Having More Choices is Better Right? Actually, It's Quite the Opposite.

Nov 12, 2014 -

Having Fewer Choices Leads to Happiness

The world we live in today is much different than the world we lived in thirty years ago. In particular we have more choices than ever before. For example, not only did we not have cell phones thirty years ago, but we also rented our land-line phones from a company called Bell. Now we have the iPhone 6, Samsung Galaxy Ace 2, HTC One, Sony Xperia U, Nexus 4, and so on and so forth.  

Technology has allowed us to communicate with just about anyone at any time from anywhere. At any point in time you may get a phone call from your boss or an email might come through your phone. You ask yourself, should I answer that phone call or should I reply to that email? Everywhere you turn there is a decision to be made. A choice you need to make.

Give a man or woman too many choices and we will find ourselves paralyzed or uncertain as to what to do. For example, if you take your lady to the mall and she sees hundreds of purses, she will not know which one to choose. What will end up happening is she will spend two hours looking for the "right" one. Then when she finally decides on a bag and purchases it, on the way home she will start to think about all the other bags that she didn't buy. She starts to question whether or not she made the right decision.

This similar scenario would play out for a guy who shopping for electronics. We compare and contract the latest phones or gadgets. Since there are literally hundreds of different electronics, we can't make a quick decision. The minute that we do, we end up thinking about the other gadgets we didn't end up buying. When there are more options to choose from, it is easier to imagine that you could have made a better choice. What ends up happening is that you regret the decision you made and that regret leads to less satisfaction.

"Opportunity costs subtract from the satisfaction we get out of what we choose, even when what we choose is terrific. And the more options there are to consider, the more attractive features of these options are going to be reflected by us as opportunity costs." - Barry Schwartz

When more choices are presented, we naturally raise our expectations. Suppose you were presented with 100 different soda flavors. Of course you'd expect that from at least one of those 100 flavors, you'd be able to find a perfect flavor. One that will blow your mind and be crowned the victor of all sodas. Arguably, if there is only one flavor, you will have lower expectations as to whether or not that particular flavor will dazzle your taste buds. Even when statistically in the 100 flavors there is a high probability that at least one of the flavors is better than that single flavor, the fact that our expectations are raised, will result in being less satisfied. In conclusion, if you want to be happy, just have low expectations. 

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Excel Tip #16 - Filling in Blank Cells with Header Cell Values

Nov 5, 2014 -

Excel - Fill in those Blank Cells with Header Information

When you have a report that has some of the header information filled out but not all of it, what is the best way to fill in blank cells with header values? 

This is especially the case when the rows in your report have repeating information. Typically, the report itself will just show the first new value and leave the remaining blank. This is great if you are viewing the report because you don't want extraneous information. But, what if you want to sort the information and organize a pivot table? You'll need to manually type in the blanks, but that could take you a couple of hours. Imagine if you had thousands of pages of blanks, that would take you days. 

This five step process will help you fill in the blanks with header cell values within minutes! 

1. Highlight and select the range with blanks, including headings to be copied. 
2. Hit "F5", which will prompt up the "GoTo" dialog box.
3. You'll want to hit "Special" and select "Blanks". Then hit "OK".
4. Press "=" key and the Up Arrow.
5. Hold down the Control key and press Enter.

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Stock of the Week: American Express (AXP)

Oct 28, 2014 -

American Express Impresses with Q3 Earnings

In late October of 2014, American Express (AXP) traded at $86.40 per share and had a total market capitalization of approx. $90.42B. This is compared to its competitors including Visa (V) and MasterCard (MA) at approximately $133B and $85.69B respectively. While all three companies are in the same industry and arguably overlap in target customers, American Express has been known to target higher net worth individuals. Resulting in generating more revenues per customer than either.
What is one major difference between the three companies?

American Express typically offers more attractive rewards and benefits to its card members than V and MA. The reason they are able to do this is because their typical card member spends more than that of a Visa or MasterCard user.

Unlike that of Visa and Mastercard, American Express is that it is also in the banking industry. AXP has subsidiaries that are bank holding companies including Centurion Bank and AEBFSB. In addition to revenue from card services, AXP earns interest income on deposits at its banks. While both of which are subject to Dodd-Frank and FDIC regulations, both banks are well-capitalized.

Highlight Fundamentals

In Q3 of 2014, American Express' EPS grew 12% year over year to $1.40 per share. Though revenues are consistent with that of the prior period, we need to back out the business travel operations revenue portion from the prior comparable period (Q3 2013) as that was deconsolidated in a joint venture (JV) transaction. The joint venture is with an unrelated third-party investor group who contributed $900 million to the JV for 50% ownership of the American Express Global Business Travel brand in June 2014. Excluding that revenue from a year ago, adjusted revenues increased 5% or 6% with foreign translation adjustments. Higher member spending and higher net interest income contributed to the increase in revenues.

American Express has reduced its company's expenses. Most notably, the decrease in 'Salaries and employee benefits accounted for 1,290M versus 1,544M in the Q3 2014 and Q3 2013, respectively. This is due primarily to the fact that the expenses from business travel is no longer consolidated in the income statement.

The company continues to repurchase common shares and as a result have reduced the shares outstanding from 1,071M shares in Q3'13 to 1,035M shares in Q3'14.  This only makes the company's shares look more attractive. When there are less outstanding shares, this means the company's value is less diluted. In theory each share would be worth more than before given that the company's financials remain constant.

In 2008, American Express acquired 13.5% ownership stake in Concur Technologies (CNQR). Recently SAP SE (SAP) a enterprise software company proposed to acquire CNQR at $129 per share. The expectation is that this transaction will close in Q4 2014, however it could roll until Q1 2015. This would result in a sizable gain as 6.4M shares were originally purchased at $39.27 per share. In addition, AXP received warrants with the right to purchase an additional 1.28 million shares of Concur at 39.27 per share any time from 2008 to 2010. AXP did note that a portion of the shares were sold during Q3 2014.

Highlight Technicals

From a technical perspective, in the short-term there do not appear to be any glaringly obvious bullish patterns to trade. However, if we pan out and take a look at the weekly chart over two years, we can see that it just bounced off support at around 80. There is a nice hammer pattern with confirmation shown in October. This is a bullish sign when it tests prior resistance successfully as now it has become an important support level.

This resistance test coincided with the approximately 10% SPY market pull back, which swung from a market record high of 2019.26 to 1820.66. It has since rebounded to 1964.58 or a pull back just above the 61.8% Fibonacci extension.

If I were planning on going long on AXP, from a technical perspective, now would be a decent opportunity to enter. The stock just convincingly bounced off support at around $80/share and has moved higher since.

Disclaimer: This article is written for informational purposes only and isn't intended as investment advice.
Disclosure: I do not have a position in AXP.
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Lessons in Making Drinks - Three Basic Ice Shapes

Oct 20, 2014 -

Understanding the Importance of Ice in Alcoholic Drinks

Many people underestimate the importance of quality ice in alcoholic drinks. Ice plays a huge role in a well-made drink as not only does ice control temperature, but also the dilution of your beverage. Different types of ice will dilute your drink at different levels and similarly the temperature will change at different speeds. There is nothing worse than a drink that was perfect two minutes ago and now sitting warm in your hand. Use the correct ice, so this doesn't happen to you or your guests.

Tip #1 - Keeping ice in the freezer with food for too long will result in the ice absorbing food flavors. Toss unused ice every couple days.

For drinks meant to be sipped like Macallan Scotch 12 Year, Dewar's, Manhattan, or an old-fashioned you require larger ice cubes. Ideally, you'd want a ice sphere or block that fits snug in your lowball glass. That way the drink dilutes slower and as a result the temperature of the drink remains in that perfect temperature for longer periods of time. Stay classy my friends, drop a sphere in your glass.

For tall and narrow Collins glasses, use rectangles of ice that are about an inch thick and four inches long. This works well for drinks such as the long island iced tea as the ice melts slowly. Not to mention the presentation is impeccable.

Some cocktails require fast-melting ice and shaved ice spears helps the dilution of the drink. Such drinks may include the Mojito and mint juleps.

One way to have your drink stand out is by using flavored cubes. In fuse your cocktail with ice flavored ginger or even watermelon. Depending on how much you want your drink to be flavored, you can freeze complete ice cubes of watermelon juice or dilute it with water prior to freezing. Whether they add a bit of spice in ginger or sour in lemonade, flavored cubes will without a doubt bring your drink to the next level. This is a sure way to impress your friends and significant others.

Tip #2 - Always use filtered and warm water when making ice cubes. They will be far more translucent.

Quick Pairing Tips

1. Watermelon cubes generally work with most white spirits such as tequila and rum.
2. A pairing of citrus and a bit of sugar goes well with gin or vodka.
3. Should you fancy darker alcohols such as whiskey or dark rums, try that with a bit of ginger or apple.
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Inside the Mind of Warren Buffet's Probable Successor

Oct 14, 2014 -

Buffet's Successor? Who is Li Lu?

Li Lu is rumored to be the front runner in managing Berkshire Hathaway's investment portfolio after Warren Buffet steps down. After hearing Warren Buffet speak at a Columbia alumnus lecture, Li Lu was inspired to work in investment banking. After his stint in investment banking, he founded Himalaya Capital Management (a hedge fund, which later was transformed into a long-only vehicle).

His claim to fame was introducing the Chinese battery and auto maker BYD Company to Charlie Munger and Warren Buffet. In 2008, Warren Buffet invested about $230M in BYD for 10% of the company at HK$8/share. In Sept of 2014, the value ballooned to about HK$53/share.

From left to right: David Sokol of MidAmerican, Warren Buffett, Wang Chuan-Fu of BYD and Li Lu. Photo: David Yellen
Recently Li Lu spoke in front of an audience about his investing principals. There are three basic principals surrounding value stock investing.

1) A stock is not a piece of paper that you trade. Instead it represents a fraction of ownership in a company. Therefore when valuing a stock, you are valuing a portion of the business.

2) When valuing a financial asset you should be able to reasonably predict future cash flows. However, should you be wrong, make sure you've left yourself a "margin of safety".

The future is a distribution of all probabilities. Even though you may be 90% certain that an asset will continue to grow, that 10% of stagnation or devaluation is still a possibility. Should all that could go wrong go wrong just make sure you will still be in the game. That is the core behind the concept of margin of safety.

3) The market can be emotional and neurotic causing irrational behaviors among investors.

When value investing you have to be in a frame of mind that allows you to be comfortable in standing alone even when the whole market is against you and everyone thinks you are wrong. What allows you to do this is your research. Trusting your research even when everyone else thinks otherwise is a difficult and unnatural thing to do.

All the successful value investors have a couple of things in common. First of all, they do not bet often. Instead they wait for the best situation. A situation that allows has margin of safety enough so that they are able to stand against the whole market, which requires immense amount of discipline.

Real World Value Stock Examples
In the early 1990s, Russia privatized most of their state assets almost overnight. Many people did not understand privatization, so those who received shares were selling them at discounted prices. For example, a Russian oil company's stock was trading at 1 cent on the dollar per barrel of oil it held on its books. At the time oil was trading at $20/barrel. Even with excluding earnings and considering the political uncertainty, you would have came up on top at these discounted prices.

A couple of years ago there were non-voting common shares trading at 70-80% discount compared to the common voting shares equivalents. This was a company that had been growing on a compounded basis for three to four decades. Furthermore there is virtually no difference between the voting and non-voting common shares because the family has controlling interest.

The holy grail of investing is finding businesses trading at inexpensive prices that also have the ability to generate cash on a compounded basis.

How do you decide when to sell a stock?
Every situation is different. The upside and downside of a business can change based on factors outside of the company, therefore it is important to reevaluate the situation on an ongoing basis. While you may not feel comfortable with a 70% discount on a company based in Russia, a 20% discount in a large US corporation may be enough of a margin of safety. When a stock becomes valued at extreme levels or the situation turns unfavorable - that is when you sell. However, if the company's earnings continue to grow, there is less of a hurry to sell. Because you are essentially letting your investment grow interest free by avoiding the capital gain tax when you do sell.

Finding a stock with a large margin of safety could require long periods of time where you don't swing at all. But, you should be studying all the time to be ready for opportunities when they do arise. Investment ideas can come from anywhere from the Wall Street Journal to maybe even billboard signs. Diversification is necessary to stay in the game in the long run. However, the extent to which you diversify is based on your opportunity cost. What else can do you with the cash?

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Single Best Way to Organize Your To Do List

Oct 8, 2014 -

The Most Important Thing You Can Do To Get Organized

We live in a society where we are constantly being bombarded with information. If your boss isn't asking you to reformat an excel sheet, then you are being nagged by your girlfriend or wife to take out the trash. When you think about it, human evolution has not caught up to today's information overload environment. For thousands of years, we've been programmed to essentially be hunters and gatherers. Human evolution has not prepared us to efficiently recall all the things we need to do throughout the day. Should you not believe these words, I dare you to take out a sheet of paper and write down 10 random words. When I say random, I don't mean something like "one", "two", and so on and so forth. Try writing down five animals and five fruits. Now put that list away and then try and recall all 10 words in order in which you had them appear. Not so easy is it? Our mental capacity can only hold so much at any one point in time.

If it is truly the case that we are struggling to remember 10 or so words, how in the world are we supposed to remember what the five things we need to do after work and on top of that the 15 things we need to pick up at the grocery store? Obviously, if we are only looking at a handful of things we need to do for the day, we might just try and memorize it. Otherwise we might just make a list and write it down somewhere, right?

"The best way to organize your to do list is through using note-cards."

The problem with trying to memorize these lists is that we tend to forget them. Also, it's just another thing to keep on our minds throughout the day. If we have to constantly remind ourselves on the way home to buy milk, our brains are using energy to recall that information. We then might get worried that we'll forget to pick up milk, so we repeat it to ourselves throughout the day. What might end up happening is that we get home and totally forget to pick up that milk from the grocery store.
We might add a reminder in our cellphone to pick up milk after work or maybe we decide to write it down on a sheet of paper and put it in our pocket. Whatever the case may be, we store this information outside of the brain. That way, you don't need to constantly keep that thought in our mind and therefore we are free to think of other things. As a result, life is less stressful. Make a list of all the things you need to do and just work through that list throughout the day.

"Your mind will remind you of all kinds of things when you can do nothing about them, and merely thinking about your concerns does not at all equate to making any progress on them."

What is the Best Way to Organize Your To Do List?
Let's consider our options for a minute. Voice recorders are inefficient because you need to take the time to replay when you said. When you scribble notes on a random piece of paper, you can easily lose that. Personally, carrying around a notebook was great because I kept all of my "to dos" in one place. In addition, I was also able to add to that list throughout the day. So if I was riding the subway or the bus and I suddenly remembered I needed to pick up milk from the grocery store, I'd whip out my notebook and scribble it down. But, carrying around a big notebook can be a hassle.

The best way to organize your to-do-list is through using note-cards. Grab a stack of 3x5 inch note-cards and cut them in half. Then write down all the things that you need to do that are on your mind. In other words, empty your mind and transfer all that worry onto the note-cards. For example, your cards might read, walk the dog after work, water the plants at night, or update your blog after the developer fixes your banner.

Then organize what you need to do into categories. For example, what needs to be done today, what needs to be done this week, and what can wait.  Alternatively, you can organize them by topic. For example, I had them organized by "Equity Investments", "Personal", "Random", etc. Next, take your tasks and separate them into the aforementioned categories based on urgency and priority. Take only the cards in the "needs to be done today" pile with you to work or wherever you might be going today and a stack of blank cards. You will use the blank cards to write more to do things as they come to you throughout the day.

This way you can easily flip through your cards and understand what needs to be done. Each day you can then go through your pile of cards and reorganize based on priority what needs to be done and just knock them off one by one.

If you are truly interested in learning more about this technique, I would encourage you to read more about how to get even more organized in The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload. This technique alone is worth the price of the book.
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Five Simple Essentials to Bring to the Gym

Sep 29, 2014 -

What Are You Forgetting on Your Way to the Gym?

Are you planning on hitting up the gym today? Whether or not it is your first time at the gym or hundredth time, we always seem to forget to bring something. Aside from putting on workout clothes and shoes, which is a given, don't let yourself forget the essentials below.

Summary Checklist

1) Klean Kanteen Water Bottle or Blender Bottle
2) Gold Standard 100% Whey Protein
3) Reebok Active Dry Workout Towel
4) Master Lock (Optional)
5) Nike Training Gym Sack
6) Phone/Wallet/Keys

Sturdy and Reliable Water Bottle
Stay hydrated and do yourself a favor by filling up your stainless steel Klean Kanteen with water prior to heading out to the gym. One of my biggest gripes about water bottles is whether or not it leaves a plastic or metallic taste in your mouth. Just for the record, Klean Kanteens do NOT leave you with that taste.

The problem with most other water bottles is the fact that they could potentially have BPA (bisphenol A.), which is an industrial chemical that is found in plastic water bottles. Obviously there are negative health effects when BPA seeps into your food and drinks. But you can rest assured, these bottles are 100% BPA free.

In particular, both the 27oz and 40oz fits easily into the cup holder in your car. My favorite attribute of it is the loop cap because then I can carry it from the loop cap versus gripping the bottle. However, should you not want the loop cap, it can be replaced with a normal sport cap.

Just to top it off, in the five plus years I've had my Klean Kanteen, I have not once had a problem with it leaking as the cap seals quite easily.

Now you might have seen a lot of people at the gym walk around with these Blender Bottles. Inside these bottles there is a surgical-grade stainless steel ball. Now when you start to mix whey protein with water or milk, more times than not it will get clumpy. The wired ball is suppose to act as a whisk inside your bottle. It's pretty awesome to say the least. Even if you do not drink protein shakes, these bottles work really well for things such as yogurt smoothies. We were concerned about BPA earlier, so it is assuring to know that these are BPA-free plastics.

Great Tasting Protein Shake/Smoothie
If you are a protein shake drinker or are looking to get leaner muscles, I highly recommend the Gold Standard 100% Whey protein. A lot of protein supplement companies source their raw materials from third parties and most of the time these third parties are coming from third world countries. So they might be adding additional metals and even cattle hormones into the whey. But, Gold Standard Whey does NOT outsource their manufacturing. In fact, the manufacturing is by Glanbia, who is owned by Optimum Nutrition (the company that makes Gold Standard 100% Whey).

Another reason for buying this product is really the taste. Most other protein shakes taste terrible. If you added milk or water to these formulas, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference between this and a kid's chocolate milkshake. Like most things there is a pitfall, the bad part is that use artificial sweeteners. That's how they get it to taste great.

Clean Active-Dry Workout Towel and Lock
The other key essential is the towel. If you think about it, every one of those machines is dripping with sweat and you wouldn't want you sweat mixing with someone else's. Grab an active-dry towel and you can check that off your list. Just make sure you put the towel down on the machine the same side every time, otherwise it defeats the purpose.

Most gyms have lockers, but they won't have a lock there for you. So, if you are a locker kind of guy or gal, pick up one of these classic master locks and you should be fine. Typically, I won't bring that much stuff to the gym whereby I will need a locker. Therefore, I'd consider a lock to be optional.

Nike Training Gym Sack 
So you have your water bottle, spiffy towel, and maybe a lock for the locker room. Then you have the keys to your car/house, phone, and slim wallet. Well, this seems like an awful lot of small things to be carrying around especially when you are moving from machine to machine working out. Where do you put these things? You'll have to get the latest Nike Training Gymsack.

One of the best attributes of this bag is that there is a zipper in front. It also has air dry/ventilation on the bottom for soaked gym clothes/towels. It features three separate compartments and is very easy to wear on your back. On a side note, I've actually taken this bag to music festivals and people have commented on the convenience of being able to put water bottles and hold stuff without a traditional backpack.

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Alibaba Succeeded Because of these Three Things

Sep 22, 2014 -

Three Reasons Why Alibaba Succeeded

"If you participate in making a change in the world, then you will make your life more meaningful."  - Jack Ma

We didn't have any money.
One reason businesses fail is not because they do not have money, in fact it is the opposite. Some businesses fail because they have too much money. There are lot of wealthy people who tell others, "Oh, I have a boatload of money and because of that I can do anything". If it were as easy as spending money to "solve" a problem, then it really wasn't a problem to begin with because there was a solution out there already. All you had to do was find someone who had the solution in the first place and pay him or her. True problems are those that money alone can not solve. That is where innovation comes about and value is in solving the true problems.

Cash is like the military of the nation. We can't really spend our cash reverse recklessly. But when it is time to use our cash, we have to be decisive and act quickly.

We didn't know about technology.
To this day Jack Ma does not know how to code. In fact, he hasn't ever written a single piece of code. Not knowing programming actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise. A CEO of a technology company who doesn't know how to code is somewhat laughable. But because of this, he wasn't able to micromanage his engineers. This allowed them to freely experiment and develop websites. But, not understanding now to code does not mean that he did not respect technology. He found his value in being a product tester. If Jack Ma wasn't able to use the product, then they would have to revamp the platform/idea. However, his sites have evolved and become more complex, which has resulted in Jack realizing that young individuals are much better at product testing than he is. So he decided there would be new leadership in the CEO position.

I didn't do any planning.
The few attempts Jack made at writing a business plan were largely thwarted by Silicon Valley's venture capitalists. They would tell him parts of his plans were written wrong. At the end of the day, he believed any business plan you were trying to write about the internet in 1997 ended up being largely fabricated. It was impossible to predict the pathway and outcome of internet ventures. What is of more importance is implementing ideas.

Embracing and expecting change is the best plan. Like Steve Jobs once said, "You can't connect the dots looking forward you can only connect them looking backwards." As a side note, Jack also mentioned that, while the CEO doesn't have a plan, all his employees certainly have excellent plan.

Paying it forward and sharing the luck 

Some people believe that you start out in life with a certain amount of luck. Maybe you are allocated five lucky situations, so when the sixth one comes around you lose that opportunity. Jack Ma advocates that when you have good luck, you have to share that luck with other people. Plant that seed of luck into other person's backyard. Eventually that seed will sprout and hopefully give you more luck.
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Capital One 360 Savings Review - Online Savers Banking

Sep 15, 2014 -

Non-Traditional Banking with Capital One 360 Savings [Review]


Interest rates - (as of 9/15/2014)- 0.75% APY


1. No fees and no minimums
2. Free transfers between accounts including outside linked (i.e. Chase, Wells Fargo, etc.)
3. Currently they are offering a sign-up bonus.
4. Customer Service - 7 days a week 8AM to 8PM speak to a live U.S. person. (The few times that I've had to call them, my issues were resolved quickly via phone support.)


1. Takes 2 business days for transfers to be completed.
2. Deposited funds from outside Capital One accounts are subject to ten business day hold before it can be withdrawn (however interest is still being accrued on that balance).

I've been a customer of Capital One 360 (formerly known as ING Direct Savings) for over nine years now since 2005. In it's hay day it was offering upwards toward 5.00% APY (annual percentage yield). Now due to a low federal interest rate environment, the interest rate fluctuates from 0.40% to 1.00% APY. Quite frankly, the main reason that I am still with them is because their site is very easy to use, I rarely have issues and if they arise they are resolved quickly via their 7 days a week phone support. They also offer higher interest rates than the traditional savings accounts.

As we are all well aware, traditional savings account such as Chase, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo offer minimal if any interest on the balance you hold with them. For example, my Chase Plus Savings account yield a paltry 0.03% APY. This means for every $1,000 I deposit with them, I will earn approximately 30 cents of interest a year. While there are definitely better interest yields out there in terms of bonds, stocks, and mutual funds, for emergency funds and cash you may need within six months, those investments might not be the best place to put your money.

We want a interest yielding vehicle that is liquid like a savings/checking, but has interest yields higher than the traditional savings. At first thought you might consider CDs. Certificate of deposits are good alternatives, but typically you are locked in to having to hold the balance for a couple months at the very least.

Enter in the online banking savings account. These companies are able to offer higher interest rates because they don't have a brick and mortar operation. Their costs are lower and therefore they are able to pass on their savings to you. Now you might wonder, if they don't have a branch, how is it that you can withdraw from the account or even make a deposit?

For starters you can link your traditional banking account to the Capital One 360 via ACH. After that you can easily send money for free to and from the accounts online. If you prefer, you can also call their 24/7 access line at 1-888-464-7868 to make a withdrawal or deposit. They also have live phone support 7 days a week from 8AM to 8PM. From my personal experience, each time I've had to call them either because I forgot my password or I needed to make deposit, they were absolutely professional, cordial, and quick in resolving my issue.

What would prevent you from opening up a Capital One 360 savings?
Transferring money can take 2 business days to be completed. However, if you have other Capital One Bank accounts those transfers are available immediately. For all other accounts, there is also a ten day business day hold on your funds after which they will be available for withdrawal. In other words, don't expect to pay someone tomorrow on the funds your deposited today.

In accordance to federal regulations and consistent with all other savings accounts, you are allowed a limit of six withdrawals per calender month. However, right now if you are referred by me and you open a 360 Savings account you will receive a $25 bonus! Best of all Capital One 360 Savings has no fees and no minimums. All of the money is FDIC insured up to $250,000 per depositor just like all traditional banks.
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Stock Of the Week - Gentherm (THRM)

Sep 7, 2014 -

The Hidden Gem in the Automobile Industry (Gentherm)

Gentherm (THRM) is the premier leader in thermal technologies specifically their focus is on the design, development, and manufacturing of innovative thermal management technologies and cable systems. The climate controlled seat system is the main focus of the company. It is designed to provide thermal comfort to automobile passengers. 

The company's strategy is to "market to the major manufacturers that our products represent an attractive feature that will be embraced by consumers and have favorable economics, including high profitability, to these customers."

Highlight Fundamentals

Gentherm's revenues have grown at a tremendous rate since 2009 from a paltry $60.9M to a whopping $662.1M in 2013. In only five years, revenues has increased over ten times the amount in 2009. What is even more astonishing is the fact that net income attributable to Gentherm Incorporated has grown at an even more blistering pace. In 2009, net income attributed to Gentherm was $256,000 versus in 2013 it was recorded at $33.8M. 

Much of this is riding the recently hot automobile industry. Per the LA Times, in August 2014, automakers sold about 1.6 million vehicles which is about a 3% increase compared to the same period a year earlier. This August has been quoted to be the best in over a decade! One of the latest trend in the industry is to have heated seats in cars. What I can gather is that this is truly Gentherm's bread and butter at the moment. Gentherm is by no means a small player in the market as they are supplying big name manufacturers such as General Motors, Hyundai, Volkswagen, BMW, Ford, and Renault/Nissan and Honda with auto parts. Why have you not heard of them? This is well-kept secret to many investors as they do not sell directly to consumer. 

Recently Gentherm purchased all of remaining outstanding shares of W.E.T. Based in Odelzhausen, Germany, W.E.T. is a global manufacturer of automotive seat comfort systems, specialized automotive cable systems and other non-automotive product solutions. This has only helped Gentherm move towards becoming the global leader in thermal technologies.

As with many fast-growing companies, we will look to see how they are funding their operations. It is without a doubt companies like this will have debt. After all, even with Apple's huge cash stash, it still decides to issue bonds and hold debt. To much of my surprise, Gentherm holds debt a very low interest rates. I'm talking about at rates of 4.25% or lower. This is not typical for companies of Gentherm's size, which currently sits at an approx. $1.8B market cap. 

Another highlight is the company's gross margin. For the six months ended June, gross margin was approximately 29.4%, which is an increase compared to the same period in the prior year of 25.6%. This shows that the company is without a doubt growing. The increase in gross margin was due to new program launches and strong production volumes and sales of vehicles equipped with climate controlled seat systems mainly in the luxury segment of the automobile market. 

While much of Gentherm's revenue (over 95% in the quarter ended June 30th) is derived from the automobile industry, it has made a concerted effort in 2014 to enter into the industrial segment. This segment is focused on improving efficiency of thermoelectrical devices and advanced heating wire technologies for applications outside of the automobile industry. Also included are governmental sponsored research projects in the U.S. and Europe. This only adds to the limitless potential of the company's reach beyond the automobile industry.

Highlight Technicals

From a technical perspective, Gentherm has been on an absolute tear. It has risen from about $23/share to just a hair above $50/share as of early September 2014. However, it appears as if it is consolidating before what could be another breakout above $50.

Personally, I would've liked to have entered in at the retest of the 50 day moving average late May. As you can see the hammer candlestick (highlighted below) served as a reversal of the small downtrend. However, that boat has sailed. The next opportune time to enter the trade would be break of the $50 or a retest of the lower trading range just under $42.50. A break of the $50 range would signify that resistance has been broken. Albeit it is most likely more of a psychological resistance at $50 than anything.  

The oscillators are showing that the stock still needs to work off overbought conditions and waiting a couple weeks before entering could lead to a more beneficial price. As you can see, in early June the oscillator dipped below 25. Coincidentally, this also happened to be the retest of the 50 day moving average and an excellent buying opportunity.

Disclaimer: This article is written for informational purposes only and not intended for investment advice.
Disclosure: I do not have a position in THRM.
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How to Be a High Performing Intern

Aug 27, 2014 -

Three Tips to Becoming a Stronger Intern

Be Positive, Be Friendly
As an intern, you might be asked to do certain things that you would rather not do. Such as making photocopies or even making a coffee run. Resist the urge to complain. All of us had to do this at one point in our careers. It is called paying your dues. Just know that one day you will be giving the orders. Until then, suck it up.

Find Out what Impresses your Manager
While most of the time we don't expect much from interns, taking initiate to solve issues or improve practices will wow your manager.  If you are complaining about a certain way you've been asked to perform a task and believe there is a more efficient way of doing it, bring up your solutions. Each manager has a unique way of doing things and by asking your colleagues whether or not your manager prefers in person communication or email, can make all the difference. Make a concerned effort to learn your manager's preferences.

Be Proactive
From time to time you may find yourself with nothing to do. You've completed what was requested of you and everyone else is busy with their own work. They are either too lazy to train you or don't have the time. Be proactive in your own job training. Pick up the company's manual or guide and start familiarizing yourself with the business and company procedures. This will help you get an edge against other interns. Think about when someone gives you a task and every minute he or she is spending with you is time he or she can be spending doing their own job. The more familiar you are with the task the less time they need to spend with you and the more impressed they will be.

Other Tips and Tricks

1) Have you checked every possible resource to look for information?
2) Have you looked at all the different possibilities?
3) Am I providing a recommendation or asking more questions?
4) Am I making my manager's life easier or more difficult?
5) Because I already know my manager's preferences, is this presented in such a way that will impress him or her?
6) Have you explained yourself clearly and quickly? Are you thinking in bullets?

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Stock of the Week - El Pollo Loco (LOCO)

Aug 10, 2014 -

El Pollo Loco IPOs up over 100%

Little do most people know, El Pollo Loco had previously tried to IPO in October of 2006. They cited market conditions as a reason for pulling out of the offering. Just recently El Pollo Loco IPOed. Since 1980, El Pollo Loco has grown to be one of the largest differentiated restaurants in the U.S.. The first location opened in LA and they have since expanded to multiple states and grown to over 400 restaurants.

Highlight Fundamentals

El Pollo Loco has grown it's restaurant sales eleven consecutive quarters including 7.2%, 6.5%, and 3.7% in Q1' 14, Q4 '13, and Q3 '13, respectively. As a result revenues have increased from $273M to $294M from 2011 to 2012 and $294M to $315M from 2012 to 2013.

If you look closely at their financials they have not been able to churn a profit until recently. This is mainly due to the 'Loss on early extinguishment of debt' amounting to costs of $21.5M and $20.1M in 2013 and 2011 respectively. When El Pollo Loco refinanced their debt, it was replaced with senior secured credit facilities that carry longer maturities, but had lower interest rates. As a result of the refinancing, call premiums and write-off of deferred financing costs and accelerated accretion charges were incurred. Having taken this into account, El Pollo Loco would've had a net profit of approximately $5M and -$12M in FY 2013 and FY 2011 respectively. 

Highlight Technicals

From a technical perspective, from El Pollo Loco's initial public offering at $15 it is without a doubt that it has doubled since IPO. Now the general public, myself included evidently did not have the change to buy it at $15. But it was at 18.48 on the first day. Honestly, that gap up on Monday after the first day of trading on Friday should have been a green light. If you had traded that gap up you would be up a significant amount.

Technically speaking, I always like to wait for a pullback to the 61.8% fib extension. Especially if its the first pullback. But, it looks like the stock is strong enough to only need to bounce at the 38.2% fib. For me personally, the first entry point was the gap up on the second day of trading. If I were to pick an entry point now, it would be after it clears $41.7. That way there is no resistance. Everyone holding at that point will have been in the green. There would be no sellers waiting to get out at break even. 

Disclaimer: This article is written for informational purposes only and isn't intended as investment advice.
Disclosure: I do not have a position in LOCO.
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Top Seven Tips to Becoming a More Interesting Person to Women

Aug 4, 2014 -

Ways to Become a More Interesting Person

1) Understand that becoming a more interesting person is a process. Therefore patience is involved. It doesn't happen overnight, nor should you expect it to. Focus on who it is you want to become in six months versus training for tomorrow's game. Be disciplined and start building the habits today that will be with you a lifetime.

What makes you a more interesting person?

2) Read. Read. Read. The more knowledgeable you are of what is going on in the world, whether it be history, sports, or just life in general, the more you can draw from in your conversations. One of the best ways of keeping up-to-date with the latest news is reading the newspaper. Alternatively, you can be subscribed via a feed to interesting blogs.

3)  Discover your passion. There is nothing more interesting than a person who is passionate about something. When you are passionate about something you will naturally exude confidence and excitement. That excitement is contagious and others will be inspired by your enthusiasm. Even if others do not share in the same passion, you'll find most people are intrigued by what captivates you. If you aren't sure what you are passionate about, get out of your comfort zone and try new things.

Best way to be interesting? Be someone who is interested in life.

4) Workout. Studies have shown that those who exercise are more alert during the day and actually get more done during the day. Another benefit towards working out is just the pure discipline it requires to go to the gym day in and day out. Be motivated to change your life. You'll be able to carry this disciplined to other aspects of your life. Being fit and exercising will ultimately raise your confidence, which will seep into your daily life.

5) Develop a great circle of friends. Not only is this a great way to share your knowledge, it is also a great way to keep up to date with the latest happenings. Having a diverse set of friends lends you to consider different personalities and helps you learn to interact with different people.

6) Go to more places so you can recommend better places. While most of us Yelp things, everyone understands that reading about something and actually being somewhere are two different things. Furthermore, just because someone else says something is great does not mean you will think it is great. While it may be likely that may be the case, there are plenty of times when my friends had an opinion about a certain place that I disagreed with. It's not a one size fits all, so it's better to experience things.

7) Have something that gives you a diverse range of interests versus watching Game of Thrones every Sunday night. Pick up a hobby whether it be eating and blogging about fancy restaurants, painting, or playing a new sport.
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Book Review: Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending

Jul 16, 2014 -

About Elizabeth Dunn & Michael Norton, Authors

Elizabeth Dunn is an associate professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia. Michael Norton is an associate professor of marketing at the Harvard Business School. Both of their works have been featured on numerous well known media sources. For example, Michael Norton's research has been featured twice in the New York Times magazine. Furthermore, he was selected for Wired magazine's Smart List as one of the "50 People Who Will Change the World."

What is great about it?
We've all heard that money does not buy happiness. Despite the numerous well-publicized studies backing the aforementioned statement, we still refuse to believe that it is true.
How can we "buy" happiness? The authors of Happy Money go through five chapters of  how money can buy happiness.

1) Buy Experiences
Humans adapt to change and we typically get used to what we have. While we may experience an initial spike from buying a new car or a house, the satisfaction wears off pretty quickly. What we remember more vividly are novel experiences such as traveling. Believe it or not, there are studies that have suggested unpleasant experiences are sometimes the most memorable.

2) Make it a Treat
In general, the more exposed we are to something the more its impact diminishes. "One afternoon, students came into a psychology lab to complete a simple task: eating a piece of chocolate. The following week they returned for a second piece. Overall, the students enjoyed the chocolate less the second time than they had the first." This also means that that BMW will not make you anymore happier in the long run than driving a Ford.

"Abundance is the enemy of appreciation, scarcity may be our best ally"

3) Buy Time

The longer your commute to work is the more unhappy you are likely to be. Time spent driving to work destroys happiness levels. Consider biking to work if you are less than five miles away.

"People who feel they have plenty of free time are more likely to exercise, do volunteer work, and participate in other activities that are linked to increased happiness."

4) Pay Now, Consume Later

Delaying consumption can provide the opportunity to further seek out positive expectations of the joys of product/service being consumed. For example, those who waited twenty-four hours to drink their favorite soda felt happier than those who drank it on the spot. When you pay prior to your consumption whether it be a concert or your fast food meal, you are more likely to enjoy what comes after. This is because you never have to think about how much your meal will cost or the concert during your "enjoyment process". It's already been paid for!

5) Invest in Others

Did you know that spending money on others actually gives you more happiness than if you were to spend it on yourself? Obviously you will be poorer, but it helps your happiness level. A recent study showed that those who were given $5 or $20 and asked to spend on someone else or donate it to charity were measured happier than those who spent it on themselves. Whether they had spent $20 or $5 on someone else, that amount didn't make a difference on happiness levels.

Here are some excerpts from the book:

Long after the housing bubble burst, almost 90 percent of Americans continued to describe home ownership as a central component of the American dream[...] In a carefully controlled study of more than six hundred women in Ohio, homeowners weren't any happier than renters [...].

"The benefits of investing in others don't stop at just making you feel happier. Giving your money away can make you physically healthier, and even make you feel financially wealthier. In a study of more than a thousand older adults, individuals who provided money and other forms of support to both relatives and non relatives reported better overall health."

What is the not so great about it?

The authors go through many studies and real life examples of their theories and concepts behind how money can be spent to increase happiness. While I understand the focus is on that, it doesn't necessarily talk about the repercussions of excessively "investing in others", the finance detriments of  paying now versus later, or even having a meaningful life vs a happy life. While it may be good for your happiness to "invest in others", if you had a friend that paid for your meal every time you guys grab lunch, that would condition you into believing or even expecting that he or she would pay the next time around. We call that freeloading or taking advantage of a generous person.

Therefore, it is important to understand that the authors' comments should be taken with a grain of salt and not to be used to its extreme. The concepts presented by the authors' do shed new light on smarter spending. Though some of which many of us are already aware of which includes buying experiences versus tangible items and giving to others.

What is your final recommendation?
It's always a good sign when what you think is not great about a book is the fact that it leaves you wanting more. That's how I felt when I finished the book. I asked myself are there more tricks and tips for getting the most out of your money or the bang for your buck. After all, what is money for if it is not a tool to bring us happiness and a well-balanced life. We trade our time for money and in turn we all expect that money will bring us happiness. While we should not believe that money by itself will bring us happiness, it is easy to understand that when properly utilized, money can be a tool used to bring us happiness.

Conclusion: Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending is a recommended read for those who seek to use money a tool to bring happiness, where money is not the end goal.
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Stock of the Week: Go Pro (GPRO) Up Almost 100% Since IPO

Jul 7, 2014 -

Why Did GoPro (GPRO) Skyrocket Since IPO?

Nicholas Woodman founded GoPro in 2004 and financed it from selling shell necklaces for $60, which he had purchased for $1.90 in Bali and borrowings from his parents of $235k. His inspiration for GoPro came when he traveled the world surfing and had difficulty capturing action photos of his activities. Ten years later, he becomes a billionaire.  Not a bad return on investment if I would dare to say so myself. 

Highlight Fundamentals

For about 10 years since its founding in Feb 2014, GoPro has been at the forefront of developing wearable and mountable HD camera and accessories to capture activities of everyday people, professional athletes, celebrities and other entertainers.

GoPro recently IPOed to raise capital to pay down their credit facility, which had an outstanding balance of $110 million as of March 14, 2014. Surprisingly the company churned a $60M in net income in 2013 even as it increased operating expenses from $143M to $263M. Last year, GoPro grew its gross profit by 59% from $227M to $361M. Much of the company's revenue is from outside of the United States with 53% in 2013 coming from outside the U.S. The important thing is that this company is highly profitable.

The company's sales channels include direct sales to independent retailers, big box retailers such as Best Buy, Amazon, and Wal-Mart, mid-market retailers, and e-commerce.

Despite it's success in churning a net profit in the last three years including 2013, 2012, and 2011, GoPro did record negative stockholders' equity in 2013 and 2012 of 5M and 79M, respectively. As GoPro has plans to pay down the $110M credit facility, this will reduce their liabilities, which in turn will increase equity.

Highlight Technicals

From a technical perspective, from GoPro's initial public offering at $24 it is clear that it has gone up 100% since. While many of us did not actually have the opportunity to buy at $24, the stock opening at $28.65 appears to have been a bargain - at least so far. The stock saw three consecutive days of advances before peeling back just before the July 4th weekend. As of July 4th, per Google Finance the company sits at a $5.14B market cap.

While it may be to early to draw any significant technical analysis conclusions, for those who are looking to ride this wild wave, the first entry point would be a 61.8% Fibonacci retracement. That price would be at $39.09. I would then put my stop just below what it opened at at its IPO of $32.41. My first target would be for it to take out the prior high of $49.90.

Disclaimer: This article is written for informational purposes only and isn't intended as investment advice.
Disclosure: I do not have a position in GPRO.
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Secrets of Power Negotiating: Inside Secrets from a Master Negotiator Book Review

Jun 18, 2014 -

Book Review: Secrets of Power Negotiating

About the Roger Dawson, Author

Before becoming a full-time speaker and training managers and salespeople from all throughout the world in business negotiations, Roger was the president of one of the largest real estate companies in California. The company had 28 offices and four hundred and forty sales associates with over $400 million in volume a year. His previous business training clients include managers and salespeople from companies like 3M, UnitedHealth Group and Oracle.

What is great about it?
Recently I became interested in buying investment real estate due to current state of the economic cycle. However, I felt like a fish out of water when I began submitting offers on real estate. The seller's agent would come back with counteroffers and after six months and numerous offers submitted, I still did not have a house. My boss also offered me a lateral move in the company. I knew I had to come in with a game plan if I wanted to have a chance at a higher salary. In years previous, I just took what they gave me, which had also been below the market rate. I felt cheated.

Roger's book entitled Secrets of Power Negotiating is not just for salary negotiation or how to get the best price when buying a piece of property. It applicable in just about any business negotiation. He goes through real world examples and leads you to shape a deal that ends up looking like a "win-win" situation for both parties. His emphasis is on negotiating everything you want and still being able to convince the other side they have also won. It's an interesting take on the psychology behind negotiations.

Here is an excerpt from the book:

The Vise is a very effective negotiating Gambit and what it will do for you will amaze you. The Vise Gambit is the simple little expression: "You'll have to do better than that." Here's how Power Negotiators use it: Let's say that you own a small steel company that sells steel products in bulk. You are calling on a fabricating plant where the buyer has listened to your proposal and your pricing structure. You ignored his insistence that he's happy with his present supplier and did a good job of building desire for your product. Finally, the other person says to you, "I'm really happy with our present vendor, but I guess it wouldn't do any harm to have a backup supplier to keep them on their toes. I'll take one carload if you can get the price down to $1.22 per pound."

You respond with the Vise Gambit by calmly saying, "I'm sorry you'll have to do better than that."

An experienced negotiator will automatically respond with the Counter Gambit, which is, "Exactly how much better than that do I have to do?" trying to pin you down to a specific. However, it will amaze you how often inexperienced negotiators will concede a big chunk of their negotiating range simply because you did that.

What's the next thing that you should do, once you've said, "You'll have to do better than that"?
You guessed it. Shut Up! Don't say another word. The other side may just make a concession to you. Salespeople call this the silent close, and they all learn it during the first week that they are in the business. You make your proposal and then shut up. The other person may just say Yes, so it's foolish to say a word until you find out if he or she will or won't.

What is the not so great about it?

Without a doubt, Roger offers a lot of techniques to help in negotiations. For example, 1) asking for more than you expect to get, 2) flinching at proposals, 3) play reluctant, 4) use the "vise technique", 5) reference higher authority, 6) never make a concession unless the other side reciprocates, and 7) tapering down concessions. These are all great techniques that frankly if you aren't aware of will put you at a disadvantage. If you are not aware of these you risk them being used on yourself.

In Secrets of Power Negotiating, there is a section on some grey area negotiating techniques. These are techniques that are usually used by sleazy business or salespersons. I'd stray away from these because they can ultimately burn bridges (break trust) with your business partner, employees, etc.

What is your final recommendation?
While Roger may provide tips and techniques for you to employ in the boardroom, many times it is a lot more difficult to execute than you might think. His examples definitely make it seem as if you already have an idea of what the other side might do. When in fact, in real life that may not always be the case. In any event, he does give you a number of counters depending on what the other side might come back with.

Ultimately, if you are willing to walk away from the deal and the other party needs what  you have to offer more than you need what they can offer, in most cases you will have the upper hand. Be prepared to walk away, many times they might just come back with another offer. I can say from personal experience, I've employed many of Roger Dawson's techniques and have had positive results.

Conclusion: Secrets of Power Negotiating: Inside Secrets from a Master Negotiator is a recommended read for those who at some point in their career think they will need to engage in negotiations.
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