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  • Why My Coffee Is Costing So Much More This Year [View article]
    In many other countries in the hemisphere there are no food stamps and yet malnutrition and food insecurity is relatively rare and certainly does not encompass one in seven of the population.

    The reason so many Americans can not afford to buy food is not so much that it is expensive per se, but that many people (or their parents) do not have work, or not enough work.

    And even though food prices are rising, nevertheless chicanery on the part of retailers means that very, very few people consistently make the best value for money food purchases available in their locality, and a general glut of food means that a great deal of it is still wasted or goes to rot.

    Food stamps are effectively subsidizing the price of food, so the lesson to be learned is that one would be wise to invest in retail food stocks, like supermarkets in the US, not in gold, since gold cannot be bought with food stamps.

    Were food stamps to be abolished, though, it is likely that food prices would fall.
    Apr 17 10:17 PM | 3 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Is Herbalife A Pyramid Scheme? A Simple Question Of Law [View article]
    Well, I would agree that many companies make their money in a pretty unethical manner or in ways that are not fully understood by either investors or the general public. For example I suspect that supermarkets that have fancy displays of "fresh" fruit and vegetables with artificial thunderstorms, or rustic "bakery" sections with factory-made bread in wicker baskets are probably making much more money out of the cigarette and lottery ticket counters or the overpriced baby formula than from the feel-good theater at the front of the store!
    Apr 3 02:27 PM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Is Herbalife A Pyramid Scheme? A Simple Question Of Law [View article]
    This is so right. In the Dredd Scott case of 1856 Chief Justice Roger Taney probably believed that his brilliant legal mind had solved the problem of slavery once and for all by finding that persons of African descent were not humans and therefore could not be citizens of the United States, so had no standing before the court. He probably went home for lunch that day very pleased with himself.

    Tens of thousands died to overturn his decision.
    Apr 3 10:51 AM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Is Herbalife A Pyramid Scheme? A Simple Question Of Law [View article]
    Here is a fascinating thing. In the 15 minutes since I wrote the above post an uneducated Haitian woman I know who works for a neighbor as a live in nanny for $125 per month, (not in the US), asked me if I could loan her $6 until pay day to buy a $6 tube of Amway toothpaste from a guy at her church. I told her I would give her a free tube of toothpaste. (A tube of toothpaste costs about $1 in the US and probably costs about 10 cents to manufacture and package.)

    Those of you who think that these schemes are a great way to have fun making money out of dumb people should think about what you are really saying and be ashamed.
    Apr 3 10:37 AM | 1 Like Like |Link to Comment
  • Is Herbalife A Pyramid Scheme? A Simple Question Of Law [View article]
    Of course these companies like Herbalife, Amway, and others are pyramid schemes. It is highly disingenuous to claim that their low level distributors are their best customers, because if someone buys a garage full of dish soap in the delusional belief that they can make money by reselling to workmates and neighbors, then they are being conned and the people who profit are those above the low level distributor who are using the promise of riches to sell overpriced products to naive end users.

    Now, whether such things are illegal or not is entirely another matter and will vary greatly in different jurisdictions. The US government and courts, since they are paid for by business, are not usually very sympathetic to consumers who do not have the financial clout to buy the votes of legislators and judges.

    Almost every kind of retail operation involves some kind of scam or at least marketing. For example if Winn Dixie has Kraft Sandwich Spread for $3.25 and Winn Dixie brand Sandwich Spread for $2.65, which is the best deal? The answer last week in Florida was to get the spread at Walmart for $2.04. A small matter, you may say, but look at the percentage margins involved!

    Such is life, you may say, but the same kind of trickery applies to almost every single product on the supermarket shelf. The idea is to make customers think they are getting a good deal, while actually steering them to the highest margin product.

    Most of this is dishonest, but not classified as illegal. The same goes for pyramids like Herbalife and Amway. Playing on the greed of customers by leading them to think they can make money out of the product is just a crooked way of selling, which is as American as apple pie.
    Apr 3 09:53 AM | 1 Like Like |Link to Comment
  • Windows OS Phones Should Increase Market Share In 2014 And Begin To Rival iOS [View article]
    Since I have a Windows phone and an Android tablet, the limitations of the Windows operating system are not really apparent to me. Can you spell out what are the technical limitations of the system and whether they can be overcome in the long term, or represent a dead end in development?
    Mar 16 08:55 PM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Windows OS Phones Should Increase Market Share In 2014 And Begin To Rival iOS [View article]
    Really the software and the hardware is already there just waiting for the bandwidth, which is actually the bottleneck for greater use of smart phones worldwide, and even in the US.

    Take into account that you really need to get 4g to have truly acceptable wireless that can show videos or Skype without constantly stopping and starting. Even in major cities in the US this level of service can be hard to find at times.

    AT&T offers free "hotspot" use to users, often located at McDonald's fast food outlets or at AT&T stores. As I wanted to download an updated operating system called Lumia Black on to my phone, I thought I would try the AT&T hotspot at their store (company store, not a franchise) at Oakleaf Town Center, a fast growing upscale suburb of Jacksonville, FL one of the largest cities in the US, but it was painfully slow.

    When I enquired why it was so slow, they told me that since all the devices in the showroom were connected to the system, it tended to get overloaded,and they suggested that I try using the Panera Bread wi-fi across the road. I did try this, but it was also painfully slow. For some reason AT&T did not suggest that I try the AT&T hotspot at the McDonalds that was only 50 yards from Panera. (All three locations were within a minute's walk of each other.)

    I went back to AT&T and eventually completed the job in just under an hour. The spot was not very hot.

    A couple of weeks later I stopped by the AT&T store to inquire about getting a DSL line and they could not get me a price without inputting an address into their computer terminal, but their computer was very slow to respond to the sample address I provided, so I had time to chat with the sales guy.

    Apparently demand for DSL lines is such that many areas are maxed out, so, for example, you might be able to get new service on one side of the street, but not on the other, depending on whether the nodes are overloaded.

    Anyway I thought it was interesting that even an AT&T company store in a spanking new shopping center in a major city cannot get enough bandwidth to have their hotspot or computer terminals work fast, making me wonder what hope there is for consumers who want to watch high usage Internet applications like Netflix on their mobiles.

    My phone plan has 10 GB of data per month, and this costs about $100 per month after discounts are applied. This equals about 300 megabytes per day, or the equivalent of one hour of Skype video call use per day, so not a huge amount, but enough to get by using Skype frugally, two or three hours a day of streaming radio, and surfing the Web reading news sites and blogs, Seeking Alpha, and so on, but not doing anything heavy duty like downloading movies or large music files.

    However to use wireless liberally or use the phone as a hotspot to channel Netflix, and so on, one could easily spend several hundred dollars a month on wireless data, which is out of reach of most individuals in low income states like Florida, but possibly less so in high income areas like California and New York.

    Now take it out to the rest of the world, and most people are still waiting for a wireless service that can play a YouTube video without stopping and starting.

    SO there is a massive untapped potential for software for cell phones (or hand held entertainment devices) because one day they will be as ubiquitous as color TVs. Right now we are about at the equivalent stage where most people had black and white TVs while the better off had color, and many countries did not yet have color TV broadcasting at all.
    Mar 16 08:49 PM | 1 Like Like |Link to Comment
  • Windows OS Phones Should Increase Market Share In 2014 And Begin To Rival iOS [View article]
    Yes, but if a small company makes an app that is wildly successful on the Apple phone, then sooner or later it will be adapted for Windows or else someone else will make a clone.

    In any case, name for me three apps that are available on Apple and Android, but not on Windows and which are used by millions of people to the extent that they would be willing to pay $600 rather than $60 for a device so as to get those apps.

    If your argument holds up, then Apple must be losing millions of sales because it does not have the Office app (the program, not the TV show), but you never hear of this as a complaint of Apple users, because they find other workarounds if they want to look at excel documents on their phone, right?
    Mar 16 04:19 PM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Windows OS Phones Should Increase Market Share In 2014 And Begin To Rival iOS [View article]
    I think the app issue is a bit of a red herring. I have an Android device (tablet) and a Nokia Windows phone, and I cannot see a significant difference in the apps available.

    Worldwide the most popular apps under any operating system are items like Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter, Skype, YouTube, various pornography sites (or so I believe), Search, Amazon shopping, Maps, Google Translate, and so on. All of these are available on Windows phone in one form or another.

    OK, I admit that there are certain apps owned by Google, such as Google maps that are not available, but then you have the excellent Nokia maps that can be downloaded and used off line.

    Bing search has improved beyond all measure over the last few years and is now pretty much a match for Google search. Bing Translator is as good as the Google version in the languages I use it for.

    YouTube may be another problem area, but you can use the mobile Web YouTube site, though actually I have downloaded a third party app for a massive 99 cents added to my AT&T bill that also downloads YouTube videos in high or low definition, or soundtrack only, as well as playing them.

    Personally my biggest regret is that Windows phone does not have the Amazon cloud player/mp3 player that is on Android, or allow downloads from Amazon music, but then I have an Android tablet too, and even if I didn't there are lots of other ways to get music onto the phone, for example downloading it from YouTube, that would make most people happy.

    I don't see any reason to think that long term ordinary working people worldwide will prefer to pay $600 rather than $60 for a iOS phone that doesn't even have a Microsoft Office app! Long term and worldwide milllions of niche apps will not mean much to the masses whose interests don't go much beyond calling, Facebook, instant messaging, and the latest pop music in their own country.

    So I think the future looks pretty good long term for Windows phone. Apple has opened up the market for the touch screen handheld mini computer phone and has made a huge amount of money, but where is Polaroid now? In fact where is the whole photo printing industry in the age of Facebook?

    I also think the effect of the Bring Your Own Device movement in certain industries like software and education has been vastly overestimated by SA readers. Of course it benefits small companies and schools because it saves them money, but I don't see a lot of it in the (massive) health care industry because of HIPAA rules, nor do I see it much in prisons, air traffic control, customs and immigration, Walmart, Subway, gas stations, etc. where tens of millions of people work. Truck drivers, bus drivers, taxi drivers, train drivers, journalists maybe, but I doubt whether their usage is really operating system specific either.

    Nope the end of the cell phone that costs twice as much as a laptop is nigh and in a few years time they will be like organic buffalo steak hamburgers. Very nice, if you can afford them, but not on most people's radar.
    Mar 15 04:01 PM | 3 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Windows OS Phones Should Increase Market Share In 2014 And Begin To Rival iOS [View article]
    Yes this is dead right. I have a Nokia 520, which you can get for less than $100 these days and is about as good as an iPhone 4. OK some deficiencies like no front camera for Skype (but, hey, you can use a mirror!) and the phone new and unlocked costs only 1/6 of the cost of an iPhone.

    In the Dominican Republic you can buy 3 gigs of data for a week for $8 with Orange. Price for 3 gigs in the US will be $30 to $50. OK, the 4G is faster, but the price is exponentially higher.

    I don't think shortage off apps is really an issue any more as Windows has all the main ones, mostly for free. To be sure my credit union and my brokerage do not have Windows apps, but you can use the mobile web sites instead. The problem in the US is not shortage of apps, it is that data is so expensive. In many other countries where the populations are much denser in urban areas, or living on coastal plains where there are mountains inland, the cost of delivering wireless to a population is much, much cheaper than in the US, so if people can get a cheap smart phone and cheap data, they WILL buy these devices for music, video, streaming radio, news, Skype, facebook, Whatsapp, and so on all of which ARE available on Windows phone, not to mention that the device can double as a wristwatch, alarm clock, etc.
    Mar 15 01:58 AM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Is It Time To Bail On Microsoft? [View article]
    The case for shorting MSFT for now has become even more compelling with the upwards surge. On the other hand the stock may be starting to break out to the upside. I would observe new highs, pullbacks, and bounces very carefully.
    Oct 26 08:35 AM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Why Smartphones Will Be A Big Win For Microsoft [View article]
    "Microsoft has the rights to the "Lumina" brand name and will most likely continue to use that."

    The fact that even a MSFT booster like yourself confused the brand name 'Lumia' with a type of Chevrolet car (Lumina) does not speak well for the brand recognition.

    I do wish that MSFT had acquired the use of the Nokia brand name for smart phones. It may not mean much in the USA, but in the rest of the world it is a different story.
    Oct 15 08:22 AM | 1 Like Like |Link to Comment
  • Is It Time To Bail On Microsoft? [View article]
    "I am not sure if I should be commenting here because this article seems geared more towards frequent traders than investors with long horizons."

    Sure you should comment, because even frequent traders like me may be trading around stocks in which we hold long positions and MSFT's desirability as a trading stock stems from a pleasing combination of short term volatility with long-term fortitude and a credit rating better than Uncle Sam Associates (USA).

    MSFT is a Dow component, which adds some stability, but even we short term traders know that many former Dow stocks have fallen off the charts, so keeping an eye on the long term prospects for the business is essential. Bethlehem Steel, where are you now?
    Oct 15 08:08 AM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Is It Time To Bail On Microsoft? [View article]
    Congratulations! This article got a write up in the leading article on MarketWatch this morning. Now let's see if there is any effect on the stock today. At 7:00 a.m. it is UP about 1% premarket so far today.

    Here's what they said:

    "The call of the day: Regardless of whether it’s the giddy Ford guy or the Hewlett-Packard castoff, Microsoft MSFT +0.93% is a short-sell candidate, according to Seeking Alpha contributor Bill Maurer. Reasons include the fact that the stock has rebounded from two sizable falls, the company has missed sales targets four times in a row, the shares are relatively pricy, and the CEO search could turn into a real cluster. There’s also a technical sell signal taking shape. “Microsoft could be hitting the death cross,” Maurer wrote. “It wasn’t pretty when that level was hit last time.”"

    Not sure about the use of the word "cluster" like that, but MSFT has a history of irrational moves up of a couple of dollars or so followed by swift declines when a bit of bad news hits the wires, so I will go with Maurer's call on this. What are the odds that the stock never sees $32 again?

    However if the stock breaks out to the upside, it might still pay to get on board on the long side for a little while or at least hold off on the short side.
    Oct 15 07:38 AM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • Microsoft closes above $33 as Mulally mulled [View news story]
    "Windows Vista really was a scratcher. I was 23 when it came out, and if they had just paid me $10 to tell them everything that was wrong with it or simple but effective improvements, I could've given them a list 10 pages long."

    No doubt, but it is hard to believe that they didn't give it to some ordinary users to evaluate for ease of use at some point during the development process. If they actually didn't, then the level of competency of management is beneath disbelief.

    Windows 7 is generally highly-rated, but I too could think of a few simple things they could do to make it easier for me, for example on the Control Panel menu, it might be better to call the menu choice that deals with printers "Printers and Devices" instead of "Devices and Printers" so that it would list alphabetically under 'P' and not under 'D', because the word Device does not mean a lot to the ordinary person, it is hard to find the menu for printers, and it gets worse when the computer is set to other languages like Spanish.

    They could arrange the search for help and support box so that if you type in "Reset Wifi Adapter" it takes you straight to instructions for doing just that without messing about.

    I could probably put together about ten pages of this kind of thing, and ideas on how it could work better, but of course not everyone would want the same things and perhaps what works in English won't work in Russian or Swahili.
    Oct 4 05:04 PM | Likes Like |Link to Comment