Category Archives: Celebrity

Prince

Screen Shot 2016-04-23 at 1.20.24 PMA few months ago, Prince performed for two nights in my home town. It had been decades since I had seen him in concert. My heart did an extra bump. “I should get tickets!”  And then I did nothing about it. “It’s probably already sold out; scalpers tickets would be a fortune; I’ll skip it this time.” He came and went.

Little did I or anyone else know that there would be no more “next times”. Prince had taught me many important lessons. One of them was to “party like it’s 1999”. I had forgotten that one, and many others, as time passed and  I grew more serious.

When his film Purple Rain came out, I went to see it without any big expectations. Two hours later, when I walked out of the theatre, it felt like my DNA had been rearranged. (The other two times this happened was when I first saw Cher on television and when I heard Queen’s album Night at the Opera or Day at the Races, can’t remember which but instantly fell under Freddie Mercury’s spell. That white unitard, c’mon! Yes, I am secretly a gay man.)

Fortunately I look good in purple. Because, after watching Purple Rain and then buying up all Prince’s albums, I wore a lot of it for the next decade. When I wasn’t dancing myself into a sexed-up sweat to his music, I studied his lyrics for wisdom, (“If the de-elevator gets you down, punch a higher floor”). And, yes, I imagined making love to Prince under the barn roof, the horses wondering who we were, thunder drowning out what the lightening sees and feeling like a movie star. (By the way, another one who died too young,  Warren Zevon, did a stellar version of Raspberry Beret.)

Prince came into my life at just the right time. He offered up a heady mix of spirituality and sexuality and a joyful but not too innocent embrace of life. Just what a young, frisky, and a little bit soulful girl wants to hear.

Like any passionate love affair, this one was programmed to burn out. His music still moved me but I no longer sought it out. My purple wardrobe—satin jacket, suede ankle boots, sequin scarf, rabbit hair fedora, and sparkly pantyhose—had long ago been disbursed to vintage shops and charity drives. Whenever I remembered some of my fashion get-ups from that time, I had to shake my head. Did I really walk around all pimped out like that? Prince and I were exactly the same height, (actually I’m half-an-inch taller), but whereas he looked cool with his sleek black pompadour, I probably looked ridiculous with my frizzy red hair and rosacea cheeks.

I’m sorry I didn’t bother to get tickets to see Prince when he was here last. I thought I had all the time in the world. Tomorrow there’s a screening of Purple Rain at my neighborhood rep theatre. More than three decades have passed since I saw it. I’m not that girl anymore. And Prince is gone. I’ll wear a purple flower in my lapel. Thank you Prince. R.I.P.

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Ringo, Ringo

Chanel Comet Ring

Chanel Comet Ring

Dear Readers, you may have been wondering where I’ve gotten to. No new posts since the end of August? Come on girl!

Well there’s been this-and-that. Among other busyness, I got my certificate in Advanced Investment Strategies and, yes, it was as thrilling as it sounds.

The other night we saw Ringo Starr and his All-Star Band. Frankly, it could have gone either way but I gotta say, it was a rollicking good time. This man is enjoying himself so much you just have to clap along.

The former Beatle’s life is a good reminder to never underestimate  anyone, including oneself. By any measure his early life was shambolic.  A crummy Dad, poverty, severe ill health, illiteracy,  violence, lousy jobs, and a cold, damp, coal blighted climate with only two seasons: “July and Winter”. And yet, with a little luck and a lot of grit, Ringo crossed the wide chasm from have-not to mega-have.

Given his upbringing it should come as no surprise that Starr has some strong opinions about money and investing. As he told Forbes magazine, “…I always bought the house. I always felt good about that. I mean it took a long time till we made enough  money that I could buy a house. I have a business acquaintance who keeps saying “Cash is king,” and just because of where I come from, I like to have some cash. That’s all. Those are the two sort of rules I have.”

Starr’s a great drummer but what about his investing savvy? Anyone who’s come from a turbulent background will be drawn to the apparent security that owning land provides. As long as you can manage to keep the lights on, there’s no one to toss you and your belongings on the street. And, when all else fails, you can rent or sell it to put a few shillings in your pocket.

Some people consider real estate a kind of bond proxy in that it generates a predictable stream of income in the form of rents paid/saved. And, like a bond, its market value varies depending on interest rates, economic growth, and investor sentiment. But where a bond will mature and pay out its face value, a house never “matures”. You can keep it forever.

There are other differences as well. Like precious metals and other commodities, investing in real estate comes with many additional costs. Gold bars need to be transported, insured and stored, while real estate needs to be maintained and insured. It’s not portable and is heavily influenced by, not only the macro environment but also the micro, in other words, what is going on in the immediate neighborhood. Each gold bar is pretty much like the other, yet each property is unique with its own quirks.

Cash is Starr’s second investment pillar. But cash alone, e.g. stacks of bills hidden under the mattress or in a storage locker à la Walter White in Breaking Bad, is not really a smart move. For one thing, inflation erodes its value. The best way to think about cash is as a market hedge. If the stock market melts, those who have “kept their powder dry” can use it as an opportunity to buy depressed securities. It also provides a cushion during panics; you can live on your cash instead of being forced to sell assets to pay your living expenses. For this reason, in retirement, it’s good to have at least two years’ worth of basic expenses socked away in short-term GICs or actual cash.

Starr doesn’t mention other asset classes like equities, art, hedge funds, private equity etc. Cash and real estate alone are not a well-diversified portfolio for the average person, although if you have enough of each, you’re pretty much bullet proof. With a net worth north of $400 million, Starr’s well able to diversify.

Judging by his recent concert here his biggest assets are not the real estate holdings or the wads of cash—although they help. At 75, Starr is upbeat, funny, whippet-thin, fit, happily in love with his wife, surrounded by great talents and good friends, and is doing exactly what he wants to do whether it’s making music, painting, writing, acting or petting the dog.

Baby, he’s a rich man.

Peace & Love Ringo!

Rich Face Folly

photo courtesy of Getty Images

photo courtesy of Getty Images

Who remembers the 1973 film Ash Wednesday starring Elizabeth Taylor as a 50-ish housewife who goes to Switzerland for a face-lift to save her marriage? Taylor, draped in furs and marital sorrows, secretly hoofs it to a ritzy clinic in Gstaad, has the surgery, then eats, drinks, gazes at the mountains, flirts with a fashion photographer, has an affair with a hunky German, stares at reflections of her restored beauty, but, alas, never reconciles with her husband, played by Henry Fonda, who’s still boinking a much younger woman. The film is notable in two ways. First, it stars the incomparable Taylor, who is watchable in any old schlock; and, second, it marks the first time that plastic surgery came out of the closet, complete with stomach-turning scenes of an actual surgery.

The film is terribly quaint by today’s standards when practically everyone is getting shot-up with Botox and hyaluronic fillers, or sandblasted with lasers and chemical peels. The latest trend, “richface“, is especially popular with millennials.  It involves extreme dermatological procedures meant to proclaim affluence, if not common sense. Selfies of swollen lips, a la Daffy Duck, puffy cheeks or pneumatic mammaries are posted quick-as-a-bunny for comment and applause.

Far be it for me to frown on the pursuit of beauty through personal grooming. No one would accuse me of being low-maintenance in that department (or any). But hyper-grooming is a risky business subject to the law of diminishing returns. (Exhibits A: Melanie Griffiths, Joan Rivers (RIP), any TV Real Housewife…)

Insecure millennials and reality-show celebrities are not the only ones who would benefit by leaving well-enough, or mediocre-enough, alone. Investors, too, are a restive lot prone to over-grooming, or in this case, excessive trading. This proves costly, both in the short-term (frictional costs of trading and taxes), as well as in the longer-term through poor market timing and weakened compounding benefits.

In his book The Single Best Investment, Lowell Miller makes the distinction between investors and traders. He states that long-term investing is about character, depth of vision and the cultivation of patience. By contrast most “investors” are whipsawed by the drone of economists, stock-pickers and other pontificators who populate the airwaves and provoke the “Three Sirens”: greed, fear, and conformity.  This compels us to constantly tweak our portfolios, jumping from one investment to another. Market liquidity, especially for mid-and-large cap stocks, and ETFs, makes trading as easy as a few keystrokes. This is a different kind of liquidity trap and one that I’ve fallen into more often than I care to admit. It’s also why I found Miller’s book such a welcome relief. It provides a counterpoint to investment industry hysteria.

As a 6th-degree black belt in Aikido, it should come as no surprise that Miller abides by a Spartan code in investing. Hold your ground. Become neither overly excited when your portfolio is up, nor excessively gloomy when it’s down.

Feel your feelings, but don’t feel you need to act on them!

Miller is a strong proponent of investing in high dividend-paying companies, with good cash flow, and growing dividends. You’re unlikely to make a killing with them but, on the other hand, you’re unlikely to get killed. Over time, as the power of compounding takes effect, these investments show their superiority over fixed-income, such as bonds or T-bills.

Alas, time is the friend of the dividend portfolio but not of the human who owns it. Warren Buffett is fond of saying that his holding period is “forever” but he tweaks like everyone else. What’s the sweet spot? Aim to tweak somewhere between Buffett and any one of the Kardashians.