Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh called in sick to work this morning with a bad case of hiding-from-the-consequences-of-her-actions.
(It’s a very real illness that will affect 99% of politicians in their lifetime.)
According to a statement released by her office, Pugh has come down with a touch of pneumonia smack bang in the middle of the biggest political scandal Baltimore has seen in years.
You might know Pugh as the mayor of Baltimore city. But did you know she’s also one of the most successful self-published authors of all-time?
I’d wager you didn’t. Because nobody’s read her books.
Healthy Holly and the Cauldron of Graft
At the center of this snowballing corruption scandal is a series of children’s books written by Pugh: the Healthy Holly books.
Healthy Holly is a little girl who lives in Baltimore. She likes eating fruit and veg and exercising.
Aaaaaaand that’s pretty much all there is to the books.
I’ve had this exact nightmare before.
It’s the kind of faux-educational trash you’d expect to find abandoned in a dentist’s office. But writing a bad book isn’t a crime. (Otherwise, Stephanie Meyer would be locked up in a supermax.)
Pugh is under fire for a $500k publishing deal she made with the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS).
A deal that was approved by the board of directors… which Pugh just so happened to be a member of.
(Gasp. What a strange coincidence.)
- UMMS agreed to pay Pugh $500k for 100k copies of the Healthy Hollybooks.
- To put that into perspective, the initial U.S. run of the first Harry Potterbook was just 50k copies.
- UMMS paid Pugh in advance for four books which had yet to be written. This makes her one of America’s most successful self-published authors.
- 50k Healthy Holly books are “unaccounted” for.
Allegedly, 80k Healthy Holly books were printed to be distributed to schools, hospitals, and libraries, with another 20k scheduled to be printed this year.
However, there’s no documentation when or how the books were printed or where they were distributed. (And politicians are usually so good at leaving a paper trail of their crimes.)
Investigators for the Baltimore Sun scoured schools, libraries, bookstores, and child care centers for copies of the book.
They were able to dig up a few copies here and there. But none of the books were being used as “teaching tools” for children. And the vast majority were just gathering dust in warehouses or back rooms (because, again, they’re not very good).
Fifty thousand of the books, however, are totally unaccounted for.
Which means they have either:
- Gotten lost in the system
- Ended up on a trash heap somewhere
- Or were never even printed in the first place and someone pocketed the printing money
My money is on door number three.
When it comes to UMMS, Healthy Holly is just the tip of the swag bag.
The UMMS governs more than a dozen hospitals that bring in more than $4 billion annually. And the members of the board of directors have been quietly lining their pockets with as much of that money as possible.
One board member, a medical doctor, generated more than $300,000 in 2017 from contracts with UMMS.
Another, the owner of an ambulance company, makes more than $100,000 annually through contracts with the system.
The list goes on and on.
We could do this all day. But I like to eat dinner before 10p.m.
Ms. Pugh: I hope you have the speediest of recoveries. May I recommend a series of wonderful books on staying healthy?
(Full disclosure: I’ve been following this story closely because I work in Baltimore. But I’d like to know about what’s going on where you live. What the biggest political scandal from your town or county?)
Lyft is Skidding Into the Red
Lyft’s stock took 12% yesterday as investors realized what we knew along:
Lyft is more overvalued than Mark Wahlberg in a romantic comedy.
Much ado was made about the rideshare app’s IPO last week, even as the specter of huge financial losses loomed over the occasion.
Lyft blasted onto the market floor with a starting stock price of $87.24, valuing the company at $26.6 billion.
But in just its second day of trading, the company lost $6.8 billion in value as investors came to their senses.
(Anyone who uses a dating app knows this is what happens when you overvalue yourself. If you put hiking in your profile, you’re going to have to hike sometimes, Karen!)
We all knew about the company’s $911 million in losses for 2018. But the temptation to buy the next big shiny thing was too much to resist.
But after a weekend of sitting with their decision (and trying to explain it to their spouse), investors are quickly coming to their senses. The stock slid another 1% when the markets opened this morning.
The Fix Is In
We’ve said it time and time again.
The IPO game has always been rigged against the little guy.
The fact is the real gains are made before the company goes public.
Take Facebook for example.
If you bought shares of Facebook right after the IPO… you’d be up 368% today.
Not bad, sure. But that’s nothing compared with the gains the early investors pocketed before Facebook went public.
Because while the little guy was paying $42 a share after the IPO, the Silicon Valley insiders were getting into Facebook when it was trading for just $1 on the private market.
With Facebook’s gains, one of those dollars would be worth just under $42,000 today — that’s a return of 4,199,900%.
A regular investor could only dream of those returns.
Bitcoin Mysteriously Surges
Bitcoin, the currency that everyone loves to not understand, rallied 23% this morning.
“But we have no f***ing idea why,” says the experts.
For the last few months, bitcoin has languished between $3,400 and $4,000. But between 5:30 and 6:22 a.m. London time, the comeback coin rallied, surging beyond $5,000.
Bitcoin pared its gains to about $4,700 (an increase of 16% from yesterday) and has held steady since.
Zhao Changpeng, CEO of the world’s largest crypto exchange, has no idea why anyone would be buying bitcoin right now.
So what happened?
Is this the start of a new bitcoin bull run? Or the result of a bad April Fool’s joke?
Can 20k Bitcoin buy you a sense of humor?
One theory is that the rally was set off by a spoof article saying the SEC had approved two bitcoin-based ETFs.
According to the article:
The United States Securities and Exchange Commission has made the decision to approve not one, but two applications for bitcoin-based exchange traded funds (ETFs). Early next month, bitcoin ETFs will be launched by Bitwise Asset Management and investment management firm VanEck.
(Hey, aren’t April Fools meant to be funny?)
The article was preceded by the text [APRIL FOOLS] in all caps.
So that it wouldn’t fool people.
Which, at that point, I’m totally confused about the entire point of the article. If it’s not funny and doesn’t fool anybody, what’s the point?
It’s possible that some ding dongs just read the headline and went on a buying spree, unknowingly launching a bitcoin rally. But I think it’s more likely that the rally was a reaction to bitcoin breaking a long-held psychological ceiling.
Bitcoin had been flirting with the $4,200 mark all last month. When it broke that barrier last night, it triggered a surge of confidence in investors.
Bitcoin is notoriously volatile, but if it can hold steady until the end of the week, I think we may start to see it climb again.
We’re watching closely. But I want to know what you think.
Would you buy Bitcoin after the 2017 surge and crash? Do you think cryptos are dead in the water?
One Last Thing
Build a Retirement Fund Fast With “Soccer Moms”
In yesterday’s issue, we discussed how Warren Buffett loved to invest in insurance.
Insurance, Buffett reasoned, produces more cash than just about any other business.
You’re making money when you’re not paying out. And when you are paying out you get to jack up the price on those risky policyholders.
It’s a win-win situation. But obviously, regular folks like you and I aren’t going to go out today and start our own insurance companies.
But that doesn’t mean small investors can’t make money hand over fist just like insurance companies.
Our investment expert James Altucher came up with this strategy 15 years ago, when he was writing a book on Buffett:
“As I continued to research the book, I looked more closely into the types of insurance that companies like Berkshire Hathaway provide,” says James.
“When most people think of insurance, they typically think of things like auto, homeowner, property, or life insurance.
“However, in the years leading up to the financial crisis, insurance companies began to expand into more exotic (read: more profitable) types of insurance — including hedging financial risk through investments such as options.
“When I read that, my eyes widened. Having studied the options market for years, it never occurred to me that options trading could be like running my own little insurance company.”
Like insurance, options traders receive income up front to take on potential risk. They can take this money, invest it in other things, and watch their money grow over time.
Better yet, according to James, there are certain options trades that are all but sure things, equivalent to providing auto insurance to the 45-year-old soccer mom.
Of course, there’s always going to be some element of risk at play. The soccer mom’s previously spotless driving record could potentially be tarnished at any time.
However, good options traders know this… and employ strategies that protect them even when things go unexpectedly.
“Overall, some of the best options traders I know make over six figures a year just speculating on these ‘soccer mom’ picks,” says James.
“I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of these investors and learn the secrets to successful option investing… secrets that have consistently allowed me to put money in my pocket time and again.
“Investing in options doesn’t have to be hard and scary — and it can actually be quite fun and profitable.”
Later this week, James and I plan to share some of these secrets with you so you too can set up your own little “insurance company” and trade like Warren Buffett.