Do you remember the thrill you felt (if you are of a certain age) when sound first came to the movies? Talkies! Or when color first came to TV? Disney! Well, thanks to the genius of my web master, Marc Fest, this column may from time to time now show a graphic.

But first three follow-ups . . .

1. THE YAWNING KID

Anyone dying to know who yesterday’s yawning kid was . . . click here. It’s free, but you have to register to read the story. If you didn’t get to see the clip (the server was overwhelmed), try this link. And for David Letterman’s afterword tying it all together . . . here.

2. THE THIRSTY JACKASS

Forty-six years later and my brother still remembers this story – much better than I. It was a camel, not a human, he reminds me, and he was leading the jackass through the desert, in sort of a mentoring, ‘I know the desert’ role. The jackass kept asking for water; the camel kept advising patience.

‘Water, Camel, water!’ said the jackass.

‘Patience, Jackass, patience!’ said the camel.

‘Water, Camel, water!’ said the jackass.

‘Patience, Jackass, patience!’ said the camel.

‘Water, Camel, water!’ said the jackass.

‘Patience, Jackass, patience!’ said the camel.

‘Water, Camel, water!’ said the jackass.

‘Patience, Jackass, patience!’ said the camel.

At which point (for those of you too busy to have clicked the link, Tuesday), my father finally broke in – I was 10, and did not know where my 14-year-old brother was headed with this story – demanding, ‘Get to the point, for crying out loud.’

To which my brother – already convulsed with laughter even as he blurted it out – replied, ‘Patience, Jackass, patience!’

(Sorry, but I felt it was important to correct the record.)

3. THE TEMPLETON RUSSIA FUND

Suggested here 16 months ago at just under 20, it closed last night just over 46. TRF is a ‘closed-end’ fund, which means it can sell at a discount to the underlying value of the stocks it owns (specifically, a 9% discount 16 months ago) or, when people are excited by its prospects, a premium, as it does today (about 11% – you are paying about $1.11 for each dollar of Russian stocks it owns).

I’m more keen on 90-cent dollars than paying $1.11 for a dollar.

And because closed-end funds charge hefty annual management fees, a discount is probably deserved.

(If $10,000 worth of Russian stocks are worth $10,000 . . . by definition . . . and you hope they might appreciate at, say, 10% or 12% a year . . . what are they worth if you have to pay 2% a year to the mutual fund company that manages them for you, nicking your hoped-for 10% to 8%?)

That said, an 11% premium isn’t entirely wild, and I continue to think that, as a small corner of your portfolio, this bet on Russia can provide useful diversification. Maybe sell half and buy it back the next time there’s a major Russia crisis and/or the fund trades at a discount to net asset value?

Click here for a site that provides lots of information on closed-end funds. At top left, you can enter a symbol like TRF and see the discount or premium at which it sells.

Normally, unless you have a good reason, I wouldn’t buy a closed-end fund unless it’s selling at a significant discount.

But does that mean you should definitely sell TRF, at its 11% premium (or IFN, the India Fund, at its 9% premium) to buy, say, GF, the New Germany Fund, at its 19% discount?

All you need to know to answer that question is how the Russian, Indian and German stock markets will fare relative to each other over the coming years . . . how the ruble, mark and rupee will fare relative to each other over the same period . . . how the discounts and premiums of these funds will widen and contract . . . and how all that would add up compared, to, say, just keeping your money in a large jar in the kitchen (or, safer, but earning about as much, in a large jar down at the bank).

Which is a long way of saying . . . who knows?

THE GRAPHIC

And now (after 2,000 unillustrated columns in this space) a graphic that someone sent me for your consideration. I’m not saying it’s this simple. But I do think it’s a perspective worth noting.

 

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