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Time To Change The Electoral College

For the second time in just 16 years the winner of the electoral college did not win the popular vote, causing tumult across America. True, the campaigns may have been run differently if the popular vote was the determinant, and Trump may have won in the end. But the country just opted for change, so what better time to update our process to elect the President than now?

The Electoral College was adopted in 1787 as a compromise to balance power between large and small states, and to give greater power to the “well-informed” elite. With the advent of 24-hour cable, the internet, social media, and a literacy rate of nearly 100%, it’s clearly time to move on and return the power to the people directly. It’s ridiculous and theoretically possible to elect a President with fewer than 30% of the popular vote, and the “loser” getting 70%, because the “winner” got 270 electoral votes.  There is also no requirement for the electors to vote the candidate they were elected to support, so the outcome is in the hands of 538 party insiders.  Because so few states are “in-play” the candidates essentially ignore large states like California, Texas and New York and concentrate on tiny areas of swing voters.

The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC) is an agreement among participating states to cast all their electoral votes for a candidate once that candidate wins the popular vote, regardless of the results within their state. However, it still retains some of the mechanism of the electoral college. It has been adopted by 10 states plus D.C. and will only come into play if enough states enter the compact and have a total of 270 electoral votes among them.

Whether we go the NPVIC route or amend the constitution, I can’t fathom how anyone would disagree with “most votes wins,” as this is how we elect over 100,000 political offices in every other election in America. The Senate, with each state regardless of size getting two representatives, is the balancing mechanism in place for small states to have more say in government.  We don’t need another.

Let’s act now, otherwise we will never fix this antiquated system.

 

Ray Link is a retired CFO of FEI Company and currently serves on the board of directors of three high-tech companies. He is a CPA and holds an MBA from the Wharton School and is a lifelong registered Republican

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Posted in Politics

Update on the Baker’s Dozen

Back in late January when the markets were in turmoil and oil was falling, I recommended 13 stocks with a history of increasing dividends. If you had invested $100,000 equally in these in January, today they would be worth $118,450 for a gain of 18.4%, on top of which you would have collected another 1.7% in dividends for a total return of over 20% in less than 6 months. All while we witnessed a U.S presidential primary circus, numerous terrorist events and the Brits electing out of the euro-zone.

While this is a rather extraordinary return and not likely to repeat soon, it does show that you can find value in good quality stocks regardless of the market conditions.

I haven’t sold any of these positions, but lightening up on some may be in order, so consult your financial advisor or CPA to get their opinion.

On a separate note, I am becoming increasingly concerned with Tesla in light of its planned merger with SolarCity. I do not agree on the synergies between the two and do not like the fact that Elon Musk essentially controls both so I am withdrawing my bullish view on Telsa.

Below are the results from the baker’s dozen stocks:

Bakers Dozen

 

Ray Link is a CPA and holds an MBA from the Wharton School. He recently retired from FEI Company (NASDAQ: FEIC) where he was the CFO for 10 years. He is on the on the Board of Directors of FormFactor (NASDAQ: FORM), Electro Scientific Industries (NASDAQ: ESIO) and nLight Inc.

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Posted in Investing

New Writing Website Launched

Hey Bizzy Lifers –

As you may have noticed posts to the blog have been a bit sparse – but I have been concentrating on my fiction writing career for the last eighteen months, and just launched my updated site. Please visit for free and low cost stories – and a few funny pictures of Dick Cheney. You can find it here. Hope you enjoy!

The Writing Site

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Posted in Livin' Large

Going Electric

Two months ago my wife and I decided to make the leap to an electric car.  Neither of us drive very much, and we were looking for a compact but spacious city car that would be easy to park.  I’d been very interested in electric cars for some time (so much so that we had ordered the new Tesla SUV to be delivered in the fall of this year which will become our big commuting vehicle) – but while shopping we came across the new BMWi3.  We loved it so much from the minute we saw it that we purchased one that day, and recently logged the 600th mile on the car.

Unlike many electrics that are modified from gas engine vehicles, the i3 was engineered as a full plug-in electric.  We were still nervous about the potential of being stranded with dead batteries, so we ordered ours with a range extender – a small gasoline motor with a 1.5 gallon tank that turns on to produce electricity if you run out of battery. Theoretically, this gives the car a range of around 120 miles, plus you could continue to stop for fuel to keep going. Fortunately, I think our fears of running dead were overblown.  We have never had to use the motor, as the car averages 40 to 60 miles per charge, which is more than we ever go without plugging in.

Image result for bmw electric car i3

The i3 can be a bit of an acquired taste style-wise – but we love it, as do many people we encounter.  It is available in a few wild color combinations, but we chose a more subtle gray, black, with blue trim combo that is unique and elegant.  The interior is simple, but incredible.  It is dominated by a large screen that tells you everything you want to know about the car, and its entertainment system.  BMW wanted to make a totally green car, so most of the materials are recycled.  Since there is no transmission or engine, the vehicle is incredibly spacious for its small footprint.

With a downloadable App on your smartphone, you can check many of the car’s functions, and set a departure time that will pre-heat the batteries for better performance if it is cold outside.  The key fob memorizes the driver’s preferences, so when I get into the car the mirrors, radio station, and other functions are customized to me.  It also has a parallel parking feature that allows the vehicle to literally park itself.

Image result for bmw electric car i3

Driving the i3 was the biggest pleasant surprise.  My wife calls it “the golf cart”, because it is so maneuverable and fast to accelerate.  You can shoot in and out of traffic, and it fits in the tiniest of spots – though it has plenty of room inside.  In fact, we can easily carry several bags of groceries and our yellow lab.

You can purchase a special 220 charger that will charge the batteries in a few hours, but we just use the overnight charger that comes with the car, which has worked great for us. You can also download an app that shows all available charging stations, and we were surprised to see how many there are – literally hundreds in Portland, including many at grocery stores and malls – so you can shop and get a quick charge, usually for free.  In fact, the other day while looking for parking in a busy neighborhood we found  a free spot in on the main street reserved for electrics, with a free fast charging station.

Since purchasing the car we have spent less than two dollars on fuel (topping off the small tank), with no negligible increase in our electricity costs.

This is an ideal city car – not well suited for long commutes – but if you live less than ten miles from work it could be ideal.  I broke my normal rule about avoiding any kind of car financing – and leased the BMW – primarily because I believe the technology will radically improve over the next few years.  Also, I think BMW anticipates this concern, and to move cars they have a very good $399 a month lease for a car with a list price of over $50,000.

All this just points to the inevitability of more electric cars (see Ray Link’s Tesla article below). The Tesla SUV we look forward to receiving this fall will have a range of over 200 miles per charge, and literally maps out a route with charging stations if you want to take a long trip.

To read more about electrics, consult the blog  www.theroadelectric.com.

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Posted in Livin' Large

High Flyers – Part 2

On February 7th I recommended three high-flying tech stocks that had taken a nosedive. So two months later, how’d they do?

 

Tesla

On February 8 Tesla was trading at $148. Today it’s a bit over $250 for a gain of about 70%, likely related to new products. First, the new “Model X” SUV is getting rave reviews and Tesla announced increased production capacity. Second is a major order from Hawaii for the Tesla Power-Pack, a new elegant battery providing electric storage for homes and businesses. Third, and most importantly, they introduced the “Model 3”, a mid-priced car (about $35,000 before any tax credits). It’s so hot customers camped in front of dealerships and in the first week alone Tesla received 325,000 reservations backed by $1,000 deposits, all without a dime spent on advertising. While undoubtedly some of these customers will back out, this is the most successful new car launch since the 1965 Mustang which had 418,000 orders over the course of a year. Tesla’s orders for the Model 3 have a potential value of well over $12 billion.

Tesla is quickly becoming the new Apple with a cult-like following and enthusiasm for its products not seen since the iPhone. Pundits claim Telsa’s brand value now exceeds BMW which should lead to repeat purchases and pricing power.

So why should you consider this stock now? While the stock is up 70% since my blog, it’s still below its 52-week high and now there is significant data to support the current valuation.

At some point over the next 10-20 years I believe electric sales will surpass gasoline cars and no one will benefit more than Telsa. They have the best design engineers and are miles ahead on battery technology and packaging and those are the keys to success. No one is even close to where Tesla is today. They will face challenges to ramp up capacity while still posting losses but they are a lot like Amazon which needed time to reach its potential.

While Tesla may still trade lower over the next year, this is one to watch and consider as a long-term investment.

Twitter

Popular with social media users, Twitter has struggled to gain advertising revenue similar to Facebook and Google, largely due to its limited 140 character “tweet” format. It has traded as high as $53 in 2015, on February 8 was just under $15, and today around $17.40 for a gain of 16%. Pretty good compared to the S&P 500 which is up only 1%.

My analysis is that Twitter will continue to be challenged with high costs, huge losses and slow growth in advertising revenue resulting in volatility in its share value. My opinion on the company is unchanged which is to hold off until they figure out a viable business model.

GoPro

GoPro is famous for inventing rugged compact cameras used by adventure seekers.  The cameras enjoyed immediate success and hit a high of $87 and last year traded as high as $65. On February 8th it was $10.50 and today $13.90 for a gain of about 32%. They recently hired an executive from Apple to improve its designs.

GoPro’s current valuation is compelling and in my opinion still worth a look even with the run-up. They have been profitable and do still own the segment. They have ample cash on hand, no debt and should be able to weather the storm.

I personally own both Tesla and GoPro but not Twitter. With any investment decision I encourage you to discuss this with your investment advisor and CPA to see what’s suitable for you.

 

Ray Link is a CPA and holds an MBA from the Wharton School. He recently retired from FEI Company (NASDAQ: FEIC) where he was the CFO for 10 years. He is on the on the Board of Directors of Cascade Microtech (NASDAQ: CSCD), Electro Scientific Industries (NASDAQ: ESIO) and nLight Photonics.

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Posted in Investing