DC schools are "dropout factories"!

A High School Diploma Ought to Mean Something


A national push to boost high-school graduation rates began a decade ago, spurred by fears that urban high schools had turned into "dropout factories." The federal government made graduation rates a benchmark of schools' progress. In some districts, graduation rates affect the pay of principals and school administrators and determine whether underperforming schools are shut down.

By some measures, the focus on reducing dropouts has worked. Today, 84 percent of 17-year-olds graduate from high school, up from 75 percent in 2008. But federal investigators found that California and Alabama had miscalculated their numbers. And officials in Washington, D.C. -- one of the country's leading laboratories of education reform -- disclosed that one-third of graduating seniors in 2017 didn't fulfill the requirements for a diploma, but got one anyway.

In most rich countries, students finishing secondary school take national exams. Yet in the U.S., only 12 states require students to pass tests of academic proficiency in order to graduate. Exit exams are casualties of a misguided assault on standardized testing, to which members of both parties have largely surrendered.

Critics say exit exams disproportionately hurt low-income students and minorities, who are more likely to drop out if they fail. That's an argument for investing more in helping all students meet high standards. Policy-makers should emulate states like Massachusetts, which combines demanding graduation exams with targeted funding to assist students who fall short. The state's graduation rate has risen for 11 straight years, to 88 percent -- more than four points higher than the national average.

The goal of exit exams should be to ensure students are prepared for productive lives after high school -- whether in college or the workforce. High schools should set different "cut lines" on exit exams to distinguish between college readiness and basic proficiency. To promote career-oriented skills, they should give students the option -- as the state of Ohio does -- to fulfill a portion of their graduation requirements by obtaining an industry-certified credential.
Comment: Image from Pink Floyd "Another Brick in the Wall"


If GE drops to $ 10 ... I'm buying 1,000!

JPMorgan analysts see GE's earnings forecast coming in 'a step lower.'


JPMorgan wrote in a note that it thinks General Electric's earnings per share will ultimately come "a step lower," as the $1 estimate isn't realistic. According to JPMorgan, the figure doesn't include continued restructuring or asset sales that will go to the company's balance sheet instead of its shareholders. "GE isn't a safety stock in a more volatile market," JPMorgan wrote. There is "zero" potential from cost cuts at the company and any possible breakup of the firm would result in "dis-synergies." Analysts cut their price target to $11 from $14, representing a 23.8% downside for shares from their closing price Tuesday. JPMorgan's new target is also well below Wall Street's average target price of $17.20, according to FactSet data.
J.P. Morgan Analyst Says GE Is Headed To $11. Here Are 5 Reasons To Ignore His Assertion

  1. First, there was no new negative news. His new $11 target is a huge 20+% decline from his previous $14 target, set only last month. His rationale, like the flawed Barron’s article, is simply a regurgitation of what everyone already knows and what he has already said. (See “General Electric: Barron's Shouts 'Beware!' That Settles It - Time To Buy” for explanation about the Barron’s article.)
  2. Second, General Electric and its stock are in an area where contrarian investors and fund managers see potential. However, analysts, value investors and value fund managers see only risk. The value gauge to contrarians is high “negativity,” not some low fundamental ratio or two. A downtrend propelled by negativity reverses when a company and stock are at their worst. It can then rise when contrarian buyers have replaced selling value investors. That is where GE is now.
  3. Third, a good analyst, while important to the investment process, is not necessarily a good manager. Investment managers depend on the information that analysts evaluate, but then the managers must make the decisions of why, what, when, and where (price) to buy, sell, pass or hold. Tusa’s arguments and visions cross over into manager territory.
  4. Fourth, analysts are not doctors or lawyers – they are Wall Streeters. Therefore, we must always question what we hear/read. Their thoughts and suggestions can be sincere, but they do work in a fast moving, action-oriented environment that can get into an emotional mindset.
  5. Fifth, Wall Streeters sometimes rush things along too fast. Tusa’s timing, ahead of these three events (including his own firm’s conference the next day) means any relevant information they provide are not in the now widely publicized $11 price. He can certainly go lower, but what if $12 or $13 or staying at $14 appears to be supported?

Comment: Meanwhile .... Warren Buffet is in the hunt 


The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Comment: a helpful resource. Image source

Despite his opposition to the label, Camus addressed one of the fundamental questions of existentialism: the problem of suicide. He wrote, "There is only one really serious philosophical question, and that is suicide. Deciding whether or not life is worth living is to answer the fundamental question in philosophy. All other questions follow from that." Camus viewed the question of suicide as arising naturally as a solution to the absurdity of life. In The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus seeks to identify the kinds of life that could be worth living despite their inherent meaninglessness.
His view is clear: Nice image but represents a worldview he denied:

Vikings clean house - 3 QBs to leave

Vikings to say goodbye to Case Keenum, Sam Bradford, Teddy Bridgewater


The Vikings’ three free-agent quarterbacks are out of here.

According to multiple reports Tuesday, Sam Bradford will sign with the Arizona Cardinals, and CBSSports.com reported that Teddy Bridgewater is finalizing a deal with the New York Jets.

Case Keenum, Minnesota’s starter last season, agreed earlier in the day to a two-year, $36 million deal with the Denver Broncos; he is expected to sign Wednesday, the first official day of free agency.

The mass exodus by the three quarterbacks is logical considering the Vikings are on the verge of signing Kirk Cousins to a three-year, $84 million contract. The Vikings have been after Cousins for several weeks and only regarded Keenum, Bradford and Bridgewater as options if a deal for Cousins fell through.

Bradford will sign a deal worth $20 million for 2018 with an option year for 2019. After making $18 million in 2017 and playing in just two games because of knee issues, he actually gets a raise that would bring his career earnings to $134 million for his first nine NFL seasons.

After entering the season with a 9-15 career record as a starter, Keenum went 11-3 as a starter last season for the 13-3 Vikings and led them to the NFC Championship Game.

Bridgewater was expected to be the Vikings’ quarterback of the future after being taken with the last pick in the first round of the 2014 draft. He was the starter in 2014 and 2015 before suffering a torn ACL in the final preseason practice of 2016, and has played in just one game since.
Comment: Broncos will be tough with Case!


Sherwin-Williams: Not cheap but a bargain

SHW: A Bargain in Disguise


Sherwin-Williams (SHW) is almost never cheap, at least compared to the benchmark legendary investor Peter Lynch gave us (a P/E ratio of 15 or less), but with a P/E of 22.9, it’s well below its five-year average of 26.9.

That’s a solid entry point for the paint maker, which is set to close its $11.3-billion merger with Valspar (VAL) in the first quarter. That will make it the world’s biggest paint company, with revenue of $15.6 billion.

It’s a big buy for Sherwin, whose market cap is $25.0 billion, but VAL will start chipping in to EPS right away (it earned $4.35 a share in the last 12 months), and Sherwin expects to wring $280 million in savings out of the combined firm in the first two years, rising to $320 million a year thereafter.

Sherwin should also cash in on US construction spending, which jumped 3.4% in October, and Donald Trump’s infrastructure plans; the new firm will get about 75% of its revenue from North America.And don’t worry, none of this should drag on Sherwin’s soaring dividend, which has more than doubled in the last five years: SHW’s payout ratio (or the percentage of earnings paid out as dividends) is just 26.7%

  • The article is from 12/2016 so is a bit dated.
  • They've closed the Valspar deal (a Minneapolis company)
  • The dividend is low at .88%
  • The payout ratio is also low at 17.79%. 
  • Kathee likes their paint - used for our bathroom remodel last year and our den remodel this year
  • Pricey at $ 415, but I bought a couple of shares
  • I've loved their logo since I was a kid

Nvidia - the "other" Cryptocurrency play

Bitcoin and Nvidia Prices Soar in Sync


Nvidia products and Bitcoin seem to be interrelated. Both are key elements that are powering the world’s transition to the 4th Industrial Revolution.

“Technology is changing the nature of relationships between industries and creating a new range of challenges. For example, technology is now interconnected with retail, healthcare, and banking,” according to a PWC report.

In this connection, then, is there some degree of correlation between the price trajectories of Nvidia stock and Bitcoin? Nvidia stock is hovering at its highest-ever stock value.

As of writing [Sep 5, 2017], a share of Nvidia is over US$170, up from less than US$20 in 2014. As shown in the chart below, Nvidia’s stock price climbed significantly when Bitcoin miners started to order graphics cards specifically tailored for cryptocurrency mining, causing Nvidia shares to jump in value.

  • Pays a small dividend (chart below)
  • Nvidia chips are also used for autonomous driving 
  • James Cramer renamed his dog Nvidia
  • I dipped my toe in ... had some free cash and bought all of one share



SpartanNash - SPTN - my small-cap dividend investment

SpartanNash - SPTN


  • Beaten down (down 45% over last 52 weeks)
  • Forward P/E ratio of 7.73
  • Dividend rate of 3.92%
  • S&P SmallCap 600 component
  • History: It is an American food distributor and grocery store retailer headquartered in Byron Center, Michigan. In terms of revenue, it is the largest food distributor serving military commissaries and exchanges in the United States. The Company’s core businesses include distributing food to military commissaries, independent grocers, and corporate-owned retail stores in 44 states, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East. SpartanNash operates 167 retail stores. In 2013, Spartan Stores and Nash Finch merged and formed SpartanNash company. They supply groceries to stores in 44 states, seven countries and to many of our US military commissaries and exchanges
Comment: My oldest son is an accountant there.


Tyson - My "Chicken Run"

Why I used my tax refund to invest in Tyson:
  • While the dividend is low (1.6%) (beats what I'm getting at the bank)
  • The payout ratio is also low - 11.84%
  • The forward P/E ratio is 10.64
  • It's not currently in our portfolio (so some diversification)
  • It rules the roost: " The company is the world's second largest processor and marketer of chicken, beef, and pork after JBS S.A. and annually exports the largest percentage of beef out of the United States. Together with its subsidiaries, it operates major food brands, including Jimmy Dean, Hillshire Farm, Sara Lee, Ball Park, Wright Brand, Aidells, and State Fair. It supplies Yum! Brands chains that use chicken, including KFC and Taco Bell, as well as McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, Wal-Mart, Kroger, IGA, Beef O'Brady's, small restaurant businesses, and prisons". Source
  • Chicken is growing in popularity: "Today chicken is cheap, and it has become America’s favorite meat. In the land of the hamburger, we eat more of it than beef. And while we enjoy turkey at Thanksgiving, over the course of the year we will consume five times as much chicken."
  • I like it myself: This past week I had a chicken sandwich for lunch once, and grilled chicken breast once for dinner

Comment: The movie "Chicken Run" is a real hoot! Think "The Great Escape" on claymation! As an investing aside: CALM did not turn out well for us.


Common sense Gun Control

  • Tighter security: Why Inner City Schools Don't Have Mass Shootings Excerpt:

    High School students aren’t confident about much, but my ad hoc focus group of black, Latinx, and Arab-American students are very confident about their safety in our school building on the Detroit’s west side. Every morning students arrive an hour to thirty minutes in their uniform before the first bell to wait in a line to pass through a metal detector, have their backpacks searched, and get patted down by security guards. It is just not students — every parent, guest, even the postman walks through those metal detectors, gets their photo taken, and is greeted by a security guard who escorts them to the main office, right by our deputized police officer’s desk. Our Detroit school is a fortress. Every door is locked from the outside and equipped with sensors. Leave it open too long and the alarm screeches through the hallway like a cat in heat. All the windows have bars, and thick glass with wire mesh running through it. Shooting it out would be a waste. Only one of the metal six front doors can be opened without a pass-card or a key. And none of the side doors are ever unlocked. There are cameras at every intersection, and patrolling security guards. The main throughway doors have magnets which can be tripped by an alarm and instantly shut and lock, quarantine whatever part of the building you need it to. If there were a shooter, he would not be able to freely roam the building if that particular alarm was tripped. This isn’t The White House, this is inner city schooling.
  • Raise age to purchase rifles like AR-15 to 21: Lawmakers, raise age to purchase rifles like AR-15 to 21 Excerpt:

    Washington lawmakers still have a few more days this legislative session to make a decision that would save lives. Passing a bump-stock ban, as they did on Tuesday, was a good start. Raising the age limit to 21 for purchasing semi-automatic rifles, like the AR-15, and strengthening the background-check requirements for those purchases would be a great next step. The Senate is considering a bill to do just that this week. Lawmakers should approve Senate Bill 6620, which also includes some school-safety measures, before the Legislature adjourns on March 8. The bill would not prohibit 18- to 20-year-olds from purchasing bolt-action hunting rifles and shotguns. It would also start a grant program to help school districts improve emergency-response systems. And it would give students and others a new way to anonymously report violent threats.
  • Ban bump stocks: Bipartisan group of senators introduce bill to ban bump stocks Excerpt:

    Citing the Las Vegas Strip shooting, a bipartisan group of Western states’ senators, including Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, filed a bill Thursday to ban bump stocks, which increase the rate of fire of semi-automatic rifles to nearly that of fully automatic weapons. President Donald Trump has directed the Justice Department to finish a review of bump stocks and write regulations that would ban the use of the devices like machine guns. The senators applauded that move, but said they would take it a step further. “I am encouraged by the president’s directive to the Department of Justice to regulate these devices, but a temporary regulatory fix is no substitute for permanent law,” said Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.
  • FFL checks for gun show purchases: (this article questions the value - here for a counterpoint): The Facts about Gun Shows Excerpt:

    Despite what some media commentators have claimed, existing gun laws apply just as much to gun shows as they do to any other place where guns are sold. Since 1938, persons selling firearms have been required to obtain a federal firearms license. If a dealer sells a gun from a storefront, from a room in his home or from a table at a gun show, the rules are exactly the same: he can get authorization from the FBI for the sale only after the FBI runs its “instant” background check (which often takes days to complete). As a result, firearms are the most severely regulated consumer product in the United States — the only product for which FBI permission is required for every single sale. Conversely, people who are not engaged in the business of selling firearms, but who sell firearms from time to time (such as a man who sells a hunting rifle to his brother-in-law), are not required to obtain the federal license required of gun dealers or to call the FBI before completing the sale.
  • I'm ok with this - but will be challenged in court: Trump says take guns first and worry about 'due process second' in White House gun meeting Excerpt:

    President Trump said Wednesday he favors taking guns away from people who might commit violence before going through legal due process in the courts, one of many startling comments he made in a rambling White House meeting designed to hash out school safety legislation with a bipartisan group of lawmakers. "I like taking guns away early," Trump said. "Take the guns first, go through due process second."
  • Arm some teachers: (Counterpoint article): Opinion: Idea to arm teachers with guns to avoid school shootings? That gets an F Excerpt:

    The legislation being proposed by the Florida State Senate says a voluntary Florida Sheriff’s Marshall Program will be put in place, and teachers “may carry concealed, approved firearms on campus. The firearms must be specifically purchased and issued for the sole purpose of the program. Only concealed carry safety holsters and firearms approved by the sheriff may be used under the program.”
    Comment: My nephew is a school teacher (Nevada) and former USMC Captain. A perfect candidate!
  • Require a Character Reference for a Gun Permit: How to Write a Character Reference for a Gun Permit Excerpt:

    In many cities and townships, applicants must provide at least one and as many as three or four character witnesses alongside their application for a gun permit. There is no one effective format for a character reference letter, since every city and town is looking for slightly different information. Generally, you're reassuring the police department that you've known the applicant for a long time and consider him to be of good moral character.
  • Require ethics training: The components of an ethics training program Excerpt:

    In business, ethics is equal to standards of conduct. Most companies have a code of policies and procedures relating to compliance with standards of conduct by employees. A comprehensive training program that defines and explains this policy is absolutely essential for your company
    Comment: I'm thinking of an eight hour class. Religious organizations (and others) could offer
The next monster: