12 of the Best Gifts for the Avid Investor

Dec 15, 2014 -


The Intelligent Investor$12

One of the world's richest men in the world cited that The Intelligent Investor changed his financial life. This book was written by the great Ben Graham, whom Warren Buffet cited as one of the greatest investors of all-time. Graham lays out the foundation of value investing: the idea of "Mr. Market", a value-oriented approach to investing, and the "margin of safety" concept. 




Security Analysis$40

The teachings of Benjamin Graham, known commonly as “the father of value investing”, are as relevant today as when they first appeared nearly eight decades ago. The book focuses on how to read and understand financial statements. This book is not an easy read as it is lengthy. You can not afford NOT to read Security Analysis. This is a highly recommended book to investors alike.



The Wolf of Wall Street$14

Jordan Belfort was a kingpin of an investment firm and one of the most infamous people in American finance, he sold securities and racked up millions in fees. You and your friends may not be able to replicate what he has done and probably wouldn't want to as he eventually had the SEC and FBI on his tail. But, you might find his story an interesting one in The Wolf of Wall Street



Boiler Room - $5

Seth Davis, a decent college dropout earning a living by running a casino inside his house. Seth takes on a job at a stock brokerage firm where he becomes a fast tracking stock broker and making good money. Only later does he find out that his job isn't what it's cracked up to be. If you're in the mood for a really good film, buy Boiler Room





Eat Sleep Stocks Mug$13

For the avid stock investor, this stock mug is an absolute must. We all eat, sleep, and breathe, but only the greatest of investors focuses on stocks as well. This Eat Sleep Stocks mug is 11oz of ceramic, large, and the perfect size for or morning coffee or late-night brew.




U.S. Silver Eagle Coin$28

The Silver Eagle coin is made of one ounce of .999 fine silver. This official collectors version is made from the official United States Mint. U.S. Mint proof coins are extraordinarily brilliant, with sharp relief and a mirror-like background. Their frosted, sculpted foregrounds give them a special cameo effect. Proof blanks are polished and cleaned to ensure high-quality strikes.



US Mint Uncirculated Coin Set $37

The United States Mint Uncirculated Coin sets always make great gifts. This particular coin set features 28 different coins in uncirculated quality. Each coin is sealed and displayed in folders. Just know that this could turn out to be worth more in the future than you paid for today. But, of course this would make a great gift for any avid investor. Set comes in its full original US Mint packaging.



Bronze Plated Bear and Bull Head Bookends$49

If you know an avid investor or financial planner, you can be sure that he or she has tons of finance books. When we think of Wall Street, we think of bull and bear markets. These bull and bear bookends would make fantastic gifts for avid investors. 




Margin Call $5

Kevin Spacey plays Sam Rogers, Head of Sales and Trading, in the entangling thriller of "Margin Call". Involved are key players at an investment firm during the earliest hours of the 2008 financial crisis. An entry-level analyst unlocks information that could prove to be the downfall of the firm. Employees decide to save their own company or risk fleecing millions of investors.


Wall Street Journal Subscription$23

Finally, something your friend would find useful - daily newspaper (except Sunday) straight to the Kindle. Perhaps he or she already subscribes to the Wall Street Journal. Well, you could always renew their subscription for them. This subscription comes with a risk-free 14-day FREE period after which the subscription starts.



Sheet of 2 dollar bills$80

Green, Green, Green. What is better than giving money? A sheet full of money. Did you know bills are actually printed on sheets and then they are cut into bills? These are genuine crisp $2 United States Note uncirculated legal tender bills.






Banker Green Lamp$42

Incidentally, early incandescent light bulbs tended to be harsh on eyes. Therefore, green shades were used to lessen eyestrain by many financial professionals and lawyers. Much can be said about a person's table decor and in particular a lamp. The classic banker's lamp has a green shade long since been associated with finance and accounting.


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Be Happier and Make Decisions that are "Good Enough"

Dec 10, 2014 -

Suppose your laptop broke down or is showing signs of wear and tear. You finally decide to go shopping for a brand new laptop computer.

Good Enough - Satisficer

The satisficer says, "I just need one that will let me check my e-mail, run YouTube, be able to play movies, and of course is reasonably priced. It doesn't have to have the best processor or even have the biggest hard drive."

You go to the department store and check out four different laptops. Of course you try and figure out which one will suit your needs and is priced reasonably. You weed out the most expensive model because it has more gadgets than you really need. Since you plan on keeping your laptop for a while, you want something that is durable and not made cheaply. So, the least expensive laptop is out of the question. Now you have two to chose from. Just when you are about to pick one over the other, the sales associate comes over and introduces you to three more laptops. You feel like you've already made a decision on your laptop, so you stick with yours and head for the checkout line. All of this might have taken you thirty minutes tops. You understand that you might have not made the "best" choice, but it is one that is good enough for your needs. The extra time spent on trying to compare and contrast the other three laptops is not worth the effort for the incremental benefit. Now dust your hands off, you've just made yourself a decent purchase.

Best Option Ever - Maximixer

The maximizer says, "I want to find the best laptop for my money."

Despite your high expectations right off the bat, like the satisficer, you were able to weed out two of the laptops right off the bat. But, the moment the sales associate brings in those other three laptops, you begin to analyze those as well. One of the laptops is actually fairly similar to that of another. The only difference is one has a bigger hard drive, while the other one has a better graphics card. You do want to play games on this laptop, but you also value the extra storage for your movies and music. After thirty minutes of going back and forth, you finally make a reluctant decision to go with the one with extra storage. On the way back home, you question whether or not you truly made the best decision. While objectively you've considered more alternatives and weighed the pros and cons a whole lot better than the satisficer, you can't help but question if you made the best choice after all.

Most likely the maximizer ended up with the better laptop when compared to the price paid. However because of higher expectations, the maximizer feels as if he could have done better. It is nearly impossible to scrutinize every little detail and come out with the "best" choice. That task is further complicated when even more choices are added to the equation. As a result, maximizers will unequivocally feel unsatisfied and disappointed at the results.

Signs you are a maximizer include the following:

1) You are always on the look out for a better job, even if you are satisfied with your current.
2) You TV channel surf even when attempting to watch one TV show.
3) Renting videos are difficult because you always want to choose the best one.
4) No matter what you do, you hold myself to high standards.
5) You have trouble picking what to eat because you struggle to make the correct choice.

What is the morale of this story? If you want to be happy, be a satisficer. If you want to optimize be a maximizer.
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Three Simple Tips to Turn Money into Happiness

Dec 3, 2014 -

According to a study conducted by Princeton economist Angus Deaton and famed psychologist Daniel Kahneman, the magic salary number whereby additional amounts would have no measurable effect on day-to-day contentment is $75,000 a year. If you make more than that, you don't gain any more happiness than if you made $75,000. Now whether or not we choose to believe this is another story. How did we pinpoint this amount? Why not $70,020 or $80,500? In any event, what is more important is how we decide to spend the cash we make.

You can always earn more money, but can't buy more time.
Time is money and money is time. Isn't that how the saying goes? They say we trade time for money when we are young and when we get older, we trade money for time. On weekends, my friends and I will frequent nightclubs or bars. Now in Los Angeles and in New York, there usually is a line for the more popular clubs. Sometimes the line is an hour and a half long or sometimes it's 45 minutes. Regardless, in the interest of time, we usually slip the bouncer $20 per head to get in. The way you go about doing this is you go up to the bouncer and tell them you have a reservation. At the same time, slip him the cash. We figure, we make more than $20 bucks an hour, so skipping the line is worth more than $20. Remember we can always earn more money, but we can't turn back the clock.

Buy more experiences vs. material possessions.
This one is less intuitive then you would think. Suppose I gave you a hundred dollar bill, would you rather buy these bluetooth speakers you've been wanting for your Vegas room pre-game party or spend it on a day at Universal Studios with your buddies or girlfriend? Your friends of course would have to pay for themselves. At first we might be more inclined to go for the speakers because after we spend the day at Universal Studios, all we would have left is a bunch of pictures and nothing to take home. Whereas, if we bought the speakers, we'd have the speakers for as long as we decide to keep them.

Now the problem with going for the speakers is that we'll start to compare the speakers to what other people have. If theirs is better than ours, we start to feel bad about our purchase. With activities, it is much harder to compare our experience with that of others. The reason being we may be with different people when we go or perhaps you go for different occasions.

Learn to give away your money.
Professor Elizabeth Dunn at the University of British Columbia discovered that those who spent money on other people were happier than those who treated themselves. This was even in the case where people had very little for themselves. This is an interesting paradox because one would think that the more money you have the happier you would be. But that is not the case! This sheds new light on the saying, "It is better to give than to receive.".


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Pro Stock Trading Tip #9 - Three of Charlie Munger's Best Investment Advice

Nov 26, 2014 -

Warren Buffet's Investment Partner - Top Three Stock Picking Tips


Charlie shares not only his opinions, but his through process behind his belief system and stock picking strategy. Here are some insights into his thought process.


Circle of Competence
While we do have knowledge at the tip of our fingertips, we are still not advanced enough to process it as fast a computers can. In other words, even with all this information available to us, it is impossible to know everything about everything. When investing, Charlie Munger sticks with what he knows and businesses that are simple and understandable. In addition, these businesses need to be able to thrive under different market environments. Among those that are difficult to understand include pharmaceuticals and technology companies. Not surprisingly, Munger excludes highly promoted "deals" and IPOs from his potential investment list. In order to value a business, you need to understand it. If you can't do that then you have no business in investing in that company.

"I'm no genius. I'm smart in spots, and I stay around those spots." - Thomas Watson Sr.

Find Companies with Moats
Few businesses survive over generations. Metaphorically speaking, companies that have "moats" are those are able to hold a durable competitive advantage over others. Thereby they would be businesses that have a higher probability of surviving in the future. While each year may not be more profitable than the last, the fact that the company's competitive advantage widens year after year is a sign of a great business. An example of a company with little to no moat at all is Groupon (GRPN). Since Groupon was released to the public a number of different competitors have entered the market including Amazon's Living Social and Google Offers. The discount coupon business model relies on vendors to provide discounts such as coupons to users. These coupons are then sold to users. A portion of the profits would then be allocated to Groupon themselves. However, customers are not loyal to Groupon. If there was a better deal offered on Living Social they would purchase that discount or coupon from that site. Sites like Living Social and Google Offers reached out to the same vendors as Groupon and essentially obtain the same deal for its members. As a result, Groupon's sales have taken a huge dip losing $81M in the September 9 months ended 2014 compared to $14M loss in the prior year comparable period.

Margin of Safety
Having a "margin of safety" is basically having a cushion to allow for errors in calculation. For example, suppose an elevator was built to hold five tons with a maximum capacity of 5 people. That would mean you would need five people who weighted in total five tons for the elevator to not be able to hold. You build the elevator to handle this amount of weight, just in case even if you know you will most likely not need it. Compare this with purchasing shares in a company, if you believe a stock is worth $20 and you buy it at $15, you give yourself a margin of safety of $5 in case you analysis is incorrect and it's actually worth $17.

"A great business at a fair price is superior to a fair business at a great price." - Charlie Munger

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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]



Summary:

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

Pros

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.)

Cons

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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