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On the sidelines, into franchises. Brexit explained, again.

I heard a figure of $15 trillion dollars in cash and negative yielding bonds. It’s called money on the sidelines. One day it will move into equities, ’cause there’s not much else. The S&P 500 is yielding 2.3% which is much better than the 10 year U.S. treasury bond yielding less than 1.5%.

 Takeover talk, cont’d:  “Targets” (i.e. talk among brokers) include: Paypal (PYPL), Mobileye (MBLY), Square (SQ), Fireeye (FEYE), Twilio (TWLO), Pandora (P) and perhaps Twitter (TWIT). I’m dubious about Paypal since its market cap is $44 billion. But you never know. And allegedly its earnings numbers are strong. One of the big banks needs to be in a new growth area?

Vanguard can rip you off also.

I have money in VMSXX which is the Vanguard Tax-Exempt Money Market Fund. It’s earning the glorious sum of 0.48% per year, out of which Vanguard takes a fee of 0.15%.

If I divide one by the other, I figure that Vanguard is charging me a fee of 33% — which is higher than even my local hedge fund and belongs somewhere in the high rip-off category.

Anyone got a better idea?

Tom Brokaw explains Brexit on Colbert. And does a funny, superb job. Hint: there’s a little fishing flavor.


Click here.

 Forbes did a piece on the Best and Worst Franchises. I like franchises. They’re better than being a company man, for some people. Results from Forbes:



John Cassidy on Sunderland. Cassidy is an excellent reporter. Here’s his report on a trip to central England:

Sunderland and the Brexit tragedy
The economically depressed regions (of Great Britain) that were most eager to leave the E.U. may have more to lose if their decision triggers a recession.

1986, as a young reporter just out of the Columbia Journalism School, I went to Sunderland, an old and proud but depressed shipbuilding city on the River Wear, in northeast England, to report on an effort to get jobless people back to work. From the train station, I asked a cab driver to take me to the shipyards, which peaked in the nineteenth century, when they provided many of the sailing vessels and, later, iron-hulled steamers that serviced the far-flung British Empire.

By the nineteen-eighties, the shipyards had already experienced decades of decline, much of it borne of foreign competition. Many of the yards had been closed, and those that were still operating had been placed under public ownership. Sunderland’s unemployment rate was well into double digits, and when I ventured into a local pub I found a lot of skepticism about the Thatcher government’s new “Restart” scheme, which provided counselling, training, and job-placement services for the unemployed. “People around here are bitter,” Thomas Swinburn, a man in his forties who had lost his job in the shipyards, told me. “We grafted all our lives only to put up with this. We had fighting shipyards. Where has it all gone?”

Sunderland’s last two shipyards closed down twenty-eight years ago, in 1988. Despite the fact that the city and its surrounding areas have attracted some new businesses, including a big Nissan car plant in nearby Gateshead, Sunderland has never fully recovered. Although the jobless rate isn’t as bad as it was in the eighties, it’s still high relative to the rest of Britain, and in last week’s Brexit referendum more than sixty per cent of Sunderland’s inhabitants, who have traditionally supported the Labour Party, voted to leave the European Union. When a New York Times reporter, Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura, visited the city to find out why, she emerged with some quotes that sounded eerily familiar to me. “All the industries, everything, has gone,” Michael Wake, a fifty-five-year-old forklift operator, said. “We were powerful, strong. But Brussels and the government, they’ve taken it all away.”

In reality, Brussels had little or nothing to do with Sunderland’s decline. According to the data Web site Statista, the five biggest shipbuilding nations are now China, South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, and Taiwan. The only European country in the top ten is Germany, and its industry is tiny compared with those of the big Asian producers. But in the minds of many inhabitants of Sunderland and places like it, Brussels and Westminster represent the political face of an economic system that has ignored them. As Wake told de Freytas-Tamura, the Brexit referendum enabled disgruntled voters to “poke the eye” of the political establishment.

The tragedy is that this gesture wasn’t just pointless-it was counterproductive. If the U.K. economy now enters a recession, which many economists believe is likely, Sunderland will suffer along with everywhere else. And if Britain goes ahead and leaves the E.U. (which isn’t guaranteed, as I wrote on Monday), already suffering cities will lose access to one of the few remaining sources of funding for economic-revival efforts.

During the referendum campaign, Boris Johnson and other Brexiteers made much of the fact that Britain, like the other rich countries in the E.U., such as Germany and the Netherlands, makes a (small) net fiscal contribution to the E.U. In 2015, this amounted to about 8.5 billion pounds. But that’s a national figure that doesn’t account for local variations. As a depressed region, the northeast of England is eligible to receive money that Brussels allocates to the E.U.’s less prosperous areas via several purses, including the European Regional Development Fund and the European Social Fund.

In recent years, de Freytas-Tamura pointed out, the E.U. has helped finance a number of projects in Sunderland, including a new campus for the University of Sunderland, a business park for software developers, and a fancy leisure center. While some local residents complain that they can’t afford access to these facilities-membership at the leisure center costs thirty pounds a month-the projects are physical manifestations of the E.U.’s commitment to building up poorer regions (a commitment that, over the years, has also done a great deal for countries like Ireland and Portugal). And more help was in the offing. For the period from 2014 to 2020, the E.U.’s development arms had allocated about four hundred and fifty million pounds to England’s northeast.

Unfortunately, during the Brexit campaign, the leaders of the Remain campaign did little to highlight these and other positive features of the E.U. But local civic and business leaders have been less reticent. Under the auspices of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, they have put together a regional economic plan that relies heavily on E.U. funding and is thus now in jeopardy.

“While we acknowledge this decision by the electorate, the North East LEP is very aware of the many ways in which this region has benefited from being a member of the EU,” Andrew Hodgson, a marine engineer who chairs the Enterprise Partnership, said in a statement after the Leave victory became apparent. “This has included access to European trade and investment and European funding, which has helped to regenerate our towns and cities, support business growth and investment in science and support many of our rural stakeholders including farmers.”

Of course, E.U. funding won’t bring big shipyards back to Sunderland or reverse the effects of half a century of globalization-which have helped other parts of the U.K. and, indeed, parts of the northeast to prosper. But one of the great ironies and tragedies of last week’s vote is that the E.U., while it has certainly promoted trade and economic modernization, has always taken regional disparities seriously. More seriously, arguably, than governments in London.

“We are now urgently seeking assurances from the Government that it will help us reduce the impact of leaving the single market in terms of funding, jobs and investment,” Hodgson said in his statement. With “Mr. Austerity,” George Osborne, still running the British Treasury, which has savaged local-government budgets in recent years, there is little chance that Hodgson’s request for assistance will be met. Unless the Brexit vote is somehow reversed, the residents of places like Sunderland will most likely be left to fly the Union Jack and fester.

 Folding bikes are great for commuting and getting around town. Here are my two favorites. This one is called a Tern Verge x10. Click here.


This one is called a Dahon Dash x20.


  I have two Dahon folding bikes. I ride at least one every day. The Dash x20 is the lightest Dahon currently makes. You can get it with upright handlebars (which I prefer). Click here. 

You can often find Dahon bikes on eBay at slightly cheaper than full retail. The nice thing about folding bikes is you can put them in your car’s trunk, check them on an airline and hike them in a restaurant while you have lunch and dump them on some poor hotel bell cap. The Dahons are a real pleasure to ride.

Serious progress, finally.

Business Insider reports a A 19-year-old created a free robot lawyer that has beaten 160,000 parking tickets. British programmer Joshua Browder launched the beta version of the bot in London in September. Click here.

Favorite natural cure


Out Golfing. Silly, but funny.

I accidentally overturned my golf cart.


Elizabeth, a very attractive and keen golfer, who lived in a villa on the golf course, heard the noise and called out: “Are you okay, what’s your name?”

“It’s John, and I’m okay thanks,” I replied as I pulled myself out of the twisted cart.

“John, she said, Forget your troubles. Come to my villa, rest a while and I’ll help you get the cart up later.”

“That’s mighty nice of you,” I answered, “but I don’t think my wife would like it..”

“Oh, come on now ” Elizabeth insisted.

She was so very pretty, very sexy and very persuasive … I was weak.

“Well okay,” I finally agreed but thought to myself, “My wife won’t like it.”

After a couple of restorative Scotch and waters, I thanked Elizabeth. “I feel a lot better now, but I know my wife is going to be really upset. So I’d best go now.”

“Don’t be silly!” Elizabeth said with a smile, letting her robe fall open slightly. “She won’t know anything. By the way, where is she?”

“Still under the cart, I guess,”


Harry Newton who made it up to the country last night, where the weather is gorgeous and the plumbers, electricians, roofers, air conditioning technicians and other trades are all overworked. Fortunately for them, they live here, not Sunderland. I’m playing tennis this afternoon.