Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

Dave Price, co-founder and Editor of mid-peninsula’s Daily Post, is my new hero.

He’s written pieces in the past such as, “Remember When Government Was Frugal?” (July 9, 2018).

I just read today’s opinion piece, “We’ve Got Lots Of Money And Need More!”

It’s about how Redwood City is rolling in surplus cash… yet, City Manager Melissa Stevenson Diaz (who makes a healthy $280K a year), apparently is pleading poverty by trying to put a sales tax increase on the upcoming ballot.

What?!

The city has banked an almost $60m SURPLUS over the last two fiscal years — with most likely another healthy surplus coming in this fiscal year.

In other words, Redwood City is most likely sitting on about TEN TIMES what the potential tax hike would raise.

Worse, the city administration is trying to pull the wool over residents eyes by saying the tax increase will be necessary “to maintain rapid 911 emergency response times.”

Poppycock.

The TRUTH is that the extra $’s ARE NOT for current services and salaries, but rather, to FUND OUTRAGEOUS PENSION PROGRAMS…

… namely, that employees retiring at age 50 get 90% of their salary as a pension.

Wow.

Yes, that means that Ms. Melissa will get over $250K per year in pension.

I understand RWC needs to offer competitive salaries and performance bonuses, but I can tell you firsthand Silicon Valley doesn’t dole out CRAZY pensions like that…

… because no responsible business would ever saddle itself with that kind of CRAZY FUTURE DEBT.

But our city governments seem to do just that.

And they’re using the scare tactics of “less emergency services like police and fire” to get votes.

And they’re doing that because, as Dave Price said in his article, imagine how the vote would go if people knew the REAL REASON… paying irresponsible boondoggle pensions.

I’d vote against it in a heartbeat.

The next downturn is going to be brutal for city governments that have been kicking-the-can down the road… seemingly like Redwood City has been doing.

You would think they would have learned something from the last great downturn that we had just a few short years back.

(Thank you, Dave Price, for bringing this issue to light.)

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Facebook has a lot going for it.  But one of its glaring weakness over the years is ZERO penetration into China.

Turns out dictatorships don’t like things like free speech.

Ironically, as much as FB gets slammed for privacy concerns, Facebook defiantly stood up to the Chinese government in 2009 when the Chinese demanded the release of private information from the company.

This was no small act:  For their privacy stance, the Chinese government blocked Facebook into the world’s most populous country… essentially halving their business opportunity.

THAT’S putting your money where your mouth is.

But, in a weird twist of fate, when many companies are getting slammed for the earnings impact of a US-China trade war, this isn’t an investment risk for Facebook… because they have no Chinese exposure.

And — it gets better — one of the expected outcomes of the trade war is a more level playing field, which (you guessed it) may mean Facebook becomes unblocked. 

If that happens, that could be a massive growth driver for FB earnings over the next few years.

Yet another reason why this trade war isn’t all bad.

The other day I wrote a scathing piece about Trump being a lap dog for Putin.

Today I read a blatantly pro Trump article trying to make sense of the Trump-Putin summit.

I didn’t like the writing style — felt like someone that didn’t have full command of the English language.  I also thought he was reaching, conjecturing, and defending in a less-than-credible way.

But I kept reading the long piece… almost voyeuristically… awaiting a train wreck of logic and bias… and — surprise — I found myself thinking that some of what the author was saying had merit.

I don’t like the way Trump represented America at the summit.  And I certainly don’t like all the inane backtracking he’s done in the wake of the summit (“whoops, it should have been ‘wouldn’t’ instead of ‘would,’ my bad”).

However, Putin is a very bad guy.  The Chinese may want to dominate the world, but it’s business related… they are as capitalistic as we are.  Putin doesn’t give a hoot about capitalism or business or democracy or freedom.  As cold-war as this sounds, I believe Putin’s idea of domination could devolve into annihilation.

So maybe Trump played him in the only way he could?  Lull the dictator with a war-mongering bias into a false sense of superiority?

Maybe?

Wow.  I’m now officially confused.

There was a great Peter Sellers movie in the 70’s about a person that, through random events, began influencing the world.

The wonderful thing about the movie is you never knew if his character, Chauncey Gardner, is a messiah-like figure with an extraordinarily simple but powerful message… OR just a simpleton who got lucky spouting innocuous kindergarten phrases.

Similarly, I can’t tell whether Trump is a lucky, haphazard idiot… OR some kind of seat-of-his-pants savant tactician.

Here’s what I do know:

His style is immaturely unlikable and highly, offensively, DANGEROUSLY divisive.

But he’s getting things done — including some things I absolutely despise… but also a few things I really care about — like no other President I’ve seen in my many decades on the planet.

Maybe this is just what it feels like when old, crusty, inefficient, and ineffective things get fixed?

Trump met with Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday.

I get diplomacy, but Trump looked like he had a man-crush on Putin.

It was just weird.  John Hardwood of CNBC had the best explanation:

President Donald Trump’s stunning news conference with Vladimir Putin becomes understandable once you recognize that he was advancing his personal interests, not those of the United States.

Of course, ever insightful, late-night comedy host Jimmy Kimmel zero’ed in on something that’s probably close to the truth as well:

“If you’re wondering whether or not Vladimir Putin has incriminating video of Donald Trump, we now know, beyond a treasonable doubt, that he does.”

Maybe here’s the very weirdest part:  I didn’t care if the Russians interfered with the election… I assume they did… just as I assume the United States interferes in anything and everything we care to interfere in, too.

But that whole “summit” (if you can call it that) was so weird that now I do care about whatever the hell Trump is trying so desperately to hide.

What a backfire.

One strong step forward, one fan-boy step backward for the United States.

Yesterday was proverbial d-day for the start of the great Trade War between China and America.

It’s about time… China is aggressively and overtly protectionist… and has been for decades.

I learned this first hand in the CAD business.  It was absolutely impossible for us to sell our product in China… even though we were successfully selling our product in other areas of Asia.

Why?  Because China mandated that Chinese businesses and consumers could only buy Chinese CAD…

… even though Chinese companies were happily selling their CAD — and we were competing against their CAD — unencumbered in the U.S.

But we were a small player, so maybe you can chalk up our failure to penetrate China on our size.

But what about Autodesk, makers of AutoCAD, the #1 CAD product in the world?

Nope, they’ve been shut out for years, too.

To make matters worse, Autodesk found out a Chinese CAD company had stolen their intellectual property.  The Chinese Company vehemently denied the allegations.  Autodesk had no choice but to sue the Chinese Company in the World Court where the Chinese Company continued to vehemently deny the charges… until, facing irrefutable evidence, they finally had to admit their wrong-doing.

But it gets even worse. 

While Autodesk could have collected major damages, they realized if they did, the Chinese government would have been EXTRA punitive… so Autodesk had to voluntarily give up any settlement value in the hopes of helping the Chinese “save face” so they could have any shot at selling in the country.

That is unfair governmental manipulation at its worse.

But that is the China I know about first hand:  Competitively rotten to the core.

So I don’t care about any short-term tariff pain.  When it comes to true capitalism, China is like a big but immature bully and I am so looking forward to a much more experienced fighter punching these guys in the face.  It is well deserved and long overdue.

 

China is trying to do an end-around and create some kind of “united partnership with Europe against the U.S.”

Despite a raging battle with the Trump administration, Europe flat out turned down the Chinese overture.

From ZeroHedge:

But why does Europe – which has so staunchly publicized its disagreement with Trump’s policies – refuse to align with China?  Simple: behind closed doors it admits that Trump’s complaints about Beijing are, drumroll, spot on.

And:

… perhaps because China’s veneer of the leader of the free trade world is so laughably shallow – China was and remains a pure mercantilist power, whose grand total of protectionist policies put both the US and Europe to shamethe European Union has outright rejected any idea of allying with Beijing against Washington ahead of a Sino-European summit in Beijing on July 16-17.

And:

Europe has absolutely no belief that Beijing will ever follow through with its promises.

China is so bad that not even the, “enemy of my enemy is my friend” maxim can hold water.

Everyone seems to HATE the fact that Trump is pulling the world into a tariff war.

I think it’s great… and long overdue.

The current tariff infrastructure has its roots after WWII when the U.S., the dominant economic might in the world, was magnanimous enough to give the war-torn countries in Europe and around the world economic advantages as a way to help them get back on their feet.

Similarly, the U.S. was magnanimous enough to give developing nations — like China — an economic leg-up in their quest to transform from rural to modern economies.

But come on people, all of that was decades ago!

Trump is absolutely correct:  It’s time to have a level playing field.  Why do we impose a skinny 2.5% tariff on cars imported from China, only to see China impose a stiff 25% tariff — 10 times larger! — on cars they import from the United States?

And why can Chinese companies own 100% of a factory in the U.S., but American companies can’t even own 50% of their factories in China?

I’m calling B.S. along with Trump and I have no clue why EVERYONE isn’t doing the same.  China is no longer a developing nation… it has the second largest economy in the world.  It’s time China stopped taking advantage of our good will.

While not as bad as the Chinese, there certainly can be more parity with the rest of the world, too.

Similarly, Trump is absolutely correct about stolen intellectual property… because in the modern world, economic might is not just measured in current service or manufacturing ability… but in the ability to use innovation and technology to dramatically improve old industries — or completely invent new ones — and reap the rewards that go along with that.

So who cares if China can manufacture complicated devices like iPhones better than the U.S. today?  Maybe the U.S. will invent a way to build an iPhone that doesn’t require any manufacturing?

After all, that’s what we Americans do… we innovate… that’s our strength.

Eliminating the complicated manufacturing process for iPhones would be unbelievable… and the rewards would be immense… unless, of course, China simply STEALS the new technology to do this.

And THAT’S the situation we have today… China stealing our intellectual property… and the Chinese government — literally — encouraging this.

Fuck that.  I’m all for taking our ball and going home if other countries won’t play fairly… because at the end of the day, WE’RE the world’s biggest market…

… and I think it’s awesome that Trump is reminding the world of this.

With that said, Trump does have one thing howlingly wrong about trade:  Who cares if there are trade deficits?

To me, a trade deficit benefits us… it means our costs are lower than they would have been… which means our profits will be higher… and our stocks will perform better… and that will enrich every American that does any investing or has a 401K plan or that even gets a paycheck.

That’s pretty much the vast majority of the country.

Trump, you’re a business person, you know artificially forcing a higher cost structure on businesses and consumers is exactly the opposite of how a free market should work.  Anything artificial always ends in disaster.

I know the counter-argument that Trump loves to tout:  If we “export” all of industries overseas, we can hurt ourselves strategically… maybe even get held over a barrel in the future.  Case in point, the decline of our steel industry.  If we can’t produce our own steel, we’ll be at the mercy of foreigners for such a strategic commodity.

Poppycock.

If the U.S. steel industry can’t compete with foreign competition, then go invent a way to make steel 10x faster and cheaper.  Don’t tell me this can’t be done, Britain did it with glass.  Stop crying and get inventing — go create new jobs in new and re-invented industries where the United States can once again be the de facto leader.

So…

… I WELCOME a trade war — short term pain and all — if the end result is a fair global playing field (especially with China!)… and a kick-in-the-butt for our industries at risk to GO RE-INVENT THEMSELVES.

That can only be good for U.S. workers and companies.  And, ultimately, for the stock market, too.