A Tail Of Land Yachts

"Any man who has to ask about the upkeep ... can't afford one."

As we all know, the author of that quote was John Pierpoint Morgan - he of banking and robber baron fame - and he was referring to yachts.

But push your paws through the Eric Evarts story to the right, and you'll quickly conclude that J.P. might just as well have been referring to the likes of Miss Stitches.

Turn to Page B4, and you'll see what I mean. She's lovely. She's beautiful. She's got jowls that could hide a yacht.

Miss Stitches is a great Dane and a great example of what people spend on pets these days - $4,000-plus a year for (don't take this the wrong way) - Hello? - a dog.

I read Eric's story with great interest because Mrs. McCormick has expressed keen interest in something small and terrier-ish.

We live in a condo in the city, and every time the subject comes up I frantically leaf through the edition of "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus" that I am required to keep with me at all times, searching for the correct response.

Uh oh. Not a word about terriers. So I usually pretend to be asleep. I close my eyes, don't speak, and hope it goes away.

Because ... have you ever had to take out a loan after taking an animal to the vet? Immersed an entire white carpet in spot remover? Discovered that a simple animal with limited motor skills can, in fact, remove the lid from a tin full of chocolate chip cookies and eat all of them five minutes before the family embarks on a car trip across the country? Spent a week installing one of those invisible electronic fences around your yard only to have a dumb animal figure out a way through it in five minutes?

Ah yes. There are many fine benefits associated with owning a dog or a (nature's way of saying humans are slugs) cat. You just won't hear them from me.

Especially after reading Eric's story. A Frank Lloyd Wright dog house? Puh-leeze. What have we come to?

One spot we have come to (segue alert! Segue alert!) this week is a crossroads in the stock market.

The volatility - sharp swings up and down, but mostly down - is astounding, exceeding any time in the last three years. The level of bearish sentiment out there is unusually high, with some of the more extreme analysts predicting a market crash.

The most reasonable perspective I've heard comes from John Bollinger of Bollinger Capital Management in Los Angeles.

He thinks the dynamics have changed and cites an old saw, that it's not a stock market but a market of stocks.

In other words, the market is acting less and less like a single unit.

Which means it's time to switch off the cruise control. Mutual funds designed to track the market indexes - index funds - may start to perform poorly compared to those run by managers who find good companies - well run, great products - overlooked by the market.

The investment climate feels as if it's shifting away from growth investing to value investing.

The former focuses on companies whose stock price will grow because of strong profits. The latter, on those that have escaped the attention of the herd.

Traditionally, value investing works better, though this stock market has favored growth. We'll have more on the topic in the coming weeks.

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