Friday, March 30, 2012

Montreal is Hockey Mad!

I return to Montreal in the early 1990's from living more than a decade in London.  I worked for a few years here at what is now a major aircraft manufacturer.  One of the first thing I was asked is whether I played ice hockey -- I answered no (I really don't), but out of curiosity I asked if there was a team -- even then this was a big company, imagine my surprised when I was told there was not only a team, there were leagues (plural intended!)  In fact each "plant" had something like 30 or so teams -- some were nearly NHL caliber in the playing ability.

Every night when there is a hockey game in Montreal (at the Bell Centre) its a full house.  Every single ticket has been sold, and that's despite the team playing rather badly over the past few years (decade).  In fact, the Montreal Canadian are the NHL's most profitable team in terms of revenues (and by a long shot) with Boston and NY Rangers r.

So yesterday was budget day in Canada -- with the Canadian government announcing its first "majority" budget.  Aside from the trivial (abolishing the penny) there were some substantive changes announced; reduction in 22,000 federal employees, increasing in the retirement age to 67, and reduction in the cash allocation to CBC (Canada's national broadcast company).

So guess what was the first news (and discussed at length) this morning on Montreal's radio:  You got it the Montreal Canadian's decision to replace the general manger and the team coach.   After the issues there were fully covered they mentioned the Federal budget...

Proof, if any was needed, that Montreal is hockey mad!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sometimes statistics matter

The continuing (although the end is in sight) saga that is the Republican primaries has proved to be a fascinating process and a recent article in the NYT has put even more colour to the race to the White House.  South Carolina has been the bellwether for presidential politics for more than 20 years, and yet in the recent GOP contest some of the data is hard to believe and represents a disaster for the GOP.

A few days ago I mentioned that the Hawaii GOP primaries participants totalled slightly less than 10,000 voters -- in a population basis of 1.7 million (trust me that's not a lot).  But the results from exit polls for the South Carolina primaries are even scarier (for the GOP).  First the shift in the type of voters; whereas four years ago something like half the primary voters (we are talking GOP here) were fundamentalist christians, now it's 64%.  Whereas 95% of voters in 2007 were white now its 98% (scarcely believable that South Carolina's GOP is now all white -- its says something about the GOP appeal to other races!)

It gets worse; 72% were over 45, almost 30% were over 65.

So far in the primary cycle 50.5% of all primary voters (across the entire country -- granted California and NY have not voted yet) describe themselves as evangelical christians.  Now there's nothing wrong with being an evangelical christian, but in America's population as a whole they represent less than 10% of the population, the implication here is that the views of a small minority of Americans is now forming the core of the GOP's base; which has resulted in the GOP taking a hard right turn.

This may explain why Romney is having such a hard time in getting his message across -- the "faithful" of the party are now a very concentrated minority with an agenda that has little if anything to do with the concerns of Americans in general.  Evangelicals (wealthier and better educated) have decided (with their Tea party brethren) that certain issues are core to their representatives; and that the fringe candidates are their best hope to pull the mainstream ones along (its working).  The GOP establishment that pushed hard for the Super PACs as a way to destroy the democrats have discovered that they face a doubled hedge sword; essentially three wealthy donors are fuelling the race to the GOP nomination.  Honestly, a guy like Santorum can hardly finance his campaign, but he doesn't need to raise money because one generous donor is paying for all his ads!  

The GOP is now regretting the SuperPAC strategy because it has made its eventual nominee unelectable for a vast tract of the electorate -- this is a huge disadvantage come November.  Its a shame because it means that the GOP nominee will be on the defensive -- not attacking but defending his previous statements.  It kills the electoral process, it kills democracy!

For Obama it is a golden opportunity; since 30% of the very active member of the GOP are over 65, the message has to be Medicare and Social Security must remain -- Paul Ryan's recent "budget" proposal does away with both programs -- The road to the White House for Obama has been scripted by the GOP and plays into the hands of the Democrats.

What I read

As a finance guy there are a few things you have to read almost on a daily basis; the Wall Street Journal, The Economist, The Financial Times are the three core "journals of record" of the financial world.  Over the past 5 years my reading habits have been changing.  First to go was the WSJ, frankly now that the rest of the journal (the Editorials and opinions always were) has been taking over by the loony right and now colours everything they write (I blame Newscos to some extent... but the seeds have long been there).  The FT for some reason (maybe because the problems in Europe are so severe) has become such a Eurocentric publication to become almost irrelevant to my needs.

I had a short divorce from the Economist (2002/06) but I'm now back in the fold.  The one surprise has been the NY Times that has proven to be a very good replacement for the WSJ (Ok the opinion pages has the same problem, except from the other side of the isle),  Still the NYT's financial coverage is now excellent -- and when I gave up the FT last week, it was the NYT that took its place.

I read virtually no Canadian papers, principally because their news coverage is terrible, the French side is bad (in fact the entire paper has been taken over by columnists -- at the expense of hard reporting).  I don't  really understand that here in Quebec "feelings" have replaced hard facts... The English press (Montreal's Gazette) here lived in that strange universe.  The two national papers (Globe & Mail and National Post) have strong political slants (left and right respectively) and have an axe to grind with regards to almost every issue with these polarized glasses. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

One year without a car!

Exactly 12 months ago today I moved out of my now sold "big house" in Westmount to my loft in Old Montreal.  It was also the day that I gave up my car -- actually my third ever car...

For a Canadian born in the 1960s I have an unusual relationship with cars; first as a teenager I lived downtown where owning a car was not only useless but was far too expensive, although I had great summer jobs (working in hospitals) the idea of paying a $100 dollars a month for parking was a non-starter.  As I grew older (and went to university -- less then 3 blocks for my parents's apartment), the idea of moving out was less than appealing .  So after three years of university I moved to London (England) where owning a car made absolutely no sense whatsoever (so by the time I came back to Montreal in 1994 -- I was 33 by then) I had never owned a car!  

In fact, the first car I ever owned was a 1994 Saturn -- all of three years before moving to Singapore where I was the proud owner of a white 1985 Mercedes  -- a tank, but since speed in Singapore is limited to 90km/h not really an issue.  It was a beautiful car, and old enough that it had character.

Returning to Canada my then wife and I bought a yellow Ford Escape.  I know that everyone bitches about American cars, but I've got to say that this small truck was unbelievably useful and versatile, and aside from some breaks issues (apparently a common complaint on SUVs) it was a great car.  But on March 26th 2011 I gave up my car and have been operating without one since then.

Now,  I've got to state that this move required adjustment on my part, but it was not all that painful either; first off there's a car rental agency across the street from where I live, picking up a rental (which I do often) is a very simple process (less than 5 minutes).  In fact, I rent a car almost every weekend -- so that I can go to my cottage.  The cost of renting cars for the whole year has been $ 4,000 including fuel.   I also "rented" a car from a friend last summer for a month.  Therefore, total for the year has been about $5,000.  

That's sounds like a lot for rental, but in fact when compared with the cost of ownership (maintenance, depreciation, insurance, and in my case parking) it is reasonable, and its no trouble; every Friday night the car I pick up is full of gas, clean and usually nearly new.  I go everywhere by cab or by foot (mostly the latter).   

In terms of adjustment; all my groceries are home delivered -- via an internet ordering system, there's a big grocery store less than 5 blocks away, and when I go to friends or restaurant I take a cab. The only irritant is that my friends often insisted (they've now stopped) on driving me home.  I've had to make it clear that this is a lifestyle choice and that I'm more than happy to "cab it home".  Finally, for most of the past 12 months I've walked to and from work (or used the BIXI bikes available here in Montreal).  

So this is the one year anniversary of my "car ownership free" existence, frankly I like it, I like it a lot!

What I've rented:
Passat -- Nice but lots of road noise
Fiat -- in France, it moved like a bat out of hell!
Ford Edge -- several times all kitted out but electronics tended to breakdown
Ford Explorer -- what a pig, and gas guzzler
Hyundai -- terrible car (my only Avis rental)
Jeep Grand Cherokee -- really nice car
Jetta -- also noisy, what's that all about with Volks and road noise
Ford escape -- a bit of a pig (compared to my old one)
Mazda 3 -- fine and bland
Dodge Charger -- what a terrible terrible car -- there's just no excuse for that pile of crap
Ford Fusion -- kind of forgettable
Altima -- also forgettable
Impala -- What were they thinking a real piece of junk

Overall, I prefer non American cars because they are more reliable.  To be honest all the cars I rented in Canada where low millage and in faire shape but several of the Americans had real issue with the electronics... Also why do no American sedan cars have pulldown seats, its a real pain in winter when I was shlepping my skis around.  Still the Jeep really stood out as a great SUV, it was a very nice (if thirsty) vehicle.  I've also learned to appreciate Sirius Radio -- the comedy channels are just brilliant...


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Santorum & Hawaii

Ok so watching the Republican slug fest last night, it was amazing how well Santorum did, considering that all the polls had him trailing Gingrich and Romney, turns out that he won, and Romney came in third (although it must be said it was a very close contest with each of the three picking 1/3 of the vote).  It is also telling that despite Romney superior cash position (Romney outspends two or three times over the combination of Gingrich and Santorum), that he does so poorly.  Romney will almost certainly win this contest (although people said the same thing about Clinton in 2008) but the cost may be substantial.  In this era of "video playback" it will be hard for him to walk back his comments.  He will also be unable to go after Obama's health care program (since it was largely modeled on Romney's own Massachusetts' plan).  I think it was the NYT that outlined that this primary was the cheapest in over a decade.

Most amazing was Romney's win in Hawaii, where the total number of votes cast in the primary was justs slightly less then 10,000 -- in a state with a 1.3 million population.  That's 0.77% of the Hawaiian population that cast its vote in the Republican primary -- not exactly huge support -- in fact Romney won by 2,000 votes...  In Alabama (population 4.5 million) almost 500,000 voted!

Anyway good fashion fun.