Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Crazy - This is Classic

Crazy - The Studio Recording Session.

Red Velvet Ant (Wasp)

I saw a Red Velvet Ant outside today while I was mowing. First time I think I've ever seen one in nature. Here are some good picture's I found on the web.

Pic 2
Pics 3 and 4

Turns out it's actually a female wingless wasp - and known to have a powerful sting giving it it's alternate name of "Cow Killer."

Monday, July 30, 2007


I'm not a Simpson's fan, but I understand there's a movie out and it's doing great. I came across this impressive video of the Simpson's theme music.


I'm curious. Have you ever dropped your vehicle off at a Firestone Service Center and not had them recommend significant additional work?

Last year when I purchased new tires they recommended over $1000 of additional work on axles/struts/or something.

Today I wanted an oil change and tire rotation. They recommended additionally I replace the serpentine belt.

I don't trust them farther than I can throw them, but is this standard operating procedure?

I have some local guys at a gas station that normally work on my vehicle (excellent work) who tell me for the most part "if it ain't broke don't fix it." Even though they're not a tire place I'm wishing I would've just purchased my new tires from them so I don't have to deal with all the up-sell every time I take advantage of the free tire rotations from Firestone. Advice is useless if I can't trust the folks giving it.

Transactions Today

Down markets seem like a good place to weed out some losers and move money into some different places, so made a couple adjustments today.

I sold the Palomar Medical Tech (PMTI) in my taxable accounts today to take tax loss. Still have some in another account, but will re-evaluate after 30 days.

Moved funds into a position in Immucor (BLUD). They had strong earnings announcement last week and I like the company characteristics in general. Also considered putting into CTSH Cognizant, but held off there.

I almost bought a big chunk of the general market Nasdaq Index QQQQ, but decided I'll stay with companies instead of the index for now while I'm research the general market trading system.

Working on trading strategies

A short while back I was studying the beneficial impact of buying on down days and that got me to thinking about trading strategies in general - something I've never given serious thought.

This weekend I've put in a lot of effort working on a trading system - trying to see if I can come up with an automated trading system that can outperform the market.

I'm still working on it and I'm thinking "maybe" it's possible, but it seems to be much more doable in sideways or downward moving markets like 2000-2003. When I transition the strategies that work into more bullish environments, it's tough to beat a strictly buy and hold approach. By this I mean the models are decent at making money in bad markets and picking decent exit/re-entry points, but aren't as good at staying in in good markets. Market timing in bull markets seems somewhat counter-productive unless highly productive and timely sells can be targeted.

I'm trying to build logic to improve performance in bull markets, but it's tougher than it seems it should be at first glance.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Time for a test

A slight variation of this trading strategy discussed a short while back is giving a buy sign right now.

I'm curious to see the outcome. Current status of SPY - the exchange traded index of the S&P500:
- Down Day
- Down market trend vs both 20day and 40day intervals
- 4 or more of last 7 trading days have closed down
- Sentiment indicator Neutral

In the 40 instances the market has had this setup since 2004, after 4 days the SPY has closed up 83% of the time, with an average gain of 1.32%. SPY is at 148.02 in after hours trading right now. Lets see if closes next Thursday up from this point, and by how much. I'm unsure if there are any dividends between here and there, but if so we'll adjust the prices to account for them.

Still investigating how to get the leverage to make these types of expected moves play out, but it's interesting to think about.

By the way...

Did you hear that my wife sold her first book the other day?



Ouch. Palomar Tech's earnings announcement apparently disappointed big time today. I haven't had a chance to look into detail yet, but this is a small thinly traded stock, so it can move big when pushed. There was a special one-time royalty earned last year that also complicates year over year comparisons. At first blush the report doesn't look like it should've triggered such a bad reaction, but there could be something else there.

At least most of mine is in a taxable account...

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Interesting Articles today

1. Your friends can make you fat.

2. Better student achievement in rural schools. Note the comment about less money spent per student but smaller schools and more people know each other vs. bigger city schools.

3. And this was an interesting video find from Stars' Reflections blog. Pay attention

Monday, July 23, 2007

Iapetus - moon of Saturn

Take a look at this image of one of the moons of Saturn (named Iapetus) taken by Cassini back in Dec 2004.

The original hypotheses for the shape are discussed above, but scientists now think the odd shape persists because the moon was spinning extremely rapidly when it formed and "froze" into place and held ever since.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


this a BMW advertisement, but check out the contraptions this guy (Theo Jansen) has built.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Keep an eye out

Here's an interesting article warning to be wary of financial planners, with some discussion of the messed up incentives in the business.

Here's an earlier post with similar warnings.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Observation from travels

I spent the last week traveling through Louisiana. New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Lafayette, and Lake Charles

Some observations
1. The water in Baton Rouge tastes terrible and won't get the soap off.
2. There's a Conoco gas station somewhere on I-10 with a Tiger Cage, lots of broken gas pumps, a bathroom with a door that doesn't close, and lots of graffiti. A friend I was traveling with said the station has character - along with other notable diseases such as hepatitis.
3. They eat a lot of seafood in Louisiana. Raw oysters seem to be everyone's favorite.
4. Lafayette LA is pronounced "laugh a yet". I mispronounced it in one of the meetings and had to explain the different pronunciations in Kentucky "Lah fay yet" and Tennessee "Luh fay yet" with the emphasis on the second syllable.
5. I-10 may be the longest stretch of elevated inter-state I've ever been on - like driving on a never ending bridge. It's all swamp underneath.

Follow-up on trades

All of the trades I placed last Sunday got filled on Monday. (Sorry for the delay - I've been out of town and unable to post since then.)

CRDN Ceradyne is still my largest holding, but I just pared the position back.

The buy for PMTI Palomar increases my existing shares making Palomar my 4th largest holding now. It's interesting - possibly good news - that the stock was up today in an otherwise bad down market.

I doubled my position in TRAD Tradestation. The price action on this one is still bad but I just like the numbers on this one. I will not be adding more unless the stock moves higher.

Opened two small positions in stocks BLUD Immucor - blood screening equipment/tests - and VDSI Vasco Data Security - a very high growth e-commerce supplier. These are both small positions as I don't know much about the stocks and they're relatively new arrivals on my screens. BLUD hits alot of screens and the valuation looks decent so I took this small position to encourage me to follow the story a bit closer than I otherwise would.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Placed several trades orders tonight

I put a limit order in to sell part of my Ceradyne CRDN holdings. Even if this goes through CRDN will still be my largest position.

I put in several buy limit orders. Orders to increase positions in Palomar Medical Tech PMTI and Tradestation TRAD.

Also put in small buy limit orders on Immucor BLUD and VASCO Data Security VDSI.

Other serious considerations for additions were LIFC Lifecell (which I already own), PNRA Panera Bread Company, and BEBE Bebe Stores.

I also considered lightening my Garmin GRMN position, but decided to sit tight with what I have despite the rapid run-up in price recently.

I'll have to wait until tomorrow to see if any of the orders fill.


Here's an interesting story about a fisherman who pulled up a rare coelacanth, an ancient fish once thought to be extinct. In the photo note the limb-like fin for which it's "famous."

Here's more specific detail on the fish.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Mid year Marketocracy review

Mid-year review: I run some play money mutual funds over at Marketocracy.com to make sure the overall stock picking strategies/methodologies work over time.

Here's my "best effort" fund's performance SMF, a fund I've been managing properly since about mid-to-late 2002. (It's been in existence longer, but the funds were not invested fully until mid 2002.)

Here's a secondary "best effort" fund SOS started in mid-2003 that invests in a lot of the same companies as the first fund, but I've tried a more concentrated approach in the SOS fund where I sell more quickly, and hold larger more concentrated positions. In contrast, I ease out of positions more slowly in the initial SMF fund.

In both funds the past month has been very good to me, otherwise the shorter term performance would be pretty ordinary. Longer term results I think are pretty good.

I use both approaches as tests for sell strategy (sell slowly or sell quickly) because I find left to my own devices I have the tendency to trade out of winning positions too quickly.

In general both the SMF and SOS strategies seem to work well, but I think I the strategy of easing out of a position more slowly over time (the SMF approach) tends to outperform the more aggressive approach of selling more quickly (the SOS approach). This is good to know and helps me resist temptations to move out of stocks too quickly and instead let positions run longer than I would normally be comfortable doing. From a momentum standpoint, stocks that fit my investing profiles will tend run longer than I think they should so I'm probably better to give them more rope.

In practice in my real life portfolios, I've adopted the standpoint that if I'm getting the urge to sell something I own and it's nearing my "fair value" levels I'll sell only a part and let the rest ride.

Another couple interesting thing I'm learning from these funds:

1. Picking a small number of really good growth companies and sticking with them can make all the difference. My biggest dollar gainer is in the SMF fund is Cognizant Technology CTSH (also one of my real life largest holdings). I initially purchased a smallish position in the SMF fund back in August 2003 back at a split adjusted $18.60 per share. CTSH is around $85 today. I added and subtracted to the position through time, but it doesn't take many winners like that to make up for a lot of mistakes.

2. It's entirely possible that the best investments for today may be the the best investments from last year and the year before that. I haven't seen a necessity to change horses very often, as the same names typically keep turning up month after month on my valuation screens. Every once in a while I retire large positions when the business is deteriorating or clearly overvalued (BBY Best Buy and CHS Chicos FAS are two ex-large holdings that come to mind), but in general much of what's here today - especially the larger positions - was likely here a year ago.

Sailing away

This balloonist has been laughed at, derided, and given a Darwin award, but there's no doubt this has got to take guts. I'm linking to the Snopes site which asserts the tale of a man taking a high altitude trip floating with a gun in lawn chair tethered to weather balloons is true, or at least based upon a true story.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Interesting Trading Strategy

All, I apologize for not posting over the past several days. I've been swamped at work and when at home have gotten absorbed in an idea I encountered on the traderfeed.com blog.

I'm not a trader - far from it - but this got me interested, especially with the ability to do automated programs. I didn't believe this example when I first read it because based on the "random walk" hypothesis something as simple as this shouldn't exist. Basically the idea is that if you buy the S&P on days when the S&P is down and sell 3 days later then those trades will double the performance vs. buying the S&P on up days and selling 3 days later. So I had to check the data and sure enough I got similar findings.

I pulled historical S&P data from Yahoo back through 1993 and ran the test. I found that 3 and 5 day trades buying the S&P on down days averaged gains of .21% and 0.34% respectively. Buying on up days returned 0.07% and 0.13% respectively. Again, very interesting. This shouldn't exist in efficient markets - but thinking about it I think what may be at work is simply playing off of hard-wired crowd behavior and the market reflects that interplay of exaggerated fear/greed/herd behavior. Buy when everybody else is selling. Don't buy when everybody else is buying.

Of course starting from this finding leads to a million different options, but I started looking at this from different angles, and returns of buying on down days can be enhanced if you restrict yourself further to only placing these trades in generally "down" markets. I'm defining "down" markets here as a market where the current market price is down over both 30 and 60 days (rough estimates- I'm not exact in constraining dates).

In these down markets buying on down days for the S&P and selling 3 days later generates 3 and 5 day returns of 0.55% and 0.76%. In contrast buying on up days in down markets generates -0.07% and 0.04% returns on the same 3/5 day trades. In effect - almost all the enhanced benefit/value of this strategy is captured in "down" markets - when fear is presumably sitting in with investors over extended periods.

All this is very interesting to me and I'm looking at feasibility/transaction costs/investment vehicles (SPY or futures)/generating leverage/size of positions/etc, but maybe trading in some type of automated format is workable considering how low transaction costs have become.

It looks like in an average year since 1994 this approach would generate around 30 trades per year. (with minimum of 0 trades in 1995 and 70 trades in 2002.) The strategy is generally historically profitable, although you would have lost money in 2001.

So far in 2007 the down market strategy described above would have generated 9 trades that averaged 3 and 5 day gains of 0.84% and 1.35%.

Here are the trades for 2007 to give an example.

Pretty cool stuff in my view. Right now I'm trying to understand how a practical and automated implementation of something like this could be done. The cool part is it gets you into the market at times when there's a good chance for strong gains. It reduces risk by getting you out into cash for most of the year. It could also be combined with some other strategies since it only occupies capital for a portion of the year.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Most common county names - answers UPDATED

updated: I've filled in the unguessed county names below in italics. "Franklin" is tied for the second place with Jefferson. I tried to give you "turkeys" a clue but to no avail. Maybe everyone was out flying a kite.

= = = = = = = = = = = = =
If you haven't guessed yet, stop now. Go to this post first and place your guesses. Otherwise read on...

Based on guesses/emails I've received so far, here are the top county/parish names in the U.S. along with the number of times a particular name is used. My Dad got the first one and 5 of the top 6. My brother guessed 3 of the top 6 and added Grant as a guess. There's still a big common name out there that no one has guessed yet though. One of you turkeys can guess this one.

# county
31 Washington
26 Jefferson
26 Franklin
24 Jackson (go Jesse!)
24 Lincoln (for the toy logs)
20 Madison (for the famous snack treat company)
18 Montgomery
18 Clay
18 Union
17 Monroe (added after a guess from Dad)
17 Marion
16 Wayne
15 Grant

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Pro-Fireworks Rant

There must be something about a day off work that brings out the best in people, but this rant in the San Francisco Chronicle in support of fireworks is one of the best I've seen in a while.

Here's an excerpt:

This country was founded on blowing stuff up, and 231 years later it continues to be the thing that we do best. And yet in the past few decades, almost every Bay Area municipality has banned the use of fireworks within city limits. It's like we don't even want to be Americans anymore.

I see two choices: Either we all start learning to speak French, or we bring the Bay Area back to the stocked-with-fireworks glory that we all enjoyed in the 1970s and 1980s. Not next week. Not after a bunch of politicians have a chance to assemble focus groups and hear public comment for three years. Right. Freaking. Now.

(Thanks to the Steve Olson Blog for the link)

July 4th

I'll post the answers to the most most common counties soon, but one of the more common county names on the list is "Jefferson."

Here is a quote from the last letter of Thomas Jefferson as he looks back nearly 50 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In the letter he declines attending a 50th anniversary celebration of the signing due to ill health. He has a way with words doesn't he?

"May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government. That form which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God. These are grounds of hope for others. For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them." - Thomas Jefferson

(Thanks to the Marginal Revolution for the find.)

Toyota Prius

The New York Times ran an article about the Toyota Prius and its owners today. The Prius is the most popular hybrid vehicle on the road today and probably averages around 45-50mpg in normal use from reports I've seen from drivers.

from the article:
- sales of the Prius are up over 93% vs. prior year
- Over 94,000 of the Prius's have sold year-to-date June.
- Despite there being many other hybrid options available (including a hybrid Camry), most Prius owners want the Prius because it comes in only a hybrid model, and makes a statement about the driver.
- other car companies are rushing to increase the volume of hybrids to market. Here are some examples.

To me it's looking like a critical mass / concensus is forming that's on the verge of pushing a new type of automotive to the mainstream. From an investment standpoint it may be time to look at companies supporting this new industry vertical. Toyota is clearly in the lead as a manufacturer, but I'm betting suppliers are interesting too. Batteries come to mind initially, but there's also alot of energy conserving devices built into these vehicles - some of which might be outsourced.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Mroe Sreect Cdoe

Tisrh and I are gtenitg radey to go wctah smoe frie wroks oevr by the lkae. It's jsut a sorht wlak and tehy nlaolrmy hvae a pterty good sohw oevr trehe.

Hppay Jluy 4th erbedyovy!

Victoria Crater

Wow! Look at this image of Victoria Crater on Mars, the crater that the Opportunity rover is getting ready to descend into.

Might be a one way trip? (you can click the photo and zoom in - it's a fairly high resolution shot).

Here's another picture of the crater from a tad farther back.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Stock Holdings - July

It's been a while since I posted stock holdings, so here goes:

My stock holdings from largest to small-
CRDN - Ceradyne - ceramic armor (body armor)
CTSH - Cognizant Tech - information tech (India)
GRMN - Garmin - GPS systems
HANS - Hansen Natural - Energy Drinks
LIFC - Lifecell - tissue generation for reconstructive surgery (like skin for burn victims)
INFY - Infosys - information tech (India)
NGPS - Novatel - GPS system components
NTES - Netease - online video games (China)
PMTI - Palomar Medical Tech - cosmetic surgery lasers
TRAD - Tradestation - online brokerage and trading platform
CKFR - Checkfree - online billpay provider

the last 5 are really pretty small positions. I'm disappointed in the performance of recent purchases of PMTI and TRAD and am considering breaking my rule of not adding to a stock that's down, but I like both of these valuations right now.

Google's been doing well since I missed on my limit order a while back. I probably shouldn't have been so stingy on it as it seems on the move currently.

In the live and learn category: I sold half of my position in Garmin on 12-4-06 at 50.47. Garmin is at 76.05 today, up over 50%. Sometimes I should just keep riding a winning horse. I sold with expectation of buying back at lower prices, but sometimes the market doesn't give you that chance.

Hansen Natural Rumor

HANS - Hansen Natural is one of my larger stock holdings.

There's a rumor posted from Forbes saying that Anheuser-Busch may be looking to buy Hanson Natural. Anheuser-Busch already has a major distribution agreement with Hanson's Monster Energy drinks.

Here's the other part of the rumor from NASCAR - if the buyout happens Dale Earnhart Jr. might be driving a Monster Energy Drink car next year... Heres' the story.

It's all rumor, but it seems plausible to me.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Most common county name?

What is the most common county name in the United States?

Think about it and check back in later (or post your guess in the comments section).

Update: 7-2-07. I already have a correct answer by email for the #1 county from my Dad. I'll wait a couple of days to post the answer. The most common county name occurs in 31 of the states.

While you're at it, think about #2-5 also. These are all common county names, occurring at least 24 times.