I have an unhealthy pre-occupation with death.
It’s not that I fear it, it’s just that I’m fascinated by other people’s deaths. That’s something that I inherited from my mother. Not to be outdone by this site dedicated to my father, she has a website dedicated to her memory as well, but it’s more serious, befitting her personality.
My mother used to be an inveterate reader of the daily obituaries. One of her favorite comments was something to the effect of ” He’s dead? I never even knew that he was ever alive!”
That really sums up my fascination, as well, as I begin each morning not looking at the pre-opening market numbers, but rather at the New York Times obituaries, with a particular eye toward the lesser known luminaries.
When my mother was nearing her final months of life, I knew she was disconnected when she showed no reaction to the news that Bob Hope had died. A few months earlier, when told of Milton Berle’s passing, even though she was not verbal, you could see the amazement in her eyes, as she processed that information.
Bob Hope? Nothing.
What amazes me is how many relatively unsung and generally unknown people have made such incredible contributions to the world. One of my regrets in having moved away from New York is that I can no longer browse the New York Times Death Notices that detailed even more obscure local passings, not quite important enough for for the on-line edition.
Those local obituary notices contained not only gems among gems, but occasionally unwelcome news of someone I had known.
This weekend was replete with death.
Much of it gleamed from Twitter from posting by comedians. Interestingly, many of their postings are not very funny, at all.
I learned that Wally Boag, Andrew Gold and Omar Shapli had passed away.
Who? Look them up. Do I look like Google to you?
Although Lawrence Eagleburger was probably the most prominent of this weekends’ necrology news, he didn’t make the top of my list. Nor did James Arness and Jack Kevorkian.
I did find it somewhat ironic though that Jack Kevorkian chose to have his body cryo-preserved until that day that modern science comes up with an understanding of what actually kept him alive.
The passing that most caught my eye, though, was that of Dr. Rosalyn Yalow. I certainly won’t try to chronicle her achievements, but suffice it to say, she was a women, Jewish and from the Bronx. Three strikes against her, especially when it came to setting her odds on ever winning a Nobel Prize for Medicine.
My sister, who also shares those characteristics with Dr. Yalow was once told by someone that she could never go forward in life unless she got out of The Bronx.
“Good people aren’t from The Bronx”, was the bottom line.
My sister eventually did leave The Bronx and has not yet won a Nobel Prize, so I wonder how accurate that advice really was.
Being Bronx bred and having worked in the Bronx in my early professional days, Rosalyn Yalow was an institution. Not only an incredibly accomplished researcher and mentor, but also a dedicated mother and wife. More than a triple threat, she was a quadruple threat. She proved that you could have it all, despite the roadblocks.
On top of all that, in her world so strongly influenced by science and data, she was an observant person, one of deep and abiding faith.
As an added bonus, she didn’t go around killing people.
My fascination with death is not entirely paralleled in my fascination for stocks.
For starters, I chose to ignore the lesser known stocks. I tend to gravitate toward the more household names. I rarely look to capitalize on an undiscovered gem. Let someone else get the thrills of discovering one of those. I don’t want to dirty myself.
The stock market mentality in me gravitates much more toward Jack Kevorkian than Rosalyn Yalow.
The stock market mentality in me also looks at death, but in a different way. It doesn’t allow me the fascination with a life well lived. Instead, it wants continued vibrancy. I don’t really care what you did yesterday. I want to know what you’re going to do to line my account tomorrow.
While at am somewhat awed by the lives that the recently departed lived and the impacts made, I have a very different attitude toward stocks that are “dead to me”.
I do, however, distinguish between “dead money” and “dead to me”.
For me, “dead money” is just a question of poor timing or extrinsic factors effecting stock price, that I don’t believe will be corrected in the short term. I don’t mind or totally rule out the possibility of investing in those companies sometime in the future.
Right now, I look at my holdings in British Petroleum as dead money. I’ve made lots investing in shares well before the bad days surrounding the Gulf spill and after. But lately, it’s going nowhere and I don’t see anything on the horizon to prompt it much beyond $48.
Even worse, as its volatility drops, so does its options premium.
When a “dead money” stock starts picking up in volatility, then I start getting interested again.
Then there are the “dead to me” companies. The ones whose intrinsic doings seem to doom any hope for price rebounds in my lifetime. Those stocks often get recharacterized by some as “value stocks” and by others as “value traps”.
Value is great, except when it’s not real.
Take Research in Motion. And I mean that literally. Just take my Research in Motion. No amount of volatility at this point makes it appealing anymore.
Not that we didn’t have good times, but it sometimes becomes time to move on and not look back.
I hate losing money in the market. Although I sometimes rationalize selling in order to take a tax loss, I’m really not kidding myself. I’d rather be in a position to pay more taxes, than looking for losses.
Recently AIG joined the list of “dead to me” stocks. Although, at the moment, it’s one of those hideous “partial death” sort of things, because I still hold shares.
Granted, with its volatility, I was able to repeatedly sell call options on AIG, yet its spiral downward fro $40 to $28 has been too much for even my beloved covered call writing strategy to withstand.
AIG? Dead to me.
Ford Motor. I spit on you.
Don’t even get me started with YRCW. Only a class action suit can do anything for that horror. Once the darling of cable TV, you don’t really see CEO Bill Zollars on anyone’s guest list these days.
In the markets, everyone loves a winner. A high profile homerun hitter.
Zoeller? Dead to me. Not a woman, not from the Bronx and really don’t care about his religion.
Rosalyn Yalow? Always a hero to me and hopefully to a few more now.