Best Values in Round-hole Steel Strung & Classical Nylon String Acoustic Guitars

The most popular brands among round-hole steel strung guitars include Fender, Epiphone, Martin, Seagull, Ovation, Washburn, Oscar Schmidt, and Yamaha. The guitar can be purchased as stand-alone or packaged as a beginner kit. For beginners, the gear is considered a bargain as it usually includes extra strings, pick guard, picks, and a gig bag – occasionally there might be an electronic tuner.

Prices are all over the map with some going into the $10K price range while low-end branded models can be had for as little as $40. Good beginner guitars and kits start in the $100 range. Most have limited lifetime warranty with 2-years for Parts and Labor. Below are our best value picks among round-hole steel strung guitars:


ProductThumbnailBest PriceDescription
Jasmine by Takamine S35 Acoustic Guitar$80Matte Finish, Spruce Top, Rosewood Fretboard. Case, Strap, etc not included. High Action is a downside.
Fender Starcaster Acoustic Natural Guitar Kit$120Comes with a gig bag and an electronic tuner. Combination of mahogany (backs, sides, neck), spruce (front), and Indian rosewood (fingerboard) coupled with Fender’s excellent build quality make this a great choice.
Yamaha FG700S Acoustic Guitar$199Best Overall Value for beginners! Solid Sitka Spruce Top, Rosewood Fingerboard, Die-cast Tuners, Tortoise Pickguard, High-gloss Natural Finish. There is a bundle version with hard case, strap, stand, polish, tuner, strings, picks, stringwinder, and DVD which is an even better value.
Seagull S6 Original Acoustic Guitar$399Best Overall Value for beginner-to-intermediate. Solid Cedar Top, Wild Cherry Back and Sides, Rosewood Fingerboard and Bridge, Tusq Nut and Compensated Saddle, Semi-gloss, Lacquer Finish.
Taylor Guitars GS Mini Reduced Scale Grand Symphony Acoustic Guitar$499Scaled down portable version of Taylor’s award-winning GS body shape. Back and Sides in Sapele Laminate, Top Solid Sitka Spruce, Satin Finish, Rosette 3-Ring, Neck Sapele, Ebony Fretboard, 20 Frets – 5mm Inlay Dots. Comes with GS Mini Hard Bag.
Alvarez FD60AMB Thin Cutaway Dreadnought Acoustic Guitar$700Thin Cutaway Dreadnought Body Style, Maple Back and Sides, Quilted Maple Top, Rosewood Fingerboard, System 600T MK II Electronics.
Taylor Guitars 114ce Acoustic Guitar$899Solid Sitka Spruce Top, Sapele Back and Sides, Grand Auditorium, Includes Gig Bag. Cutaway and ES-T pickup enhance Taylor’s signature Grand Auditorium body shape. Premium guitar for serious entry-level players.

The most popular brands among classical nylon string acoustic guitars include Yamaha, Valencia, Takamine, Giannini, La Patrie, Antonio Hermosa, Ramirez, and Cordoba. Here again, choice exists between procuring a guitar alone or assembled as a kit. The kits provide value as they include a gig bag and in some cases instructional material such as a DVD.

Prices vary and can reach into the $10K territory for high-end models from brands such as Henner Hagenlocher and Christoph Sembdner. Sensible beginner classical guitars start in the $90 range. Below are our best value picks among classical nylong string acoustic guitars:


ProductThumbnailBest PriceDescription
Yamaha C40 Classical Guitar Package$149.99Include tuner, padded gig bag, instruction book, and DVD. Lifetime warranty. Combination of Indonesian mahogany (backs, sides), spruce (top), and Javanese rosewood fingerboard with Yamaha’s excellent build quality and warranty makes this a great choice.
Cordoba C5 Classical Guitar$299Solid Cedar Top, Mahogany back and sides, Rosewood Bridge and Fingerboard, all wood inlaid rosette, and Includes Cordoba Gig Bag. Best Overall Value for beginners. Great Playability.
Takamine C132S Classical Nylon String Acoustic Guitar$899Marquettery Rosette, Solid Cedar Top, Solid Rosewood Back, Rosewood Sides, and includes Takamine hardshell case of excellent quality. Great choice for serious entry-level players.

Related Posts:
  1. Guitars - An introduction to different types.
  2. Best Values in Round-hole Steel-strung and Classical Nylon-string Acoustic Guitars (this post).
  3. Best Values in Electric and Acoustic-Electric Guitars.
Last Updated: 04/2017.

Guitars – An Introduction to the different types

Guitars are classified into four specialized varieties in spite of the different types that flood the market. Below is a quick introduction of these different types:

Round-hole Steel Strung Acoustic Guitars: 


This is by far the most popular type of acoustic guitars and can be played with fingers (finger style) or a pick (plectrum). Its distinct sound lends itself to a range of music styles including country and rock. The word round-hole refers to the large and hollow resonating chamber that amplifies the sound generated by the strings. Round-hole acoustic guitars are also labeled ‘flat tops’, a nod to its flat look. The size of the hollow chamber defines the tone – larger bodied ones impart a heavier tone while smaller ones boast a brighter tone.

The inability to amplify sound beyond what is achievable from the resonance chamber is the downside with round-hole acoustic guitars. Amplification can be achieved by placing a microphone in close proximity to the sound hole or with pickups (transducers that convert vibration to an electric signal which are amplified and fed to speakers). The former retains some of the qualities of acoustic sound although reproduction is suboptimal while the latter does justice to reproduction and amplification sacrificing acoustic quality. Electro-acoustic guitars are aimed at solving these limitations.

The quality of the sound and the sustain capability are the differences between models from the various guitar manufacturers. In general, the lower end models suited for beginners will not have tables constructed from a single piece of wood – a feature with most of the high-end variants.

Classical Nylon Strung Acoustic Guitars:

Classical acoustic guitars have a wider neck and nylon strings, which allow for playing scales and certain complicated chords with relative ease using fingernails. The guitar is usally played in a seated position. Historically, ox gut was used for these strings but nylon strings have replaced them with lower tension than the steel strings in round-hole acoustic guitars. The fingerboard is flat with no inlays unlike the slight radius for round-hole acoustics.

The guitar is usually plucked and strumming is less common. Classical guitarists tend to shape their fingernails for this reason to achieve the desired tone. The classical guitar naming is actually a misnomer as it implies only classical pieces can be played on it – all kinds of music including folk, jazz, and flamenco are performed on it.

Modern classical guitars are also termed Spanish guitars as they are considered as modeled from the designs of 19th century Spanish luthier Antonio Torres Jurado. As with round-hole acoustics, there exist many choices among the lower end models appropriate for beginners. The instruments are almost always right handed.

Electric Guitars:


Electric guitars do not have mechanical amplification via a soundboard. Instead, the vibrations generated by the strings is transferred into electrical energy and amplified. This requires at least a cable and an amplifier – the strings are thinner and closer to the neck making the sound without an amplifier miffed.

Electric guitars are a popular option for beginners too as everything doable in an acoustic guitar can be done on an electric guitar while the reverse is not true. Also, it is easier to play the electric guitar – which implies a slight learning curve when switching to an acoustic.

Good electric guitars used to be on the expensive side but many branded guitar manufacturers have over the years successfully shifted down a significant portion of their lines to lower cost areas that now a days reasonably priced good branded electric guitar are available.

Electro-acoustic Guitars:


These are slim guitars compared to regular acoustics, but with enough acoustic sound that allows for practice without an amplifier. These guitars use pickups that mimic the sound produced by the timber of acoustic guitars really well. The special pickups also mean a preamplifier incorporated into the body of the guitar – tone controls or equalizers are also part of the package.

These instruments are also known as plug-in acoustic guitars as they can be plugged straight into a speaker system without the need for a microphone. As the volume can be increased when connected to speaker system, these guitars are a popular choice for use in folk music, as they possess the sound of an acoustic guitar with no volume limitations. They can also be used with an effects pedal or recording equipment very easily.

Ovation and Taylor are considered the best brands with the former specializing in the synthetic bowl-backs and the latter with a traditional all-wood construction.

Others:


There are umpteen other types of guitars. The more common among them are the bass guitars, resonator guitars, archtop guitars, double-neck guitars, twelve-string guitars, and steel guitars. The bass guitar is usually a four string guitar (acoustic or electric) that feature thicker strings and are pitched an octave lower – the four strings of the bass guitar correspond to the lowest four strings of a regular acoustic guitar an octave lower. Resonator guitars, used by blues musicians and some country players, feature a large plate that conceals the resonator cone – they produce a loud and bright voice. Archtop guitars, used in jazz music, feature a sound block in the middle and create a unique timber taken from the design of violins. Double-neck guitars have two necks within the same body – a six-string neck and a twelve-string neck that allows easy access and easy switching between the necks. Twelve string guitars have the regular six strings and a set of thinner strings. The regular strings correspond to the notes of a regular acoustic and the thinner set are tuned an octave higher – they form pairs and can be played like a six-string, they produce a brighter sound but are harder to play. Steel guitars are most often used in country music and are played horizontally. A metal slide or steel is used to play it and is held on the left hand by a right-handed player.

The most popular brands in Guitars sold in the USA include Gibson-USA, Fender, Dean Guitars, Epiphone, Washburn, Taylor Guitars, Takamine, Schecter, Daisy Rock, etc. Price ranges are all over the spectrum and the quest is to seek the best values in one’s price range. Our next articles will look into how to select a guitar once you have settled on a particular type.

Related Posts:
  1. Guitars - An introduction to different types (this post).
  2. Best Values in Round-hole Steel-strung and Classical Nylon-string Acoustic Guitars.
  3. Best Values in Electric and Acoustic-Electric Guitars.
Last Updated: 04/2017.

CA Technologies (CA) Stock Analysis

Introduction:

CA Technologies (CA) is a software company focused on IT management software and solutions geared to perform across all IT environments including mainframe, distributed, virtual, and cloud. Majority of the Forbes Global 2000 companies make use of CA’s software. The company’s inception can be traced back to 1969, when IBM under regulatory pressure to reduce monopoly, unbundled the sale of hardware from software. Budding entrepreneurs Charles Wang and Russ Artzt seized this opportunity to develop and sell software for IBM mainframes. The breakthrough happened in 1976 when they acquired distribution rights for a sort program from a Swiss company named Computer Associates. The software was sold as CA-Sort and met with rapid growth in the US. By 1980, the two companies had merged and the entity expanded by rapidly acquiring smaller companies.

Computer Associates International became the largest independent vendor of mainframe software in 1987 following the acquisition of Uccel Corporation for $800M. Uccel acquisition brought in two important figures into the company:
  • Sanjay Kumar, who would move up as the company’s CEO in 2004 before pleading guilty for securities fraud (currently serving jail time), and
  • Walter Haefner, who owned half of Uccel at the time of acquisition and would continue to be the company’s largest shareholder.
From the late 80s onward, the company grew mostly through acquisitions. It gathered negative reputation by acquiring companies and reducing them to a barebones structure to slash expenditure, and profit from the revenue stream that continues to trickle in for a period of time. This business strategy also cast CA in poor light as a partner of choice. Nevertheless, many large companies became CA customers through acquisitions. This strategy continued until after the resignation of Sanjay Kumar in 2004. In 2005, CA appointed John Swainson, a very competent but grossly overpaid executive as CEO (earned $12M in 2009, his final year at CA - more than 250 times the average worker pay). He did usher in good changes and is credited for transforming the company on a growth path. Although his tenure at the company was painstaking, CA is expected to continue to benefit from the decisions made during his tenure. The company’s acquisition strategy also shifted, with priority given to retaining employees and in keeping their morale up by utilizing the new technologies acquired as the basis for future growth. Internal politics is speculated as the provocation for his retirement in 2009. William E. McCracken replaced him at the helm in January 2010 as chairman of the board and CEO.

CA Technologies has a vast array of products, but are focused on investing in the following areas:
  1. Service Management and Assurance: The products manage IT infrastructure by assisting to identify and fix problems before they affect users. Products include CA NSM (Network and Systems Management), CA eHealth, CA Wily Introscope (Real-time application monitoring), and CA Spectrum Infrastructure Manager.
  2. Mainframe: The product line consists of CA DB2 Tools, CA IDMS, CA Eastrieve, and CA Endeavor. New investment is focused on the Mainframe 2.0 strategy, aimed at aiding customers and associates in simplifying mainframe management.
  3. Project and Portfolio Management: The product line consists of CA Clarity Project and Portfolio Management, which allow customers quickly improve IT investment decisions, enhance productivity and execute projects at a higher value and lower cost.
  4. Security: The product suite consists of CA Access Control, CA SiteMinder, CA Identity Manager, and CA Single Sign-On. They enable customers to understand and control the users actions, determine access level for particular systems and applications, and what individual users can do.
  5. Virtualization and Automation: The products enable customers to manage multiple virtual and physical platforms by allowing centralized management of virtualization. The product suite includes CA IT Client Manager, CA AutoSys Workload Automation, CA Service Desk Manager, and CA 7 Workload Automation.
  6. Cloud Computing: The products allow effective adoption of the new cloud computing techniques: Software-as-a-Service, Platform-as-a-Service, and Infrastructure-as-a-Service. The product portfolio consists of a set of recently acquired products from Nimsoft, 3Tera, netQoS, Oblicore and Cassatt.
Business Issues:

CA Technologies has earmarked serving emerging enterprises as a growth strategy. The potential market is projected to be of gigantic proportions with over 14,000 companies globally estimated to have revenue ranging from $300 million to $2 billion. They are classified as early adopters of cloud services as such services are simple to setup with limited upfront investment. CA is acquiring and developing a set of SaaS solutions to serve this market. While the growth potential is huge, the strategy is risky on two counts:
  • Selling to this market segment has challenges, and
  • SaaS technologies can negatively affect CA’s margin, should existing customers decide to switch to these technologies for cost savings. (This can result in reduced revenues for the short term.)
System management software market (overall) is expected to expand from around $12B to around $17B from 2009-2014 as indicated by the graph below from IDC:


This level of growth, at a CAGR of 7%, in their primary marketspace is reasonable but not outstanding. Virtualization and cloud computing alternatives are expected to grow at a much faster space within this space. Hence, it is critical for growth to invest in these areas to create sustainable expansion. The company has been active in the mergers and acquisitions (M&A) arena acquiring many companies over the last 18 months. It is unclear how well the acquired products will be integrated with existing SaaS offerings to present compelling solutions to customers.

The constant changes in their management personnel, and reorganizations earned the company the moniker ‘Change Always’. These changes are responsible for the impressive R&D cost structure -majority of the investments are for new development as demonstrated by the graph below:



However, the last 5 years also saw several management shakeups, layoff of about a quarter of the workforce, and office-space consolidations across the US. While a majority of these were warranted to ensure investments were made in the right growth areas, some changes were due to personnel incompatibility in upper management. The 4th quarter report (5/12/2011) announcements included more of the same: Dr. Ajei Gopal, the head of technology and development is leaving and Nancy Cooper, the CFO is retiring after 5 years each in office. Ajei is credited with introducing the EITM (Enterprise IT Management which has since been nicknamed Elephants in the Machines) strategy. The score on this area needs to improve to usher in success over the long-term.

The company has a history of providing aggressive long-term guidance and failing to deliver anything close to that. John Swainson, the company’s CEO in 2005 unveiled a plan to grow revenue by 50% over the next 5 years. Revenue actually grew only by a paltry 15% in those 5 years – from $3.77B to $4.35B. In the May 2010 analyst conference, the company announced long-term guidance as follows:



The spreadsheet shows fairly reasonable guidance for 2011 but pretty aggressive long-term guidance. It will be interesting to watch what the company actually delivers.

Finances:

The table below summarizes CA Technology’s financial position:



Year2008200920102011
Revenue4.28B4.27B4.35B4.43B
Net Earnings479M671M771M827M
Shares Outstanding514M513M515M502M
Earnings per Share (Normalized – one-time items removed)0.921.291.471.65
YOY Earnings Growth484%40.22%13.95%12.24%
YOY Revenue Growth8.47%(0.1%)1.9%1.8%
Net Profit Margin11.19%15.71%17.72%18.66%

CA’s earnings growth number is skewed for 2008 due to the revenue recognition model change adopted in the previous year. The revenue numbers show sluggish growth over the last three years. Despite all this, the company managed to grow earnings at a healthy clip on the back of cost-cutting measures – the company let go around 4000 employees and consolidated many offices in the last three years – though painful, these changes had a positive effect on its bottom line. The best-case scenario going forward is to grow revenue consistently while keeping margins steady - recent acquisitions and the shift in company’s resources to growth areas makes this a feasible objective.

Quantitative Rating:

The spreadsheet below shows our quantitative rating summary of CA Technologies (click for an understanding of the ratings on this spreadsheet):



CA scores 7.9/10 on its ability to beat inflation: Return on Equity, Net Profit Margin, and Free Cash Flow came in perfect. PEG ratio, a measure of valuation is however rich at 1.34.

Corporate Abuse rating is 0/10 as their executive compensation is egregious: The CEO makes around $3.7M, around 80 times the average worker.

Income generation and liquidity measure is above average at 8.56/10: CA pays a 0.69% dividend. The stock is also optionable. Liquidity is high at over 3.8M average in daily volume.

Volatility ranking is perfect at 9.67/10: the company has very manageable debt, Beta is average, and grew earnings steadily in the last 5 years.

Capacity to increase dividends scored 6.67/10, which is above average: CA’s payout ratio is well above average at 10 – company has ability to grow dividends. The company’s dividend stayed steady during the last 5 years. The company announced a 25% dividend increase in the 4th quarter earnings release (5/12/2011) and so this score will improve in the future. Earnings showed a very good growth rate of 14.6% in the last 5 years.

The overall quantitative rating or the ‘OFB Factor’ came in at 6.56/10, which is above average.

Summary:

CA Technologies has an enterprise value of $11.75B and a forward PE of 11.93. Its revenue grew almost 3% on the average in the last 5 years. The company projects to achieve revenue growth in the high single-digits and EPS growth in the mid to high teens in the coming years. Although these projections are very aggressive, expectation is to reap benefits from the array of changes implemented over the last few years.

The enterprise software industry is presently in a rapid consolidation phase leaving a few large vendors to dominate the market in the coming years. Hence it is highly likely that either CA will get acquired or will acquire similarly sized entities as a survival strategy. The former could prove modestly beneficial to existing shareholders while the latter would be status quo.

CA has a PEG ratio of 1.36, which indicates that the valuation is high. Our quantitative analysis showed an ‘Above Average’ rating for the company. As the valuation is high, management is unproven, and growth projections are always overly optimistic, we do not recommend purchasing CA stock at this time.


Best Value DVDs for Kids by age group

With the advent of multiple forms of media and streaming options, DVDs in general and Kids DVDs in particular sell for a fraction of their retail prices in many cases. While most of these are mass-produced with questionable quality, with a little patience it is possible to purchase at very low prices some amazing videos.

Below is a list of our best values suitable for babies and toddlers 0-2:


ProductThumbnailBest PriceDescription
Elmo’s World – Dancing, Music, and Books$445 minutes of Elmo’s World segments from Sesame Street, the most widely viewed children’s television show in the world from PBS.
Barney’s Rhyme Time Rhythm$4The DVD to get if you wish to own just one Barney video. The 60-minute video features 46 Mother Goose rhymes and the immensely recognizable ‘I love you’ theme song.
Boohbah – Hot Dog$525 minutes. Another PBS Kids classic that ran from 2003 to 2005, created by Anne Wood, the creator of Teletubbies.
Teletubbies – Here Come the Teletubbies$1560 minutes. Several 10-15 minute long episodes. A BBC children’s television series created by Anne Wood and ran between 1997 and 2001 in PBS channels in the US.
Baby Einstein – Baby MacDonald – A Day on the Farm$530 minutes. Produced by the hugely successful Baby Einstein Company now owned by Disney. Four sections followed by a 6-minute puppet show: barns and equipment, animals, planting crops, and harvesting. Distinct video board book format.

Below is a list of our best values suitable for kids 3-6:


ProductThumbnailBest PriceDescription
Blue’s Clues – Classic Clues$4100 minutes. Four Episodes featuring Steve Burns: Blue’s School, Something to do Blue, Rhyme Time, and Puppets. A couple of never before seen episodes make this DVD special. Also, Steve is overwhelmingly the better host for this episode and all episodes feature him.
Dora the Explorer – Pirate Adventure$480 minutes. Includes two bonus 20 minute episodes and those make this a great value. Private Adventure is a double-length (40 minutes) episode about Dora and her friends on a treasure chest hunt.
What’s New Scooby-Doo? The Complete First Season$82 discs – 294 minutes, 14 episodes including the bonus episode “A Scooby-Doo Valentine”. Great value for this high quality first sequel.
The Wiggles – Hoop-Dee-Doo! It’s a Wiggly Party/Dance Party$10Two discs – 95 minutes. Hoop-Dee-Doo! Is a classic with such songs as “Move Like an Emu”, the title song, and “La Cucaracha”. Dance Party is a lower budget production from their early days but has such great songs as “Can you point your fingers and do the twist?”
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (The Friendship Edition)$1580 minutes. 2007 DVD release of the 1977 original. Four story book classics and some special features: Honey Tree, Blustery Day, Tigger too, and Day for Eeyore.

Below is a list of our best values suitable for kids 7-12:


ProductThumbnailBest PriceDescription
Magic School Bus – Bugs, Bugs, Bugs$830 minutes. The Friz and her class explore the sticky home of a bee (In a beehive), the industrious life of an ant (Gets Ants in Its Pants) and the surprising identity of a caterpillar (Butterfly and the Bog Beast) in three episodes of high entertainment. Includes 3 bonus features.
Pokemon Season 1 Box Set – Indigo League$203 discs, 650 minutes. 26 episodes of Season 1 from Pokemon. Pokemon story from the beginning with introduction of the hero, Ash in his hometown of Pallet Town where boys and girls are encouraged to begin their Pokemon journeys.
Harry Potter Years 1-6 Gift Set$406 discs, 904 minutes. Includes: Sorcerer’ Stone, Chamber of Secrets, Prisoner of Azkaban, Goblet of Fire, Order of the Phoenix, and Half-Blood Prince.
Beauty and the Beast Platinum edition$24Two discs – 84 minutes. This musical is arguably the greatest animated feature film of all time. The bonus disc features making of the movie episodes and some other material.
Star Wars Trilogy$406 discs featuring A New Hope (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and Return of the Jedi (1983). This set also contains the unaltered originals in addition to the special editions (not widescreen). The three films became a cultural phenomenon.



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