THE INAUGURATION

I was going to take the day off to mourn (and – see yesterday‘s column – buy some renminbi with the tax cut that Jeb Bush has decided I should have at the expense of community college students). But look: it was a great speech. It would be wonderful to end tyranny around the world and to free women, and others, of oppression. Let’s just hope we do better at it in these next four years than we have done it in the past four. Because at the rate we are currently going, both the tangible assets and the ‘goodwill’ on our national balance sheet are eroding at an alarming rate.

(And did Trent Lott really need to be the emcee of the whole deal? With Rick Santorum carefully framed as if cheek to cheek with the President during the swearing in? Funny that we didn’t see Messrs. Schwarzeneger, McCain and Giuliani prominently placed as we did at the Convention.)

JEB

Steve Golder: ‘That’s President-elect (Jeb) Bush to you, Andy! Get ready! Karl Rove is not dead yet. And there’s yet another Bush! I’d stock up on renminbi and move to FL.’

SKYPE HYPE

Andrew Meyer: ‘I agree wholeheartedly with your review of Skype. We are actually trying to drive its use into our organization. As an international freight forwarding/logistics firm with offices in 132 countries, we spend well over $1 million in phone bills every month. If we can cut this be even 20% to 25%, it will have a real effect on our bottom line.’

☞ I have graduated from merely calling Joey in France for free – Ahhhhhhh-LO? – to now having purchased 10 euros’ worth of call time ($13 or so), which, if the only person I call is Charles in China (Charles is in China and says Ahhhhhhh-LO) will buy me about seven hours of talk time to his Chinese cell phone.

(Skype calls are completely free when made to other Skype users. But if you want to call some regular phone around the world, it will set you back a few cents a minute.)

Think of it: calling China free or, at worst, for under 3 cents a minute.

A long time ago, when I first came out with my investment guide in 1978, I wanted to make the point that you should diversify. Nothing is certain in this world. So I reached for the furthest-fetched example I could think of, Ma Bell, the telephone monopoly. ‘Don’t lend all your money to Pacific Bell,’ I wrote – ‘a breakthrough in mental telepathy could ruin you.’ I was joking. There was no way you could have telephones without wires.

AVOIDING THE DOLLAR

The estimable Less Antman: ‘I would sooner raise funds for Al Qaeda than encourage someone to buy bonds. But unhedged foreign currency bonds have an extremely low, possibly negative correlation to U.S. stocks, and the correlation is usually lowest when the Dow is plunging, so it might well be a superior portfolio diversifier to the run-of-the-mill domestic bond. The no-load T. Rowe Price International Bond Fund invests in a diversified portfolio of high quality foreign bonds and doesn’t hedge back to the dollar (as most foreign bond funds do). It also has a relatively pleasant 0.88% annual expense ratio. For someone who wants to make a fairly tame bet on foreign currencies, it is an admirable choice.’

☞ I hate giving up 88 basis points – almost a full percentage point. But Less is right; especially for small investors, it’s not a bad haircut to suffer. And compared with leaving your money in renminbi at Everbank, it may look better still to some people – because while it takes no bite out of your renminbi deposit, neither does Everbank pay you any interest.

Then again, the renminbi might appreciate a lot more against the dollar than a general basket of foreign bonds.

(On CDs denominated in New Zealand and Australian dollars, among others, Everbank does pay interest.)

Todd Crowell (who worked as a Senior Writer for Asiaweek in Hong Kong for 14 years and edits his own Asia blog):

Should you buy Chinese money? Not so long ago the mere suggestion would have seemed absurd. You might as well have asked whether anyone is interested in buying Confederate money or old Imperial Chinese railroad bonds. The Chinese currency, known as the renminbi or yuan was something to paper your wall with.

But try to tell that to the thousands of Chinese who lined up outside the Bank of China in Shanghai one day in November to exchange U.S. dollars for their own currency. According to the Wall Street Journal they feared that a revaluation of the renminbi would cut the value of their dollar savings.

For more than a year, foreign pressure has been exerted on China to revalue its currency, which has been pegged to the U.S. dollar at a rate of 8.3 for more than a decade. Secretary of the Treasury John Snow has been probably the most persistent proponent of a de-linking or re-pegging at a higher rate. Beijing’s leaders have resisted all such calls, saying they will move steadily toward greater flexibility in their own good time.

Depending on whom you listened to, the renminbi is overvalued by about 15 to 25 percent. So, if the Chinese authorities allowed the currency to float to its ‘natural’ level anyone holding large amounts of Chinese money could make a killing. But two questions remain. How realistic is that expectation, and how do you get your hands on yuan?

After all, it is not that easy to open any foreign currency accounts in the U.S. Just try going down to your local bank branch and ask to open an account in, say, euros. You will likely get a blank stare in return. American banks stubbornly resist opening foreign currency accounts, claiming that there isn’t a demand for them.

That’s in contrast to other places, like Hong Kong, where you can walk into any bank branch, not just the sophisticated headquarters of international commerce but the ones in purely Chinese neighborhoods, sandwiched between the Chinese medicine store and the birds nest soup shop, and open an account in any one of a dozen currencies.

How realistic is it that one can make a profit from renminbi? To date, China has resisted revaluation pressure for a variety of reasons. The banking system is still in poor shape, and any revaluation would simply increase the value of the mass of non-performing loans, for example. But more to the point, Beijing simply does not like to be stampeded into making large moves under foreign pressure.

Premier Wen Jiabao, in response to growing speculation over revaluation, stated Beijing’s case quite explicitly recently when he said, ‘To be honest, the more speculation that is made about the renminbi, the less chance there will be a measure to change it.’

STICKY SPACE BAR

Scott Nicol: ‘According to this page, the difference between the two part numbers you sited, 08K4670 and 08K4699, is the OEM who made it. One is made by NMB, the other by Alps. It most likely doesn’t matter which one you get. Manufacturers like to have multiple sources for parts, and they generally demand the parts from their various OEMs to be interchangeable. The easiest way I’ve found to locate old parts (which for a notebook means ‘it was released a year ago’) is eBay. Just search for the part number and click on ‘search title and description.’ eBay is the only way I can keep my laser printer going. The printer is 9 years old, the toner cartridges were discontinued 5 years ago, but every once in a while a brand new, factory sealed cartridge will come up on eBay and I’ll snap it up for $20 or $30 (original price: $110).’

☞ OK, but I find if I bang hard enough on the left side of the Space Bar . . .

Have a great weekend.

 

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