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Saturday, December 31, 2005

New Additions to The Blogroll

Since it's the end of the year, I'm doing a little housecleaning (or would that be "blogcleaning"?). There are a couple of academic blogs I've been reading lately that are worth adding to the blogroll. It's grown to the point that I'll probably have to organize it into categories at some point. But that'll be something for after the new year. In any event, here are the new additions:
Academic Coach is run by Mary McKinney, a Ph.D. in psychology, who advises academics on strategies for writing, gaining tenure, and in general navigating the shoals of academic life. She's got some great resources both for grad students and for newer faculty. In fact, her site is the reason I ordered two of my vacation reading selections. I'd recommend it for anyone who's either new to the game or trying to increase their academic productivity.

A Gentleman's C is run by The Crazy Professor, a tenured faculty member who teaches statistics to social science majors at an unnamed large state university. She regularly posts on the difficulties in teaching quantitative topics to non-quant oriented students. She's got a good (if quite dark and sarcastic) sense of humor.
Here's wishing you all a safe, happy, and successful (however you define that word) New Year.

Coffee That's Good To The Last Drop(ping)

I like a good glass of wine, but I'm not anywhere near being in the same league as some other well known bloggers. What I really like is a good cup of coffee. Way back in the early 80's I lived right around the corner from a coffee shop (this predated the Starbucks era). The owner was a crusty old codger who it turns out had owned a coffee plantation in Guatemala. So, he took a group of us and schooled us in all things coffee-related. I had actually gone to coffee tastings long before I went to my first wine tasting, and about ten years before it became trendy.

There are a lot of similarities between wine lovers and coffee lovers. Each has their own language for describing their favorite varieties, and each has contingents that go "over the top".

However, it seems that coffee drinkers win the contest for sheer absurdity.

That's just wrong on so many levels -you could say, "from top to bottom" (sorry, couldn't help myself). Somehow, I'm not surprised that most of the orders have been from California.

I'll stick to my Costa Rican blend, thank you very much.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Real Estate Pitfalls

One of the nice things about having a blog is that I can use it to keep track of things that I might want to refer to later. With a little luck, we might be selling the Unknown Mansion (and buying another one) in 2006. So, I'm putting this post up as a reminder to myself if and when I start the process. If you're also in that boat, here are some mistakes to avoid (from MSN Real Estate):
  • Not understanding the length of the process
  • Exposing your hand
  • Skipping the loan preapproval step
  • Assuming appraised value equals market value
  • Timing the "bubble burst"
  • Hiring the wrong agent (been there, done that, bought the shirt)
  • Missing the big picture
  • Not knowing what you're signing
  • Poor timing
  • Not doing your due diligence with a criminal search
Click here for the whole thing. (HT: Consumerism Commentary)

We managed to avoid most of these pitfalls the last time we did this dance but skill messed up on a few. Hopefully next time will be even better.

Financial New Year's Resolutions At All Things Financial

It's the season for making New Year's Resolutions. In that spirit, JLP at All Things Financial has a round-up of New Year's suggestions from the Personal Finance Blogger community. There are posts from many of the "usual suspects (and a few new ones). Good suggestions one and all. They include:
  • Set up an emergency fund
  • Get out of debt - pay off those credit cards
  • Manage your 401-k
  • Set up an IRA
  • Set up a budget
  • Prepare personal financial statements
Good sound advice all. I'd also include
  • Review your life and disability insurance coverage
  • Determine goals for accumulating money for education, retirement, etc...
Click here for the whole thing. It's worth reading, and chock full of links to other bloggers' advice.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Holiday Reading For Nerds

I usually use winter break for research and for catching up on my reading. This one's no different, particularly since our van is in it's last gasps, which gave us a pass on driving 300 miles up the east coast to visit the Unknown Extended Family for the holidays. Instead, we'll do mid-January, and we get to have the Unknown In-Laws come down to visit us for a week between Christmas and New Years. This, of course, gives me more incentives to hole up in my subterranean office (known to the kids as The Batcave) and work on my research.

It works out well, since I'm putting a paper together that I'll hopefully present on a job talk in about three weeks . The talk will be at one of my dream schools - it has pretty much every data resource I need for my research, a small doctoral program (so I get grad assistant scut puppies), a grad-school classmate on the faculty, and best of all, it's only 70 miles from both sets of parents, so the kids can spend lots of time with the Grands and all the cousins.

In between running long SAS programs (SAS is a statistical programming language, for you non-nerds), I'm also doing a bit of reading. Just to show you why I'm known among my academic friends as the Alpha Nerd, here are the books I ordered for the break:

First, in the SAS/Programming Nerd category:
From time to time, I have to read data that's formatted in strange ways. This book came highly recommended, with lots of examples of code to read data from input files formatted in almost any way I could imagine: Reading External Data Files Using Sas: Examples Handbook by Michele M. Burlew.

Since my type of research involves a lot of custom programming to line the data up right, I end up writing a lot of macros (basically subroutines). To improve my skills in this area, I got Carpenter's Complete Guide to the SAS Macro Language, 2nd Edition, by Art Carpenter.
Next, in the Academic Nerd Category:
I ordered two books by Robert Boice, who's done a great deal of research on what makes faculty productive. Although I've been doing this professor gig for almost 10 years, I found the first book, Advice for New Faculty Members to be an eye opener. It's chock full of helpful advice on how to be more productive (i.e. do more research) with less stress. The second book (also by Boice) is similar, but focused just on the writing aspect of academia, and is called Professors As Writers. both books were highly recommended by Academic Coach, and for good reason.
Finally, for the general Word Nerd lurking deep in my soul, I got The Synonym Finder, by J. I. Rodale, et. al. -- probably the best thesaurus around. Given that I was a kid that read dictionaries for fun, this should be pretty cool. Like I said, I'm an unrepentant nerd.

Anyway, looks like my latest SAS program just finished running. Back to the torturing of data.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Carnival of Investing

JLP at All Things Financial is hosting the 2nd Carnival of Investing. Go check it out - here are the ones I found interesting:
Blueprint For Financial Prosperity talks about year end tax planning in Wash Away Stock Losers With Winners

Financial Page has a piece called SIMPLE IRA Transfers in which he describes why he is moving money from his SIMPLE IRA to his personal IRA.

Investorgeeks (cool name, there) schools us on the basics of bonds in Bonds, Part I: What are bonds?

MyMoneyBlog gives us Dollar Cost Averaging in Dollar Cost Averaging vs. Lump Sum Investing, in which he shows that the conventional wisdom is not always right.

Finally, A Financial Revolution tells us some Signs of Creative Accounting. I've done some research in the area of earnings manipulation, and I can tell you, however, that it's extremely hard to spot which firms are manipulating earnings before the fact.
At first glance, this carnival looks like a winner. Next week's carnival will be at Consumerism Commentary -- be sure to check it out.

And now, back to the torturing of innocent data.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Mungowit's End: Myths and Myth-sters

Michael Munger is a professor of Political Science at Duke (which apart from having an irritating baseball team is a pretty good university). I recently came across this piece he wrote (back in June) where he gives some excellent (and blunt) advice to his fellow academics. He lists five "myths" that he's heard often, such as :
  • There is no relationship between work and publishing record. It is all luck, connections, and mystical "ability"; either you have it or you don't.
  • It's gotten harder to get published over time.
  • If it hasn't, it's gotten harder to get published in "top" journals.
While he's in a different discipline than I am, he's clearly been extremely productive, and he has some great advice:
Finish what you start - don't just start new papers to get them accepted at conferences

You should have at least three under review at all times. If one gets rejected, turn it around immediately and get it back out there. If one gets accepted, send out another new paper immediately.

Everyone has ideas. Not all of them turn into good papers. You can't tell until you work on them a long time. If an idea turns out to be not that great, write it up and send it right away to a second-tier journal.

If you are publishing less than two papers a year, you're not working enough, and if you are NEVER sending papers to top journals, you're not working deeply enough.
Read the whole thing here. Munger doesn't mince words -- important, because I have a thick head.

HT: Division of Labour

Monday, December 26, 2005

This Week's Carnival of Personal Finance

This week's Carnival of Personal Finance is up at MightyBargainHunter. As usual, here are my picks of the week:
Free Money Finance has some things to do with your year-end bonus.

JustAnotherBlogger from Just Another Money Blog has some great tips for eating out on the cheap in eat out for the price of the tip. For a small bit of time on the net, it's worth it.

Multiple Mentality tells us about some of the fine print to pay attention to when getting rental car coverage from a credit card. It's only a few bucks, but those dollars add up.

Yiles! Here's a very realistic-looking phishing spam received by nickel at Five Cent Nickel.

Blueprint for Financial Prosperity compiled a list of personal fiannce bloggers' favorite personal finance books.

How does the lengthening of people's lifespan effect insurance premiums? InsureBlog has some answers in Not so fast.

Sitting Pretty! has some great year-end advice.

Sometimes spending wisely is a great way of saving money, says Jeffrey Strain (of Personal Finance Advice) in The Art of Spending.

Canadian Capitalist tells us about some new and innovative exchange traded funds for various types of sector investing
That's all for now, folks. Remember - look around the Carnival when you're done, since your interests might well be different from mine.

This Week's Carnival of The Capitalists

This week's COTC is up at Multiple Mentalities. Here are my picks of the week:
In the leadoff spot of my lineup of picks, Josh Cohen (of Multiple Mentalities) gives us Josh CohenÂ’s Brief Guide to Business E-mail Etiquette, The best point he makes is that whatever you put in an email stays around for a long, long time.

Here's a good post illustrating the concept of supply and demand: Iran has outlawed alcohol. Therefore, alcohol is scarce there. So, Iranian Booze Smuggling is on the rise, and the smugglers are making a boatload of money.

In the latest of his pieces on interest rates and the economy, James Hamilton analyzes what he calls The Real Yield Curve. He's a smart guy who puts things very simply and clearly - read it.

In this week's "Big Brother" post, Barry Welford tells us about Hidden Cameras in unexpected places.

The Real Returns gives us 5 Screening Criteria for Mutual Funds.

A Financial Revolution had a good post on The Power of a DRIP, or dividend reinvestment plan.

Finally, Blueprint for Financial Prosperity reminds us not to loan to family members in Loans Are For Banks.
That's it for this week. Back to torturing data for a research piece (if I keep at it long enough, I'm sure I can get it to confess to something).

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Infant Discovered In Barn By Child Protective Services

Instead of glad tidings of comfiort and joy, here's what the Christmas announcement might have looked like if they had Child Protective Services 2005 years ago:
INFANT DISCOVERED IN BARN, CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICES LAUNCH PROBE
Nazareth Carpenter Being Held On Charges Involving Underage Mother

Bethlehem, Judea - Authorities were today alerted by a concerned citizen who noticed a family living in a barn. Upon arrival, Family Protective Service personnel, accompanied by police, took into protective care an infant child named Jesus, who had been wrapped in strips of cloth and placed in a feeding trough by his 14-year old mother, Mary of Nazareth.

During the confrontation, a man identified as Joseph, also of Nazareth, attempted to stop the social workers. Joseph, aided by several local shepherds and some unidentified foreigners, tried to forestall efforts to take the child, but were restrained by the police.

Also being held for questioning are three foreigners who allege to be wise men from an eastern country. The INS and Homeland Security officials are seeking information about these who may be in the country illegally. A source with the INS states that they had no passports, but were in possession of gold and other possibly illegal substances. They resisted arrest saying that they had been warned by God to avoid officials in Jerusalem and to return quickly to their own country. The chemical substances in their possession will be tested.

The owner of the barn is also being held for questioning. The manager of Bethlehem Inn faces possible revocation of his license for violating health and safety regulations by allowing people to stay in the stable. Civil authorities are also investigating the zoning violations involved in maintaining livestock in a commercially-zoned district.

The location of the minor child will not be released, and the prospect for a quick resolution to this case is doubtful. Asked about when Jesus would be returned to his mother, a Child Protective Service spokesperson said, "The father is middle-aged and the mother definitely underage. We are checking with officials in Nazareth to determine what their legal relationship is.

Joseph has admitted taking Mary from her home in Nazareth because of a census requirement. However, because she was obviously pregnant when they left, investigators are looking into other reasons for their departure. Joseph is being held without bond on charges of molestation, kidnapping, child endangerment, and statutory rape.

Mary was taken to the Bethlehem General Hospital where she is being examined by doctors. Charges may also be filed against her for endangerment. She will also undergo psychiatric evaluation because of her claim that she is a virgin and that the child is from God.

The director of the psychiatric wing said, "I don't profess to have the right to tell people what to believe, but when their beliefs adversely affect the safety and well-being of others - in this case her child - we must consider her a danger to others. The unidentified drugs at the scene didn't help her case, but I'm confidant that with the proper therapy regiment we can get her back on her feet."

A spokesperson for the governor's office said, "Who knows what was going through their heads? But regardless, their treatment of the child was inexcusable, and the involvement of these others frightening. There is much we don't know about this case, but for the sake of the child and the public, you can be assured that we will pursue this matter to the end."
HT: Overlawyered.

But since they don't, I'll wish to you and yours a safe and Joyous Christmas. Like John Fischer once said, the God of all creation in messy diapers! To quote from one of my favorite movies, it's "Inconceivable!"

Thursday, December 22, 2005

How To Comment On Weblogs

Gina Trapani at Lifehacker has a pretty good guide to making comments on weblogs - from what I've seen, there are a lot of folks out there who could benefit from reading it (not you, of course, but you may know someone who could use it). If you're too busy to read it, here's the "Cliff Notes" version:
  • Stay on topic
  • Add something to the discussion
  • Don't comment just to make a comment
  • Know when to comment, and when to email
  • Don't be a know-it-all
  • Make the tone of your message clear
  • Own your comment
  • Be succinct
  • Cite your sources
  • Be courteous
  • Don't post when you're angry, upset, drunk, or emotional
  • Do NOT feed or bait the trolls
There's much more there - click here for the whole thing.


Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Now They Can Tell You're A Dog

There's an interesting piece at MSNBC.com about anonymity on the Internet. There's an old (at least in nerd years) saying that "on the Internet, no one can tell you're a dog". According to the MSNBC piece, that could soon be changing. Newer computers will likely come with a non-removable chip called a Trusted Platform Module, or TPM:
...by the end of this decade, a TPM will almost certainly be part of your desktop, laptop and even cell phone.The TPM chip was created by a coalition of over one hundred hardware and software companies, led by AMD, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Microsoft and Sun. The chip permanently assigns a unique and permanent identifier to every computer before it leaves the factory and that identifier can'’t subsequently be changed. It also checks the software running on the computer to make sure it hasn't been altered to act malevolently when it connects to other machines: that it can, in short, be trusted
So, the days of the totally anonymous Internet interactions may be coming to an end. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. I can easily see civil libertarians getting all lathered up over the loss of anonymity. I can also imagine a couple of other things happening - there will be programs developed that can mask a computer's ID, or a market might develop for machines without the chip.

But the question would then be, if you had a chance to reveal or mask your identity (and people could know that you're masking it) would they treat you differently? I know that when a call comes into our house where caller ID is blocked, we often don'answerer it, assuming that it's telemarketerer.

Here's the MSNBC article.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Done!

Ah. Just handed in my grades for the semester. Now it's time to take care of the matters left undone due to the general end-of-semester madness (like shopping for Christmas swag for the members of the Unknown Household).

It's still early - there's still 4 shopping days left.

But first, time for my traditional end-of-semester celebration meal of sushi and a margarita. After all, traditiona are important.

Monday, December 19, 2005

This Week's Carnival of Personal Finance

This week's Carnival of Personal Finance is up at Political Calculations. Like the last time he hosted it, he's done a great job of presentation. Here are my picks of the week:
In Family Tax Advice, Don't Mess With Taxes gives some year-end tax planning advice.

The Common Room provides some guidelines and danger signs that you might want to look at if you're a young couple just starting out in Greasing the Rungs on the Ladder of Life.

Dan Melson of SearchLight Crusade schools us on negative amortization loans in Regulators Toughen Negative Amortization Loans?

In one of my favorite recurring topics, Million Dollar Goal explains What Is the Efficient Market Hypothesis? what's more, he tells you why you should care and how it should effect your investing decisions.

Jonathan at MyMoneyBlog is going to try a free financial planning consultation with Ameriprise Financial Advisors. He wonders about their qualifications in What Does It Take To Work At Ameriprise Financial?. Full disclosure - I used to work at one of their predecessor companies 20 years ago.

Finally, Consumerism Commentary talks about how companies often give employees extra time to plan their year-end flex spending account activities in No Need to Panic About Flex Spending Accounts.
That's all for now. After you read these, take a look around the Carnival. Tastes and needs differ.

This Week's Carnival of The Capitalists

This week's COTC is up at Coyote Blog. In addition to hosting the Carnival, he's also taking the opportunity to showcase some of the Acme Company's products from RoadRunner/Coyote fame - very nice. As usual, here are my picks:
Anita Campbell at Small Business Trends is doing her annual trends series. She relays her conversation with futurist Watts Wacker and his forecast of trends we can expect to see in 2006.

Free Money Finance gives you 10 questions you should be asking about your retirement.

Here's one for the kids (in the hopes that they'll avoid some of the mistakes we made): Why Homeschool talks about early economics training for your kids, and gives some approaches for teaching them outside of the classroom.

Searchlight Crusade discusses privacy concerns over real estate and mortgage forms. He explains why (unfortunately) we don't have much choice about disclosing the information.

Retired at 30 announces the brand-new Carnival of Investing. It's focused on investing and personal finance. Be sure to check it out.

David Porter breaks down ARMs - Adjustable Rate Mortgages. It's useful information, particularly since interest rates are rising.

Financial Options has a summary of economic indicators for release next week, with commentary.

James Hamilton in Econbrowser takes another stab at the gas price "gouging" meme - as always, worth a read.

Finally, for all you "word nerds" like me, Wordlab looks at politically correct alternatives to "Christmas"
Look around - there's always lots of good stuff at the Carnivals.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Good Cartoon For Class

Here's a good cartoon to show the students before final exams:


HT: Bitch Ph.D.

Buying Used Gift Cards

I'm often amazed at how the Web has changed commerce by breaking down geographical barriers to trade (like eBay). Here's the latest - there's now a market for buying, selling, and trading gift cards.

They've been sold on eBay for some time, but according to a recent New York Times article, Several companies (cardavenue.com and SwapAGift.com, and Gift Cards Again are mentioned in the article, but there are others) have set up an online market for people to list gift cards for sale (or to swap) for stores ranging from Home Depot to Borders Books to Bed and Bath). The economics of the market are interesting, and pretty much what you'd expect):
  • Transaction fees are paid by the sellers, and are usually a couple of bucks.
  • The discount for the cards (the difference between the face value of the card and the offering price) is smallest for stores like Wal-Mart and Home Depot, since almost anyone can use cards at these stores. For less well know stores, there's a thinner market, so the discounts are larger. In fact, the Home Depot ones are often bought by contractors, who will certainly use them quickly.
  • Most of the non-"top tier" store cards come at about a 10-15% discount.
  • The best deals (i.e. the biggest discounts) come right after the big gift-giving holidays, like Christmas, Valentine's Day, and Mother's Day. Not too surprising, since the supply is greatest then.
Click here for the full article. And here for another article on this phenomena on MSNBC - it lists a few other sites and also discusses some potential problems with this practice.

Given the amount of use we get out of Barnes and Noble and electronics and toy stores, the Unknown Household will probably save some money by using these sites.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Failure, Secret Grades, and Incentives Matter

Since it's the end of the semester, I'm still dealing with grading exams (one full-blown one to grade and one multiple choice one to give and grade). So, I figure it's only a half-dozen more hours or so to go.

In the meanwhile, here's a good grade-related piece from BusinessWeek Online. It turns out that many of the top business grad schools either don't disclose students' grades or give the students the option of disclosing or not.

The practice started during the dot-com boom when students had their pick of jobs even without disclosing grades. Now, it gets rationalized in the usual ways - "it saves them from stigma", "it allows them to experiment without penalizing them", and so on.

The interesting thing to me is the unexpected effect that the policy has on performance - in cross-listed classes (those where both undergrads and grads can register), the undergrads often outperform the grads. Not too surprising - remove the sting of failure, and there will less effort on the part of the students.

So once again, incentives matter. Or, as Spenser (the Robert Parker detective) used to say, "Without death there is no beauty".

HT: Division of Labour

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Three Economists Get Into A Cab

This sounds like the beginning of a joke:
Three economists get into a cab. They're each getting off at different places along the route. How should they split the bill?

It's not a joke but an everyday numbers dilemma, and it highlights some important economic principles. I asked several economists to solve the problem, and they came up with some unique approaches. One called on the work of game-theory pioneer John Nash (the inspiration for "A Beautiful Mind") to divide up the bill. Another referenced the ancient Jewish legal text, the Talmud.

It's actually the beginning of a piece in the Wall Street Journal by Carl Bialik (The Numbers Guy). It's an interesting question, since there's a savings to be had by cooperating (the cost of sharing the cab is less than the total costs the three economists would pay if they took separatecabs. Here's the question:

For the sake of this column, we'll stick with the case of a cab running on a meter, and we'll assume that all of the passengers are traveling in the same general direction -- some just live farther from the starting point than others. It's easy to apply the sharing schemes we devise to more complex scenarios.

Let's say that passenger A's usual fare would be $1, passenger B's is $5 and passenger C's is $9. If all three share a cab (and assuming A and B are allowed to hop out on the way to C's destination, without incurring any special fees), the total bill would be $9 -- rather than the $15 they'd have to pay, total, to ride alone. How should they divide up the cost of the shared $9 ride? Or, put another way, how do they share the $6 of total savings?

Before you check out the proposed solutions, what do you think is the fairest solution. Then read the article here (note: online subscription required).

As an aside, Yale's Barry Nalebuff (one of the economists mentioned in the article) has an excellent non-technical (i.e. almost math-free) book with Arvinash Dixit on game theory called Thinking Strategically: The Competitive Edge in Business, Politics, and Everyday Life. If you'd like to get a taste of what game theory's all about, it's as good an introduction as you're going to find.







WSJ.com - The Numbers Guy

Help Santa Fly

Here's something to brighten your day - see how far you can fling Santa across the ravine.

HT: Normblog

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Weapon Retention Failure

And now that my latest exam is done, it's time for something completely unrelated to finance (but still pretty funny). I don't know if this is real or a very clever fake.

Weapon Retention Failure (From Uncommon Descent): Weapon Retention Failure"

It's Exam Week, and the Fat Lady's Clearing Her Throat

As I mentioned in a previous post, this is exam week. I've given one, and am currently giving a second one as I write.

The exam is an open-book exam for my Advanced Financial Management class. The class is about 70-80% case based, so an open book doesn't help the students as much as they think. But, they like it and I don't have to monitor them that much, so there's more time for blogging and other things during the exam (we have Wi-Fi throughout the college of business building, so access isn't a problem).

Only this exam to grade and one other to write, and it's time for a break. One of our two cars is on the fritz. We plan on ditching it (a story for another day) but won't be replacing it until after the holidays, so we get a pass on traveling north to see the family over the holidays. Instead we'll stay here and host a meal for some of the "orphans" (singles and childless couples without family in the area) from our church. In addition, the Unknown Mother In Law and Unknown Father In Law are coming to visit us after New Year's.

With all this, I'll still get a lot done, which is important since I'll be presenting a paper in January that still has a lot of work to be done before it's finished. As hard as I try, I can never get as much done on the road as I can at home.

That's all for now - time to make a short strafing run around the classroom.

Monday, December 12, 2005

This Week's Carnival of Personal Finance

This week's Carnival of Personal Finance is up at Wealth Junkie. Here are my usual picks of the week:
First off, there a couple of good tips on saving money on various purchases: In Deals, Josh Cohen at Multiple Mentality shares how he got some laptop accessories at a great price, and in Money Saving Tip: Buy Parts Yourself and have Mechanic Install Them, 2million shares how he shaved 63% off his car repair costs.

Next, there are a couple of good posts on electronic banking: ncnblog from No Credit Needed explains the process of online bill paying and shares some tips in Online Banking Questions Answered. In addition, TT from Retire at 30 shares how you can use electronic banking to cover all of your financial bases in Budgeting Made Easy 1 of 4: Electronically Pay Yourself First,

Third, there are a couple of good retirement-related posts: FMF at Free Money Finance discusses some key retirement planning issues in 10 Things You Should Ask Yourself About Retirement, Part 1. And, Amit at Not Broke looks at the features of Roth IRAs, in Roth IRA--one of the best retirement planning vehicles around.

Finally, Ironman at Political Calculations celebrates their one-year blogiversary by posting a master index to all the investing, personal finance, economics, politics and other unique tools its created over the past year in A YearÂ’s Worth of Tools. Lots of good stuff there, and kudos to Ironman for all his hard work.
As usual, check around - there's always lots of good stuff up at the Carnival.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Slogging Towards The End Of the Semester

Almost done - I just finished tabulating the grades for my principles of finance class - I give four small to medium sized exams during the semester, with the last one being given on the last day of classes. In addition, there's a cumulative final, which is given next week.

I count the four highest exam scores (in other words, I drop the lowest exam, which could conceivably be the final). So, the students need to know their grades in advance of the final to decide if it's worth their while to prepare for and take the final.

Since the poorest students can't seem to figure out their grade on their own (big surprise there), I calculate all the grades, their final grade if they don't take the final and what grade would be necessary on the final in order to move them up to the next grade. It may seem like it's not my job, but I've found that doing it this way saves me far more time answering the "how do I figure out what I need on the final" questions.

However, within an hour of posting the grades, I got five (out of fifty students) emails asking how I calculated the grades. And this is after going over the calculations at least four times in class , with examples.

I'll just keep clicking my heels and repeating to myself, "there's no place like winter break...there's no place like winter break...).

The Chronicles of Narnia

The Unknown Family just got back from seeing The Chronicles of Narnia. All agreed that it was one of the best films we'd ever seen. Part of that is our love for the original books, but even if we weren't familiar with them, I think we still would have loved it.

We read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe to The Unknown Son and the Unknown Daughter about three months ago, and they were captivated by the story (although I translated a lot of the British verbiage on the fly so they would be able to get it). I still remember their expression when Aslan died - they were shocked, saddened beyond belief, and thoroughly taken in by the story. That night was the only night I read more than one chapter, because sending them to bed after Aslan's death without learning of his resurrection would have been too cruel (and a sure-fire way to bring on nightmares.

Their reaction to learning of Aslan's resurrection was even more marked than their sadness at his death. It showed the power of a good story.

Even though they were familiar with the story, we all had a good cry in the movie when Aslan was killed, and the kids started applauding when he rose again.

I would caution you about taking very young (or very sensitive) children. Although they were well prepped for it, the Unknown Daughter (age 5) was very frightened and sad during Aslan's death scene, and the Unknown Son (age 7) was too. Some of the battle scenes were also pretty intense.

This will definitely be one for the DVD collection. The writers, director and producers did C.S. Lewis proud - while some of the details were changed from the book, the film was definitely true to the spirit of the book.

We're now a couple of chapters into The Magician's Nephew, the second (or first, depending on which chronology you use) book of the Narnia Chronicles, and the kids were upset that we got back from the movie too late to read another chapter tonight. I guess there's no such thing as too much of a good story where my kids are concerned.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Calculating and Understanding Real Interest Rates

Mike Moffatt at About Economics has a great post on Calculating and Understanding Real Interest Rates. It's an easily understood, low-tech primer on the topic - suitable for handing out to an undergradute class when covering interest rates.

More Interviewing Advice

The other day, I gave some advice on how to handle "fly-back" interviews for academics. Here's some additional advice from the Wall Street Journal on how to handle "thank you" letters. While my previous post was geared primarily towards academic jobs, this one works for ALL job applicants. In summary, the article advises
  1. Proofread beyond just spelling and grammar. In particular, if you're interviewing with multiple organizations, make sure you're sending the right letter to the right organization.
  2. USe the follow-up letter to reiterate your best qualities. This a good chance to refocus the employer on what your comparative advantages are.
  3. Show off your listening skills. If you've taken good notes during the interview, you can match your follow up letters to the points mentioned in the interview.
  4. Tap into the employer's culture, but keep it professional.
  5. Write a separate letter to everyone you meet. Again, here's where taking notes is so important - these shouldn't be "boilerplate" - each letter should be individualized (they often get compared).
These are all excellent pieces of advice -- click here for the whole thing (online subscription required).

I'm always amazed how so many people fail to take care of the "little" things like good followup letters. They're actually not little things at all, because they have a major impact on the impression we make (and that's a huge part of getting the job).

Monday, December 05, 2005

This Week's Carnival of Personal Finance

This week'’s Carnival of Personal Finance is up at Frugal Underground. As usual there are a number of good posts. Here are some that caught my eye:
Canadian Capitalist tells us To Not Diversify is Just Stupid“. Based on the theory of efficient markets, I'd have to agree.

Tracy of Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise puts her money where her values are with Socially Responsible Investing“. Many people go this route, but be aware that there's a lot of research that shows that socially-responsible investment funds underperform the market. That's not to say that you shouldn't go this route, but that there is a trade-off.

Foobarista of Foo Bar and Grill just got a nice surprise in 403(b) found money: does this happen often?“. Here's some information on finding unclaimed property that might give you some happy surprises, too.

Most of know we should be planning for retirement. JLP of AllThingsFinancial has been reading Eisenberg'’s book The Number. Here he provides a look at the connection between “Inflation and Your Retirement Plan. I also just got a copy of the book (they're marketing to bloggers), and I'll be making comments in the near future.

Buying "scratch and dent merchandise can save you a lot of money. Mbhunter of Mighty Bargain Hunter recently got a good deal on a dryer in “Scratch and dent dryer.

David Porter of Pacesetter Mortgage Blog looks at three ways that people deal with their home equity in “Will Americans Spend the Wealth Created by the Housing Bubble Boom?“: 1. Do nothing; 2. Spend it; 3. Invest it.

Dan Melson of Searchlight Crusade takes on the task of “Debunking The Fallacy of Index Funds.“ He provides some good points, but I still think that index funds are far and away the best route for the vast majority of investors. It's not that index funds are perfect -- just better than anything else.
That's all for now - this should keep you busy for a while. As usual, look around - there are a lot of other posts up at the carnival that are also pretty good.

This Week's Carnival of The Capitalists

This Week's Carnival of the capitalists is up at Techronization. There's a lot this week - here are the finance/econ related ones that caught my eye:
Solitaire Trader shows us How to Watch CNBC

Financial Options tells us about The Week Ahead in Finance and Economics News, with some news about a new housing index that looks pretty interesting

Coyote Blog thinks we should Let GM Die. (or at least that it's o.k. if it happens)

Econbrowser gives us his thoughts on the last few week's economics news in Facing the Latest Economics Data. General advice - when Hamilton writes, it's usually worth a read.

Searchlight Crusade tells about the Three Day Right of Recission in home equity refinancing.

View From A Height has noticed that companies are Awash In Cash, and wonders about the implications.

Abnormal Returns chimes in about the frenetic hunt for alpha.

Political Calculations has yet another calculator application - this one calculates Return on Invested Capital.

The Entrepreneurial Mind shows us how Sarbanes Oxley has far-reaching effects in The Big Chill of SOX Hits Even Small Businesses.

Free Money Finance looks at how the pros keep their funds in Where the Pros Stash Their Own Dough

The Real Returns doesn't think the market is overvalued (or undervalued, for that matter) in S&P 500 Earnings Estimates For 2006.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Unexpected Office "Visitors"

And now for smething completely different:

This may be one of the funniest things I've read all semester (compliments of Acephalous). I particularly liked the guy's reaction and the suggestion in the comments about the use of pepper spray.

Caution: May not be office safe due to impolite language.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Advice on "Fly-Back" Interviews For Academics

This is the time of the year when finance faculties are inviting job candidates out for campus visits. Apparently, the law school hiring cycle is similar to the finance calendar. Brian Leiter has some good advice for candidates on his blog. Since most of it is applicable regardless of your discipline, I'll summarize it below and also add a few lessons I've learned over the years:
  • Don't show any hint of an attitude. Even so-called "lower-tier" schools often have people from very good schools on their faculty. And even if the faculty isn't from a top school, many are doing good work. So, lose any and all hints of an attitude -- after all, who wants a colleague that's full of themselves?
  • Work very hard on putting your presentation together. It shouldn't consist of you reading your paper to the audience (they can read for themselves). Expect interruptions during your presentation - how you handle them is important, since it gives the faculty an inkling as to how you'll be in the classroom. When you're asked a question, if you're not sure what the questioner is asking ask for more information. Remember -- in many cases, it's not so important WHAT you answer, but HOW you answer. Again, lose the attitude.
  • Assume that even lower-tier schools are interested in your scholarship. Have an answer prepared for the "what's next in your research program?" question.
  • Don't blow off the student interview - it won't get you the job if you ace it, but blowing it (again, watch the attitude) can cost you the job.
Click here for the whole thing.

In addition to Brian's points, I'll add a few practical hints I've picked up over the years:
  1. Try to get a good night's sleep two nights before the visit. You probably won't sleep much the night before, and this will keep you from getting too sleep deprived.
  2. Make sure you have a schedule for the visit as soon as possible. Carefully research the backgrounds of the people you'll be meeting with. It's o.k. to ask the department chair (or the chair of the recruitment committee) for copies of the vitas of the faculties. Remember - you're also deciding if you want THEM as colleagues.
  3. Be prepared to ask questions of the faculty you're meeting with about their research (see #1). Open-ended ones are best - some I've used are "how did you come up with that idea?" and "what are you working on now?". Getting the faculty to talk about their research is very flattering, and makes you look like a good conversationalist. After all, most people's favorite topic is themselves.
  4. Be nice to the department secretary - she often wields a lot more influence than you can imagine. I know of one candidate who got his current job in part because of the glowing recommendation of the secretary (the other candidate was a jerk, and he was very nice and appreciative).
  5. If possible, schedule breaks during the day. It's hard to look impressive when your legs are crossed because you have to go to the bathroom!
  6. When you have a spare minute, take notes on what you discussed with the various faculty. Over the course of the day, you'll forget things if you don't, and these notes will come in handy when you write your thank you notes.
  7. While you're there, make sure to ask what the department's time frame is (i.e. where are you in the order of visits, where do things go from here, etc...).
  8. If you're asked for salary requirements, don't give a direct answer. I've usually use humor and say, "I currently make $___ as a grad assistant, so my opportunity costs are pretty low. I'm sure you'll make a fair offer"
  9. If you go out for a meal, opt for things that don't take too much attention and are least likely to spill.
  10. Don't relax until you're on the plane on the way back. I once lost a job (I think) because of casual comments I made with the department chair at the airport waiting for my flight.
  11. While on the plane on the way back home, review your notes and take a few more (see #5).
  12. Get your thank you notes out as soon as you get back home. Use the info you wrote notes on, and try to personalize them if possible.
  13. Take your suit to the cleaners and shine your shoes as soon as possible. If you might be getting multiple fly-outs, this saves time, and gives you one less thing to worry about.
In summary, the faculty at the school is trying to see if you're the kind of person they'd like to have around for the next 15-20 years. So, being a good colleague counts for a lot.

Comments are open.

The Radical Guide to Credit Cards

It's the holiday season, so it's also the time to think about credit cards. This time of year, there's always the temptation to buy "just one more present". So, a good number of people begin the new year burdened by too much credit card debt. David Jackson (founder of the Seeking Alpha blog network has an outstanding piece on all things credit card related, called
The Radical Guide to Credit Cards. Here are some of the areas the guide covers (there's a lot more, but this should whet your appetite):

Quick Quiz: What kind of credit card user are you?
How to avoid overspending with credit cards
How to avoid borrowing from credit cards
Never pay credit card fees again!
What if you get hit with credit card fees?
The 4 steps to getting the most out of your credit cards
It's definitely worth reading. My impression is that improper use of credit is one of the areas where many (if not most) people make financial mistakes.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

20,000 Hits!

Financial Rounds got it's 20,000th hit sometime last night. I'm definitely small fry in the grand scheme of things, but I'm happy. Thanks for all your support.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Econbrowser: Inverted yield curve edges closer

This one's for the Finance and Economics Professors among my readers.

James Hamilton at Econbrowser is discussing how the an inverted yield curve yield curve is related to recessions (for those not familiar with the term, an inverted yield curve describes the pattern where rates on longer-term debt instruments are lower than those on shorter term instruments). He starts out by explaining the Expectations Hypothesis:
A very simple model known as the expectations hypothesis of the term structure of interest rates posits that investors don't particularly care which maturity they invest in, and as a result would always bid prices for different maturities so that the expected yield from rolling over securities of different maturities is identical.
He then goes on to explain how the Expectations Hypothesis doesn't fully explain the shape of the yield curve, and closes with some thoughts on how changes in the yield curve are related to expected recessions.

All in all, a good piece to give to your class for discussion the next time you teach about the term structure of interest rates. Click here for the whole thing.

Updated 11/30: Kash at Angry Bear also has a few thoughts on the subject, and a nice non-technical explanation of why the inverted yield curve is often followed by a recession.

Can Professor Pigskin Pick Stocks?

In the movie Grand Canyon, one of the characters says "The answers to all of life's questions can be found in the movies." He was wrong - actually, all the answers can be found in The Simpsons. Here's a great illustration of how random chance can produce what looks like superior forecasting:
Homer: Doh, the Broncos won! Why didn’t I bet on them like Professor Pigskin told me too?

Lisa: Who’s Professor Pigskin?

H: He’s a pig who can predict football winners in advance.

L: How is that possible?

H: Because he’s got something no gambler’s ever had. A System! I’ve got the pamphlet four weeks in a row and every time the pick of the week has been right on the money.

L: Ohhhh. I get it. Every week they send out two pamphlets, half picking one team and half picking the other. Eventually, there’s a small group of people who only receive the correct predictions and think Professor Pigskin is always right. That’s when they ask for your money.
HT: Blogging Wall Street.

I wonder if Professor Pigskin picks stocks?

This is similar to an example I regularly use in class to illustrate how quite a few mutual funds could end up beating the market five (or even ten years) running just by chance.

Now I'll use Professor Pigskin instead.

Tim Harford - The Undercover Economist

Tim Harford is one of the most interesting "popular" economists currently writing (by "popular" I mean those that have had some success in bringing economics to the masses). His regular column for the Economist called "Dear Economist" is one of my favorite reads. In it he answers common questions (like how to deal with an arranged marriage, or whether to save for the future) in a Miss Manners style using economic reasoning.

For those of you who enjoyed Freakonomics, I'd recommend his book"The Undercover Economist: Exposing Why the Rich Are Rich, the Poor Are Poor–and Why You Can Never Buy a Decent Used Car!" -- it's a great read, and would also make a good stocking stuffer.

Patri Friedman at Catallarchy has just posted an interview of Harford, which you can here.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

I've Been Devolved!

Just when I had gotten used to living on dry land as an Adorable Rodent, the all-powerful NZ Bear decided to rework his ranking algorithms at The Truth Laid Bear. As a result, I've been devolved to a Flippery Fish.

Ah well, I've been meaning to get back to swimming regularly for exercise. All this does is accelerate the process.

Monday, November 28, 2005

This Week's Carnival of Personal Finance

Monday is Carnival Day! This week's Carnival of Personal Finance is up and running at Financial Fruition.
First, there are three pieces on budgeting and record keeping. In Budget Breakdown, Dawn at Frugal For Life provides the essential information on budgeting. In Budgeting Made Easy, Retire at Thirty provides another "budgeting primer" piece. Finally, in Poor Money Management, Cathy at CFO (Chief Family Officer) talks about having a monthly spending plan.

Dan from Searchlight Crusade continues his series on things to watch out when geting a loan in Games Lenders Play (Part IV).

In Unclaimed Property That'’s Rightfully Yours, Steve Pavlina works us through the process of searching for unclaimed property. It's worth it - I did this a few years ago and found a small account (about $50) that was owed to the Unknown-Mother-In-Law. It scored a few points for me.

Finally, Clint at Million Dollar Goal discusses How Taxes Affect Your Returns. Remember - it's the after-tax return that matters.
That's it for this week in the "money" carnivals.

This Week's Carnival of The Capitalists

This week's COTC is up at Gillblog. The posts that caught my attention this week include:
Free Money Finance has a lot of personal finance advice pulled together from a variety of sources.

Barry Ritholtz, at The Big Picture, is musing about how the President's suggested tax reform capping the mortgage deduction might affect various parties.

In two posts on hedge funds, James Hamilton, at Econbrowser, discusses risk and returns in hedge funds and shows once again that there's no free linch, while Professor Bainbridge tells us why he thinks hedge fund activism is overrated.
As always, look around - you might find other things you like.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

SEC Admits SOX May Be Too Costly

The SEC is slow, but there are signs of hope that they are realizing the probles with Sarbanes-Oxley. This from the Wall Street Journal:
U.S. regulators may need to revisit internal-controls requirements for public companies if compliance costs remain high, according to Securities and Exchange Commissioner Cynthia Glassman.

In a recent speech in Denmark, posted on the SEC's Web site Friday, Ms. Glassman said she is concerned about excessive compliance costs associated with the requirement and raised the possibility of revisiting the rules, which were written by the SEC and the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board. She also said she would be "receptive" to recommendations to modify the internal-controls requirements for smaller companies, both in and outside the U.S.

Click here for the whole thing (online subscription required).

The good thing about regulators is that they regulate. That's also the bad thing - their bias is to step in with new regulations (even when not needed), since it gives them a reason for being.

Insider-Trading Charges Involve Early Copies Of BusinessWeek

This seems to happen every couple of years. Once again, someone found a way to profit by trading on the BusinessWeek magazine's 'Inside Wall Street' column before the column hit the streets:
A New York area man has been accused of insider trading based on prepublication copies of BusinessWeek magazine's "Inside Wall Street" column, according to court documents unsealed Wednesday.

...According to the criminal complaint, a witness said he met with Mr. Pajcin three to five times between September 2004 and November 2004 about a factory job in the Milwaukee area. Over the course of those meetings, he learned that Mr. Pajcin wanted someone to steal a copy of the publication prior to its public release, prosecutors said. The cooperating witness didn't take the job, but Mr. Pajcin informed him that "he had found someone at the 'plant' who was providing him with the publication prior to its release," according to the complaint.
Click here for the Wall Street Journal article (online subscription required).

Get More Education, and Make More Money (via Angry Bear)

Kash at Angry Bear has some analysis of a recent Financial Times story that drives home the point at the way to get ahead in this country is to get more education. He writes:
This reward to education has grown over time. For example, a Census Bureau summary of major economic trends in the US over the past half century reported that the median income of workers with at least a BachelorÂ’s degree was only 35% higher than those with only a HS diploma in 1963. By 1997 that premium had risen to 88%. And in 2003 the earnings gain from having at least 4 years of college was over 100% of a HS graduateÂ’s earnings, according to the data cited above.
Click here for the whole thing - it's a very interesting read.

Generosity Index and The Red State/Blue State Divide

Ah well, back from visiting family in the Northeast. Here's an interesting article (broight courtesy of TaxProf):
..The Catalogue for Philanthropy has ranked the fifty states on their relative generosity, comparing each state's average itemized charitable deductions with its average adjusted gross income (based on 2003 IRS data).

The 50-state ranking has a decided Red State-Blue State flavor: 28 of the 29 "most generous" states are Red States that voted for President Bush (including all 25 of the "most generous" states), while 17 of the 21 "least generous" states are Blue States that voted for Senator Kerry (including all 7 of the "least generous" states).

Click here for the whole thing.

I found the comments just as interesting as the piece itself (if not more so). There's a lot of discussion as to whether it's fair to exclude "state-provided" social programs in the calculation of philanthropy. I'd have to agree with the commenter that it's strange to take this tack, since philanthropy implies willing giving. In any event, it's a pretty interesting piece, and should provide some grist for your holiday conversations.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Strategies for successful dissertation completion (via Crooked Timber)

Eszter at Crooked Timber recently gave a talk at her discipline's annual meeting on strategies for completing your dissertation. Here are some of my favorites:
2. Keep track of everything you do by filing material (whether digitally or not) and by keeping a diary of progress in your research.

6. Do not be discouraged if you find another project that * sounds * like yours, chances are good that it is not. Often enough you will encounter projects that make you think your work has already been done. Before you get completely stressed out about this, check the details of the other project. In all likelihood it is different from yours in significant ways.

7. Keep a notebook of all of your ideas even if they seem tangential to the project. You never know when they will be helpful later whether for this project or another one.
There's lots more, too. Click here for the whole article.

How Not To Interview (via Econlog)

A group of graduate students have put together short clips of nine really bad interviews. They're pretty good examples of what not to do when interviewing for a job.

Their dissertation advisors obviously aren't working them hard enough - they definitely have too much time on their hands .

HT: Econlog for the link.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Game Theory In Movies (via Mahalanobis)

Q: What do High Wind in Jamaica, Crimson Tide, The Maltese Falcon, and The Gods Must Be Crazy, The Princess Bride, and A Beautiful Mind have in common?

A: They all have scenes that illustrate concepts studiedd in game theory.

Mahalanobis has a good post that provides an excellent resource for teachers of economics. In it, he discusses how these movies can be used to illustrate the concepts of Nash Equilibrium, Brinksmanship, Asymmetric Information, and the strategic rationality of (seeming) irrationality)

Click here for the whole thing.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving

I'll be traveling tomorrow to visit my (and my wife's) families. Where we're staying doesn't have a good Internet connection, so blogging will be light (and possibly nonexistent) until Saturday.

Here's hoping y'all have a safe, happy, and enjoyable Thanksgiving. I know that we have much to be thankful for in the Unknown Household, and I'm sure many of you do too.

House Prices Show Sharp Appreciation

I'm cleaning out my file of things to blog on before driving half the length of the Atlantic coast to spend time with our families for Thanksgiving. Here's one item that's pretty interesting. There's a recent report from the National Association of Realtors (in PDF format) that indicates that housing prices continued to climb in the summer and early fall. In fact, 69 metropolitan areas reported double-digit increases compared with a year ago.

If only the bottom doesn't drop out before I sell mine.

Yak Shaving Razor

Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost runs a regular series called Yak Shaving Razor. It covers a number of cool solutions for various problems, from how to change a Firefox setting to how to make sure you find your car in the parking lot. The latest installment is up here.

Curious what a Yak Shaving Razor is? Here's the definition:
Yak Shaving -- [MIT AI Lab, after 2000: orig. probably from a Ren & Stimpy episode.] Any seemingly pointless activity which is actually necessary to solve a problem which solves a problem which, several levels of recursion later, solves the real problem you're working on. (From the on-line hacker Jargon File)
Enjoy.

Monday, November 21, 2005

This Week's Carnival of Personal Finance

This week's Carnival of Personal Finance is up at Frugal For Life. As usual, here are my picks of the week:
Million Dollar Goal looks at the impact a small difference in costs makes when investing in Why Costs Matter When Investing

Old Niu shows how your net worth stacks up against others in your age group in What I’s Your Net Worth?

In two mortgage pieces we've mentioned previously, Searchlight Crusade gives us the ins and outs of different types of loans in Amortization: Fixed rate, Balloon, ARM and Hybrid Loans, and Pacesetter Mortgage talks about online mortgage rates in The Truth about Online Mortgage Rates.
Look around when you're done. There's a lot of other things there that I haven't mentioned. Tastes (and needs) differ.

This Week's Carnival Of The Capitalists

This week's COTC is up at Gongol.com. Finance related offerings include:
Financial Options: a heads up on forthcoming economics/finance news for the week

Abnormal Returns: there are a number of new options for taking advantage of seasonal stock market return patterns

Soccer Dad
: gas prices have dropped back down without Congress doing anything about it - a nicely snarky piece.

Pacesetter Mortgage Blog: for all intents and purposes, there is no appreciable difference in rates from one internet lender to another!

Searchlight Crusade: APR is a misleading indicator of a loan's true cost.

The Big Picture: there's a hedge fund that's averaged 33% annual returns over the last 14 years.

Catallarchy: my favorite post for this week's COTC. It explains how drops in gas prices are due to oil companies' greed (huh?). I love arguments like this that are counterintuitive to non-economists (like politicians) until they're explained.
That's all for this week. As usual, look through the rest of the carnival when you have time. Your tastes (and mileage) may differ.

Time to grade some exams. Unfortunately my campus has

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Shades of Gordon Gekko

According to Michael Douglas' famous character Gordon Gekko, "Greed is good". When post-Katrina gas prices skyrocketed, many commentators with little or no sense of economics attributed it to greed on the part of the oil companies.

Actually, they were right. However, this same greed that caused prices to rise also caused them to fall. Bill Cholenski at Catallarchy explains this about as well as anyone could:
...Greed has actually caused people to reduce prices. It sounds absurd, but think about it. With such “high” prices, anyone who sees fit to lower prices will gain market share. The world will beat a path to their door. Greedy oil companies are lowering prices, trying to steal customers away from each other - and it’s working.
Click here for the whole thing. Well done.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Around The Blogosphere

If the hotel doesn't fix their internet in the next couple of days, I might not be blogging much. So, here are a few things to keep you busy:
JLP at All Things Financial has some good advice on Financial Planning for Generation X.

John Quiggan at Crooked Timber discusses "self-plagiarism", defined as occurring " occurs when an author reuses portions of their previous writings in subsequent research papers."

J Henderson at the Mises Economics Blog takes some shots at the recent Wallm Street Journal Article defending Sarbanes Oxley.

The Smart Economist reviews an article on the role of reputation in internet auctions.
That's all for now. I've emptied my RSS aggregator, had my caffeine, and am ready to see some papers presented at SFA.

Southern Finance (continued)

I arrived at the Southern Finance Meeting only a little worse for wear. Unfortunately, the airport in Key West can't handle a jet, so the last leg of the trip involved a short flight from Miami on a little "puddle jumper" (a prop plane), which I always hate.

The hotel hasn't yet gotten their internet access up, so I went out to a local internet cafe. It turns out that the hotel only reopen two days ago after the latest storm. So, I doubt that they'll get their access up anytime soon, and blogging will probably be sporadic for the next couple of days.

At least it looks like tropical storm Gamma won't be coming anywhere near here. So things are looking up.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Off To Southern Finance

Well, I'm off to the annual Southern Finance Association meeting in Key West. It's usually one of my favorite meetings because it's pretty low key, and there are lots of opportunities to catch up with old friends. There's (supposedly) broadband at the hotel, so I may do some blogging.

There's a tropical depression ("Gamma") to the south, but it looks like it'll miss the conference. If not, things could get interesting.

Monday, November 14, 2005

This Week's Carnival Of The Capitalists (The College Edition)

This week's COTC is hosted by Jeff Cornwall at The Entrepreneurial Mind in one of the most creative presentations of the Carnival yet. I don't have time to go through the entire "course catalog", so I'll recommend a few interesting "classes":
voluntaryXchange has a provocative post that uses post-Katrina New Orleans to examine the root causes of crime.

Econbrowser reports on an exchange during the recent Senate hearings on Big Oil. I particularly liked the rancher's response.

View From a Height and Drakeview (in separate posts) summarize recent venture capital trends.

Abnormal Returns compares and contrasts two new investment books - both written by seasoned investment professionals, very different in their approaches, and worth a read (or two).

Fat Pitch Financials introduces his good friend EDGAR (the SEC's on-line filing system) and explains how he can help you research companies.

Mover Mike explains the linkages between the SEC, naked shorts, and grandfathers. That's either a very good teaser or a very bad mental image...

Searchlight Crusade discusses pros and cons of different home mortgage instruments- fixed rate, baloon, hybrid, etc...

As usual, look around. These are ones that caught my eye, but you might find something else you like (or come across a new blogger to add to your list).

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Student-Run Finance Blogs

I'm always on the lookout for new finance-related blogs that are run by academics. As I've lamented many times, there simply aren't that many.

But, here are a couple of interesting ones run not by professors, but by students. Since it's a worthwhile endeavor, I thought they were worth highlighting.

The first, Shai Dardashti on Grahamian Value is run by a U. Of Maryland student and is devoted to value investing. Being at UM, he'll get good training (he's a finance major, and they have an absolutely outstanding department there), and the blog should give him a lot of visibility. He's off to a good start, and has a lot of interesting links to value-investing resources.

The second, Fiscal Times, is run by two students (at Cornell and Princeton). They've only been doing this for a short while, but they seem ambitions and also have some interesting posts up there.

Running a blog is costly (in terms of time and effort) if you want to do it right. But, it has many benefits. First, if it's any good, it will give you exposure, which is very important when you get out on the job market. Second, if you're going to update it regularly, it will force you to keep up with the market in particular and with current events in general. This can only help you when you get to the interview stage. Finally, putting things down on "paper" forces you to think (and communicate) clearly. We think we understand something, but once we write it down, we often find out we don't.

good luck (and good blogging), gentlemen.

SEC Investigates Back-Dated Option Grants

According to Friday's Wall Street Journal, it seems that the SEC is investigating some companies for playing games with their option grants.

In a call option, the holder has the right (but not the obligation) to purchase the stock at a set price during a given time frame. As a result, we call an option a "derivative" security, since its value is derived from the value of some other asset (or security). If the value stock price increases, so does the value of the option. This means that an employee who holds a call option on their company's stock has an incentive to take actions that increase the firm's stock price.

Here's an example that might make this point clearer: A March 1, 2006 call option with an exercise price of $40 would give the holder the right to purchase a share of stock at $40 up until March 1. As long as the stock price is greater than the exercise price, the option is said to be "in the money". In this case, if the stock was currently selling at $45 a share, the holder of the option could exercise it, buy the stock at $40, and harvest a $5 profit.

Most executive options are issued "at the money" with a term of around three years. In other words, they are issued with an exercise price (also commonly called the "strike" price) that's equal to the current stock price, and the opion can be exercised after three years' time. So, if the stock price goes up, so does the value of their options.

Here's what apparently has the SEC concerned - it sems that some companies are "back-dating" their options. Let's take an example where the company's stock price was $40 on October 1 and $50 on November 1. Then, assume that the company granted options to their executives on November 1, but back dated the options to October 1. Since the options are issued "at the money", they would therefore have an exercise price of $40, giving the option holders an immediate profit of $10.

To read the Friday's Wall Street Journal article on this, click here. If you don't have a subscription, you can also read this one in CFO magazine.

This issue is interesting for a couple of reasons. It's a classic example of an agency problem where managers take advantage of shareholders. Second, they involve some disclosure issues - for obvious reasons, the companies involved don't give the "proper" date of these option grants. So, I wouldn't be surprised to see lawsuits in the ner future. Finally, they explain one of the more interesting patterns that academics have already observed - that stock prices often drop before option grants, and rise following them. This pattern makes a lot more sense if management can game the system by back-dating the options to the optimal date.

The WSJ and CFO Magazine articles mention the work of two academics who've studied stock price reactions around option grants - David Yermack and Erik Lie. You can find working paper versions of Yermack's work here and Lie's here.