Thoughts — 13 March 2011

Includes responses to last month’s $5 Million Question

On holiday in Nassau, Bahamas and K-Mart’s finest portraiture in NY.

Today is my dad’s 75th birthday. It is a bit scary to know that I can remember what life was like when he was 45 years old. It was 30 years ago and I was 15.

I kid you not – I walked into the living room Saturday morning and saw Elizabeth (5) and Jeremy (3) looking at the front pages of the New York Times and Financial Times. Elizabeth was giving Jeremy a lecture on world geography, telling him that China was further away than Australia. Elizabeth saw the pictures of the earthquake in Japan and recalled that last month there was an earthquake in New Zealand. She visited New Zealand in December on the way to Australia….I think she will be prepared for current events when she enters kindergarten this fall…She draws pictures of the New Jersey skyline she sees from her bedroom window.

I had to fly to Houston all of a sudden. When I told the kids, Jeremy said “Does that mean mommy is buying endamame (with her sushi, which is what she orders when I travel)? “ He is getting to know the names and locations of some of the bus and subway routes in the City and not only does he talk a lot, he actually is making some sense. He drives Elizabeth batty when he beats her at I-Spy; she is a poor loser. He loves to get her goat – he will run around pretending that he is going to bite her (which he used to do). He will tell us – “I no bite Bess (Elizabeth); I pretend; Sshhhh…Secret” and then go after her “AARRRGHHHH!!!!”

I have a question – why is it that when our little kids get into our king-size bed, they kick us around until we leave, but if the two of them cuddle up on one little mattress, they will stay perfectly still.

At my company, I perused some of the resumes of the people working there. It dawned on me that I probably couldn’t get a job at my own company.

Best sign of the Egyptian demonstrators award goes to the girl with “Mubarak, make it fast. This is history, and I will have to memorize it for school.”

An important reason for the demonstrations in Bahrain is that the country is running out of money and oil to export….Egypt has been helping the Libyan rebels. This won’t endear them to Kaddafi who I think will come out on top. Obama’s team has been doing everything possible to sabotage the rebellion and get rebel commanders to stick with Kaddafi. Having your director of intelligence go to Capitol Hill and say that Kaddafi will win over the long haul is an example. You wonder why the French went out on a limb and recognized the rebel government when the tide is against them….Despite the tragedy of that country, I don’t think the rest of the world wants to promote instability in this region and high oil prices that result. Egypt was not a major oil exporter; Libya is, and the world economy doesn’t want this to spread to the Gulf. The Americans are doing what the rest of the world says they ought to do – go to the UN (which won’t do anything as long as it isn’t about Israel) and stay out of their internal affairs. We know that the minute Americans put their foot in Libya, everyone will stop hating each other and just start hating Americans and blame America for everything. We’ve been there and done that and we can’t afford to keep trying to save everyone from themselves anyway. The Libyans can just kill each other till the lights go out. Let the world decide if the Americans in the future should get involved after seeing them go a few rounds staying out….In general, I think that the countries with the strongest militaries willing to kill their own citizens to keep the leader in power will be the ones that are the most stable.

That said, it is funny watching Kaddafi on the BBC telling them how all his people love him and that nobody is demonstrating in the streets. I hope that somebody puts him away and throws away the key at the World Court for taking out airplanes to bomb his own people.

Here is a reaction tor recent events from a reader of Global Thoughts who is a Jordanian lawyer based in Dubai.
…..Refreshing is the first words that comes to mind. A big chunk of heart and soul inside all of us came back to life. Many deep inside are starting to believe that the alternative to dictatorship or to an authoritarian regime need not be Islamic extremism. Major Islamic parties in Egypt and Jordan, now talk more about the Turkey model than any other model. Besides, let them come in into the equation and prove their worth (or lack thereof). After all, Germany has a Christian democratic party and one third of Israel’s parliamentary representation is religiously based. Jordan has a chance to clean up its act, under the banner of the king, and if they play their cards right can leverage its new position as the last one standing (surrounding Israel). Egypt has so many good people who can lead. I expect Amr Mousa to be the one though as he is acceptable to everyone, pragmatic and clean. Tunisia has a couple of years ahead of it but can really break into the ranks of upper emerging economies due to its proximity to Europe and decent education and healthcare. Listen, it may all prove to be a disaster but we were heading towards one anyway, and using the term you like to use all the time: “this has reshuffled the deck of cards” so its exciting to find out what will transpire!…..

On the Israel side, you have to worry about getting what you pray for. If it turns out that there is more democracy in the Arab world, in the short to medium term the Israelis will have to deal with public Arab opinion which is hostile to it but willing to accept their existence in the region. In the longer term, it will be better because any agreement will be one between people as opposed to governments (aka Egypt and Jordan) and it will more likely stick. Nothing I’ve seen changes my long-held view that Sulha (reconciliation among peoples) has to be part of the peace process.

The world has got a lot on its plate right now. Might be a good time for the Israelis to do something for which they don’t want a lot of press obsession.

I find it unacceptable that Gilat Shalit has been a prisoner in Gaza for nearly 5 years. The Israelis should either have retaliated massively knowing he might be killed or they should threaten to do so, world opinion be damned. Negotiating over prisoner exchanges for 5 years seems ridiculous and it is a disincentive for Israeli soldiers to think the country stands behind them or for Hamas to think there is a cost in kidnapping them.

Obama’s latest budget was a cop-out. But the Republicans have no real ideas, and that’s why nobody is lining up to run against him in 2012. He just might win re-election…The only thing that will get the US Congress and President to make real reform would be the bond markets getting fed up with US policy. It happened once about 30-40 years ago and Congress had to go in a week and pass a real budget that dealt with the market’s concerns. Both Democrats and Republicans are afraid to go to their electorates and put Social Security and Medicare on the table. Until they do, all this talk about budget cuts and deficits is just talk. Corporate tax reform needs to happen; US companies are making all their profits abroad and won’t bring them back into the US until tax reform happens. All those profits are not being invested into the US economy.

This month we traveled to Miami and Nassau, Bahamas, home of Atlantis water park. One should avoid Miami Beach in February due to the boat show (Presidents Day weekend) and the food and wine festival the weekend afterward. Too much traffic and you can’t go anywhere with a car. Miami’s airport now has a skytrain in the American airlines terminal and this is an improvement. Best thing to do is to use the elevators and not the escalators to get to the monorail stations. This has cut down what was nearly a mile’s walk to get to a gate. In Nassau, the kids loved Atlantis and we had to call in Navy SEALS to get them out of the pools. Silly thing – one kid threw up in the pool and they had to close the entire pool for the rest of the day. You’d think they would have thought of this for a kids’ pool and sectioned off this huge pool to prevent contagion.

Responses to the $5 Million Question

Here are responses I received to my question of last month, which was what would you do with $5 million put in your pocket tomorrow. I was a bit surprised – $5 million doesn’t mean to people what it used to, or we have all grown up a bit and are not wowed by that amount.

1) Since I am in the produce business, I would use 1 million to finance and invest with
1.  growers in Central America to multiply my produce volumes during the winter months
increasing my product line and volumes, which will increase my sales and profits.
2) I would invest another million bucks in gold, silver and solid stocks.
3) I would leverage the balance and purchase 2-3 Walgreens locations which are A+
real estate investments with excellent returns.

Business Owner in Amman, Jordan

Purchase a 3 floor shop house in Singapore for about S$2m
Set up an office for my husband on the top level;
Set up a pilates studio for my mother in law on the middle section;
Set up a retail outlet on the bottom floor for myself.
Purchase a property with view in Sri Lanka – S$1m
Use remaining S$2m to establish a business that provides a sustainable outlet for handmade products by poor communities in third world countries.
If currency in US then I still have a buffer.

Attorney in Singapore

Tomorrow
1. There are 3 or 4 people who have helped me tremendously at some point in my life when I needed help: teachers, family, friends. With $5mil, tomorrow I would cancel the debt of those people. Most of them are struggling financially. I would remove their financial difficulties.
After that
I’d use some of the money to live on while my wife and I start a business. A business that enables portable work – that can be run from most places with an internet connection. Once done and if successful, i would move somewhere where i can work and surf and my kids could still get a decent education. I would not live in a big fancy house. A small, comfortable, simple home will do. It doesn’t have to be on the beach. Just close enough that I can get to a decent break in 15 or 20 minutes.
I would invest money in research that could fundamentally separate politics from the pursuit of power.

Business Owner in Singapore

I would quit my job. I would put 3 million aside for my 2 children and save the rest for my husband & myself. I would buy a house and travel the world together with my family. If needed I would also give money to family (brother, parents, uncle, etc…)

Friend in Istanbul, Turkey

Buy presents to wife and kids
1. Check financial investment opportunities
2. Reevaluate job
3. Rethink residence country
4. Buy a house to move in asap and invest in real estate
5. Change family cars (not very fancy and expensive)
6. Make vacation plans with wife and later also with kids
Order can change according to time of the year.
But, most important is to continue life as is and keep a low profile.

Product Manager, Istanbul Turkey

$1.0 mil in Egyptian stock market, $2.0 mil in a boutique hotel in Hamamat, Tunisia and $2.0 in Blue Chip tech and industrial companies (US and Germany mainly). Too soon for clean tech for me.

Attorney in Dubai

will save some, buy some property with some (commercial and rent it out) and by a home with a portion of it. nothing outrageous

Pharmacist, Ottawa, Canada

I would retire and just buy real estate and fix it and sell it and own it and give mega charity and do good deeds all the time

Relative in Miami Beach

Re your $5M question, you didn’t say if it was pre-tax or post-tax; so I will consider what I would do the day after someone gave me $2.5M.
As you know, $2.5M is barely enough to retire by any published statistic, so while the urge to quit would be there, I probably wouldn’t take it. I would, however, immediately trigger some vacation time.
I would then drive to my mortgage bank and pay off the house. Drive to the local Lexus dealer and give them my 2002 IS 300 (knowing that you get screwed if you trade in your car; but it wouldn’t matter) and buy a 2011 IS 350. Then I would go to Sears and buy a new refrigerator, washer, dryer, and dishwasher.
I would then head home where I would go to Newegg.com and buy a drobo:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16822240058&cm_re=drobo-_-22-240-058-_-Product
and the hard drives to go with it.

Finally, I would transfer the remainder to my brokerage account, and, if it happened on a Thursday, watch the NBC comedy lineup while I backed up a bunch of data and files to the Drobo.

Attorney in Los Angeles

I would buy a single home and the rest of the money would be saved for college and retirement.

Financial Planner in Philadelphia

Since I am OK for cash:

$1m in Apple
$1m in LBi
$1m in gold
$1m in Yuan, maybe
$1–2m in angel tech investments
All subject to picking my moments.

(I was going to include a Pagani Huayra as it is properly a thing of beauty. However, I’ve just seen that it will retail at c. $1.5m, so I’ll admire it from afar!)

Chief Technology Officer for a branding company, London

Just put it into savings and safe investments and continue my life as is until I decide I want something.

Ivan Ciment

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