Wednesday/ all-time low for the 10 Year T-Bond

Well, the Dow Jones Industrial Average index tried to close in the green today, but failed. The next few weeks — and even months — may get ugg-ly for investors.

The 10-Year US Treasury Bond’s rate closed at an all-time low today: 1.310%. So: many investors are putting their money into these bonds to seek safety from the stock market sell-off, driving the rates down.

Here’s a 1979 $10,000 Treasury Bond, gloriously printed on paper, and look at that rate: 10 1/8 %. These days transactions and records of ownership are all done electronically, in the same way that paper share certificates for company stock ownership are no longer issued. I wonder if we will see 10% interest rates again here in the United States, in my lifetime, given the tight hands-on approach of the Federal Reserve, that we have become accustomed to after 2008. [From Wikipedia].

Tuesday/ on coronavirus watch

‘Have you visited China in the last three months?‘ inquired the check-in person at the doctor’s office of me, yesterday.  ‘No, I have not’, said I, not sure what they would have done if I answered that I had been.

They need to add many more countries to that question, soon. Even the 2020 Summer Olympics is now said to hang in the balance, and it may be canceled altogether if the spread of the COVID-19 virus is not under control by May.

China still has the vast, vast majority of confirmed corona cases (77, 658), but the list of countries with confirmed cases is growing: USA 53, Canada 10, UK 13, Spain 2, France 12, Belgium 1, Austria 2, Croatia 1, Italy 229, Sweden 1, Finland 1, Russia 2, Egypt 1, Iraq 5, Iran 95, Afghanistan 1, Oman 2, Egypt 1, United Arab Emirates 13, India 3, Sri Lanka 1, Thailand 35, Vietnam 16, Malaysia 22, Australia 23, South Korea 977, Japan 159. [Source: www.aljazeera.com].
Here’s Fake President Trump, upset only because the coronavirus makes him look bad (nevermind that people are suffering and dying). His administration dismantled protocols and federal agencies for coordinated responses to outbreaks (that Obama put together for the ebola virus), and so now they are foundering in their response to the virus, and lying about it.  

Monday/ ‘No Bears Allowed’

I walked by the newly completed The Point apartments at 1320 University Street in the First Hill neighborhood today.

‘No Bears Allowed’, says the website of their pet policy. May we add: no bears allowed into the US stock market, as well. (Dow Jones down 3.6% today).

The architect had to squeeze the building into a triangular ‘flatiron’ shape. Those apartments on the narrow end have a great 270° view onto the streets below. Upper floor residents should be able to see a lot of the First Hill and Seattle downtown surroundings.
A poured concrete beam at the base of the apartments. The building has 11 one bed-one bath apartments, and 6 two bed-two bath apartments. These apartments are pricey: a one bedroom goes for $2,550/ month.  In late January, the parliament of the Berlin city-state in Germany, approved a five-year freeze on rents and a price cap of €9.80 per square meter — or about $1 per square foot. Seattle’s metro area is way, way (2x, 3x) beyond that kind of rate with these new apartments that come online.

Sunday/ billionaires under siege

The US still has by far the most billionaires in the world (585, compared to China: 373, Germany: 123, Denmark: 6, South Africa: 6, if Elon Musk is counted in that 6).

So are billionaires to blame for income inequality? Are they, indirectly so? How does one stop a country’s economy from producing billionaires? (Probably something like a marginal tax rate of 90% above $5 million of annual income).

Anand Giridharadas (political commentator, TIME Editor at large), says this 2020 Presidential election in the United States will be a referendum on wealth and capitalism, that has gotten a little out of control/ completely out of control, in the United States of America.

My first reaction to the street sign graffiti sticker of Jeff Bezos (sticker from here in Capitol Hill in Seattle), asking ‘How many homeless people does it take to make a billionaire?’ (ugly Old English font, BTW) was .. um, that sounds like an extreme stretch of logic; a gross oversimplification of the problem of homelessness. But then I saw this statement made about San Francisco: “There are 101 homeless people per billionaire. The idea that such a problem could persist in a city with 74 billionaires is astonishing.” – Andrew Yang & Anand Giridharadas in a discussion posted by @UBI Rising on Twitter. They may have a point there.

Saturday/ (looks like) it’s Bernie

It sure looks like it’s going to be Bernie Sanders that will go up against Trump in the 2020 Presidential election, after his run-away win in Nevada’s primary on Saturday. With 60% of the votes counted there, he has 46%, and Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren follow, each with less than 20% of the vote.

Now there are #PleaseNotBernie hashtags starting to appear on Twitter posts, similar to the #NeverTrump movement in 2016.

Well, about that, writes opinion columnist Ross Douthat in the New York Times:
“A world where Sanders is on track to get a clear delegate plurality in late March is probably a world where he gets a majority by May .. which means that the long game of delegate accumulation and superdelegate machination is probably irrelevant, and the only question is whether it’s possible to unite a not-Sanders vote across the first three Tuesdays in March.
To quote an ancient NeverTrump proverb: ‘Good luck with that’.”

 

Friday/ signs of spring

These little crocus flowers are harbingers of spring, now around the corner here in the North.

Crocus is a genus of flowering plants in the iris family of some 90 species. They grow out in early spring from corms: short, vertical, swollen underground plant stems, somewhat similar to bulbs.

Thursday/ it’s 02 20 2020

Here’s a yard sign put up by a Bloomberg supporter here in my neighborhood. I also saw ones for Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Mayor Pete, but none for Joe Biden or Amy Klobuchar.

There was yet another Democratic presidential primary debate last night, and Mike Bloomberg appeared on stage for the first time. Alas, he seemed ill-prepared for the incoming attacks from Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders (for his lavish spending of his own money on his campaign, and the toxic work environment women had to deal with in the days when he still ran his financial services company).

Does he still have a shot at the candidacy? The Nevada caucuses on Saturday should be a good indicator. Front-runner Bernie Sanders escaped mostly unscathed, Elizabeth Warren put in a strong performance, and Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar had a few heated exchanges. Joe Biden was not really engaged by the other candidates: not a good sign. It probably means that they no longer see him as a threat.

Wednesday/ the Volunteer Park Water Tower

It was another beautiful day here in Seattle.
I wanted to get a clear view of Mt Rainier, and the observation deck of the Water Tower here in Volunteer Park on Capitol Hill was a good place to go to get that. And hey, no entry fee: it’s free of charge.

The Water Tower in Volunteer Park was built in 1906 and is 75 ft (23 m) tall.
A Maurits Escher-esque illusion: does this staircase inside the Tower go up, or down? (It goes down).
The observation deck inside allows for 360 degree views. The sun was low on the horizon right by the Space Needle, though, and so I will have to go back in the morning some time, to take a nice Space Needle picture.

 

Ta-da! The Mountain* is completely out, a cloudless blue sky above it.
*Mt Rainier, a Strato-volcano mountain in the Cascade Range | Elevation 14,411 ft (4,392 m) | Last eruption: 1894.
This is the entrance/ exit facing Prospect St. MCMVI, says the Roman numerals: 1906. The brown signpost on the right says ‘Climbing Prohibited’. So that must mean that rock climbers have tried to scale the uneven outer brick wall with its toeholds and finger holds!

Tuesday/ lots of sunshine

There was sun and blue sky all day here in the Emerald City.
Even so, it was only 47 °F (8° C).

As I walked down to the Capitol Hill Library today, though, bright sunlight would bounce off windows from the buildings nearby and onto me, and I instantly felt the radiated heat on my face.

The Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope has produced the highest resolution image of the sun’s surface ever taken. In this picture, taken at 789 nanometers (nm) wavelength, we can see features as small as 30 km (18 mi) in size for the first time ever. The image shows a pattern of turbulent, “boiling” gas that covers the entire sun. The cell-like structures — each about the size of Texas — are the signature of violent motions that transport heat from the inside of the sun to its surface. Hot solar material (plasma) rises in the bright centers of “cells,” cools off and then sinks below the surface in dark lanes in a process known as convection. In these dark lanes we can also see the tiny, bright markers of magnetic fields. Never before seen to this clarity, these bright specks are thought to channel energy up into the outer layers of the solar atmosphere called the corona. These bright spots may be at the core of why the solar corona is more than a million degrees. [Photograph: Highest resolution photo of Sun (NSF) as of January 20, 2020 NSO/AURA/NSF]

Monday/ Bernie in Washington State

I followed some of Bernie Sanders’s stump speech that he gave in the Tacoma Dome tonight. A seasoned campaigner, he has it down pat, of course: denouncing income and wealth inequality, the corporate owners of the media, and advocating for free healthcare, college education, and so on. 

‘And by now, the Democratic establishment should be getting nervous as well’, he also said. (I think they are very nervous. I like most of what he says, but I’m kind of nervous as well). As he left the stage, Neil Young’s ‘Keep On Rockin’ In The Free World (1989)‘ played.

The Wikipedia entry for the song explains its background: ‘The lyrics negatively reference the George H. W. Bush administration, then in its first month, quoting Bush’s famous ‘thousand points of light’ remark from his 1989 inaugural address and his 1988 presidential campaign promise for America to become a ‘kinder, gentler nation.’ The song also refers to Ayatollah Khomeini’s proclamation that the United States was the ‘Great Satan’ and Jesse Jackson’s 1988 campaign slogan, ‘Keep hope alive’. The song was first performed live on February 21, 1989, in Seattle with The Restless, without the band having rehearsed it’.

Sunday/ baby black bears

Distribution map for black bears in North America. [Source: bear.org].
Below is a cute picture of two abandoned bear cubs found on Dept. of Natural Resources-managed land.

The tweet does not give the location where they were found, and it could have been anywhere except in central Washington State.

Saturday/ Macy’s storied run in Seattle ends

Department store Macy’s will close some 125 of its 600 stores over the next three years, and the one in downtown Seattle is among those.
I went there just to check it out the store one last time last week, and lucked out. They sold my favorite type of Levi’s jeans for a 40% discount, and still had one in my size.

Plaque inside the Seattle downtown Macy’s. Josephine Patricia Brennan was born in Chicago in 1871 and married Edward L. Nordhoff in 1888, at age 16. The couple moved to Seattle and opened the dry goods store that became The Bon Marche (French for ‘The good market’). Their store survived the economic depression of the early 1890s and boomed with the gold rush at the end of the decade. Mrs. Nordhoff remarried and remained active in the management of the store after the death of her first husband. The Bon Marche later became Bon-Macy’s and then just Macy’s. Josephine McDermott passed away 100 years ago this month.
This is a liquidation sale: everything must go, and at whatever they can sell it for. Many items were 60% off, and another 10% on top of that, in some cases.
Even the mannequins and shelves are for sale. Mannequin is of course a French word, but the origin of the word is Flemish, from ‘manneken’, meaning ‘little man’, or ‘figurine’.

Friday/ proteas for Valentine’s Day

Nice to see South African proteas* here in my local Safeway (grocery store).
These may have been offered specially for Valentine’s Day.

*Pronounce ‘pro-tee-ah’.

Protea is both the botanical name and the English common name of a whole genus of South African flowering plants. 92% of the species are native only to the Cape Floristic Region, a narrow belt of mountainous coastal land from Clanwilliam to Grahamstown, South Africa. Nowadays, proteas are cultivated in some 20 countries, but it is time-consuming, and proteas need a Mediterranean or subtropical climate. [Information from Wikipedia].

Thursday/ all the things that money can buy

Geld wat stom is, maak reg wat krom is. – Afrikaans saying.
Rough translation: Money that’s mute, makes right what’s blight.


I did not even mention ex-New York mayor Mike Bloomberg in the Iowa and New Hampshire Democratic primaries. He was not on the ballot there, and is still a shadow/ dark horse candidate for President.

But Bloomberg (78) is one of the wealthiest men on the planet (net worth: $60 billion). His strategy is to skip the early states, and make a splash on Super Tuesday (Mar. 3). From there, pull all the levers he can, using vast sums of money, to gain the nomination. (He is already running ads on TV and social media).

It might just work, in spite of (completely valid) objections:  Bloomberg would essentially buy the Democratic nomination with an onslaught of TV ads, social media campaigns, and out-of-pocket contributions to charities and organizations in turn for their support. (A fine line, that he knows how to toe, since that’s what he did to get elected as Mayor of New York for the third time).

The famous Bloomberg Terminal, invented and first offered in 1991 by Mike Bloomberg. It is an indispensable tool for financial services professionals (and others). Users monitor and analyze real-time financial market data and place trades on the electronic trading platform. Annual fee: $20,000. As of October 2016, there were 325,000 Bloomberg Terminal subscribers worldwide. [Picture & information from Wikipedia].
Spoiling for a fight: Trump tweeting a trademark, sneering attack on Bloomberg, and getting as much in return. ‘I have the record & the resources to defeat you. And I will’.

Wednesday/ ‘too much wretched excess’

.. that is what Charlie Munger, vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and Warren Buffett’s longtime business partner, said of the US stock market today.

‘The S&P 500, Dow and Nasdaq close at record highs as coronavirus fears ease’, says Yahoo Finance. Well. The fears may have eased, but is the global economic impact of the virus really known? As always, only time will tell for sure.

The Shiller PE Ratio is the Price/Earnings ratio based on average inflation-adjusted earnings from the previous 10 years, also known as the Cyclically Adjusted PE Ratio (CAPE Ratio).  The average is about 15 (market not overbought or oversold), and we’re sitting at 32. So if one believes in investment fundamentals – and why should one not? – yes, the stock market is expensive, and it may be due for a big correction. Curious that this graph does not highlight the height of the dot-com bubble in early 2000, or the onset of the Global Financial Crisis in late 2007. (Those were monster declines, but relatively short-lived. Look at the mid-60s to mid-80s: a down trend that lasted some 20 years).
And then there is the case of electric car maker Tesla, with its parabolic move up just last week. That pushed its market cap to well over a $100 billion valuation, the first U.S. automaker to meet or surpass that gargantuan figure. (Toyota is worth some $200 billion).

Tuesday/ the New Hampshire primary

The New Hampshire primary election for the 2020 Democratic nominee for President, went largely as forecasted. The top two candidates are the same ones as in Iowa (Sen. Bernie Sanders & Mayor Pete Buttigieg). Neither are from the so-called political establishment. Former Vice-President Joe Biden came in a distant 5th. Ouch.

Next up is Nevada (Feb. 22), South Carolina (Feb. 29), and a whole bunch of States on Super Tuesday, March 3.

The pundits still see 78 year-old Sanders as most likely to become the Democratic Party’s nominee, but man! is he the one to beat Trump?
Sanders has a fervent and devoted following, but in the General Election he’s going to take relentless and withering criticism for being a democratic socialist. His detractors (Republicans, Trump, corporate America) will shorten it to ‘socialist’ and paint him as an evil destroyer of the American dream.  No matter that the American dream is dead*.

*Over the last 50 years in the United States –
A child’s chance of earning more than his or her parents has plummeted from 90 to 50 percent;
Earnings by the top 1 % of Americans nearly tripled, while middle-class wages have been basically frozen for four decades, adjusting for inflation;
Self-inflicted deaths — from opioid use and other drug addictions — are at record highs;
Nearly one in five children in the US are now at risk of going hungry;
Among the 35 richest countries in the world, the US now has the highest infant mortality rate and the lowest life expectancy.
[Source: Vox.com]

Bernie Sanders during his victory speech, and the results of the New Hampshire Democratic primary election on the right. Sanders regularly boasts that he is not taking money from corporations or ‘billionaires’ (his umbrella term for rich people). He also has volunteers and supporters from his 2016 campaign that he can mobilize again, across the country –  a big advantage over newcomers such as Buttigieg.  [Source: New York Times online edition, Feb. 11, 2020].

Monday/ tally-ing up the inventory

I ran into Tally the inventory robot in the grocery store last night. I think it’s a good thing — letting a robot do the labor-intensive and repetitive process of physical inventory checking.

‘Yes, but does the store not have a count of the SKUs* on the shelf in its database, anyway? one might ask.  The store does, but human shoppers take items off the shelf and misplace it when putting it back, or – rarely, I hope – steal it. Or employees could unpack items in the wrong location, or forget to remove sale prices, and so on.  So there are always discrepancies between the SKU count in the database and the physical count on the shelf.

*Stock keeping unit

Tally the robot can read RFID (radio-frequency identification) tags, and she can also use AI-powered image recognition to identify different products on the shelf.

Sunday/ Denny Way’s new apartment towers

I went down to check out the construction at 1120 Denny Way this afternoon – a complex with a large footprint, and two apartment towers.

At its completion it will be the biggest apartment building in the history of the city with 1,179 apartments.

I was standing at the corner of Denny Way and Boren Ave N when I took this picture. That’s a 12-story luxury hotel in the middle, with the two 41-story towers on its sides.
Here’s a picture from a nearby crane cam, that shows the proximity of Lake Union. Apartments in those top floors will have killer views, but it could come at a price. I suspect that elevator rides up and down from the top floors could easily take 10 to 15 minutes during busy times in the day. Hopefully the elevator design called for dedicated elevators for say, each section of 10 floors. [Picture found on skyscapercity.com, originally posted on Flickr on Jan31 by an anonymous user called Test_Name].

Saturday/ fun and games in Cape Town, for charity

It was all fun and games in the Cape Town Stadium on Friday night, where the charity tennis match (‘Match for Africa’) between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal took place.

Comedian Trevor Noah and billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates joined them on the court, to start the proceedings with a set of doubles.

Cape Town Stadium, made into a tennis arena. The stadium was filled with some 55,000 spectators. The US$3.5 million raised for education and sport for kids in Africa, far exceeded expectations. This is a curtain-raiser doubles match, between Nadal & South African-born comedian Trevor Noah on the left, and Federer & Bill Gates on the right. [Picture by Mark Sampson @MarkSampsonCT on Twitter]. 
A scene from a long rally in the Nadal-Noah vs. Federer-Gates match. Federer was running back, chasing down a lob, and is doing the very difficult between-the-legs ‘tweener’ shot that is always a crowd pleaser. The players were all fitted with microphones, so that the crowd could hear their banter as they played. It absolutely does not matter, but Federer & Gates won the one-set match by 6 to 3.  (Gates is a little bit better at tennis than Trevor Noah, and for their part, Federer and Nadal just kept the ball in play, until one of the other two made a mistake).

Friday/ wash your hands, frequently

Wow .. the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) is making a lot of trouble in mainland China, and especially in Hubei province. The whistleblower doctor that sounded the alarm originally, Li Wenliang, has passed away in Wuhan. He was only 34.

The local authorities in Wuhan have bumped up the number of new makeshift hospital beds from 26,000 to 36,000. More people have also tested positive in that cruise ship under quarantine in Yokohama, Japan. There is a severe shortage of facemasks in China (the cheap ones are not very effective, but I guess it gives the wearer a psychological boost).

So far – outside of China – the spread of the virus seems to be contained, though. Even so, courtesy of the Port of Seattle website .. 

  • Wash your hands frequently, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then throw the tissue in the trash and wash your hands.
  • Avoid contact with people who are sick, and stay home when sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid non-essential travel to China.
  • Check-in with your airline if you have questions about your travel itinerary.
  • While not protective against the coronavirus, it’s not too late to get an influenza vaccine, since flu season can last into spring.
Guidelines from the CDC from Americans coming home from China (14 days of self quarantine). Non-citizens will be quarantined for 14 days. Seattle-Tacoma airport has identified a site (a firefighter training center in North Bend, far from any neighborhoods) for asymptomatic foreigners that might still arrive from China. The travel industry and hospitality industry along with all economic activity in China is taking a serious hit from the virus.