BEHIND THE HEADLINES: FROM CHILE TO CHRISTMAS
by Mark Scheinbaum
American Reporter Correspondent
Lake Worth, Fla.
LAKE WORTH, Fla., Nov 6, 2007 -- Some investment and other items between and beyond the headlines, reflecting the views of a business-oriented journalist with too many magazine subscriptions.
Let's start with the new bright hope of Latin America.
Chile: sort of an economic miracle among mostly dismal economic reports from Latin America, cHILE is the subject of a new report by the Wharton School in Philadelphia (see: http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/index.cfm?fa=viewArticle&ID=878 for details.) What Prof. Gerard McDermott and his colleagues have found is pride in budgetary restraint, sane trade policies, institutional respect, and strictly enforced banking regulations. They did not specifically mention the "privatization" of the nation's social security system, encouraging investment in local stocks. In a decade poverty levels have been cut in half and individual wealth is soaring. U.S. reformers take note. Christmas Hype: I was lured into a JCPenny store for the first time in years by the full page Sunday ad proclaiming "Marlin World Series Merchandise." The calendar read October, but the Marlins items were on the store'a lower level in the middle of a complete display of Christmas ornaments and gifts. It also turned out the World Series items were not available as advertised, but disappointed visitors and their kids could wade through tons of Christmas items, as marketers intended. Switch to early November, and Hallmark and Target Stores cover the airwaves with Christmas advertising. One analyst called it the Back-to-School-Hollow-Thanks-Christmas Shopping Season. Every criticism of crass commercialism for the holidays is now reinforced by JCPenny and Target Store. I have not seen any Sears Christmas ads as yet. Since they are also the rare company that keeps benefits and pay in force for active-duty servicemen and women in their employ, that's where I'll shop this year. Don't Ask, Don't Tell: ...At least when it comes to veterans' rights. This time of year most people in London sport red poppies to honor the World War I combat dead and the veterans of all wars. A week before Veterans Day, I have not seen a single poppy for sale. Outside the downtown Lake Worth post office the Salvation Army - a great charity by the way - has a volunteer and a red holiday collection bucket. At the end of a Sabbath service, a rabbi in Marietta, Ga., closed the service for 600 congregants with a prayer for our nation's leaders. Not a word about our fighting men and woman who put their lives on the line every day. "We used to have a prayer about them when the war was on," he told me later. The next day 16 more American soldiers were killed. Wall Street Scandals: Never underestimate the ability of politicians and regulators to take safe topics and explode them for political gain and publicity, while leaving sacred cows alone. Most investors couldn't care less about the workings of the board of directors of the New York Stock Exchange, or the age-old arbitrage which has "suddenly" become the scandal of mutual funds. What most honest brokers and astute regulators will tell you privately is that "short selling" millions of times per day around the world, without following proscribed rules for "stock loans," is an accident of nuclear proportions waiting to happen. Someday, sometime, a tragedy will halt trading early in the day, leaving day traders and even mutual fund back offices scurrying to "cover" short positions, or get back shares "loaned out" to brokers. All hell and instability will break loose. Shhhhh: Don't tell anyone. Centennial: Panama celebrated 100 years of non-independence this week, and Secretary of State Colin Powell represented the United States. I saw no tv report, and only one U.S. print story, a lame AP dispatch in the Miami Herald. Like it or not, true independence came three years ago when the Canal Zone was returned to Panama (which the U.S. had carved out of Colombia a century ago). There are problems, for sure, but the positive aspects of the U.S. legacy, mixed with fierce nationalism, have succeeded in maintaining a cosmopolitan nation with centers of banking, shipping, insurance, and trade. Fire Fighters: In frozen row houses in Baltimore, in maelstrom mountains of flame in California, they are America's daily heroes and role models. Unless they've helped you personally, or you've seen them loaded down with equipment yet pushing forward for one more hour, you can't appreciate them. Go out of your way to say "Thank you."
Former UPI newsman Mark Scheinbaum is chief investment strategist for Kaplan & Co. www.kaplansecurities.com