The Gaza War Cease-Fire is a return to status quo

hamas1It pains me that most Palestinians continue to opt for short term thinking. Most are desperate for the smell of victory so they can pat each other on the back and pass the Kunafa dishes around.  They’re more focused on boosting their pride by shouting slogans and poetry verses than confronting their own naked reality of lack of strategy, lack of leadership, and lack of self-examination to improve their effectiveness. It reminds me of this very intelligent woman who had a great potential. She also had such a low self-esteem from her body image that it consumed all of her mental energy to a point of obsession.  She would do anything to illicit a superficial compliment on her looks and any compliment she receives would be a cause of a week-long celebration.  She has forgone her most valuable strength, her brains, for the sake of a superficial momentary victory for her body. Whenever she fails in something, she blames it on her looks. I couldn’t stop thinking if she only turned off her need for superficial matters and focused on her strength, she won’t have to suffer so many failures in her life.   So goes the Palestinians.  They let these superficial voices from the internet and from street demonstrations go to their head while most world leaders and organizations aren’t giving them any support.  They opted for complements about their endurance and steadfastness to claim a victory rather than focus on their unity, changing their leadership, and building a strategy to combat Israel’s plan to extract more of their lands and divide them further.  They are now celebrating the victory for being allowed to live another day so Israel can take another run at them in a year or two.  They achieved none of the 6 demands that Khaled Mashal stated in his press conference in Qatar at the start of the war. No blockade will be lifted, No prisoners will be released, No seaport or airport will be allowed to operate, No free passage from Gaza to the West Bank, and No lifting of fishing restrictions (only a 6 miles extension will be allowed).

According the NY Times,  the deal did not have any reference to Gaza’s Rafah’s crossing with Egypt opening, only a vague description from Egypt’s Foreign Ministry was presented afterward talking about  “an independent Palestinian state to achieve peace and security in the region.”

Sadly, all my predictions about this war have come true.  Israel will not get rid of Hamas because they need them to justify their occupation of Gaza. They need them to test new weapons and military strategies for gorilla wars.   Netanyahu wants only to cut the grass and keep the blockade going indefinitely for the purpose of distracting Palestinians from his settlement expansion in the west bank.  The west bank conversion is Israel’s biggest prize and where Jews have biblical ambitions. Gaza can serve to take attention away until the conversion is complete and no viable Palestinians state will be possible. The solution will then becomes Gaza as a unitary state for Palestinians, while Israel will include the West Bank Arabs as second class citizens under their governance with Abbas as their tribal chief and a loyal Israeli enforcer.

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My #FreePalestine, Imagine no religion

Struggling with my cognitive dissonance:  Defending the credulous under fairy tale banners who won’t have any compunction about silencing me, or speaking out against the injustices of their occupiers.  If only they can recognize that their defense comes from the very thing they wish to destroy. However, credulity is not a mortal sin and its holders are still humans whose rights should be fought for.  Too bad it took violence to bring limelight to this tragedy.

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Palestinians: Something’s Gotta Give – It’s no longer a movie

pa4The abysmal failure of the Palestinian leadership from both the PLO and Hamas has made Palestinian rights advocates speechless. They are not able to find a clean front to stand behind to support suffering Palestinians wherever they may be; occupied in the West Bank, under siege in Gaza, or in refugee camps in Arab countries. One Palestinian faction is shallow, weak, and corrupt; the other is cloaked in jihadist terms which can frighten the most devoted human rights advocate. Instead, these advocates have retreated to a safe place where they can focus on a segment of the population that no rational person can disagree with: Palestinian Children. Good move! But the situation is not as hopeless as it looks for the adults. There is still a chance for redemption if Mahmoud Abbas and his cohorts decide to allow some honesty in their midst.  A tall order of course, but let me explain:

There is a fatal problem in Palestinian politics undermining the survival of the Palestinian struggle.  Simply, it is the lack of honest self-examination and the dogmatic inability to question archaic positions even after numerous failures. Sometimes, the mere suggestion of a change can land an honest voice in the traitor box. This cult-like mentality in Palestinian politics is dangerous and is pushing the Palestinian political movement to the fringe. However, criticizing without offering an solutions, no matter how feeble, is still better than criticizing alone. So here are mine:

pa11. Change of the Guards: I want to present my “Thank you card” to the old guards in Palestinian politics and tell them we do appreciate their history of struggle. I also want to insist that they retire and completely step aside from the arena very soon. This includes everyone in the current PA government who is above 50 years old. We need younger, more educated, more open generation to step in immediately. We cannot open the door for this younger leadership unless the current one gives a bright green light for it. “Good Luck with that” you say? Well, if we give up on this push for management shakeup, then we have doomed our struggle to certain collapse. Change of the guards is an imperative for the re-birth of the Palestinian issue as a nagging unanswered legitimate world class problem.

pa22. Far more inclusive process: I am not talking about including Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the decision making process, I am talking about including Palestinians in diaspora all over the globe, and giving them a voice and a stake in deciding the political course. Palestinians or the children of Palestinians who were born in Gaza, the West Bank, and even in Palestine prior to 1948 need to be given a way to participate.  How? Here is a funny idea: Offer Palestinians living abroad a Voter ID Card. Not just to allow them to have an absentee vote in a Palestinian election, but also to give them an authentic identity certificate as part of the Palestinian international community. It is a material and psychological stand for many Palestinians who feel a sense of belonging to the struggle, but cannot participate in it. But “What Elections? We are under occupation!” Of course we are, and it is precisely why we need an election that includes as many of the 11 million of us (worldwide) as possible. This way, the much wider base of electorate can balance the narrower view of the captive voices under occupation. Their input can reflect what is possible as well as what is needed, what is doable from angles not viewable to captive eyes. An election like this will unearth talents and ideas that are impossible to discover in a muted population.

I would offer more suggestions but these two are essential to start a major overhaul of our struggle for recognition as one people with a respectable presence on the world stage. Sadly, since the Oslo accord which should have created more peaceful ways for Palestinians to engage in the struggle, has resulted in more closed and self-serving leadership that more and more Palestinians are disillusioned with. The current leadership has become a heavy burden for many advocates on the side of Palestine or jut on the side of Palestinian human rights.

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Gaza war thoughts: For the love of Palestinians, Hamas MUST GO.

kerry-netanyahuIt is now clear.  The relationship between Israel and Hamas is symbiotic.  Netanyahu and the Israeli Right have every intention to keep Hamas and the militant Islamic elements in Gaza sufficiently strong to fight, but sufficiently weak not to be a real threat. The occasional fireworks show will do.  Hamas brings so much financial, moral, and political support to Israel while the current Israeli government bring legitimacy to Hamas internally and among short sighted Islamists in the region.  Israel now is in a very comfortable position of receiving US aid, military contracts, and a blind eye from the western governments to continue apartheid practices with impunity. It has sympathy for rejecting peace deals with the PA and sabotaging the peace process.    I heard recently that some rich Arab governments have offered Israel financial support to conduct a ground war in Gaza on the condition of wiping out Hamas and Islamic Jihad. **I can assure you they will not.**  Hamas is a cash cow for them and Gaza with useless rockets coming out of it is a great ground for military experiments and live target practice.  Israel has survived all these years by its military power, it will not give up the image of a military with superior technology any time soon. It needs it as a deterrent for Iran and Syria and anyone else who thinks to mess with them, and it wants a permanent battle field to show it in the open. 

In the final analysis, actual peace is a real threat to Israel. It will allow some light to shine on its apartheid racist state and the need to resolve the occupation. It will diminish their excuse that “everyone around us wants to kill us and we just want to survive.”  But most importantly, it will save lives in Gaza and possibly give them some relief from this constant threat so they can develop a little.  Some cynics will say that Israel will find another excuse to bomb Gaza.  Yes, they will try, but it will not be long before they are exposed and have to back down.  There are many examples of successful passive resistance in modern history.  They take time and patience, but they can succeed. The Islamic mentality on the other hand is: Keep fighting and Allah will give you victory.  My question to them is: Is there a time limit for waiting for Allah’s victory or is it open ended?  Because the last time it worked out for you was about 900 years ago in the battle of 7itteen (Hattin) and your enemy was much weaker and divided and the west was in the very dark ages.

The dynamics here are becoming obvious by the day and the world is catching on.  Hamas must Go and Gazans, just like they put them in power, must take them out of power.  Unfortunately we all know they cannot. Any help from the outside will come with a heavy price no one wants to pay and only few, if any, have interest to give it anyway. 

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The Internet of Things: 20 years of Hype that may become real.

What is the Internet of Things?

Internet_of_ThingsSimply put, it is when everyday ‘dumb’ things like your shoes and swimsuit start sending (and possibly receiving) data to or from other devices, wirelessly I am sure, giving information relevant to their status and function.  When this communication ties into the Internet, these things can form a web of live data sources known as the Internet of Things. But let us not get ahead of ourselves and get some background first. 

We have come to understand what “smart’’ means in smartphones. it’s about being loaded with features typically found on laptops or bigger machines, and even features that once required its own hardware like Navigators and high resolution video cameras.  In 2013, mobile phones accounted for 17% of all internet traffic worldwide according to StatCounter.com.  It is expected to increase substantially as more heavily populated developing countries improve their Internet infrastructures and reduce connectivity cost.  But what does that have to do with The Internet of Things?    

Mobile phones have driven leaps in multiple technologies across hardware and software; from miniaturization, cheaper memory, lower power consumptions, to efficient algorithms that offload much of the processing from backend servers to the phones themselves.  This mobile device that most of us are attached to, has become a very valuable feed to the rest of the world about our micro environment; reading, measuring, and, when we choose, sharing this micro environment with our private network of friends.  This in turn spurred innovations in all types of micro sensors that smartphones makers can add on, sometime as external accessories, to their devices. Sensors like motion measurement, human voice detection, optical sensors, temperature, pressure, acceleration, body vital signs, and of course GPS and altitude to name a few.  The advances also added intelligent and efficient software like speech and facial recognition, noise filtering, even machine learning algorithms that automatically build models of what to expect from a sensor and take action when a new reading does not fit the expected input.  All of these new innovations were made accessible to everyday consumers at a very reasonable price that is getting cheaper by the day.  The lower cost was mainly driven by fierce competition to tap into the smart devices market. It is also because of the mass production of what is known as System-on-a-Chip (SoC) hardware components. These components integrate complex functions in a dedicated microchip and perform them much faster than if done by the main computer processor.  These SoC’s created a Chinese buffet of capabilities for device designers to assemble from. In the last couple of years, consumer electronics and appliances manufacturers have been tripping over each other to jazz up their devices with these components to get their customer’s attention and hopefully add incremental value over the competition.

We are now approaching a critical mass of low cost technologies coming together to remove the human from the center of interaction.   In other words, just like a car manufacturer can remotely monitor your new car and call you to come for repairs before the engine light flashes, your fridge can text you a list of its contents just as you are entering the supermarket door so you can decide what groceries to buy.  Or a shopping cart that adds up the prices of the items in it before you stand in the checkout line.  Or better yet, skip the line altogether and wave your credit card as you exit the store and your receipt instantly shows up on your smartphone and logged into your expense ledger. These are not futuristic fantasies, these are current and proven technologies which are not widely implemented yet.

This availability of sensory data from “things” has created a new technology paradigm. Every day functional consumer dumb things like shoes, door keys, swimsuits,  pocket wallets, handbags, pens, and school notebooks are candidates for these sensory microchips that “call home” via the nearest Wi-Fi and summit reports to a master program with built-in intelligence to make use of it. This master program is likely running in a secure cloud that has a big mouth to swallow gigabytes of data per second. The idea is, by having all this data in one place, the human who owns these “things” can delegate some management tasks to a software agent to detect events, trigger responses, or just provide alerts and recommendations on what action to take.  

The Big, the Messy, and the Meaningless Data

Enter Big Data.  You can imagine now if a manufacturer wants to use this technology for its product lines, there has to be an existing infrastructure to handle it. Possibly a “Service Provider for Things” to which the products can connect once they are registered or activated.  The owner of these products can then monitor the generated data and possibly select a software to process it, or maybe turn it off when she pleases. Take for example a Nike walking shoes equipped with this technology. It can read a great deal of data every second: your pulse, forces of impact, pressure points, the relative positions of your feet, your location, foot orientation, speed, etc.  Now assume Nike will sell a million of these shoes worldwide and you immediately start to see the volume and velocity of data coming out of them.  You would think that Nike or some other player must have prepared the grounds to deal with this outflow if there is a value to be gained from it by the end user or Nike itself. We are seeing some of these preparations in infrastructure building up in cloud computing but we have a long way to go yet.

If you are one who likes to surround herself with smart “things” like the Nike shoes above, then your “things” are creating serious network traffic. Collectively, your “things” are now generating massive data that may overlap, send readings that contradict each other, report all sorts of bugs or errors.  This becomes a lot messier when the software running at the “Service Provider of Things” attempts to integrate data from your smart things for your personal “Dashboard of things”.  Your shoes can be reporting that you are enjoying a walk at 4 MPH at the same time your swimsuit is experiencing a 150 F temperature water. If the software was design to assess your daily exercise activities, it has to decide: Are you waking or are you sitting in a hot tub? Could it be that you put your swimsuit in the washer and went for a walk?  Or is this just meaningless data to skip over? Maybe it is time for the master program to interact with you to learn how to deal with these inconstancies. It could text you a question: Hey John, I am confused! Are you walking or in a Hot tub?

A new field of Big Data science has just opened up as you can see. A combination of many disciplines in computer science covering communication protocols, massive data management, machine learning, and user interface to name a few.

The Road to Reality for the IofT

So the technologies are obviously there, cheap enough, and tiny enough to deploy. Where do we go from here?  Like an army of well-trained soldiers, equipped and ready to go to battle, these technologies need a great general to lead them.  Someone with vision, but also loved and respected by the field captains and the populous alike. Someone with a vast network of partners and supporters that can lend skills and expertise at a twitch of a finger. Someone with massive wealth to spend unabated until the war is won.  Of course no one can be that good. However, someone has just stepped into the ring that may have a real shot, Finally! 

On June 2nd, 2014 at Apple Worldwide Developer Conference in San Francisco, Apple signaled a clear intention to enter this realm by announcing two programming kits for developers to build on: HomeKit and HealthKit. These two kits will work with Apple’s upcoming release of iOS 8 and are meant to help developers build Apps specifically for “things” at home and for your health and fitness.

The HomeKit allows programmers to write Apps integrating Apple devices with other smart home devices like Smart TVs, Furnaces and Air Conditioners, Smart Refrigerators, Electricity Panels, Security Systems, light switches, and other devices that may come along in the near future. This announcement is significant not just because it comes from the dominant leader in the smart devices market, but also because it is backed by a real functioning infrastructure that promises seamless integration into an existing and well-functioning, although proprietary, “Internet of Apple Things”.  The kits are composed of code libraries and instruction manuals to developers describing messaging protocols and how to command and receive responses from other smart devices.  This opens the door for mass participation from developers, but more importantly it creates new expectations from end users forcing developers to innovate and investors to back them up. 

The Internet of Things is not real yet, at least not the way my buddies and I used to dream about it when I was a fresh programmer 25 years ago.   I told my programmer friends then it won’t be long before we are wearing smart baseball hats that read our thoughts and let us communicate our ideas in perfect articulation to whomever we wish without moving a muscle. A hat that quietly reminds us where we left our car keys and the time of the meeting we all try to forget but have to go to.  Well, I was wrong about the smart baseball hat, but smartphones and the eyeglasses from Google are a step closer to my dream.   

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The Right Time For Technology Service Start-Ups To Flourish

Companies are not hiring. Some of the big ones are silently laying-off or not replacing workers lost through attrition. Cash accumulation on balance sheets has reached a level never seen before. Publicly traded companies are buying back their shares in every industry you look at. Stocks in many of these companies are now yielding much higher than Treasury or even corporate bonds. These companies are obviously doing well and CEOs are managing to hold their business afloat in one of the slowest recovery cycles in the US economic history.

Obviously this is good news if you are an investor, but what is happening behind the scenes reveals an opportunity that does not come very often for new entrepreneurs. CEOs are turning a laser sharp focus on their core businesses and on fortifying their market shares even at the expense of lower gross margins. To make their numbers to shareholders, CEOs are trimming out the peripheries and outsourcing anything that does not directly contribute to their core competencies. In house IT centers are being transferred gradually to cloud computing centers. Customer Relation Management (CRM), productivity tools, time tracking, billing, marketing tools, even basic accounting software are being outsourced to specialized companies to host and maintain them in cloud centers. In house custom software, specialized skills, and proprietary systems are becoming a thing of the past. Indeed anything with variable cost and requiring complex management that can be turned into more fixed predictable cost is being tagged for outsourcing.

The trend from CEOs now is to make "Agility" a key strategy to deal with the intense economic uncertainty on a global scale. They have been under pressure to de-leverage in the last 4 years, not just from shareholders and board directors, but more importantly because their bankers have been restricting financing of debts especially when the debt is not being used to directly fulfill immediate sales contracts. Active investors are also pushing CEO to bolster their cash coffers until they know where the market is heading. Investment bankers too are reluctant to finance new projects fearing new regulations in the pipeline that require them to be more liquid, or worse, forces them to separate their traditional banking from investment banking. These uncertainties corners CEOs into a Conservation mode which quite unnatural to every CEO’s instinct when they are sitting on so much cash.

Ultimately all of this is leading to a marked shift from internal skills growth to outsourcing skills that are not directly and immediately needed for the company’s core business. Obviously, none of this is new; we saw this strategy in previous recessions and down business cycles. However, what makes the Conservation and Agile strategies more pressing, and long term ones, is the nature of this particular downturn and global scope of it. In the past, big businesses made use of Global Resources (GRs) as a cheap way to build internal skills and manage growth in emerging markets; simultaneously hitting 2 birds with one stone. They built campuses, call centers, and hired local talents on the cheap. They integrated and streamlined operations, and spent massively to create a fluid enterprise that flows to the lowest cost basin in the world for a workforce. It was a successful proposition and it paid well to the bottom line at the time but now it may backfire! The strategy of spending on globalization and GRs did not anticipate that headcount "Cost Leveling" to happen so quickly. Headcount Cost Leveling is when the cost for skilled workers is no longer differentiated by geography and employers cannot count on finding cheaper workers to boost their bottom line by looking somewhere else in the world. Skilled workers in China, India, and Romania know what their counterparts in the US and Germany are paid and they will not give their employers the same loyalty or productivity unless they receive comparable compensation, benefits, and job security. Furthermore, globalization of operations did not anticipate or plan for a synchronized global economic slowdown from Europe to China. How could they? Prior to this globalization there always were new virgin markets to conquer and a cheaper labor forces to tap into.

The bottom line is that economic uncertainties and the posturing of big businesses that ensued to conserve cash and become agile created a wide opening for smaller and more creative Tech Services providers to fill immediate and pressing needs. They can help these big businesses stay current with a fast moving technology while remain focused on their individual core competencies. This also created a new environment where partnerships can be formed without long term contractual commitments demanded by service tech giants like IBM, Accenture (ACN), CA, Cognizant Technology (CTSH) and others who dominated the scene before. Entrepreneurs, this is your time to shine and make use of talents now in abundance.

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Why you should not buy Home Depot Now

Home Depot (HD) has hit its 52 week high again for the second time this year.  It is a great company and a stock to match. This is a blue-chip stock with great fundamentals and competent management. However, with that said, the stock will come down a lot before it goes back and zooms past its highs. Why? because a company with a wide base of stock owners like HD  follows a predictable statistical pattern that will give an opportunity for you to get a discount.  So let us look at the probability distribution curves for 3 look-back periods and see how the stock behaves:

If you own the stock for 10 days and sell on the 11th day, the following curve tells you the probabilities of the stock going down 5%,10%, and 20% respectively:

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Price Move Risks in 11 Day(s)
Loss/Gain % Probability
Up Prob. % 59.03%
Down Prob. % 41.05%
No-Change Prob. % 0%
Total % 100.08%
-5% Value At Risk Prob.. 22.25%
-10% Value At Risk Prob.. 3.15%
-20% Value At Risk Prob.. 0%

 

 

If you own it for 20 days and sell on the 21st day, here are your odds:

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Price Move Risks in 21 Day(s)
Loss/Gain % Probability
Up Prob. % 62.06%
Down Prob. % 38%
No-Change Prob. % 0%
Total % 100.06%
-5% Value At Risk Prob.. 28.03%
-10% Value At Risk Prob.. 11.17%
-20% Value At Risk Prob.. 0%

 

Now if you own it for 50 days and sell it on the 51st day, you are much more likely to hit a draw-down time of –10%.  This is where you want to get into this stock at a discount.

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Price Move Risks in 51 Day(s)
Loss/Gain % Probability
Up Prob. % 64.77%
Down Prob. % 35.3%
No-Change Prob. % 0%
Total % 100.07%
-5% Value At Risk Prob.. 30.3%
-10% Value At Risk Prob.. 18.82%
-20% Value At Risk Prob.. 0%

 

So what is the hurry?  It is very likely that you will get a chance to get this stock at 5% or even 10% discount from its high within 50 days.

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Best Retailers to watch: Coach (COH) has the best dress

I don’t usually like to invest in retailers but Ross Stores (ROST) and AEROPOSTAL (ARO) made me money in the past. The season is back for these companies but one has to be extraordinarily careful this time.  ROST and ARO had their runs and escaped the value sphere for now.  In the retail sector Coach stands out for me and here is why:

 

Expansion in China!

The story of Coach now looks like YUM Brands 2 years ago when they started expanding their restaurants in mainland China. Look up YUM stock since then and you will know what I am talking about, up around 57% in 2 years.

 

Brand Value is not fully realized globally!

Few have not heard of Coach brand in the west, but there is still much room for this recognition to expand in many emerging markets. This brand asset is yet to materialize fully in the stock.

 

Rising Earnings

Creating higher highs and higher lows. Here is a 2 years chart:

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Rising Revenues

Trailing Twelve Months of revenue chart tells the story.

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Rising Return on Invested Capital

Coach management seems to know where and how to invest their capital.

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Shareholder Friendly

Buying back stocks and reducing their float is certainly a big positive for remaining share holders.  Coach was apparently reducing its Outstanding Common Shares numbers.

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Debt

The debt to equity ratio rose sharply the beginning of 2011, but the borrowed money was well used and Debt/Equity ratio is coming down

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Love to hear comments on Coach!

 

Al

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Can CSX Come back?

CSX Corp was and still is one of my favorite companies for this year.  They were hit hard by some labor disputes and took a hit when fears of a double dip recession was looming.  The labor issue was resolved, but the economy is still a question mark. The market does not seem to believe that a double dip recession is in the cards for the US unless Europe collapses.  This possibility is real, but CSX is not an international company per se, so it will survive on US domestic shipping more than say Fed Ex would.     

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I am going to let the charts do the talking here. I picked 2 Years timeframe for looking at the data because I thought it reflects the relevant market impacts from the rally in late 2010 to the Tsunami in Japan and the turmoil in Aug 2011 followed by the European crisis.

 

Revenue

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Earnings (EPS)

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Free Cash Flow (FCF)

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Return on Invested Capital

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Looking at the above charts one must see a strong potential for this company and an opportunity for picking up an undervalued stock.  Let me know what you think?

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Cometh the Hour of Armageddon

Housing prices are hitting record lows but has anyone checked the prices of caves lately? I bet they are tracking the price of Gold which hit all time high of $1,600 an Ounce. Really!! Yes people are hording Gold and bidding up Cave prices as we go forward to the ancient primitive past! I haven’t checked the prices of goats lately, but I bet they are rising too. My daughter is learning to make soap in summer camp now, this should come handy as Mankind regresses to cavemen (or cavewomen, just to stay politically correct while modernity lasts)

So what’s the heck is happening in the financial world? Well, remember that Fear feeds on itself. Fear is addictive, once you get a taste of it you will find yourself seeking it in everything you see. Of course it does not hurt if you are a news junkie and you cannot decipher news from noise. The fact of the matter is most people cannot. And here lies the problem. We have desperate politicians like Ron Paul and his son hourly on the news scaring people just so they can sell their agenda or get reelected. You have broadcasters who don’t even bother hiding their agenda and follow-up their news scares with an ad to buy Gold. But the biggest idiots of all are those who allow that garbage to pass through their eardrums and contaminate your brain cells. The consumer who forms dumb perceptions and then complains when they turn into reality, is unworthy participant in the economy.

The world is NOT breaking apart, unless a large group of idiots conspire to break it up. Since there is no shortage of those, my plan is simple; weed these laggers on the evolutionary scale out of the economy, let them sell-out and go to their caves and herd their goats. Tell them to Sell and stay out. Ladies and gents, please take your fill of fear, sell your money-making investments and buy Gold, run to the hills, and be afraid .. very afraid .. I am buying, 10 cents on the dollar.. but you get the GOLD!

Al Sabawi

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