The Stingy News Weekly (08/01/2010)
"Yet you don't have to be a forensic accountant to spot trouble on a financial statement. Here are several line items on a balance sheet you should focus on to gauge a company's strength, including inventories, free cash flow, and accounts receivable."
"The subject seems to reach national awareness mainly as a question of who should 'win' when the expensive decisions are made: the insurers and the taxpayers footing the bill or the patient battling for his or her life. Budget hawks urge us to face the fact that we can't afford everything. Demagogues shout about rationing and death panels. Market purists blame the existence of insurance: if patients and families paid the bills themselves, those expensive therapies would all come down in price. But they're debating the wrong question. The failure of our system of medical care for people facing the end of their life runs much deeper. To see this, you have to get close enough to grapple with the way decisions about care are actually made."
The muni-bond debt bomb
"Like homeowners before the housing bubble burst, states and cities have gorged on debt, extended repayment times, and used devious means to avoid limits on borrowing - all in order to finance risky projects and kick fiscal problems down the road. Though the country's economic troubles have helped expose some of these unwise practices, the downturn has brought not reform but yet more abuse. Even as Tea Party protesters and taxpayer groups revolt against excessive government spending and taxes, they are paying too little attention to the gigantic state and local debt bomb. If it can't be defused, we're all at risk."
Trader's cocoa binge
"To some, he is a real-life Willy Wonka. To others, he is a Bond-style villain bent on taking over the world.s supply of chocolate. In a stroke, a hedge fund manager here named Anthony Ward has all but cornered the market in cocoa. By one estimate, he has bought enough to make more than five billion chocolate bars."
This ain't your granpa's debt
"The deficits of the next few decades are scheduled to balloon because of budget decisions -- Medicare and Social Security and tax levels -- that are decades in the making. The political process created this time bomb and the political process will have to defuse it."
Credit score is the tyrant
"A FICO score, he patiently explained, is merely a tool that lenders use to help manage their risk; criticizing it is akin to criticizing 'a saw because the construction job turned out badly.' With big banks making thousands of credit decisions every day, they couldn't possible do it without some standardized benchmark; a credit score provided that benchmark. Over the years, he added, the algorithm had gotten very good at predicting the odds of a borrower defaulting. In fact, FICO scores are not the best predictor. The amount of equity a person has in his home, his debt-to-income ratio, his job stability and his cash reserves are all better predictors than credit scores, according to Dave Zitting, the chief executive of Primary Residential Mortgage, a leading mortgage lender. And yet, he said, 'The credit score has become the line in the sand for the banks.'"
Mr. Market refuses
"I like sitting on Uncle Warren's knee while he talks about the time he swapped a bag of cocoa beans for a controlling interest in Berkshire Hathaway: 'For several weeks I busily bought shares, sold beans, and made periodic stops at Schroeder Trust to exchange stock certificates for warehouse receipts. The profits were good and my only expense was subway tokens.' Great story, Uncle Warren. I'm right now trying to buy Pfizer with a paper clip and some pocket lint"
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