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Monday Morning Quarterback: How's Your Aspen?


Societal acrimony rears ugly head in Colorado ski resort.


It was a last minute decision as 2008 edged to an end. "Doughboy", an old school Minyan who is the freestyle director of the Aspen Valley Ski Club, invited me to join his family for a few days in Colorado .

While I planned to lay low in the big city and quietly welcome 2009, I took him up on his offer. I hadn't skied in a few years but always enjoyed the crisp mountain air. A few days on the slopes with a good buddy would surely be a welcome respite after twelve trying months.

As we made our way off the mountain last Wednesday, fire engines and police cars set a sixteen-block perimeter around the center of town. I asked my friend if it was normal New Year preparation. "I've lived here a long time," he said, "but I've never seen this."

What we soon discovered was that there was great danger.
James Blanning, a disgruntled 71-year old former resident, planted several bombs throughout town with notes warning of "mass death." His motive was to punish Aspen for becoming an elitist holiday playground for the wealthy.

The bombs were diffused but the ramifications manifested in several ways. In addition to restaurants and retail outlets shuttering on the busiest night of the year, residents evacuated to a nearby high school as authorities attempted to locate additional threats.

I don't bring this up to discuss personal experience-I've already endured terrorism-but rather to offer anecdotal evidence of the shifting social mood. Aspen was merely a microcosm for the world at large, a snapshot of a movie playing in mindsets across America.

Why does this matter to you? Social mood and risk appetites shape financial markets and the socioeconomic scene at large. The risk, from where I sit, is that the societal acrimony we've long discussed in Minyanville is shifting to social unrest and geopolitical conflict.

Pepe Depew touched on this dynamic in his excellent 2009 preview -- as have other professors in their forward outlooks -- and I'll flesh out some further themes for publication on Wednesday. The bottom line is that while 2008 was a painful year, 2009 will measure our collective reaction to those losses.

Bringing this story full circle-and starting the year with some positive perspective-it should be noted that Aspen revelers gathered the following evening with their families to watch fireworks and celebrate the occasion.

For as harrowing as the uncertainty was on New Year's Eve, the human spirit endured and life moved on despite threats to the contrary.

It was a day late-and for local merchants, a few million dollars short-but it most certainly could have been worse.

Some Random Thoughts

  • Everywhere you look, there are forecasts regarding what's to come in 2009. I'll ask ye faithful to examine the source and discount opinions from those who never saw the cumulative imbalances building to begin with.

  • Remember, YOU will reap the reward or shoulder the burden of your financial choices. There are no shortcuts in this environment but surrounding yourself with people you trust in a community such as Minyanville is, in my view, a competitive advantage.

  • With that said, predictions this coming year will prove to be entirely more difficult than what we shared in 2008 or, for that matter, the year before. The purpose of the journey is the journey itself, we know, so we'll walk the line together as we figure it all out.

  • Before the holiday stretch, I offered that I was going to carry some energy exposure as I didn't believe any meaningful geopolitical risk was priced into crude. That indeed played out and I'll continue to trade around that risk with an eye towards $60ish.

  • While I'm in the camp that believes 2009 will bring further losses (all things, such as the dollar, being equal), I foresee one-if not two-20%+ rallies nestled in the muck. The first may well occur into March or April as the bloom begins to fade on President-Elect Obama's rose.

  • Apple (AAPL) is rallying this morning on news that Steve Jobs' weight loss was due to a hormone imbalance. That speaks to the need for transparent succession plans, not only for Apple but for other marquee CEO brands such as Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-A).

  • Watch Citigroup (C) as a trading tell today on the heels of Mike "I've got no place left to go" Mayo's number cuts. Old school Minyans will remember that one of our reasons for panning the banks back in 2006 and 2007 was the widespread love in the analyst community. Now that they've all flipped the switch, we need to be mindful of an off-sides the other way.

Lemme jump as I climb back in the saddle for another year of cheers and tears. I hope you all had a restful and safe holiday respite and that this forthcoming year is your best yet. May peace be with you.


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