The Deipnosophist

Where the science of investing becomes an art of living

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Location: Summerlin, Nevada, United States

A private investor for 20+ years, I manage private portfolios and write about investing. You can read my market musings on three different sites: 1) The Deipnosophist, dedicated to teaching the market's processes and mechanics; 2) Investment Poetry, a subscription site dedicated to real time investment recommendations; and 3) Seeking Alpha, a combination of the other two sites with a mix of reprints from this site and all-original content. See you here, there, or the other site!

24 December 2009

Imitation, and all that

-- David M Gordon / The Deipnosophist


22 December 2009

Last Minutes with Oden

So I am a sap.

I realize you must like dogs to appreciate the sense of unconditional love they bring to us, and to get all teary-eyed (like me) at inopportune moments. Love does that to us, don'cha know.

The brief film, Last Minutes with Oden, is a testament to that love; unconditional love from a dog that transformed a man's life.

Happy Holidays,
-- David M Gordon / The Deipnosophist



The Deipnosophist's comments section is missing in action because the software I used no longer is available. And for some reason I fail to understand, Blogger's software fails to kick in.

I did mention several months ago that I would disable the comments field; now that decision no longer is mine to make. You know how to contact me, if necessary.
-- David M Gordon / The Deipnosophist


20 December 2009

Are you happy?

-- David M Gordon / The Deipnosophist

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18 December 2009

The Known Universe

"The Known Universe takes viewers from the Himalayas through our atmosphere and the inky black of space to the afterglow of the Big Bang. Every star, planet, and quasar seen in the film is possible..."

I sure enjoyed this amazing and wondrous rendering; I hope you do as well.
-- David M Gordon / The Deipnosophist

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A Death in the Family - follow-up

I re-post Gene Prescott's reply to my post re the sudden death of his son, Jason because his remarks spread out over multiple comments, and in reverse order, and because I find them to be sensitive, touching... and especially haunting.
-- David M Gordon / The Deipnosophist
As many of you know, my oldest son, Jeff, spoke at his younger brother's, Jason's funeral. Locally, many, many, folks have asked us for a copy of his remarks. Jeff focused on Jason's birth. As we approach Christmas, in spite of grief, it is important that we focus optimally. I hope Jeff's remarks are helpful in that regard.

FWIW, we haven't been asked for the words of the 'professional remarkers' who also spoke in a relevant, caring, manner.
Gene Prescott

by Jeffrey Taylor Prescott

December 2, 2009

Thank you for joining us today.

I am Jeff Prescott... Jason's brother. I was asked by my family to speak today and it is my great honor to do so. You will note in the order of service that I will be delivering "remarks." I have absolutely no idea what this means. In the absence of any guidance whatsoever from my family, I have decided to translate my task roughly as "say something." I am relieved to note that I will be followed by various professional remarkers who can get things back on track.

In my remarks, I am not going to describe the kind of man my brother was. I am going to skip the part about him being gentle, tender-hearted, and considerate. And the part about him being a gifted problem-solver and very handy to have around. And how he was fun to work beside and be around. You already know all that. You told me that last night at visitation. Besides all the other remarkers knew my brother as a grown man and they can elaborate on these things.

In my remarks, I am also not going to attempt to apply the gospel to this very difficult situation. After all, why should you listen to an angry and confused man who feels mocked by God? I am relying on the other remarkers to bring wisdom to bear for us today.

So? What am I going to talk about? How are we going to celebrate a life that ended pointlessly? I do not have much to say about the end of my brother's life. I would like to tell you about how it began.

Here's how our family started out. My parents had three children. (Let me pause for a moment here. Last night, more than a few of you were shocked to learn that there were three of us--that Gina and Jason had a brother. If you are surprised, then you should be embarrassed. You obviously did not read all the footnotes in Dr. Wease's book on TMBC history.) Anyway, my parents had three children and we each had a designated niche in the family workings. I was the oldest... Gina was the only daughter... And Jason? Jason was what? The baby? That's true but it is lacking something. In my estimation, I was the oldest...Gina was the only daughter...and Jason was the special one.

Before you jump to any conclusions, let me explain what I mean.

How many of you remember the time when Jason was born? Well, let me tell you about it. My mother had a very difficult pregnancy. She was hospitalized for six weeks before Jason was born. The doctors did everything they could do to keep Jason from being born before he was viable. Remember...this was 1969 in eastern North Carolina. Many medical techniques that are considered routine today had not yet been invented. And the hospital rules were different then. Children were not allowed to visit the hospital. Gina and I were children. And our mother was in the hospital a long time. Our family was in a time of crisis.

I don't remember what all happened during those six weeks. These are my earliest memories and there are things I just don't remember. I imagine that some of you who brought food to our house this week also brought food forty years ago. I distinctly remember at one point going to Taylortown to stay with my Grandma and Grandpa Taylor. I don't remember how long. I think I remember Grandma and Granddaddy Prescott staying with us in our house on Kirkland Drive.

What I remember most is the one day when my father broke the rules. On this particular day, my father took Gina and me to the hospital. We were led to a room where we waited--what seemed like forever. And our mother was brought into the room in a wheelchair. You can imagine our excitement. Someday I will ask my father to explain exactly how he pulled this off. I know he had help from a couple of doctors. (I don't know if there is any statute of limitations for this sort of thing.)

But before we went on our daring raid of the hospital, my father took us somewhere else. He took us to Pitt Plaza. (How many of you remember Pitt Plaza?) We went to Roses at Pitt Plaza to purchase books to give to our mother. At the front of the store near the cash registers, there were paperback books in wire racks. Gina and I looked at every book. Gina selected a book by Art Linkletter, "Kids Still Say the Darndest Things." This was a compilation of funny things purportedly said by children...children who did not know they were being funny. Gina was 3-years-old. I was 5-years-old and understandably more sophisticated. I selected a book with pictures from the TV show "Laugh-In."

I cannot imagine what my father thought about our selections. But there we were. Our mother was wheeled into the waiting room as if she were the Queen of England on some sort of throne on wheels and we presented our fine gifts. (I am pretty sure she liked the Laugh-In book best.) These great works of literature were later placed on the den shelves alongside the very-impressive-looking Reader's Digest Condensed Books. In retrospect, it is tempting to reinterpret these inappropriate gifts as very appropriate gifts for unborn Jason...Jason who years later as a man loved to verbally tangle with children and loved to make us all laugh. But that is not the point of the story.

The point of the story is this. When Jason finally arrived, he was special in our family. I cannot say if he was special because of the way my parents loved him before he was born. Or if my parents loved him that way because they somehow knew he was special. It doesn't matter which came first. Over time, our small family has grown larger and more extended. As new members have been added to our family by marriage or birth or just sort of being swept up into the current, I believe that they have all been drawn to Jason for one reason or another. He was like that. And these various new family members--young and old alike--had no way to know that Jason's very existence with us was a special gift.

So, this is what I figured out about my family once I was old enough to figure. I was the oldest. And Gina was the only daughter. And Jason was the special one. The special one. That's what I thought. But a few seconds ago when I spoke of our growing family, I said "special gift." I don't think it ever occurred to me that way before today.

And, perhaps the phrase "special gift" reveals a flaw in my thinking. Jason was indeed the special one in my family. But when did we forget that he was a gift? A daily gift. Our loss is painful. But what we have lost--our expectation of how our lives should continue to unfold with Jason here--is something we never had a right to expect or demand in the first place.

Perhaps this profound pain we feel today can remind us that we live in a very broken world. A world where young ones are sometimes left without a father. A world where a fine man can make a poor decision that crushes the people he loves. A world where things just don't happen the way we yearn for them to. And maybe in this broken state, we can remember the gospel again or perhaps really hear it for the first time--and look for comfort in a gift that cannot slip away from our grasp. But I will let others continue such remarks--either today or another day.

Between his almost miraculous birth and his miserable death, my brother has left us many things for which we are thankful. He has entrusted two very special children with us. He put the "extended" into "extended family". And he has left us many happy memories of days better than today.

My family tends to congregate in my parents' den--a once-large room that seems to shrink as our family grows. Multiple conversations are going on simultaneously because everyone has something to say. I make a smart comment. Jason's wife Ruthi says "You're just like your brother." Another woman in the room says "You mean like all the Prescott men." Then all the women in the room exchange knowing glances and, maybe, roll their eyes. This same conversation has happened countless times. I have never had a response. Today, if you tell me "You're just like your brother," I will say, "Thank you. Thank you very much."


17 December 2009

Mac or Windows?

Let Tom Cruise tell you...

-- David M Gordon / The Deipnosophist

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Like maps?

Check how things really looked back in the day with this crafty mash-up of historical maps and Google Earth.

Old maps are scanned, then laid over with current street names / landmark labels, revealing what's changed and what's stayed the same.

David Rumsey's Historical Map Collection

-- David M Gordon / The Deipnosophist


15 December 2009

The new leaders (begin to) emerge

Up, down; up, down; one day looks powerfully bullish, the next day profoundly bearish. (NB: the ish suffix.) In the end, the equity markets head nowhere quickly -- despite yesterday's tag of a new recovery high.

This sideways trading is indicative of congestion, an area pattern builds, and whether it will prove a base or top remains to be seen. However, the equity market's internal structure (the subtle clues, as I view them) weakens notably. (A string of extraordinarily positive days could reverse easily the negative leaning of the subtle clues, though.)
1) The leaders that got us here (the rally from March 2009) lose upside momentum;
2) Various technical studies betray conservative investment decisions;
3) Volume has lacked notably throughout the recovery rally from March, but is especially diminished since 2 November ephemeral low;
4) Institutional investors abandon the market; and
5) The US$ begins to reverse course to up from profoundly down.

Consider that last item alone and apart: What bearing does it have on the (US) equity markets? You likely know already about the notorious carry trade: a stronger US$ would force reversals of all the no risk positions that helped this rally have legs. Consider, also, the changing dynamics from the perspective of inter-market analysis:
1) Metals (gold, et al) and resources (oil) turn down from up
2) Their stocks turn down from up.

Which translates into a serious headwind for the equity market averages and indices because the oil sector represents a heavy weighting (~15% of the S&P 500).

But it does not necessarily follow that the markets would again endure a monolithic decline ala Q4 2008; truly, monolithic declines are an exceedingly rare event. No, what could happen this time (say, the bulk of 2010) is a price decline in the former leaders while new leaders emerge. The market could head sideways to marginally down, but the new leaders would trade bullishly, if even explosively higher.

So who are those leaders? Please visit Investment Poetry for the remainder of this post, specific investment opportunities included.
-- David M Gordon / The Deipnosophist

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13 December 2009


This interactive map is an excellent dynamic representation of unemployment.

You need only click "play" for a visual display of some frightening info.
-- David M Gordon / The Deipnosophist

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11 December 2009

Another investment analysis tool?

Just when you thought you had covered all the possible modes of investment analysis, along comes another, altogether new, approach...
The Sunshine Effect: When financial markets respond to the weather

NEW YORK, Dec. 10 -- Market reactions to earnings surprises are higher when earnings are announced on very sunny days in New York City, according to a recent study by two accounting professors.

The discovery of this “sunshine effect” was originally published in the Spring 2009 issue of the Journal of Accounting, Auditing and Finance by John J. Shon of Fordham University and Ping Zhou of Baruch College. Their paper, “Are Earnings Surprises Interpreted More Optimistically on Sunny Days? Accounting Information and the Sunshine Effect,” also found similarly negative effects for days that were rainy and/or snowy. The paper also found that the Sunshine Effect:

- Is most prominent for firms that are more likely to be followed by naive investors and less prominent for firms that are more likely to be followed by sophisticated investors;
- Causes average bid-ask spreads to be lower on sunny days relative to cloudy days, suggesting that market-makers may be a contributing factor; and
- Exists for companies traded on the NYSE and the AMEX, but not for those traded on the NASDAQ.

"Investors who spark these reactions are, truly, high on the weather,” said Shon, an assistant professor of accounting and taxation at Fordham. “These sunshine-induced overreactions and underreactions are reversed within days."
'Tis downright dizzying, I say!
-- David M Gordon / The Deipnosophist

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08 December 2009

Still Tasty

[For] how long will your favorite beverage or food remain safe and tasty? What is the best way to store it?

Still Tasty
has the answers to those questions, and others.
-- David M Gordon / The Deipnosophist

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07 December 2009

Elvis and Celine Dion...

On stage together.

Amazingly, Elvis is a hologram! The entire clip required months to create, with an estimated cost between $50,000 to $100,000.
-- David M Gordon / The Deipnosophist


06 December 2009

One Pilgrim's Progress

Some readers wonder whether I overstate the importance of psychological issues in the quest for consistent portfolio success. ("Aren't trading strategies and skills more important?") Surely, without sound, reliable methodologies, an investor cannot hope to be profitable. And yet I believe that an investor's psyche to be more important than consummate skills to achieve consistent and enduring success. You can know all the patterns, have all the skills, and yet remain unable to pull the trigger.

There are key ways you can cultivate the proper mental edge.

Remain calm and relaxed. You should manage risk on each investment. If you truly know that an investment, held currently at a loss, has relatively little impact on your account balance, you will be more easily able to remain calm.
Attitude. Many investors are afraid to face the worst-case scenario, which is that they cannot invest profitably, or that they will ever achieve lasting success. Do not be afraid to face your limitations; instead, work around them. With realistic optimism, you can beat even the most seemingly insurmountable problem.
Focus on the process, not the result. Many investors become bogged down because they focus on making big profits. You end up putting extra pressure on yourself to perform beyond your skill level, and when you do that, you usually choke under the pressure. It is better to focus on the process of investing. Focus on learning how to invest correctly and profitably rather than on the extrinsic, monetary rewards of investing.
Focus on meeting your own internal standards. Better than to measure your portfolio performance against other investors for how well you should be doing. Everybody has his or her own unique learning curve. Some people pick up investing relatively quickly while others need to spend a great deal of time honing their skills. Do not make the mistake of thinking that just because you are not doing as well as other investors that you have less talent or are doing poorly. Your timeline is different.

Investing is difficult enough, but the multitude of methods can be downright stunning. Just look at your choices: stocks, futures, options, mutual funds. Then you have to determine an appropriate level of activity: day trading, swing trading, buy-and-hold. Even your strategies are numerous: scalping, spreads, system trading, directional. It is easy to be overwhelmed. One of the major pitfalls of active trading is trying to master all of these choices.

Smart investors give themselves an edge by doing one thing well. Plenty of traders have made fortunes just buying and selling one stock repeatedly. Others have mastered the art of options spreads, while some have even profited from the reversals that often occur after news events push a market to an extreme. But nobody has ever made a consistent profit by trading all investment options.

Many examples abound why it is better to focus on one theme, but consider the advantages of mastering one single stock. The popularity of computerized systems trading is growing, but these 'systems' can be somewhat misleading to a naïve investor. The criteria set that works great for one equity could be disastrous when applied to another. The idea here is universal; if you want to be a successful investor, you must give yourself an edge. You can do that via mastering one stock, one trade, or one signal, and then execute it perfectly. Remember, investing accurately is more important than investing frequently. Thus, it is more crucial to invest with confidence rather than skill. You must take action when the moment is ripe, not rotten. And only you (your mind, your outlook, your psychology) holds yourself back from consistent success.

We all, as humans, are risk averse. We have a strong need to seek out pleasure and avoid pain, which means in this context that we do not like to incur losses from our investment efforts, and we'll do almost anything to avoid taking them. Losses are painful; investors tend to come up with many ways of denying a loss -- such as holding on to a losing investment and hope it turns around. In the end, though, you will invest more efficiently and profitably if you can take losses as quickly as possible, and then make a new investment. The best way to do this is to have a clearly defined investing plan in which you pre-define the reasons you will enter and exit an investment. Once you have such a plan, you then can execute the investment without hesitation: Nothing to consider, weigh, or judge and consequently nothing to tempt you to hesitate and be consumed with self-doubt. The best way to take a loss is to anticipate it. Do not be caught off guard. If you invest with the expectation  an investment opportunity could lose, you won't be as bothered should the investment go against your hopes; if you avoid considering the possibility, you'll become extremely frustrated when you are in the midst of a losing investment. Accept that losses are the norm rather than the exception, especially the briefer your time frame to fruition.

The problem becomes that we each want to own the big movers, the stocks that grab the headlines; unfortunately, this attempt often gets in the way of our making money. This is a fantasia that continues to plague me, despite my decades-long attempt to corral it. I scan the markets to determine what moves now, and moan that I am not aboard. If I, or you, were to suddenly jump aboard this or that runaway train, then what knowledge do we have regarding the company? When things go wrong (usually expressed as the stock declining suddenly and ferociously) we are left with only the questions we should have asked before buying into the position. Oh, and the loss.

So I develop a list of companies I want to own, and from that list I await my moments of opportunity to purchase. While I wait, I study the company and watch how its shares trade: each stock has its own peccadilloes that betray something, no matter how inconsequential for a specific time frame. And while I am busy doing all that, other stocks on my buy list are moving. In fact, stocks are moving all the time — I merely await the pattern or setup with which I am familiar or comfortable. When that occurs, I act.

I am wrong so often, it hurts. Trading, speculation, investing (recall I denote the critical difference as one of time) are, in themselves, each sufficiently difficult not to complicate the matter by conflating your emotional vacillations with the market's oscillations. If something goes wrong, sell and move on; if something goes right, then sell and move on. But this is difficult, isn’t it? Who wants to admit to being wrong by stopping out for a small loss when, if we grant enough time, it will go up… Right? And who wants to take a profit, large or small, when, if granted enough time, the stock will go higher, much higher. ("I had it when.")

Give it up. The effort is not to buy the low tick or sell the high tick, or even having owned it whenever, but for your portfolio to amass an increasing value. Does it matter how it got there? It is for this core reason that I fixate on investor's psychology: 99% of success in this venture is based upon your decisions, not the market’s oscillations.

Knowing everything about a company merely serves to whet our appetite, but little about its shares; whether now is a good time to buy, a recognition of your time frame and tolerance for risk. No one other than you can answer those questions; the answers are internal not external. After analyzing the company and considering it a fit for your portfolio, you still must determine how many shares, when to buy (and sell), and when do you recognize the error of judgment based on either (or both) the stock and the company. LaPlace said, "The most important questions of life are, for the most part, really only problems of probability." In the face of this uncertainty lies your prowess to make decisions now.

Stocks oscillate. But if you buy stocks that trend upwards, then weakness in the general market should result merely in short term weakness in your up trending stock; i.e., a buying opportunity. The trick is to recognize when a trend is about to reverse from up to down (or down to up). Because the effort to buy during a decline is difficult, you might find buying higher easier to accomplish. Of course, this also potentially means that the moment you finally feel comfortable buying is the same moment you should sell.

The problem is the amount of volatility within the existing up trend. Any investment is a difficult hold for the emotional investor. If the potential opportunity for an investment excites you, what do you do about it? Do you buy, and grimace through the gut-wrenching volatility? Despite your recognition of the company’s opportunity, and its proven success in the market already (evinced by a rising share price), who wants to buy in advance of a sudden sharp decline in price? And before the trend resumes?

At some price or level, the shares represent value to you, irrespective of any additional downside volatility subsequent to your purchase. So you buy then because the investment is appropriate for your portfolio, and further price weakness is inconsequential to the opportunity you foresee.
-- David M Gordon / The Deipnosophist

PS: Please visit Investment Poetry for specific investment opportunities, price and timing included.

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02 December 2009

A Death in the Family

Back in 1997 (the prehistoric days of the Internet), I emerged ever so slowly from my self-imposed exile. And as I climbed out of my rabbit hole, I somehow found my way to George Gilder's Technology Forum (the GTF, as we called it back then).

I began posting, infrequently at first but ultimately a cascade, each post signed only as 'dmg'. I felt comfortable at the GTF, like I was at home, due chiefly to the warmth and camaraderie I felt while there. We trusted each other, we merry band of regular posters who converged at the site daily, to mingle, interact, be friends: Roger Austin, Fay Voshell, Allan Harris, Tom Burger, Fred Moreno, Scott Grannis, many whom I forget or neglect to name, including many of you readers... and Gene Prescott.

Allan Harris
has just shared the horrifying news that Gene Prescott's son died a few days ago. By suicide. The partial obituary...

Jason Hill Prescott, 40, died Saturday, November 28, 2009.

A funeral service will be conducted Wednesday at 11 am in The Memorial Baptist Church, by his current and former pastors. Burial will follow at Greenwood Cemetery.

A native of Greenville, Jason was a graduate of J.H. Rose High School. He received a BSBA degree in accounting from Appalachian State University in 1991 and became a CPA in 1994. He began his accounting career at Overton’s, Inc., in 1991. In 1993, Jason joined C. Eugene Prescott, CPA, his father’s firm, where he later became a partner. In 2005, he joined Bill Clark Homes as Controller.

Jason’s professional affiliations included American Institute of CPAs, the North Carolina Association of CPAs, and the Coastal Plains Chapter of the NCACPA. He served on the AICPA Tax Division’s Member Tax Practice Improvement Committee, the AICPA Top Ten Technologies Tax Force, the AICPA Tax Division’s Tax Technology Committee, and the Coastal Plains Chapter of the NCACPA Continuing Education Committee. He was a co-presenter of technological programs at tax and computer conferences for the AICPA, the Virginia Society of CPAs, and the Coastal Plains Chapter of NCACPA.

A life-long member of The Memorial Baptist Church, Jason served in various capacities including the Diaconate, the Royal Ambassadors, the Technology Committee, the Financial Review Committee, and the Stewardship Committee. He was currently serving as an active member of the Administrative Deacons, the Audio Visual Task Force, and the Finance Team, to which he dedicated much of his time and energy and was its incoming Chair for 2010. He also enjoyed volunteering with the Baptist Men’s Disaster Relief efforts.

Jason was an avid NASCAR fan, who along with his wife Ruthi developed many meaningful friendships with fellow fans around the country. He also enjoyed biking, church league softball, and water sports at the family’s cottage at Bath.

The family will receive friends Tuesday from 6 to 8 pm at Wilkerson Funeral Home and at other times at 1416 Addison Court, Windsor (Subdivision), and 106 Williamsburg Drive, Lynndale.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be given to the Operating Fund of The Memorial Baptist Church, 1510 Greenville Blvd., SE, Greenville, NC 27858.

On-line condolences at

Gene's e-address:
I sit at my desk, floored by disbelief. Do you recall all the stories Gene shared of his family, friends, and church? His fall from the ladder? His plea for financial help in the wake of Hurricane -- ? Each of Gene's posts were imbued with his love and trust in life, family, and church. I suspect that Gene, who always somehow landed on his feet, is distraught and bereft right about now.

Please, those of you who remember Gene, take a moment now to send your condolences. Remembering Gene for the (Southern) gentleman he was always, I bet he would appreciate hearing from you at any time, but especially now.

Full Disclosure
: Long sadness.

-- David M Gordon / The Deipnosophist


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