Jim Casella's Blogs

Jim Casella's Blog

Jim Casella is Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Asset International, having joined the company as part of Austin Ventures' acquisition in January 2009. Jim has been a partner with Austin Ventures the past several years, serving as CEO-in-Residence for their Growth/Private Equity practice and focusing on business-to-business media opportunities.

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I am writing this as I watch Jack Nicklaus' Memorial Tournament, which precedes the U.S. Open in two weeks. This year the U.S. Open will return for the fifth time to The Olympic Club in San Francisco at the Lakeside Course. Rory Mcllroy, who is one of the best golfers in the world at 23 and won last year's U.S. Open at the Congressional Country Club's Blue Course, has missed the last three cuts on the tour, which has created much discussion on how he will fare on the Lake Course in two weeks. Tiger Woods won The Memorial for the fifth time on Sunday with an outstanding back 9.

 

I have played the Lake Course several times over the years and have come to see it as one of the most challenging courses I have played. Accuracy off the tee is essential, as the fairways are narrow and if you are not careful you will be playing most of the afternoon out of the rough. The rough on the Lake Course under normal play is very difficult, as it is much thicker than the rough you normally find on Bay Area golf courses. "The U.S. Open is staged at a variety of courses, set up in such a way that scoring is very difficult with a premium placed on accurate driving...Normally, an Open course is quite long and will have a high cut of primary rough (termed 'Open rough' by the American press and fans), undulating greens, and pinched fairways." (U.S. Open Wikipedia) I will not be on the west coast this Father's Day, but will be watching the Open with my family from Boston.

 

As I look at the Eurozone issues and the stalling of the U.S. and Chinese economies, I find that all of our political leaders are "playing from the rough." Their drives seem to miss the fairways consistently, and their scores seem to get worse with each round. Landon Thomas Jr. in today's New York Times wrote, "On consecutive days last week, two of the most powerful figures in Europe - Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, and Olli Rehn, the most senior economic official in Brussels - warned that the future of the euro zone was in doubt. In the words of Mr. Rehn, the union might well disintegrate unless policy makers took steps to bind the euro's 17 nations closer together. Coming as they did from two men at the very soul of the European project, the reprimands were a stark reminder of just how much the Spanish financial meltdown had shaken the confidence of the European brain trust, to say nothing of investors from New York to Beijing. Over the weekend, leaders of two of the euro's most vulnerable countries rallied to the cry of more unification. Mario Monti of Italy called for using euro bonds to create a quicker path to common debt for Europe. And Mariano Rajoy of Spain floated the idea of a common fiscal authority in Europe to synchronize budgets and manage debts."

 

I believe that Europe's leaders, particularly Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, are near the end game and if they do not find a way to calm the global markets, the Eurozone will fall apart. As much as Merkel has resisted Eurozone bonds, with the run on Spain's banks I join those who believe they are inevitable if the Eurozone is to survive. Here in the United States, the Obama administration finds itself in the rough once again with Friday's jobs report. The uncertainty that exists both in Europe and the United States has lead to a cautious response by business leaders, and until the uncertainty is lifted we will continue to stall. As we saw with the recent elections in France, the populace does not like the debt levels that have been run up since the 2008 Crisis, but prolonged unemployment levels are even more distasteful and they will vote for change. In the U.S. the constant discussion of tax increases have only exacerbated the situation.

 

Against this challenging backdrop, Mary Claire and I did manage to find some time away from New York City and London and spent several days in Healdsburg, California, which is located in Sonoma County. Along with several friends, we enjoyed a special evening dinner at Cyrus, which did not disappoint. Earlier in the day we had a private wine tasting at Williams Selyem. (www.williamsselyem.com) This remains the reference winery for California Pinot Noir. We also decided to drop in on Copain (www.copainwines.com) for a tasting prior to getting ready for dinner. We were delighted to find founder and winemaker Wells Guthrie there. He was working on several releases that were announced shortly after our visit. One of them is the 2011 Copain Estate Pinot Noir, which is the first Pinot Noir release from Copain's Eastside Road vineyards. There were only 117 cases produced. I have been on both wineries' mailing lists for many years and highly recommend each of them.

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