Monday, March 28, 2011

Final Four

This is the week of four, with four more days in the month we have had a year’s worth of news peaking these last four days of the month: the Mubarak fled Egypt which is reordering Middle East power and affecting global security with subsequent events in Libya, Yemen and all through the region. It was March 11 – 17 days ago that we woke to the news of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, which this week still has ripple effects on the fragile global economy and terrible consequences for the Japanese people. Also this week the United States is in three hot conflicts at once, for the first time since World War II.

As of March 25 the U.S. federal government debt was $14.21 trillion or 97% of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for 2010, ranked 12th in percentage among nations. There were four main creditors of this debt: (1) $9.4 trillion held by the U.S. public and the Federal Reserve 66.1%, (2) China $1.2 trillion, (3) Japan $880 billion, and (4) United Kingdom $240 billion. This is not including State and Municipal Government debt, individual and corporate debt. You think we have been living beyond our means?

Gas and food prices have never been higher, affecting all economies and especially those in poorer countries. Top four oil reserve countries: (1) Saudi Arabia 267 billion barrels, (2) Iraq 180 billion barrels, (3) Canada 179 billion barrels, and (4) Iran 138 billion barrels. Average reserves in years approximately 85 at our current usage. Where is my Hummer?

FINAL FOURS – The NCAA College Hockey Frozen Four is set for April 7-9 in St. Paul, Minnesota: East – Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, Northeast – Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Midwest – North Dakota Fighting Sioux, West– Michigan Wolverines.

NCAA College Basketball Final Four is set for April 2-4 in Houston, Texas: East – Kentucky Wildcats, Southeast - Butler Bulldogs, Southwest – Virginia Commonwealth Rams, West – Connecticut Huskies.

KENTUCKY FAVORED FOR FINAL FOUR MOMENT - AP: "Las Vegas casinos have tabbed Kentucky the latest favorite in an NCAA tournament full of upsets, and are hoping that Virginia Commonwealth ends its improbable run without a title. The Glantz-Culver line made Kentucky a 2-point favorite to win its semifinal game against Connecticut on Saturday night, and Butler a 2 1/2 -point favorite over Virginia Commonwealth. ... [T]he odds were 1,371-1 against VCU reaching the Final Four, said gambling expert RJ Bell of"

CREDIT CARDS DEBT STILL HIGH - NYT's Stephanie Clifford on pg. B1: "American shoppers did not shed their reliance on credit cards over the year-end holidays. While the average debt on credit cards in December decreased by 4 percent ... Americans still carried an average of $4,284 on credit card statements in December 2010, according to data released this week by the credit monitoring company Experian. The data offers conflicting versions of the economy's already mixed picture. While some consumers spent more during the holidays because the economy was rebounding, others were still unable to cover expenses without leaning on their credit cards. And while holiday spending also appeared to have been more robust than in the last several years, even more recent data has shown a bit of a slowdown in consumption this year."

- The Wall Street Journal calls Aspen, Colo., "the most expensive town in America": "Defying the national sales slump, Aspen's [home] sales are up. ... [T]he glitzy ski enclave is outpricing the Hamptons, Beverly Hill and Palm Beach. ... The average home price .... Has increased ... to $6 million in 2010 from $5.4 million in 2006."

PARAGRAPH OF THE WEEK - George Will, in his Sunday column, on Andrew Ferguson's new book, "Crazy U: One Dad's Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College": "The college admission process occasions too much angst. America is thickly planted with 1,400 four-year institutions. Motivated, selective students can get a fine education at any of them -- unmotivated, undiscerning students at none. Most students love the schools they attend. And the admissions quest can have splendid moments. Last year, Wake Forest, a wonderful university with a stimulating application form, asked applicants what they would title their autobiographies. One, obviously a golfer, answered: 'Mulligan.' Wouldn't we all?"

TAX TIME: G.E. PAYS NO TAX - In a piece that may make things a big awkward for President Obama's top outside economic advisor, G.E. CEO Jeff Immelt, NYT's David Kocieniewski reports above the fold on A1: "[G.E.] reported worldwide profits of $14.2 billion, and said $5.1 billion of the total came from its operations in the United States. Its American tax bill? None. In fact, G.E. claimed a tax benefit of $3.2 billion. ...

BIRTHDAYS THIS WEEK – Birthday wishes and thoughts this week to Steve Ballmer (55), Warren Beatty (74), Jaime Evans …famous Redding, CA Mom, Gordie Howe (83), Elle MacPherson (47), Reba McEntire (56), Nancy Pelosi (71), Tara Pugliese ….is she 21 yet?, Gene Shalit (85), Twitter (5).

MEDIAWATCH -- COURIC DISCUSSING UNIQUE HYBRID ROLE: Katie Couric is likely to depart as anchor of the "CBS Evening News" when her contract expires on June 4. But she may continue contributing to CBS News while developing a syndicated daily show, and even after her show launches. "She potentially could remain a big part of CBS News," said an associate who described the negotiations on condition of anonymity. Her imminent departure from "Evening News" was first reported by Howard Kurtz of The Daily Beast.

Couric has "felt confined by the 22-minute box," the associate said. But she has transcended it with her @KatieCouric webcast, and by reporting pieces for "60 Minutes" and "Sunday Morning," where she might continue to appear under the new hybrid. The new deal would likely include her own production company. Couric's team is having similar negotiations with NBC - a package that would include contributions to NBC News and MSNBC while she develops - and eventually hosts -- a show through the network's syndication arm.

GREAT NEW BOOK – For Southern Californians especially interested in dry gardening; “Reimagining the California Lawn”, Carol Bornstein, David Fross and Bart O’Brien. Thank you LP for your recommendation of the book. Mr. O’Brien nationally known for his expertise in dry gardening represents the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Claremont, California. The authors will be lecturing throughout the state in the coming weeks, here are a few of the local sites:

April 2: Native Sons Nursery, Arroyo Grande
April 9: Bellefontaine Nursery, Pasadena
April 16: Assn. of Professional Landscape Designers, West Hollywood
April 16: Descanso Gardens, La Cañada Flintridge
April 17: Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, Claremont

JACKASS OF THE MONTH – Jessica Simpson who recently signed a prenuptial agreement with her fiance, former NFL has been Erik Johnson, the agreement will pay Mr. Johnson $200,000 when the couple become married, $20,000 per month for five years should they stay married and $1,000,000 after five years or marriage. We congratulate Ms. Simpson for her Jackass award this month and congratulate Mr. Johnson for being a very lucky SOB.

ELIZABETH TAYLOR IN MEMORIAM - Emily Yoffe remembers the actress walking into Ivy at the Shore in Santa Monica around 1990 or so. I was living in Los Angeles at the time and had lunch there with friends occasionally and it was perfectly normal for us to say, sotto voce, "Bruce Willis just sat at the table at your right." What you never did was obviously turn your head or openly look at the celebrities. Then Elizabeth Taylor came in for lunch. She was in her brief blond phase and she was escorted by her demi-celebrity hairdresser, Jose Eber. When Taylor arrived, everyone in the place dropped the pretense of being too sophisticated to stare. All conversation stopped, forks stayed poised mid-air, and everyone's eyes bore through Taylor. I was seated with an agent who said she'd never seen people act like this. Remarkably, this was long past the time Taylor was an active star or was regularly appearing in movies. But she had an enduring power to reduce everyone to a stunned fan.

Next week, our first year anniversary month begins.

Until next Monday, Adios.

Claremont, CA
March 28, 2011


  1. Any thoughts about Mohamed El-Erian move to reduce PIMCOs exposure to Treasury Bonds to zero? "When we looked at what was available, there were Treasury-like instruments that had better value... [T]he Fed has been the biggest buyer under the program [QE2], aimed at driving down interest rates to spur spending. El-Erian said it's unclear who will fill that role" (CNN Money). I have seen several blogs indicating that we are nearing a point when there are no buyers for our debt, but so far I have not see this happen. Could the Fed ever stop buying our own debt? If this truly happened I can imagine this would impact Risk Free Rate and the entire financial systems.. a pretty big deal.

  2. Rink Rats - I agree with PIMCO effective June 30 when QE2 ends it will get hairy. In order to attract debt buyers, rates will have to go up. Thus existing debt prices will fall and inflation will begin its ugly march. This is why PIMCO is selling their bonds currently. Should be a very interesting couple of months. Personally, I am in cash and very short term, awaiting to see the markets of this coming summer.