Vacations are a great time to do nothing.
To recharge the batteries; to let the mind slip away into a state of dull nothingness.
And there we were in heavenly Florida - for 10 mostly magical days; swimming; lounging; doing nothing.
Well, that is a half-truth.
While it is true that this was probably one of the longest times in recent memory when I was not constantly on the phone with investors, colleagues at work, or well-wishers - I was still "in touch".
The analyst in me can never really switch off completely.
And the internet and sms allowed me to keep in touch from varied locations like the swimming pool or the beach.
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We were with old friends, good friends - and some happen to work with large investment management companies in USA. Invariably, the conversation moved over to work-related issues.
The wives were unhappy - they rearranged the seating so that we could talk "our stuff" and they could talk theirs.
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A service state
The east coast of Florida is truly amazing.
I suffer from asthma and find that the air there is the purest.
The winds that breeze across the state tend to begin somewhere in the sea between Africa and Latin America.
And as they race towards Florida they go over mostly open sea and some small islands - none of which are great manufacturing hubs.
When they make landfall, the air must be one of the purest - and warmest - in any part of the world.
And there are no factories, as such, in Florida.
It is a service state; so the air stays pretty pure.
The retired move down from colder climates to live their last few years in warmer and gentler weather.
They bring with them their life savings, their books, and their hobbies - which may include golf or just lounging by the pool.
They need people to look after them - mostly health care - so there is a large community of nurses and doctors.
And then the rich come down there to own a mansion on the beach; or a boat that they can use all year around. So they need another set of services: from young waitresses to staff the restaurants to captains and crew to look after their yachts and boats.
Mickey and Minnie are also headquartered in Orlando, in northern Florida. And the whole world wants to have breakfast with them in Disney.
For decades the immigrants from Latin America and Cuba fled persecution and sought better opportunities in Miami. Spanish is now the effective language of Miami - and the driving rules are certainly not what you would expect of mainland USA. I joke with my white-skinned, American friends: they need a visa to enter Miami.
Going ga-ga over La-La
But while Florida, in my opinion, is indeed La-La Land the world went ga-ga over property in Florida.
Just as we all went ga-ga over Indian stocks.
Good long term fundamentals - but silliness in what we are willing to pay for it.
People were willing to pay too much for property in Florida.
And Florida went into overbuild mode.
Just as Pune, Gurgaon, and many parts of India did.
Prices have fallen by -30% to -50% in Florida.
Speculators are devastated.
Foreclosures have risen to all-time highs as mortgage payments cannot be met. Across the US, about 1.5 million homes have ended up in foreclosure: California, Florida, Nevada, and Michigan dominate the list.
The typical US consumer has seen his savings rate reach 5% of income - in the year 2007, it was negative -0.8%; because they were spending more than they were earning.
One would expect a war-zone with people huddled up at home; not going out to eat; not spending money.
Malls that were packed with stores now bear "Space Available for Rent" signs on them.
And there is the paradox.
Every restaurant chain we went to had a waiting list of 30 to 45 minutes. California Pizza Kitchen; P. F. Chang's; Cheesecake Factory - all packed.
In some cases we had to circle the parking lot to find a place to park.
The malls were not full - but there were no bargains, and no sales worth talking about.
We went to Linens and Things to look around for stuff for the house. They were closed - in bankruptcy, we were told. So we went across to Bed Bath and Beyond - still in business - and no cut in prices.
We went to Circuit City - also closed and in bankruptcy. So we went to Best Buy - still in business with some special offers on electronic items and household gadgets.
A visitor from Wisconsin told me that flights were full. He took his kids to Disney and they had to shut down the gates to the park - there were too many people. The theme parks were full to capacity.
Maybe the problem was that we were in Florida: it was a tourist state.
Not only were there tourists from within USA but also from outside - like us.
Our flight was full, too. And the fares were not cheap.
Maybe the problem was that all these stores and malls built too much - too fast. Their rate of expansion of square feet constructed was more than what people could afford - at that time, at that price.
Again like the developers in India: building too much, too soon, at the wrong prices.
Or maybe the real problem is restricted to the people employed in finance companies and in the real estate business. They are the people who had a terrible year and are in "recession".
As are the speculators - who don't' deserve any bail out.
General Motors was anyway headed towards bankruptcy; for years they had lost market share to the Japanese, Germans, and Koreans - this slowdown only accelerated the disaster.
The airlines had bought too many planes - this slowdown and the rising price of oil in CY 2008 forced them to knock off many extra routes, reduce their headcount, and focus their flights to the more profitable routes. Now their flights are full.
Maybe this is all about saving the salaries and bonuses of 200,000 MBAs running the financial world.
And saving the financial geniuses who have friends in government.
Just as the real estate barons in India have their friendships and connections - sometimes cemented with partnerships with the families of the politicians.
I don't have answers to any of these questions.
I was supposed to be on holiday.
In La-La Land.
Breathing the fresh pure air and enjoying the warm pool.
And sometimes allowing my mind wander to uncomfortable truths.
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Note: The Honest Truth is authored by Ajit Dayal. Ajit is a Director at Quantum Advisors Pvt Ltd and Quantum Asset Management Company Pvt Ltd.. Views expressed in this article are entirely those of the author and may not be regarded as views of the Quantum Mutual Fund or Quantum Asset Management Company Private Limited.