Sunday, December 31, 2006

10 Things I Won't Miss About 2006

This column was originally published on Street Insight and was republished on TheStreet.com

Another year has passed. I hope that you are all a year healthier, wealthier and wiser. As I have done for each of the past four years and will do again by popular demand, I would like to share with you the 10 things that I will not miss about 2006 (and do not want to see or hear about ever again). So, in no particular order, here they are:

  1. Long-running network classics.

I hate to say this, but General Electric's (GE) NBC Universal has to pull the plug on Saturday Night Live. The show is simply unwatchable. I don't know if it's the feeble writing, the weak cast or both, but the show has overstayed its welcome.

NBC is not alone in needing to jettison an enduring show born in the 1970s. If Howard Cosell were still alive, Monday Night Football would send him to his grave. The broadcast team in the booth is just plain awful. We don't need some Hollywood or rock-and-roll star joining in for a quarter's worth of banter. No wonder the ratings for this weekly sporting event hit an all-time low this season. (By the way, Disney (DIS) moved Monday Night Football from ABC to ESPN, in case you didn't notice.) I will be egalitarian in my desire to never again see an oldie-but-goodie network show. CBS' (CBS) 60 Minutes has also run its course. With deference to Morley Safer and the late Ed Bradley, CBS needs to put this show to rest. I understand that the network needs a time slot for CSI: Sheboygan.

  1. Microsoft (MSFT) Vista.

The coming of Vista has been as over hyped as the coming of Comet Kohoutek in 1973. Of course, as soon as Vista does get released -- wake me up when it happens -- then we will have to listen to the never-ending coverage and hype for the Yahoo! (YHOO) release of its Panama advertising system. I have the solution for all of this hype: Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG).

  1. Celebrity babies.

I could care less about Brad and Angelina's baby, Tom and Katie's baby or Kevin and Britney's baby. Once they give a darn about my wife and five kids, then maybe I will pick up one of Time Warner's (TWX) People magazines.

  1. Soft landing.

I did not know that the economy had hemorrhoids.

  1. Dire consequences of an inverted yield curve.

Anyone who believes that an inverted yield curve at low levels of nominal interest rates is a sign of impending recession must still believe in the Phillips Curve. I believe that the Phillips Curve is a flawed concept. We need to understand how the yield curve is constructed. Earlier this year, I wrote the following:

"The yield curve does not worry me. The FOMC controls the short end of the curve; the marketplace controls the longer end. Now more than ever, the more expansive holding of U.S. dollars by foreign central banks is creating increasing demand on the longer-maturity U.S. government debt instruments. Thus, the yield curve is flattening out and to some extent inverting. The shape of the yield curve will no longer only be reflective of perceived economic conditions but will also include the impact of central banks on the U.S. dollar and their appetite for Treasury securities. While I hate to use the term 'new paradigm' and will not, I will say that we are going from a single variable yield curve to a multivariable model. We need to understand and respect that."

  1. Monthly same-store-sales comparisons.

This is without a doubt the most overexposed metric of the year. (See No. 8 in last year's list for my rant on the subject of overused metrics.) My research indicates that while same-store sales are a factor in retail and restaurant earnings, they are not the sole determinant. Furthermore, margins are more important than same-store sales in determining profitability. Take Sears (SHLD), for example: Same-store sales were engineered to decline while the company focused on selling more profitable products. Shareholders are better off for that effort. We also need to wean the market off monthly sales data and move to quarterly sales reporting as several companies, including Men's Wearhouse (MW) and Yum! Brands (YUM), have done recently.

  1. Body art.

I think that's an oxymoron. I'm disgusted whenever I see tattoos and body piercing. What really gets my goat is seeing it glorified by athletes and movie stars. This stuff is ugly and permanent. If you want to adorn your body, might I suggest a few shirts from Ralph Lauren (RL) or some jewelry from Blue Nile (NILE)? Those are far more attractive options than tattoos and body piercing.

  1. Bad Starbucks (SBUX) jokes.

It seems that every two-bit stand-up wannabe comedian has some bad Starbucks joke. You know like: "Why is there a Starbucks on all four corners? So that people with Alzheimer's can find one." I don't want to hear another comedian say, "I will have a grande mocha latte capudrinko." That said, if you own Starbucks, this is great. Free advertising! So if I may suggest some new targets for comics' material in 2007, how about some McDonald's (MCD), Ruth's Chris Steak House (RUTH) or Taco Bell (a division of Yum!) jokes? Something like: I'll have a taco, hold the E. coli.

  1. OTC bulletin-board solicitations.

My email and fax machines are increasingly being stuffed with stupid OTC BB ideas. The emails manage to get through spam filters, and you can't have your address taken off the distribution list. Cagey mongrels, these folks. Maybe some smart software vendor can find a solution to that problem.

Where is the SEC when we need them? How many people are losing hard-earned money by falling for the OTC BB rags-to-riches pitch? I bet many more than are being hurt by hedge funds. Instead of raising the minimum net-worth level for investment in hedge funds, how about if the SEC raises the minimum net-worth requirement for investing in OTC BB stocks? That would send those purveyors of dreck right back to the caves from which they came.

  1. OPEC.

This group of nations cheats on one another more often than Tony Soprano cheats on his wife, Carmela. OPEC lies with the same alacrity as Tommy Flanagan back when SNL was quality entertainment. (See No. 1.) Yeah, that's the ticket.

My best wishes for a happy and healthy holiday and New Year season to all of you and your families. Thank you for your personal notes and professional advice during the past year. I hope our Street Insight team has made this year a profitable and enlightening one for our subscribers. Last but not least, thanks to our tireless contributors and editors who work so hard every day to produce this fine product.


At the time of this Blog entry and the Street.com article, Scott Rothbort, his family and or clients of LakeView Asset Management, LLC were long shares of Apple Computer (AAPL), Google (GOOG), Sear’s Holdings (SHLD), Men’s Wearhouse (MW), Ralph Lauren (RL), McDonald's (MCD), Yum! Brands (YUM) and Ruth's Chris Steakhouse (RUTH) although positions can change at any time.

1 comment:

Eric Bergen said...

In 1996, authors Estrella and Mishkin released a famous Fed study that developed a probability table about how likely a recession would be 4 quarters later, given a particular level of the yield curve spread. Their study accurately predicted the stock market crash in 2001 when the yield curve was inverted one year earlier.

The last few months, the spread between the 3-month & 10-year bonds has been -0.40% indicating a ~40% chance of a recession.

2007 could be ugly! Every time a bearish set of economic data was released in late 2006, the stock market shrugged it off since it heightened expectations of a Fed rate cut in 2007 (which stimulates growth). On the other hand, when positive data was released, the market still rallied. Thus, the stock market was going to rally no matter what the news!!!

This year should be different due to (a dirty word for investors) STAGFLATION. Yesterday’s Fed minutes indicated the presence of this double whammy: slowing growth AND rising inflation. These 2 phenomena rarely work in opposition. What this means is that the economy is slowing, but the Fed is unlikely to cut rates as long as inflation is an issue. This is very bad for the stock market and, to a lesser extent, the bond market.