Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Stock Investing: FAQ

I've been doing this a long time. Since 1992, in fact, and I've beaten the market in all but 2 of those years. As you know by now, I do my own research. I read a lot of business news, I argue with other investors, I do the math (well, most of the math). I get it wrong, but more often than not, I get it right. At least in the long run.

I also collect questions. A stock investor is like a real estate agent or fitness coach: everyone wants to hear some tips, tell you their story, explore their own (sometimes harebrained) ideas, ask your thoughts. It's great, I love to talk about it. Some of my favorites:

1. I've been thinking about getting into the stock market, but I'm afraid we're in for a big market drop and I can't afford to lose the money. When is a good time?

Now. Now is just about always a good time to begin investing in stocks. For you, for your kids, for your mom and your next-door neighbor. Doesn't matter if the market drops, it always comes back and, if you choose the companies you invest in carefully, you are unlikely to lose. It's not that easy, of course: the trick is going for the long term. If you want to dabble, just grow your money quick and get out, try Las Vegas. But if you are willing to commit to a 5-year minimum (50 is better) and you can afford to leave your money in the market, you'll do great. If you buy in and the market slides, great, it's just gone on sale. Buy some more.

2. How do I teach my kids about stocks? I want them to learn about proper saving and investing but I don't know where to start.

Open each of your kids a small portfolio of their own. Fund it with a chunk of their savings (again, think L-O-N-G term) and then add whatever you can part with to start them off. It can be a total of $500 or $5,000. Easy to do on E*Trade or TD Ameritrade. Show them how to research the companies that interest them. Teach them the kinds of things to look for, like a wide competitive moat and low debt and smart managers and a great brand. You can guide their research or not, that's up to you. The #1 goal is to give them a sense of ownership, and of self-determination. The #2 goal is for their stocks to increase in value. Be prepared for them to lose the money, at least on paper and at least in the short run. Show them how to check up on their holdings (not more than weekly, and preferably monthly). Let them discover the excitement and pride of their own great choices.

3. What does it mean when the stock splits? Does that make it a better deal? Should I buy more? 

A stock split means nothing . If you think 4 quarters are worth more than a dollar, you'll love stock splits. But beyond the price of entry to own a bit of the company, a split changes nothing.

4. My buddy's cousin works for at a bank and he says XYZ company is a great buy at the current stock price, it's about to pop. Should I pick some up?

I never act on tips I get. When I buy a stock, it's nearly always a company I've been watching for a long time. It's usually a company of which I am a customer. It's a company with a brand most people know or will know, with an excellent executive team and very little long-term debt on their recent balance sheet. When I deviate from this method, I tend to get my hat handed to me. Unless I have a damned good reason, these days I stick to my script.

5. How much of my savings should I put into stocks? My broker (boyfriend, sister, dad, colleague, barista, hairstylist) says I should have __% in the market but I should also have some in bonds and leave the rest mostly in cash...?

Everyone's least favorite answer: it depends. There are many considerations here, like your age, income level, expenses you face regularly and expenses you see on the horizon. Your risk tolerance needs to be looked at, as well as your financial goals and timeframe. We should even talk about the stocks you're looking at, because there are very stable ones that grow only a little and there are volatile ones that (often) grow faster. As a rule of thumb, leave enough cash to get you through 3-6 months at your current living standard, in case of trouble, and invest the rest. Where to invest it, however, is a long discussion.

6. Wouldn't it be easier to buy a mutual fund or two rather than spend all that time choosing the right stocks? I don't want to get it wrong. Maybe I should just hand it all over the professionals.

It would certainly be easier to give your money to a professional fund manager. But if your goal is to substantially increase your wealth over time, you might want to reconsider: Approximately 80% of mutual funds underperform the average return of the stock market overall. Think about that: you give your money to a professional investor, who has analysts and specialized computers and reams of data and access you don't have; but 4 times out of 5 he can't even keep up with the S&P 500. One reason of course is you have to pay for the fund manager's services, often 2% of your assets. So not only does he need to beat the market, he has to pay for himself as well. A great article about this problem:

If you want to get into the market, and you really don't want to pick stocks, buy an index fund ETF (an automatically-trading fund, with no manager, which mimics the overall market and which you can buy or sell like a single stock).

7. How often do you trade?

Weird question, but I get it a lot. The answer I generally give is, "As little as possible." Which is a shortcut. What I mean by that is that I buy whenever I have cash to spare and I see a price I like on a company I admire, or already own and I want more of it. I sell on only two occasions: 1: something in my investing thesis has changed (new products suck; sales/profits have been falling over quarters; major lawsuit against the company; merger I was counting on didn't happen; competitor is gaining fast and stealing market share...). 2: I need the money for something else, like tuition or a big purchase or another stock I like better. Trading is generally not good for long-term portfolio returns. As a rule, heavy traders earn less. I study the companies I want, I buy, I hold if I can. That's it. The less involved I am, the better I do.

I'll ask myself more questions in a future post.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Stock Investing: Preparing for a crash

The stock market does not always rise. We know it, we fear it. Many investors are kept on the sidelines, or kept from committing wholly to their portfolios because of the uncertainty, and because of the memory. I got killed in the last big market drop. What if I blow the timing and invest just as the next fall comes? 

Over the past 100 years, the stock market has offered higher returns than just about any other asset class. And if you're choosing the companies you invest in-- researching them as I've discussed here: vetting their performance, their management, their products and their competitive edge-- then you have substantially improved odds of doing even better.

US stocks have now enjoyed more than a huge 6 year bull market. In that brief time the S&P 500 stock index, a standard measure of the broader market, has risen over 200%.

But it won't last forever. In fact, the market has made almost no headway at all since the start of 2015. It could see a correction, or a short drop, anytime. We could even get into "bear" territory, during which the index falls 20% or more. What many people don't realize is that this necessary from time to time in order to eliminate the excess confidence and money in the market that has accumulated since the last downturn. Think of it like a forest fire: massive tree damage and scorched earth, but ultimately essential to clear out the deadwood and put nutrients in the soil for new growth. 

How does one prepare for such an event? There are three general approaches, and each has its advantages and disadvantages.

Option 1: Sell everything. In this scenario, I’ve decided the market is just about to plummet, and I want to protect my gains over the past few years so I sell my holdings to cash and wait for the market to do its thing and then rise again. At that time, I tell myself, I will repurchase my holdings at a big discount and hold them until the next drop.

chart from
This plan requires several incorrect assumptions. 1: I will know the top. It is, of course, totally absurd to think that I will know when the market has peaked. There is no bell or warning light that things are about to take a turn. The list is long of supposedly wise and experienced managers who thought the fun was over and sold out prematurely to lock in gains. Imagine if you sell and the market continues on to far greater heights? You’ll have missed it, and you’ll have no discounted entry point at which to reinvest. 2: I have no problem paying 15-20% or more in capital gains on my sales. Remember, a long-held stock is an asset and there are no taxes until sale. If you plan to sell a winner and face the tax, I would hope its because you have a better place for the money, one which is so valuable to you that it's worth the capital gains on your stock sale to get the money to pay for it. 3: I will know when the market hits bottom so I can buy back in. How will you know? Did you know when the Great Recession ended? Did you reinvest in March 2009? Hindsight is 20/20 but in the moment few can see a shifting tide. And if you aren’t sure when to reenter, what will be the catalyst for you to do so? Again the list is long of wise and experienced managers who went to cash in 2007 but didn’t fully recommit until 2010 or later, missing most of the market's early recovery.

Option 2: Do nothing. Here, I have wisely recognized that the market is more often up than down, climbs higher than it falls, and that the downturns always hit bottom eventually and start to climb back. If I sell to protect my gains I will just worry about the right moment to sell, the taxes I owe and then the timing to get back in. So I'd prefer to do nothing at all.

This is not a terrible way to go. Generally speaking the assumptions are correct: when the market has fallen and then recovered, and all is said and done, your diversified portfolio will be pretty much intact.

That hurts
The primary disadvantage to this method: pain. You will watch your assets drop in value, often very substantially, and you’ll feel the pull to sell them and stop the bleeding. Worse, your friends and colleagues will tell you stories about when and how they got out and they may even say you’re nuts to try to ride it out. You’ll worry that you’re throwing your savings away, or burning the kids’ college fund or your retirement. You’ll feel foolish and arrogant for not listening to reason. You may have to defend your decision to a spouse or a parent. If the downturn continues, you’ll begin to question yourself, as well. It’s a difficult ride.

Option 3: Keep the winners, sell the losers. This approach splits the difference between the first two options, and it’s a good exercise in emotional discipline and forward thinking. Here, I maintain my holdings if they are higher than my purchase price and I sell any stocks which have fallen since purchase. 

Presumably, you're holding onto some stocks that have gone against you not out of stubbornness or pride, but because you believe they will turn around and rise. But if you believe the market will head downward before your losers come back up, theoretically putting those stocks deeper into the red, why not sell them to protect yourself? As there are no taxes when there are no gains, you can sell the losers without penalty beyond trading costs. And holding on to the winners and riding out the storm means no capital gains tax there either. 

The primary disadvantage to this approach is, again, the pain of watching your assets reduced. But I find that to be more than offset by the key advantage: you now have cash from the sale of those losers with which to buy the newly discounted companies you’ve been watching. You will not know the precise timing to buy those, of course, but generally speaking that’s not critical since you know the market overall will recover and the prices are temporarily lower. Don't try to be perfect; a good deal is a good deal.

In the end, the market downs are a necessary evil to make room for new growth. Do not fear them. Look at them as buying opportunities-- everything on the discount rack-- and try to use them to pick up a couple companies you did not previously own. Your overall portfolio returns will be much healthier as a result of your strong stomach and your commitment to the long term. 

Drifting to Fifty | Random unrelated nugget of the week
Never loan money to close friends or family. If the loan comes between you later it could ruin a critical relationship. If your best friend or your sister needs cash, give her the money. Maybe someday she will repay you, and won't that be a lovely surprise. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Stock Investing: Buying on a whim

In future posts I will continue to teach analysis of companies you're interested in adding to your portfolio. There will be some discussion about financial math (mostly very easy, don't fret). There will be discussion about understanding the marketplace and how to make deductions about which way it's heading. There will be discussion about setting up an online portfolio so you can execute your own trades.

But for a moment I want to detour to a subject I've been asked about many times, and that is whether it's ever okay to buy a stock just because-- either your analysis indicated a low chance of success but you still wanted it, or you haven't actually undertaken any analysis, or maybe someone you trust just told you to buy a few shares.

It happens. I make speculative moves in the market too, though I've spent decades trying to resist the temptation and follow my training. When I do it, I'm often wrong and come up with a loss. But not always.

Look at it another way. Ultimately, stock market investment is a form of gambling, right? I mean, you're putting money on the table, betting a company will go up and not down, and you have effectively no power to influence the outcome. Might as well be roulette in that way--- except of course you do your research and so reduce the chances that you'll hit on Black and not Red. But things still go against you all the time, so it's still just an "educated" bet. Therefore, if you're going to do it anyway, be smart and limit your risk. Allocate a tiny percentage of your investment funds.

A purely speculative stock play is when you buy (or sell short, or whatever) a long shot. It could be a long shot for any number of reasons: tiny player against a market behemoth; inexperienced executive team; great idea but basically no funding; millions of customers but loses money nonetheless; "overpriced," so more likely to fall than to rise much from its current level; brand-new stock in the market, so very limited financial information to go on. But for whatever reason, you want it anyway.

an Audible book on an old iPod
I bought many years ago, in the late 90s when few had heard of it. This was a company that allowed you to download digital audiobooks via the internet and copy them to your harddrive or a CD (pre-iPod). I read about it, tried it, and was blown away. I thought it was the wave of the future: everyone is busy, everyone is multitasking, no one has time to sit and read anymore, they can listen in the car, and so on.

Audible dropped about 20% in the next few months, then fell another 10-15%, and sat there. I held it for about 3 years, waiting for it to finally pop. It never did, and I ultimately gave up and sold at a loss. In 2008 Amazon picked up the company for a song. Hardly surprising in retrospect.

I knew it was a long shot-- in fact, I thought at the time it had gone public too soon, before the market was really clamoring for the products, before it was hot. But it was so terrfic I thought I had stumbled onto the next big thing and I could get in early and ride it all the way up.

I did the same thing with Netflix in about 2004. Shockingly easy to use, fun, and growing fast, but still a very cheap share price in my mind. (One reason it was cheap was the analysts all said it would get killed by Blockbuster, so no one wanted the stock. See what you learn if you bother?) I jumped on that train too and got squashed over the next few years as Netflix and Blockbuster duked it out, then Netflix and Walmart. Should have sold out and put my money elsewhere until Netflix stock finally caught fire, which was more like 2008. By then they were slaying everyone else in the video rental space (before they went to on-demand video). I eventually did well with it but I was forced to absorb a substantial opportunity cost for several years because I let my eagerness have its way.

The original Tesla Roadster
Speculation has worked for me as well, but less often. I bought Tesla the day it went public because I felt the initial offering price was too low for the crazy market buzz surrounding the company. I was right that time: the stock rose very fast and I got out less than 48 hours later with more than a 50% gain. (It has since been a rocket ship, but I missed the ride because my analysis of the company has never adequately explained its sky-high price since 2012.)

Bottom line: if you're going to play market roulette, use just a tiny chunk of the money you generally invest. Think of it as a bit of play money, maybe 5% of your portfolio. That way, when you get your ass handed back to you on a plate, you won't have really damaged your long-term success. And if you get lucky-- because that's what it is when you hit it on a speculative buy-- you can treat yourself.

Drifting to Fifty  |  Random unrelated nugget of the week
Invest in high-optical-quality, UV-blocking sunglasses and wear them outdoors at all times. You only get one pair of eyes. Take good care of them. If you damage them there are no second chances. 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Stock Investing: Yahoo! Finance is a supertool

Today I want to back up a little and take a closer look at one of the primary tools you'll use in researching companies whose stocks you are considering: the Yahoo! Finance company summary page. The image below is from today's Apple (AAPL) summary, which I chose because it is by far the largest company in the world by market cap and its stock is widely held.

This is where most of your reading will begin. If you ultimately purchase stock in a company you've researched here, you will also likely return for periodic checkins. No other single spot on the web amalgamates more critical and live-updating information regarding US public companies. The interface is pretty dated as the site hasn't really had an update in over a decade, but it's nonetheless easy to navigate.

I described in a previous post how to get here-- just search for Yahoo! Finance, then enter the company name you want in the Lookup box. Now I want to spend a few minutes exploring this page and all it offers.

1: Headlines. As I also mentioned previously, the Headlines section is a hub of up-to-the-minute published news articles, essays, and analysis containing the company's name or ticker symbol. From a wide variety of general news and financial news and blog sources, Yahoo collects and lists a vast trove of documents for your convenience. Twitter and Facebook mentions do not show up here but legitimate published works generally do.

2: Key Statistics. Click here and you'll find all sorts of detailed financial data plucked from the company's most recent financial reports, like total enterprise value, annual revenue, profit and profit margin, earnings per share, EPS divided by growth rate (called PEG ratio), cash on hand per the most recent balance sheet, return on assets and return on equity (how much they make relative to the resources at their disposal), and current ratio (the company's ability to pay 12 months' worth of it's current debt with current cash flow). Much of this information can be found by digging through the company's financials themselves, and a little simple math. But this area provides simplified financial highlights.

3: Competitors. This is really more of a guideline comparison chart tool, often less about actual competitors than about companies occupying a similar space or role in the marketplace. For example if you look up Google (GOOGL) competitors, it will list Facebook (FB), which really is not a competitor to Google in a traditional sense, but certainly competes for "eyeballs" or consumer time spent online, and is likewise funded by advertisers. Again, the charts in Competitors will allow you to compare head-to-head a company's size (by dollars by number of employees), profits, price-to-earnings ratios, and other such straightforward metrics. It's always important to know what sort of field your company is playing on.

4: Analyst Opinion. This is a very simple 5-point scale of desirability of ownership of the stock, an average of the Wall Street professional analysts who cover this company. 1.0 = Strong Buy (analysts generally recommend buying the stock at its current price), 3.0 = Hold (don't buy or sell, but stay tuned), 5.0 = Strong Sell (recommend selling at the current price). This particular tool is generally oversimplified for my taste but useful if you want a quick-and-dirty glance at what the pros are thinking about a company's value at the moment.

5: Major Holders and Insider Transactions. This area is extremely useful if you want to know what individuals and institutions hold big chunks of the stock of this company, which I always do. These folks have outsize influence on company decisions and directions, so knowing a little about who they are can be very helpful in figuring out what sort of company it is and what will likely happen in the future.

For example, if we open Major Holders for Apple Inc, we find first that Arthur Levinson, Chariman of the company, holds the most Apple stock of any individual. Second place is Tim Cook, CEO. This is good news, we want companies whose executives hold a lot of shares-- they are far more likely to act in our best interests as shareholders if their actions affect their own portfolios!

We can also click on Insider Transactions and see whether the largest shareholders have been buying or selling shares lately. This can be a great place to discover trends which could be a cause for excitement or concern. For example if you learned that several key executives have been selling a great number of shares, it could be a sign that those managing the company have lost faith in the business. Likewise, if executives are buying up shares for their personal holdings, it's generally a sign that they believe the current price is too low, and they are expecting great things for the stock. Who would know better than they what's coming?

6: Balance Sheet, Income Statement, Cash Flow Statement. As I've indicated, this is the location of all the public record financial statements the company reports quarterly and annually to comply with public company regulations. I will not spend significant time here going into what you can learn from these documents (that's another post) but you can certainly have a look and very quickly deduce trends: are revenues going up year over year? Is R&D spending going down? Is debt increasing or decreasing? We'll tackle more substantial analysis of these later.

7: Charts. This section is just fun to play with. Click on any of the time periods below the chart on the summary page and you'll get a new, large, customizable chart of the stock's rises and falls. You can see the stock price on any day going back years, redraw the chart a dozen different ways, compare charts of different companies or against the S&P 500 index, examine different time periods and so on.

Monday, June 1, 2015

6 Critical Criteria for Investing

Nothing more worries individual investors than not knowing what to look for, and choosing the wrong companies to buy. How do I know when a stock is cheap? How do I tell if it will go up over time? 

But that doesn't work for me. I'm much more interested in what a stock will do tomorrow than in what it did yesterday-- and I don't believe I can learn much about tomorrow based on yesterday. Which means I have to find other ways to value the companies I buy. I need to look at non-financial criteria. I've written about this before. But because it gets so much investor attention and because it seems so difficult to people starting out, I'm going to revisit it here.

Most money managers try to steer an investment portfolio by looking in the rear-view mirror

1. First up, I want a great brand, and often a change agent. By that I mean I want a company people have heard of, and one which is dominant in an industry. Examples include Netflix and Apple. Sure, some people gotta hate because these companies steamroll the competition (respectively: cable TV/Blockbuster/neighborhood video rentals, and Microsoft-Dell-Gateway-Sony-Nokia-Blackberry ...) but that's what makes them such compelling investments. These companies are so strong they redefine the way business is done in their category. It is no longer possible to have a realistic discussion about the state of retail without mentioning Amazon, or about television without Netflix. They change everything and as consumers we can either get on board or get left behind. 

2. Second, I like to see a wide moat. Simply put, this is the distance between the business in question and the nearest competitor, which usually indicates the difficulty of the competitor catching up in the next few years. A good example is Starbucks. On the surface Starbucks sells a commodity-- coffee. But what makes them so valuable is they do it with panache: across a massive swath of the globe, at tremendous profit (remember when we thought $3 for a cup of coffee was crazy?) and they do it in their ubiquitous neighborhoody, comfortable, jazz-infused stores. Sure another business can mimic what they do-- and thousands have-- but Starbucks has such a massive head start and with worldwide brand recognition and a well-established level of quality product and service that no one can realistically catch them for years to come. 

Another great example of a wide moat is Visa. Almost regardless of where you travel, time of day, language spoken, or currency used, they take Visa. Even MasterCard can't catch up. And newer methods of payment-- ApplePay, PayPal-- are just alternative ways for most people of using their Visa card (both systems tie into an existing card account), and in any case are many years away from the level of saturation Visa has worldwide. 

Amazon's AWS data center 

3. Next, I'm looking for a business which is in strong growth mode. This one is obvious: a company whose sales are expanding rapidly year over year as they add new stores, or put out new products or services, or buy up their competitors (or kill them). It is nearly impossible to value these businesses financially based upon their past performance because in a lot of cases they're growing too fast for last year's numbers to mean much. For example, a division of Amazon called Amazon Web Services, or AWS, offers cloud computing services to other businesses (Netflix among them). AWS is only a few years old but it's currently growing at something like 80% per year. In time it could be worth more than the company's "traditional" ecommerce business. A number of other, more established technology companies have even abandoned the cloud services industry in the face of Amazon's juggernaut (Hewlett-Packard did that just that last week). Partially as a result, Amazon's stock valuation has increased over 100% in 2015 alone. That's a ride I want to be on. 

4. After that, I want a business with low debt. Typically, manufacturers have higher fixed costs for heavy equipment and materials, so they must borrow more for those items and maintain higher debt levels on their corporate books. By contrast, software companies and online services generally have much less need for serious capital (their highest costs are often their people) so they tend to carry less debt. Generally speaking, a company with relatively little debt has a lower bar to clear to make a profit, and therefore has a much wider operating margin to work with. As a side benefit, businesses carrying little debt can usually better weather difficult economic climates or other sales downturns. 

Long Term Debt is a line item on any public company's Balance Sheet. This can easily be found on Yahoo! Finance by entering the company's name in the Quote Lookup field. Ideally (but not exclusively), Long Term Debt should total 25% or less of the company's annual revenues, which is available in the same location on Yahoo!, but on the company's Income Statement. 

Under Armour Founder-CEO Kevin Plank
5. The next has to do with the company's executive leadership. I want smart, transparent, confident leaders who are less interested in Wall Street analysts' quarterly expectations and more interested in long-term growth, product quality and customer service. You can read interviews, listen to conference calls with press, watch them on YouTube: are the executives of your business providing clear direct answers to questions posed? Are they worried about share prices or customer satisfaction? What do they say about competitors, about new technology, about growth plans? Do they come across as a little phony, a little slimy or more genuine and trustworthy? Do you believe them? Like them? 

Financial research and the news are added to my existing customer experience, and together they serve to enrich and deepen my knowledge

The most famous example of straight-talking, trustworthy leadership is Berkshire Hathaway's billionaire leader Warren Buffett. In his annual letters to shareholders, Mr. Buffett comes across as down-to-earth, honest, folksy and even funny. Whatever the business he's describing he tells is like it is, explaining how it works and why it's important as he goes along. Reading his letters is some of the best business education you can find, not to mention a model for others and entertaining to boot. 

6. Finally, I prefer businesses with which I have first hand customer experience. I've found it invaluable: how better to judge a business's performance than by being a consumer of their products and services over time? 

This one is a slightly higher hurdle because most of do business with only a handful of public companies  relative to the thousands worldwide in which we could invest. But in truth there is no shortage of investment opportunities just among those: manufacturers of toothpaste and paper towels, clothing and shoes, electronics and furniture, housing and automobiles, sporting goods and appliances. Makers of entertainment products like books, magazines, music, movies, television, video games. Service companies like utilities and cellular, cable and internet, shopping clubs and online retailers, banks and even brokerages. 

For example, I prefer Under Armour's athletic clothing to Nike's both for fit and durability, and have since I stumbled onto it about 10 years ago. I'm a huge fan of Amazon's Prime service, which is preferable for me rather than shopping around for vacuum filters that fit, or having the right gas grill shipped to my door. Despite living in Seattle my coffee snobbery has never advanced past Starbucks' fresh roasted espresso beans. I generally enjoy Disney's Marvel superhero movies. I've mentioned Netflix and Visa. Also there's LinkedIn and Twitter, IMAX and Zillow, all of which have come up with a great new business concept or revolutionized an everyday process like career networking or house shopping or movie-going.

By being a customer/user (even an unpaying one), I better understand the value proposition these businesses offer and I've already got a finger on their pulse. I notice when quality slides or new services are added, and this information informs my investment decisions. Financial research and the news I read are additional to my existing, ongoing customer experience. Together they work to enrich and deepen my knowledge.

This list of criteria has provided me close to 80% of what I need to know prior to investment-- but you likely will not find all 6 in one company very often. It happens, but those are rare. Look to get several in one stock. I've listed several of them here, but there are probably a couple of hundred if you look hard enough. This method is largely unscientific and non-financial, and therefore is an unconventional way of assessing a stock-- but then being somewhat contrarian is my nature. Some pro stock-pickers and market timers might poke fun at you; they certainly have at me. Generally speaking, however, my returns crush theirs... though I don't think they believe my numbers. A high-class problem if there ever was one. 
Drifting to Fifty | Random unrelated nugget of the week
If you reset your car's side mirrors from reflecting your own rear fenders to reflecting that empty zone between the edge of your peripheral vision and the edge of what you can see in the rear-view mirror, then you will eliminate blind spots.