Friday, December 5, 2014

Profits blowing in the wind

After writing the first installment, "Death", in my Death, Destruction, Poverty and Addiction series I had intended to write 3 more installments, Destruction, Poverty and Addiction. I'll still try to get to that before the year is out. Meanwhile, today I'll share an interesting alternate investment I stumbled onto.
It all began, as the story goes, when I read an article in the LA Times about alleged pollution of a river by Duke Energy. That got me curious about how much money was to be made in energy stocks that make their profits while despoiling the environment.
So I logged onto my favorite stock analysis site, the Google finance site. It's intuitively designed and simple, only as complicated as necessary to perform the task.
I looked into Duke Energy and found that it is not doing so well. It offers a healthy dividend of almost 4 percent but has been trailing the S&P500 significantly over the last 5 years.

One of the nice things about the Google site is that below the data for the company in question it provides a list of related companies. These would also be American energy companies of similar size. I clicked through the list and this is what I found.
Scana Corporation - also trailing the S&P
Southern company - trailing even further
American Electric Power Company - trailing
PG&E - trailing very badly
Teco Energy - awful
Intergrys Energy Group - (do people get paid to come up with awful names like "Integrys"?) still trailing
Dominion Resources - still trailing, though not by much
Starting to see a pattern here? It's looking like Energy is not the place to have been investing for the last five years. In fact, I was beginning to get bored at this point. But then I saw the name of the next energy company and thought, "What the hell, give it a shot and look at one more. After all it's got a nice progressive sounding name."
NextEraEnergy - What do you know! It's pretty consistently stayed a step ahead of the S&P and offers a dividend yield of almost 3% to boot.

So, okay, what's different about Next Era Energy? I quote.
"It is the generator in North America of renewable energy from the wind and sun. It owns and operates approximately 17% of the installed base of United States wind power production capacity and operates approximately 14% of the installed base of United States utility-scale solar power production capacity as of December 31, 2012."
uuggghhhh ... you mean there are bigger profits to be made in solar and wind power than in polluting rivers with coal waste? What's this country coming too?
Caveat - Next Era Energy is also a significant player in the nuclear power industry. So it's not all roses. But of ALL the companies listed above it is the ONLY one with a very significant stake in the renewable energy industry and it is the ONLY one that has consistently outpaced the S&P.
So, if I do end up investing money in a bunch of sin stocks maybe I can assuage some of my guilt by going into some renewable energy too.
Cheers! Thanks a lot!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Lessons from Dashiell Hammett

I'm reading a collection of Dashiell Hammett short stories, "Lost Stories". I highly recommend it. The book is full of jewels. Here's an example of his skill.
"A shriek, unmistakably feminine, and throbbing with terror, pierced the fog. Phil Truax, hurrying up Washington street, halted in the middle of a stride, and became as motionless as the stone apartment buildings that flanked the street."
Not only is it a surprise and an exciting way to start a story, he also creates a picture of the setting and the main character, without interrupting the action with disjointed descriptive passages. Phil Truax "strides". He is also alert, able to go from striding to "motionless" in an instant. That tells you something about him already. He doesn't walk. He strides. The setting, an urban street, lined by apartment buildings and enveloped in fog, gets described within the context of active sentences.
Here's how NOT to write it.
"Phil Truax walked up Washington Street. The apartment buildings that lined each side were nearly hidden by fog. He heard a terrified woman shriek and stopped."
The story is called "Laughing Masks".

Monday, September 22, 2014

Death, Destruction, Poverty and Addiction - or - Where to invest a wad of cash.

Death, Destruction, Poverty and Addiction - or - Where to invest  a wad of cash

In the (financial) Spring a middle-aged man's fancy lightly turns to investment returns.

What with Russia invading Ukraine, ISIL spreading like wildfire across at least 2 countries, continuing instability in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, conflicts with the Uighurs in China, Boko Haram in Nigeria ... and the increasing tenor of military crisis and forcefulness in combating these powers, I got to wondering what investment potential currently exists among the arms manufacturers. I started by looking up the 10 largest arms manufacturers.

As it happens, 7 of the top 10 are American companies, as are 5 of the top 6. Starting at the top here is what I found. In each case I compared it to the S&P500, which has risen by 42% since 4 January, 2013.

1. Lockheed Martin, up 96.7%
2. Boeing, up 54%
3. BAE Systems, up 41.5% ... British company
4. Raytheon, up 81%
5. General Dynamics, up 89%
6. Northrop Grumman. up 98.8%
7. Airbus Group, up 67% ... EU company
8. United Technologies Corporation, up 32.4%
9. Finmeccanica, up 71.9% ... Italian company
10. L-3 Communications, up 49.9%

The above returns do not include dividends, which are significant. All but one of the top 10 companies seriously outpaced the S&P500.

Conclusion? War still makes money.

In future research I will look into the profit potential of Casino companies, Alcohol makers, cigarette makers and payday loan companies.

scripturam hanc , et plorate

Friday, August 29, 2014

A Morphology of Arches

My architecture department needs to be shaken up and challenged. I'm going to launch a training program and also get everybody to demonstrate their creativity by posting examples of their favorite work (that they've done themselves) on the walls of our office (which desperately needs to stop being an office and start being a "studio").
To kick this off I've created "A Morphology of Arches", which I'll print out nice and large, and mount in a prominent spot. I'm going to ask a few of my top staff to develop similar morphologies for vaults, domes, minarets and whatever else I can think of that's relevant to the work we do.
Any of you have suggestions?
Here it is... "A Morphology of Arches".

First impressions second time around

Yes, friends, I am back in Saudi Arabia. The forces of the universe seem to have conspired to bring me back here for more...

I was just innocently sitting in the cozy living room of my cottage by the sea, in Brittany, one evening, when I had the thought, "I should probably go back to Saudi and work some more. My finances need the boost."

I didn't act on the thought but 2 weeks later I was contacted by a recruiter who wanted permission to present my CV for a post in Riyadh. I agreed.

And lo and behold, here I am!

I am now the manager of the Architecture group of Dar Al Riyadh, one of the largest Saudi owned Architecture/Engineering firms.

Be careful what you wish for!


Things here in Riyadh seem a tad bit looser than when I left here 2 years ago. In the shopping malls I see more women, and more of them are not wearing the full face coverings. Women from the large expat community, ranging from Philippines to USA and Australia rarely cover their hair. In the past, there was strict separation between "Family" areas and "Single Men" areas in restaurants. The clear division seems to be fading. There are still areas reserved for families and groups of women. The single men don't go in these sections. But the families and groups of women are free to sit in the "single men" area without question. It seems to be the norm. So, Saudi women who may still be uncomfortable being in public in the presence of men they don't know still have the option of a "safe" place to go, while also having the option to go anywhere else too. It's a significant change, a small step, but in the right direction (in my humble opinion).

Traffic is still nuts ... but perhaps not quite so crazy as before. When I left 2 years ago the city was just beginning to install speed cameras. Now they are everywhere on the main roads and people seem to be calming down.

We're on the road to nowhere

A group of us at work did an overnight trip to our branch office in Al Khobar. This meant a 4.5 hour drive across the desert to the east coast. Here are a few images from the car window. At a truck stop along the way I saw these neat clay pots. Next time we do this trip I'll probably buy a few...

Things I didn't capture with my camera -

a tree, yes, a single tree growing out there, in the middle of nowhere with nothing around it, the only tree I saw except for a couple of small groves that were obviously planned and irrigated -

the burned out hulk of an SUV half submerged in the shifting sands, 100 feet off the side of the road, couldn't help wondering what the story was there. As far as I could see there was no skeleton inside -

speed demons by the handful driving at least 120 mph along the highway, using the shoulder to pass the people like us who were poking along at 90.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Cottage by the sea - painting the exterior

In the breaks between the rain I'm repainting the exterior.
First step, remove all the shutters and restore them. I can do that indoors on rainy days. I'll post that separately.

Here are photos of the original state.

View from the south-east, with 27 in the foreground and 27bis at the right, behind
The "courette" on the south side. The tanks are the gas supply.

The north wall of the bis

North and West walls of the bis.
Isn't it lovely? I just love the multi-colored streaks. The garden belongs to the neighbor and the bis abuts it on the property line.

Bis bedroom dormer. I've already begun restoring these windows. The shutters are beyond repair and I've removed the shutters on the left.

House windows, living room below, main bedroom above

Entry door below, small bedroom above

In the first half of January, over the course of 3 days, using my trusty Karcher pressure washer I got all the dirt and loose paint off the exterior. In some places the paint came off down to the original cement plaster. I used a chlorine based solution first, let it rest for 10-20 minutes, then did the pressure washing. This kills the fungi, mosses and other micro-organisms that typically grow on the surfaces of the houses around here. I used a very dilute, weak solution because I didn't want to flood the surrounding environment with chlorine. But this treatment, along with proper maintenance in the future should keep it from looking as it did before.

Next step, patch a few small holes in the surface and start priming.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Cottage by the Sea - Restoring the Exterior - Windows

Hi to everybody. This note comes to you from Rancho Escargot. Rancher Tony waving a howdy to y'all.

I thought I'd keep track of the various house restoration projects here on my 1001 Arabian Nights blog. So here goes it.

The main thing on the agenda at the moment is to get the outside cleaned up and restored, so that it looks good for the neighbors. In December I had a fellow come around and he washed the roof with some kind of anti-fungal treatment, to get rid of the various mosses and fungi that are growing on the slate shingles. Over the course of the winter they'll die off and the rain will wash them away, leaving a clean and fresh looking roof.

In the last few weeks I've been working on the windows of the cottage, stripping off all the old paint and removing the old putty, then repainting and puttying. I'm part way through that. The windows are made of some very hard, solid, straight grained wood. I think perhaps it's larch. Anyhow, they're in excellent shape. There isn't a sign of rot anywhere in the wood. I'll be repainting the outside white but may strip the inside to bare wood and varnish them if the grain looks good.

Here are some before photos of the cottage bedroom, BEFORE.

IN PROGRESS, old putty removed and new putty going in.