Thursday, July 31, 2008

August 4, 2008---Used Cars For Sale By The Lake

Consider This for August 4, 2008---Used Cars For Sale By The Lake

Here is the list of what we hear about on the news every night. The leading economic indicators as determined by the powers that be in the world of economics.

1. The average manufacturing-worker workweek (from the employment report)
2. Initial jobless claims
3. Manufacturers' new orders for consumer goods and materials (from the factory orders report)
4. Vendor performance (from the Purchasing Managers' Index report)
5. Manufacturers' new orders for nondefense capital goods (from the factory orders report)
6. Building permits (from the housing starts report)
7. The level of the S&P 500
8. The inflation-adjusted measure of the M2 money supply
9. The interest-rate spread between the 10-year Treasury note and the fed funds rate
I would like to add another one that I have watched for years.

The number of cars parked on Highway 9 near the High School. You all know the place. The parking area overlooking the outlet of the Breckenridge Sewer Plant where all of the birds sit because the water is warmer from the effluent of the plant.

It used to be called Church Camp Road but since they burned down (on purpose) the old Church Camp I am not sure what the name is now. It is a haul road for beetle kill trees that come off of what is referred to as Iron Springs above the High School.

Enough of the geography lesson and on to the new leading economic indicator I have added to the list.

The Unofficial Used Car Lot By The Lake Near The High School Economic Indicator.

When the economy goes bad people try to raise cash to pay bills. They can do it by eliminating a payment (car payment) or raising cash by selling their car.

Your car is the second most expensive thing you will ever own after your home. I paid $12,000 for my first house in New York City and I paid over $20,000 for my small economy car recently so the numbers have changed a lot too.

The sad part of the array of cars parked by the lake is that many of them have signs in the window asking over $20,000 or $30,000. They will never get that. People are looking for bargains and will only pay what they think is a price far below the book value.

In the car business it is referred to as an “upside down” loan. It is when the poor car owner owes more on the car than the car is worth. It is a no win situation.

People forget that they can lose nearly one half of the price paid for a new vehicle just by driving it off the car lot. The great new $40,000 SUV becomes a not so great $20,000 SUV in a matter of a few feet on the highway. That is not a new phenomenon. I remember being told that by people in the car business for many years. When you buy a new vehicle you should plan to drive it for the life of the vehicle if you expect to get the full value. It has nothing to do with the make or model. It is a function of the business.

Even if they took it back to the dealer where they bought it a couple of weeks earlier they could not come close to getting what they owe. The dealer would probably offer them a good price on a trade-in for an even more expensive vehicle but that just increases the debt load of the owner and does not solve any problems except letting the dealer sell another car this month.

By the way the dealers are really hurting. Car sales are the lowest they have been in years and it does not look like that is going to change in the near future.

So as you are stuck in traffic at the Highway 9 improvement project, glance over at the line of cars for sale by the lake and imagine that it is just another indicator of how our economy is going down the toilet. Probably an appropriate metaphor as it is so close to the sewer plant.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

July 28, 2008—The Middle Part of Summer

Consider This for July 28, 2008—The Middle Part of Summer

I call this time of the year in the high county as the middle part of summer. It is not a calendar middle or a seasonal middle but rather the in between part. You know halfway from the start to the end.

I moved Colorado in 1970 over 38 years ago from New York City. In New York City there is no summer. Time goes from wet to unbearably hot back to wet. Autumn is nice but summer is hell.

Colorado’s summer is more a representation of those outside influences’ that impact our communities such as summer break school schedules.

Colorado schools normally end the beginning of June but lately they are now opening earlier and earlier with some schools on the Front Range starting right after the first of August. Hardly two months of summer. Maybe eight weeks.

Eastern schools also have several longer breaks during the regular school year. They might have a week off in the fall and then two weeks at Christmas followed by one week in February and another week in April for Spring Break. I always thought that was a great idea.

Back in New York historically schools will stay in session until around the first of July. I have three children and seven grandchildren who attended school under that system. .

I grew up in Iowa and we had our school schedule based on the planting and growing season. It was very important that the children were out of school to help in the fields. Early on school would get out the beginning of May and not go back into session until the beginning of September after Labor Day. I think it is different now.

I teach at Colorado Mountain College and our schedule follows the local schools here in Colorado. I have said this before but there are only three semesters at CMC. Fall, spring and summer. In the heart of the cold, ski country there is no Winter Semester. I don’t mind that at all. Why should we have another reminder of our long cold winter?

At CMC our Fall Semester begins the end of August and goes to the beginning of December. Just about the beginning of the serious winter season in January CMC starts the Spring Semester. Actually spring registration begins December 1 even before winter begins. Now is that the power of positive thinking? Let’s think spring and maybe the winter will go away?

The Spring Semester ends before the real spring has hardly had time to get cranked around the first part of May.

I started teaching at CMC in 1983 when the student profiles were different. Today most of my students are serious snowboarders and school is down the list of their passions. Funny how snow can help people become educated.

I suppose it is a good thing we don’t set our clocks according to all of these school calendars.

The impact here in our high country resorts is that summer is almost over. The Front Range visitors are gradually making their way down the mountain to all of the back to school sales for last minute shopping trips.

Our eastern visitors just got here but are seriously thinking about heading home because their schools start in just a couple of weeks also. One more raft trip or one more day hike and then pack up the car, rob a bank for gas money and then off to home again.

I say this every year but we do have a major secret that we try to keep from everyone from New York or Iowa or the Front Range. The truly best part of the entire year is not the winter. It is not the summer. It is the time after all of the tourists go home after the first of September and we are left with our beautiful fall and the solitude to enjoy the best place on this earth. Of course we don’t count the Aspen turning period when a lot of people come back. By the way that happens normally around the 15th of September only six weeks away. Six weeks!

Friday, July 18, 2008

July 21, 2008---Up, up and away no more

Consider This for July 21, 2008---Up, up and away no more

The latest victim of high fuel prices is the airline industry. The pilots at U.S. Airways are refusing to comply with an order by management that they reduce the amount of fuel they have in their tanks. Fuel weighs a certain amount and to carry extra fuel costs the airline more because of the weight.

The pilots feel they need the extra fuel as insurance against the possibility of having to circle an airport to get clearance to land or to divert to another airport when the original destination is busy, full or closed.

I do not blame the pilots as they must put safety first. They must carry the extra fuel and the airlines will just have to suck it up or add the cost to the already high ticket price. No one wants to fly around wondering if there is going to be enough fuel in the tank to divert to a far away airport or to circle for an hour or two to land in a Colorado snowstorm.

In the high Rockies this can become critical because there are not that many airports available to divert to in an emergency. Just look at a map. Or better yet don’t look at a map because it might scare you.

In the same news reports the forecast is that there will be as many as 50,000 jobs lost in the airline industry in the next twelve months. There are projections that at least two or three existing airlines will close their doors due to fuel costs. They can’t stay in business because it costs too much.

The news also said that the average round trip domestic coach ticket is now $400 up nearly 100% over the past year.

All of this is the unintended consequences of rising fuel costs.

I flew to Mexico City round trip three years ago for $200. I flew to Guatemala City last year for $400 round trip. I flew to Quito this year for $700 round trip. Besides the ever increasing costs I found that the flights and service were lacking over my past trips. I virtually had no service from the flight attendants and I felt that I was on a commuter bus rather than a passenger jet costing millions of dollars. It was sad to see how much service had deteriorated. It was much like losing an old friend.

To top it all off they keep shoving the seats together until your knees are slammed against the seat in front of you. I flew for seven hours to South American and both of my legs were numb most of the time. Yes, I know I could get up and walk around but in order to do that the other two passengers in my row would have to get up and walk around with me. There was no squeezing through in front of them.

I hate to say this but I think that I have flown for the last time. The airlines have put themselves out of business but in the process they have lost me as a customer forever. I can drive to where I am going although I am not sure it is any cheaper. I can still take a Greyhound bus and once again become an observer of the underbelly of life in America. That might be fertile ground for a novel I have yet to write.

I could probably use the experience to relate some interesting stories to my Sociology classes. I wonder if my students would wonder if I was telling the truth.

Or maybe instead of spending thousands of dollars flying hither and yon I could just stay home and have my five children and seven grandchildren come visit me for a change. It might be educational for them and even more relaxing for me.

Yes, “The times they are a changing” and I wonder how all of this will eventually impact our golden goose, the tourism industry. Now where is that high speed mass transit system when you need it?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

July 14, 2008—Pet Peeves: Yours, Mine and Ours

Consider This for July 14, 2008—Pet Peeves: Yours, Mine and Ours

This is a compilation of things that I hear or think about as I trundle about Summit County. For the most part they are a waste of brain power or oxygen if you think or talk about them.

People insist on saying that I 70 runs east and west or the Dam road runs east and west or that Swan Mountain Road runs east and west. They don’t folks. They run generally north and south. It is correct to say they run eastbound or westbound but the road itself runs nearly north and south. Main Street Frisco runs east and west. The other side of the Interstate on west Main Street is west and not north. I hear long time locals refer to the other side of the interstate in Frisco as the north side of the interstate. It is the west side.

Summit County is known as Ski Country. We get snow at least nine months a year in various amounts. We have four ski areas here and people come from all over the world to enjoy our snow and cold weather. Then we have the person who moves here from somewhere else and spends all of their time complaining about the snow and cold weather. You have got to be kidding me.

Then people complain about the snow and ice on the roads in the winter. For some reason they lost the connection with winter sports and snow on the road. I think they truly believe that the snow should land everywhere but on the roads.

And then we have tourists. Tourists equate to cars. When the tourists come they drive their cars. Then we have traffic. Then the Summit County brain trust complains about the traffic. Duh. What do they expect? I have learned to stay home if the traffic is bad.

I 70 was not planned very well and for the past twenty years we have cars backed up from Frisco to Golden every Saturday and Sunday afternoon. It is a fact of life. That is much like the snow landing on the roads.

The classic one is the current debate about bikes on Swan Mountain Road. We have had bikes on Swan Mountain since the road was built.

I love the discussion about cameras on the buses. There are cameras watching you everywhere. It is a health and safety issue and has nothing to do with private rights. You do not have any private rights when you are in the public. You are being watched just about everywhere you go. Think about that before you pick your nose.

And now for all of you grammarians out there here is your chance to complain. Here is the longest run on sentence you will read today. Colorado taxes are the lowest in the nation, undocumented workers are here to stay, you can’t deport 12 million people, gas prices will continue to increase regardless of how much you complain, there is no solution to pine beetle short of cutting the trees down and there is not enough money on the planet to do that, housing will continue to get more expensive, affordable housing increases the cost of all housing, open space increases the cost of all land, there will always be bears getting into your trash, the grocery stores will always be crowded with tourists, there are way too many police officers in Summit County, firefighters will continue to park their fire trucks in the parking lot at grocery stores to buy food for the station, there will always be highway construction and cone zones, people should not violate the migratory bird laws by using a garden hose to knock down bird nests in the eaves of their home, global warming is real, the north pole might be totally clear of ice this summer, you can’t move the slow moving car in front of you by tailgating, you do not have to talk loud when you are on your cell phone, but you do have the right to complain so keep it up.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

July 7, 2008-The Free Bus Promise

Consider This for July 7, 2008-The Free Bus Promise

A promise kept should not be broken.

Thirty-four years ago there was no bus system in Summit County. The closest thing we had was the Greyhound and Trailways buses that would come through the county and stop at a motel on Main Street in Frisco on their way to Los Angeles or New York. Not exactly a “local” transportation system.

As time went by several different systems were created. We had four ski areas and each had their own bus system that may or may not go to where you wanted to go. The systems were created for a particular ridership.

I had a secretary at the Sheriff’s Office who lived in Wildernest. She would take the Wildernest shuttle bus to either Silverthorne or Keystone and then catch a ski bus to Breckenridge to come to work at the courthouse. I remember her being thrown off one of the buses because it was obvious that she was a secretary and not a skier.

The Summit Stage was birthed out of this transportation mess and became one of the very best bus systems in Colorado.

And here comes $4 a gallon gasoline and $5 a gallon diesel fuel. And in a panic routes are cut and a there is a discussion about creating a fare for our free bus system.

The real responsibility for paying for a “free bus service” is with Summit County, the towns and the ski areas. It is their job to provide the very best infrastructure that includes good public transportation.

I love it when I hear the sales tax consumers (government) refer to “their” sales tax. It is not “their” sales tax. The sales tax is paid by locals and guests and not any government. In fact the County and the Towns as governments are “sales tax exempt.” It is not “their” sales tax and far from it as they do not pay one penny in sales tax. Sales tax only a pass through for government with the revenue being used to provide county and town services that includes a free bus service.

It is counter intuitive to think that when costs rise due to $4 a gallon fuel to then cut services. It is exactly the time you increase service to take care of increased ridership due to increased costs to the people for their personal transportation.

A successful business will tell you that when sales drop you do not cut your advertising budget. In fact it is the opposite and that is exactly the time you increase marketing to make up for lost sales.