Why Americans Don’t Celebrate May Day

I had a colleague from South Africa ask why we don’t celebrate May Day as a holiday in America. The answer, of course, is that May 1 was the date chosen by the communist leadership of the Second International  to be the International Workers’ Day. It’s kind of anathema to celebrate international communism here. Just sayin’.

And I still contend that if we celebrate working slobs with Labor Day, we should also have Entrepreneur Day as a holiday. Except that no one would celebrate it, because all the entrepreneurs would be at their desks working, building the future.

For what it’s worth, I celebrate neither May Day nor America’s late summer Labor Day. I make sure to do at least a little work on both days…just as a matter of principle.

The Economics of Disney’s Frozen

Frozen fever” largely passed over my house.  As the father of two young boys, I’m a lot more likely to have Teenage Mutuant Ninja Turtles playing on my living room TV. Still, even my rowdy boys have watched Frozen a few times, and I’ve caught my wife singing Let It Go more than once.  Frozen is the highest-grossing animated movie in history–bringing in more than $1.2 billion–and it is selling more merchandise than ever.


Research firm Panjiva had some interesting statistics to share on the Frozen phenomenon:

As you may have seen earlier this week, Disney (DIS) released that they have sold over 3 million Frozen costumes this year, and the latest data from Panjiva shows that fans aren’t ready to “let it go.”

According to an analysis of shipments from July to October (the time when retailers stock their shelves for the holidays), the Disney blockbuster is freezing over retail shelves this holiday shopping season, with shipments being up more than 570 percent in 2014 compared to last year during the same time period:

  • Frozen is taking over retail shelves: From July to October, there was a total of 1,508 shipments of Frozen products, up more than 570 percent from last year (Almost doubling the total number of shipments for 2013 Disney favorites, Sofia the First and Doc McStuffins, combined)
  • Elsa v. Anna: Queen Elsa has proven she is the true ruler of Arendelle, beating out her sister Anna by 46 percent in number of merchandise shipments
  • The major characters support demand: While Elsa might be dominating merchandise shipments, the other major characters aren’t doing to shabby in terms of demand. Elsa, Anna and Olaf all saw more than 1,000 percent increase in shipments in 2014 compared to the same time period in 2013.

Now, you should consider the time periods involved here.  No one was buying Frozen merchandise this time last year because the movie hadn’t come out yet.  All the same, it’s interesting that enthusiasm for the merchandise appears to be stronger than ever even though the movie hasn’t been in theaters for months.  Anecdotally, I’ve noticed that half the elementary-school-aged girls trick-or-treating in my neighborhood were dressed as Elsa…and a fair number as Anna.

Bottom line: Don’t be surprised if Disney enjoys a blowout quarter.


Happy Guy Fawkes Day

guy-fawkes-maskRemember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, ’twas his intent
To blow up the King and Parli’ment.
Three-score barrels of powder below
To prove old England’s overthrow;
By God’s mercy he was catch’d
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Hulloa boys, Hulloa boys, let the bells ring.
Hulloa boys, hulloa boys, God save the King!

–Traditional English nursery rhyme

It doesn’t get much press on this side of the Atlantic, but it should.  Today, November 5, is Guy Fawkes Day, the day that the English remember one of their most notorious villains or one of their most celebrated heroes, depending on their mood or ideological leaning.

On this day in 1605 Fawkes, a disgruntled religious minority tired of official abuse, attempted to take down the entire English government—king, ministers, parliament and all—by blowing up the House of Lords with a large cache of gunpowder during the State Opening of Parliament.

Fawkes was discovered and promptly executed, but he is remembered—in typically dry English humor—as the last man to enter parliament with honest intentions.

Yesterday, Americans elected a new congress.  I expect the new Republican-controlled Senate to be at least a little more business-friendly than the one it is replacing, and now that the Republicans control both houses of congress, they will be able to control the legislative agenda.

We’ll see what they do with it.  The optimist in me hopes to see the American energy markets opened to export and a reform of Obamacare…and maybe a new free trade deal or two.   But I have a feeling that instead we’ll get a lot of populist grandstanding about “securing the border” and “protecting marriage.”   Oh, and probably a lot more pork-stuffed military procurement deals.  You know, since our armed forces, which are bigger than the next 17 countries’ militaries combined, aren’t nearly big or well funded enough.


Tonight, pour yourself a drink and offer a toast across the Atlantic. Wear a Guy Fawkes mask if you feel like it, or burn a Guy effigy or the effigy of whatever politician irritates you the most. But tomorrow, tune out the political noise, roll up your sleeves, and focus on your investing.


The Most Expensive City in the World is in…Angola?

“Cost of living” can be a relative term, as I’ve discovered in my time in Peru (see “Investment Insights from a Peruvian Beach“).  Yes, in Lima I could hypothetically live on a small fraction of what I pay here in Dallas, but there is a difference between living and living well.  Living in one of  Lima’s chic neighorhoods, with all the assorted lifestyle trappings, would actually be more expensive than my current living expenses in Dallas.

Still, I was shocked by CNN’s recent listing of most expensive cities for an American to live.  The usual suspects made the list: Hong Kong, Singapore, Zurich, etc.

But the two most expensive cities on the list were Luanda, Angola and N’Djamena, Chad.

Angola? …and Chad??

In Luanda a club sandwich and Coke will run you nearly $20, and a two-bedroom apartment will set you back $6600 per month.  And this in a country with a GDP per capita of just $6,300.  And even this is skewed by oil wealth; most Angolans survive on far less.

So…what’s the story here?

It’s really quite simple.  While locals live modestly, you can’t reasonably live like a local.  In order to live in Angola safely, you need security and have to import items you might normally take for granted.

Check out the slideshow if you found this as interesting as I did: 10 Most Expensive Cities.

¡Viva San Fermin!


Perhaps I’m just getting nostalgic with age, but there is something magical about Pamplona’s annual festival.  Cities and towns scattered across the Spanish-speaking world have their own running of the bulls, but there is only one San Fermin.

My neighbors probably hate me, but I take down my American stars and stripes a few days after July 4 and, from July 7 – 14, fly either the Basque  ikurriña or the Spanish Osborne bull flag you often see at Spanish soccer games.



It’s a reminder to me that it’s healthy at times to be a little bit reckless.  I will never run with the bulls again; I’m about ten years too old for that now, and couldn’t stand the thought of my wife having to explain to my two sons that their imbecilic father was gored or trampled to death in a sad attempt to recapture his youth.  (Incidentally, the fiesta just reported its first goring this morning.)

But I’ll never forget how it felt, in July of 2004, and how my legs wobbled afterwards from the surge of adrenaline.

Best wishes to all the fermines this week, and let me pass on one piece of advice:

The path that the bulls take makes a sort of “Z” shape. You absolutely DO NOT want to run near the two bends in the Z.  Bulls, like battleships, cannot turn on a dime, and the animals tend to slip and fall down at those turns.  That is when they get dangerous.  When the bulls are running as a herd, there are not particularly dangerous unless you happen to fall down in front of them.  But when a bull gets separated from the herd, he gets disoriented…and angry.  So, when the bulls slip at the bends in the Z, that is when they lash out and gore anything in site.

The best place to run is in the final straightaway, as by that point the bulls have reformed their herd and the street is a little wider, given you more places to jump and hide if need be.

¡Viva San Fermin!