Monday, November 17, 2008

College Admissions: Application Essays and SAT

Here are some samples of college application essays, SAT verbal section (essay, critical reading, general tips) as well as some tips on SAT scores and college admissions in general:

Admission Essays:

SAT Critical Reading:

SAT Essays:

SAT Grammar:

SAT Tips:

SAT Scores:

SAT Prep Courses:

Writing Resources:

Internet Quote of the Day
The Harper Book of Quotations Revised Ed, Robert I. Fitzhenry
Peter’s Quotations: Ideas for Our Times, Laurence J. Peter

The Elements of Style, Strunk and White (also Strunk’s original at
The Careful Writer, Theodore M. Bernstein
The Practical Stylist, Sheridan Baker
On Writing Well, William K. Zinsser
Line by Line: How to Edit Your Own Writing, Claire Kehrwald Cook
A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, H. W. Fowler (The King’s English at
College Writing:
Writing with Writers:

Dangerous Holidays For Drivers

Forbes magazine recently published the most dangerous holidays for drivers:

Rounding out the top five are:

No. 1 Thanksgiving Average Vehicular Deaths: 573
No. 2 Independence Day Average Vehicular Deaths: 505
No. 3 Memorial Day Weekend Average Vehicular Deaths: 493
No. 4 Labor Day Weekend Average Vehicular Deaths: 488
No. 5 New Year's Eve/Day Average Vehicular Deaths: 421

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Math Tutorials

Here are some math/calculus related tutorial links:


Number Theory:





Linear Equations:

Scientific Notation:


0. r n-1Pr-1 + n-1Pr = nPr
1. nCr = nCn–r
2. nCo = nCn = 1
3. n+1Cr = nCr + nCr – 1
4. n+1Cr+1 = nCr+1 + n–1Cr + n–1Cr-1
5. nPr = r! nCr
6. The total no. of combinations of ‘n’ things taken some or all at a time nc = nC1 + nC2 + …… nCn = 2^n – 1

Complex numbers:










Lesson Plans:


Matlab Tutorials

Here are some MATLAB tutorials: (homeworks) (differential equations) (differential equations) (Mathworks) (Mathworks)

Physics Tutorials

Here are some helpful physics related tutorial links: (problems) (homeworks) (lectures) (notes) (calculators)

Holt Physics Book:

Chemistry Tutorials

Here are some helpful chemistry related tutorial links: (Regents review) (stoichiometry roadmap) (atomic structure) (quantum numbers) (chemistry AP sample questions) (chemistry AP preparation) (ACS HS Scholarship) (ACS HS Olympiad) (ACS) (chemistry quizzes) (chemistry tutorials) (chemmybear) (chemistry resources) (chemistry teaching resources) (chemistry notes/lectures) (organic chemistry) (organic chemistry exam) (stoichiometry) (molecular orbitals) (atomic structure: orbitals) (atomic structure: configurations) (periodic table) (net ionic equations) (periodic table trends) (periodic table trends) (periodic table trends) (elements) (elements) (general chemistry) (molecular bonding) (magnetic) (net ionic equations practice) (chemistry AP net ionic equations links) (precipitation) (solutions) (solubility table) (weak acids/bases) (weal acids/bases) (exact pH/acid/base equilibria) (pKa box) (acids/bases flashcards) (buffers) (half-reactions) (balance chemical equations) (balance chemical equations) (balance chemical equations) (balance chemical equations) (chembalancer game) (stoichiometry calculator) (chemical equation balancer) (stoichiometry calculator);jsessionid=kcfpr2vm30?lang=en (stoichiometry calculator) (physiochemical calculator) (chemical equations calculator) (chemical calculators) (chemical calculators) (chemputer) (molar mass calculator) (pressure unit conversions) (chemistry interactive learning ware)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Free Online Backup/Storage: 2.5G *Limited Time Offer*

From now till November 30, 2008, Mozy will give you a free 2.5G account (as opposed to the normal 2G) if you use referral links--such as this one:

(After clicking on the link, scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on where it says MozyHome FREE: the "Sign Up" button at the top of the page is for the paid unlimited service. Alternatively, you can sign up without going through the link and put in the erferral code 2QJV56 when prompted.)

Mozy is owned by EMC (the storage company)--which means their services are reputable (your data are encrypted and protected). You can selectively choose what to backup (certain files/folders) if you have concern about privacy issues. You can selectively restore/download your backuped files via several means (including via the web). The response time of the service is reasonably fast. Check it out when you have a chance.

DHL Closing US Services

A sign of our battered economy: DHL said today it will significantly reduce its air and ground operations in the U.S. and cut 9,500 jobs within the country--

Source: The Huffington Post

Circuit City Closing: Deals to Come?

Circuit City Stores, Inc. is closing 155 of its stores: looks like there will be close-out sales coming up-- just in time for the holidays.

In the San Francisco/San Jose area in CA, there are 9 stores total at the following locations:

Concord, Dublin, Fairfield, Fremont, Morgan Hill, Palo Alto, Pittsburg, Richmond and San Rafael.

The complete list is here.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Surprise: Debtors Are Better Savers

According to, people who take on smart debts are actually better savers than people who do not take on any debt.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Need Cash? What Are the Options?

According to, if you need cash, there are several ways--each one has its pros and cons:





Balance transfers

Lower interest rate

Often involve fees; may need to apply for new credit. Watch out for bait-and switch tactics.

If you're in debt already, use transfers to pay down existing debt, not to fund new purchases.

Home equity

Convenient; lower interest rate; interest may be tax deductible

Increases the amount owed on the house; many borrowers run debt up again; puts house at risk when used as collateral

Only borrow what you absolutely need and only if you have a lot of equity.

Borrow from family or friends

Lower or no interest; flexible terms

Risks an important relationship

Use a contract; find one online or at the office supply store to use as a template, or set up official loan arrangements through a firm such as Virgin Money.

Peer-to-peer lending

Interest rate may be lower

Make sure to apply the funds to your existing debt; otherwise, you're just racking up more debt.

Several online social networking sites act as middlemen between lenders and borrowers. Be sure to understand how they work as well as loan terms and fees before signing up.

Borrow from Your 401(k)

Good interest rate

May be required to pay taxes and penalties on amount borrowed if the loan isn't repaid within five years; may be required to pay back the loan in full if you lose job; less money will be compounding for retirement

Avoid this at all costs since it puts your retirement plans in peril. An exception might be if you're way ahead of your retirement savings goal and you find yourself in dire straits.

As for taking money out of your IRA, a more in-depth discussion can be found here.

Want to Earn 6+% on Your Checking/Saving Accounts? Check Out Your Local Banks

The Fed cut interest rates again today, adding fresh hardship to the quest for decent interest on your bank balance. But not to worry -- there is a way to return to high yields (see here or here).

The trick is local banks that offer special rewards accounts for their customers--for example, New Frontier Bank in Colorado offers 6.26% according to (note that special rules apply--be sure to read the fine prints).

Monday, March 17, 2008

Track and Find Out Whether Your Email Has Been Opened and Read by Your Recipients

The following services (some free, some are not free) lets you track whether your email has been opened and read (some will even let you expire and recall sent email messages):

  • MessageTag: now into version 2. Lets you know when and whether emails are opened. Works with Gmail, multiple recipients, and lets you be notified vis SMS.
  • DidTheyReadIt? : know when your email was opened, how long it remained opened, where geographically, it was viewed.
  • ReadNotify : tells you when email you sent gets read /re-opened /forwarded and a lot more.
  • SpyPig : a free email tracking system that is designed to let you know when your friends have read your email, and continues to send an email every time your message is opened by the recipient (up to 5 times). In addition to telling you that your email has been read, SpyPig also tells you the IP address of the recipient.
  • BigString : a free 2 GB email service that includes rich secure and certified mail services and lets you password-protect, track, expire or edit sent messages.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Death of a Bear: Prelude to Collapses for Other Investment Banks?

JP Morgan/Chase announced today that they will buy out Bear Stearns (an 85 year old investment bank that is one of the cores (and core holdings of several mutual funds) in the financial sector) for $2 a share--along with the Federal Reserve/Central Bank extending loans to help out (see here).

Bear Stearns--worth $150+ per share or $20 billion not too long ago--is now worth only $236.2 million--or 1% of what it was worth before.

Bear Stearns--like many other investment banks--were over-leveraged (with leverage ratio as high as 30+ to 1). Given the firm's lack of diversity in business lines (along with their heavy tie to subprime mortgage related CDOs), panic withdraws from clients (hedge funds and others) easily triggered an irreversible and devastating liquidity crisis that literally crippled Bear Stearns overnight.

The sad part (and irony) of all of this is that amidst all the open rumors, Bear's President and CEO--Alan Schwartz--kept saying everything was fine and maintained the firm's supposed $80 book value--even during the conference call last Friday when he finally acknowledged the liquidity problem. A credibility issue thus arises: who can we trust?

Bear Stearns' troubles could very well be a prelude to troubles for other similar investment banks (such as Lehman Brothers: although Lehman has a bit more liquidity especially after the Fed's injection of newly available funds). Who will be next? With several investment banks reporting next week and investors' confidence (and trust) fast eroding--only time will tell...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Favorite Recipes

Pasta with Peas, Cream, Parsley and Mint

(Menu can be found here. More menus here and here.)

Prep: 20 minutes; Total: 20 minutes
Servings: Makes 6 to 8 servings

1 16-ounce package large shell pasta or elbow pasta1 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream1 16-ounce package frozen petite peas (do not thaw)2 1/4 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese plus additional for serving1/4 cup chopped fresh mint1/2 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley, divided

Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup pasta cooking liquid. Return pasta to pot.
Meanwhile, bring cream to simmer in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add peas and simmer just until heated through, 1 to 2 minutes. Add 2 1/4 cups cheese and stir until melted and sauce thickens slightly, about 1 minute. Stir in mint and 1/4 cup parsley. Pour sauce over pasta and toss to coat, adding pasta cooking liquid by tablespoonfuls if dry. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to bowl. Sprinkle with remaining parsley. Serve, passing additional Parmesan alongside.

Penne with Shrimp and Morel Mushrooms

Servings: 8

4 half-ounce packages dried motel mushrooms
2 1/2 cups very hot water
1/2 cup olive oil, divided
2 pounds uncooked large shrimp (shelled/deveined)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary, divided
1 1/2 pounds crimini (baby bella) mushrooms, thickly sliced
5 garlic cloves (peeled/pressed into small bowm)
1/2 cup dried white wine
1 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 pounds penne
1/2 cup chopped parsley

Place dried morels in medium bowl: add 2 1/2 cups hot water. Soak until tender (~35 in). Lift out morels, squeezing liquid back into bowl; reserve liquid.
Heat 1/4 cup oil in large skillet over high heat. Add shrimp; sprinkle with salt, pepper, and 1 tablespoon rosemary. Saute until just opaque in center (~3 min). Transfer shrimp to bowl. Add 1/4 cup oil to same skillet; reduce heat to medium-high. Add morels, crimini mushrooms, garlic and 1 tablespoon rosemary. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Saute until mushrooms are browned (~8min). Add wine. Cook 1 min, scraping up browned bits. Add cream and 1 cup mushroom soaking liquid, leaving any sediment in bowl. Boil until sauce thickens enough to coat spoon (~10min).
Meanwhile, cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite. Drain and return to same pot.
Add mushroom sauce, parsley, and shrimp to pasta in pot. Toss over medium-high heat until warmed through, adding more mushroom soaking liquid if pasta is dry. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to large bowl to serve.

2005 Goats Do Roam "In Villages" Red ($15) from S. Africa (or Rhone-style Red)

How Long to Keep Document for Tax Records

Auto records - while active
Insurance policies - while active
Warranties/contracts - while active
Paid bills - while active
Paycheck stubs - 1 year
Quarterly investment records - 1 year
Credit card/bank statements - 7 years
Tax deductible receipts - indefinitely
Tax returns - indefinitely
House-related records - indefinitely
IRA contributions - indefinitely
Annual investment records - indefinitely

Martha Stewart Living Magazine April 2008 Recipes



Dandelion Salad

Dandelion Jelly

Dandelion Cordial

Simple Soft-Cooked Egg with Toast

Skillet Matzo Brei with Cinnamon, Apple, and Raisins

Southern Fried Eggs over Buttermilk Biscuits with Sausage Gravy

Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits

Sausage Gravy

Steamy Bowl of Noodles with Poached Duck Egg, Scallions, and Mushrooms

Miniature Grapefruit Souffles with Ginger

Classic Egg Custard Pie with Lots of Nugmeg

Sweet Pastry Dough

Coddled Eggs with Wild Mushrooms and Creme Fraiche

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Tax Rebates

According to Forbes, the economic stimulus package President George W. Bush signed today requires the U.S. Treasury Department to send "tax rebates" of $300, $600, $1,200 (or more, if the recipient has kids) to 128 million American households. However, getting the rebate is not as simple as it sounds...

The rebate is technically a credit against your 2008 tax bill that is being paid (in most cases) as what we'll call a "prebate." This prebate is based on your 2007 income tax return. The actual credit is based on your 2008 tax return. Whichever year produces the bigger check for your family is the year that counts.

To complicate matters further, there are not just two tax years, but three different types of credits involved. Plus, all three credits are denied to folks who earn too much--with the benefit starting to phase out at $75,000 adjusted gross income for an individual and $150,000 for a couple. The $75,000 threshold also applies to single parents filing as heads of household.

Mercifully, the credits are allowed against the alternative minimum tax. But the credit phase-out can interact with other phase-outs in the tax code to produce some nasty results.
For example, Mel Schwarz, director of tax legislative affairs for Grant Thornton, calculates a one-income couple who is paying AMT and has been making tax-deductible contributions to a "spousal IRA" will pay an effective 48% tax on the next $5,000 of adjusted gross income, after their AGI hits $156,000. Pretty shocking, considering the top federal marginal rate is 35% and the stated AMT rate is just 26% or 28%.

Given such complications, it's not surprising that tax advisers have been brainstorming how families can get the greatest possible stimulus benefits by managing their 2008 (or even, in some cases, 2007) taxable incomes. (Example: If the earner in Schwarz's hypothetical family is self-employed, he may still be able to boost his own 2007 contribution to a pretax retirement account to avoid that punitive 48% tax rate and snag a full stimulus credit.)

Why do we say there are three different types of credits? First, there's the basic $300 per adult "refundable" rebate, that goes to any adult who doesn't earn too much, and in 2007 or 2008, receives at least $3,000 of earned income and/or Social Security benefits, veterans disability, disabled veterans' survivors payments or railroad retirement income. So-called SSI payments don't count.

Mark A. Luscombe, principal analyst at CCH Tax, a Wolters Kluwer business, points out another, less discussed wrinkle: Any taxpayer who owes at least $1 in tax and has gross income of at least $8,750 for a single or $17,500 for a couple is also eligible for the refundable adult credit. That provision is particularly important for newly self-employed and newly retired folks who aren't yet receiving Social Security--taxpayers who may be living off savings and are able to manage the realization of income to make sure they qualify.

By the way, "refundable" in tax-speak means that you get this check regardless of whether you actually paid any income taxes---in other words, exactly the opposite of what a sensible person might think of as a "refund." Importantly, to get a prebate of this or any of the other credits, you must file a 2007 tax return, the IRS says, even if you wouldn't otherwise have to.

The second of the three credits is also refundable--it's a $300 per child tax credit, which goes to parents who qualify for the $300 refundable adult check. Note that the child must be younger than 17 for all of the year. But for which year? The IRS says it doesn't know yet. But tax lawyers say it will probably be for 2007, if you're getting a prebate.

Finally, there's an extra $300 per adult nonrefundable credit, which can only be used to reduce taxes you actually owe for 2007 or 2008. In other words, to get the full $600 per adult break--the $300 refundable credit plus the $300 nonrefundable credit--you must owe at least $600 per adult in taxes.

But that $600 per adult is before the child credit. So a young couple with two toddlers who owed exactly $1,200 in income taxes in 2007 will be getting a check from Uncle Sam for $1,800---that's $600 per adult, plus $300 per child.

If the couple owed $900 in 2007 tax, they'd get $450 per adult, or a total of $1,500--$900 for the adults and $600 for the kids.

If that same couple owed no income taxes for 2007, but had at least $3,000 in earnings from Social Security or veteran's disability, they'd get a check for $1,200 in May or June---$300 per adult plus $300 per child. Then, if they had higher earnings in 2008, and ended up owing at least $1,200 in tax for 2008, they'd get an additional tax credit of $600 on their 2008 return.
The math works like this: They'd be eligible for the full $1,800 credit in 2008 ($1,200 for adults, $600 for kids). But they've already collected $1,200 of that as a prebate. Most of the dollars will be doled out up front; Congress' Joint Tax Committee estimates the credit will cost the Treasury $107 billion this year and $10 billion next year.

OK, but what if the couple got the full $1,800 prebate based on 2007 taxes, then ended up owing no taxes for 2008 and so only qualified for a 2008 tax credit of $1,200? They get to keep the extra $600. Again, you get the higher amount you qualify for, based on either your 2007 or 2008 tax return.

AMT And How to Avoid It

According to Forbes/Investopedia, your chances of paying AMT tax increases, if you:

--Have a large family;

--Live in an area with high real estate taxes and/or high state and local income taxes;

--Claim significant miscellaneous itemized deductions, including investment expenses or un-reimbursed employee business expenses;

--Exercise and hold incentive stock options; and

--Realize significant long-term capital gains

For 2007, the exemption amounts increased to the following:

--Single: $44,350

-- Married filing jointly or qualifying widow: $66,250

-- Head of household: $44,350

-- Married filing separately: $33,125

For 2008, the exemption amounts are:

--Single: $33,750

--Married filing jointly or qualifying widow: $45,000

--Head of household: $33,750

--Married filing separately: $22,500

As a result, you may have to pay the AMT if your regular taxes, combined with certain adjustments and tax preference items, are more than these amounts.

One way to minimize the AMT is to reduce your adjusted gross income (AGI). If you participate in a 401(k), 403(b), SARSEP, 457(b) plan or SIMPLE IRA, consider making the maximum allowable salary deferral contributions to your account to reduce your taxable income for both taxes.

If your employer offers a cafeteria plan, look into whether you could reduce your taxable income even further by paying for medical insurance, dental insurance, life and disability insurance, and even dependent care expenses through the plan.

If you are self-employed, claiming your business expenses directly against your self-employment income on the Schedule C instead of as a miscellaneous itemized deduction on the Schedule A reduces your AGI and also ensures that you won't lose any of these deductions to the AMT. Plus, contributing to a SEP IRA, SIMPLE IRA, Solo 401(k) or other qualified plan also helps minimize the impact of this tax.

Self-employed individuals who claim a home office deduction can also reduce the AMT they end up paying. The home office deduction offsets your net self-employment earnings, which reduces your AGI. And while real estate taxes reported as an itemized deduction aren't allowable when calculating the AMT, claiming the home office deduction moves a portion of those taxes against your self-employment income to where they are unaffected by the AMT.

Do you have a sizable investment portfolio outside of your tax-deferred accounts? If so, consider switching to tax-efficient mutual funds and tax-exempt bonds or bond funds as a way to decrease your AGI.

Don't forget that with the AMT, timing is everything. Try to pay your real estate taxes and your state and local income taxes in years that your income might fall outside the AMT range.

To determine whether you are subject to the AMT, you will need to complete Form 6251. Before working through the numbers, visit the IRS's Web site, where you can download the current year's Form 6251 along with instructions. While you're there, test drive the IRS' new AMT Assistant tool, which will help you determine whether you need to file Form 6251 in the first place.

Calculating your AMT, or even determining whether you are in fact subject to it, is a complicated process so it may be in your best interest to have your tax return prepared, or at least reviewed, by an expert tax professional, who will be able to determine whether you owe the AMT, are eligible for exemptions and are eligible to claim AMT credits for any year--including previous years.

Upcoming Tax Changes

According to Forbes, here's what to expect through 2011:
Capital Gains Rate
Tax Bracket Above 15%15%15%15%15%20%
Tax Bracket 15% or Below5%0%0%0%10%
Qualified Dividends Rate
Tax Bracket Above 15%15%15%15%15%N/A*
Tax Bracket 15% or Below5%0%0%0%N/A*
Marginal Income Tax Rates
Top Bracket35%35%35%35%39.60%
Fifth Bracket33%33%33%33%36%
Fourth Bracket28%28%28%28%31%
Third Bracket25%25%25%25%28%
Second Bracket15%15%15%15%15%
First Bracket10%10%10%10%N/A
Child Tax Credit$1,000$1,000$1,000$1,000$500
Marriage Penalty Relief
Standard Deduction (% of S.D. for singles)200%200%200%200%N/A
15% Tax Bracket (% of bracket for singles)200%200%200%200%N/A
Repeal (%) of Personal Exemptions Phase-outs33.30%66.60%66.60%100%N/A
Repeal (%) of Limitation on Itemized Deductions33.30%66.60%66.60%100%N/A
AMT Exemption
Married Filing Joint$45,000*$45,000$45,000$45,000$45,000
Head of Household$33,750*$33,750$33,750$33,750$33,750
Estate Tax
Exclusion$2 million$2 million$3.5 millionTax repealed$1 million
Maximum Rate45%45%45%0%55%

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Airborne Consumer Lawsuit Settlement

Customers who bought Airborne can get a refund settlement for products purchased:

Note that one can still file a claim without a receipt.

Record-Keeping for Tax Deductions

A recent article details record-keeping requirements for certain tax deductions:

Certain red-flag deductions require that "adequate records" be kept, which includes two components: a daybook, ledger, trip sheet or journal in which each expense is noted "at or near the time" it was incurred, and corroborating receipts for all lodging and items costing more than $75. Your daybook may be tallied on a weekly basis and still fall within what the IRS considers timely.

According to IRS Section 274, your business log or daybook entry for a claimed expenditure must include the following to satisfy claimed expenditure requirements:

•For T&E: date, time, place, amount and business purpose of the expenditure. In the case of business entertainment, you also need to note your business relationship to those who accompanied you.

•For business gifts: date, time, amount, description, business purpose and your business relationship to the recipient of the gift.
•Listed property: date, time, amount and business purpose of the purchase.

Documentary substantiation for these expenses (receipts, statements, etc.) are considered adequate if they contain the date, place, amount and character of the expenditure.

Philips DVP5982/37B DVD/DivX Player Region-Free Hack

The Philips DVP5982/37B DVD/DivX player (often on sale as refurbished on can be hacked to be region-free as follows:
  1. Hold the Stop key on the remote to Open the DVD tray.
  2. Press Setup.
  3. Select Preference (tray MUST be open in order for the Preferences menu to show).
  4. Press 1,3,8,9,3,15--then press the up/down key to select 0--the player will now be region-free.

What Is Arbitrage?

This article has a very good definition of arbitrage and how it is use as a hedging strategy:

Arbitrage is the simultaneous purchase and sale of securities, commodities or assets in order to profit from price discrepancies, with as little risk as possible.

Please note that:

1. An arbitrage requires more than one transaction or "leg."

2. The price discrepancy does not necessarily ensure a profit.

3. The risk may be quantified as being low, but it does exist and can lead to significant losses.

Now let's look at some very popular forms of arbitrage.

1. Risk Arbitrage

The theory: When one company seeks to acquire another company there is a discrepancy between the deal price offered by the acquirer and the market price of the target company

The strategy: In the event of a stock-for-stock deal, the arbitrageur will buy shares of the target company and sell shares of the acquiring company a ratio to equal that of the proposed transaction. In the event of a cash-for-stock deal, the arbitrageur will buy shares of the target company and borrow money to finance the transaction. As a result, when a new M&A (merger and acquisition) deal is announced, the target company shares will rise as the acquirer's share will tend to fall.

The risk: The acquirer walks away from the deal. This can occur because of "material adverse changes," such as what happened when the Harman International (HAR) acquisition (by a consortium of buyers) fell apart, or because of the loss of financing as occurred with Blackstone (BX) in its attempt to acquire PHH (PHH).

Sometimes the deal falls apart for other business reasons, such as what happened with the Tellabs (TLAB) acquisition of Ciena (CIEN) about a decade ago. That broken deal cost Long-Term Capital Management (the failed hedge fund ) a bundle.

As you can see, if a deal falls apart, it can result in significant losses for the arbitrageur. To give you a little perspective on the magnitude of the risk/reward tradeoff, typically the arbitrageur will gain (the reward) 3% to 5% on the transaction, but if the deal falls apart, the arbitrageur can stand to lose (the risk) 20% or at times, more.

2. Index Arbitrage

The theory: One can buy all the stocks in an index (like the S&P 500) relative to the value that is implied in the market price of the futures contracts underlying that index (see "Five Things Every Investor Should Know About Index Futures").

The strategy: The arbitrageur will buy all of the stocks underlying the index and sell the futures for the index. In the process, the investor will borrow money to buy the stocks, pay interest on the loan and earn dividends on the stocks. As such, the perceived profit is equal to:

Cost of stocks plus dividends on stocks minus interest costs minus futures value

Please note that the arbitrage can be reversed, whereby one shorts the stocks in the index and buys the futures contract.

The risk: In this example I provided, if interest rates increase or dividends decline from their anticipated rates, then the perceived profit will erode or potentially turn to a loss.

3. Carry Trade

The theory: Put simply, you borrow money at a lower interest rate and reinvest it at a higher interest rate, earning the differential in interest rates along the way.

The strategy: This can be done in the foreign currency (forex ) markets or may also be performed in the bond markets.

In the forex markets, the investor would buy a high-interest currency and finance that with the selling of low-interest rate currencies., As an example in the bond markets, one would sell the 2-year Japanese Government Bonds (JGB) at a yield to maturity of 9/16% (or 0.5625%), convert the Japanese Yen Proceeds (JPY) into US Dollars (USD) and then buy an equivalent amount of 2-Year U.S. Treasury Notes (2UST) with a yield to maturity of 2.00%. In doing so, the investor would be able to earn 1 7/16%, (or 1.4375%, less than the costs for a "repo" or reverse "repo" financing).

When the bonds mature, the proceeds of the 2UST is converted back to JPY and used to refund the JB maturity.

The risk: The USD/JPY exchange rate changes such that the investor has to purchase more expensive JPY when the transaction unwinds. To combat this, one might be inclined to buy a forward forex contract to eliminate that exchange rate risk. However, doing so might eliminate the entire perceived profit.

4. International Arbitrage

The theory: When foreign-based companies issue stock in their country, these are referred to as ordinary shares (ORDs). In order to allow investors in other markets, such as in the United States, to have ownership in one of these companies, the company will issue American Depository Receipts (ADRs) or Global Depository Receipts (GDRs) (see "A Guide to International Investing"). As a result, from time to time, a "spread " or differential in pricing will occur. This spread allows investors to earn arbitrage profits.

The strategy: The arbitrageur will buy the ORDs shares and short-sell the ADRs or vice versa, depending on their relative valuations . In order to determine which is rich and which is cheap, you need to recall the pricing formula for ADRs:

ADR theoretical share price equals ORD share price multiplied by the conversion ratio of ORD share price to ADR shares multiplied by the foreign currency exchange rate

For example, shares of BHP Billion ORD (BHP.AX) shares closed at AUD 36.91 on Tuesday, Feb. 12 in trading on the Sydney exchange . The forex rate was 1 AUD = 0.9035 USD. There are two ORD shares for every BHO Billiton ADR (BHP - Cramer's Take - Stockpickr). So the theoretical value of the ADRs, going into the U.S. trading day, was $66.70 per share. BHP closed at $65.84 the day before. Thus, if you owned BHP.AX shares then you would seek to short-sell BHP in the U.S., if the shares rose above $66.70.

The risk: Once again, there is inherent risk in forex rates. Since you have to execute different legs of the strategy in two geographically different markets, which might not be open simultaneously, then you have face market risks that result from the time differential. Furthermore, since there are operational costs for converting ADRs to ORDs, sometimes ADRs will trade at a normal discount to the ORDs and the perceived profit is actually a permanent discount.

Finally, a successful short-sale may be difficult to achieve. Either the local markets severely restrict the shorting of ORDs or the availability of ORDs (or ADRs) for stock-borrowing may be limited or so costly as to further impact the perceived profit.

5. Convertible Arbitrage

The theory: From time to time, corporations will issue debt that is convertible into shares of the issuing company. By doing so, the company will pay an interest rate that is lower than that which would be paid on non-convertible or "straight" debt. Convertible debt is a hybrid security that is comprised of a straight debt instrument plus an embedded call option .

Convertible arbitrage seeks to exploit the pricing anomalies that are associated with the embedded option in the convertible bond.

The strategy: The usual convertible arbitrage is comprised of the investor purchasing the convertible security and then selling a series of hedges .

The primary hedges are intended to extract pricing imperfections in the embedded option and are typically achieved by selling call options and/or common stock . Secondarily, the arbitrageur may elect to deconstruct the fixed income elements of the convertible bonds and hedge those risks with fixed income derivatives , including swaps , options and futures. All of these techniques are quite complex and to execute properly, they require a more in-depth knowledge of options and other derivatives.

The risk: The are many moving parts to the convertible arbitrage that not only create opportunities, but can also create risks. Losses can be generated by unexpected changes in the underlying stock price, interest rates or credit rating of the issuer. Furthermore, default on the part of the issuer would be devastating.

Tainted Chineses Toothpaste

A recent article mentioned some individuals in Los Angeles were arrested in connection with distributing Chinese made toothpastes that contain DEG (diglycol or diglycol stearate--a toxic chemical). As it turns out, this incident is not new--a while back there was a similar case (see here).

Brands mentioned include Cooldent, Clean Rite, Oralmax, DentaPro and DentaKleen. Everfresh, Superdent, Oral Bright, Bright Max and ShiR Fresh.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Chinese Hacker Xiao Chen Says No Site Is Safe

A recent article on CNN has sparked interested in this Chinese hacker named Xiao Chen, who claimed he has hacked into the Pentagon--see article here:

Also here:

And here:

The articles withheld the specifics (such as name and location/address) of Xiao Chen's website, but a search on Google shows that it might be one of these BBS sites:

(Note that the term "hacker" sounds like "dark visitor" in Chinese--that is why the term dark visitor is used to designate a hacker in Chinese (also the term "hack" sounds like dark/black(out) in Chinese--thus the corresponding slang.)