“You Never Know for Sure Where Good Ideas Will Come From”

(p. B1) The best-performing U.S. stock over the past 30 years isn’t a household name like Costco Wholesale Corp. or Johnson & Johnson. It’s Balchem, up 107,099% since the end of 1985, according to FactSet Research Systems.
You’d never heard of Balchem? Me either; stocks don’t come much more obscure than this. Based in Wawayanda, N.Y. (population 7,266), about 70 miles northwest of New York City, Balchem makes flavorings, fumigating gases and nutritional additives for animal feed. Its total stock market value is about $1.7 billion.
Since the end of 1985, Balchem has gained an average of 26.2% annually, compared with 10.3% for the S&P 500 and 15.7% for Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
. . .
(p. B7) But you can learn from Balchem and its peers for free. Over the past 30 years, 44 U.S. stocks generated cumulative total returns of 10,000% or more, according to FactSet. The 10 behind Balchem are Home Depot Inc., Amgen Inc., Nike Inc., UnitedHealth Group Inc., Danaher Corp., Altair Corp., Kansas City Southern, Jack Henry & Associates Inc., Apple Inc. and Altria Group Inc. All grew by at least twice the rate of the S&P 500. Investment manager William Bernstein of Efficient Frontier Advisors in Eastford, Conn., has christened such companies “superstocks.”
Perhaps the most notable thing they share, says David Salem, chief investment officer at Windhorse Capital Management in Boston, is that “they have all undergone at least one near-death experience.”
. . .
Balchem shows the patience, grit and good luck it takes for a company to turn into a superstock.
The firm began in 1967 as a specialty-chemicals company that made ingredients for hairspray and ink, among other things, says Raymond Reber, who stepped down as chief executive in 1997.
In 1996, Balchem was losing so much on a new technology to coat nutrients that “it was crazy,” says Mr. Reber. “We couldn’t operate that way.” So, he recalls, he told the company’s factory workers, “‘You have to figure out a way to double our production without raising our costs.’ And they did it.”
But the transition was rough. Balchem’s shares dropped 57% in 13 months between late 1997 and the end of 1998.
Dino Rossi, who was Balchem’s chief executive between 1998 and last year, remembers a staff engineer pointing out long ago that its nutritional choline salts might have a nonfood purpose: to help stabilize clay deposits. Years went by before fracking for oil and gas created a bonanza for that use. The end result: tens of millions of dollars in revenue for Balchem.
“You never know for sure where good ideas will come from,” says Mr. Rossi, “and it doesn’t happen overnight.”
It took years for Balchem to perfect microcapsules that could survive the harsh acids of a cow’s first stomach and then release nutrients farther along in the animal’s digestive system. “You have to be constantly working the technology harder,” says Mr. Rossi.

For the full commentary, see:
JASON ZWEIG. “No. 1 Over 30 Years? You Will Never Guess.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Jan 30, 2016): B1 & B7.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the article has the date Jan 29, 2016, and has the title The Best Stock Over the Last 30 Years? You’ve Never Heard of It.”)

“A Corporate Jargon of Uplift That Turns Sensitive Souls Suicidal”

(p. C1) Though Dante cataloged many forms of diabolical torture in his “Inferno,” a guided tour of hell, he somehow missed out on what could well be the most excruciating eternal punishment of all. I mean (ominous organ chords, please) the staff meeting that never, ever ends.
You’ve surely been a part of such sessions. They’re those gatherings in which people waste time by talking about how to be more productive, with algebraic visual aids and a corporate jargon of uplift that turns sensitive souls suicidal.

For the full review, see:
BEN BRANTLEY. “A Circle of Hell: The Staff Meeting.” The New York Times (Mon., OCT. 10, 2016): C1 & C4.
(Note: the online version of the review has the date OCT. 9, 2016, and has the title “Review: ‘Miles for Mary,’ a Sendup of the Interminable Meeting From Hell.”)

Blockchain Is a Process Innovation That Will Make Financial Records More Reliable and Easier to Access

(p. A13) Until the mid-1990s, the internet was little more than an arcane set of technical standards used by academics. Few predicted the profound effect it would have on society. Today, blockchain–the technology behind the digital currency bitcoin–might seem like a trinket for computer geeks. But once widely adopted, it will transform the world.
Blockchain offers a way to track items or transactions using a shared digital “ledger.” Blocks of new transactions are added at the end of the chain, and encryption ensures that it remains unbroken–tamper-proof and error-free. This is significantly more efficient than the current methods for logging and sharing such information.
Consider the process of buying a house, a complex transaction involving banks, attorneys, title companies, insurers, regulators, tax agencies and inspectors. They all maintain separate records, and it’s costly to verify and record each step. That’s why the average closing takes roughly 50 days. Blockchain offers a solution: a trusted, immutable digital ledger, visible to all participants, that shows every element of the transaction.

For the full commentary, see:
GINNI ROMETTY. “How Blockchain Will Change Your Life.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Nov. 8, 2016): A13.
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 7, 2016, and has the title “KEYWORDS; Is Engine of Innovation in Danger of Stalling?”)

Robert Conquest Documented the Millions Killed by Stalin

(p. A7) Mr. Conquest’s master work, “The Great Terror,” was the first detailed account of the Stalinist purges from 1937 to 1939. He estimated that under Stalin, 20 million people perished from famines, Soviet labor camps and executions–a toll that eclipsed that of the Holocaust. Writing at the height of the Cold War in 1968, when sources about the Soviet Union were scarce, Mr. Conquest was vilified by leftists who said he exaggerated the number of victims. When the Cold War ended and archives in Moscow were thrown open, his estimates proved high but more accurate than those of his critics.
. . .
Though Mr. Conquest’s body count was on the high end of estimates, he remained unwavering at the publication of “The Great Terror: A Reassessment,” a 1990 revision of his masterwork. When Mr. Conquest was asked for a new title for the updated book, his friend, the writer Kingsley Amis, proposed, “I Told You So, You F–ing Fools.”
. . .
He was also an enthusiastic crafter of limericks, a form in which his irreverence and flair for language flourished. One version of an often-quoted one reads:
There was a great Marxist named Lenin
Who did two or three million men in.
–That’s a lot to have done in,
But where he did one in
That grand Marxist Stalin did ten in.

For the full obituary, see:
BRENDA CRONIN and ALAN CULLISON. “Historian Exposed Stalin’s Reign of Terror.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Aug. 5, 2015): A7.
(Note: ellipses added; italics in original.)
(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Aug. 4, 2015, and has the title “Robert Conquest, Seminal Historian of Soviet Misrule, Dies at 98.”)

The revised edition of Conquest’s master work, is:
Conquest, Robert. The Great Terror: A Reassessment. 40th Anniversary ed. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2007.

Spreadsheets and Committees Are Enemies of Innovation

(p. B4) “As we became more sophisticated in quantifying things we became less and less willing to take risks,” says Horace Dediu, a technology analyst and fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, a think tank. “The spreadsheet is the weapon of mass destruction against creative power.”
The same could be said of university research, says Dr. Prabhakar. Research priorities are often decided by peer review, that is, a committee.
“It drives research to more incrementalism,” she says. “Committees are a great way to reduce risk, but not to take risk.”

For the full commentary, see:
CHRISTOPHER MIMS. “KEYWORDS; Engine of Innovation Loses Some Spark.” The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Nov. 21, 2016): B1 & B4.
(Note: the online version of the article has the date Nov. 20, 2016, and has the title “KEYWORDS; Is Engine of Innovation in Danger of Stalling?”)

Studying Cancer in Dogs Can Help Humans and Dogs

(p. D4) Dogs are a better natural model for some human diseases than mice or even primates because they live with people, Dr. Karlsson says. “Compared to lab mice, with dogs they’re getting diseases within their natural life span, they’re exposed to the same pollutants in the environment” as humans, she says.
Previous canine studies conducted by other scientists have shed light on human diseases like osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer, as well as the sleep disorder narcolepsy and a neurological condition, epilepsy.
With osteosarcoma, the most common type of bone cancer in children and one that frequently strikes certain dog breeds, researchers have discovered that tumors in dogs and children are virtually indistinguishable. The tumors share similarities in their location, development of chemotherapy-resistant growths and altered functioning of certain proteins, making dogs a good animal model of the disease. Collecting more specimens from dogs could lead to progress in identifying tumor targets and new cancer drugs in dogs as well as in children, some scientists say.

For the full story, see:
SHIRLEY S. WANG. “IN THE LAB; How Dogs’ Genes Can Help Humans.” The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Dec. 3, 2015): D4.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 2, 2015, and has the title “IN THE LAB; Why Dogs Are Some Scientists’ New Best Friends.”)

A paper showing how cancer research on dogs can help humans, is:
Fenger, Joelle M., Cheryl A. London, and William C. Kisseberth. “Canine Osteosarcoma: A Naturally Occurring Disease to Inform Pediatric Oncology.” ILAR Journal 55, no. 1 (2014): 69-85.

Coastal Damage Caused by Storm Surges at High Tide, Not by Tiny Rise in Sea Levels

(p. A11) When Teddy Roosevelt built his Sagamore Hill on Long Island, he did so a quarter mile from shore at an elevation of 115 feet not because he disdained proximity to the beach or was precociously worried about climate change. The federal government did not stand ready with taxpayer money to defray his risk.
Estimates vary, but sea levels may have risen two millimeters a year over the past century. Meanwhile, tidal cycles along the U.S. east coast range from 11 feet every day (in Boston) to two feet (parts of Florida).
On top of this, a “notable surge event” can produce a storm surge of seven to 23 feet, according to a federal list of 10 hurricanes over the past 70 years.
We should not exaggerate the degree to which homeowners are being asked to shoulder their own risks. Washington is doling out five-figure checks to Jersey homeowners to raise houses on pilings to reduce the federal government’s future rebuilding costs. But, to state the obvious, normal tidal variation plus storm surge is the danger to coastal property. Background sea-level rise is a non-factor. A FEMA study from several years ago found that fully a quarter of coastal dwellings are liable to be destroyed over a 50-year period.
Though it pleased New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to pretend Superstorm Sandy in 2012 was caused by global warming, the storm wasn’t even a hurricane by the time it hit shore–it just happened to hit at peak tide. Sure, certain people in Florida and elsewhere like to conflate the two. It’s in their interests to do so.

For the full commentary, see:
HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR. “Shoreline Gentry Are Fake Climate Victims.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Nov. 26, 2016): A11.