Tuesday, January 29, 2008

mac and zune

As strange as this may sound, while I am contemplating getting a Macbook (but probably not for a few months) I would not get an iPod to go with it. Instead, I'd probably get a Zune.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

texas tags, finally

I may have loosely interpreted the thirty days grace period I had, but I finally registered my car in the state of Texas today. It only cost me $223.30 and stops at three different places. First, there was the vehicle inspection for $15.50 which can be done at almost any place that does car service work. Another $193.80 to cover the registration fee, title application fee and new resident tax down at the county tax office. And finally, $24.00 to stand in the strangest DMV that I've ever been in and request a Texas license. And I'm fairly certain that the guy who handled my paperwork was actually a highway patrol officer as indicated by his sidearm and badge. This isn't entirely bizarre since what I call the DMV here is actually part of the Texas Department of Public Safety.

More amusingly in a pathetic sort of way, two of the four people in front of me in line at the DMV were trying to get their licenses reinstated. Apparently, failure to report to court will do that to you.

Unfortunately, I didn't get to keep my New Mexico license as a keepsake. (When I received my NM license, I was allowed to keep my CA license, but they punched holes through the magnetic strip.) I was told it was going to get sent to Austin and then back to New Mexico. At least I was able to register to vote at the same time. And I have my old New Mexico license plate. I'm now up to four previous license plates. My two California plates from the 300E, the one from New Mexico for the 300E and the one from New Mexico for the Fusion. If I keep moving, I might just build up a nice little collection. Or I can just take some the next time I eat at Fuddruckers.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

and work goes on

Laying off people was probably the single least pleasant thing I've ever done at work. I've had plenty of bad days, mostly falling into the miserable due to working conditions (usually weather) category. This was more bad in that these were peoples' livelihoods and I was the bringer of generally awful news. A couple saw it coming. A couple others were genuinely shocked. One person was visibly shaking.

When it's all said and done, this is a business. And business is in the business of making money. Not to expound on the obvious, but if we were in the business of giving away money then we would be a charity. We have other values, but note that the third one is still about money. This may seem like seriousness and corporate-speak, but there's an essential message for everyone who is still working with me. That message is that we are here to stay and in order to stay we sometimes need to make hard decisions and do unpleasant things. And the lesson for everyone to learn is that they need to be valuable and essential or their job could be in jeopardy when it comes time to retrench again. I have made this as clear as I possibly can to everyone. Time to see who heard me.

cover curse strikes again!

Ah ha! The BusinessWeek cover curse strikes again! It didn't help that earnings missed consensus by one cent per share and the actual miss was closer to five cents per share when you take out a one time sale of assets as well as some tax help.

The fundamental problem with any mainstream financial publication is that by the time they get around to reporting on the success of some company, they are reporting the success of some company. They are not predicting the success. They are not doing any analysis to see if past trends are sustainable. The success is in the past. It might continue into the future, but the success that was apparently big enough to attract the limelight has passed and the stock has already risen accordingly.

Much like the rest of the market's overall decline, my time frame is plenty long to rise this out. I expect earnings from most companies to generally disappoint before a pointless rally and then some more selling. The desired solution from the delusional is to continue to cut the fed rate and print more money. Brilliant. Meanwhile, I'll get cracking on that perpetual motion machine. Why oh why do I continue to plan to go overseas for vacation? Oh yeah. The best possible reason.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

tell me this isn't cool

See here. If you lack patience, then go straight to the 4:20 mark, otherwise, you might as well take in the entire video as it is six minutes long.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

turning to the dark side

I've been watching the keynote address from Macworld 2008 tonight. Of course it featured many new products and the somewhat, anticipated and possibly expected Macbook Air. While I doubt I'll be getting one of those, however great it might be, I am increasingly leaning towards getting a Macbook of some kind as my next laptop. Apple puts on a good show and I need to admit that my largely irrational dislike of Apple needs to be put to rest. Now, I still don't care for their MP4 ways with iTunes. And I suspect I'll never purchase much music from iTunes for that exact reason. Movies and television shows are a different matter and do have a certain allure under the enhanced iTunes store.

From a form and function standpoint, the standard Macbook (not even Pro) does everything I really need a laptop to do. However, as I've explained before, what I need a laptop to do isn't all that much. The basic Macbook also looks undeniably cool and still only weighs five pounds. It's just so damn expensive. But boy do they put on a good show.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

a long drive

That's a long lonely drive back from Houston. It gives me a lot of time to think. Perhaps more than I really care for, but such are the limitations of how fast I can drive. Or how fast I think I can drive without getting a ticket.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

cover curse and retrenchment

I felt a sense of wry amusement when I saw that that Schlumberger was featured on the most recent cover of BusinessWeek magazine. There are two major reasons for this bit of tragic amusement. The first is the purported BusinessWeek cover curse. It's enough of a joke that BusinessWeek is aware of this curse. (Please note that both of those links go back to 2005.) I became acquainted with the curse through what is probably my favorite financial blog: The Big Picture when the blogger speculated on whether the magazine had broken the curse a couple months ago. So, can Schlumberger break the BusinessWeek cover curse?

The other reason for this wryness centers on what I, and many others at districts across North America, had to do yesterday. To be vague and circumspect, we engaged in what I've been calling a 'force reduction exercise'. This included one man with more seniority in the company than years I've been alive for. Today was a day to address everyone and explain what just happened and why it took place. And now we move on. To celebrate, I'm watching Office Space tonight.

This is clearly a retrenchment. A very similar exercise played out last year for a combination of reasons. At the beginning of the year, 2007 was forecast to be flat on a year-over-year basis in North America. As such, efforts were made to reduce or freeze hiring. However, even under a hiring freeze, headcount often finds a way to creep up. Everyone has a special case, needs something extra, etc. The other major issue, especially in the segment I am in, high pressure pumping, is that a lot of capacity was added by all the service companies. This created a more competitive environment and impacted pricing levels. Schlumberger responded with a plan that included personnel cuts as well as other actions and was largely successful.

Looking at the market now at the beginning of 2008, many of the same issues face the oil and gas service companies. Furthermore, the macroeconomic environment isn't looking so great either. Oil and natural gas are two pretty distinct markets. Sure, they're related in a sense, but they have very different end markets and that largely explains why oil and natural gas have seen their prices significantly diverge in the last year. While oil keeps climbing, natural gas remains largely flat and well off of its highs from a couple winters ago.

Natural gas is being pinched by forecasts that the winter would be warmer than average and those forecasts have been mostly correct thus far. See, natural gas goes through an inventory cycle every year. Starting in the late spring, there is a build up in inventory levels that continues for about seven or eight months. Then, winter comes and everyone starts to use natural gas to heat their homes. This draws inventory levels down until the weather begins to warm up again in the spring and the cycle begins anew. There is an excellent chart of the natural gas storage levels for the past two years available on the Department of Energy website. You might notice that 2006 matches the high line and 2007 was very close to it or higher for the entire year. Inventory levels are high. If they stay high, it will impact prices which will then impact the drilling campaigns of operators working in natural gas basins.

Meanwhile, oil is tied more directly to the overall economic health of the world which is largely influenced by what happens here in the States. So, what exactly is the United States economy doing? Not well would be the short answer. One can ask whether a recession is unavoidable at this point. Some past indicators are not painting a pretty picture. The unemployment rate has ticked up and some have noted here and here that this level of increase in unemployment has historically preceded a recession. Of course, past performance doesn't guarantee future results. Nonetheless, the housing market, a big driver for job creation, has been sputtering for the last several months. And despite the National Association of Realtors attempts to call a bottom on the housing market, I suspect that their word cannot be fully trusted. They don't seem like impartial observers now do they? The point is that the economy is not well. It may not be unwell, but it is not well. There's robust demand for oil in many developing nations, but the United States may drag down overall demand and put a crimp on prices.

Not to be unduly bearish about the whole oil and gas services environment. It's great overseas. It's simply very tight right now in North America and what we did yesterday is once again part of our preparation for a very competitive year.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

work is ...

I have been busy at work. Or, better put, my mind has been busy. We finally had a face-to-face meeting with a client over a dispute that arose from a job before I arrived. While nothing is settled for good, I think we're finally on the same page and a resolution seems much more definitive than ever before. Being able to put this to rest will be a big load off of my mind.

Another front at work has my mind racing. I'm dealing with some unusual personnel developments as well as some coming developments that will be disruptive and difficult to stomach. Alas, it's my district to manage, my district to lead, my situation to conquer.