initial research had not revealed, my portfolio now looks like this:

Every single stock pays a dividend of some kind, although most of them won't return to paying dividends until after the COVID-19 crisis finally burns itself out sometime in June or July. Almost all of them are linked to the coming surge in 5G construction and use. Some are REITs controlling land and towers, some are makers of tower components or router components, some are industries certain to benefit from massive improvements in communication. I can honestly assert that no one alive knows how high or how quickly these companies will grow once we exit the COVID-19 crisis. Granted, it is entirely possible that COVID-19 will be even worse than expected, Anuk Karakatoa and her sister volcanoes might detonate triggering another ice age, or whatever. No one can predict the future, either good or bad. However, if things do get worse and modern civilization faces a complete collapse, everything including gold will become worthless and we will all be bartering vegetables for bread in order to survive. The stock market is still has more potential for growth and profit than precious metals, and far more potential than time deposits at your local bank. If you can afford to invest in the stock market, even $20 or $50, now is the time to do it.

In closing, it was a pretty good week, despite volcanoes, viruses, and wildfires. My portfolio is once again above my breakeven point and I have about $400 cash sitting in my account to either spend on groceries or invest in bargain-priced stocks.


Weekly

Monthly

April 05, 2020

Reorganizing My Portfolio


As always, I am not recommending anyone purchase any particular stock. However, interest rates at banks are far below the rate of inflation. Keeping large amounts of money in your local bank causes the value to decline dramatically, even though the numbers grow ever so slowly. Therefore, I am recommending downloading Robinhood and investing in your favorite company, or perhaps companies. As a small incentive, if you use my link to download Robinhood, open an account, and deposit some money, you and I will both receive one free share of stock worth about $4. Here's my link:

https://join.robinhood.com/brianm3790
----------

On Friday I made a bold and somewhat risky decision. I decided to lock in the few profits I had made over the past three months and wait until Monday to re-evaluate the current market. I sold every stock in my portfolio currently in a profit position, except for Marathon Petroleum (MPC). Over the past two weeks my meager portfolio regained many of it losses, but only a handful of stocks were consistently rising. All through Friday, everyone who is anyone, including all of the editors of the investing newsletters I receive, predicted another precipitous drop next week. Part of the problem is those 90% of institutional investors now completely dependent on AI were all issuing more sell orders than buy orders. It never pays to bet against the house. If the bots are moving into precious metals and bonds then the next couple weeks are going to make thousands of Doomsday Preppers very happy.

I sold off five stocks, Veon (VEON), GoPro (GPRO), Energy Transfer (ET), Limelight Networks (LLNW), and Marvell (MRVL). This gave me a new cash balance of $663.70. When the market closed I received an interest payment of $0.03 from Robinhood based on the cash balance held during the month of March, bringing my total cash balance to $663.73, with $660.42 immediately available. My current breakeven point is still basically $2100. I'm not going to worry about three cents. I do have a dividend payment from Marvell coming worth $1.20. I will probably receive it next week sometime. Everyone else has temporarily suspended dividend payments to cover debt servicing during the COVID-19 pandemic. The profit from those five sales is about $180, plus or minus the price of a good cup of coffee. Doubling everything in my portfolio immediately after selling my truck helped put all five of these stocks into the profit position. Receiving one free share of GoPro from a referral also helped. My current portfolio value looks like this:

Naturally, I am hoping that this week everyone's gloomy predictions will come true and I will be able to buy back all of these stocks at even cheaper prices than I sold them, thus increasing the number of shares in each. However, my personal bank account is hovering very near zero and there is no hope of finding a new job until the COVID-19 "shelter-at-home" order ends at 12.01am on May 1st. This puts me in a very difficult position. Do I use the $660 in cash to buy groceries and pay bills? Do I risk starvation and losing my home by putting that cash back into the market at the earliest possible moment? Do I just let everything sit exactly the same way for the next two weeks and watch what happens? Everyone's life has this moments of high suspense and stress. I am not lying awake at night worrying about it, but it is a very tense situation.

In military circles everyone knows, "the best strategy never survives the first moment of contact". I cannot predict the future, no one can. If the market rebounds next week the five stocks I sold are one hundred percent certain to be leading the pack and I will have lost out on the possibility for huge profits. "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush," always, so I took my profit and let the potential for even greater profits escape. If those two birds fly off, then I will have made the right decision. If they hang around and watch me nibble on the one bird, then I will just have to grin and bear it. On the other hand, if the market continues collapsing, that cash will come in very handy for snatching back those stocks at bargain prices, or even investing in new ones. In closing, here is my current portfolio:



April 03, 2020

Throw everything in a big pot and boil it up


A long time ago, before much of the world today was even born, I was watching an aunt with vivid memories of 1931 make soup from scratch. First, she made a thick broth by boiling down chicken and ham bones in a pot of water until the smaller bones all dissolved and the larger ones were soft as sponges. Then she started grabbing meats and vegetables she had canned herself the year before and tossed them into the pot.

"Aunty," I asked innocently, "How do you know what to add?"

"Sometimes," she replied, "you just have to throw everything into a big pot and boil it up."

So there I was on a slow Thursday morning. The day before the governor of Ohio had announced that the current "stay-at-home" order would remain in effect until May 1st. I never imagined I would live to see the day millions of Americans would be denied the freedom to assemble, the freedom to conduct business, and the freedom to worship. A simple virus originating from a wet market in China has discarded our Constitution and put us on Martial Law without any real debate or challenge. Fortunately, I had just enough warning to stock up the pantry, so I have plenty of food that will remain edible even if the power fails.

What does a country boy do when trapped at home with a pantry full of canned food?

"...throw everything in to a big pot and boil it up."

In this case, "everything" includes:
32 ounce package of pre-made chicken broth
12 ounce bag of tricolor, Fusilli noodles
14 ounce can of salmon
14 ounce can of seasoned cabbage
14 ounce can of squash with Vidalia onions
1/2 teaspoon of clove
1/2 teaspoon of coriander
1/2 teaspoon of cardamom
1/2 teaspoon of garlic pepper

First grab a big pot! Pour the pre-made broth into the pot, fill the package with water and add it to the broth. Put the burner on high. Open, drain, and then add the canned salmon, cabbage, and squash. Add the spices. Bring everything to a boil while stirring slowly but constantly. When the mixture begins to boil, turn down the burner to about half or a little lower. Rinse and drain the noodles then add them to the pot. Continue cooking and stirring for at least 15 minutes. 20 or 30 minutes might actually be better. The important point is to give everything time to blend together while the noodles soften. The cabbage will probably dissolve and the salmon will break up into tiny flakes. This is a good thing.

Turn off the heat and serve! Should easily feed a family of four or five. For couples or singles, add one cup of water and reheat to a rigorous boil every time you have a bowl.

I don't really have a name for this concoction. It's a variety of Mulligan Stew, of course. Like any proper Mulligan Stew, it is both filling and nutritious. The spices are delicate but clearly noticeable, the combination of salmon and chicken broth is very interesting, and the noodles help provide bulk to make it filling.



April 02, 2020

Is COVID-19 a Weaponized Virus?



Image Source: Wikipedia Image Library

There are numerous videologgers and bloggers posting wild speculations concerning the possibility that COVID-19 is actually a bioweapon. For evidence they like to cite television dramas, movies, novels, or psychic predictions about pandemics featuring the coronavirus family. Any decent science fiction writer who takes on the task of writing about bioweapons has spent many hours researching viruses. The examples these "social critics" are pulling from fiction and speculation simply reflect diligent writers who have done their homework and understand a few basic concepts about immunology and epidemiology.

The "coronavirus" is a family of viruses common to reptiles and smaller bodied mammals. It has a certain genetic similarity (thus it is a "family" of viruses) and attacks a similar portion of the body. Normally it attacks the lungs, causing them to fill with mucus. It has been labeled "coronavirus" because the virus itself is covered in spikes resembling the coronal surface of the Sun.

Swine flu and Avian flu have properties that make it easier for them to mutate in a way allowing them to jump into a human host. Coronavirus has a difficult time mutating in a way that makes it viable in large-bodied mammals or humans. However, when it does make the leap it can be particularly deadly, such as in the SARS and MERS outbreaks over the past couple decades.

COVID-19 stands for "coronavirus disease 2019". This particular variety of coronavirus made the leap to humans in November or December 2019, possibly at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market where wild animals are butchered and sold for meat. Wet markets are filthy, blood-soaked places, making it easy for viruses and bacteria to pass through multiple generations in a very short time. Whether weaponized or natural, a virus is a living lifeform and like any lifeform it mutates constantly. Since a virus is a very simple lifeform, mutations can occur very rapidly with each mutation either helping or hindering its survival.

Yes, there is always the possibility that COVID-19 was weaponized in a lab somewhere, but it is extremely unlikely. As a weapon, this virus has only limited effectiveness because it is least effective in young adults and adolescents, the group any genuine bioweapon would be specifically designed to target.


Some useful links:
CDC: Human Coronavirus Types
ASM: 2019 Novel Coronavirus
Wikipedia: Coronaviruses
NIH: Coronavirues
WHO: COVID-19


March 28, 2020

Almost breaking even again


As always, I am not recommending anyone purchase any particular stock. However, interest rates at banks are far below the rate of inflation. Keeping large amounts of money in your local bank causes the value to decline dramatically, even though the numbers grow ever so slowly. Therefore, I am recommending downloading Robinhood and investing in your favorite company, or perhaps companies. As a small incentive, if you use my link to download Robinhood, open an account, and deposit some money, you and I will both receive one free share of stock worth about $4. Here's my link:

https://join.robinhood.com/brianm3790
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By now everyone knows that President Donald J. Trump signed into law a precedent-setting stimulus bill. I won't go into all the things I like or dislike about this bill, nor will I go into how I expect it to impact our economy. The justification for this unprecedented citizen and small business relief fund was to counter the economic damage created by forcing bars and restaurants all across the United States of America to shut down in an effort to prevent COVID-19 patients from overloading our fragile healthcare system. Many different states, including my home state of Ohio, have either requested or ordered their citizens to remain home until mid-April. The general theory being that keeping everyone isolated at this time will stretch out the contagion curve over time allowing the healthcare system to ramp up for and serve the huge number of cases that COVID-19 is expected to create. Part of the reason the stock market (and my meager portfolio) has collapsed this year is an expectation that forcing people to stay home and forcing businesses to temporarily close will cause extensive damage to the profit margins of any business large enough to be publicly traded on the exchanges. People cannot work, therefore people cannot earn money, therefore people cannot consume, therefore corporations cannot sell. Naturally if corporations cannot sell they cannot earn profits. To counter this, the federal government will pour two trillion dollars of non-existent money into the American economy.

By close of business Tuesday everyone who buys and sells stocks was certain the bill would pass and be signed into law. This had a very predictable impact on my meager portfolio:

After bouncing around throughout the remainder of the week, often rising above my breakeven point of $2100, the market finally closed on Friday just a whisper below my breakeven point. This current portfolio began on December 19th with $600 in stocks and an expectation of receiving another $40 in dividends by the end of January. Dividend payments and further cash deposits have brought it to it's current breakeven point of $2100. Along the way I doubled the number of stocks owned in every company, reduced my average cost per share in every company, and added a couple more companies including General Moly (GMO), a mining company based in the United States of America that produces the highest quality molybdenum in the world. Here is my current portfolio:

And here is the current value of my portfolio:

As you can see, this week has been a huge boost for the value of my meager portfolio. After spending two months deep in loss territory, my portfolio has risen almost to the breakeven point. About two-thirds of my stocks are now in profit positions, even if only slightly. The final third are either in loss positions or at the new, lower average cost per share achieved by doubling my portfolio a couple weeks ago. This is an historic moment in the history of the stock market. I hope everyone who had any extra cash laying around was able to get into the market before Wednesday. From here on out I expect to see a strong, steady climb upward for the next two months followed by an explosion upward as more and more people realize the importance of this moment in history. Granted, no one can predict the future, so everything could easily drop through the floor.

One of the factors making the future paradoxically both more and less predictable than in the past is that 90% of the transactions in the contemporary market are actually handled by computers. No human ever intervenes. This innovation was supposed to "rationalize" the market, making it safer for the 10% who, like me, manage their own transactions. However, the AI algorithms that control these transactions follow predictable curves in response to everyday news headlines. They are programmed this way to protect the assets of large investing firms such as Vanguard and Wisdom Tree, firms that specialize in creating and marketing ETFs (exchange traded funds) which are bought and sold just like ordinary stocks. ETFs are "baskets" of different companies. The actual buying and selling of individual stocks is performed by the marketing company. This provides investors a layer of safety, but also exposes investors to enormous tax complications. For many investors this is a fair trade and they are happy to hold ETFs rather than individual stocks. If you have a company-managed retirement account of some kind, it is probably primarily invested in ETFs.

I strongly suspect that never again in my lifetime will stocks fall as low as they did at the end of February and beginning of March. This period in time will be studied by economics and finance students for generations to come. It has been very exciting to be an active participant in the turmoil of the past three months. Annoying, heart-stopping, and stressful beyond belief, but then, all good adventures stop your heart at least momentarily, that is why we call them, "adventures". From here on out there will be more peaks and valleys, until sooner or later we experience another one of those explosive upswings that predicate a huge collapse, but never again will stocks fall to the levels we have seen these past three months. Anyone who bought stocks during this collapse is guaranteed to make at least a small profit in the years ahead. There will be individual companies whose stock price falls into loss territory as a result of bad management, changing technology, or changes in consumer priorities, but the possibility of the entire market falling to these levels is almost impossible to envision.



March 25, 2020

Homebrew Mulligan Stew


I posted a couple pictures of the meals I've been cooking during the Ohio, "Shelter in place" order to Facebook. To my great surprise, the response was overwhelming. Everyone wanted to know more. A few people even asked, only half in jest, if I could bring them a portion! The most popular was a pot of soup that I literally threw together from things grabbed out of the pantry.

"Mulligan Stew" is a style of cooking older than any civilization on Earth. In a very real sense, the very first food anyone ever cooked more complicated than meat on a stick would have been some form of Mulligan Stew. The name comes from the railroad camps of the 19th Century. Irish railroad workers would throw whatever they could find into a large pot and boil it up. If they had any wild game or dried meat, they would add it to the pot. Flour was not common, nor was starch, so thickening agents were not common. As a result, sometimes Mulligan Stew was very watery and sometimes it was very thick. The taste was always a gamble.

Homebrew Mulligan Stew

1 – 32 ounce package broth
1 – 12 ounce package noodles
1 – 12 ounce can smoked ham
3 carrots
1 celery heart
¼ teaspoon coriander
¼ teaspoon cardamom
¼ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon garlic-pepper (saltless)

Pour broth into a large cooking pot or Dutch oven. Fill broth package with water and add to pot. Heat on high.

While the broth/water is heating up, chop vegetables and ham. When broth/water begins to steam (just before boiling), add chopped ingredients and spices. Bring to a full boil while stirring.

Once mixture is at a full boil, reduce heat to about half or until hard boiling stops. Rinse noodles thoroughly in clean water. Add noodles to the pot. Stir continuously for about fifteen minutes or until noodles are soft. Vegetables will still be firm.

If you prefer softer vegetables, cook until they are soft, then add noodles and cook for another fifteen minutes.



March 22, 2020

Bargain shopping the equity fire sale


As always, I am not recommending anyone purchase any particular stock. However, interest rates at banks are far below the rate of inflation. Keeping large amounts of money in your local bank causes the value to decline dramatically, even though the numbers grow ever so slowly. Therefore, I am recommending downloading Robinhood and investing in your favorite company, or perhaps companies. As a small incentive, if you use my link to download Robinhood, open an account, and deposit some money, you and I will both receive one free share of stock worth about $4. Here's my link:

https://join.robinhood.com/brianm3790
----------

My current break-even point is $2040. Last week I sold my truck and added $1000 to my Robinhood account. I doubled up on all of my current holdings. I added Marathon Oil (MPC), Energy Transfer (ET) and Veon (VEON). Energy Transfer is an interesting company. It used to be two different companies but they merged together back in the fall of 2018. I know this because I bought stock in each of the two without realizing the merger was already in the process of taking place. After they merged, the stock price jumped by almost 20%, so I sold it and haven't looked at it since. After I doubled all of my current holdings I had some cash left over and I was looking around for something to buy. I was shocked to discover that ET, which I had sold for $14.28 a share in November of 2018 was now under $6 a share! I snatched up ten shares at $5.25 a share. No one can predict the future, of course, but I feel like a Black Friday shopper who snagged a 60" television for $99.

I subscribe to The Oxford Communique, a weekly newsletter about the stock market. It dumps a lot of junk mail in my inbox, but it also alerts me to many important developments long before the news gets reported in print or on television. One of the "junk mail" it drops almost daily is a sales pitch for another newsletter called, "The Oxford Income Letter". I was greatly surprised one day last week to find their latest sales pitch for this publication included a link to the March issue, for free! Information is the most valuable commodity on Earth, worth far more than precious metals or fuels. When one of the most important financial researchers in the world wants to give me a free newsletter I'm certainly going to open it and read it!

The March edition of "The Oxford Income Letter" introduced three different companies that have solid financial reports and a history of consistent dividend payments. One of the companies they presented was a Russian telecommunications company headquartered in Amsterdam. I was surprised to learn that Veon has deep market penetration into Central Asia, especially Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, two countries routinely overlooked by most of the world. Both countries have nascent capitalist economies, fairly corrupt governments, a population that is getting younger demographically while the rest of the world is getting older, and a profound hunger for everything modern. No matter what happens over the next few months as COVID-19 kills thousands before eventually burning itself out, both of these countries are poised to explode economically once the crisis passes. I snatched up 20 shares at $1.28 each.

I still had some cash leftover. Not a whole lot, but enough that letting it sit idle at 1.25% annualized rate did not appeal to me. After doing more hours of hard research than I care to admit to, I threw my hands up in the air and bought another 10 shares of Ford Motor Company at $4.26 per share, bringing my new average price down to $6.10 per share. Ford Motor Company at $6.10 a share is another bargain comparable to snatching up a big screen television for $99.

My current portfolio now looks like this:

In the background, while I was shopping around for bargains, the market actually began recovering from the deep dive of the past two months. When I resurfaced enough to check my overall value, I was surprised to find that instead of hovering around $1450, my portfolio had risen to over $1700! Remember, my break even point is $2040. The low point before I added $1000 was around $430, just under as I recall. Most of my stocks are still far below the average purchase price. However, 4 or 5 of them have recovered quite well. GoPro, for example. My average purchase price is $2.04, partly because the first share I received free when a friend used my link to join Robinhood. The current price is $2.48, putting me in a rather comfortable profit position even though the strong recovery stages haven't even begun yet. Veon, which I picked up at an average price of $1.28 per share is now worth $1.40 per share, putting me in a small, but very pleasant profit position for a stock I bought only a couple days ago in the midst of a market sell-off! Marathon Petroleum is another stock I bought because the market price has fallen so far I just could not let it pass. My average cost is $17.57, but the current market value is $18.51, that's an $18.72 total profit should I choose to sell (which I won't).

Remember, I'm not suggesting you copy my portfolio. I am simply relating my experience as 2020 unfolds. This current experiment began on December 19th with $600 and about $20 of expected dividends due to arrive in a few weeks. Between further deposits and dividend payments, my break-even point is now $2039.97, or $2040, as I usually say. After opening strong in January, COVID-19 sent my portfolio into a tailspin (along with the rest of the market). Nonetheless, at every possible moment I kept adding cash and buying stocks. I still believe 2020 is going to see gigantic gains in the market. However, realistically, the COVID-19 crash might have delayed the most explosive growth until 2021. No one knows, of course, because no one can predict the future, but I am trying to stay optimistic!



March 17, 2020

The buying opportunity of a lifetime


As always, I am not recommending anyone purchase any particular stock. However, interest rates at banks are far below the rate of inflation. Keeping large amounts of money in your local bank causes the value to decline dramatically, even though the numbers grow ever so slowly. Therefore, I am recommending downloading Robinhood and investing in your favorite company, or perhaps companies. As a small incentive, if you use my link to download Robinhood, open an account, and deposit some money, you and I will both receive one free share of stock worth about $4. Here's my link:

https://join.robinhood.com/brianm3790
----------

It has been a tumultuous couple of weeks. My last post was ten days ago. Since then, a strain of coronavirus called, "COVID-19" has spread around the globe causing sickness and death in dozens of countries. Some are faring worse than others, and some are faring better, but clearly this is the opening stages of a genuine global pandemic. So here I sit, unemployed, broke, and considering the very real possibility that very soon all movement will be forcibly stopped and everyone in the United States will be effectively on house arrest. My most immediate need was cash. My easiest asset to transform into cash was my truck. I hate selling things. The phone calls, the inquiries, the endless low-ball offers from people looking to resell your treasures, I hate all of it. So I decided to experiment with Facebook Marketplace.

I was taken completely by surprise. Within 15 minutes of listing my truck on Facebook Marketplace yesterday I had an instant message asking for more photos. I assured the person I would put up more photos in the morning. He immediately replied he had cash, was ready to buy, and would like to look at it today if the other photos were consistent with the one I had already posted. I had an appointment today about an hour out of town, so I got up early, took some more photos, posted them, and messaged him to let him know. By the time I returned from my appointment he was overflowing with enthusiasm and pleading to see the truck today. We set an appointment to meet at my house at 3pm. It took him less than five minutes to agree to pay full price. We went to the bank, got the title notarized, and I deposited the cash in my checking account. Naturally, there were other offers, but he was the first and most enthusiastic.

When I returned home the very first thing I did was transfer $1000 to my Robinhood account. Unfortunately, I missed market close by about three minutes, so I won't be able to buy more stocks until tomorrow. This moment in time is the opportunity of a lifetime. Not only has COVID-19 sent prices sliding to an unexpected, depression-level low, despite the economic disruption by the virus, in all likelihood America will be back on track and growing by the end of June, and possibly the end of May. The bull market we are still in the middle of is still anticipating a massive explosion in growth sometimes called a "melt-up". We cannot have a true market crash without a preceding melt-up dramatically distorting values to the top side. It would be historically unprecedented. This "crash" related to the COVID-19 economic disruption is a much deeper correction than anyone anticipated, but the core values of American industry are still intact. Every major corporation has been sitting on cash reserves waiting for the inevitable melt-up and collapse.

Naturally, any anticipation of market movement is speculative. Clearly, no one expected the spread of COVID-19, the damage it would do, and the temporary market collapse it would inspire. Myself, I had hoped that by the end of March my meager $1040 portfolio would double in value with an explosion to the upside in late July. I was anticipating an almost exponential arc beginning in March and peaking in August. It is obvious to everyone now, including myself, how completely wrong I was. That's okay. This unexpected collapse has presented me with a golden opportunity to dramatically reduce my average cost per share. Just look how far I have fallen over the past three months:

This arc is the mirror image of my expectation. I was anticipating an almost identical shape, except to the upside, not the downside. Instead of doubling, my portfolio has been cut in half. However, this is not a bad thing. Rather, this is a golden opportunity, one that I never would have guessed would be offered to me. Most of the drop has taken place in the last month:

We are in the very early stages of the impact of COVID-19 on the American economy. However, today President Donald J. Trump and his staff announced a wide-ranging economic stimulus package including direct payments to American workers temporarily displaced by COVID-19 related restrictions on travel and assembly. I am not going to go into all the things I find politically disturbing about the imposition of these restrictions. However, it would be dishonest for me to imply I agree with everything the government is doing. I do not. I do think this stimulus package will be very helpful, provided it is a one-time use of government largess to alleviate temporary suffering. I would oppose permanent or even annual government interventions in movement, freedom of assembly, economic independence, and so on. For better or for worse, most people disagree with me. Most people seem to believe the government should in fact, regularly impose these restrictions right alongside passing out massive amounts of cash to anyone and everyone. As a result, in the last hour of trading and into the aftermarket period my meager portfolio experienced a massive leap upward:

I am not at all happy about this. First thing tomorrow I will be purchasing additional shares in the companies I already own. I will still get them at prices far below what I would have paid in the opening weeks of January. This is a good thing, of course. However, already, just today, that discount has been halved. Granted, no one knows what will happen in the morning. It is entirely possible an hour after the market opens share prices will be far below where they closed today. Unfortunately for me, and very fortunately for people who have already retired, it is equally possible an hour after the market opens values will be right back where they were the second week of January. Either way, I am still convinced there will be explosive growth in the market just before or just after the presidential election in November. Therefore, it does not matter what happens to prices tomorrow, my plan is to double my share totals in every company I currently own. Even if it does not pay off before year-end, five years from now it will definitely make a huge difference in the value of my portfolio. Even better, it will double the dividend payouts in the four or five stocks I own simply for their dividends.

In closing, instead of posting my current portfolio today I will post it tomorrow or the next day after I have made my purchases. I will also try to offer some thoughts about what happens in the market tomorrow. Good or bad, tomorrow is destined to be one of the most memorable days in the history of the New York Stock Exchange. I feel privileged to be in this place, at this time, participating in this market.