I am retired and take educated guesses on all things financial.

February 28, 2008

February 28, 2008: A Timely CEF - Alpine Global Dynamic Dividend Fund

Growth is nice, but a hefty, reliable income stream from a CEF that is close to an attractive entry point for purchase should suit practically any investor in these interesting economic times. The Alpine Global Dynamic Dividend Fund (AGD)offers a unique and balanced approach to optimizing both taxable dividend income and long term capital growth. The fund manager uses a primarily international-based security spectrum to find exceptional dividend opportunities for investors employing a multi-cap, multi-sector and multi-style investment approach. Anything goes investing, for you novices.

Trading at a modest premium to asset value at $19.35, the fund is down from a high of $25.50 last summer. AGD's market cap is approximately $458m and the average volume is about 66,000 shares per day.It started operation as a CEF on July 26,2006. Here is the best part-the current yield is 10.54%. Surprisingly, I see no gimmicks to juice the yield. In fact, Alpine issued a recent press release stating that "The Alpine Global Dynamic Dividend Fund operates without any auction rate securities or long term leverage of any kind. The fund has distributed high current income monthly without the use of leverage like auction rate securities." Although management would not release their daily holdings to me, the most recent published portfolio is a stew of interesting securities that I have not found in other funds.See for yourself at

AGD issues dividends monthly and capital gains in December using tax managed techniques. The approximate balance of this fund is 20% US-80% non-US. Currency is hedged to a degree.I do not see securities worth mentioning that give one pause (overweighted financials, mortgage-based securities,etc.) to question the quality of the high income distribution. The decline in the funds price has stopped and stabilized over the past month, which indicates that the current portfolio quality is not an issue. AGD continues to distribute exceptional monthly income returns to the investor.

Maybe I am missing something, but the Alpine Global Dynamic Dividend Fund appears to be a great CEF that pays an outstanding dividend and is minded by competent and watchful management. I generally do not purchase or recommend CEFs that trade at a premium to asset value. However, given the yield and management track record attracting $12b in assets through their successful wealth management program, I think investors should consider this income machine for their portfolio.

Based in Westchester, NY, Alpine Woods Capital Investors was founded in 1997.


February 26, 2008

February 27, 2008: Cheniere Energy: Finally, "When" and Not "If"

Cheniere Energy (LNG) has had a spotty record of expectations versus performance over the past few years. I believe this liquefied natural gas terminal, exploration and transmission company operating primarily in the Deep South and Gulf of Mexico is ready to lurch higher, maybe even doubling it's stock price into 2010. My opinion runs contrary to most analysts. In fact, the stock has performed poorly for months, down from $43.60 per share in July to a recent quote of $28.75.

Why am I optimistic? Global liquefaction growth is poised for acceleration. Global liquefied natural gas supply growth over the next five years will likely reach 15% annually (to hopefully match demand) which is double the growth rate of the past five years. Environmental Greens love liquefied natural gas as an alternative energy source that can stand on its own without a subsidy. US imports of liquefied natural gas could triple by 2010 and LNG has a large and well-placed storage capacity to hold this commodity during seasonal price adjustments (more profit for Cheniere Energy).As liquefied natural gas demand is rising quickly internationally, the era of this gas product being cheap is over, based upon elementary supply and demand studies. Cheniere is poised to profit from this, as their large expenditure on infrastructure in all areas of receiving and transporting liquefied natural gas is close to completion. Asia and Europe have liquefied natural gas challenges that are not being addressed - Asia has little storage capacity when viewed on both an absolute basis and as a percentage of demand, and Europe's liquefied natural gas reservoir is depleted and poorly managed (Russia's output from Gazprom was actually down last year) and the EU market structure for the commodity is overly regulated, discouraging infrastructure and storage initiatives, thus Cheniere Energy will store the product and market it to the EU and Asia at a profit. Seasonally, Cheniere has the ability to store the gas and sell it at high price points worldwide and in the US, generally in the first and fourth quarter, as the commodity is driven by heating needs (except in Japan, where it is steady year around). In effect, Cheniere acts as a sponge, absorbing seasonally high output during periods of low demand and then squeezing it out at peak.

In addition to developing, constructing owning and operating a network of three large liquefied natural gas receiving terminals, Cheniere Energy owns natural gas pipelines, a business to market liquefied natural gas company and is engaged in the Gulf of Mexico prospecting for oil and gas.

Om Monday, LNG announced that it is going to look for ways to enhance shareholder value, which will likely include bringing in partners to take a stake in one or more of its terminals and absorb some operating costs as the large infrastructure expenditures are controlled.I view this as a positive, not dilutive, scheme. Hopefully, LNG will follow through on this promise.

I owned and sold LNG a while ago at a profit. I am looking at this stock to purchase again with a longer time frame in mind. For a variety of reasons, you may wish to examine this company as an addition to your alternative energy or pure energy portions of your speculative portfolio.


February 24, 2008

February 25, 2008: Capella Education Company, An Intelligent Choice

I rarely bother to follow education service stocks. Being a long time High School Principal, I may be just fatigued regarding the sector. However, I do know that education service stocks are somewhat counter cyclical. When the economy falters, more students choose to attend speciality schools that are generally "for profit" enterprises. Public school simply cannot match up with niche players and the growing internet education programs - their Stalinist unions will not have any of it. I have screened this sector and found one of several educational service stocks that appears to be an excellent value at this time, trading a full ten dollars below it's fifty day moving average amongst other criteria.

The company that looks like a very good buy now is Capella Education Company (CPLA).
CPLA is an online post-secondary education provider that, through its wholly owned subsidiary, Capella University, offers a variety of doctoral, masters and bachelor degree programs in the markets of health, human services, business management and technology, and education. As of December, Capella Education Company offered over 760online courses and 13 academic programs with 75 specializations to approximately 20,000 students. The company also offers certificate programs which consist of a series of courses focused on a particular area of study (this is the high margin profit center as I see it, for now and the future), Capella Education Company also offers learner support services, such as academic services, administrative services, library services and career counseling services.CPLA is a pure play for investor's interested in online education providers.

Capella Education Company's specialized accreditation and state licensures significantly differentiate this company from the competition. CPLA has a reputation for delivering quality educational experiences, and this matters in the online educational field.The working adult students (generally averaging about 40 years of age) come with appealing attributes, such as long length of stay, better credit profiles, more Title VI funding and an attitude that drives them to complete the educational program they have selected. Less than 1% of CPLA's revenues come from private educational loans, which appears to be amongst the lowest of all education service providers. Students are online from all fifty states and 56 countries worldwide.

Founded in 1991 and going public in November of 2006 at $20.00 per share, CPLA is trading at $52.31 per share, down from its $75.38 high in November, 2007. Average share volume is 292,000 shares. Market cap is $901m. The company has met its earnings consensus, and the growth of the company is conservatively estimated at 13.9%(CAGR) with an operating margin expected to come in at 18%.The management of this company is first rate, with both extensive educational and business experience. Institutional shareholders are gold standard and appear to be well satisfied with the direction of the company based upon their investment holding time and accumulation of shares.

There are downside risks. A more hostile operating environment for profit center schools that education union love to hate. Some grants may be found to be fraudulent if students dropped out of the school without notification and thus carried on the books illegally. And, with more schools entering the online education field, CPLA will have to keep on top of its game providing value for time and money spent by students to learn their selected endeavor.

On balance, I view CLPA as being spot on in the education service sector. Capella Education Company is an intelligent choice to consider for your speculative portfolio, especially if a recession is in progress.


February 23, 2008

February 25, 2008: ETFs: Chaos, Hysteria and Journalistic Pandering

The economy and other "drive-by" journalist targets. Me worry? No. And you shouldn't, either.

"Drive-by" pundits and commentators are defined as such because they are akin to the classic gangster hits of the 1920's. Jump in a black Cadillac with their machine guns. Drive full speed ahead to their target, usually in a public place. Fire at random, killing their victim and innocents alike without remorse. Then, they gleefully speed off to their next quick hit. Much like gangsters, our economic commentators, some skilled and others talking heads trying to gain audience share go from target to target blasting away. Forget accuracy. Forget opinion disguised as hard news. Forget qualifications. Forget the flow of history. Forget proportion. Forget integrity. But always, remember ego, sound bites and which master needs to be served.

A headline in this weekend was "Coming Week:Horror Show". This piece started with the teaser sentence "The large batch of economic data due out next week reads like a lineup for the soundtrack of a horror show for financial markets".

Panic! Falling home sales. Inflation. Manufacturing slowdown. Flagging economic growth. Job losses. A drop in consumer spending. "All these tunes will play over a drumbeat of retail earnings reports, where the outlook is not upbeat." And this, mind you, was a Market Feature article. The author did not appear to be anyone who has witnessed more than two presidential cycles in adulthood. But, it is The and this piece will be respected.

In fairness, there are an almost equal number of Pollyanna's that see nothing ahead but the golden brick road.

I believe that investors would do themselves and their portfolios a favor by virtually ignoring opines of every sort and focus on the obvious. Treat all financial-oriented media (such as this post) as entertainment and not as Blibical Truth for a portfolio.

Rule number one: Don't fret over situations you cannot change.

Rule number two: Almost nothing turns out as expected.

Rule number three: Never whipsaw oneself out of a long term, conservative investment strategy. And the investment strategy should include more than securities.

Rule number four: Speculate intelligently using hard facts, using only money you can afford to lose.

Regardless of the cyclical nature of the economy worldwide, the investor need only focus on a portfolio consisting of things people need in their lives (energy, food, shelter, labor saving devices and the means to protect them). Companies and sectors for speculation should be those who can produce goods and/or services at the lowest cost, are insulated from hordes of lawsuits and are best of breed in their field nationally and, preferably, internationally. Interest and dividends are important, and should not be neglected. ETF's can handle literally all the needs necessary for long term portfolio success.

Diversification is in the eye of the beholder. John Bogle has an index view. Warren Buffet has a value view. Donald Trump has a put your eggs in one basket and do it better than anyone else view. They are all correct from the standpoint that they have discovered what style works best for them. You, as an independent investor, need to discover what style works best for you and master it.

For sure, no successful investor runs from a business channel to a web commentator to a research site to a brokerage and speculate, trade and flip securities with abandon.

That is stupid. And so are the endless comments and media bilge telling you what to think, without regard to your personal financial health.

February 22, 2008

February 24, 2008: DEE-FENSE!! IShares U.S Aerospace and Defense Index Fund

While in Las Vegas this week, I was fortunate to spend time with several USAF officers attending an acquisition conference. They reinforced my opinion that the military is in need a large system makeover and equipment rehabilitation program from military boots to space weapons able to protect our vital communication links in space that China, etc. seems intent to disrupt if in their interests.

Regardless of the election results this November, the new President will have to protect and defend our vital interests domestically and abroad. With technology pressing ahead at a startling pace worldwide, we no longer have the luxury of delaying procurement or shelving new counter-measures to counter adversary threats.

Thus, my premise is that aerospace and defense companies will prosper, and that their stock values will rise even during challenging economic times, inflation or deflation, in Iraq or out of Iraq. Although I believe that careful stock analysis will produce winners to beat the index, for most investors the index itself is a good way to play the theme.The IShares Dow Jones U.S Aerospace and Defense Index Fund (ITA) is as good an index as you will find.

ITA trades at $60.94 per share. The expense ratio is a low .48%. Average share volume is about 41,000 shares.Over a one year period, the ETF has gained about 13% in market value while the category market value has fallen approximately 8.5%. That said, ITA has fallen from a high of $73.00 per share in December to its current price. This represents a very nice buying opportunity.

I like - really like - the top holdings of ITA. They are United Technologies (UTX),Boeing (BA), Lockheed Martin (LMT), Raytheon (RTN), General Dynamics (GD), Northrup Grumman (NOC), Precision Castparts (PCP), L-3 Communications (LLL). Textron (TXT), and Rockwell Collins (COL). The top ten holdings represent approximately 62% of the portfolio.

What is significant about ITA and the Index that it tracks is the spread between Aerospace (59%), Defense (41%) and cash (.19%). Defense is vital but Aerospace is where the action is at for the future. Aerospace is not just an Air Force project. The Army, in fact, is in charge of the ground-based anti-missile system while the Navy has the sea-based responsibility for aerospace projects. All have different needs and thus somewhat different research/development and procurement costs. Even Homeland Security has a stake in aerospace programs for border control and tracking purposes, on land and sea.

True, we could elect a reincarnation of Neville Chamberlain willing to believe that adversaries will agree to tranquility by signing a document that will insure "peace in out time". I don't think any of the presidential candidates are that naive, although pandering to their base may make it seem so. Presidents tend to mature quickly to the realities of the world upon taking the oath of office. Aero Defense and Defense companies of the IShares Dow Jones U.S. Aerospace and Defense Index Fund will be prepared to assist our military perform in a world-class manner. This is great for our country and great for shareholders.


February 14, 2008

February 15, 2008: Real Estate, some interesting data.

I ahve reviewed several "hot off the press" professional articles pertaining to the broad real estate industry. One stat report that caught my eye was an up to the minute comparison of home values in the 125 Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) representing 43 million homes produced by Zindex. This interesting and useful information can be found at:

To generate the quarterly reports for the homebuilding industry, Zindex, the sponsor and creator of this site, calculates more than ten years of historical data.Top notch in every respect.

The situation regarding home vales is grim for owners, but excellent for new buyers with cash or good credit. There is a consensus amongst contributors to the reports I reviewed that the upcoming spring home shopping season will see marked improvement that is above most expectations. They will be buying existing inventory for the most part, which will create opportunities for new homebuilers later in the cycle (late 2009).

Sadly, more foreclosers are expected as homeowners who bought poorly find themselves in over their head with negative equity. One comment indicated that if "they thought home foreclosures were bad, wait until repossessed autos hit the markets driving down the cost of used vehicles". This makes sense to me. If you can't pay for the house, the car default will not be far behind.

I could go on and on with data, but this post is meant to be a few random thoughts taken from respected industry publications.

From an investor standpoint, I really like IShares' Mortgage ETF, REM. I also like Lowes (LOW) as likely to rebound nicely as those buying foreclosures, renovating apartments or fixing their own residence discover that other home improvement stores have cut too many corners and product lines to offer merchandise that appeals to the contractor, men and, importantly, women. It is too early to buy apartmet and mall REITs, homebuilders and narrowly focused home renovation production companies like Masco.

February 13, 2008

February 15, 2008: PowerShares Aerospace and Defense Portfolio Ammunition for Profits

No war for oil!! Marines out of Berkeley!! Out of Iraq Now!! state the daily pounding of headlines from our unbiased mainstream media. A recent favorite of mine is "John McCain is a true American hero...BUT".

After a reasoned glance at the upcoming defense appropriations, add-ons by the Legislative Branch to President Bush's Defense Budget and a realistic assessment of our foreign enemies and in-the-pipeline countermeasures against their real threats to our national interests, I believe that strong consideration for an overweight position in defense and aerospace stocks deserve consideration. There are more than a few funds to game this sector. I like PowerShares' entry, PPA.

The PowerShares Aerospace and Defense Portfolio ETF utilizes the respected SPADE Defensive Index, which is designed to identify successful, forward-looking companies involved in the manufacture, development, operations and support of our defense, homeland security and aerospace operations. PPA is rebalanced quarterly and reconstituted annually, which is acceptable for this sector where systems may take years to come to production and where contracts are awarded over the course of several years (especially in the maintenance and support areas).

Since inception in October of 2005, the fund has grown in assets to $284.1m.PPA volume approaches 136,000 shares per day. Trading at $21.03 within a 52-week range of $16.00-$24.30 and an expense ratio of .60%, the fund has often bested peers in total return.

Reviewing the holdings within the portfolio, 79.06% are industrial, 15.94% information technology and 3.15% consumer discretionary (all of it in Garmin).
Top stocks include Lockheed Martin (LMT), Boeing (BA), United Technologies (UTX), Honeywell (HON), Raytheon (RTN), Northrup Grumman (NOC),L-3 Communications (LLL), ITT (ITT), Rockwell Collins (COL), Precision Castparts (PCP), Textron (TXT) and Goodrich (GR). Significant holdings also include Computer Services (CSC), SAIC (SAI) and Harris (HRS). What is most impressive about the total portfolio is the inclusive nature of defense companies that are essential towards developing countermeasures for more sophisticated enemies such as China and the Russian Federation - especially in space, as well as the War on Terror which, like it or not, will be waged for quite some time in a variety of ways and locations. Homeland Security companies are also well-represented in this portfolio, including those involved in the United States Coast Guard Deepwater program, which is a huge undertaking.

The security of our country trumps other sectors that are impacted by political oneupmanship and voter pandering. While there is and always has been waste and overlap in this sector, this is no doubt that essential defense of our country and national interests is imperative. While one may debate the peripherals of foreign policy or where stands by the military are ordered by the political party in power, almost all of us agree that the military needs to be well equipped, well-trained and prepared to fight and protect us. Having three children , a son-in-law and a daughter-in-law serving as military officers, I can attest that going into battle with less than state of the art equipment is unnaceptable - and lethal for our service personnel.

I think that some individual stocks will do extraordinarily well in this sector, but the individual investor would do well to buy PPA with the SPADE Defense Index dictating its contents. Perhaps the next round of selling in this turbulent market would be an ideal entry point.

DISCLOSURE: The author does not hold PPA. He does hold stocks in the SPADE Index.

February 10, 2008

February 12, 2008: IShares Switzerland: Ready to (finally) reward investors?

I consider Switzerland, Dubai and Singapore to be major centers of commerce, finance of all sorts, trade and intrigue in the 21st century. These safe havens draw assets in the mega billions of dollars from ethical and rogue nations and characters alike.

Stable, micro-managed Singapore as an investment destination has done reasonably well in an unpredictable third world region. Dubai is a work in progress. Switzerland has underperformed. Switzerland, especially IShares Switzerland (EWL), may be getting based to outperform as markets elsewhere gyrate, shaking many investor's tolerance for risk.

Looking at the portfolio of EWL, the top ten holdings of the approximately forty securities held comprise almost 70% of the assets. These top ten securities include Nestle, Roche Holdings, Novartis, UBS, ABB Ltd., Credit Suisse Group, Zurich Financial Services, CIE Financial Services, Syngenta AG and Swiss Reinsurance. Portfolio turnover is a paltry 5%.Most of the portfolio is in financials and health care which are not where most financial pros are telling investors to sink their investment dollars.

I submit that the world-class companies listed in this ETF are going to rebound, and rebound strongly. Being located in Switzerland, the most politically nuetral of nations, the companies within EWL will have no trouble doing business with any country on the world. That cannot be said about companies headquartered elsewhere. The entire Swiss ETF reads like a gold-plated roster of quality regarding future business prospects.

Trading at $23.66 per share with an average volume of 543,000 shares over the past ten days, EWL has declined almost 10% in value during the past month. EWL has set off mildly bearish signals all over the place, is not loved by Morningstar and has underperormed most broad-based Europe indexes for quite some time. EWL is based on the MSCI Switzerland Index. The fund has a 52 week trading range of $27.76-$22.95 and an expense ratio of .51% with a 1.05% dividend. To most, boring and unloved. To me, a low risk opportunity to enter a stable and internationally respected roster of quality companies on the cheap.

As we continue to reach out for investment profits in what has been an unforgiving market practically worldwide, EWL may (finally) be a good choice to include in your portfolio. This ETF is not volatile, not risky, and won't make you rich. It does present the opportunity to reap modest rewards and, importantly, avoid insomnia.


February 07, 2008

February 7, 2008: Giving Investors Good Business - Barrett Business Services

I am generally not a fan of the business service sector. The vagaries of service providers in the industry often leave me at a loss to rationalize how profits can be realised except through beating to death the "squeezing the fat out" idea that wears pretty thin - especially during election year. But I digress.

Screening stocks to discover candidates for inclusion in my speculative portfolio has brought Barrett Business Services (BBSI) to my attention. Barrett Business Services offers a wide range of human resource management tools to assist small and medium-sized companies manage a wide array of employment related services. All types of on-demand staffing needs are serviced. Money management expertise is provided to the extent that BBSI actually enters into a contract to become a co-employer of the company's existing workforce and assume management for most or all of the human resource responsibilities. Control means actually being able to "squeeze the fat out" without the usual outside staffing constraints. Barrett has been successful in headhunting for specific employee positions and staffing customers to other companies. Barrett Business Services, better than most if not all other companies in the business staffing arena, has the expertise to handle almost all components of their client's business. For the small and medium-sized companies that Barrett focuses on, this is exactly what I believe owners want - leave the staffing and "fat squeezing" issues to Barrett while they pursue growning their company's product and market share.

BBSI's share price has fallen from approximately $27.00 to $17.87 per share and appears to have bottomed. Volume is about 50,000 shares/day. It has a market cap of about $200m, a PE of 11.5 and a dividend of 1.62%. The "up-down" stock pattern indicates that the stock is under accumulation. The 50 day moving average is trending upward weakly which is very good considering the market action as a whole.
Last week, Barrett successfully completed the acquisition of First Employment Services, formerly a privately-held staffing company headquartered in Tempe, AZ.

I have overlooked the sector of business where BBSI resides. My bad. This company appears to be in great shape to provide excellent and sustainable returns to investors, versus other like companies. To get a more detailed look at this company, go to


February 05, 2008

February 6, 2008: Master Limited Partnerships (MLPs) Poised For Growth

Master Limited Partnerships, or MLPs, provide investors with tax advantaged high yields and, in some instances, very attractive capital gain potential as consolidation brings an economy of scale to this rather fragmented industry. Some analysts believe that parity of MLPs with other high yield investments would imply an approximate 20% upside from their present value. Most analysts have a general rating of "Hold" on MLP securities, which has been the norm in this sector. I believe that MLPs need to be selected on an individual basis and have found several that may perform very well. Some may even qualify as part of the "going green" schemes. Enbridge Energy Partners, for instance, very recently annouced a large carbon capture initiative in Alberta, CA (Alberta Saline Aquifer Project) which has attracted the participation of nineteen energy producers in the region.

The best of the lot appear to be Enbridge Energy Partners, Enterprise Product Partners, NuStar, Boardwalk Pipeline Partners, Kinder Morgan Energy Partners and TEPPCO. Kinder Morgan Energy Partners and Enbridge have outstanding, forward-looking management teams. TEPPCO is in a sweet spot for pipeline expansion/consolidation.

The following list presents Oil and Gas MLPs you may want to research for possible inclusion in your diversified portfolio for tax advantaged income and some growth:

Atlas Pipeline Partners (APL) 8.09% yield
Boardwalk Pipeline Partners (BWP) 5.7%
Crosstex Energy (XTEX) 7.64%
Enbridge Energy Partners (EEP) 7.39%
Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) 6.67%
Enterprise Product Partners (EPD) 6.27%
Holly Energy Partners (HEP) 6.92%
Kinder Morgan Energy Partners (KMP) 6.37%
NuStar (NS) 6.94%
Plains All-America Pipeline (PAA) 6.67%
TEPPCO (TPP) 7.28%
Williams Partners (WPZ) 6.20%

Be prepared for some extra tax forms, relatively easy to complete, if you hold these in your trading account.


February 02, 2008

February 3, 2008: Claymore Shutters Eleven Funds. Good.

ETF-sensitive media reports are mourning the death of eleven Claymore ETF Funds. I am surprised that ardent media capitalists are expressing a Soviet-style view of the prudent decision to liquidate failed funds. Claymore made a smart move to jettison these stinkers, and the ETF industry is the better for it.

Claymore and just about every other ETF producer has been introducing both conservative and eclectic product for years. For the most part, these ETFs have been relatively successful. However, it is obvious that more than a few ETFs have become duplicitous within index areas and downright bizarre in other parsed sectors. I have no quarrel with being either bizarre ot duplicitous if it works for the company that sponsors the fund. If it does not work, the Soviet approach is to maintain it regardless of worth. The capitalist approach is to acknowledge failure and go on to another idea that is better received and profitable. Readers with an appreciation of Capitalism 101 should relate to survival of the fittest. Stalin would have had the executives of Claymore shot on the spot and all other employees of Claymore sent to Siberia, probably to begin a startup venture to be called Enron.

No, the demise of eleven dwarfs is not a bad signal for the ETF industry. On the contrary, it is the free market of choice that is dictating what investors will gravitate towards. More ETF products will continue to be introduced. Most will survive and prosper.Some will be discarded upon the garbage dump of unprofitable
investment ideas - along with the thousands of worthless securities from bygone eras.

ETFs are here to stay. Long live the good ones.