July 10, 2020

A very busy couple of weeks


The past few weeks I have been focused on photography. I have 130 images uploaded to Pixta now, and about 40 images uploaded to Adobe Stock. Unfortunately, I realize this is a far cry from the hundreds of thousands that a professional stock photographer has online at any given time. On the plus side, I am slowly becoming comfortable working with Adobe Lightroom Classic. The cloud version of Adobe Lightroom locks up my computer and crashes my router, which is very strange and totally impossible, and yet, it has happened a dozen times now. Therefore, I am forced into using the Classic version. One good benefit of the Classic version is there are far more tools and functions available than in the cloud version. I suppose it's not a bad trade-off, and to be honest, it doesn't annoy me at all because I have very little use for the cloud functionality of the newer Lightroom CC. I archive everything on OneDrive anyway, so I already have the ability to access my work from any and every device that falls into my hands.

This is one of the many photos I worked on in Lightroom. The first one is the original photo, the second is retouched with Lightroom Classic. Yes, I know, I still have a lot to learn.


I was on Amazon the other day, writing a review for a bad book about winemaking and searching for a good book about winemaking. I happened to stumble across an interesting item, a "Paisen" brand tenor ukulele. It was quite pretty, very cheap, and came with a handful of useful accessories including a chromatic tuner. I happened to have just a tiny bit of extra cash sitting in my checking account. I was trying to decide if I wanted to send it to Robinhood, but when I saw the Paisen ukulele, I decided that would be a much better use for the extra cash.

Naturally all this photography and reading and music has not left much time for looking after my meager portfolio. I did manage a couple dividend capture trades. I will receive the dividends for those trades in August. Today is Friday and I really didn't feel like thinking about anything related to money or investing or stocks over the weekend, so I sold everything off and put the cash into VEON. Currently trading between $1.77 and $1.80, VEON has a history of paying out three dividends per year and so far in 2020 they have only paid two. Their most recent dividend was $0.15 per share. I bought 250 shares. I probably could have bought 260, but I liked the even 250 number and another ten shares wouldn't make much difference in the long run. That leaves just about enough cash for a cup of coffee somewhere.

A very busy couple of weeks. Not very profitable, but fairly productive. I don't know what the future will bring, but I suspect things are going to get very bad, very quickly. I am 59 years old. I have walked the streets and valleys of places most people can't even find on a map. I have even been to a few places that you won't find on Google Maps no matter how hard you try. I guess they don't really exist? Anyway, I'm tired. If modern civilization has decided to finally and completely self-destruct, I'm going to sit back and watch it burn. Instead of a fiddle, I'll be noodling away on my ukulele.



June 23, 2020

Dividend Capture as a Strategy for Small Investors


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, life seldom goes according to plan. At least, my life never seems to follow the plans I make. Perhaps my ability to strategize and make plans is poorly developed? Perhaps life just enjoys throwing me to the sharks? I don't know. Two unexpected expenses arrived, which I won't go into here, forcing me to sell off my Ford Motor Company stock and withdraw about $620 from my Robinhood account. This dropped my balance back down to an even $500, exactly where I was on December 19th when I first started blogging about Robinhood. I had a couple of options at that point: I could leave everything alone and let my CNOOC shares collect dividends while the valuation followed the tumultuous market we have now, I could withdraw everything and give up completely, or I could play around with Dividend Capture and see what kind of improvement (if any) I could pull out of my meager $500 balance.

I decided to head back to the NASDAQ Dividend Calendar and see what kind of trouble I could make for myself by trying to grab some dividends. "Dividend capture" is a strategy I briefly discussed in two earlier posts. In many ways, it is an ideal strategy for accounts with small balances. This is particularly true of impatient people like myself who cannot simply buy stocks and hold onto them until they die. The two earlier posts where I discuss Dividend Capture are here:

A Curious Development in China and Chinese Oil
Dividend Capture from Three Fossil Fuel Related Stocks

The CNOOC investment itself worked out pretty well for me. I paid $345.81 to buy three shares at $115.27 each. I sold those same three shares for $366.81 at $122.27 each for a net profit of $21.00. I bought the shares on June 1st and I sold them on June 5th. $21.00 is not a huge profit, until you consider it takes about ten minutes to check the NASDAQ Dividend Calendar for a likely candidate, about twenty seconds to place an order with Robinhood (buy and sell, so forty seconds total), and I held the shares for only 5 days. Investing with Robinhood might not be a new career for me, but it is certainly more profitable than half an hour watching television and also far more profitable than a five-day time deposit at my local bank. Additionally, I earned $15.61 in dividends, for a total profit of $36.61. Not bad for a casual hobby that took less than half an hour of my time. In fact, if every deal I ever made on Robinhood worked out this well I would be ecstactic. I wouldn't be rich, but I would certainly feel successful.

Here is the screenshot from my purchase:

Here is the screenshot from my sale:

Here is the screenshot from the dividend award:

Another deal that worked out well was Frontline. On June 2nd I bought eleven shares of Frontline at $8.96 per share for a total of $98.54. I then sold those eleven shares on June 9th at $9.01 each for a total of $99.13. The total profit from this deal was only $0.59. However, by holding onto the shares for seven days I earned a dividend of $7.70. I challenge you to find any bank in America that will pay you $1.10 per day to keep $100 in your savings account, or even in a time deposit. Total profit for the Frontline deal was $8.29. Granted, that's barely enough for a fancy double-shot latte at Starbucks, but it's still better than spending half an hour watching grown men beat each other up over a leather ball.

Here is the screenshot from my Frontline buy:

Here is the screenshot from my Frontline sale:

Here is the screenshot from my Frontline dividend award:

My total profit for these two deals was $44.90. Unfortunately, not every deal turns a profit. I lost a total of $11.20 on a third deal and $3.42 on a fourth, bringing my net total for the past month down to about $30. So, thirty dollars for about two hours work in my spare time while sitting on my sofa listening to some relaxing Hawaiian ukulele background music. All told, that's not bad for two hours work. Even better, there is no bank in the entire world that would pay me $30 interest on a one-month time depost of $500. Using Robinhood and Dividend Capture is not going to make me rich. That much is true. On the other hand, it certainly is a profitable way to burn a couple hours here and there. Also in the plus column, it keeps my brain alive as I research which companies to invest in and try to decipher the mysterious workings of our tumultuous, AI-driven stock market.



June 19, 2020

The Yellow Hummingbird and Other Stories


I don't normally do this, but it's late at night and I have spent all day working on short stories for my next volume. Exhaustion and a head full of my own prose made me wonder what would happen if I gave away a story. Below is the opening story in my collection, "The Yellow Hummingbird and Other Stories". This story came about as a result of multiple events. My mother died of cancer at the age of 60. My mother-in-law died of cancer a short time later, also at the age of sixty. Someone posted a picture from their front yard of "a strange looking hummingbird" that was actually a yellow finch. I got off a plane somewhere (I don't remember where) and when I walked out of the terminal the first thing I saw was a row of Prius-based taxis with bright green ivy leaves painted across their quarter-panels. When all those pieces came together, the result was a short story about a writer unexpectedly losing her mother to cancer. Details like brandy and keychains and photo albums fell into place as Susan revealed her story to me. So, without further ado, here is, "The Yellow Hummingbird":



The Yellow Hummingbird
A story about family

Susan stared at the blank sheet of virtual paper on her computer screen.

"So much whiteness," she whispered, knowing she'd heard it before but not remembering where.

A flash at the window drew her eye from the computer screen. A hummingbird with a ruby red throat and gray belly had discovered her delphinium. Deep blue, the delphinium complimented the tiny bird completely, making it seem a flower had broken free to float near the main cluster.

Then the hummingbird vanished as quickly as it had appeared, leaving her staring at the blank virtual page mocking her from the computer screen.

"Perhaps if I start with a poem?"

Her hands reached for the keyboard.

ruby-adorned blue fire
fluttering delphinium
is it summer already?

Susan frowned at the screen. Haiku wasn't really her strength and it showed. Still, it was a start.

A memory tugged at the back of her mind. She couldn't quite bring it into focus. Herself as a little girl watching a hummingbird, a yellow one. Green and blue hummingbirds were common here in Ohio, but she couldn't recall ever having seen a yellow one. Did they even exist?

She minimized the word processor and opened her web browser. Such wonders the modern world provided! Fingers flashing like the hummingbird's wings, she opened Google and typed in, "yellow hummingbird".

Up popped half a dozen videos of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds at yellow bird feeders. Not even close. Scrolling down the page she found a forum for hummingbirds, a blog by a woman calling herself "Yellow Hummingbird", an advertisement for Gibson guitars, and tons of pages claiming there were no yellow hummingbirds in North America.

The memory would not clear up and would not go away. Was it a real hummingbird? Was it somebody's garden decoration? Why did this obscure hint of a memory bother her so much?

Her phone rang. Not only did the sudden sound make her jump, it grated on her nerves. Annoyed, she swiped the lock open on her smart phone and answered, "What?"

On the far end of the line she could hear a sharp intake of breath.

"Susan? This is Melody. Mom's not doing well. Can you come home?"

Time stopped. A long movie of her mother's slide from healthy middle-aged woman into hacking, ragged shell torn by cancer from a lifetime of cigarettes and bad Charleston air unrolled through her mind.

"Susan?"

She couldn't bring herself to watch her mother die. The main reason she'd fled South Carolina for Ohio was to put enough distance between them to cushion the blow of the inevitable. Frantically, she scrambled around for a good excuse not to fly down to Charleston.

"I'm researching hummingbirds." Strictly speaking, it was kind of true, or had been for the past few minutes. Of course, it was nowhere near as demanding as she hoped Melody would believe. "I need to be close to the university here."

"You can't spare a couple days?"

Susan could hear the annoyance in her sister's voice as plainly as she could the softly whirring wings of the hummingbird returning to the delphinium outside her window.

"I'll try, but I can't promise anything. Maybe tomorrow? Will she make it through the night?"

"Doctor Rufous says he can't promise anything. He says one lung has collapsed and the cancer has gotten into her heart, kidneys, and other organs." On the other end of the line Susan heard Melody choke and cough as she fought not to cry. Melody had always been much closer to their mother than Susan. She smoked like her, drank like her, dated like her, and someday would probably die like her. "He says if she makes it through the night, she might last a couple more days, but inside a week she'll be gone."

"She's at Hollings, right?"

"Yes."

"What room number?"

"Ashley River Tower, room 202."

Susan scribbled the information on a notepad.

"I'll try to be there tomorrow, but there's just no way to get down there today."

Melody's sigh of relief opened the flood gates and Susan heard her start to cry.

"Thank-you, Susan. I can't do this alone."

Then the line was dead and the only sound was the soft susurration of the hummingbird still feeding on the delphinium.

***

Fate, Susan pondered silently as she waited in line at the Caribbean Airlines counter at Columbus Airport, has a very odd sense of the ironic. Decals and paintings of bright blue and green hummingbirds were everywhere: on the wall behind the counter, on the badges worn by the pretty women working the check-in counter, on the envelopes that held the tickets they handed out to passengers, and even in bronze statues and plaques scattered around for decoration. This corner of the airport was awash in hummingbird artwork.

Fortunately the flight was not long. She closed her eyes and tried to focus on the yellow hummingbird memory from the day before. It still hovered just on the edge of clarity, taunting her with some odd mix of innocence and cruelty. For the life of her Susan could not figure out why it felt cruel, but it did. Something about that image cut through her heart like sharp talons on tiny bird feet. The lack of understanding bothered her almost as much as the memory itself.

Outside Charleston Airport she found a line of waiting taxis. White, with a flurry of green leaves riding their flanks, the row of Prius-based cabs claimed to be eco-friendly, cheap, and reliable. She poured herself into the back seat of the first one in line.

"Hollings Cancer Center, Ashley Tower, please."

The taxi driver was young woman with smooth, lightly tanned skin. She wore a tube top to keep her shoulders cool in the muggy Charleston weather. Ohio was not much better in August, but now in early summer it was much drier in Ohio than Charleston. Susan had forgotten just how oppressive all that extra humidity could be. One more tiny annoyance in a long line of annoyances.

Just as Susan wondered if the day could get any worse, the young woman leaned forward to push the button on her digital fare box.

"Right away, Ma'am. Won't take long this time of day. Traffic's light."

The driver had a hummingbird tattoo on the back of her shoulder. It was yellow, with blue wings, and hovered over a sprig of delphinium with a banner underneath that read, "American Honey."

Tears welled up in Susan's eyes. It was sudden, without warning, the grief catching in her throat and making it hard to breathe. Her mother was dying and might even be dead by the time she arrived. Why did this stupid memory of a mythical bird keep bothering her so much? It wasn't fair! As the cab joined the traffic smoothly flowing into Charleston proper, Susan struggled to drive away the yellow hummingbird and replace it with some kind of happy memory from her childhood. She could not find a single one.

The young woman glanced in the mirror and noticed Susan's silent tears.

"Losing somebody, Ma'am? That's hard. Lost my father to prostate cancer last summer." She bent forward to display her tattoo again. "That's when I got this. He always called me his "American Honey" and he loved hummingbirds. Must've had a hundred feeders hanging in the backyard. One summer he found a yellow one like this hanging around. Drove himself nuts trying to identify it. Decided it was some new species nobody had identified so he named it "American Honey" and applied to Audubon for recognition. They told him it was probably just a Yellow Warbler, either that or covered in pollen."

Susan forced herself to smile. "He sounds like a wonderful man."

The driver laughed. "Folks 'round here thought he was crazy, but he was my Dad and I loved him."

***

Forty-eight hours later Susan stood at her mother's front door with a key chain she'd gotten from Melody in one hand. The time in-between was a jumble of puzzle pieces in a box with no label. Her mother had died in the night. Melody had been distraught. Somewhere in there a funeral had been arranged and carried out but she couldn't remember what exactly her role had been in the whole morbid process. She stood now staring down at the key chain in her hand. The fob was a bronze hummingbird. She hadn't even noticed until she'd pulled it out to open the door. Her heart had frozen solid in her chest and she couldn't move. Somewhere in the haze she wondered if she were having a heart attack, but she still breathed, so she doubted it.

Slowly, each move an agonizing torture, she selected the door key, fitted it into the lock, unlocked the door, turned the knob, and stepped into the house she had not seen since leaving town two weeks after her high school graduation ceremony. How long ago had that been? Six years? Had it really taken six years for the cancer to kill her mother?

Once inside she didn't bother turning on a light. The air conditioning was on, so the interior was cool enough to be a genuine relief. She collapsed into a Victorian-style cushioned chair with paisley cloth that her mother had spent endless hours sitting and smoking in. Tobacco fumes wafted up around her. For years she'd been disgusted by the smell but for this brief moment it brought a tiny, familiar comfort. She idly wondered if her mother had any brandy in the house. Probably not. Vodka had been her mother's preferred poison. Partly because of that Susan herself had never developed a taste for it. A couple ounces of brandy would be nice, though. Just a little something to dull the pain.

She stood and walked through the house to the liquor cabinet in the next room. A dozen different kinds of vodka, half a dozen rums, and one unopened bottle of VSOP XO that someone had probably given her mother as a gift. To Susan's surprise, there were half a dozen brandy snifters on the shelf above. She got one down, opened the VSOP and poured herself a good two ounces.

When the brandy hit her stomach the shock caught her off guard. This was a bad time to realize she hadn't eaten since she left Ohio. A deep breath and concentrated effort settled her stomach enough she was confident she could keep it down. Just to make sure, she took another sip. This one went down perfectly. With the glass in one hand she stepped back into the main room and flipped on a light switch.

On the coffee table in front of the sofa she found a photo album. There on the cover of the photo album in brilliant full color was the yellow hummingbird from her memory. It was exactly as she had pictured it. All this time and it hadn't been a real bird at all, just a stock photo on the cover of an album.

She settled onto the sofa and began thumbing through the album. Pictures of she and her sister filled it from cover to cover. It opened with the two of them playing in a kiddie pool decorated in goldfish, moved through their school years with a quiet southern charm, and closed with their high school graduation pictures. Memories she had hunted so desperately for on the taxi ride from the airport flooded through her. This time when the tears began to flow they were happy tears.

All in all, she realized, her childhood had been pretty good. There never had been a father around, but her mother's endless string of strong young men who drifted in and out of their lives had all been polite, firm, generous, and kind. The thought crossed her mind that maybe the reason she had such a hard time finding a date was because of the examples of good men her mother had provided for her down through the years. No one she met at school or in bars and clubs ever quite measured up. Her mother had not been the most loyal woman in town, but she had known how to pick good men.

It disappointed her that there was not a single picture of any of them in the album. Nor was there a picture of her mother. The entire album was nothing but she and Melody, sometimes their friends, once in a while their dates and crushes.

She leaped to her feet and looked around frantically. She needed to write, needed it the way her mother needed cigarettes and a different man every couple of months. Her mother's "office" was down the hall on the right. Inside she found one of those new HP computers that had everything tucked in behind the screen. There was also an HP printer and a wireless hub connected to a jack in the wall. She had to assume that the jack led to a router or modem somewhere or something, but the important thing right now was the computer and the printer. She sat down in the chair and powered everything up. When the system stabilized, she opened the word processor to a fresh file.

"I never knew my father," she typed, "but somehow I never needed to."

***

Melody arrived at the house several hours later and found Susan pounding away at their mother's computer. The brandy snifter on the desk still held about an ounce of the strong brown liquor her sister preferred. She wondered if Susan had realized their mother had bought it and the snifters in the vain hope that one day Susan would come home and they could share a night of drunken nostalgia. Probably not. Susan never had been much of a drinker.

Leaving her sister to her writing, Melody moved into the kitchen and began preparing supper. When Susan finally surfaced from her writer's trance she'd be starving and Melody would be ready. They had so much to talk about.



June 17, 2020

Stock photography at Pixta


I don't mention it often in this blog, but I have been an avid photographer for most of my life. A few years ago, some friends convinced me to start uploading images to a stock photo agency called, "Pixta". This agency is actually in Japan and pays out royalties through PayPal. So far, I haven't made very much money, but it is still interesting to know that should someone desire to use my photos they are available through Pixta.

Yesterday I uploaded another 30 images which are still being reviewed. Over the next few months I think I will get back into the habit of uploading images to Pixta. After all, it doesn't benefit anyone to just keep them on my OneDrive.



June 02, 2020

Dividend Capture from Three Fossil Fuel Related Stocks


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
----------


Against my better judgment, I added another $100 to my Robinhood account today. I hope I am not hit with another surprise expense such as last week's $1100 shower repair. I made this decision in order to purchase 11 shares in a company called, "Frontline" (FRO). Frontline is an oil tanker company operating out of Bermuda. Their dividend ex-fill date is tomorrow, June 3, 2020. (Please see Friday's post: "A Curious Development in China and Chinese Oil" for an explanation of "ex-fill dates"). They have already declared a dividend of $0.70 per share, which is extremely lucrative for a stock in the $9.00 a share region. This gives me three companies with an ex-fill date for tomorrow. Sometime around the middle of June I should receive close to $30 in dividends from these three companies because as far as I can determine, none of them have suspended dividend promises in response to COVID-19 restrictions. I probably should not be surprised that all of them are related to the petroleum and fossil fuels industry.

(Click on each image to open a larger view)

The real question, of course, is how soon can I sell them for a profit? Unfortunately, in this volatile market, that is extremely difficult to predict. I would hope it would not take more than two weeks to sell all three of them for at least a small profit. Currently, the base cash value of my portfolio is $1073.74. For today, I am in a slight profit position. In fact, only one stock has dropped since I bought it. I am guardedly optimistic that this trend will continue and within two weeks I will be able to sell off all three companies for a small profit. This would allow me to reinvest that money into another round of dividend capture. I also hope nothing else crops up requiring me to convert my stocks into cash to pay for some kind of emergency. Even if all three stocks pay off on schedule and rise high enough to earn a profit, my earnings will be quite humble. The only way to move forward is to keep reinvesting. I am not getting rich, but I am earning far more than I would with a $1000 time deposit at my bank. Besides, I am enjoying the challenge.

My current portfolio:

My current position in Ford Motor Company:

Clearly, Ford Motor Company is the cornerstone of my portfolio and the overall trend of my portfolio value is directly related to the price of Ford Mother Company stock. This remains true even though Ford Motor Company has already declared a suspension of dividend payments due to the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on their profitability. My hope is that after three or four rounds of dividend capture, I will have enough additional equity built up to return to investing in 5G or some other larger trend. Unfortunately, with the current social and political environment, I am no longer certain that even 5G will have any long-term value. I have no idea what our world will look like two weeks from today, let alone the stock market. Nonetheless, it is important to assume these troubles, like so many others down through history, will pass from view and the world will recover. After all, if we constantly assume a worst case scenario, then what is the purpose of continuing to live? We must assume things will improve, or at least stabilize for a little while. If we do not, then life has no meaning.



May 31, 2020

A curious development in China and Chinese oil


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
----------

I stumbled across an interesting confluence of events today. I am not certain how to interpret it. To begin with, on Friday I sold off everything except Ford Motor Company. I don't know why. At 3:55pm I had this sudden instinct that today was the day to convert everything into cash, so right before the market closed I sold off everything except Ford. This left me with $459.65 in available cash for withdrawal, for reinvestment, or just to sit idle collecting a tiny bit of interest. I have been hearing and avoiding rumors about Trump getting ready to crack down on China again (Bloomberg: Trump's China Fight Hasn't Changed Oil Markets). I have been very carefully avoiding the news lately, but we do live in a very connected age and this story happened to slip through long enough to invade my peace of mind.

I hate the thought of $460 sitting in my brokerage account doing nothing. So today I opened up the NASDAQ Dividend Calendar. Naturally there is nothing listed for today, because today the market is closed. This calendar lists something known as "ex-fill" dates. If you own a particular stock from the time the market opens until the time it closes on the right ex-fill date, your name is added to the payout list for dividends. You receive the dividend even if you sell the stock the next day. I started looking through the ex-fill companies for Tuesday, then went to Wednesday. On Wednesday I found a listing for a company with the ticker symbol CEO. The name of the company was listed as "CNOOC". I thought that was very strange. Then I noticed the next dividend payout was $5.20 per share. Naturally, with that kind of payout the company stock must be very valuable, and it is. On Friday it closed at $114 per share. This is way outside my price range. I normally look at companies with stock prices below $20, and preferably below $10. However, even at $114 a share, I could pick up 3 shares on Monday, sell them on Friday, and collect a $15 dollar dividend payment:

One of the problems with high value stocks is the price swings around the ex-fill date can be very extreme. I would hate to buy three shares of CEO, hold it long enough to collect the $15, then lose $20 when I try to sell the stock. I made that mistake a couple months ago with Patriot Transportation. So I went looking to find out exactly what kind of company is named, "CNOOC"

It turns out that CNOOC is a Chinese oil company: China National Offshore Oil Corporation. Now this is a very curious coincidence. Trump put out a tweet storm on Friday about China's decision to crackdown on Hong Kong protests. The ex-fill day for CNOOC is Wednesday, which means I would have to buy their stock before close of business on Tuesday to collect the dividend. If Trump imposes some kind of tariff or sanction, the price of CNOOC will probably drop on Thursday, but, it might drop as early as tomorrow if the computers controlling 95% of the trading in today's stock market kick off on the bad news, selling off holdings at tens of thousands of mutual funds, pension funds, and ETF management companies. I find myself wondering if this timing is not coincidence. Is there some small cluster of highly influential people in the Chinese and American governments hoping to inspire a sell off CNOOC right before the ex-fill date so they can grab up a few million shares at a discount and collect the dividend?

I have added CNOOC to my watchlist. I will be watching very carefully what happens tomorrow and Tuesday. If the price drops or remains stable, I will definitely consider buying 3 or 4 shares, even if I have to hold onto them for a month or so before the price recovers. CNOOC is a major player in offshore drilling. They are involved in projects all across the globe. They aren't going to die just because President Trump throws a few sanctions and tariffs at them. Most of their business has almost nothing to do with the United States of America, so the real-world impact of whatever punitive measures are applied to the Chinese oil industry should be minimal. I detest the Chinese political system. I respect the deep and powerful history of the Chinese people. I would prefer not to buy any Chinese stocks, but $15 is still enough to buy lunch, pick up a couple days worth of groceries, or reinvest in some company I prefer owning, like Ford Motor Company which currently hovering around $5 a share.


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
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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