Remember Report Cards?

When Szelhamos and my mother were still very new to this country, they really didn’t speak much English.

That proved to be of great advantage when I was in the second grade.

Back then, I spent a lot of time in the corner, as I continually acted out a my infantile way of demonstrating my crush on Miss Spillinger, the teacher. The fact that Miss Spillinger would probably be about 70 years old now would make her a cougar by most anyone’s operating definition.

Report CardsWhen I received my report card, I was not eagerly awaiting the parental unit’s disappointment over my “Conduct” grade . I had received a “U” for “Unsatisfactory”. Even at age 7 or 8 I knew that there would be some kind of price to be paid.

What I hadn’t counted on was Szelhamos relapsing to German or Yiddish for his interpretation of the “U”. To he and my mother. it meant “Uber”, the very highest of grades. I don’t really know what they thought the only other grade “S” for “satisfactory” stood for. They probably thought that was Hungarian for “szar”, which by all reports would have been consistent with Szelhamos’ school performance.

In cae you’re not fluent in Hungarian, just go to Google Translate.

But they were both quite proud. Clearly, as parents that had done everything right.

Whew, spared whatever the consequences would have been. All I had to do was to promise that I would work harder to get “Ubers” in all of the other subjects and not “Szars”

All was forgotten by the third grade as we moved on to a different grading stysem, the old A through F. with  A and E alternatively used as the highest grades. And lets not forget all of those in-between grades that pluses and minuses were all about.

Through high school our report cards were numerically graded in units of ones. Very precise. Every exam had consequence, as every exam would change your final grade.

For my own children, by the time they reached high school, there was a maddening grading system. Although it was still an abbreviated A through E, with E now replacing F as a failing grade, but all performance motivation was extinguished. That was because the system had no contingency for plus or minus grades. A student with a “B” knew that no matter how well he would have done on the final exam it would have no impact on the final grade. Whether you had an 80 or an 89 it didn’t matter. It was all the same.

Students are very good at gaming the system and there was really no consequence for poor performance or inconsistent performance, as long as you stayed within a broad grade range.

Forget about the concept of doing well just for the sake of knowing that you did well.

Personal Pride? You may as well use a Google Translate tool to figure out what that means as well. You could have done szar on an exam and it would not have mattered one bit.

For me as a parent, report cards became worthless quarterly pieces of paper, knowing full well that the system promoted under-achievement. If that’s too harsh, then let’s just say that the system didn’t promote optimizing efforts.

In hindsight, I give my kids credit, though, for not wasting their time on an equally worthless system.

I often used to think that teachers should have some kind of report card, but I know how subjective those grades might be, especially if parents had a say in the process. Although there must be some kind of evaluation system, the consumer student or family is not privy to that information, even if the teacher has been charged in some kind of sex crime.

But at least the nice thing about the educational system was that most of the time your exposure to a teacher was a once in a lifetime experience. Unless that exposure was part of a sex crime, in which case either the video or the nightmares could make those images recurrent.

I never had Miss Spillinger, or another like her again. That probably turned out to be a good thing. I was able to turn my attention toward academic achievement as opposed to lusting for an academic.

If she were around today, I would probably worship the denture adhesive that she would now be sticking onto her forehead.

But those days are over. Even though my youngest son still has two more years of college to go, they are really over.

Back in the days when I actually worked for a living I would have to do quarterly and annual evaluations on my professional and non-professional staff. Sometimes the criteria were prescribed for me, while other times I formulated the performance criteria to suit the individual’s strengths and job requirements.

People certainly had incentive to do well because bonuses were at stake.

Nice incentive.

In a world where bonuses are most often much more meaningful than actual salary, I often wonder what kind of real report card is used on Wall Street. I’m certain that its entirely related to how much income is bought in, with perhaps some inverse consideration being given for the number of current SEC or criminal investigations. But no doubt, those report cards are internal documents and not shared with the investing public.

Afterall, if public servants don’t have their report cards disclosed, why should employees of publicly traded companies?

A few years ago, Joe Kernen of CNBC did the unthinkable. He called an “expert” to task, when that well known individual, who has since passed away, said something that was clearly not true and in complete contrast to his previous positions prior to the financial meltdown. No one likes a guy who tells you “I told you so”, when in fact he was part of the cheering chorus. It’s one thing to be a  bear and have your followers miss the boat. It’s quite another to be a raging bull and then see your followers fall off the cliff.

The difference is that the bear followers live to see another day. But then again, so does the rampaging bull advisor. Too bad his followers may not get that luxury. Did you ever notice that cult leaders tend not to take the Kool-Aid?

Kernen threatened to bring out the videotape.

Indignant is one way of describing the response and the atmosphere remained tense.No one likes to be graded on performance at any stage of life, especially if you know that you’ve not even qualified for a “Gentleman’s C”.

I blame Kernen for the gentleman’s subsequent death.

Obviously, any kind of financial performance report card is fraught with problems. The mutual fund industry has been great at portraying their performance in the best light by slicing and dicing the numbers and reporting periods in question.

Just look at all of the controversy surrounding Jim Cramer’s performance as a public tout. The numbers generated by “objective” observers are all over the place.

As I sit and listen to analysts and experts all day long it is equally obvious that no one really keeps track of all of the statements, recommendations and pronouncements. Given that these guys are always looking for a way to distinguish themselves from the pack, it should be relatively easy in these days of computers and data collection to actually track someone.

The way to really distinguish yourself is to be lucky with at leat one big call, be attractive and personable. Then you make bold statements while counting on  memory self-destruct processes to kick in.

Of course sending a buy signal is only one part of the equation. The next part, that we rarely get released for public consumption is when to sell. No one wants to publicly come out and say “sell” or more genteely say “take profits”.

There are some brave souls who will say as much, but that comes with personal peril.

As I watch yet another TV sequence with Dennis Gartman of commodities fame, I wonder what his real and current batting average is right now. based on his reception on various shows and the frequency with which he appears, you would think that he was “Uber”.

Amazingly, it always seems as if the talking heads always sell just before the unexpected plunge and always buy right before the climb.

That would be 100%, at least of the acknowledged and unaudited trades.

I do watch CNBC’s “Fast Money” most nights and analysts are marched through all of the time. I know that as people we tend to be biased toward attractive and tall people. That’s borne out by study after study.

When they parade out the technician with the patrician name on casual Fridays, how can you not immediately believe that he was ordained to be infallible?

Especially if a gnome like ogre comes to a different conclusion looking at the same chart?

Even if the guy with three names turned the chart upside down and said precisely the same thing you would believe him, while rolling your eyes if the Kucinich like analyst did the same thing.

Of course, the Kucinich-like analyst never would have made it onto TV, although there is one incredibly ugly guy who appears on CNBC. Given his outward appearance, I’d say that he was probably very, very good at what he does, unless he’s sleeping with the producer.

These are the things that markets are made of, but these are a few of my least favorite things.

For all I know, that ogre may speak the Gospel, but no one calls anyone to task.

Today, with the options cycle coming to an end this Friday, I sold near the money call options in Williams Sonoma, one of my perennial favorites, as well as in Spreadtrum Communications.

A also bought more shares of the ProShares Ultra Silver which was down big today, as silver and gold prices soared again. Although I initially thought that I would hold onto those shares as a speculative play, I eventually sold July call options on those, as well.

Why am I telling you this?

Just as I did last week, when I sold some last minute call options hoping to scrounge out a few pennies, a last minute rally in the markets got my shares assigned. My ultimate trade was pennies for dollars and I was on the short end.

There’s no obligation to tell you, since I’m not an advisor, nor do I sell my expertise in real time.

But report cards are important. When it comes to protecting my money, I don’t mind looking at an ogre. At least with an ogre, it’s all out there for everyone to see, warts and all.

The late Mark Haines would very often question  guests with a cynical tone.With the new iteration of Squawk Box and Squawk on the Street, the remaining members of the trio of the last decade, Joe Kernen and David Faber are back together, albeit in picture frames.

It would be a great tribute if they returned to those days of holding analysts and experts to the fire. It’s time to sharpen up those pencils and let the grades fall where they may.