Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Buy - Hold - Sell

CUT 1: The last few days the most valuable company in the world got even wealthier. Right now Apple's estimated market capitalisation is close to $630B. In absolute numbers and not counting for inflation only Microsoft during Gates's reign (1999) was able to boast a value that close ($619B). But history of record breaking obviously ignores inflation and rationalisations, and Apple has de-facto become the company, which now holds the record of being most valuable in the History of Mankind.
Financial channels like CNBC and Bloomberg's keep interviewing AAPL's analysts about its next stock move, that is, is it gonna still go up, stay put, or roller-coaster downhill? Although you hear all sorts of opinions, at least as many as those analysts sharing them, there is a figure, a ratio actually, that everybody seems to respect. This is the P/E ratio. P/E seems to be like the holy grail to all investors, traders and pigs that get slaughtered alike. It's also called 'multiples', meaning how many times (multiples of) the annual earnings per share (EPS) equals the current trading value of the stock (one share).
If you select any given industry, and calculate the respective P/E for many of its members, and then average it, you get that industry's average P/E. Apple's P/E these days is less than 16. This is quite a reasonable number and very close to the technology industry's average. What does this mean then? Well, analysts, who explain their point of view about companies they closely follow, after they provide their deep thoughts and arguments that range from a company's fundamentals (product launches, revenue growth, profit margin, market penetration, brand value, etc) to its stock behaviour technicals (moving averages, and scores of ratios to blow out your brains... kinda like driving forward by looking at the rear mirror, etc), they then almost never omit mentioning, "well, on a second thought, its multiples are still on the low side, in other words, the stock is still cheap!".
To grasp the meaning of this, consider Amazon compared to Apple: If Apple had multiples anything close to Amazon's (almost 300) would be worth a cool 12 trillion dollars today! If you considered Facebook with a multiple of 110, that's 7 times Apple's multiple, that is to say, if investors and traders valued Apple as much as they 'seem' to (hype) be valuing Facebook, would bring Apple to a market cap of 4 trillion dollars and change! Or its share at a value of $4.2K a pop! Does it sound astronomic ??? Is it too much? Buffet wouldn't think so, I reckon, with his BRK-A's shares trading at an equally cool $128K a piece as we speak...
Now let me ask you something: Is it reasonable to 'reason' like this? Apparently some people do. Although, be careful, it seems that in real life, even if the P/E was proven a reliable measure for many companies on average, it is prudent to assume that there are limits in what the investment and trading community will emotionally accept as a total cap figure for any given company at a well specific moment in time. I don't believe anyone is ready yet today, for any public company on Planet Earth, to touch a trillion dollars in market cap, any day soon. I don't know what it is, but a trillion dollars sounds like a shedload of money. It can raise the dead!

CUT 2: Adam Johnson is a smart kid and a Bloomberg 'analyst', 'interviewer', 'strategist', you name it. He always looks well brushed and gorgeous to watch. Bloomberg seems to be paying a lot of attention to the looks of their TV presentators (with some exceptions, of course). Back to Adam though, I don't know how much of the analysis he shows on those humongous surface computing screens, literally out of the 'Minority Report', but his stuff is for sure cool, most of the time. If it's his thinking, then well done, Adam! Namaste.
Well, yesterday Adam said something quite interesting. I will only make some comments here just to demonstrate the type of thinking (albeit simple and straightforward one would argue) that goes thru the mind of the so-called financial strategists, who, like modern day Delphi oracles, do their best to predict the future, and conclude the inevitable (the only conclusion an investor or a trader is really looking for) sell, hold, buy!
Well, Adam referred to the Financial Industry in his analysis. He mentioned other industries as well, but his focus yesterday was upon Banks and Insurance companies. He simply said that right now more than 90 percent of all the financial sector companies are trading above their 200-day moving average. That's too much! Way too much, he implied.
The 200 day moving average is a popular measure among technical analysts, especially when current share values cross above or fall below that average. It is actually the average value that you obtain if you take a stock's closing price for the last 200 trading days from today. In other words, it tells you at what average price during the last 200 trading days investors 'valued' a company's stock. (Note: to identify potential stock movement trends, technical analysts also like to plot the 50 day MA on top of the 200 day as well. If the 50-day MA happens to cross below the 200 day it'd suggest a downward trend for the stock. That's because investors seem to be (wanting to) pa(y)ing in the last 50 days less than what they (were prepared to) pa(y)id during the longer period of 200 days. Like it or not, that's how technical analysts reason).
So Adam said that so many Financials trading above their 200 day MA is not 'good' news. That was far too good to be true. Regardless what other sectors were doing, this couldn't be kosher. So, Adam asked his assistants to go look for similar moments in the past, where the percentage of financial companies trading above their 200 day MA appeared similar to the present. Especially since the banking industry didn't yet seem to have crawled out of the woodwork. Adam reasoned by the simple premise that what goes up must eventually come down. The golden rule of trading, that is...
Not surprisingly, Adam proved his thesis to be reasonable. Touching gently his fancy transparent surface computer screen, he showed us four similar periods in the past of likewise behaviour, and he conspicuously circled the tops of those trends in his periodical curve. We seem to be at one of these very tops right now, as we speak, he said. This is quite interesting! Given he has been talking about percentages there was an upper limit to where those peaks could possibly go. That is 100, right? Well, he sez, what happen(ed)s next? Not surprisingly, what goes up must eventually come down to keep the wave flowing. That's the name of the game, right?! Then, out of 'nowhere', he carried forward and superposed upon his displayed curve (showing the pct of financials above the 200 day MA), a new different graph. That of the S&P 500 index over the same period of time. Surprise surprise! Right after the banks reached their 200 day MA related peaks the S&P seemed to have plunged into the deep south. QED! And this happened for the last 4 times, Adam said! Why not now, then? And he said that staring thru the camera with his cute Hollywood soap star looks that would practically melt down the vast majority of US teenage girls and alike. He was in fact saying... kiddos, if you hold financials, off-load them or brace for a free fall. Or do hedge some, or short sell, or anything at all. Pleeeease!
The question now is, is he gonna be proven right? Or not? Stand-by... Gonna be fun, as always.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Cohen loves Ghent... and Ghent loves Cohen !

The podium (shot with an iPhone) in front
of Sint-Pieter's Abbey in Ghent.
I'm probably one of the least qualified persons on the planet to dare critic the Great Troubadour of our times Leonard Cohen. My knowledge in poetry, song lyrics and literature is at best elementary, same thing as in music. I like a few styles, I am less keen on other, like most of us. However, I happened to attend Cohen's concert in Ghent, yesterday and I wanted to share the experience with my scarce blog audience, provided they'd be interested.

Ever since Cohen started his recent world tours, out of which also the CD "Live in London" and the corresponding DVD came out, Ghent has been a permanent venue in his touring. First I heard about, I was deeply surprised, as Ghent is 'nothing special' to most Belgians or otherwise who live elsewhere
. Ok, it is a 'famous' medieval city with very rich history... fine, so much is true. Also, in recent years, due to the skilful work of visionary city mayors, it's been cleaned up, streets and canals, and became quite attractive for city tourism and inspiring promenades.

For reasons only known to himself, Cohen 'lost' his heart in Ghent, and ever since he started touring again several years ago, he seems to be coming back to Ghent every single year! He's even launched his 2012 world tour that just started this last Monday (or was it Sunday?), by offering his first five (!) concerts this week alone
in the heart of Ghent, at the Sint-Pieter's plein (plein = a square). Which, Marc Didden, a known Flemish commentator, proposed to rename into the 'Leonard Cohen Square'! So much Didden loves Cohen. The square is located in the shadow of the University Library tower, a reputable Art Deco (Henry van de Velde) building in the city Academic Centre, right in front of Sint-Pieters Abbey, a genuinely Medieval setup. The landscape is indeed a sober and attractive background to Cohen's equally sober podium right in front of the Abbey. I reckon nobody else than Cohen could actually perform at that very spot with the required humility and respect without irritating the overly religious, who rather protect 'old' monuments from potential blasphemy by all sorts of contemporary commercial abuse.

Cohen is the sort of singer-poet-songwriter whose style is such that you either love or hate. A bit like Dylan, whose singing irritates as many as it fascinates (I belong to the latter partition, my youngest son to the former).

I must admit, until 'Live in London' came out, I had no particular knowledge of Cohen and his work. I knew of him, I had also heard Suzanne and Hallelujah, like most people, but that was it. OK, maybe there was his "...First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin..." tune too that my fellow colleagues combined with other songs into a musical pot-pouri to pl(t)ease me during my 40th birthday, an innuendo to my ambitious business expansionary activities then... I also knew he spent some time in Greece that he seems to be snubbing entirely in his world tours these days. Initially I thought it was Crete... much later I learned it was the island of Hydra.

I must say, the 'Live in London' album shocked and shook me inside out. I became an instant addict. I hated myself for having ignored Cohen all those years, blindfolded by the requirements and 'golden cage' insulation imposed upon me by my own corporate lifestyle. Life is simple, far simpler than you think. Cohen spoke of life and love in most of his songs. Romantic, deep and genuine love seems to be his mantra, and the main theme in many of his inspiring lyrics. "Dance me to the end of Love", or "There ain't no cure for Love". He also spoke about perfection (that many of us inside the insane corporate landscapes are obsessed about reaching), or, better said, the lack of it, in a way that brought to you sheer shivers. I felt my corporate arrogance getting shredded to pieces. "Forget your perfect offering, there's a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in" (Anthem).

Since 'Live in London', I have been following his 'life' and new albums from nearby. I even iTunes pre-ordered his latest 'Old Ideas' album to be among the first to experience it. I have even heard a pre-release of the album's first song 'Going home' at the online version of New Yorker, and, needless to say, taken by storm. The power of his verses is inexplicably grand!

So,it must come as no surprise to no-one that I decided to go to this concert in Ghent, maybe my last chance to ever see him perform in a live performance, I thought, ever. We're both getting old, you see... In retrospective, I'm glad I did. Here's why.

It sounds unheard of, but I think I must have been in only three concerts in my entire life. That's it! Three! One+one+one! Led Zeppelin in Ghent as well, Dylan at the Vorst Nationaal in Brussels, and yesterday's the third and last. After Led Zeppelin's I came out half deaf until the next morning, Dylan was a sad and shameful train-wreck, that kept the audience short of throwing garbage to the podium only out of respect for his legacy.

On the contrary, Cohen's was the sort of concert that I wouldn't mind going for the rest of my living days. Well done! Perfect! Despite what he himself thinks about 'perfection'.

I love professional work. I mean the kind of work that manages concerts like yesterday's where EVERYTHING seems to be going right and be done exactly like it is supposed to. The logistics, the installations, the execution, the crews! Well done Mr. Project Manager! Well done a thousand times. Namaste.

The concert was supposed to start at 20:00 pm, and you know what? It did! Whereby, a bunch of ticket paying morons still kept coming in three quarters into the programme! Ghent is not the kind of city to get easily lost, right? What happened to them?

Right from the first song the concert became a continuous enjoyment of sight and sound. And this continued for the following 4 (!) and change hours. It sounds crazy, but if there's anything negative to say about it at all, it's the number of tracks they sang. Too many. Even their bonus segment had its own extra bonus. Incredible! I started aching bad on my neck and back, as the seats didn't quite offer the type of comfort the middle aged like myself do typically need. And, speaking of middle aged, the audience was actually made of a majority of 'tea-drinking' geriatrics. Mostly from the generation of baby-boomers and before that, so to say. I almost felt 'young' among them buggers. Some also seemed like they were still deeply in love with their life partners regardless whether the latter were of the same or the opposite sex. A couple dared dance to Cohen's 'Take this Waltz' tune in front of the Podium, and everyone could see them! Whatever, let's not be too cranky here. It's always good to see people attracted to each other, regardless of their sexual preferences. There isn't by far enough 'true' love left in this world, that's for sure... And it is in lovers' real lives that Cohen's verses find their true meaning.

His performing musicians and singers were simply incomparable, to use Cohen's own adjectives. Kudos to all. However, I wanted to stand still just for a split second, and pay my respects to that phenomenal virtuoso Javier Màs, player of the bandurria, a 12 string Folk Spanish guitar. Màs must have been part of Cohen's band from the times of 'Live in London' at least, as far as I could say. The man is for sure possessed by the Greek daemons and Roman genius of the Gods of Music! You see his fingers moving and think, I could do that too! Then you listen to the sound that comes out of his playing and you suddenly realize that you are a witness to the supernatural presence of Orpheus and Apollo. Blimey! I just couldn't describe the feeling. You simply stay breathless and can only react by shedding few tears for your inability to share the moment with your loved ones not present! Thank God it was dark and reactions to feelings were kept private. We were immensely fortunate to experience his three/four song solo performances, of which his very first (I forget the song name) was a new improvisation and different than the one I heard in the "Live in London" album. I wish I could record that piece of divine execution. Unfortunately, I didn't! I'll regret this for the rest of my life. As a parenthesis, I have ringtoned two or three segments of Javier Màs's work from 'Live in London' to set up alarms and wake-up calls on my phone. I'm especially fond of his introduction to the "Gypsy wife" song, a composition in its own right, albeit a bit too brief, that combines Greek bouzouki, Italian mandoline and Spanish classic guitar sounds into a magical harmony. Señor Javier Màs, I bow to you.

I could go on and on. But as I said, who am I to judge that Monstre Sacré called Leonard Cohen? Only thing I could do here is to humbly, very humbly indeed, pay him my deepest respects for his superb performance and pleasure he gave me, and do that with
equal gratitude and humility as his, shown each and every time he greeted us at the end of each song with a rather conspicuous bow and the raising of his hat!

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Sunday, August 5, 2012

For the love of Nature...

Floriade! I heard about this event some 30 years ago, early on after I emigrated from Greece to Flanders. The Netherlands, as world famous it is by its tulips, is not only the Kingdom of Het Huis van Oranje, but also the Kingdom of God's best gifts to man, flowers and greens. Floriade is a flower festival organised every ten years and this year it is being held in Venlo with the theme "Be part of the theatre in nature; get closer to the quality of life".
Floriade 2012 features five themed areas on a site of 66 hectares.

  • Environment
  • Green Engine
  • Relax & Heal
  • Education & Innovation
  • World Show Stage
It also has a Cable Car of 1,100 meters. Very clever!
Since I missed every single Floriade since I came here (1982, 1992 and 2002) I promised to myself to visit the Venlo event for sure, since, one never knows, maybe I don't live to see another one, or feel too fatigued to walk around its venue exhibits in ten years from now. Indeed, Floriade is almost an event of a lifetime. Equipped with my 5D and my standard 24-105 AF IS Canon zoom, I arrived at the parking on July 31st, right about the event daily opening time of 10am, and thank God for that, since the walk in a full parking terrain from one end to another counts the best part of one km, or more. One risks to be dead tired (certainly at my age) before one even reaches the shuttle-bus stops! However, I was pretty close to the entrance as I got here rather early, lucky me... Off the driver's seat, I put on my youngest son's walking shoes, and there I was, ready to go, loaded with a few kgs of Canon gear.
The entire organisation of the venue, inclusive logistics, efficiency, cleanness, buildings/landscape and pavilion architecture, concepts and quality of exhibits, shops, souvenirs, restaurants, coffee-shops, even an open theatre with a huge daylight video screen of immense proportions to entertain visitors with the Olympics latest, up to the traditional frittes-mayonnaise for the Belgo-Dutch lunch enjoyment, an ultramodern amphitheater for live music performances, what can anybody say??? Only the Dutch can manage venues like these. They even re-worked their motorways around the venue with new bridges and secondary roads leading to hotels and parkings that are even too new to display in Google's maps satellite view . For fun, visit the spot north of the crossing of A67 and A73 near Venlo in Holland in Google and see the current configuration on the standard map view first. Then switch to the satellite view. You are not gonna believe your eyes how much work they put into it. The satellite view shows the way it was before the Floriade, whereas the map view shows all that was built for the needs of the event! Unbelievable! Just for a show that only lasts April to October 2012.
The Dutch, being Dutch (entrepreneurial, that is to say) already declared that all the buildings and infrastructure will be reused for businesses after next October. My compats should think about that each time they drive outside the premises of the Athens 2004 Olympics village, shame on them!
There's so much to say about Floriade 2012... Big! Real BIG! Huge really! In all its aspects. A must go! Since I can't write as good as I shoot pictures, I rather say it with my shots and leave the writing to the skilled. I took a total of 750 pictures, incl. panoramic shots. Of those, a total of 655 I have eventually published on my Flickr account. I grouped them by 'my' themes in a total of 15 sets, of which my personal preference goes to their Orchids, displayed as a slideshow here.
If you've got nothing else to do and can't free up the time to visit the Floriade itself in Venlo before it ends in October, see my work as your second best option... I'm sure many visitors shot millions of pictures, but not many are as addicted to amateur photography as I am, to shoot more than 700 pictures in less than 10 hours, a full battery charge and 12 GB of flash cards filled to 'card full' status, and then spend 20 hours developing them and group them in 17 Flickr sets (!) to present the best possible view of the event, for the pleasure of those who don't plan to go.
Between you and me, some of my shots are too flattering to the objects they represented on camera. Better than the real thing, so to say... It's because, one, camera lenses see more than human eyes, especially when they get close to their subject via zooming. And two, I like colours a lot, so I did my usual thing to add some personal tint and 'artistic' interpretation here and there. For my own visual enjoyment...