Dec 31 (Reuters) – James Bernhard, chief executive of
engineering company Shaw Group Inc, has sold off most
of his stake in the company he founded after shareholders
approved a sale to Chicago Bridge…
Faith and business can seem an awkward mix. In a world of hard-nosed competition and cold calculus, faith can seem out-of-place, almost a weakness. My personal experience has been quite different. Running a high-tech startup has helped deepen my faith, and my faith has helped me run the business better. I better understand the world in general and business in particular by studying the Torah. I can even say I understand Torah better, by bringing my business experience to its learning.
Torah and business are not two separated realities with distinct rules. When God created the world, He looked into the Torah and used it as the blueprint for creation. That’s why we better understand creation when we study its blueprint, and we learn to understand the blueprint by experiencing one of its main expressions: the business world.
Eighteen hundred years ago, the Talmudic Sage, Rava unveiled the first question a human is being asked when led in for judgment after completing his life in this world: Did you do business faithfully? This is not just the first question; it is the main question; another way to say this is did you bring your faith to your daily business life? That’s quite a surprising question for the day of Judgment. One would expect a more religious question, such as observance of Ten Commandments, about the frequency of visiting the synagogue or even about how well you supported your community. But the Talmud seems to care more about business integrity.
A following question seems more conventional: Did you fix times for Torah learning? Note that the question is not about the number of hours spent learning, but rather it is about actually setting fixed times for learning. Rava knew then what we know today; man spends most of his day dealing with mundane business. However, to achieve the level of doing business faithfully (as required by the first question), we must fix times for learning. We’ve got to take a step back from our daily business and look at life and business as opportunities to bring faith and morality to the world. How do we react when a really large deal we have been negotiating for months falls through? Will we try to analyze and learn the root cause, or look for a scapegoat?
Judaism is not a religion: A set of ceremonies that we practice at home and at the synagogue. Rather, Judaism is a way of life… perhaps it defines even life itself. Our commitment to Torah and to morality doesn’t end when we exit the synagogue, rather, that is where it starts. It is much more difficult to behave fairly and honestly when conducting business than it is to recite a prayer. Sure, prayer can be a tremendous source of inspiration, but the real test of its impact on our soul happens when we go back to our daily business.
The question we must ask ourselves on a daily basis is, “Do we bring our faith to our mundane, day-to-day business life or do we check it at the office reception door?”
This post is part of a series co-produced by The Huffington Post and Blogworld, in conjunction with the latter’s NMX BusinessNext Social 2013. That event will feature some of the world’s leading social-business luminaries and influencers, each of whom will be speaking at the event to provide an up-close look at how the world’s most successful businesses harness the power of social.
If you were a fan of the band, The Police, you certainly remember the haunting song that featured the lyrics, “Every breath you take, every move you make, every step you take, I’ll be watching you.” That’s as good a way as any to explain why Big Data is such a big deal.
Everything everywhere is being captured, recorded, and stored. Every keystroke. Every communication. Every transaction. Every interaction. The opportunity to make sense of the data in order to take intelligent action is compelling for obvious reasons. You might gain a competitive edge if you are able to know more so you can do more sooner.
The truth is that’s a lot easier said than done. Despite the opportunity to gain insights and take intelligent action, Big Data is misunderstood. Which explains why there are so many views on what to do and what not to do.
In the middle of noise around Big Data is a clear voice with an enlightened view on what Big Data is all about. That voice is from a small, but smart software company in Austin, Texas called StoredIQ. StoredIQ packaged its views into a provocative, easy-to-read booklet called The Truth About Big Data. It is exactly what the title suggests. It’s about dispelling the myths and unraveling the mysteries about Big Data.
The booklet, and the ensuing Truth About Big Data Roadshow drew the attention of thousands of executives and hundreds of companies. One company that took particular notice was IBM, the technology juggernaut that has jumped all over the Big Data bandwagon.
IBM was pulled in by StoredIQ’s compelling take on the Big Data space, and impressed with the technological substance and knowhow behind StoredIQ’s bold voice. On December 19, IBM announced its intentions to acquire StoredIQ, and make the company an integral part of IBM’s Information Lifecycle Governance business unit.
The lessons here are clear:
The way to gain awareness of every step you take is to speak the customer language.
In hot, noisy, crowded market spaces, that’s a truth worth following — especially for challenger brands.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is making “excellent progress” after a blood clot was found between her brain and skull, doctors say.
The deal emerging from the Senate is a lousy one. Let me count the ways:
1. Republicans haven’t conceded anything on the debt ceiling, so over the next two months — as the Treasury runs out of tricks to avoid a default — Republicans are likely to do exactly what they did before, which is to hold their votes on raising the ceiling hostage to major cuts in programs for the poor and in Medicare and Social Security.
2. The deal makes tax cuts for the rich permanent (extending the Bush tax cuts for incomes up to $400,000 if filing singly and $450,000 if jointly) while extending refundable tax credits for the poor (child tax credit, enlarged EITC, and tuition tax credit) for only five years. There’s absolutely no justification for this asymmetry.
3. It doesn’t get nearly enough revenue from the wealthiest 2 percent — only $600 billion over the next decade, which is half of what the president called for, and a small fraction of the White House’s goal of more than $4 trillion in deficit reduction. That means more of the burden of tax hikes and spending cuts in future years will fall on the middle class and the poor.
4. It continues to exempt the first $5 million of inherited wealth from the estate tax (the exemption used to be $1 million). This is a huge gift to the heirs of the wealthy, perpetuating family dynasties of the idle rich.
Yes, the deal finally gets Republicans to accept a tax increase on the wealthy, but this is an inside-the-Beltway symbolic victory. If anyone believes this will make the GOP more amenable to future tax increases, they don’t know how rabidly extremist the GOP has become.
The deal also extends unemployment insurance for more than 2 million long-term unemployed. That’s important.
But I can’t help believe the president could have done better than this. After all, public opinion is overwhelmingly on his side. Republicans would have been blamed had no deal been achieved.
More importantly, the fiscal cliff is on the president’s side as well. If we go over it, he and the Democrats in the next Congress that starts later this week can quickly offer legislation that grants a middle-class tax cut and restores most military spending. Even rabid Republicans would be hard-pressed not to sign on.
ROBERT B. REICH, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written thirteen books, including the best sellers “Aftershock” and “The Work of Nations.” His latest is an e-book, “Beyond Outrage,” now available in paperback. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause.
As a contrarian investor, I’m always looking to buy what people are selling and sell what they’re buying. It’s the only way to ensure you’re getting a reasonable price. This often leads me to forsaken corners of the investment world. I recommended a Greek stock earlier this year, for example.
For most people, ETF’s (exchange traded funds) are the best way to invest. Their low cost, transparency, diversification, tax efficiency and liquidity make them superior to individual stocks or traditional mutual funds. This prescription comes with some black box warnings: always avoid leveraged ETF’s. Also steer clear of exchange traded “notes” (ETN’s) — which depend on the solvency of the issuer or sponsor. It’s crucial to read the prospectus carefully. Finally, it’s important to buy an ETF and hold it for the long-term, selling only when its price eclipses its intrinsic value. An ETF in the hands of a trader is as dangerous as any other gambling chip.
The intrinsic value of ETF’s can be estimated by looking through to the individual holdings — or by using the valuations of quality, third-party objective research services such as Morningstar.
Based on valuation, these are the top two ETF’s I recommend for investors in 2013:
VGK — Vanguard MSCI Europe ETF
Abject fear of Europe’s debt problems continues to depress prices, leading to the best bargains on Euro stocks in decades. Top holdings include Nestle, HSBC and Novartis. There is substantial risk in this 445 stock portfolio, with 18 percent of the fund in financial services. But the 6 percent yield, average p/e ratio of 12, and meager 31 percent premium to book value compensate you for the risk (for perspective, the already cheap S&P 500 trades at a 97 percent premium to book). At these valuations, the underlying stocks have already priced in some form of Armageddon. With this ETF’s modest 14 basis point expense ratio, access to Europe doesn’t come cheaper than this. To replicate this portfolio on your own, the commissions and bid-ask spreads on these foreign stocks alone would be prohibitive.
DXJ — WisdomTree Japan Hedged Equity
Japanese stocks have been a tiring story of gloomy stagnation and decline, with intermittent rays of progress. The staggering secular bear market that started in 1989 still persists, providing the harshest cautionary tale to any investor. International buyers have largely given up on Japan. As a result, however, stocks in Japan are now among the cheapest the world has ever seen. The average stock in this 271-company portfolio trades at no more than book value. Even the 1.76 percentyield is high by Japanese standards — and no longer looks paltry in a low-interest-rate world. Top holdings include Mitsubishi, Canon and Takeda Pharmaceutical. This ETF is the only major Japanese ETF that hedges its dollar-yen exposure, meaning that a US-based investor is somewhat protected from a decline in the yen. I don’t normally like currency-hedged funds because the hedging is often imperfect — and a cost to the portfolio. And typically the foreign currency is undervalued along with the stocks. But this is an unusual circumstance: I believe the yen is substantially overvalued in contrast to the underlying equities. New leadership in Japan under Shinzō Abe’s government is talking tough about reflation, a dynamic that favors stocks and disadvantages the yen.
For the long-term investor willing to buy what others have sold in droves, the VGK and the DXJ are my two top contrarian recommendations for the New Year.
The author may own the above-mentioned securities, both in client accounts and in his personal accounts. This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It’s always a good idea to consult a legal, tax or financial adviser for specific information on how certain laws apply to you and about your individual financial situation. All investment involves risk of loss. No one should invest in any financial security without reading the full prospectus and seeking professional, personalized advice, if required.