Saturday, February 27, 2021

Perspectives on graduate employment amidst a pandemic

I was so busy completing my course, doing more previews and preparing for my talk with Rotary Club tomorrow that I did not have time for my blog. The thing I really want to talk about is the Graduate Employment Survey of 2020. This is a very special survey because we get to see how a massive economic downturn can affect local graduates. 

This blog has always affirmed making practical and realistic decisions in the face of an ultra-competitive and unforgiving society. I did not mince words when I hear folks talking about studying for passion instead of doing something that can put food on the table. Live solely for passion, and it will be your funeral in a pandemic. There's no freedom without discipline in Singapore. 

Alas, I'm only beginning to look at the numbers so I'm not ready to write a brutal rundown of the state of local degrees yet. 

Instead,  I will share three perspectives from a cursory examination of the numbers :

a) There is a big difference when picking your major within your university faculty

The first sign of disappointment with the survey is that NUS does not provide granular results on the major chosen by the graduate, but I was as "happy as a clam" to know that NTU breaks the results down based on the chosen subject.

Focusing on the College of Humanities in NTU, there are some results that are quite baffling to me.  

It is interesting that folks who studied English Language only had an employment rate of 43.2% but had the same student majored in philosophy, he/she would be employed 70.4% of the time. 

Both degrees are general degrees from the College of Humanities but what explains the larger gap in employment rate? 

I thought perhaps philosophy was more practical than the English Language until I found out that Economics only had a 63.5% employment rate. I do know (from studying legal theory and philosophy) that philosophy is really hard and society may be rewarding students who chose a really hard major to study. 

b) The Honours premium

I used to think that studying for an additional year is more of a matter of personal pride. For Gen-X, there are advantages of starting out one year earlier than your peers in the working world as you can earn an additional year of income before your Honours classmates catch up with you. As we're more competitive these days, an Honors degree has become a mark of distinction and a form of signalling, I am seeing an unusual premium for graduates with an Honours degree.

For NUS Arts, a non-honours degree is worth a basic salary of $3,100 but doing an additional year adds $400 to your salary. Odds of full-time employment six months after graduation jumps from a dismal 40% to close to 55%. A similar pattern can be found for Science degrees - non-honours earns a basic salary of $3000 and an honours degree can boost it to $3500. Employment outcomes are boosted similarly at an additional 15%.

Studying advanced modules for one additional year can generate a significant boost in income given that the average increment over a PMET's lifestyle is approximately 5% every year. If you lose six months of employment against your peers, graduating early will not make a big difference anyway.  

c) The local university matters when it comes to seeking employment

One prediction I made when Singapore decided to bow against political pressure and started creating more autonomous universities is the emergence of tier-2 universities which are designed to pacify the graduates who would have gone to private universities a decade ago. 

Here are my attempts at tabulating the employment and starting salaries of an IT degree from different institutions :

  • NUS - Bachelor of Computing - 92.6% / $5,100
  • NTU - Computer Science - 86.1% / $4,450
  • SMU - Information Systems - 83.9% / $4,500 - Cum Laude - 93.3% / $5,000
  • SIT - Software Engineering - 97.4% / $4,034
  • SUTD - Information Systems Technology and Design - 85.7% / $4,400

Even in a hot IT market, there is a significant variance in the starting salaries of IT graduates, an NUS Computing grad has a $1,000 advantage against an SIT graduate! 

I leave it to the reader to think about whether this $1,000 premium is justified. 

In fact, you will find more gaps as you look at non-tech degrees. 

( I will postpone any discussion on  NUS Music or SUSS HR Mgt majors another day! )

Of course, this survey is very much skewed by the pandemic but it is very important to preserve these results because after my kids become teenagers, they may trawl through my blog and find this later when they are trying to make a decision on what to study in the future. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Major Business Development - Signed up as a Introducer with iFast !

Yesterday marks a new development in my training business. 

We're levelling up with a new partner on top of existing ones!

The truth about investment courses is that they are fun and can be treated as networking events. Every instructor has students who are keen to study DIY investing but may not have the time to actually create their DIY portfolios.

Recent developments in the financial industry have opened up options that allow me to help students with fuss-free execution of their portfolio.

I've concluded a contract signing with iFAST to take on an "Introducer" role.  This allows my students to gain access to an iFAST Financial Adviser Representative (FAR) who can then facilitate the execution of portfolios strategies that they learn from my Early Retirement Masterclass. This way students and members of the public can have a convenient way to invest in strategies I advocate.

This is a win-win on multiple fronts:

  • Students now have the means to invest without going through the pain of manually keying in trades and doing their own calculation and rebalancing; the FAR facilitates this once an account is opened with iFAST.
  • iFAST charges a fee for administration and investment management services. (Which I intend to be super transparent with my students)
  • I get a small fee from this partnership for each referral (this is small and will not conflict with my teaching duties) and will disclose the amount of referral remuneration in respect to your referral if requested by my students.

Anyway, on March 13th 2.00pm, I will be discussing this development along with a discussion on the market-timing of local stocks in the ERM community event that is open to the public to listen to.

Keep a slot on your calendar as concrete details like account opening, management fees will be also discussed in that event.  

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Letter to Batch 19 of the Early Retirement Masterclass

Dear Students of Batch 19,

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

Invariably, the challenges faced by every batch of students are human and cannot lend themselves totally to investment analysis. This batch brought up plenty of challenges, such as the following :

  • A student realises that if he wishes to upgrade his academic qualifications to climb the career ladder, he would have to consider the opportunity cost of investing in the stock markets.
  • Another student is contemplating selling a property to invest in the markets but has to weigh a real possession against intangible investment security.
  • And yet another student wants to know whether it is wise to distribute dividends to her teenage children who seem indifferent to the world of finance.

I cannot find a straightforward answer to these challenges, but common sense would suggest that a solution can come in the form of “little bets”. Before making a big move that involves $100,000 in size, it may be wiser to experiment with smaller batches of the capital of size $20,000. It would help if you were comfortable with a $20,000 investment generating income for you before scaling it up to replace a piece of physical property.

Of course, the course continues to throw up fascinating problems that can confound expert investors. The course brought forth two interesting issues :

  • The first question concerns whether the Z-Scoring mechanism taught in the program would have been better served by a t-scoring mechanism that is used in PSLE scoring for Singaporean students. As I was unfamiliar with the statistical t-test, I had to google for answers. As it turns out, there is no functional difference in Z-Score and t-score where the sample size is 1.
  • We attempted to backtest US blue-chips on Saturday but were unable to do so due to time constraints. I will publish an article on the Dr Wealth blog to explain this exercise within the next two weeks once the DJIA backtest capability becomes integrated into the tool.

Our course continues to evolve as we introduce Regime Analysis into our program. We break the stock price trend into its uptrend and downtrend, as shown in the following diagram. While the program does not use price trends to time the markets, having this form of analysis facilitates the investor to minimise regret when building their portfolios.

A chart on Prime REIT below shows that the coast is clear to buy the REIT and introduce it into our portfolio.


I will provide details on how to access the ERM Data Tool on the FB group.

Lastly, I hope that Batch 19 would participate actively in the FB group. We should be able to see each other again in March 2021 when I conduct a community webinar for the community to introduce marketing timing techniques into ERM portfolio creation.

Christopher Ng Wai Chung

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Three random perspectives on Valentine's Day 2021.

Every year, I try to write an article every year on Valentine's Day to update my views on relationships but this year I'm struggling to come up with a grand unified theory of VD that I can employ to traumatise single Singaporeans to read this blog. 

Maybe it's because I got a class next week and I am a little distracted, so instead, I will just share three random perspectives which I think is important for Singaporean singles to think about.

a) The pandemic will hurt chances of an average male in finding love

Some changes are really unpleasant thanks to the pandemic. A pal forwarded an article to me that you can access here

This is important because, in my talks, I always say that retirement planning has a tight deadline because as you hit your 40s, you begin to experience job discrimination and the odds of being retrenched tends to go up after that. Government data points to flattening incomes after age 45. 

Thanks to the pandemic, we are seeing workers in China get sidelined as early as 35 years old. As jobs discrimination is not illegal in China, we sort of understand now just what kind of workers companies want. Companies, left to their own devices, prefer malleability and youthful energy over experience. 

This can be bad for males as we need to accumulate sufficient wealth to be attractive mates. Doubly worst if you exist in a Confucian society.

No jobs means no mates.

b)  Men still cannot accept women who earn more than they do

The second perspective comes from a Woke Salaryman comic strip which can be accessed here.

I'm normally a fan of the Woke Salaryman but I'm not particularly in support of this specific comic strip. Divorce is multifaceted and the last thing anyone needs to do is to present a one-sided view of divorce without giving the husband a chance to air his grievances as well. This logic is mirrored in our Family Courts - divorce cannot be a one-sided affair. 

The strip advocates for a mindset change in society but we know that's just wishful thinking for a utopian ideal. Couples with higher-earning wives still suffer a statistically higher rate of divorce. Adultery is also a two-sided affair these days. Finally, do you really want to visit your in-laws when they know your wife makes more than you do?

Because of this one-sided perspectives, we will never really know how much the emasculation the husband went through and how much micro-aggressions he had to withstand from the wife in his daily life. 

(It does not help that the art made her look like an ENTJ woman - it's like marrying someone like me in a skirt! ENTJ women need to be handled with Diamond Hands !)

There will be exceptions in modern society. A teacher friend said that his female students are glad to bankroll a househusband but they could not find examples of a guy they'd be happy to support citing Finn the Human and Patrick the Starfish as boyfriends they'd love to have as house-husbands. So women can accept a househusband provided he is a fictional being.

c) Mainstream media continues to condemn and pour scorn on low-earning men.

We've known that non-degree men are the most discriminated class in Singapore. They have no parliamentary representation. The last non-degreed PAP MP was Charles Chong.

Mainstream media recently attacked Singaporean men with foreign wives and exposed their incomes relative to Singaporean women who have foreign husbands. Not content with median household income per head, it went on to talk about the marital difficulties experienced by these unions. It should be of no surprise that marriage rates between Singaporean men and foreigners are down as of late.

For me, facts are facts, the statistics in all of these articles are empirical. 

But, to me, it is the lack of moral outrage that's interesting and exposes how much our society feels about discriminating against lowly paid men.

Compare the way the public took this article in stride against the Straits Times report that a survey flagged artists as being the most irrelevant profession in the face of the pandemic. The internet exploded.

Anyway, I leave it to the reader to see patterns in all of these three social phenomena and it is clear that we if read all three together, some kind of painful change is afoot. 

I can identify the victims, but I'm not sure who wins as a result of this.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Happy Year of the Ox ! Have Fun Staying Rich !

OK, I'm taking a short break these few days and will refrain from doing any actual work so this is a good time to provide a personal update.

a) Business Update

I'm grateful that at least I still have a class to conduct next week. 

Beyond just being a trainer, I'm finally getting closer to taking the next step to expanding my business offerings. I currently have a great partnership with Dr Wealth, Stocks Cafe and Pyinvesting. I hope to introduce a fourth partner into the mix that runs a different model from the others. 

It has taken me far too long to get into this new line of business. I blame myself for my risk-averse nature but I think this time I can get around the obstacles and create a credible offering for potential clients. 

b) Coding work - Now getting into neural networks

Right now I am going through the painful process of using Keras to build neural networks for making trading decisions and I can't present my findings because I can only create an artificial intelligence to lose a fair bit of money in the financial markets. Lucky I only do paper trading at the moment. 

It takes a lot of effort to figure out the best arrangement of neurons to create an electronic trader and I'm still limited to price and technical information. The finance domain has no advice on the proper activation models to employ for my neural networks. Why sigmoid function instead of ReLu? Why 32 perceptrons is better than 64? How many layers to construct?

Right now I feel that I won't figure it out even if I spend the rest of my life doing this.

Imagine what happens when I have to do quantum computing to solve financial problems. Maybe a Phd would be inevitable then.

c) Books I am reading

I've got a few major reads, one is a huge volume on the history of China from the Qing Dynasty to the present day. But the book I am tackling right now is Expected Returns by Antti Ilmanen. This is rapidly becoming required reading for quants everywhere although its findings are challenged by the strengths of the growth factor in the markets right now. 

Also, there are just too many fictional works on my KIV list from the third book in the Black Company, the second and third book in the Dune series and the last Legend of the Condor English translation will be coming out next month. 

d) Leisure and Hobbies

There is some decent progress on this front. I play a D&D game as a player. I may also run a regular D&D game for a group of Millenials/Gen Z as a DM. I even play Baldur's Gate 3 but the game is not even fully developed yet. 

Like many readers, I can't wait to subscribe to Disney+ so I can get into Falcon and the Winter Soldier. I suspect Marvel will now evolve into a string of series to continue the storyline after Avengers Endgame. 

I guess the question is whether I should cancel my Netflix account after I go to Disney+.

e) Health

CNY is wreaking havoc on my diet. I hope to get vaccinated ASAP so that I can get back to the gym with my personal trainer. 

I think that 2021 is shaping out rather well, my guess is that even value investors should get something this year.

Monday, February 08, 2021

Are some cultures or values superior to others?


I would normally not have read Values at the Core by Grandjean and Tan has it not garnered a passive-aggressive review on the Business Times. There is a class of books that wind up really triggering Western Liberal woke types when empirical research is used to compare cultures against each other. The big must-read in this category is The Triple Package by Tiger Mum Amy Chua and her assortatively mated consort Jed Rubenfeld. Both books are well-researched, which is why authors expect to roundly condemned by the Woke.

Values at the Core's central thesis is that even the most effective economic policies will be limited in effectiveness if the population do not subscribe to the right values. These values being Hard Work, Thrift, Social Trust and propensity for Risk-Taking. The most offensive section of the book proposes that cultures with Confucian values and Protestant work-ethic benefit the most from effective economic policy, cultures with a history of slavery don't. Other cultures still benefit from great policy-making, but subjective factors like a population's laziness, mistrust, lack of thrift, and risk-aversion can condemn the economy in the middle-income trap.

As for the kind of policies are considered good, economic liberty, education, anti-corruption, fiscal and monetary policies are universally good for any population.

The book has some utility for the long-term investor. If we just ignore the lack of political correctness in the book's central idea, North Korea has all the right values but the lack of good economic policies, the prediction is that any amount of reform can lead to dramatic growth. For those who can't wait, it's profitable to take a good look at Vietnam. It also provides an additional framework to supplement an investor's mental model to squeeze out more geopolitical alpha - a communist but Confucian society can experience explosive growth if only it can take incremental steps in allowing more economic freedom and clamp down harder on corruption.  

Sadly, the book reads like a Singaporean National Education textbook. Is it merely coincidental that  Singapore scores highly on all the measures of society with great values, possibly with only social trust being slightly lower than the rest? 

Let's not be naive about living in a Confucianist society. 

Our enemy is Involution. We're ritually torturing ourselves to survive the academic grind. 

Every Confucianist society is struggling with a low fertility rate because no sane parent will give birth to a child just to "lose" to another child born from an assortatively-mated power couple. The outcome is that many Chinese in Singapore will migrate to places like Australia where they can engage in "Confucian-arbitrage" - basically beat up "lazy white people" in STEM academia and rule the professional castes in a society that do not slavishly conform to Confucianist values. Maybe if they climb high enough in Australian professional circles, they can return triumphantly with a nice Aussie accent to kick our asses during the next CNY.

If they don't come back, they may be replaced by immigrants who do not adopt these values in the first place. 

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this work. The idea that some woke academic like Teo You Yenn from NTU will read this one day and get massively triggered gives me pleasurable convulsions just thinking about that possibility. 

You can also read a classic I wrote on the Triple Package here.

Saturday, February 06, 2021

What is your Return on Ambition?


The genre of self-help continues to evolve as authors begin to realise that some forms of self-help can be customised for folks with a specific personality. For the majority of readers who have a GREEN personality, books like The Secret by Rhonda Byrnes will suffice - GREEN folks are too lazy to make a change to their lives so all they need to is to imagine the outcome and it will magically happen. The Secret sold like hot-cakes because GREENs are a dime a dozen.

That creates a problem for folks who have a RED personality, those who aggressively read self-improvement books because of some imaginary axe-to-grind like myself. So Nielsen and Tillisch's Return on Ambition gets the market segmentation right by writing to book that caters only to those people that don't seem to have the capability to slow down.

The basic premise of the book is that ambitious people tend to destroy themselves because they focus solely on achievements and ignore equally important aspects of success like personal growth and well-being. This, I can relate to - when I was studying Finance part-time, I also updated all my IT qualifications simultaneously and developed hyperactive-thyroid in the process. An old secondary school pal tried to pace me (even I know that's suicide) and almost had a real heart attack in his early thirties.  

The main premise of the book is that well-being matters because you need good physical and mental health to go further in life. Personal growth is also important because there is no point becoming obsolete on the way up.

The book then goes on to look at all the typical double-edged swords that end up trapping ambitious people. One frenemy is the desire for Independence. Ambitious people love working alone because it gets work done faster, but it only with teamwork that people can go far. Another frenemy of the ambitious is Boldness, ambitious people take oversized risks which can lead to business failure or bankruptcy.

I'm not too impressed by the overall solutions and interventions from the authors. It reads like a therapy manual. I suggest you buy the book if you are really interested in solutions.

The only useful rule of thumb recommended by the authors is that ambitious people reflect upon their lives. That's always difficult for REDs who are often too busy correcting the mistakes of their subordinates or plotting world domination. I slowly found myself going once again back to FIRE as the primary means of finding some white space to contemplate their lives. 

Without the proper amount of cash-flow, I'd still be fighting FIREs in a data centre today.

For its flaws, the book is still a good addition to a person's library because it states the problem quite well with examples that are relatable to the reader. The solution looks too much like hiring a management consultant to deal with your personal life, but I already am too deep into the cult of FIRE to really accept alternatives to Fuck You money as a solution for all personal ills.

Finally, I want to share my opinion on the kind of self-help book should you read based on your personality?

RED - Return on Ambition, any part-time short-cut book that summarises an MBA program, management books by Jack Welch, Good to Great by Jim Collins.
YELLOW - Any Zig Ziglar Sales Manual, Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People 
BLUE - Security Analysis by Benjamin Graham, The Art of Computer Programming by Donald Knuth, Capital of the 21st Century by Thomas Piketty 
GREEN - The Secret, Rich Dad Poor Dad, anything by Harv Eker, 50 Shades of Grey, Invisible Trade, any book by Enid Blyton.

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

Wisdom from Bling Empire


I was not the first to learn about Bling Empire, which really looks like a clone of Singapore Social, I was told that I would enjoy it by some friends, so I decided to hate-watch a few episodes. 

What struck me was that the producers probably learnt quite bit from making Singapore Social so Bling Empire was a lot funnier than Singapore Social and much easier to relate to. I even found it easier to watch than the latest season Disenchantment.

I will not really introduce the characters here, I think folks should watch it if they have the time. 

Instead, I will talk about three useful lessons I learnt from the series :

a) Rich people will test others before befriending them. But so should we!

Kevin is a Korean-American model and he befriended Anna Shay who is a wealthy heiress of a weapons manufacturing empire. In one episode, Anna invited Kevin to her home and gave him really expensive clothes. Kevin's friend Kane tells him that it's really a test and that rich-people want to test whether a person is greedy before deciding to befriend them.

I like the idea of testing a person before deciding to invest time on them, but I don't think this should be the sole province of the rich. We are always investing time on our friends. 

For ordinary mortals like us, I think a really good test is to see whether the person is punctual - this shows conscientiousness and how much they value your time. Another reasonable test is to just eat at a hawker centre - I don't like Singaporeans who think they are too high class for hawker food. That's just fucked up. 

b) If you are "irrelevant", go upmarket and service the really rich people

Another thing I really enjoy about Bling Empire is the cast of astrologers, fortune-tellers, shamans, hypnotists and spiritualists on the set - with the hypnotist possibly being the most credible on the set. This is so cool, I don't even care if the scenes were faked. 

What I really believe is that it is possible to become so wealthy that some personal problems simply cannot be solved by science and a highly trained charlatan can just be paid to make a wealthy person feel good. 

In Singapore, artists threw a fit when people labelled them as being "Irrelevant". I think part of the problem is the artist's alignment with the woke and liberal values. It's a senseless adoption of the poverty mindset. More than anything, an artist can turn a $20 canvas into a $2M painting so poverty is optional.

If anything, a shaman is even more irrelevant than an artist, but a shaman can make really good money administering to the ultra-wealthy. But you need Charisma. I can imagine a good-looking Singaporean googling up  "Barnum Statements" and creating a second career as a paranormal channeller with a "third eye".

Also, us finance folks should not take ourselves too seriously - An economist is just a shaman with mathematical equations and a few data-sets.

c) Alpha women should not date fake alpha males

You can laugh at fortune tellers or shamans but sometimes their advice and wisdom are really spot-on and you wind up beating yourself up for not being able to see life in such simple and pithy terms.

One side plot is superwoman Kelly is dating ex-Red Power Ranger Andrew and she's stuck in a toxic relationship, so I think a shaman was called in intervene (That alone is WTF ! ). He said that an alpha woman should date an alpha male but it seems that she's in a relationship with a fake alpha male who is actually just a useless couch potato posturing like an alpha.

I was in a conversation with a friend who has an interesting opinion on how the smartest Singaporean women should date ( they seem to come from only two schools in Singapore ). My friend feels that they need someone 10x more kuai-lan and capable than them, or find some beta who will be a willing slave to them for life. 

Scanning the financial blogosphere, we cannot think of anyone that kuai-lan who is unmarried to suit these alpha women. Sadly, we cannot think of a willing slave too. 

If my daughter turns out to be intelligent but also unfortunate enough to inherit my interest in financial blogging, she may be stuck with the kind of guy whose smartest move was betting on GME and making $100,000 last week. And he will be mansplaining it to her for months thereafter. 

If she's unlucky, he will remind her what a financial genius he is for the rest of her life. 

If this happens to my daughter, I'd prefer she remains single. 

Anyway, friends always think that I will watch Suits or Billions. 

They think too highly of me - this week I'm bingeing on Bling Empire.