There's an old Buddhist saying that, loosely translated, goes:
"Even if a Fool lived with a Wise man all his life he would still not
recognize the truth, like a wooden spoon cannot recognize the flavor of
Let me say this my fellow Fools, my fellow wooden spoons, relish the knock! The soup is immediately consumed. That spoon on the other hand, well, it becomes a tool for perpetual enrichment.
So rock the ladle. Be one with the stir. Now, it's true that you might want to pinch your nose as you serve up this month's batch. Cream of March has a bit of a rancid aftertaste to it. We're down almost 15% so far this month. That includes nearly a 5% dip today. Creamed. March Badness. We're being consumed by the consomme.
The tech stock market twisted its neck around and spat out some split pea soup like a possessed Linda Blair having a bad head day. The Nasdaq lost 3.91% today. Techies love a good soup. Unfortunately, the Soup of the Day was gazpacho.
One bright spot in the market -- and in our Port -- was Excite@Home (Nasdaq: ATHM) climbing higher as AT&T (NYSE: T) announced that it would increase its voting stake in the company. The mother of all Bells extended and enhanced an existing agreement that will now find AT&T with 74% of the voice while owning just 25% of the shares outstanding. Is AT&T out to buy the company outright? It's possible. Starting next year fellow shareholders Cox (NYSE: COX) and Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA) will be able to sell their 8% stake to AT&T. But why would AT&T buy the cow when it can milk the voting rights for free?
Waiter, there's a cow in my soup metaphor!
So, back to gazpacho we go. The tech market was served up chilled and some of our holdings were wolfed down. eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY) dropped about 11% on the day. The online auctionhaus fell despite teaming up with Visa for its credit card facilitating Billpoint announced earlier this month.
An amusing sidebar to this news was a typo that went uncorrected in the press release this morning that billed eBay as the world's leading personal "training" community. It even claimed the phrase as a trademark. Naturally it should have read "trading" community, but it's an interesting Freudian slip. The average eBay session lasts twice as long as the average surfing session as a whole. eBay is training loyalty all right, and doing a mighty fine job of it, too.
Earlier in the week, in another eBay news item that got more press than it probably should have, eBay helped track down and ban a fraudulent member. Is this really news? The integrity of eBayers is surprisingly solid. The company receives just one complaint for every 25,000 transactions served. But, every day, more than a half million new auctions go up. Even Utopia has a jail cell, right?
You already have a few unethical eBayers bidding up their own items. It's an eBay no-no but they're easy to spot. If you see some bland Internet domain name go on the block for a 10-day auction, set up as a "private auction" (where the buyer names aren't revealed), and the domain name is bid up just shy of the reserve price the moment it goes on the block -- well, it's probably fraud. Why eBay can't mine for this is beyond me, but in many of these cases the seller has every intention of delivering the goods as long as a sucker (I mean, interested party) bids next.
The case this week was of someone in California who was not going to part with the electronics promised. The amusing twist here was that the cyberthief had played it honest for a while to build up a solid feedback rating. The successful deals done up in the past apparently made the culprit more trustworthy. Oh no, I can see it now. Reputation transplants! Honest eBayers with blue and red star ratings will auction off their profiles on eBay itself. Can you imagine what a flying star (i.e., 10,000 positive feedbacks) will fetch? eCitizens, I implore you not to give up your good name. Read a good book. Bid on a Beanie Baby. Have some, well, soup.
I think I'll fast. Slowly. It's not easy to muster much of an appetite when your largest holding at the start of the month, in our case Celera (NYSE: CRA), is now taking the bronze. Bad show.
As of yesterday, Celera has been spliced to the tune of a 56% decline for the month. As a matter of fact, our non-Celera portfolio had grown from $632,595.60 to $706,537.50 -- an 11.7% gain. eBay has been hot. America Online (NYSE: AOL) has come back to where it was pre-merger announcement.
But it's not right to deck Celera out in Jimmy Stewart duds bridgeside while Clarence yells out "Jump!" from the heavens. Remember, our cost basis on Celera is split-adjusted to just below $40 a share. This is not about one company in or out. It's not about one month up or down. Besides, we're kind of fond of Celera. It's a wonderful life.
It's not as if DNA is going DOA. When Bill Clinton and Britain's Tony Blair proposed patent limits on genomic research two weeks ago, it grounded Celera like a teen caught sneaking out the bedroom window after curfew.
But how realistic are the implications? Has either country ever tugged on the belt of creative endeavor and given it a wedgie? I mean, without reason of course. It's not as if Blair is going to go to Paul McCartney's farmhouse and request that his songs be made public domain just because it's not right to profit from something that has enriched so many. Is Clinton going to head out to Skywalker Ranch and seize the Star Wars franchise?
"George, I'm sorry about this," he'll explain. "You can keep Jar Jar Binks, though."
Maybe I'm naive, but in the same way that the market always rewards excellence, I feel that public opinion will eventually side with the innovators. Otherwise, the tens of billions that are pumped into biotech discovery research year after year will dry up. The company that does its homework and shows its math will not be sold down the river to the wannabe in the next desk down.
Please don't flood me with examples that prove otherwise. I'm ignoring the chap who just shouted, "Microsoft, you dunce!" Yes, I did hear you. I just want to cling to my naivetï¿½ security blanket a little longer. I know, cases exist, but they remain the exceptions to the rule. As Celera builds a better fruit fly, I trust the company will reap the rewards that come with the applause.
Will it always be erratic? Quite possibly. But we'll accept the short-term gyrations in pursuit of the long-term veritas. That is why we're the wooden spoons in the broth.
There's an old Buddhist saying that, loosely translated, goes:
- Mar 29, 2000 at 12:00AM
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