Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Art of the Good Life #20 : Your Two Selves

[ My pal 15 Hour Work Week has also started a regular series on this Rolf Dobelli book as well ! I read his blog here because he has a different take on this book and I read it to revise its concepts. ]

You have two selves.

The first self is the experiencing self. This is part of the consciousness that is in the present, taking in all sensory perceptions real-time. This part of the self has to sift through millions of data points just to retain a few of it for storage in long term memory.

Which leads us to the concept of the second self also known as the remembering self. The remembering self  gathers, arranges and evaluates all the data captured by the experiencing self.

These two selves evaluate events differently. In fact the remembering self tends to over-emphasize peak events and the also the things which occur right at the end of the event itself. This is the reason why some people who suffer during BMT tend to see it more positively in retrospect.

This idea may explain the behavior of the folks who reach Financial Independence.

It does not matter how long it takes for  someone to reach financial independence. In retrospect, the triumphs in a person's career will determine how he assesses his journey to reach cross-over point, where passive income exceeds expense.

This further means that, without an extremely unpleasant event that actually ends a person's career, folks will generally not voluntarily end a career journey after reaching financial independence. We often get out because we get retrenched or meet very toxic people in the workplace.

We can extrapolate some useful insights from this realization beyond the Rolf Dobelli book.

Those who first reach Financial Independence and then pull the trigger to Retire Early will always tend towards Introversion. This is because the workplace will always be a place of over-stimulation. Endless meetings, presentations and chats next to the water cooler.

Which leads to a deeper realization.

When you read the articles of a financial blogger, invariably you will encounter someone who is heavily biased towards advising readers on what best to do with their money and life and that this advice would actually work against extroverts.

This is where we see the extrovert minority struggle to understand why people are so eager to retire even within this community.

I don't see a problem for extroverts trying to reach financial independence. The trick is to get there first, and then ask yourself how can this financial independence be used to make a bigger dent in the Universe.

Failing that, more money may just mean bigger parties and louder music speakers.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Cryptocurrencies are DOOMED !

Given that cryptocurrencies are going through a minor recovery of sorts, it is time to have an update on cryptocurrency investing.

April 2018 is a very fortunate month for folks who are interested in this asset class. This is because Barclays Bank has devoted most of their Equity Gilt Study 2018 report to technological disruption and cryptocurrencies. While I do not have the actual report, the Economist has summarised what it had to say about the state of cryptocurrency investment world.

The basic gist of the study is that cryptocurrencies have peaked. There will no longer be another upside like what the luckier millennial investors have just enjoyed. The reality that this investment class does not produce a dividend is now sinking in.

Cryptocurrencies also face four challenges :

a) There is a lack of trust in cryptocurrencies. 

Generally speaking, people trust currencies backed by government.

b) Cryptocurrencies lack sovereignty. 

Governments and businesses hate it because there is potential for tax avoidance.

c) Third is privacy. 

Once you lose your private key, every transaction made on the wallet will be revealed.

d) Irreversibility. 

Finally blockchain transactions are hard to reverse.

Where cryptocurrencies remain relevant are in societies where trust is minimal or already lost. It is not difficult to imagine that cryptocurrencies will be quite useful in  a failed state like Venezuela.

How Barclay's bank concluded that the peak is over for cryptocurrencies is super interesting because they got their whiz kids to model the euphoria like an infectious disease. There is a ridiculous ramp up of prices at first but eventually the disease fizzles out as a large part of the population is immune to it. Once prices falls, investors lose hope and sell. Soon prices fizzles out, just like the way a fever breaks.

I really want to get a copy of the report because the approach to model cryptocurrency as a disease outbreak is really cool and amazing and can be reapplied for other asset bubbles.

For now I have concentrated my cryptocurrencies in my Coinbase account and will be liquidating it soon since Coinbase will no longer work with XFERS on 15 May 2018.

If I just retrieve my cash into my margin account, I would have enough to sustain my mortgage payments, effectively attaining my biggest resolution I have set for myself this year.

( If a reader is a a private wealth client of Barclay's bank and access to the document, I'd be most grateful if somehow you can send me a link to a PDF copy)

Thursday, April 19, 2018

You can choose your reality.

When I was single, I thought of wanting to join SDU, so I consulted an engineering classmate who frequently attended these SDU events, hoping that he can give me some  dating advice. I was a desperado and wanted to know what were my chances of finding a significant other when I joined these events.

My friend understood my 20-something self very well so he wanted me to be less of a jerk than already was then. I remember we were riding on the north-south line and he told me that in order to succeed in SDU, I must get used to having dates with average-looking women. So he pointed to me three women of my age sitting opposite us in the MRT.

The first woman was really plain and I would not have noticed her even if she was standing in front of me. The second woman was actually quite a turn off because she had a lot of acne on her face. I can't remember what turned me off the third woman, it might have been her weight. What I do remember was jokingly telling my friend that if I am left with these girls, my family line would be essentially over and I would choose eternal loneliness over a domesticated life.

What is the moral of this ridiculous anecdote ?

Organizations and salespeople exists to create a new reality for you.

SDU's approach towards getting more graduates to date is to bombard them continuously with average looking women and men with average charm so that expectations can be lowered and an eventual match takes place.

They are the in the business of lowering your expectations.

As investors in the 1990s, unit trusts were the rage. In my first book, I wrote about expense ratios and management fees. In those days, I invested in unit trusts like the Templeton Global Equity Fund which could charge over 2.75% in annual fees. Even if equities gave 9%, I would make barely 6%. Dollar cost averaging was the hot new thing 20 years ago.

That was the reality then.

The insurance industry is worse. Agents routinely sell their products as being better than bank deposit rates.

While the situation is much better, we need to careful about the products sold in the markets today, ETFs are highly advantageous compared to actively managed funds but we are seeing very unexciting returns from the STI ETF at around 3.5% last year when simply buying an equal-weighted basket of STI components can give a 1.5% boost to your returns.

So in essence, in the world of investments, you can create your reality.

When I started back-testing a portfolio on Bloomberg, the world of double digit returns with a lower semi-variance suddenly opened up to me. When I started employing leverage, having an expanding portfolio without the need for a day job became a new reality to me. So much so that there are projects that I am eagerly looking forward to doing by the end of this year involving the shorting of stocks.

New realities can also backfire. Cryptocurrency prices can double in a short span of a week. Now we could be seeing a nasty backlash in 2018.

The trick is to stick to the fundamentals like diversification and risk-position-sizing to ensure that there is a way out when the reality changes.

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Art of the Good Life #19 : The Smaller Meaning of Life

The larger meaning of life are questions relating to what you re are and how you fit in into the Grand Scheme of the Universe. These are questions that are hard to answer and require a lot of introspection.

The smaller meaning of life is a lot easier to attain because all you need is to understand your goals and ambitions.

The book talks about research done on children. Those kids who consider money as something indispensable had a higher income later in life and are generally happier than those who did not value money as much. Of course, those who valued money but did not achieve material success later in life are the most miserable of them all.

The surface advice from the book is that goals matter. Popular self-help supports the idea of SMART goals.

Scott Adams takes goals one step further and asks the questions of what kinds of personal systems can be built towards attaining personal success as opposed to following simply goals. Habits and rituals are more effective than goals.

So I guess a more complete picture is to first know what your ambition is followed by your goals, and then to find out how to build a system or series of habits to achieve your ambitions.

My goal right now is to offset my mortgage with my margin account. To do that, I have to save about $4,000 a month on an allowance of $800. This means really skimping on on the use of my dividends every quarter.

To do that, I developed two systems :

a) Fish soup once a day. As Maxwell road hawker center soup serves fish soup that is well above average, I get a healthy meal that keeps my blood sugar low at a mere $6 a day. Somehow good healthy diets can drive overall savings since I spend less time at restaurants.

b) Book moratorium on the poor dividend months. Every January, April, July and October, I stop buying e-books and RPGs so that I can use the library more and select only those that I can read in that quarter.

As we speak, my margin account is getting close to $480,000 in size which generates about $24,000 a year. This is not a small achievement as I had no earned income building up this margin account and I was able to  keep my core portfolio generating income that  I can feed my entire family with.  As my margin account is full of higher quality REITs, yield accretive moves should be able to tip me over to be able to offset mortgage payments hopefully by October 2018.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Managing your Attentional Capital or Focus

Today I went over to Starhub to re-contract my mobile phone into a SIM only contract. By doing that I resolve a painful problem I have been facing since I started work in a law firm - I have two devices that employ mobile data that I bring to work, a mobile phone and a tablet. For months, I have been exceeding my data usage by 4Gb and have been spending $200+ on telco expenses every month. So today was the expiration of my contract so I rushed over to switch to a SIM only plan with 16Gb of data allowance.

The conversation was amusing. The sales executive tried to bait me by telling me that I am losing a $100 phone voucher when I refused to get a new phone. I told him that because I used so many extra Gigs of data, I am a good customer of Starhub and I need to stop being a good customer starting today. He then said that I will lose my double data allowance once a year is up. I then told him that by then, I may choose a new Telco by then as there would be four players in Singapore.

I wanted to tell him to stop up-selling so I told him that I'm a Starhub shareholder and I appreciate his up-selling efforts but I'm minimising what I pay to his company to him moving forward.

The conversation then veered into investing and we started to talk about Starhub dividends. I told him that he was stupid for not investing in Starhub because of the 6% yields he's likely to get and that if there is a drop in dividends he would be the first to know because he would be facing more customers like me who are either bailing out or cancelling a plan. The rest of conversation is about how to open a brokerage account and get started to make more money from his company.

That look on his face when I told him that his company pays me better than a bank deposit was priceless.

Even more amusing was that I ended up selling to him.

Ok... This is a pointless story.... I am rambling... All I wanted to say on this blog post is that we need to conserve our attentional capital or focus.

Singaporeans are lucky compared to Europeans and Americans in that very little attention needs to be paid on taxes because out taxes are quite low. Beyond that, life is pretty complicated on this island.

Here are some examples :

a) We spend too much of our time thinking about CPF which is a confusing monster of a scheme because it covers retirement, education and housing.

b) Property ownership takes up too much of our time as well because the asset enhancement depends on our attitude to foreigners and how we prioritise the needs of home owners versus home buyers. I keep getting into Whatsapp chats where people just speculate about property movements and talk about stupid condo launches. But no one ever talks about tolerance of foreign labor which will drive prices moving forward.

c) We have to consider our educational needs - you can't buy a private degree anymore in Singapore because HR departments will hardly consider the degree worth the paper it is printed on. Replacing this is the possibility of developing skills using Skills Future Credits.

d) There are also other endless distractions that we need to think about : telco expenses, insurance expenses and credit card rewards.

If your personal finances rely on so many moving parts, it simply means that smarter and more conscientious citizens will have an edge in society. They simply can take advantage of more schemes to generate more revenues and savings. Just now, I was teaching my single friends about the Entertainer App, something I picked up from Budget babe's talk last year.

For the folks who are not that smart, you would have to prioritise what area to focus on and stop majoring in minor things. This is why I wanted to stop paying for a mobile phone plan and separate my data plan from the gadgets peddled by telcos. For that same reason, I absorbed the risk of floating rates for my mortgage so that I don't have to keep monitoring which fixed rate plans are the most advantageous ones out there. I have been using the same DBS VISA Classic card since I started work and have never asked for a fee waiver in my life. All my card rewards go into paying the annual fee and Popular vouchers.

As life becomes more complicated, the one rule to follow is to simply follow the money.

If the STI ETF provides a return of 3.5% and you backtested an equal weighted portfolio of STI components give out 5%, a $100,000 shift in your portfolio nets you an extra $1,500 a year. If you can backtest a REIT Strategy that gives 10%, then you can earn an extra $6,500.

That's $6,500 every year after you tilt $100,000 away from the STI ETF.

For those starting out, a well executed job switch may net a 20% increment.

No amount of optimisation of your telco bill or credit card rewards can generate extra revenues like that.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Hacking your own Millionaire Mindset.

I think that we may have gone too far telling everyone what a Millionaire Mindset is not. The Millionaire Mindset is not about affirmations. Generating wealth is also not about sharing the quotable quotes of billionaires - although running a business selling motivational posters might actually work.

Now it's time for me to propose a generalized procedure for someone to develop a genuine Millionaire Mindset that puts him within a reasonable striking distance of landing a million bucks. Now in order for this to work, you need to read a lot. If you cannot accept this rule, then my approach will not work for you.

I propose that the Millionaire Mindset is hidden behind three books.

1. The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley

Nothing cuts through all that motivational crap like hardcore academic research. The Millionaire Next Door is a little dated by now but it shows some of the common traits and habit of everyday millionaires from the perspective of a sociologist. This is where most of the fundamental ideas of frugal living and avoiding flashy consumption come from.

I consider this the first book to read to develop this Mindset.

2. Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin

I read the earlier version of this book which was co-authored with Joe Dominguez. It's not an easy read but it's a textbook on FIRE and may contain humanity's first attempt to characterize financial independence as a cross-over point between basic expenses and investment income.

This is a crucial second book because financial independence is the bridge between survival and attaining millionaire status. It's like castling in a chess game to build up a defensive position early so that you can checkmate your opponent later.

Achieving financial independence allows you to farm your entire income into your portfolio allowing millionaire status to be achieved a short while later.

3. Seeking Wisdom : From Darwin to Munger by Peter Bevelin

The final book in this series is really about mindsets. I think that there is a certain way to think that makes you a better investor, worker or entrepreneur.

I'm in the middle of this book and most bloggers have not featured this book yet because it is quite unique as it unifies some key ideas in  Evolutionary Psychology, Behavioral Finance and some of Munger's ideas on Mental Models into a very interesting read. I think this book should supplant Thinking Fast, Thinking slow by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky in a financial blogger's bookshelf because it much more accessible to lay persons.

Of course, developing a Millionaire Mindset may not make you a millionaire immediately.

But this is certainly a better alternative than the wishful thinking recommended by the folks who wrote The Secret.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Art of the Good Life #18 : The "End of History" Illusion

I said recently on social media that an intelligent woman is like a magical sword. If you are not capable enough as a guy to wield this weapon, you can get yourself hurt really really badly.

A very intelligent and capable lady once bragged to me that her husband/boyfriend is a lucky guy because she is smart enough to say the right things to motivate him so that he can become very successful in life. She will push him to become an alpha male, a leader of men that commands respect.

Someone suitable enough for a daughter of a better age.

But as smart as she is, here's something that she does not know about us men.

It's hard to change us.

Changes happen as we interact with the environment. We change only when we are internally motivated to do so. A lot of tragedies in families arises from the desire of the wife to change the husband. A typical tragedy always involve marrying a man-child and expecting him to become a responsible dad overnight. I think you have better luck hoping for a rebound in crypto-currency prices.

While it is hard to change someone, we are always changing - just not in ways that some ambitious or highly intelligent women would find desirable. The rate of change is constant throughout our lives. A hard charging executive might become a lazy has-been after reaching his 40s. Even I changed from a gainfully employed  technology professional to a woefully underemployed legal professional.

Thus the HR adage that companies "hire for attitude but train for skill" is a wise move.

[ Kudos to this intelligent lady I spoke of. She become a highly successful executive and married a truck driver. ]