Black Coffee: Guess Which Stock Market Index Is Up 212% This Year

It’s time to sit back, relax and enjoy a little joe

Welcome to another rousing edition of Black Coffee, your off-beat weekly round-up of what’s been going on in the world of money and personal finance.

A few years ago I started drinking at least two big glasses of fruit juice every day. My juice of choice is grape, but I will occasionally stray from the reservation and enjoy a pineapple-orange-banana blend, or regular OJ — just to mix things up.

Anyway, since then, I’ve noticed two significant changes in my health. First, I get colds a lot less frequently, despite having kids who bring them home with alarming regularity. In fact, I went from having three or four colds per year to roughly one. At most.

And when I do get a cold now, the duration is much shorter — they usually run their course in a week or less.

The second change was an even bigger surprise. I used to get annoying little chancre sores inside my mouth four or five times per year. They would occasionally pop up out of nowhere — usually one at a time, but sometimes in pairs — and, man, did they ever hurt!

Guess what. I haven’t one of those in almost three years now. Coincidence? I think not.

Fruit juice, folks. Remember that.

Okay, upward and onward …

The Way-Back Machine: Past Posts Of Mine You May Have Missed

From September 2009:

Personal Finance Strategies for the End Times – You’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That’s the sign post up ahead, your next stop … The Personal Finance Twilight Zone. (No, really.)

And Here’s Some Other Posts You Might Enjoy …

Afford Anything – The Lost Art of Escape

My Journey to Millions – When Is It Time to Give Up a Dream?

Squirrelers – Knowing Your Limitations Can Be Financially Beneficial

Oblivious Investor – Misconceptions About Delaying Social Security

KrantCents – 25 Odd Jobs That Make Good Money

Credits and Debits

Credit: ZeroHedge notes that one of the best performing stock markets in the world this year is, get this: Venezuela’s Caracas Stock Index. It’s currently up 212% since January 1st — and 425% over the past 12 months. Yep, that Venezuela.

Debit: Ironically, the massive “gains” by Venezuelan stock market indicate an economy in severe distress, and are actually a symptom of Venezuela’s high inflation, which is “officially” running at an annualized rate of 43%.

Debit: Things are getting so bad in Venezuela now that, in addition to persistent nationwide toilet paper and bread shortages caused by misguided price controls, the socialist country is now being plagued by widespread electricity blackouts too.

Debit: For their part, government officials in Caracas refuse to admit that their economic policies are responsible for Venezuela’s crumbling electric grid. Instead, they’re blaming the electricity shortages on … their political opposition. I know.

Debit: There’s more. Despite having eight times more water per capita than France, parts of Venezuela are suffering from severe water shortages because their water facilities lack the technology to adequately treat it.

Debit: According to Bloomberg: “(Venezuela’s) socialist revolution redirected funds from companies to reduce poverty and widen access to education, health-care and housing … while neglecting basic services.”   Yeah, but at least everyone is miserable together now. Forward!

Debit: Meanwhile, after a brief pause last week, US mortgage rates resumed their rapid ascent; the benchmark 30-year fixed-rate mortgage climbed another tenth of a percent to 4.72%. In fact, mortgage rates have been climbing at the quickest pace since 2008.

Credit: How about some good news? Despite yet another weak jobs report in August, the US unemployment rate fell a tenth of a point to 7.3%. Hooray! I think.

Debit: Then again, the unemployment rate only fell because the number of long-term jobless workers that are no longer being counted for statistical purposes increased. See, you can only be unemployed so long before government bureaucrats drop you from the official labor rolls — even if you’re still looking for a job. See how that works?

Debit: Alas, there were only 169,000 new jobs created last month — that’s barely enough to keep up with population growth. Remember back in 2004 when somebody was squawking about the economy generating “only” 306,000 new jobs per month — and an unemployment rate of 5.6%?

Debit: For the record, since 2009, the US economy has generated more than 306,000 jobs in a single month just three times. Hey, I’m not sayin’. I’m just sayin’.

Debit: The jobs picture doesn’t look like it will be improving anytime soon either. That’s because the number of planned layoffs at US firms climbed 34% in August. In all, businesses gave 50,432 employees their notices last month.

Credit: Finally … Did you see this? Last month, 40,000 longshoremen quit the AFL-CIO, citing Obamacare as an important cause for the separation. Unbelievable.

Credit: Wasn’t the longshoremen’s union also passionately in favor of passing the Obamacare bill so they could find out what was in it? Ready. Fire! Aim.

By the Numbers

The long slide of declining union membership continues. Here’s a closer look:

14.3 million Total US workers that currently belong to a union.

400,000 Union membership decline between 2011 and 2012.

35.9 Percentage of government union workers in 2012. (That’s down from 37% in 2011.)

6.6 Percentage of private sector union members in 2012.

35 Percentage of union members who worked in the private sector during the 1950s, when union membership peaked.

11.3 Percentage of total US workforce that belonged to a union last year.

1916 The last year that union membership in the US was lower than it was in 2012. (11.2%)

Source:  New York Times

Last Week’s Poll Results

Have you noticed any Christmas products at your local retailer yet?

  • No (54%)
  • Yes (46%)

Last week, I shared a picture that was taken on August 22nd at my local Costco, which was decked out in full Christmas regalia. Well, with over 200 people responding, it appears a slight majority has yet to be bombarded with Christmas goodies at their local retail establishments. Lucky you! Still, with two full weeks of summer to go, almost half of all respondents have already seen holiday merchandise on display. Sad.

The Question of the Week

Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

Book Giveaway

If you like my continuing series that highlights readers who are making ends meet on less than $40,000 per year — and in some cases far less than that — then you’ll want to read Clark Howard’s Living Large for the Long Haul. The book highlights real stories from Americans who saved money, lost, and then saved again.

If you’d like to win a free copy, all you have to do is leave a comment below between now and Friday, September 13th at 5:00 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time and you’ll be in the running. I’ll draw a name at random among all the comments. And if you can’t think of anything pithy, just tell me your favorite color.

Other Useless News

Programming note: Unlike most blogs, I’m always open for the weekend here at Len Penzo dot Com. There’s a fresh new article waiting for you every Saturday afternoon. At least there should be. If not, somebody call 9-1-1.

Hey! If you happen to enjoy what you’re reading — or not — please don’t forget to:

1. Click on that “Like” button in the sidebar to your right and become a fan of Len Penzo dot Com on Facebook!

2. Make sure you follow me on Twitter!

And last, but not least…

3. Don’t forget to subscribe to my RSS feed too! Thank you. :-)

Top 25 Referrers for August

It’s the first weekend of the month, which means it’s time once again to thank the top 25 referring websites to Len Penzo dot Com.

1. Business Insider
2. MSN
3. Kiplinger
4. Mr. Money Mustache
5. The Simple Dollar
6. Money Talks News
7. Wisebread
8. Frugal Village
9. Budgets Are Sexy
10. The Quest for $85k
11. Save Outside the Box
12. The Consumerist
13. Afford Anything
14. And Then We Saved
15. Smart Asset
16. Early Retirement Extreme
17. Money Sense
18. Budgeting in the Fun Stuff
19. Monevator
20. Don’t Quit Your Day Job
21. Deseret News
22. Control Your Cash
23. The Free Financial Advisor
24. Clark Howard
25. Stacking Benjamins

Thank you to everyone who refers their readers to this little ol’ blog! It’s much appreciated.

Letters, I Get Letters

Every week I feature the most interesting question or comment — assuming I get one, that is. And folks who are lucky enough to have the only question in the mailbag get their letter highlighted here whether it’s interesting or not! You can reach out to me at:

Last Wednesday I got a nice note from Frugal Pediatrician that opened with this:

You are very wise …

Thanks, Doc. I forwarded your assessment to the Honeybee. Unfortunately, she wants a second opinion.

I’m Len Penzo and I approved this message.


  1. 1


    Grape juice has some of the same positive ingredients as wine. I switched back to a fruit smoothie for breakfast a few months ago. Orange juice, frozen mango, medley of frozen fruit, banana, and a little yogurt. It keeps me going until lunch and it is healthy too.

    Thanks for the links, I am in good company.

  2. 4


    I do get a lot of colds because I am in health care and the clients cough and sneeze all over me.

    The Canadian government ran a giant television and doctor’s office campaign a few years ago encouraging all Canadians to cough in to their elbow instead of their hands. It was a failure. People cough and sneeze with no thought to wear the germs are headed.

  3. 7

    Aunt Jenny says

    I work in healthcare too and I find that getting enough sleep is another thing that helps me avoid colds, etc. The minute I don’t get enough of it, I get sick, so I make it a priority.

  4. 9

    Adrienne S says

    You and Zero Hedge duke it out for my favorite financial blogs and it warms my heart that you reference them. Brilliant work as usual Len!

    • 10

      Len Penzo says

      Thank you, Adrienne. Zero Hedge is one of my favorite blogs too. There isn’t a better blog out there that explains how the world’s current financial system really works — and why it will ultimately fail.

  5. 12

    Taddy says

    Favorite color is black. Sadly that doesn’t help me at all during summer when I’m trying to find lighter colors to wear to beat the heat. :p

  6. 13

    Sherry says

    Purple. I found that having young kids were our downfall when it came to colds. Once our baby hit middle school the number of colds we got every year really dropped. Even though I work in healthcare I rarely catch a cold anymore :)

  7. 14

    Frugal Pediatrician says

    Honored to be mentioned in the blog! The new vitamin bandwagon these days is actually vitamin D. For an adult anything between 400-1000 IU vitamin D is safe without following levels. Low vitamin D is associated with more colds in some cohorts. Most the orange juices are fortified with vitamin D.

  8. 15

    Randy A says

    Haven’t had a cold since Winter of 2005. I attribute it to thorough hand washing/sanitization and vitamin C supplement, though I switched to grape juice recently for the vitamin C and resveratrol.

  9. 18

    Karin says

    I recently delivered a budgeting seminar to a group of mostly young, single Moms who were participating in a welfare-to-work program. By the time I left I had them all chanting “pay yourself first!” Your blog gives great advice – especially for young people who aren’t getting this guidance from parents or others.

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