Here are the latest efforts in the In-Cog-Nito Needs Money Fund.
Ameritrade sucks, don’t use them. They may be fine once you get up and running, but the initial process to get up and running is too slow for my taste. The main complaint I have is that they won’t let you short stocks without the funds clearing. And with ACH transfers (they claim it’s fast in their ads), it takes a good five days for the funds to settle. Starting without the ability to short in this market is like boxing with one hand tied behind your back; it takes away half your arsenal. Their interface is also too cluttered for my taste. I was a huge fan of Datek when I first started: clean web interface, excellent value in terms of commission costs and margin interest, fast and responsive customer service. Ameritrade bought Datek a few years ago. I tried also going the route of re-opening my old Datek account. It was nice to see my old trading history still preserved there – a stroll down memory lane. Other than that, being a part of Ameritrade, their customer service seemed to have gone down hill as well. Obviously, I’m a more demanding user than your average investor, but it never hurts to have the best available tools at your disposal eh? So learn from my first mistake, don’t go with Ameritrade.
I opened an account with Scottrade today, and so far so good. They remind me of what Datek was about five years ago. Clean interface. Good fast service. Super easy forms Ė they have the shortest options form I have seen of any brokerage (1 page). Their web interface is something else. Technology and competition have really upped the ante in what is available to the general public in terms of information, execution, and trading tools. One nice bonus is that you get free Dow Jones real time news. Itís not really that important for most investing purposes unless you day trade, but itís nice to have nonetheless. Seven bucks a trade and relatively low margin rates are more pluses.
The positive of not getting up and running fast is that itís a week off to get up to speed on the feel of the market. Iíve set up a free trial subscription to Realmoney.com Ė part of Jim Cramerís Thestreet.com. It was my go-to site for news when I first started. They still put out good articles, but Cramer seems to have lost some of his luster Ė i.e. his performance isnít that good now, based on his Action Alert Portfolio. My biggest thing is that Nortel (NT) makes up about 6% of his portfolio. It seems Nortelís comeback was based on accounting shenanigans. I remember one of Cramerís constant sayings years ago was that he kept a post-it on his screen saying accounting troubles = sell. Seems he is not keeping to his own advice, and itís hurting him. Scott Moritz over there is still putting out good articles, primarily because he seems to be a natural skeptic, or at least he writes with a healthy dose of skepticism Ė something you always want in the market. One thing I really donít like about Realmoney.com now is that they try to nickel and dime you on all their services. If you want to read articles from so and so, you have to pay this much each month. Itís good for their business obviously, especially if the writer has built up a loyal audience. But itís quite a sticker shock for new investors. The best thing I liked about them back then was that a newbie can get strong opinions, and everything they had to offer about the market for twenty or thirty bucks a month. An excellent value proposition. But if you want everything now, itís going to cost ya.
So what to do? One thing I liked back then was the Yahoo message boards on stocks. Theyíre easily available and are strong opinions for free. Most of it is garbage, but I like to think of them as pre-cursors to blogging. People literally write whatever theyíre thinking, and if you take it on the merits of their arguments backed up by facts and links to relevant articles, itís useful. The main thing, as with all news, is you have to pick up the ability to filter out the good, and toss the bad. Don’t get me wrong, message boards shouldn’t be your main source of information. But there’s more than one way to look at it.
A couple of stock specific thoughts: VIP and MBT are getting hammered. Their charts arenít too pretty. I would let it play itself out before going long on these two.
BOBJ (I pronounce it Bob-Jay): Iíve been itching to short this one. Their being a French company is reason enough. But the chart ainít too pretty, and it looks like theyíre starting to have some accounting problems. Theyíre a business software firm, and from what I know, software firms tend to be aggressive in their revenue recognition to boost sales. BOBJ has close to 80% gross margins, but only 1% of their revenues make it to their bottom line. This says to me thereís a lot of waste going on. The SEC has an informal probe with regards to their deferred revenue, or backlog. It wonít be a fast short, but itíll be interesting to see how it plays out. Iím guessing if thereís smoke, thereís a fire somewhere.