Syntagma Digital
Editor, John Evans

California goes bankrupt

Falling off a cliff Gold rushes come and go in the world’s innovation capital, California, but when they go … they really go.

We’re hearing that the City of Vallejo has filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy, apparently a first for a municipality. Half Moon Bay, home to a few internet big shots, may well be next. According to John Moorlach, Orange County board chief, “This is the tip of the iceberg: everybody is going to line up for Chapter 9 in California.”

What can it mean to people on the ground when their city goes belly up? What of their assets, houses etcetera? It will be interesting to watch this pan out.

According to Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers American house prices are likely to fall 25pc from peak to trough. With between 10m and 12m households in negative equity already, there’s still a way to go.

Shares across the developed world are set for big falls too. Albert Edward Société Générale’s global strategist says, “Nowhere and nothing will be immune. We are on the cusp of an equity meltdown that will slash and shred portfolios. We see a global recession unfolding. Liquidity will drain away and crush the twin emerging market and commodity bubbles. The recent hope that ‘the worst might be over’ is truly staggering. Profits are disintegrating.”

Ambrose Evans Pritchard of the Telegraph (UK) — ever the Cassandra — says pointedly, “Britain, Europe, Japan, and China will go down before America comes back up. This is turning into a synchronised bust, after all. The Global Slump of 2008-09 is under way.”

The Bank of England and the European Central Bank are still stubbornly refusing to cut rates because of inflation fears, which will be the least of our miseries in the next two years and should abate soon as global demand falls off the much-imagined cliff.

It’s probably true that Ben Bernanke’s Federal Reserve has saved the U.S. and other countries from another Great Depression. But nothing can stop a slump now because it’s already happening.

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Our Twitterings in Syntagma

Brains I would never stream my Twitterings on any normal website, but I thought you might appreciate a small selection of them here:

Why does Twitter ask, “What are you doing?” above the write box? Why not “What are you thinking?” Better still, “Why are you doing that?”

Blackberry 9000 on horizon. Just ordered Curve. Should I cancel and wait?

UK Gov on 23pc in new poll. Conservatives on 49pc. The next election is all over.

Moneyizor. The failing eurozone:

I was disappointed with Yanik Silver’s book “Moonlighting on the Internet”. Sooo Web 1.0 Minus. Old hat Plus.

Considering buying “Problogger The Book”, but have I read it all on the site? Can anyone convince me it’s a good investment?

Twittergram sounds like a good service in embryo. See Dave Winer. Let’s hope it surfaces soon.

It’s nearly 1pm and I haven’t started my 3-hour working day. Wandering around book shops and buying an Aussie hat absorbed my morning.

Just bought Herman Hesse’s “Narcissus and Goldmund”. It’s the only one I haven’t read. Also John Buchan’s “Sick Heart River”.

Switched Syntagma to full feed. Resisted long and hard but the tide is irresistible.

Steve Rubel thinks that Renaissance Man is doomed because of the internet. The thing is, RM only uses the i/n sparingly. He reads many books.

New Mayor of London has appointed Bill Bratton to clean up London as he did NYC under Giuliani. Great Move. Congrats Boris.

My problem is I find it hard to work when the sun is shining. This is why I never moved to California.

And lots more, folks. Roll up at 140 characters of …

Please finish the sentence yourself.

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Short selling in internet business

Sinking Markets I’m probably not alone in noticing a sharp decline in revenues from standard business activities on the internet — whether that’s from advertising, affiliate sales, or direct selling of products and services.

All the weather vanes are swinging south and, with forecasts that the credit crunch could last for two more years, may stay that way for some time.

How can we buck this trend and not only hold our own, but actually come out ahead? We should look at professional investors, especially the big, successful ones.

The Warren Buffetts and George Soros’s of this world build large cash reserves during bull markets. Buffett has a war chest of tens of billions of dollars and is looking seriously at Britain and Europe for bargain buys during the downturn. There are plenty of them.

For those of us with more modest resources, Soros perhaps is a better example. He it was who sold sterling “short” during the currency crisis of 1992. He is reported to have earned over a billion dollars in a few weeks.

Effectively he bet against the pound’s ability to remain in the European tied currency system — then called “the snake” or ERM — in the face of massive speculation against it.

He was right and did Britain a huge favour by scuppering the crazy political experiment. We owe it to him that the UK is not in the single currency, the eurozone, right now.

So what is “short selling” and how might it benefit internet businesses?

When you “buy long” on a stock or investment, it means buying it for an expected increase in price. But when you go short, you are anticipating a fall.

Short selling is also the selling of a stock that the seller doesn’t own. When you short sell a stock, your broker will lend it to you. The stock may come from the firm’s own inventory, from one of its clients, or from another brokerage firm. The shares are then sold and the proceeds credited to your account.

Now here’s the rub. At some point you must cover the short by buying back the shares and returning them to the broker. If, as you’ve gambled, the price drops, you can purchase them at a lower price and pocket the difference, minus brokerage fees. For example, if you could have predicted the ups and downs of the Microsoft-Yahoo skirmishes recently, you would have cleaned up.

Of course, if the price rises, you lose. Essentially this is about winning in a falling market. With money currently chasing every store of value, like gold, oil and certain other commodities, funds are draining away from many assets and valuations are falling — just look at your house price.

Talking to a trusted broker about short selling may well be a way to replace lost sales in medium-sized internet businesses. With falling markets set to continue, turning logic on its head may be the only way to stay afloat if things get really bad.

Any investment takes a lot of nerve of course — and single-mindedness. A few months ago I was intent on going long on gold. However, another call on my cash intervened and I forfeited the many thousands of dollars I might have made on the spectacular rise in the gold price to around $1000 an ounce.

Going short is one way to survive in a falling market. As sailors say, “any port in a storm.”

Note: This post is not intended as investment advice or to influence your investment choices in any way.

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Impressions of a novice Twitterer

The Birds I’ve been on Twitter for a few weeks now, so I should give some sort of account of it, especially as I said I would.

I have remained very wary about “following” too many people — with good cause. So far I’ve only added 24, but already when I logon in the morning there are pages and pages of back messages, mainly by a handful of scribes who tell me what they had for breakfast, how many cups of coffee they imbibed yesterday, and then list all the meetings they’ve got throughout the day, before embarking on a marathon to ‘n’ fro with obscure individuals with names like Plodoff, CrankyAss and LowFalutin’ (I made those up to avoid embarrassing real people).

I’ve taken to skimming deftly through those Tweetaramas now, allowing around 5 seconds per page.

The most valuable facility is the “Replies” folder which holds all messages aimed directly at you (@Syntagma) which are very much fewer than the general river of Tweets. I could easily get by with a few Tweets a day, plus references to the Replies cache.

However, I’ve also enabled my cellphone/mobile to receive mobile Tweets. I’ve no idea what they are, but suspect they are “direct messages” which are sent as texts. I seem to have a limit of 250. Maybe after that they will charge my account. Who knows? I’ll be sure to turn it off when they do.

I do have some rather prestigious “Web 2.0” people following me. Check the list. Some of them are quite interesting in a Web 2.0 sort of way. So far no Web 3.0 followers — maybe they’re too busy semanticizing about the future.

The real problem with Twitter, as with all social networks, is its addictive qualities. It’s so easy to drown in the stuff. If you work for a living online, as I do, it’s vital to rein in your expressive tendencies. Tweets pay no bills (pun not intended).

Indeed, Tweeting will undermine your ability to post content on your sites as it can drain away your creative juices before you’ve even begun the day’s work. Faced with a long, detailed piece to write, the ease of a <140 character post spoils you for the harder task. Better to Twitter in 5-minute spurts two or three times a day. If, as many do, you attempt to document your entire day as it passes, you are a gonna. As in "gone with the birds" -- no pun intended. I'll stick with it for now, highlighting the occasional post, like this one -- using to reduce the character count of the link -- and see where it takes me. As the numbers of my followers mount, I see dimly the name of Alfred Hitchcock materializing in my mind's eye.

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The world turns and Boris emerges

Boris Johnson There comes a time in the life of every nation when a once-in-a-generation change creeps up on it unobserved.

In a single day, something grabs the country by the throat, destroys the prevailing calamity, and reveals a bright new landscape of infinite possibility.

Yesterday, that tipping point occurred in middle-England, transforming Britain overnight from a grubby little socialist island off the north-west corner of Europe, into Borisland.

In the context of massive gains by Conservatives in the local elections, London swept away its Mayor, Red Ken Livingstone — who encouraged every terrorist and barmy oddball in exchange for votes — and out popped Boris Johnson.

Boris is a classical scholar who could easily double as a standup comedian. Indeed he often chairs the popular TV panel show Have I Got News For You.

His opponents regularly portray him as “priapic” and a “buffoon”, slurs that have only embellished his aura. Being a priapic buffoon is not an easy accomplishment. Try it.

In fact, as a former editor of the prestigious and gentlemanly journal, The Spectator, he is far from making the “B” and “P” words his own.

As well as holding the Parliamentary seat of Henley, Boris is possessed of an unshakeably amiable nature and an easy approachability that makes him a huge favourite with all kinds of people.

Syntagma does not underestimate Boris as many do, nor do we underestimate the size of the task now facing him. Governing London is no job for the fainthearted or the incompetent. For now, it is enough that he isn’t Ken.

Soon though he’ll be called upon to show his mettle. We have no doubt he will succeed and lead the charge for his party leader, David Cameron, to become Prime Minister, whenever the general election is called.

Boris Johnson

Hail to Boris, Chieftan of London, the greatest city on earth — apart from Exeter, of course.

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