Monday, June 29, 2020

Random musing and political opinions.

Today is just some random musings with no theme in particular. 

a) Teaching with a mask on is like playing Diablo in Inferno mode.

I was hard at work over the weekend conducting classes for the batches that attended my webinar during the lockdown period and underestimated how difficult it was to teach when wearing a mask. 

When I wore a loose mask, it kept requiring adjustment while I spoke. After I put on a new and tighter mask, I had difficulty breathing after speaking to the class. Looks like I will be looking for a customised solution that would improve my masked speaking voice before face to face classes resume mid-July. Any suggestions from teachers and lecturers are welcome. 

b) Picked up random bits of information from my students.

A trainer can learn a lot from his students. While we were discussing the hospitality trusts, a student who worked in healthcare shared with me that hotels are trying to survive by providing accommodation to foreign healthcare workers. Apparently, the cost of housing three workers is around $50-$70 a night. 

As I also get my students on a guided crowdsourcing exercise on emigration destinations, we also discovered that Kuala Lumpur may be a cheaper place to live in compared to Bali. Possibly no thanks to the number of "drop-shipping" digital nomads who turned Phuket and Bali into favoured destinations. 

c) Ivangate proves that our political system actually works.

With Ivan Lim bowing out of GE2020, it goes to demonstrate that the system works.

Loyal PAP voters like myself joined Singaporeans of different political persuasions to strike out what we perceive as a bad candidate. This is a evidence that the candidate shortlisting selection works once you account for social media. I would venture further that now PAP can embrace the occasional mistake in future elections. We PAP voters are not sheep. Also, do note that subsequent attempts to assassinate the characters of other PAP candidates fell on deaf ears.

Good chance that a more serious article on investing will arrive from me on the Dr. Wealth blog on Wednesday. 


Friday, June 26, 2020

What triggered me about the upcoming elections.

House Bolton | Game of Thrones Wiki | Fandom

I was triggered by recent events in the lead up the General Elections 2020.

Apparently, a few reservists who had crossed paths with a potential PAP MP candidate, went online with their real personas to complain of elitism and ill-treatment. The complaints are sufficiently granular and specific to upset me to protest loudly on social media.

There are a few groups of people I implicitly trust in determining whether a person is a good guy. The first is folks who are servers in the F&B industry - a sure sign of being a sadist is to casually dismiss waiters in a restaurant.

The second are NS men.

NS is always, to me, some kind of alternative societal arrangement that kept everyone humble and united in purpose. Push comes to shove from belligerent neighbours, we fight regardless of which part of the society we belong to.

During my time, NS used to distinguish Poly and Air-level grads quite clearly during National service and I was always wary that combat officers with a Polytechnic diploma would have an issue with us Air-levels mainly because we have a much higher probability of entering University and subsequently the middle-class. So in the Army, in the 1990s, there was always a cohort of Polytechnic diploma officers who would find ways to mess with Air-level graduates - especially the potato-eating non-Hokkien speaking Air-level grads who spoke accented English. This made NS unnecessarily difficult for Peranakans or "Chow Angmoh" type of soldiers in the Army in the 1990s.

As we entered reservist, I kept playing it safe.

For my Signals unit, the men consisted of PMETs and we just want to finish the exercise safely and book out on time. But there's always the rare 2LT or CPT who relishes coming to camp to lord over us lowly men because he is some individual contributor in corporate life.

This was the reality when human get together - we form hierarchies. Men answer to specialists. Specialists answer to officers.

So if we're smart in real life, we swallow whatever gets handed to us during the short ICT period.

Maybe this is why this new candidate triggered me so much.

We men have no recourse if officers treat us badly. There are rumours that he made his men wait to book out and was dismissive of safety measures when there was lightning during an exercise. The complaints came from different parts of the web with different Singaporeans coming up anecdotes that reflected poorly on the candidate.

As a loyal PAP voter, I suggest that potential MPs must pass the same test applied to Caesar's Wife - They need to be beyond suspicion. A ruling party of 50-over years must be held to a standard much higher than opposition parties.

As an election is often a walkover for the PAP, we cannot rely on a vote to sift out power-hungry sadists and tyrants from the candidate pool. We know that no recruitment process is perfect as some folks are just too good at kissing up and kicking down. If you don't believe, join the public sector.

It, therefore, falls to us to kick up a big fuss to ensure that the bad candidate is not nominated to run in the first place.

If this candidate gets nominated, I will write to my MP to thank him for his contributions to my ward and I will let him know that it is not his fault that I am not voting PAP this time round.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Last Tang Standing - Trashy but Essential read

Last Tang Standing by Lauren Ho

At the tail end of Phase 1, I wanted to stop reading hardcore programming books and start reading something light and hopefully, non-essential. Last Tang Standing by Lauren Ho met all the pre-requisites of a trashy read and can possibly belong to the same cinematic universe as Crazy Rich Asians and Sarong Party Girls. While the read was light-hearted, hidden within the story is probably one of the most gritty and brutal descriptions of M&A legal practice in Singapore.

a) Probably the most accurate depiction of life in a Singapore law firm

I heartily recommend this book to all incoming JD and LLB students as well as legal associates, not as a work of fiction but as a vivid preview of what their futures lives are going to be. In fact, it should be made compulsory reading as part of the law school syllabus. It shows the jostling between senior associates for partnership and how some of them can be made scapegoats when a deal fails.

Generally, the tone of the book is a light one, but it exposes the meaninglessly of seeking promotions within a law firm setting with plenty of cynical advice not taught in a formal legal program such as "Keep your PAs close, keep your enemies' PAs on retainer."

b) Central theme of the story: How money destroys agency

The subtle role played by money permeates the entire story. To be included in a will, family members must play their cards right - spinsters have to endure humiliation during the Annual Spinster Shaming Festival otherwise known as Chinese New Year.

Also, a billionaire's attempt to solve every problem was rebuffed because that is not what life is supposed to be all about. I feel sorry for the billionaire because he is really a nice guy and it's not his fault wanting to help others with his money, but this is a fictional piece of work so money had to lose in the end.

c) Hypergamy and associative mating remain a central feature in this genre. 

When analyzing text in Singapore Social Cinematic Universe, I like to focus on what does not appear in a novel.

Conspicuously absent in modern-day romance novels are engineers. Engineers and tech introverts males are never deemed sexy enough to appear on Tinder dates even though they probably invented and built Tinder. Instead, a young love scammer gets more loving attention in the story. That being said, it's kinda hard imagining an M&A Lady lawyer dating an anime-laving  BBFA - this is a market niche I hope to exploit one day when I finally get down to writing my very own BDSM novel.

Rom-com has evolved from men marrying downward to egalitarian assortative mating choices. The protagonist eventually goes for someone in a similar situation as she does. To drive a more progressive ending, her buddy even gave up chasing wallets and went for some good-looking beta male instead.

Nevertheless, I am heartened that the key male character in the story play Settlers of Catan and draws superhero comics. This story is actually quite progressive about what's dateable in the Singapore markets.  So there is hope for gaming geeks after all!

With Crazy Rich Asians, Sarong Party Girls and Last Tang Standing, we might be a seeing a trend of ROM COMS set in Singapore. I see rich fertile ground for more novels that explore female hypergamy and associative mating in a competitive place like Singapore.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Personal Update - FREEDOM!

With Phase 2 and the opening of retail, it's time for another personal update.

a) Training business entering a real "recession" in 2020Q3?

We capped a successful third class during the lockdown making our ERM business one of the most successful pivots into the webinar format. Now we are in the process of trying to get back to our older training format prior to the lockdown with the added obstacle of teaching while wearing facemasks. If anyone has a brand of facemasks that can reduce muffling let me know. 

One of my fears is that the training business may be finally entering its first downturn as we longer have a "captive" audience for our webinars. So I gotta be careful moving forward for the next few months. Maybe the bulk of earnings in 2020 has already been earned.

Thanks to so many new market insights from running my own Python programs, we are no longer a two-day program. Students now begin on Friday night with one webinar before heading to two full days of classes.

b) Financial markets

I get the feeling that the market does not really know which way to by now with central banks beefing up fiscal support on one end and the horrible fundamentals in another. I don't have much answers myself - if you have been staying defensive through-out this period of time, things should turn out ok although dividends will be gone until 2021.

More will be said of the Dr Wealth blog this upcoming week.

c) Python Programming

Machine Learning with Python Cookbook: Practical Solutions from ...

As I had classes last week, I did not write any programs because I tend to ger overexcited when some parts of my code begin to work with financial data. Very likely I will get back slowly putting more emphasis on improving my unsupervised learning code to cluster stocks into useful categories. After that, I will return to writing regression code to discover new factors to invest in.

As I already have a problem domain and just want quick fix ideas, I switched to using a cookbook to answer some of the questions I have.

I managed to fix a problem I have with Seaborn library heatmaps thanks to a student. ( I have students who are decent coders and working on the same problems as I am. )

Image may contain: text

d) What I am reading

Last Tang Standing by Lauren Ho

I am in the middle of reading Last Tang Standing by Lauren Ho and it is a non-stop page-turner!

If you enjoyed Crazy Rich Asians and Sarong Party Girls, you will definitely enjoy reading this book that chronicles the dating life of a 30-something Malaysian Woman M&A lawyer in Singapore.

The story may have more value than just being a fictional depiction of a spinster. Folks who are entering law-school may want to read the accurate depiction of life in a Singapore law firm to get a glimpse of their future.

Perhaps a dedicated blog post on this book will come after I am done with it.

e) Hobbies and economic stimulus

No photo description available.

I don't have much time for my hobbies as I have three consecutive weekends worth of classes. Instead, I have been trying to conduct economic stimulus, hitting my hobby shops to buy stuff from them. I bought a low of miniatures to paint in case a second lockdown was to occur.

If miniature painting is considered a non-essential activity, then buying contrast paint specifically to paint translucent plastic is even more bo liao. I paid $12 for a bottle of blue paint to create the watery effect shown above.

The work was tactically outsourced to my daughter who has taken over the work of base coating and priming my miniatures.

The COVID-19 has permanently altered my life and I'd like to preserve some of the rituals I picked up during the last three months. For one thing, my D&D game sessions are moving permanently to the web. I would also like to preserve my exercise routine. Finally, if I wish to maintain my momentum in Python programming, I can't go shopping more than once a week on weekdays.


Friday, June 19, 2020

Important Lessons in Life from Wang Lei

Gossip mill: Getai singer Wang Lei becomes hit online influencer ...

The most inspirational person for me in this lockdown has been Wang Lei.

In case you are one of those who live along Bukit Timah road and never watched Ch 8 in your life, Wang Lei is a famous Hokkien Getai performer who found himself without a gig during the COVID-19 lockdown and totally reinvented himself as an online fishmonger who uses a combination dirty jokes and vulgarity-laden tirades to pull in a ridiculous a large five-figure international crowd. His online performances were so big that he has since been getting gigs to perform not just in Malaysia but also in China.

I will try to share some snippets of his off-colour humour although I must add that an English translation does not really do justice to his Hokkien jokes because some things are just better when told in the original language.
  • A troll kept asking him whether he sold squid when he was trying to sell cod-fish to the audience. He got fed up and told him to whip out his penis, barbeque it and eat it (implied) if he really wanted the taste of squid so badly.
  • A lady troll who kept annoying him for the past two days went absent for the last session, so he pointedly asked her after she logged on whether she was absent because she was having her periods yesterday.
  •  A troll asked him whether he was a virgin, he went on a tirade in Cantonese which ended with him calling the troll a "stupid c*nt".
  • After three trolls attacked him on the chat group, he invited all them to come out to participate in a threesome.
Follow this link for a compilation of his jokes.

If I am a business journalist, I believe that we can learn from Wang Lei on what we can do in a crisis like COVID-19. To understand how large his 60,000 online crowd is, I know do fairly well commercially as a trainer when my previews get an attendance rate of just 150 per session. 

Wang Lei has since become an international phenomenon with fans from as far as China and is already getting bookings for live performances there. 

Here are some lessons from Wang Lei :

a) The hardest part of a down-turn is enduring a drop in status.

Wang Lei was a major force in Hokkien Getai and has launched many successful Hokkien albums. When his revenue dried up in the COVID crisis, he made a fateful decision to become a fishmonger to help his friend sell fishes to eager fans. This is a major drop in status because he was technically a successful artiste prior to this latest pivot. I think if a Hokkien Star can become a Fishmonger, graduates without work can become swabbers. 

In this downturn, I am starting to see lawyers lose their jobs and top-flight graduates getting a starting pay a fraction of last year's starting salaries. To put food on the table, many Singaporeans would have to find work that is beneath their station or qualifications.  We can learn from Wang Lei and see this perhaps as a stepping stone to bigger things. 

For me, I still get a lot of queries on why I did not become a lawyer. Relatives ask whether I wasted 4 years of my life.  Becoming an investment trainer is clearly a drop in status. Wang Lei does not care so neither should I.

b) Measure what matters, then act aggressively to ramp it up.

At one point, Wang Lei was asked by his manager to tone down his vulgarities during his streams because he is, after all, a successful singer who launched many albums. He tried doing it at first, but audiences began to drop out which affected his income quite negatively. Then he ramped up his use of expletives and the live audiences just kept coming back asking for more. 

Apparently, a lot of China guys enjoy listening to Hokkien expletives -  and I thought they switched to Mandarin ages ago.

I am facing the same dilemma as a trainer. Right now, I have three different previews, all designed for different audiences with different commercial rates of success. My business partner knows what works and what does not and, over time, I would have to drop the weakest format in favour of the strongest if my numbers do not improve. 

As it turns out, my weakest commercial presentation is also the most informative for intermediate investors ( If you are free tomorrow sign up at this link). 

c) If you want to thrive, ignore the critics.

I'm not surprised that Wang Lei rubs people wrongly, but I don't understand why the English-educated types have been bashing him on mainstream media for being vulgar and a disgrace to the nation. If you don't enjoy his humour, go watch KIN on Channel 5. I am glad Wang Lei does not give a damn about his critics so long as $68 codfish can find enough buyers ( my mum says it is quite a good deal ). 

I get a decent amount of flak for being the Patron Saint of leveraging REITs. For me, I am sure that teaching leverage with the full knowledge that it is "dark art" makes it compelling for many of my students, many who do not even intend to use leverage in their portfolios. I think it's good to know about things even if it is dangerous. So I won't stop even if Uncle Chua would come back from the grave to haunt me. In fact, inspired by Wang Lei, I'd probably kick his butt. 

Maybe one day, some business professor will create a case study on Wang Lei, I think his actions are teachable moments for many of us who face drastic pivots in our professional lives this crisis. More importantly, as an artist, his success renders the argument that "artists are non-essential" nugatory.

If you cannot be an artist, just become a fish-monger lah.

In fact, become the fish-monger thousands of fans would listen to. 

Do whatever it takes to put food on the table and tell your critics to f**k off. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Letter to Batch 14 of the Early Retirement Masterclass.

Dear Students of Batch 14,

It’s been a great honour and privilege to be able to conduct a 2-Day Early Retirement Workshop for you.

The business of investment training has become more challenging lately as the lockdown stretches further and we’re grateful to be able to conduct a class of such decent size in June. This batch will be the third class that we can conduct during a COVID-19 lockdown period.

Markets have also been quixotic one week before the course. It reversed from a bullish trend on the days before the class weekend wreaking havoc to the Z-Score spreadsheets I compiled the week before. As I do not want the class to be hit by another wave of selling, I made a decision to do a little bit of market timing to withhold purchases until the downturn reverses itself.

Unprecedented times demand unprecedented measures.

Fortunately, we managed to receive some good news on Monday night when Phase 2 of the loosening of lockdown restrictions was declared to begin on Friday 19 June that will have a positive impact on markets.

With the Singapore economy slowly edging back to normalcy, I hope that physical classes can resume as soon as possible. Our priority right now is to finalise the timings to conduct the one-day hands-on session that has been owed to you since the webinars. 

Batch 14 has been quite fun and spontaneous. The unique trait about Batch 14 is that on the final day of the class, students are able to explain and answer questions posed on the chat, making the Q&A much easier for the trainer. This is the kind of learning spirit that I hope that you can take on as you engage with fellow ERM alumni on the Facebook group.

Unless the lockdown gets re-established at a later date, Batch 14 may be the last batch of students to undergo the 4-webinar + 1-day lab session format. The ERM program’s complexity has grown by quite a bit since the lockdown started, and future sessions may no longer be constrained to 2-day duration.

I hope to see you again soon during the lab sessions and I look forward to your active participation in our Facebook community.

Christopher Ng Wai Chung

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Brutal truths about the Arts and Humanities.

No photo description available.

In a recent poll, 71% of Singaporeans rated Artists as non-essential services. This triggered a large majority of folks on social media and there was much gnashing of teeth. Interestingly, we are not seeing the same amount of unhappiness from telemarketers, social media specialists and business consultants.

For a start, let me just say that my job as an investment trainer is also a non-essential one.

I can sense where the unhappiness comes from, and it is not targetted at artists per se, I think we have been discounting social scientists, humanities scholars and performance artists for the past 50 years. Folks who identify with the Arts go through the process in Sec 3 where the so-called "smarter kids" get shunted into the science stream, leaving the rest for the horrifically named Sub-Science and Arts streams. Then on Chinese New Year, they have to keep defending their career and academic decisions from nosy relatives.

This is the kind of pain that they have been feeling for a long time.

( NB: FASS employment numbers are fine before the COVID-19 crisis, but I am eagerly looking forward to ranking degrees again in 2020 )

Another problem is that our artists and liberals have waged a cultural war against the conservative majority for a very long time. I do not know why our artists and performer are unable to scale and seem to be stuck with performances that involve mostly cross-dressing and wordplay. In this sense, our friends in the performance arts can learn from Hokkien singer Wang Lei - To attract a 60,000 crowd and sell loads of fish, all Wang Lei has to do is to swear a lot in Hokkien, making his career pivot the most inspiring one this COVID season. 

( Go watch Wang Lei! You'll thank me for this! )

Making matters worse is something I predicted 4 years ago.

The last bastion of high-paying jobs for folks who self identify as artistic or humanities types is legal-work and lawyers are facing disruption from AI. My prediction is that when lawyer salaries begin to drop, there will be no safe harbour for humanities-leaning scholars, and this will trigger a lot more micro-aggressions against folks who identify with a passion for humanities, arts or culture. To be fair lawyers, due to their arrogance from years of having high financial, social and cultural capital, have themselves to blame.

The crux of the matter is not that the Arts is non-essential, but the problem is that too much of humanity enjoys the humanities. When given a career choice where the money is not an issue, it is very human to want to flex your creativity and make stuff that brings us joy. But the rest of society does not work that way and, right now, we prefer software programmers - a job that even top computer science graduates do not like to do because it require thinking in a non-human and autistic way. On the other hand, every middle-class parent wants to produce a lawyer, and don't mind sending their precious ejaculate to study for some overseas Law degree when there is no legal practice training stints left in this country. So over time, every modern society has an excess of humanities scholars and people in the creative arts and we don't know what to do with them.

I think we will value the arts and humanities more if we control the number of academics and limit it to the small elite circles that can fit into areas where there is industrial demand. While we are at it, it's also time to demolish the academic tenure system.

At the end of the day, it's still better if policy-maker know a bit more about human beings when enacting new policies.

Finally, while I personally will not make a decision to join the Arts, we will all be better off if we can add a little bit of artistic flair in our work. Investment training is a form of performance and some rhetorical flair will make it easier to follow some investment concepts. A lot of successful speakers like Simon Sinek who can command ridiculous fees when speaking to Silicon Valley have a humanities background. I'm sure every programmer will find a little bit of knowledge in UI helpful in their career.

Maybe it's because of my exposure to D&D, I see a need for a balanced party when going out on adventures.  So despite my very tech and numbers approach to major areas in my life, I work very well with my humanities-leaning friends because they have a lot to teach me and I can complement them using the skills I have.

If you are an engineer and tend to lean on the practical side of things, spend some time listening to what humanities and artistic folks have to say. It may not gel with your world-view, but if you grapple with these alien ideas, I would say that you can potentially build a world-class product or launch a unique service that can a make a huge dent in this world.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Simple Investment Lessons from Seven Deadly Sins

The Seven Deadly Sins: Grand Cross — Best tips and tricks ...

One of the most entertaining things I did for this lockdown is to follow the fantasy anime series The Seven Deadly Sins, an animation that is about 6 years old. If you are to free to follow this, you can find Season 1 of this anime on Netflix.

I thought I wanted to write a homage to the series by discussing some useful investing lessons we can pick up by channelling a few key characters in the series since I know quite a few BBFA fans of this blog are also serious anime fans.

So for fans of the anime series in the investing world, which are the ones you should be drawing inspiration from?

a) You should be as logical and unemotional as Gowther, Goat Sin of Lust

Gowther - Nanatsu no Taizai by Puuripoo on DeviantArt

Gowther is androgynous because he/she is a doll. His face was that of the lover of the creator but he has a male body... just because. Because Gowther is very much an android of the team, he exhibits an eerie calm in the battlefield and constantly has a read on his probability of victory.

We can learn from Gowther by being unemotional about markets. Markets have finally trended down after a V-shaped recovery and we should be able to exploit a bargain if jittery investors begin to exit the market at this time. While the economy is bad, we're closer to a vaccine than in March and governments have been expanding their medical resources to cope with the virus.

The special power we want to develop is Bayesian Inference. Like Gowther, we can build an internal assessment of markets so that we can act coldly and in a calculated manner when the rest of the markets make a serious mistake.

b) You should exercise creativity and imagination like Merlin, Boar Sin of Gluttony

The Seven Deadly Sins Patch #1 – Great Mage Merlin | Kongbakpao

While Merlin is not exactly the most powerful of 7 Sins members, but to me, she is the most dangerous. Merlin was some Messianic child born to a society of wizards who was so powerful, the God and Satan of the cosmology wanted her to align with them. But Merlin milked them of all their knowledge and wisdom, she spurned both factions, pissing them off.

As an archmage without peer, Merlin does not cast her spells with wild abandon, often using her magic to gather more information in subtle ways when facing her enemies. She hedges her bets and has even been able to sequester her soul into her orb before being cursed by the Demon King.

We can channel Merlin with Data Science because financial data in it's purest form is Chaos Magic - A tensor with a number of rows equal to fundamental data, columns equal to the number of stocks over a time dimension. To tame this Chaos, Merlin uses a number of different spells to do her bidding. I have used NLP, K-means clustering to attempt to pick up some insights on local markets.

Hopefully, I can move to my next spell involving perceptrons and backpropagation next.

c) When the time is right, you have to go all out like Escanor, Lion Sin of Pride

Escanor | All Worlds Alliance Wiki | Fandom

Interestingly, the protagonist is not the most powerful member of the Seven Sins. That title goes to Escanor. Escanor is invested with the Power of Grace, previously owned by the most powerful of Arch-Angels. A night, Escanor is a mild-mannered barkeeper but during the day, his power grows until he is totally invincible during noon. At high noon, he becomes the One and can go toe to toe with the Demon King.

Analysis and emotional control can only take you so far. In the end, we either buy, do nothing or short. 

We can channel Escanor with the deadly power of Leverage. Leveraged investors will always be weaker when markets decline and stronger when markets reach their peak. The trick is to know when to be meek, and when to be loud and boisterous. When the sun rises on the market no amount on intellectual analysis can beat a highly leveraged account. When the sun sets, only by being defensive can you avoid a margin-call and certain death.

Markets ebb and flow. Escanor leaves an impression on me because even though he was the most powerful character who can defeat the Demon King, he eventually dies after burning out.

This is possibly the most important lesson an investor can learn about leverage.

Seven Sins is still a work in progress. I hope that the next season will be out by 2020.

Find a way to catch this anime if you can.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Clarifications on LlamaFinance video on the ERM program.

Strange business expenses include llama rental and buying human skull

The blog known as LlamaFinance has come up with a video that is favourable towards my ERM program.

You can access the video by following this link.

When I was told of a favourable review by other bloggers, I was initially overjoyed, but upon second thought, it dawned on me this may attract more unwanted attention than what my course deserves, so I decided to write a clarification post after seeing this video.

a) We did not sponsor or pay for the video.

I am, of course, pleased at such a favourable comparison, but the training industry is becoming more challenging and some trainers are struggling due to falling sales.

When a video like this is published, I was afraid that people may think that I am paying for "attack ads" on other trainers. This can trigger an industrial wide war where educators pay blogs to make comparisons in their favour to drum up more sales. I certainly don't want another blogger to compare my course with another and come up with reasons why my ERM programme falls short just to earn a few thousand dollars of advertising fees. Also, we need to shore up all the money we can earn at this time.

So I need to make a clarification that neither myself nor Dr Wealth worked behind the scenes to incentivise Llama Finance to create this video.

b) Leverage of x3.5 is too high for ordinary investors.

Llama finance has put in a lot of effort to deconstruct my approach and I am really flattered by that.

However,  I don't want members of the public to think that leveraging at x3.5 is a safe thing to do. It's not too difficult to find graduates of my program these days and they will be happy to assure you that the leverage I propose is much smaller than the brokerage limit. In all cases, only 40% of my students apply leverage after attending my program and there is plenty to learn even if you do not use leverage in your portfolio.

c) Diversification matters a lot in investing.

Also, my program results in a portfolio of around 12 - 18 counters in size. Much larger than the sample portfolio presented on the video. As my program focuses on giving beginners a rookie portfolio, I can't do violence to them by building portfolios of smaller size because it attracts a lot of idiosyncratic risks.

In my ERM community, there is a furious conversation going on right now on the merits of investment portfolio against private property. A lot of my students do not see real estate and REITs as being mutually exclusive. They often have multiple properties and a 7 digit REIT portfolio and love both to bits.

I hope that readers will not see this as "us-against-them". A successful training programme does not need to come about at the expense of another. Members of the public need to attend webinars and make an intelligent decision on their own.

Similarly, as we move through different timelines, a REIT-centred portfolio can have moments of underperformance compared to real estate.

Finally, I hope that Llama Finance can show up for my webinar on 20 June. My course has evolved a lot since last year and I don't ever teach the same slides in every class.

[ Make no mistake, I love Llama Finance to bits for doing this. I'd buy him a meal if not for the fact that this would be viewed as a bribe by the rest of the industry that is struggling to hold up their revenues! ]

Monday, June 08, 2020

Generation X is beginning to suck but Millenials will end up even worse!

When I was younger, I hated the Boomers well before "OK Boomer" was invented. To me, Boomers were a wealthy generation of Singaporeans who made ridiculous amounts of money by sitting on real estate. They dominated the corporate world without having degrees, decent English proficiency or computer literacy. My generation was so much better but we ended up licking their boots for at least a decade of our lives.

Now the joke is on us.

Generation X failed to conquer the corporate world and now facing retrenchment in this COVID season. We also did not age well and are now at psychologically one of the unhappiest period of our lives. My peers used to revel in Cantopop, buy clothes from Lips Enterprises, read BIGO magazine and listen to grunge music by Nirvana. Today it is all about dwelling in the past and observing the successes of their peers.

I can observe that some folks my age are ageing in a worse way than Boomers before us and I want to extend a theory for readers of this blog. Boomers spoke shitty English and did not know how to use a word processor. Gen-X spoke shitty Python and did not know how to do eigendecomposition of a 30x30 matrix. Different eras have different standards to be gainfully employed.

It boils down to the sociological definition of Agency. Agency is a person's capacity to act independently and make their free choices.

One guy on the FB groups ( who owns this blog ) likened successful reskilling to be the same as OS upgrades. If we are conscientious in patching our operating systems, it is not too hard to get the latest version on our PCs. In my case, I had to write code to process JSON strings, but I had invested some time over a decade ago on learning XML, all I need is to do is to figure out how to use a JSON parser. Today, I am getting a closer glimpse on how robo-advisor allocated their assets because of all the software engineering tricks I picked up years ago. If you have not been patching your OS, you will be running deprecated software and may become decommissioned after the latest virus attack.

The essence of continuous learning and upgrading is personal agency and not government schemes. I have plenty of friends who could have used Python to write code to raise productivity or picked up investing skills, but many prefer to raise an alarm when a peer upgrades to landed property or get promoted to director. They can't develop the agency to think independently based on the circumstances they are on. The only time you see some life in them is when their kids have to do the PSLE.

So how do we detect agency in a person?

Let's start with the archetype of the person with the least amount of agency - uniformed personnel.

We all have that uniformed friend who is a policeman or soldier who thrives on a rigid structure. In the uniformed services, structured is already provided for you. You need to follow it and a nice payoff will be given to you at the end of the contract. I have that friend who thrived in the uniformed services but once he got out of uniform, he was slob, did not look after himself and slowly wasted away. Conscientious becomes contingent on a massive super-structure.

I am the opposite of uniformed personnel. I hate structure. I studied law because I like the way I can create a structure from disparate facts. I loved statistics because the numbers are pure chaos until you tame it with a program. In the army, I was really unfit and did so much RT, my PTI would make me conduct the warm-up because of my extensive experience. I hated physical exercise because my life belonged to the SAF.

But something happened as I became a trainer. Because so much is at stake for every lesson, I basically cannot afford to have an MC before a course. So for the past few months, I have gotten myself vaccinated, hired a physical trainer to tekan me, and started adding really unpalatable food to my diet like Flax seeds and Aylas yogurt.

As a structure of corporate employment was taken away from me, I started becoming more conscientious and regimental!

Policy-makers need to understand that agency will determine whether someone can reskill and be re-employed into a higher paying job. The Gen-X with the lowest agency can barely learn a three-course and be re-employed at maybe 40% of last drawn pay. Maybe the solution is to expand the uniformed services where training and employment can take place simultaneously in a regimental atmosphere with punishment as consequences of non-compliance. I prefer SAF as an employer of last resort rather than universal basic income.

SAF should be our version of universal basic income.

I hope to alive when Millenials reach their 50s. After all, they coined the term "OK Boomer". I want to know what kind of labels my children will use on them!

Mark my words - Millenials will have it worse than Gen-X

  • Corporations at least pretended to be loyal to Gen-X. Now they have stopped pretending.
  • Two market crashes made them averse to financial markets so most of them can't build their wealth.
  • Some hold much more liberal values and are enemies of capitalism and neo-liberalism. Two philosophies that may hold the key for the survival of some of their generation.
  • They need for actualisation and equality in the workplace. 
I suspect that the COVID-19 crisis will first trigger an economic downturn that will last a few years. But after recovery, a lot of Millenial and Gen-Z men will withdraw from the dating market. They just spent 3 months on Steam and Netflix - I bet, like me, they really liked it !

The FIRE movement played a role in all this. If Millenials cannot survive with any income stability, why start families and end up as insecure as the Gen-X of the future. 

We will the normalization of the BBFA in Singapore of the future. 

And when Millenial singletons become old and need to be looked after by taxpayers like my kids in the future, I cannot imagine the kind of labels that will be applied to them. 

My bet is: "Faster die already!"

Saturday, June 06, 2020

It's going to be hard to retool middle-aged PMETs.

To level up in machine learning, I had been pushing myself to pick up the mathematical foundations to understand this class of algorithms better. For the hardcore AI audience that know a lot more than I do, I am currently teaching myself Eigen and Singular Value Decomposition. The aim is to figure out what an "eigen-company" is, some kind of alien AI-generated financial statement that can be combined with others in a linear manner to generate all 30 STI companies that form the training data.

Needless to say, this is almost science fiction to a new learner like me. It is largely pointless to execute a few lines of code but not be able to understand the true meaning of these algorithms. So I've been attending Youtube lectures on matrix mathematics where MIT lecturers are able to break it down for laymen like me to get a grasp of how things are really done. I am really glad I did Electrical Engineering 20 years ago. It is like the liberal arts of engineering degrees where we are not taught anything specific but a foundation in maths and physics to solve problems in the far future.

Combining my new insights into AI and financial markets, I am now quite worried about government attempts in trying to retool middle-aged workers like me. Why I think the government will need to press on with this to reform the economy, I strongly believe due to my own personal struggles that a lot of Gen-X workers may not be saved.

a) The guys who can retool for the future economy may not need help, the ones that do might not benefit from training in the first place. 

If you think about it, the Tier-S scholars do not need help because they have iron-rice bowl jobs and a high CEP guaranteeing them a great stable life. The Tier-A guys in my cohort, MNC elites who are slightly below the scholars, have settled into directors jobs in MNCs so are busy doing the retrenchment of other people.

Problems begin with Tier-B or middle-tier Gen-X guys like me who have some job insecurity and may not even have the mathematical foundation to seriously understand the impact AI has on the economy. Yup, we PMETs who cannot find a niche in the companies that we work for.

For me, I was lucky. I found a second wind as an investment trainer, but my rice-bowl is only as secure as my last batch of training I can conduct, hence the AI preparation I am taking on my own.

b) No training is adequate for future-proofing the individual.

I think I am pretty good at training having survived 13 batches, and yet training myself is the biggest challenge I ever faced. A lot of my Python training was based on my previous life as an IT guy. Moving into data science was not too hard because I completed an entire suite of data science courses in R prior to law school.

My current regime is hard. I spent days cleaning financial data on my own often studying the shape of the data I get from different data sources. This requires getting into JSON which I was unfamiliar with. Then I have to understand the machine learning to do really simple stuff like NLP and clustering algorithms on it.

I cannot imagine how a program that covers the tech programming and domain speciality can be done within a short time to retool someone without the person starving to death before the end of the course.  If he does succeed in graduating from the program, I expect the half-life of information to be very short - how-to earn sufficient ROI from training investments?

Also IT trainers, being introverts, hardly make great trainers. I know, because of the sheer amount of maths lectures I been through the past week.

c) Even if you are fully trained, who will hire you?

Who is willing to hire an army of freshly trained AI-proficient 40-something-year-olds, even if that is even possible?

My solution to that problem is that I am self-employed. I can meticulously use AI to attack financial datasets and monetise the results in my training programmes. Our fund managers are too busy intellectually masturbating themselves into thinking they are the next Warren Buffett. Who is interested in the decomposition of company statements into their eigen counterparts?

Who knows or gives a shit about the skills I developed other than myself?

I can't imagine what kind of company will want this kind of expertise to provide a permanent job. Even if a smart Tier-2 Gen-X guy can master the training, choosing the wrong domain can extend the timing of the job search.  In that sense, I was stubborn enough to refuse to use datasets provided by textbooks ( they all involve orchids and plants). But making the code work on financial data was hell.

I doubt the government can seriously think that they can retool my generation for the sexiest skills like IoT, Fintech or AI. More likely the government will stick to the low hanging fruit and find short training stints to allow my generation to take on temporary job roles to put food on the table. This means extended periods of underemployment and continuous retrenchment.

As I cannot foresee the company of the future, I have no idea what will happen to Millenials when they hit their mid-40s.

Without investment income, maybe they can remain single forever, live in 2-room flats and always hustling for short term contracts until they can get their CPF money out.

That's assuming they have CPF money in the first place.

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

The KNN PCB post !

[ I was told that I got the name of the algorithm wrong. The algorithm is supposed to called KMeans clustering and not K-nearest neighbour. Sadly, reverting to the proper name of the algorithm meant that I cannot use the eye-catching title which is quite KNN in the end.  ]

I've been getting more interesting progress in my machine learning this Post Circuit Breaker (hence PCB) season.

For rookies who are delving into darker recesses of machine learning, a low hanging fruit to improve your AI programming skills is K-nearest neighbour algorithm (KNN). So this article is a discussion on my attempts to use the K-nearest neighbour algorithm during the Post circuit breaker era.

(Hence KNN PCB !)

One question I always had for myself is how do we categorise blue-chips into clusters of stocks so that we can think about them in an easier manner. Intuitively, I tell my students that you can get a firmer grasp of the STI if you think about Banks, REITs, Developers and Jardine counters. But the weakness of this approach is that the four categories I mentioned only cover only 16 stocks, what about the remaining 14?

KNN is a method to train a computer to look at fundamental data and then divide the group of 30 stocks into different categories based on how closely their financial data fit each other. Unlike a human being that only review 1 or 2 numbers at the same time, a computer can look at the entire suite of financial figures.

Here is how the input data for 30 STI components looks like :

The data cannot be just fed from financial database, it needs some pre-processing work to remove blank entries can have to me scaled mathematically so we that we will not bias any financial metric during this exercise. Details of dimensionality reduction and scaling are too boring and technical for this blog.

Once the data is cleaned and ready, I would have to decide arbitrarily on how many clusters are there in the SGX. I figured that 7 is a nice round number because the human brain is designed to deal with about 5-7 objects at the same time.

Running the KNN algorithm I wrote for STI data, my program works!

Like a Frankenstein Monster, it can group stocks into various categories. The print-out is not that inspiring though :

Here are some insights from my program:

a) A major victory is that all three banks OCBC, UOB and DBS are categorised within their own cluster which confirms that my algorithm works.
b) Another major victory is that the AI was able to cluster all the REITs within the same group. The downside is that UOL and Hongkong Land was unfortunately also clumped together with the REITs category.
c) All three Jardine counters were mysteriously packed in the same cluster. I was a tad disappointed that the AI did not clump Hong Kong Land and Dairy into the mix.

At this point, I exhausted my experience and intuition as a retail investor.

Everything hence-forth are weird AI insights that showed me how blind I was:

a) For some strange reason, Thai Beverage is always an island in its own cluster. This cautions us to take care when analyzing Thai Beverage, it is truly the outsider in the group of 30 STI components.
b) Singapore Exchange and Dairy Farm seem to be strange bedfellows forming a cluster of 2.
c) SATs, Venture, Comfort Degro, ST Engineering and YZJ forms a cluster of engineering firms. This is likely what's missing from what I've been teaching my students!
d) I suspect the AI dumped the rest into a mega-cluster: SIA, Wilmar, SPH, Capitaland, Singtel, Genting, Keppel, SembCorp, City Developments.

Perhaps a more logical clustering will occur once I raise the number of cluster by 3 or 4.

There are random elements to the KNN algorithm such that running it multiple times produces different results so I have to level up my machine learning skills to a much higher level before I have a program that can automatically sort various stocks into different categories just by reviewing financial data.

To level up my machine learning skills, I have to revise the Maths I picked up during my JC and NUS Engineering days, this includes matrices and linear programming. Just this week, I finally figured out what an eigenvector is and how to apply it to a practical money problem!

I would also have to review this outdated notion that my law degree may be the last one that I will pursue in my lifetime... There will come a point of time I will need academic instruction to create a better artificial brain to help me with my investment decisions.

( Also we need to bring Computing and F Maths back into popular A levels subject combinations. You can't play in this new world without it! )