Tuesday, December 29, 2009

selling a dog, not literally

Aside form my only half-joking comment in the previous post about selling tanker stocks, I have been mulling over what I should do with a serious dog of a stock that has not taken part in the general market recovery. (Note: I have doubts about a serious economic recovery actually occurring soon and actually have doubts how much further the market recovery will go.) While I probably should not have waited so long to try and figure this out, I have decided to sit and wait and just hold the stock for now. While that is hardly the sexiest decision, it's probably the best one I can make. Looking at the general valuation, it probably isn't going any lower, the dividend is better than any savings or checking account interest rate from a bank I can easily access, and my tax exposure is probably low.

That last point is the most important. I'm not entirely sure how my taxes are going to work out this year, since I am living abroad and have mixed income from the first couple months in the States. Nonetheless, whatever deduction I might get from a sale this year is probably not worthwhile given my expected marginal tax rate because of what I made in the US and what I expect taxes to be here. Hence my non-sale.

Monday, December 28, 2009

rare earth shortage, tanker over-supply

I had seen articles like this in the past, highlighting the need to develop more diverse sources of materials, but the New York TImes, recently ran an article on the environmental toll that rare earth element mining is taking on China. This isn't just about the Chinese developing a Soviet-style environmental record but also about how dependent we (and everyone else) is on these elements from China. For what it's worth, there is a company in California that plans to reopen a mine for several of the minerals, presumably with an eye for the environment.

In an interesting development, many tankers are going to be coming back on the market after having stored crude for traders looking to make a profit off futures contracts. Two comments One: Just picturing what it means to buy a whole tanker's worth of crude, wait several months, then deliver it, seems like some sick perversion of the capitalist system. Two: sell tanker stocks.

top gear hilarity

I recently rediscovered the awesomeness that is Top Gear, a British television show that is ostensibly about car reviews, though the hosts manage to have almost too much fun for their own good. Frankly, I'm not really sure how I ever discovered the show in the first place, but it was 3-4 (maybe 5?) years ago. Anyway, I stumbled across a video of their "sensible" car review of the new Ford Fiesta. Of course, they did some not-so-sensible things with the Fiesta like escape from "baddies" at the mall. You'll just have to watch the video, but if you're impatient, skip to about the 3:40 mark. They generally do reviews of more, um, exotic vehicles like the Bugatti Veyron racing a Eurofighter Typhoon.

I also got a kick out of their USA muscle car road test which is a "factual" documentary, or lat least that's what they told the highway patrol officers when they were pulled over.

new york

I will be landing in New York this Thursday, as in 3 days from now, and will be Stateside (more or less) until I leave on the afternoon of January 10th. I say more or less because from January 2-7, I will not be in New York, but instead cougar hunting elsewhere (more or less). So, I guess I'm around New York on the 1st, 8th, 9th, and brunch on the 10th for what it's worth.

it's like they read yesterday's entry

Check out this headline. It's like they read the last two sentences of the second to last paragraph of yesterday's entry.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

natural gas storage

Disclaimer: Just to be clear about this, everything I say here in this post (and others about the industry) is based on publicly available information and my own opinions about the future of how the economy and business will evolve. Nothing I say related to the business is based on any particular special knowledge that I have from my employment within the industry. Why? Well, I would say the answer should be obvious, but it's actually quite simple: I do not have any special knowledge about the business.

As regular readers (all 3 of you) may know, the natural gas storage report for the underground gas storage in the United States comes out every Thursday. Once again, the most recent report (though that links to the generic page so if you're looking at this entry more than a couple days later form this posting date, you will be looking at a different chart than the one I am talking about) shows a significant draw down in storage levels in the past two weeks. Finally.

Prior to the decrease in storage levels, the chart had peaked on the week of Nov 27, which was two (or more) weeks later than the peak in the past five years. In absolute terms, the weekly draw down is larger than it has ever been in the last two years (and possibly ever for this time of the year, though I haven't looked at all the numbers). The recent cold weather has played a significant part with this and the continuing storms will drive consumption and pull inventory levels even lower, possibly back to levels more in line with the five-year average. However, if it gets too cold and forces entire shut downs of areas, then people tend to use less gas because entire buildings and schools and offices get closed and who needs to heat an empty building? (Answer: Highly anecdotal personal experience tells me Venezuelans would do that. Really, who else runs their AC at 18 C in the summer and their heat at 26 C in the winter?)

In percentage terms, the number is more or less in line with the drawn downs from the last two years. This is due to the record-high levels of storage than have been accumulated since the Spring. Since late-May, storage levels have been at seasonal highs mostly due to lower industrial demand as a result of the weak economy. The result has been storage levels that are 10-15% higher than the were a year ago.

What does all this mean to the business I'm in, though not directly in since I am not actually there in the States at the moment? It is certainly no secret that the rig count in North America have dropped by more than 50% from their peak levels. While the count has stabilized and it looks like we are now off the bottom by a little bit, the recovery for the industry is likely to be mild at best for another year. For starters, the US economy is still weak, unemployment is systemically high, and current production methods are becoming more efficient. There is also a small, but mildly significant backlog of wells that are either not yet producing or have been shut-in to keep production from out-stripping demand. Those wells will be the first to come online when additional production is required, instead of drilling more wells. The second main factor is liquified natural gas (LNG). Medium and long-term projects that were started several years ago are starting to come online and the North American gas market is "structurally oversupplied" (about halfway down the page).

Duurrr, so what does this really mean for you? Well, it means lower prices for natural gas should stay lower. Though by lower prices, I mean if you are a power plant or commercial user of natural gas. As you can see from the graph in the upper-right of this page, prices are down from their peaks of last year (and they also spiked in 2005/6). Residential consumers will see slightly lower prices, though that can change very quickly. Have fun with that.

clever billboard and a non-musician

For anyone who has seen the movie American Psycho (no, not the train wreck of a sequel that got made), you should appreciate this billboard for the film. If you have a stern stomach, you might consider reading the book, but be warned that it's much more graphic than the movie.

Unrelated, tell me who in this group may have too broadly interpreted that What is Music? program from NOVA back in Mr. Miller's class. (Oh yeah, I just dropped a band class reference!)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

episodic television - comedies

Sitcoms are usually not boring. They usually just suck in a painfully unfunny way. A lot. Most are derivative and play off overly rehashed plot points and jokes based on the same cliched stereotypes that are actually quite offensive if you really drill down and think about what they tend to suggest. And laugh tracks do not help the situation. There have been some exceptions like Arrested Development but such shows often have a short shelf life because they are too clever for most people to truly appreciate which is a further sad commentary on the state of the quality of television.

episodic television - dramas

Most dramatic episodic television is boring. Or at least it becomes boring with enough episodes. Most dramas follow an incredibly formulaic plot. I think Law & Order is a great example. The first half of the show is with the cops, then the second half is with the lawyers. Yeah yeah, sometimes they go back to the cops for more evidence before finishing with the law-talking guys, but the recipe is still the same. Cops then lawyers. Even the spin-offs with Special Victims Unit and Criminal Intent are quite formulaic. All the CSI varieties suffer dearly from this same problem and I'm not just talking about Horatio's sunglasses fetish. Crime happens, look for evidence, analyze evidence, arrest one to three wrong suspects, find more evidence, let crime scene investigators do interrogations (wtf?), analyze more evidence, make a breakthrough, catch bad guy, episode ends, assume shaky forensic work holds up in court. Enhance it!

The other problem with the CSI universe is the social impact that has led to the CSI effect. (I cannot call it a cultural impact, because that would imply the show has any sort of real culture.) Perhaps this line from Superbad sums it up best:

When I first joined the force I assumed there was semen on everything. I thought there was a semen database that had every bad guy's semen in it. There isn't. That doesn't exist. It'd be nice. Like the crime scene today. If the man had ejaculated and then hit you in the face we would have a real good shot at catching him.

Edit: I realize that I used a rather ridiculous quote, but it was a pretty ridiculous movie. The point, of course, is that we are not constantly shedding the large quantities of skin, hair, or fluids all over everything all the time like they frequently depict in CSI.

Reasonably quality shows like House M.D. are predictable in their own right: Patient is sick, the team struggles to diagnose without more symptoms, House is a jerk and mocks their terrible theories, they try treatment anyway, more symptoms occur, they try other treatment(s), patient nearly dies, House is a jerk again, they stabilize patient, running out of time, someone (usually Wilson) says something random that gives House the answer, House cures patient, House is still a jerk. Don't get me wrong, I still like the show, but the arc of any individual episode is predictable. The hook of most good shows is the overall story lines and character development. That's why I liked the short-lived Life and the still-airing Burn Notice. The similarity of these three previously-mentioned shows is that still do retain a reasonable amount of serial-ness to them and almost every episode can stand alone if necessary. Each week, House has to cure the patient, Life has to catch the crook (it's a cop show), and Burn Notice needs to help fix someone's problem.

Hmm, the structure of that last sentence reminds me of a line from The Simpsons:
Homer: I think the government has better things to do than to read my mail.
(cut to agents reading letters from a bag called 'Simpson Mail')
FBI Agent: Most people write letters to movie stars. This Simpson guy writes to movies. "Dear Die Hard. You rock. Especially when that guy was on the roof. P.S: Do you know Mad Max?"

The value in the standalone format is that it makes the shows make easier to syndicate later in their life cycles. Syndication is a big deal for producers and distributors. It gives shows additional lives and a long revenue tail. This is why shows like Lost and 24 or so hard to get made. For all the critical success and pretty strong commercial success those shows have had, their non-traditional formats will make future syndication more difficult than a typical show. 24 may be too serial (especially its first couple seasons) and Lost is probably not serial enough. It's also why a casual viewer like myself cannot get into shows like that. Who has time to watch a show every single week? I suppose people with boring jobs. Oh, you say to get a DVR? Not worth the value to me, though it may have something to do with not owning a television. Get a television? Never!


The super Tesco is closed today? It's one of the biggest shopping days of the year. I'm just in the wrong country.

spam comments

Spam comments have been recently deleted. If you were an actual person, oh well, your comments sucked.

Thursday, December 24, 2009


If you had a pending invitation request for me on LinkedIn, there is a good chance I recently accepted it. Apparently, they never expire.

snow is all gone

Last weekend, it snowed and then got very cold. All in all, probably not even 10 cm (4 in for you Imperial folks) fell Friday and Saturday. By Sunday morning, the snow had ceased and the temperature was falling. By Monday, when I started the car, it registered 1.5 °C in the garage. (I get to park in the garage underneath my apartment building, which is a big bonus on weeks like this one.) After a few minutes of driving on the way to work, it was reading -12.5 °C. And today, it's bounced all the way back to 14 °C at the same time in the morning. Combined with yesterday's rain, there's basically no snow left. White Christmas is gone.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

sometimes you just need to laugh (and laugh and laugh)

Courtesy of reddit.com, I ended up laughing at this picture for about 30 straight seconds. And this other one is pretty good too. (It's supposed to be a website with a flash game for children.)

Edit: Yes, I really did laugh for 30 seconds. It was a long hearty laugh, that tailed off, then became hearty again, then tailed off again, then became hearty one last time, before tailing off with a professional amount of giggling. It was great. Laughter like that is a very good feeling.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

yesterday, it was september

I don't know what happened. Well, I do know what happened. I woke up today and while I know in a chronological sense that this is December, it seems like it should still be September in so many ways. I'm not really yearning to go back in time and fix anything fromt he last three months, but it has been three months of relaitvely poor productivity, difficulty staying focused, and lots of medium-term projects put on hold.

We're making it through each day, but it certainly feels like some bigger items are slipping by.

if you don't like cats...

If you like fish and don't like cats, then maybe this is the shirt for you. Mostly if you don't like cats.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Of people. Our people are always in motion. I'm not sure how the next year will play out for us here in the business, but it has been a month of transitions so far and we'll see what this means going forward.

north of where i'm used to

I have never lived for an extended period of time this far north. I certianly will not pretend that Hungary (southern Hungary in fact!) is particularly far north, but it's much further north than California (Bay Area), New Mexico, or South Texas. Actually, with each prior move, I had gone further south. But now, I'm much further north, especially compared to South Texas. However, this is certainly no Aberdeen or Stavanger, two bastions of the North Sea where this industry could certainly take me. The sun is already setting before 1600 and I'm not really itching for a place where I can watch the sunset at 1500.

Monday, December 07, 2009

more fog

It's been even foggier lately. More fog = all kinds of awesome. And dangerous driving conditions, which are not awesome.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

those are terrible movies

A - Those are all terrible movies. Or so I'm told. None of them are on this giant subway map of the greatest movies of all time.