Saturday, December 29, 2012

My 2012 Predictions Scorecard

It is time for that age-old, end-of-one-year-beginning-of-the-next tradition – New Year’s Resolutions.

The tradition of making New Year’s resolutions reaches back to ancient times. The Babylonians probably started the practice. People made promises to get in the good graces of the gods resolving, for instance, to pay off debts and return borrowed property such as farm equipment.

My resolutions are always the same and result in limited success. I transformed the resolutions tradition and now fabricate make predictions for the coming year.

Before posting 2013 prognostications, a review of my 2012 forecasting abilities (not very good, actually) is necessary.

The plus or minus sign before each item indicates whether my predictions were right (+) or wrong (-).

- Stock market volatility was not as dramatic as in previous years. There is still one trading day remaining in 2012. The stock market closed Friday, December 28th  at 12,938.11, a 5.90% rise. I predicted a 13,438 close for the year and a 10% increase.

+ There was more than one financial scandal this year. No one really cares, except maybe those involved.

+ Our troops are still fighting in Afghanistan.

+ Mitt Romney was the Republican Presidential candidate. He was about the only one enthusiastic about his candidacy. Although if we are to believe his son, even Mitt was not that enthusiastic.

-       Christie was NOT the Republican VP candidate….
+    The Republicans could not get their act together and lost the election…
-       A more moderate Republican base has not materialized. Unfortunately.

+ The unemployment rate dropped to 7.7% (end of November) from 8.5% December 2011. An anemic recovery at best.

+ The housing market and new construction have rebounded.

- Neither Newt Gingrich (wife #3) or Rush Limbaugh (married four times) divorced this year.

- Lady Gaga broke up with her Lancaster-born boyfriend and did not buy a home in southcentral PA.

- Two and a Half Men is still on the air, although Ashton Kutscher is not nearly as obnoxious as Charlie Sheen. But the show is still insufferable.

+ I guess the Kardashians are still in the news. I work at avoiding the celebrity gossip. Thankfully there is no more Jersey Shore (which I never watched) and who cares about Snooki?

- My prediction about unpacking boxes around the house never materialized. One year later there are more boxes to unpack than a year earlier. The culprit was Hurricane post-tropical storm Sandy. In preparation for Sandy’s arrival items on bottom shelves on the first floor of the house were boxed and stored. Who needs all that stuff anyway!?

+ and - We had a mild winter, but I did not predict the June derecho or Sandy non-hurricane that hit the East coast this year.

- Of course I did not win any $$ in the lottery.

Thinking about the year that was and trying to remember current events, I realized occasions and incidents that make the headlines and get their Andy Warhol fifteen minutes of fame are often quickly forgotten. 

Here are some of the events of 2012 most of us have probably already forgotten–

The ‘pink slime’ scandal (faux food product made from beef remnants following slaughter).

The rise and fall of Apple’s Map ap.

In the category of better late than never - Augusta National Golf Club finally admitted its first two women members.

The hype and fizzle of the Facebook IPO.

The rumors, gossip, innuendo and tales of former teammates about drug use ultimately forced Lance Armstrong to relinquish his Tour de France and lots of other cycling medals. His reputation took a big hit too.

Twinkies are almost history. Hostess Brands declared bankruptcy and closed all factories. Its products (including Twinkies) and production facilities are for sale. The saga continues…

How many of us will remember a couple of years from now that Romney’s running mate was Wisconsin representative Paul Ryan?

The world did NOT end on December 21st.

The London Olympics.

Penn State, Paterno, Sandusky…

CIA Director Petraeus’ sexual improprieties.

We bid a sad goodbye to the radio show ‘Car Talk,’ which stopped producing new shows in September.

And 2012 winds down…

Next post – my 2013 Predictions!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Holiday Travels

Rockefeller Center, NYC
We spent the past five days over the holiday traveling around three contiguous states: New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania.

I will not bore you the details. Here are several pictures from the journey:
Margate, New Jersey
Home damaged by Sandy being raised above future flood levels (hopefully!).
New flood maps and new regulations will require homes to be raised in many towns
in New York and New Jersey devastated by Sandy. 
Longwood Gardens, PA
Pierre du Pont began creating the garden estate after purchasing a local farm and arboretum in 1906.
Today over 1,000 acres of outdoor and indoor gardens offer flowers,
trees and decorated exhibits throughout the year.
This holiday table and decor is in a building
originally used by Pierre du Pont and his wife when entertaining.   
Manhattan, New York City
Pollution-free transportation
The new tower under construction replacing the Twin Towers in lower Manhattan.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Salute to National Sangria Day

My bottle of cheap red Sangria. Even cheap Sangria tastes good!

Today – December 20th – is National Sangria Day!

Scanning headlines this afternoon (never got around to the task this morning) was a small article mentioning the fact that today is National Sangria Day.

I recently became a fan of white sangria. Traditional sangria is red, but innovation and change is always welcome. The white variety, savored a few months ago at a wine tasting festival, has become my favorite (alcoholic) beverage of choice.

Sangria is a fruit wine punch. Originally Sangria (translation: bloody) was made from Bordeaux red wine. The drink became popular throughout Europe in the 1700s and 1800s and was called Claret Cup in England. Sangria red was typically made from a combination of three wines: cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and merlot. Brandy and fruit added flavor to the blend. The mixture was the drink of choice for Jane Austen heroines.

Sangria’s origins trace back to the Roman conquest of Spain. Romans planted vineyards throughout Spain around 200 BC. Red wine punches, which the Spanish named Sangria, date back almost that far. Sangria is called zurra in southern Spain. White Sangria is called Sangria Blanco.

Sangria was introduced to Americans at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. It is prepared with a concoction of the following ingredients: red or white wine, fruit (often soaked in wine), fruit juices, soda water, and occasionally brandy.

There is no right or wrong fruit to use when making Sangria. Limes, oranges, peaches, nectarines, apples, berries all make great mixes.

Most restaurants make their own Sangria, usually served in a pitcher over ice and garnished with fresh fruit.

So this evening raise your glass of red or white Sangria, or whatever your (alcoholic) beverage of choice might be, and Salud! Sangria!

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Debate on Gun Control

I usually do not write about controversial societal issues on this blog. However I feel strongly about this topic and the Newtown school massacre puts the issue on the front pages everywhere.

The time is past for debate on the pros and cons of gun control. Debate should now focus on what kind of gun control should be enacted.

Governments establish guidelines citizens obey and hopefully respect, leading to an orderly, organized, protected and safe society. There is and always has been a contest over how many rules are too many. Too much regulation results in stifling the economic and social well being of all citizens. Few rules cause a breakdown in a society’s comfortable and safe lifestyle.

The United States faces the breakdown of mores regarding the respect, safety, protection, health and regard of its citizens. When the right to bear arms supersedes the safety of citizens everywhere – especially the youngest who cannot defend themselves – the society needs to take a careful look at the ramifications of its actions, or lack thereof. The second amendment of the Bill of Rights stipulates the right to bear arms:

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

The states ratified the Bill of Rights in 1791. Gun control opponents talk about their right to possess guns – including the kinds of guns that did not exist in 1791.

Circumstances change, society changes, and the United States in 2012 is not the rural society of 1791. The law of unintended consequences regarding the second amendment has hit our country hard, and it is time to re-evaluate current guidelines and set new ones that protect citizens without infringing on basic rights. I doubt the Founding Fathers would be unswerving in their defense of the Second Amendment surveying the devastation wrought by the refusal of many to curb the profusion of deadly weapons.

It is time for an open, honest debate about what to do now.

The NRA (National Rifle Association), in a 2000 TV commercial, claimed violent crimes increased in Australia after strict gun control laws were enacted in the 1990s.

The NRA’s claims were wrong.

The Australian government accused the organization of misrepresenting data and pressed the NRA to remove references to Australia from the NRA website. The Australian government stated crime had not increased since stricter gun control laws went into effect in 1996.

No more posturing, false statistics, blaming individuals, societal problems – everything and everyone except the instruments of destruction.

The Constitution affirms the function of the government of the United States:
            establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America".

It is time to “insure domestic tranquility,” and “promote the general Welfare” of everyone – especially our children.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Starbucks Survives Sandy and Thrives

This is a picture of our local Starbucks post-Sandy. The store - behind the trailer - was badly damaged during Sandy and is undergoing extensive renovations. Meanwhile the trailer provides most of the favorite brews customers love. The sign on the trailer reads "Open for business." A couple of tables in front of the store provide rest for the weary and those just wanting to relax and watch the local world go by. The only crucial amenity missing is wifi. Any time of any day you walk into our Starbucks and people are working (or playing) on their laptops. 

All of the businesses on both sides of this street incurred major storm damage. Over the past few weeks all except the Starbucks storefront reopened. The grocery store opened about three weeks ago, the two clothing stores and food take-out business a week later, and this past weekend the gift shop reopened. Starbucks should reopen soon, and then all will be back to normal, or what Governor Christie has termed "the new normal."

Our Starbucks on wheels
We moved back into our home this week! We have heat and hot water, and on-going repairs can be completed while living in the house. 

We are adjusting to our 'new normal' life!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Thank You So Much for the Blog Award

I am truly honored.

Maggie over at Brainstorms: How Epilepsy and Writing Connect nominated me for the Reality and Shone On award, and I offer her a heartfelt thank you. It is wonderful to know there are readers out there who appreciate you and offer their support and kudos.

I now must tell seven things readers may not know about me and pass the award on to five other deserving bloggers. Please visit their sites, listed following Seven Facts About Myself -

1. I have four wonderful grandchildren, three girls and a boy, ages 16 months to 8 years.

2. I grew up on Long Island and went to Levittown schools.

3. Roughing it at my age is exercising (usually walking and sometimes bike riding) with an obligatory rest stop at Starbucks.

4. I love to travel.

5. I enjoy cooking but do not bake because I would eat all the goodies (especially brownies and cheesecake).

6. I love to dance.

7. I am currently taking a Creative Writing class.

I nominate the following five blogs for the Reality and Shine On award:

1. MissKris at a shelter from the storm

2. Rie at Age of Rieson

3. Diane at Cab Drollery

4. DJan at Eye on the Edge

5. Olga at  Confessions of a Grandma

Friday, December 7, 2012

How Sweet It Is When Chocolate is Everywhere!

Although the following post was written for my finance blog, most everyone loves chocolate and might find the following article interesting. If you get bored reading, scroll down to the short "I Love Lucy" chocolate scene video. It is a classic. 

It is the holiday season and time for chocolate. Actually any time of the year is chocolate time, but large displays emerge around the winter holidays and beckon us to indulge. The displays change slightly after the New Year when red heart-shaped boxes in honor of Valentine’s Day replace gold square and rectangular gift boxes. Chocolate is definitely one way to many a woman’s heart. Lots of men like chocolate too.

After working in the financial arena for years I adopted the habit of looking for investment opportunities all over. I prefer to invest in products and services I understand.  I also like to invest in things I personally like and believe lots of other people will like and therefore buy; that could turn out very well for investors. Over the years I invested in ice cream (remember Ben and Jerry’s - the independent company?), coffee, natural and organic food stocks, and restaurant stocks. I invest in things other than food, but researching and discovering food stocks is definitely more fun than investigating a lot of other stocks. Where is the fun in machinery or utilities?

Perusing the grocery store this week there was, in the center of the first aisle, in the middle of all the healthy produce displays, a large display of chocolates filled with boxes of expensive and less expensive chocolates, chocolate coins, candy bars and fancy truffles (not the fungus kind – the chocolate kind).

All the chocolate started me thinking and salivating. I could buy a box and feast, but that would cost money and be rather decadent. Or I could research the topic, which is less fattening and guilt-free.

Before I continue, in the interest of complete disclosure (a fancy term in the financial field meaning tell us if you ever owned the company stock, worked for the company, delivered pizza to an executive suite, or had any other contact with the company, or you risk being thrown in a cell next to Bernie Madoff) I need to inform readers that years ago I was a tour guide for a company that transported tourists to Hershey, Pennsylvania. I escorted groups through the Hershey plant (not possible for decades) and related the history of Milton Hershey, company founder, and the Hershey company. I also bought lots of Hershey kisses over the years.

There are a lot of chocolate companies around the world. Many are small, boutique firms producing expensive, wonderful tasting, expensive, organic, expensive, free trade, expensive products. Besides being expensive (forgive the repetition), they are privately held businesses and therefore investors cannot buy stock in the company. Venture capitalists – owned and operated by the 1% we hear so much about – invest in these companies and reap the profits, which in the case of chocolate companies are free chocolates in their offices and homes all the time. Forever. The rest of us have to come up with the green stuff and buy the products.

As a small investor I therefore exclude small, private, boutique manufacturers and settle for buying stock in public companies. But there are not many pure chocolate manufacturers to choose from. Most are large mega-corporations producing a wide variety of other food and non-food products.

After beginning my research I got hungry and have not yet completed an in-depth investigation. But I will, eventually…

Meanwhile, I unearthed the following list of the top ten chocolate manufacturers in the world, and included a few of their chocolate brands. I noted whether the companies are public or privately held, and where they are headquartered if overseas.

1. Kraft (public)
            Cadbury, Toblerone, Milka, Cote d’Or, Freia, Green & Black’s Organic

2. Mars (private)
            M&Ms, Milky Way, Snickers, Twix, 3 Musketeers, American Heritage Chocolate. Remember Wrigley’s? Now Mars and Berkshire Hathaway own Wrigley's jointly

3. Nestle (Switzerland) (public)
            Aero, Toll House chocolate chips, Cailler chocolate bars

4. Ferrero Group (Italy)
            Ferrero Rocher  (FYI – they also own tic tacs and Nutella)

5. Hershey (public)
            Hershey kisses, chocolate bars, Almond Joy, Mounds, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Kit Kat, York Peppermint Patties...

6. Lindt and Sprungli (Germany) (public)
            Lindt and LIndor chocolates

7. August Storck  (Germany) (private)
Werther’s Originals (not chocolate, but who knew who owned them!?), Riesen chocolates and others

8. Yildiz Holdings (Turkey) (private but own a public unit, Ulker Group)

9. Meiji Holdings (Japan) (public)
            Chocorooms, Almond (chocolate coated), Yan Yan (cookie sticks)

10. Arcor Group (Argentina) (private)
            Aquila chocolate bars, Cofler chocolates, Rocklets, Tofi

And in case you are wondering which company produces all those gift-wrapped Russell Stover and Whitman boxed candies available in every drug store in the country – the answer is none of the above. Both brands are made by Russell Stover, a private business based in Kansas City.

For West Coast fans of See’s Candies, headquartered in San Francisco, the company is owned by Berkshire Hathaway. Berkshire Hathaway is a public holding company containing Warren Buffett’s empire.

There are smaller publicly owned chocolate companies, like Rocky Mountain Chocolate Company, but…

I believe this post is long enough. The lesson learned from my research is that well-known brands like Godiva chocolates are NOT lovingly handmade by little old women working in quaint buildings, although we already knew that. The real scene is also not exactly like the I Love Lucy vignette featured below, but it is a great video: 

So on the next Small Business Saturday or any other day, make sure the unique chocolate bar purchased is really from a small concern and not owned by one of the big guys.

Sometimes, however, it is hard to find that information on the packaging. Companies like to retain an aura of small and unique for their brands, making it difficult to discover the real owner. But that is fodder for another article sometime in the future…