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George Acs  

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  • A Fink Speaks The Truth [View article]
    I think you're right in that the US offers excellent, perhaps the best customer service. However, that doesn't preclude a diminution in service from being possible or from occurring.

    While purely anecdotal, I found it fascinating that my wife and I independently and unknown to each other had very negative experiences with AMEX customer service after having had a flawless cumulative 65 years of experience with them, particularly since we are both fairly low maintenance kind of people.

    The variation in the quality of the experiences was so palpable to each of us. My wife told me about hers at dinner and I stared at her in disbelief and the told her that I had a similar experience just a couple of days earlier.

    She actually went through no fewer than 14 customer service reps over the course of a few days and repeatedly was told that there was no record of her having made contact regarding a particular issue. In addition, call back numbers were never answered and never had any messaging capabilities.

    Her requests to escalate or to speak with a supervisor were consistently met with "I'm sorry there is no supervisor available."

    That's very un-American Express like.

    I finally posted something on Twitter and a rep reached out to me and I got them in touch with one another to resolve the issue. But going "public" isn't the way you want to get customer service accomplished, although the cost savings may be worth the occasional aggravation of trying to put out public airing of grievances.
    Apr 19, 2015. 07:39 AM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • A Fink Speaks The Truth [View article]
    I'm not certain of what that means or the logic behind it.

    I don't think Larry Fink has a reputation for short term trading. I also think that real analysts and investors would much prefer to see companies trade on fundamentals or on growth prospects, rather than on manipulated and apples to oranges EPS data.

    There's nothing really wrong about paying or receiving a dividend. Traditionally, companies that paid dividends performed better over the long term. Not because they paid the dividend, but because they had the financial wherewithal to pay the dividend. Typically that came from investing in and growing the business, first and foremost.

    Now, you're seeing dividends and buybacks being used as a means to effect short term share appreciation and increasingly at the expense of being able to invest cash flow into future growth.
    Apr 18, 2015. 05:16 PM | 1 Like Like |Link to Comment
  • A Fink Speaks The Truth [View article]
    Thank you.

    I agree with those sentiments about buybacks, especially at these levels. It's all optics, but if you're going to engage in them, at least you could have done so in 2008 prices or when a company's stock could really use the vote of confidence.
    Apr 18, 2015. 05:10 PM | 1 Like Like |Link to Comment
  • A Fink Speaks The Truth [View article]
    In the Harvard Medical School dormitory, some 40 years ago, the basement storeroom had things like extra mattresses, Harvard University chairs and other items you could take for your room.

    Once we went down there and in one corner was a huge stack of neatly bundled copies of Playboy and Mad Magazine. That was long before any one really thought of them as collector's items or having any real value.

    Had I had the brains or the courage to practice a little larceny back then I'd be very satisfied on at least 2 fronts.
    Apr 18, 2015. 02:52 PM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • A Fink Speaks The Truth [View article]
    When I was in high school, a "super senior" was someone ho went to the school from 9th to 12th grades, whereas most attended from 10th to 12th.

    Times change, I suppose. It's been 43 years since my own high school graduation, but I'm not certain what the working definition of "super senior" is in this context.

    Although it is possible that I just don't remember.
    Apr 18, 2015. 02:04 PM | 1 Like Like |Link to Comment
  • A Fink Speaks The Truth [View article]
    Even at historically low rates, there is something, that to me, at least, seems inherently wrong about debt issuance in order to buy back shares or to pay a dividend. Even if the interest is low there's still the principal and the principle.
    Apr 18, 2015. 02:02 PM | 2 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • A Fink Speaks The Truth [View article]
    Thanks. I don't think I've ever seen the double chin emoticon.

    Buy backs are great as long as stocks are attractively priced and the company has no foreseeable use for the money nor any strategy to use the money.

    I think I would prefer special dividends, particularly if representing a return of capital. Why take the excess funds and invest them in buybacks in shares whose value may be susceptible to falling, especially once the buy back is exhausted? There's nothing more inefficient than driving up share price by announcing a buy back and then artificially skewing demand to the buy side and further inflating prices, only to pull out the rug when the buy back is completed.

    Unless you cash in on the way up all that you are seeing is your company purchasing shares at artificially inflated prices. Additionally, as the buy backs come to an end the EPS results won't keep improving by virtue of decreasing the float quarter after quarter anymore.
    Apr 18, 2015. 01:57 PM | 3 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • A Fink Speaks The Truth [View article]

    Tried that subscription for a year, just a few years back and I missed the old guys. Reading the latest issues also made me realize how out of touch I was with current culture.
    Apr 18, 2015. 01:47 PM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • A Fink Speaks The Truth [View article]
    No doubt that it is expensive and not necessarily a revenue center, but in the case of American Express, that still charges annual fees and has always distinguished itself on customer service, it should at least be considered a revenue retention center.

    It would seem to me that for those customers with an AMEX-Costco branded card there may be good reason to try and keep customer service at high enough of a level to try and retain those customers on some new AMEX offering.

    If they are off-shoring, I think it would represent a recent change. After 30+ years I was struck by the obvious difference in the "i know we can help you" kind of philosophy to one reflecting resignation and ineptitude. The accents may have been coincidental, but they also seemed to represent something new at AMEX.
    Apr 18, 2015. 01:44 PM | 1 Like Like |Link to Comment
  • A Fink Speaks The Truth [View article]
    Initials, too. You can't be too careful when naming your kid.

    I once had a friend whose name was Joe Sh*t. He hated his name. The first thing he did when he became an adult was to have it legally changed.

    The funny thing is that he subsequently had a sex change operation, too and I think she now goes by Francine Sh*t
    Apr 18, 2015. 11:22 AM | 1 Like Like |Link to Comment
  • A Fink Speaks The Truth [View article]
    Dividend hikes are fine, as long as they're warranted and don't impede strategic initiatives. You gave an important qualifier yourself, the ones that have traditionally warranted increasing dividends.

    If they're done out of appeasement or as a near term move to boost stock prices, especially if compensation is tied to stock performance, then the long term interests of shareholders may end up being compromised.
    Apr 18, 2015. 11:16 AM | 1 Like Like |Link to Comment
  • A Fink Speaks The Truth [View article]
    Yes and no.

    I've been with AMEX more than 30 years and have always thought their customer service was great. Recently, my wife and I, without being aware of one another's issues had to call AMEX customer servie and we were both really stunned, especially when we compared notes not having known that the other was in the middle of trying to resolve an issue.

    AMEX announced workforce cuts after the COSTCO announcement, but I don't know if that's a factor or not.

    One thing that did strike me and my wife noticed it as well, certainly not meaning this in a pejorative way, but for the first time in our collective recollections we were dealing with customer service representatives that had decidedly marked accents. Has AMEX off-shored customer service? I don't know, but our experiences could either be chalked up to coincidences or possibly reflective of an upcoming degradation that is part of the strategy to offset decreased revenues in 2016.

    You may as well start with those workforce reductions now and have something to show for it on the bottom line is the likely thought process when looking only quarter to quarter.

    As far as banks go, you may get what you pay for or you may not. I have accounts at a major money center bank where I get great service and also at a local bank where I get great service.

    But, any reference to Lipschitz is always appreciated. If you don't know the old telephone call prank, it went like this:

    Hello, is this Mr. Lipschitz?
    It is? Well, if your Lipschitz, then my a*s talks.

    It never gets old.
    Apr 18, 2015. 11:11 AM | 4 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • A Fink Speaks The Truth [View article]

    I'm not quite certain where Guys Hospital is relative to East London, but I spent a few days in their Cardiac Care Unit about 2 1/2 years ago. Great care and great people. The experience made me much more tolerant of the pronunciations.

    Whenever I had any difficulty in understanding proper English, I asked one of the nurses, who was an American. The funny thing is that her brother was a policeman in the little town in which I live back in the states and who my wife met a couple of years later. She told me that he had an almost incomprehensible accent that she couldn't quite place, but turned out to be from Baltimore.
    So, we all have our distinctive ways of doing things.
    Apr 18, 2015. 10:00 AM | 2 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • A Fink Speaks The Truth [View article]

    As usual, your article is thought provoking. I have never paid as much attention to the 10 Year and its fluctuations, as I do now. We are in a fascinating period, as negative interest rates have become a reality and as low as our own rates are, they represent an incredible attraction for overseas money. That may be all the fuel needed, as long as the government remains an active participant and actually expands its participation in economic expansion projects.
    Apr 18, 2015. 09:48 AM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • A Fink Speaks The Truth [View article]
    Basing a dividend increase on things such as currency exchange rates or lower energy costs is not a very logical thing to do, because investors expect dividends to be sustained and generally punish stocks when they are not.

    Any one who expects the US dollar to sustain its current strength or for energy prices to stay at such low levels has never looked at charts. Basing a dividend increase on cash flows that are likely ephemeral is a recipe for disaster. That's what "special dividends" are for.

    eBay, for the past few years has been a great covered option trade. In less than 2 years I had owned it 24 times ( ). Like most stocks that I consider buying, I'm interested in the background information, but am much more guided by its pattern of trading and don't place too much emphasis on the kind of issues you raise.

    While I agree that it may no longer be an appealing covered option trade once it spins off PayPal, I have a week to week horizon, so don't really think about what may be the case 3 months from now. 24 trades in 21 months may be a good reflection of that short term philosophy.
    Apr 18, 2015. 08:45 AM | Likes Like |Link to Comment