My Hot Dog Addiction

  • James H. Lee

As my wife will tell you, I'm a vegetarian with a pork problem.  More specifically, I have a soft spot for smoked ham, bacon, and of course, hot dogs.  My "happy place" is officially Johnny's Dog House on Route 202, where (I'm embarrassed to say) I have a frequent flier membership.

Basic Hot Dog So, when it came time to talk about various financial ratios with StratFI's summer intern, my mind just happened to wander upon a reoccurring private fantasy of running a hot dog stand. 

In summary, there are three ways to make money selling hot dogs.  You can go gourmet, like Johnny's, and charge $5-$6 per hot dog, earning a good profit margin.  Or, you could sell cheaply, and make money by selling in high volume, like Oscar Meyer.  Finally, you could ditch the hot dog stand, take out a loan, and buy a fancy restaurant.  That means that you could support a bigger customer base - with some help from other people's money.

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The World Cup of Investing

  • James H. Lee

Everyone is watching the World Cup, and last night's match been the U.S. and Ghana was made more suspenseful by Ghana's physical game and the fact that this was the team that knocked the U.S. out of the tournament on two previous occasions.

Ball.jpgWe won the game, but this was a country that was giving our soccer coaches sleepless nights.  It is a reminder that we have serious competition - and that sometimes being bigger and better known isn't enough to succeed.

Sometimes the best investment opportunities can be found overseas.  After dominating the global markets for the past 5 years in the post-crisis "flight to safety", the U.S. is looking somewhat expensive.

Emerging markets such as Brazil, Russia, and China, are comparatively easy to invest in through American Depository Receipts.  Buying blue chip stocks from these countries isn't much different than buying shares of IBM or Microsoft.  ADRs can be purchased in any brokerage account and have standardized reporting.  Other markets are so young that they haven't emerged yet.  These are typically known as "frontier markets."  If this sounds like the Wild West of finance, well, it is.  These markets are so small and inaccessible that they can only be easily accessed through a basket of diversified holdings.  As we'll soon see, the baskets can also vary greatly in terms of what they hold.

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Growing Old Together

  • James H. Lee

Instead of boring our readers with pictures of demographic pyramids turned upside-down, or horrifying everyone with damning statistics on why Social Security is the largest government-sanctioned Ponzi scheme ever, let’s look at some of the unintended consequences of aging populations worldwide:

  • In Japan, more diapers are being sold for grown-ups than for children.  Big nappies are big business.
  • In Italy, there are now more grandmothers than babies.  This is leading to a break-out of national pacifism, because none of them want to send their only grandchild to war.
  • The ever-practical Germans are now retraining retired sex-industry workers as home healthcare aides.  Sponge-baths have never been more popular.

Eric Garland tries to avoid making predictions about the future. But there are a few things that he feels comfortable forecasting. Garland says that “in the future, there will be old people, clean coal, and water shortages.” Meanwhile, science-fiction writer Bruce Sterling writes that in the world of tomorrow, there will be “old people in big cities, afraid of the sky.” Either way, we are going to have a lot of old people. Things could be worse.

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Where Did the Excellence Go?

  • James H. Lee

Does anyone remember the 1982 book In Search of Excellence by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman? At the time, it was a huge bestseller that revitalized interest in business management and promised to make American companies more excellent again.

According to Peters and Waterman, the ingredients for success are:

  1. A bias for action
  2. Staying close to the customer
  3. Autonomy and entrepreneurship
  4. Productivity through people
  5. Focus on the core business
  6. Lean staffing
  7. Simultaneous "loose/tight" properties

The original list of companies recognized as "excellent" in the book is still quite recognizable, with names that include 3M, Avon, Boeing, Bristol-Myers, Caterpillar, Disney, DuPont, IBM, Intel, and Wal-Mart. These could still be suggested for any conservative blue-chip portfolio without too many questions being asked. While most of these companies are still well-respected, I suspect that they may no longer be quite as esteemed as they were thirty years ago.  They have simply matured past the stage of unusual growth and opportunity.

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Marijuana Stocks - Good for Seed Capital?

  • James H. Lee

marijuana leafThis is a question that I never expected to ask, "Does marijuana deserve a place in your portfolio?"  Call it a legacy of the Baby Boomer generation, or a desperate attempt by states to generate new tax revenues.    Either way, the decriminalization of marijuana is a trend that is simply too big to ignore.

Since California first legalized medical marijuana in 1996, a total of twenty states plus the District of Columbia now allow access for those with documented medical needs.  The two "Superbowl States" of 2014, Colorado and Washington, now allow ownership for recreational purposes, as well.  

Colorado expects to take in $180 million in tax revenues during the first 18 months of legalization based on forecast sales revenues of $610 million.  When possession was fully legalized, the lines were so long that many dispensaries ran out of product, or engaged in rationing to keep their waiting customers mellow.

President Obama (who apparently inhaled quite a bit in his earlier days) recently removed the federal limitations that made it difficult for state-legal marijuana shops to open bank accounts.  This should improve financial transparency at any number of levels.  Marijuana stocks have since become a day-trader's paradise; some of them have advanced as much as 200% since the beginning of the year.

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Finding a Fit with Wearable Devices

  • James H. Lee

Can you train like an Olympic athlete, see through the back of your head, and remember everything you did today? These things are completely unrealistic for most of us, but we are getting closer with breakthroughs in wearable devices.

JawbonePersonal fitness monitors such as the Fitbit Force, the Jawbone, and Fuel are consumer gadgets that fit like bracelets and serve as personal coaches – tracking your fitness activity, sleep, and calorie burn rate. Fitness fanatics now log their meals onto their cell phones and get nutritional guidance for building muscle mass, losing weight, or just feeling better.

Publicly-traded companies, including Nike (ticker: NKE) and Garmin (GRMN), are some of the early entrants into the fitness monitor trend. They’ve “broken the code” to making wearable sensors fashionable by marketing them to athletes.

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