Sunday, October 17, 2021

Why middle-aged men are destined to be lonely


As an extrovert, I participate in several chat groups that are mainly populated by Gen X men like myself - uncles. I have about three main uncle chat groups - one primarily PMET, one middle income and one full of investor hot-shots. 

These days I don't participate much, I prefer to observe and I realise that these days the uncles are getting more and more disagreeable. This article my attempt to understand why and predict the outcome of these male relationships over the next few decades. 

I will begin with this idea from Jordan Peterson's writings - that when men come together they start forming hierarchies, which brings up important questions. How do middle-aged men decide who is at the top and bottom of the totem pole when they come together?

Maybe some anthropologist can chip in, but I suspect that men rank themselves the same way I teach my students to rank stocks. We basically pick a few factors, normalise them to estimate how many standard deviations they deviate from the mean, called a Z-Score, then we sum up the Z-scores. Just like the way we rank PSLE students under the old scheme. For stocks, the factors are easily found by backtesting. For human beings it is much harder. 

What factors do middle-aged men use to rank each other ?

Sociologists like Mike Savage who talk about social classes in the 21st century provide a hint on how scoring is done. 

We use three main sources of capital to rank each other. Financial capital or wealth probably takes the biggest score or weightage, that is uncontroversial. Social capital comes from how prestigious the careers are and may even cover things like family and personal relationships. Cultural capital is a function of taste and divides various clique from each other.   

The implicit score uncles rate themselves, T, therefore can be governed by the following mathematical relationship :

T = A ( Z-score Financial Capital  ) + B ( Z-Score Social Capital ) + C (Z-Score Cultural Capital )

The dynamics of each group will vary the weightage of the scores. A middle-class group will have a high-A. A group of poets or writers will have a high C. Investors who are all 7-digit level will actually weigh A less and focus on B where a lot more problem solving can be done. 

Ok, so we now have a working model on middle-aged men rank against each other, let's apply this to what we see on the ground :

a) Highest and lowest scores are always in danger of leaving the group

Every group has a norm and acceptable a score range. If you are the smartest guy in the room, you may leave because you might not derive the maximum benefit from being there other than getting your ego stroked. You may join a different network where you can get a sense of belonging and you have some way to learn from others. 

Similarly if you score really low in a group, there is serious pressure to leave because you feel inadequate. 

I think insight on this explains why people drop out from a group over time and why some classmates will never show up for a class gathering.

b) The higher your score, the louder you can be without disrupting norms but if your score is not high, STFU.

I call this Jack Ma effect. 

In every group, the top scorer gets to be Jack Ma. He gets to dispense worldly wisdom and generally the other guys will refrain from correcting him. The opposite happens, if due to middle age, Jack Ma does not have particularly strong career outcomes, them he becomes the Jack Ma after being chastised by the Communist Party. Sometimes I try to eavesdrop on uncles in a kopitiam to find out what their version of Jack Ma is saying - it's often rather humorous, very anti-PAP, and completely unbacked by the real world.   

If my model describes male interaction well, it does not bode well for all of us uncles. It means that we will not be able to stay in some groups that we have cultivated over the years. At older age, a lot of older men can only interact with their families. 

There are one or two ways around this problem. 

The first is that our self-esteem can be divorced from our groups if we simply join diverse groups. I do hang around in investment circles, although the discussion can get very trite and boring sometimes, but the most value add to my life is when meeting writers and content creators who operate by a different scoring system. This also means I will get back to the RPG community one day.

Another solution is to hang out with much younger people where ranking is impossible because of the generation gap. To do that, you need to be open to new experiences and withhold judgment when you see younger people make life changes. If anything, forces of progression and change will likely render your judgment wrong anyway. Of course, you need to pull your own weight, try to keep conversation engaging and always entertain your younger friends.

Of course, at the end of the day, I prefer my model to be wrong than right. 

But you can be the judge of that.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Is CPF really the equivalent of a 60:40 fund ?

Sharp readers from BIGS forum and this blog have raised an issue on my last article which claimed that the CPF was equivalent to a 60:40 fund. The readers were rightfully incredulous. How can the CPF program which returned a fixed amount of 2.5%-4.0% be the equivalent of a 60/40 fund?

I went back to trace the origins of the reference and found this link. You can take a crack at reading this paper.

As it turns out the readers were right. The original paper was full of spurious assumptions that do not gel with our observed reality. 
  • Singapore cash rates to be as high as 4% from 2014 - 2024.
  • Singapore government bond yields to be high as 5.3% over the same period of time.
  • Global equities to return 5% above inflation over that same period of time. 

The collective effect of these assumptions was that it overestimates returns of cash rates and in turn, CPF returns as it is tied to bond yields once it is above the floor, but it also downplays equity returns - I recall Professor Jeremy Siegel of Wharton offering a different rule of thumb suggesting that equities return 6.8% over inflation. 

Once the right assumptions are in place, any conclusion can be made. 

The paper goes on to construct an efficient frontier and magically lines up CPF returns horizontally against a 60:40 portfolio. 

It then concludes that Singaporeans get the best deal because they get 60/40 returns at low risk. 

Now, I want to take it one step further. 

I was able to repurpose my Python code that produces efficient frontiers and I can extract actual historical data for the past 20 years for an equity (VT) and bond (BNDW) ETF. Using the same methodology, I pegged my CPF returns as a sole proprietor who performs an actual voluntary contribution spread over CPF-OA, SA and RA. 

My returns, not counting my tax benefits, are fixed at 3.3%.  

The resulting diagram from my program is as follows :


This makes more sense in practice, there is no way CPF returns can line up against an efficient frontier of a real global equity and bond ETF. But that's not a big deal given that CPF investments are risk-free.

All these raises issue that vindicates what a reader "Unknown" has said. The truth lies between Terence Ho and Teo You Yenn. For every left-winged fanatic hell-bent on raising taxes, there may be a staunch government apologist out there with their own "alternative facts".

There are, of course, other issues that raise eyebrows when we study the paper further. 

There are very credible academics in our local universities like NUS, why invite four westerners to author the paper under this entity called Towers Watson? 

I guess the next thing to do is SOP for this blog. 

You have friends in CPF. Tell CPF staff to read my articles and maybe even explain this strange working paper. 




Monday, October 11, 2021

Coffee shop talk and trade-offs

 


Just the other day I was at a kopitiam at Bishan, I overheard two heartland uncles having a whingeing session about the Singapore government. The louder guy has slightly more white hair than me, but my guess is that he is also Generation X. 

At first glance, he sounds fairly intelligent. After some time, I realise that he's just very entertaining.

He argued that there are three types of citizens in Singapore.
  • Those who are slaves and voluntarily subject themselves to slavery.
  • Those who are slaves and actively rebel against slavery.
  • Those who are slaves but do not know that they are slaves.
I could help but suppress a chuckle because you can't have slaves unless there are masters, but I had to suppress my urge to correct him. On social media, I get a lot of half-fucked commentators who contradict themselves all the time. The two uncles went on to say even more ridiculous things like how NTUC Union Membership will take away a perk once the perk was found out to be too good to be true. 

A lot of my disagreeableness comes from becoming quite old myself. Even Millenials who are a generation below me are hitting their 40s and suffering from being part of the sandwiched generation.

Political questions can be much better argued if there is a baseline understanding of key issues facing us. For example, CPF can be used for housing and retirement - if you opt for bigger housing, you will wind up with a lower income replacement rate when CPF Life comes live at age 65. 

If we do not have a reference book to understand the trade-offs policy makers face, we will fall to simple narratives such as those espoused by left-winged academics like Teo You Yenn and our discussion will forever be trapped at the rhetorical level where the government will always "give you a chicken wing but take away the whole chicken" 

As such Refreshing The Singapore System by Terence Ho, is the best book that I can find that sets the minimum benchmark for intelligent conversation to take place. The book highlights the major trade-offs that the government has to deal with and all its attempts to resolve these dilemmas.  
 
I'm going to highlight a few useful points I picked from the book which is not too obvious to me :
  • After adjusting for income transfers, Singapore's GINI index while high is actually still lower than the United Kingdom. And yet Tories still get re-elected.
  • Singapore wages are not really high compared to our GDP per capita, but once we factor in CPF contributions and the high taxes in other countries that are levied on their middle class, we beat the USA and Finland. So we're paid well not because we are good, but because our government is very lean.
  • A study in 2014 concluded that CPF returns are broadly similar to a 60:40 equity:bond fund but with a lower downside risk due to our high credit rating. There were only three periods where returns fell below the inflation rate. Those morons who think that the Malaysian EPF is better are free to get out of this country. 
Even as I deeply enjoyed reading this book for leisure, I can feel a tinge of sadness because one thing that jumps out at you is that most Singaporeans will never be able to appreciate the trade-offs the government has to make every day. In my view, Opposition parties with bite-sized zingers and simpler narratives are guaranteed to gain more ground in Singapore.

Even the author of the book is aware of this, our government has made our programmes so complicated and have fine-tuned our systems so much, even a basic degree may not be enough to understand all these issues. I know of friends who worked in MAS who has queries on the intricacies of CPF Life. I'm not surprised if CPF employees have the same questions as well. 

This book is a difficult read and it would be rare that a citizen will buy it so that he can more productively engage in political discussion. 

Nevertheless, I expect my readers to be a cut above the rest. 

Buy this book and keep it as a handy reference. Worse case you can give a social justice warrior a nasty concussion on the head as it is also a fairly hefty volume. 


Friday, October 08, 2021

Raising a Math God

 


The latest rant from a Tiger Mom complaining that her "Math God" son ended up crying after the first PSLE maths paper raised some eyebrows on my social media feed. 

I think we're a long way from cultivating a love of mathematics and difficult problems, so instead, I want to spend a little time on what the endpoint should be for mathematics training. Of course, having a strong foundation in maths is important to develop money-making skills, but a good intuitive grounding for mathematics should be seen like developing the sensitivities when studying the humanities, you are learning something that can guide you to solve problems you face in daily life. Maths formulas are a great addition to your toolkit of mental models.

The Ten Equations That Rule The World by David Sumpter shows the way and opens with how to use Baye's Theorem and why basic decisions can be enhanced from an understanding of it. Sadly, while the book is a valuable read for me, it does not seem accessible to laypeople, yes those that were emotionally scarred by the PSLE. The chapter on betting, possibly the best read in the book, is on the practical applications of logistics regression.

But I don't want too harsh, the work is beautifully written for a book on maths, but it is a long way from solving Ivan and Helen's issue with coins towards what's discussed in the book. I can barely cope with the chapter on Markov processes even though I really enjoyed it.

If I get to write something so ambitious one day, I would start with the first chapter with a formula that's way easier for layman audiences. 

I'd go with this :


The continuous compounding equation is how we grow wealth, but it does not look like what we normally learn in secondary school where there is a (1+r)^t term that we normally use to calculate compound interest for banking deposit problems. This exponential equation arises occurs when the frequency of the pay-off gets smaller and smaller, from a year to a month to even compounded values every second. So if you find stake a shitcoin for 20% APY but get a few cents every 3 or 4 seconds, this may be a better way to calculate how much you can earn after 5 years.   

Maybe in my financial training next session with Raffles Institution, I should actively teach this version of continuous compounding. If anything the math teacher should be happy that I'd open the first-order differential equation for them. 

I'd also have a novel way to teach this. I'd remind them that their rivals from Barker Road who called them a "lousy school" have the motto, "The best is yet to be".

This equation capture the essence of that motto. Wealthy people understand continuous compounding innately and find ways to collect some dividends, not just every year, but every second if possible. This is done via business ownership where goods can be shipped out every second. But the canny businessman knows that to do better every year, r needs to be positive. 

If r is negative, the motto will become "The worst has yet to come." There will be no hope for a better age.

Then maybe a RI opposition party member can reverse the quip and say "Oh you come from the school of paupers."

The Ten Equations That Rule The World by David Sumpter remains a top read for folks who want to develop a mental toolkit. Almost the same way Gun, Germs and Steel is the opening read for folks who want a grounding on anthropology.

Maybe one day, I'd list the reads for folks who aim to get a basic grounding in every subject. 

But maybe 2-3 readers of this blog will appreciate it.










Tuesday, October 05, 2021

Keeping up with the times

One of my inspirations in my current career is the Charismatic churches of Singapore. 

As I am still very staunchly atheist, you might be wondering why I follow the movement of these evangelical movements here. I read in a book once before of a group called the Saddle-backed Church that somehow had this ability to attract non-Christians to attend their sessions and I wanted to obtain this power for my own benefit. So when I was in the Toastmasters movement, I did a few rounds of church hopping to see what drives these massive crowds. 

The truth is, after a few visits, I wasn't impressed. Beyond just references to one holy book, there is really nothing for free-thinkers and non-believers.

I remain unimpressed until I stumbled upon a video on Rev Kong Hee of City Harvest talking about Postmodernism. This impressed me because his deep understanding of it was really unexpected for a religious person. Kong Hee is a really smart guy! Kong Hee was able to communicate with folks who are unlikely to be Christians because philosophers take a lot of pride over their secular values. At that point in time, I knew that Kong Hee's power would grow and, if left uncontrolled, tragedy would follow.  

The rest was history.

When I designed my training preview, my primary purpose was to generate sales. Once we stabilised the numbers, the question was what we can learn from Evangelical pastors to make the preview as valuable and entertaining as possible even for most non-paying customers. 

I realised that the best pastors keep a lookout for what's happening in pop culture and try to be relevant to young people. 

And, more importantly, I can adopt this without causing religious people any offence. 

Pastors and trainers all rely on a little bit of faith. For pastors, it is the faith in a religious being. For secular trainers like me, it is faith that a market bear can turn around to bring profits to the investor. A lot of work I do is provide assurance in the face of the Unknown. 

Right now, my students want to know whether Sasseur REIT is a sell call given political events in China. 

Here are two amendments I made to my slides for tonight where I will be talking about current events :


Of course, we won't have a proper preview without this new slide :

Over time, I have made a few friends who occasionally drop in to attend my previews for fun without ever signing as a customer. After all, when I attend these evangelical sessions, I do not donate any money.

I intend to grow this non-paying audience, who do add value and make Q&A livelier. 

If you are free later at 730pm, why not just drop in and ask me a few questions during Q&A, follow this link :

While it is not this blog's position to say this, I think all religions in Singapore can afford to be more plugged into pop culture to remain relevant to young audiences. 





Sunday, October 03, 2021

Helen, Ivan and a new way to think about Inheritance

The Internet has exploded with memes on the latest PSLE Math question involving Helen, Ivan and the number of coins that they have between them. I'm not particularly bothered by super-hard math questions because the same question was administered to the entire cohort of Primary 6 students. If the questions were any easier, it would be much harder to determine who should get into that "lousy" school. 

You can say what you want about the question, but there will be 12-year-olds out there who can solve it.

Closer to my personal life, some trolls have been attending my previews and asking me whether I have a privileged upbringing. My answer to that question is YES. My dad was a founder of possibly one of the most successful pet shop franchises in Singapore today and I lived in landed property for over three decades of my life even though today I take public transport and wear decathlon most of the time - a testament that there is social mobility in Singapore.

Strangely, I noticed that folks who harp bout my background are generally less dismissive about my array of academic qualifications. I have a strange way of building my educational portfolio - I don't like to go deep, but I sure love going broad when it comes to lifelong learning. But as of now, no one has complained that my material may be too alien to laypersons because I have engineering, finance and a law degree.

If you broadly look at Singapore, we generally start getting defensive about inherited wealth. ACS is the school that tends to get the most of the brickbats given that students often get chauffered to school in the 1980s. But RI was never the target of jealousy because the idea is that RI kids earned their place because they are smart. 

I think this is illogical. 

What gets ignored is that intelligence and conscientiousness are can also be inherited and the rise of assortative mating would mean that professors who marry each other will have kids of above-average intelligence ( even though the kids may not be as brilliant as their parents statistically speaking. ) Conducted over time, assortative mating is known to significantly contribute to income inequality, but sociologists continue to target inherited wealth in their diatribes against the political right, but as academics themselves who do commit a lot of inbreeding, they are less willing to target inherited brains.

If we arrange inherited wealth and inherited intelligence/conscientiousness, we can get a nice 2x2 matrix.

If you are smart but not that rich, maybe you can go to RI and run Singapore. If you are rich but maybe not that smart, then owning Singapore is your birthright as ACS master race. But the 2x2 matrix will reveal two hidden categories of Singaporeans. We have a Precariat, much like myself, who do not inherit enough money or brains. And we have the Elite - masters of the universe who have both money and brains. 

2x2 matrices are great because they let you think about what to do with four categories. I propose the following :


a) Inherited Brains but not Wealth - Professional

If you inherited brains but not wealth, then your best bet is to join the top professions. Top professions like medicine and law are not just academically draining - for a number of years doctors and lawyers work the most brutal office hours. If you can survive the hours, the legend says that medical specialists can buy one private property every month. 

Their children can be elite.

b)  Inherited Brains and Wealth - Join Government or run a Startup

These are the masters of the universe who have it all. Money and Brains. The challenge for society is convincing these folks to serve the nation. The Admin Service pays almost as well as Goldman Sachs but the decisions can impact all Singaporeans. Alternatively, being a startup founder is no sweat for elites because there is already a safety net against failure, the payoff is that thousands of jobs can be built.

The question is, as a society, how can we convince the elites to serve? Elites don't really have to if they don't want to.

c) No inherited brains or wealth - Play the Squid Game

This is where the precariat comes from. They have limited financial, social or cultural capital. In this case, I have channelled the last article and suggest they join the Squid Game - any vocation that is based on a tournament system like a career in sales. 

In sales, 80% of the income is earned by the most charismatic 20%. This can be insurance or real estate sales. 

I am in this category as I do have to sell myself every week.

d) Inherited Wealth but not brains  - Patron of the Arts

My ambition is for my kids to at least qualify to join this segment. At least getting the alumni privileges is not taxable by the government.

It is easy to just dismiss these guys who inherited just money because they can go through life in a coma. But I don't believe that wealth should necessarily lead to an existential vacuum. 

If you have a lot of money and maybe not so much brains, you can still be a patron of the arts and bring more beauty into people's lives.

For readers who have just finished this article, which quadrant do you belong to? Do you agree with my recommendations?

Share them in the comments below. 


  





Thursday, September 30, 2021

Are FInancial Advisors playing their own Squid Game in Singapore ?

 



A few days ago, Ivann Fok of Pyinvesting.com beeped me on Messenger and told me that I should watch the Squid Game, he thinks there's at least one blog article that I can write based on this show. 

Turns out he is right. 

If you have not watched the Squid Game on Netflix, do it ASAP. If you can't afford Netflix, maybe skip the next 2-3 years of drinking bubble tea to build a self-sustaining Netflix subscription with local stock dividends.   

The Squid Game will mean different things to different people but primarily people will resonate with it's very gloomy critique of capitalism. 

I'm going to do my own spin on the Squid game and you are free to decide where it is a commentary about financial advisors in Singapore. 

This article assumes that you have watched the entire series.

To me, Squid Game answers the question as to what happens to folks who are (1) unlucky or (2) lack intelligence and conscientiousness. Every society has such folks - folks who may not be able to survive the academic grind or, somehow, met the wrong people at the wrong time. The result of this is a precariat - folks with zero financial, social or cultural capital.

In Singapore, a sales role exists to allow the precariat to turn their lives around. This is usually in real estate sales, entrepreneurs or in insurance sales where non-degree holders can end up living in a GCB. 

For now, I'm going to zoom in on insurance sales for this article because, well, a lot of my haters are in this industry. A similar argument can be made for all sales and entrepreneur lifestyles. 

Insurance is a second chance industry with, in my opinion, fairly lax academic pre-requisites. The minimum requirement is an 'A' level certification, polytechnic diploma or an IB cert. For a wider perspective, note that about 56% of 25-29-year-old Singaporeans have a degree today. You don't even need to meet the median academic proficiency level to sign up to be a financial advisor Singapore.

So with this example in mind, let's compare the experiences of an FA with various courses of the Squid Game.

a) Slapping game

The first encounter with a recruiter results in a slapping game. I think that is one of the key skills of being a successful FA or any salesman. Can you deal with rejection? I find it really accurate that you need to get slapped a few times before you get a cash payout. Imagine calling countless pals to meet up for lunch but getting asked whether you are FA and then getting rejected by someone whom you knew for decades. 

But most of the folk who carry on are those who can swallow these few rounds of rejection so they can move on to the next round of the game.

b) The Squid Games

The Squid Games have six-rounds, all of which has brutal consequences. I will quickly run through each round and which areas, in my opinion, are similar to financial sales work.

  • The first game is Red Light, Green Light. 

To me, this is a game of compliance with local laws. Non-compliance is fatal. When you take on client's money, there are established steps that are not negotiable. Especially if funds come from overseas. 

  • The second game is using a needle to remove a pattern from a honey-combed sweet. 

This is a test of speed and precision. Conscientious folks are better at this and every shape is a triangle for them. Those who are not born to be precise will see every shape like an umbrella. This could mean keeping up meetings with prospective clients and making the right recommendations for them. The complexity of products that are being sold can be high.  

  • The third game is tug of war. 

This is a pure test of strength. Insurance and investment products often have to deal with substitutes. Previously, for FAs it was a fight to the death against Buy Term and Invest the Rest. Now Financial Advisors right now seem very concerned about Robo-advisors. Almost every day, a salesperson needs to deal with objections, very often from products that levy a fraction of the expense. 

  • The fourth game is a game whereby you find ways to divide marbles between yourselves

This is a test of conscience and the most heart-wrenching test I my view. I teared when Ali died after being tricked by Sang Woo. 

I will illustrate this with only one data point as I think a story is better. A very competent and ethical FA once told me that he sold a long-dated lock-in product to uniformed personnel who seemed to have an iron rice-bowl job. A few years later, he was dishonourably discharged and had to surrender his policy. The guilt from making the sale made him switch to primarily AUM career. 

There will always be a conflict of interest in the FA industry. Commissions are fixed but outcomes are not. Someone will always lose their marbles when a transaction is being made.

  • The fifth game of crossing the glass bridge with random panels made to collapse. 

This is simply about luck and timing. Maybe you started in a pandemic and got a few friends to buy a policy but you get MDRT because the threshold was lower in 2020. Others entered at a bad time and had to quit. 

  • The final game is a Squid Game which is just a game of tag played by two guys. 

At the end of the day, the FA industry, like real estate sales, is a Tournament. The large number of folks at the bottom can barely eke an existence but there is very little room at the top. This is why only one person can win the Squid games.

c) Old man and VIPS

 If you are good enough to be a VIP, then it means that you've joined the directors of these FA companies that essentially get to bet on rookie agents like horses. Get the right kind of agent and you can profit from the sales commissions. VIPs are portrayed very negatively in the series.

But the real winner is the Old Man or player 001. He's free enough to play the game and yet exit in safety no matter what the outcome is. To me, any one of us can be the Old Man if we own shares in Insurance companies. As of now, I'm still holding onto my China Pacific Insurance and Suncorp shares.

The overarching question

Finally, I think Squid Game as a series does pose the question for policymakers. 

To reduce the financial burden of the middle class, it is very easy for a policymaker to press a button and ban commissioned sales and enforce fees for financial advice, and raise academic standards at the same time. 

This will mean the end of the Squid Game.

But why do people continue playing the Squid Game even when the police have all the evidence that such a game exists?

The show answered that question and the answer should scare you. 

For the folks who are drawn into the Squid Game, the game is a rare moment of personal agency and fair play that has been denied to them by society at large.   

As such, I leave you with no answers as to what the policy intervention from MAS should look like. 

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

You should prepare for your professional decline


I spent the greater part of my morning adding Fractal Market Analysis into my Early Retirement Masterclass Web App. Even as I've automated the process of rolling out new code into the cloud, half of the time I was trying to cope with some fundamental changes in the way we do software engineering - for example, today I learned the hard way that Github now requires two-factor authentication. 

On the other hand, today is a special day for local dividends investors. 28th September 2021 marks the end of dividends season for Q3 2021. If you've been playing the same game as I do, 4.30pm is a great time to look at your bank account, after which you will not see much moolah for the next 6-8 weeks.

The question I want readers to ask themselves is: how long can you do your shit until you start feeling the effects of professional decline? 

This is inspired by an article on the Altantic (link).

The gist of the article is that there are two kinds of intelligence.

Your fluid intelligence determines how open you are to new ideas and how quickly you can grasp concepts and manipulate symbols. I suppose getting work done on a web application depends more heavily on fluid intelligence. As time goes by, not only does my productivity drop, until I find a way to hardcode my password into my batch operations, I find myself using authentication tools twice every time I pus my code into the cloud. 

The bad news is this: Fluid intelligence also begins its decline when you hit your 50s. It's actually quite scary if you map this to local data as it mirrors a Singaporean's salary decline as well as shown in this super recent Dollars and Sense article here.

Fortunately, there is a way out.

There is another kind of intelligence called crystallized intelligence that continues to grow and develop as you age. If you play a lot of D&D, this is Wisdom rather than Intelligence. Developing crystallized intelligence is like building a dividends portfolio - it pays regardless of your age. Sometimes the older you are, the larger your pay-outs.

The trick in managing your career is to pivot from a high-paying fluid intelligence career before your 50s into an area where you can depend more reliably on crystallised intelligence.  Right now I am really curious about Quantum computing, but the paradigm shift is really drastic, I need to move from bits and bytes to the realm of qubits, Hilbert spaces and Bloch Spheres. It's not a game I can play when I hit my 50s. So instead, I'm better off refining my training program, figure out how to present my materials better to rookie investors, and developing a broader helicopter view on personal finances.

This realization about life shows that most PMET folks here are doing well by virtue of their fluid intelligence, to survive deep into your personal Autumn, somehow you will need to monetise your organizational savvy and wisdom which means you need to take on a more mentorship or trainer kind of role. Alternatively, you may need to build up your social networks.

Otherwise, your professional decline is inevitable. 

 

 

 


Sunday, September 26, 2021

Why guys with Cultural Capital can be extremely dangerous


I was going about my business when drama finally arrived in the Singapore Literature space. For folks in the Financial Wu Lin who may not understand what has been going on, the literati in Singapore are almost fully dependant on just a few venues to come together to conduct events. One of these venues was a bookstore called BooksActually. 

The best way to catch up on the latest happenings is to read this expose by Rice Media.  

I'm one of those dads who have a very artistically-inclined daughter. My daughter just passed Grade 3 ABRSM piano and her drawings are often feted by her school. One of my favourite places to bring my daughter was Basheer Graphics which I also visit very often these days on my own. One of my biggest fears is that after she grows up she begins to dally around boys who are also "artistic". If the guy can shake off his artistic inclination and end up being a lawyer, that's fine by me. But not all guys do. 

What happened to BooksActually elves is a nightmare for dad's with artistic daughters. 

In my last article, I wrote about the kind of woman to avoid and I used the example of Whitney Duan as the kind of ENTJ Queen Bee to avoid unless you really enjoy being emasculated in a relationship. 

It looks Rice Media has answered the question for men.

Ok, let's talk about the operating system (OS) that runs on most of us straight men. 

When we men meet, after short pleasantries, the first thing we do is to setup hierarchies. This often arrives after the we execute the API function call "So, what do you do?" and receive the reply. Once all replies are received, we men begin to silently rank each other to the totem pole. The wealthier guys become senpai and may be saddles with responsibility to pay for drinks. They also get more leeway to spread worldly wisdom, like being the Jack Ma of the Kopitiam. The less wealthy have to settle with being more deferrent but hey, at least there is male company. If you are a guy amongst women, regardless of your position, you may end up playing Sebastian the Black Butler. 

But there is a complication. Capital comes in multiple forms. That hierarchy I described is about financial capital. It's a simple matter of who got the biggest dick will win.There is also social capital. Social capital in China can trump financial capital because you've seen how obsequious business can be when facing civil servants.

If you are an Ah Beng and do not come from privilege, the only way to play the game is through the cultivation of cultural capital. 

Who has loads of cultural capital ? Poets and Writers.

Now, what if you do not have the talent to create literary works?

Simple. 

Learn a thing or two from landlords, become a gatekeeper. Become a rentier in the creative economy.

Once you are the only source of income from Poets and Writers, folks will begin to surrender their cultural capital to you.

The power of having a monopoly at play means that if you commit an atrocity against your own staff. The poets and writers who benefitted from you financially have a dilemma. If they keep an eye closed, then they are hypocrites because they are part of a culture of progressive value of the left. If they cancel you, you can stop ordering their books and substantially hurt their bottom line. 

The financial blogosphere will never have such a problem because there is no monopoly and FIRE folks are hard to cancel unless you can convince CDP not to pay out their dividends. 

So I'm going to summarise the lessons for female readers on how to avoid becoming someone's else's Elf. 

When meeting a potential date with a male, assess what is his strongest capital.

Tech workers these days have very strong financial capital but very little of everything else. These guys are safe and reliable and will benefit from the contacts and fun you bring into the relationship. 

Hippies or the Bohemian Bourgeois are the opposite. They go no cash to back themselves up, but they can make your life living hell because he knows a lot of people and have a lot of access to cultural events. You may mistake him as an easy catch and can even control his wallet, but he can make your life living hell. 

No prizes for guessing which guy I prefer for my daughter. 





Friday, September 24, 2021

Dating Lessons from Red Roulette

 


The books shown above was strongly recommended to me to my pals on the finance chat groups. However, I initially wanted to restrain myself from reading Desmond Shum’s Red Roulette before presenting my materials on China investing because I was sure that it would bias my thoughts negatively against China.

My suspicion turns out to be right because if I had read this book before I invested in some counters in the Hang Seng Chinese Enterprises index, I would definitely deploy my capital elsewhere. 

This is a wonderful guide for investors who really want to know how the underbelly of Chinese corruption works. It is also a careful illustration of how guanxi really works.  Although the author had an axe to grind against China, he was fully prepared to name names and I’m pretty sure that China will take revenge on him one day. Of the parts that are valuable to the reader, the understanding of factions within the Communist Party is particularly enlightening. It should also answer the question as to whether China is still being led by a reformer. An important considering if you read this article against my Dr Wealth article on China that will see publication pretty soon.

As this blog is where I talk about more leisurely stuff, I feel that the real value of Red Roulette is for single guys to know what kind of woman to avoid in the dating market. As it is a novel where there are no real good guys, I think the character of Whitney Duan is the true star of the show that makes the story shine. Her antics make the book a page turner and the final product reads like Crazy Rich Asians, except that this is a true story and it is 10x worse than any piece of fiction by any Singaporean author. 

Here are some lessons that a single guy can learn from this book:

A) A purely logical and transactional relationship is an epic disaster

Whitney Duan probably had the worse way to get a relationship going. She told her hapless husband that a relationship can be cultivated over time provided that there is a logical basis for the union. Desmond represented the West and had impeccable skills to attract foreign investors and do the sum. Whitney takes the cultivation of Chinese politicians to the level of an art form. She surmises that they can make a lot of money together as a couple and love and grow out of this. 

Folks who read my blog know how logical I am at meeting and dating women. But the bottom line is that I’m still a guy so I’m quite visual and my final decision is no different from what most guys will make. Whitney’s idea makes my blood run cold and I thank the lucky stars I did not meet someone like this in my 20s - I might actually fall for this logic.

B)  Control over money can destroy a relationship

Of course, after courtship, the relationship goes straight to hell. Whitney’s idea of controlling her husband is done by controlling all the money. Even though Desmond plays his part well and is in charge of executing projects, Whitney controls all the money. It got so bad, Whitney formally approves all of Desmond’s expenses. Her strategy for divorce follows the same pattern - she tried to turn Desmond into a pauper and even tried to shift the divorce proceedings to China where she can exert influence over the judge. Desmond had to threaten publication of his story to gain a small settlement.

Fundamentally, Whitney is the kind of woman who was driven by her insecurity. Her idea is that all she can do is to cultivate guanxi and she is worried about becoming a fifth wheel when the operations go international and function in a less corrupt environment. Her desire for control ultimately destroyed the relationship.

C) Lies cannot be the foundation of the relationship

The part which affected me the most was the point of time when Desmond actually found out after years of marriage that Whitney was actually older than him by 2 years. When confronted with this, Whitney reasoned that she cannot afford to have her age affect such a strategic union. So the entire marriage was built on a foundation of lies. Age is something so fundamental that this should be sorted out way before parties sign on the dotted line. 

One funny effect of reading this book is that I ultimately have much more respect for the Chinese Communist Party, women like Whitney Duan needs to be kept under lock and key and never be allowed to endanger the rest of the male gender. 

How can we apply this learning at the street level? My pals have constantly warned me against ENTJ women, ladies with the same MBTI profile as myself. ENTJ is not a bad personality trait for a guy because we take control and can cut through a lot of bullshit to get a lot of stuff done. The problem happens when women are ENTJ and have to live in a patriarchal Asian society that has expectations on them. So these ENTJ women start to scheme and play the queen bee, as they get older they still need men in their lives so they lie and scheme to manipulate everyone around them. Often the biggest victims are the women who end up working with them.

Anyway, I doubt I will lose ENTJ female readership from writing so directly about them on this blog. A true ENTJ woman will read Red Roulette and find better ways to hide their personality profiles.

I really hope Red Roulette becomes a movie one day, it will be a big hit.



  





Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Machine-Age Humanities

 



With the closure of Yale-NUS, we managed to witness a round of whining from liberal arts majors from that institution. Even though I was a fan of having a liberal arts college in Singapore, I support the closure of Yale-NUS because it does not make sense to use my tax money to subsidize foreigners to study here, turn woke, and cross-dress on campus. Also, the pandemic employment rate of Yale-NUS is a joke - you can see this for yourself, the employment rate of these academic bluebloods is lower than our vulgar and provincial business school. 


There is a looming crisis in the field of Humanities. 

A part of the problem in the field is so specialised, there are very few jobs that specifically will require someone with a particular humanities major. The best jobs are in government and teaching, but our government can't absorb all humanities graduates into every ministry that we have. 

The second and bigger problem is that the humanities colleges in the West have been subverted by the political left. A student is not so much learning how to think critically and to develop a skill-set but to subvert capitalism and major institutions in Singapore. This is probably the other reason why the liberal arts have to go - let it fester and it will incubate a capitalist-hating fifth column in Singapore. 

Without a doubt, people want a new way of looking at the humanities. 
  • What kind of critical thinking skills will allow us to compete in the age of machines? 
  • What kind of training can allow us to remain relevant when algorithms begin to run our lives?
Kevin Roose in his book Futureproof : 9 Rules for Humans in the Age of Automaton attempts to figure out what these Machine-age humanities will look like. I'm going to briefly list them here and I strongly recommend that readers take a quick look at this nascent attempt at machine-age humanities :

a) You must be able to guard your attention and invest your focus like an asset. 
b) You should be able to read a room and modulate your behaviour according to what you read.
c) You should have a system to rest and recover from a strenuous work cycle.
d) You should have skills in digital discernment and be able to figure out whether there are commercial interests behind an article or whether the author is advocating for a cause and is thus biased.
e) You should develop social and emotional skills. What the author calls analogue ethics. The ability to act like a human being is becoming rarer as folks ghost each other on Tinder and prefer looking at their phones rather than having a conversation. 
f) You should understand the consequences of new forms of technology. When a new technology is rolled out, it will instantly divide the population into haves and have-nots. 

This list is likely incomplete. Right now I can imagine a software engineer levelling up with these skills and getting ahead of his peers, but I cannot imagine someone getting hired solely on developing expertise in this.











 

Monday, September 20, 2021

Some highlights from presentation to RI Sec 4 students

This is the second time I am presenting to RI secondary 4 students who are taking a gap semester with a finance specialisation. 


Before you start levelling allegations that I am an elitist, know that this is a good business move because if my material is good enough for RI it's good enough for any other school. I actually have a different set of slides for neighbourhood schools (which I spent a lot more time on because it can make such a big difference to kids from lower-income families).  My RI material has gone through two iterations and generally can demonstrate financial concepts by reference similarities with MOBA games. 

RI's strength is not that it has more resources from the government, its strength is that it can cut through the bureaucratic red tape that will allow the private sector trainers access to their students. This is a valuable testbed for new ideas - if someone from RI does not understand your slide, you should quit the training business. In my presentation today, I actually struggled to explain the 4% safe rate of withdrawal to them so I had to do it twice, which means that there's plenty of room for improvement when I conduct training elsewhere.

As usual, I did not earn a single cent from my effort - in fact, I donated two books to the winner of my quizzes so this is more like a pro-bono project I do when I am not conducting classes. 

I'm sharing some useful data I collected anonymously today. 

Here's a breakdown of the weekly pocket money they get, this can be a useful guide for parents to follow. Like every institution, most the kids have a fairly normal stipend but one of them does draw a bigger allowance. 


I also polled the method their parents wire the money to them, and was actually surprised that cash is still king. I'm still not seeing major fintech adoption here. 



As for my experience, RI definitely has a particular signature style quite unique to them that I don't see when I present to other schools or polytechnics. RI boys start out really hesitant, like solving a H3 level Physics problem, but once they establish a steady tempo, the really smart questions start to arise.  

Some caught me completely off guard.  

I was asked by a student what's the best way to use one's time after exams to which I replied that for kids my generation, we really played throughout our holidays and doing something "useful" was out of the question. Then I started feeling really shitty about the quality of my answers, so I did an entire discussion on mental models and why they are best off learning about how to find models to cope with ambiguous situations that they will encounter in real life. This led to an entire discourse on parents, tuition and why this is actually a prisoner's dilemma. Not satisfied with that, I told them, mental models from Literature can be useful in finance too, so I told them about Jane Austen's Mr Darcy and why Victorian women value their spouses from their income from their estates.

In summary, these are really intense kids who are not really just book smart. I have a question that I did not cover in my lecture notes and most of them got it right.


The question was keyed off the idea that your success in life is largely determined by how you invest your time outside work. 

Whoever taught these kids obviously did something right.

Of course, I could not resist making a quip about recent political events, I told them to believe in themselves even though someone in the Cabinet called their school a lousy school. 



  

Friday, September 17, 2021

Understanding Elitism in Singapore


This is supposed to be a busy pro-bono month for me as I ramp up my schedule to do some non-profit work and have been busy working on my next presentation to Raffles Institution. Next Monday, I will be rehashing a presentation I made some time ago on The Richest Man in Babylon but this time round, I took some steps to donate some books to quiz winners I intend to conduct as part of the program. 

Make no mistake, RI is a great brand that I want to associate my training programs with. The students are bound to have parents who will be listening in via Zoom and conversion is a definite possibility. But I’ve decided to donate some books because, as elite RI is, some students are on financial assistance, and I hope they get to win some of the stuff I have planned for them.

I am not as angry about Vivian Balakrishnan’s quip about Raffles Institution because this is not a signal of disregard for ordinary peasants but an expression of the rivalry between ACS and RI. It’s like Harry Potter and the rivalry between Gryffindor and Slytherin, it does not reflect VB’s views on ordinary folks like us. 

If anything, I would jump at the chance to speak to students from ACS, RI or HCI. 

What I find interesting is the media’s immediate reaction to sell Tan See Leng as an alumni of Monk’s Hill Secondary School because PAP is actually very self-conscious of their elite branding as a liability. The fact that PM Lee, Tan See Leng, Vivian Balakrishnan and myself are all NJC alumni, is not something that needs to be mentioned to the public right now. But two years in an elite JC is not long enough to build strong alumni bonds, I was drinking $1.50 kopi at Toast Box yesterday with my two NJC buddies and none of us were invited to any Illuminati meeting that can determine the fate of Singaporeans for years to come. 

( I think we spent more time complaining about PSLE math problems, one requiring some advance skills in tesselation or  Eight Queens recursion algorithm to solve properly. )

Elitism and classist inclinations will take a generation to cleanse from our society, and that’s only when it is in our interests to do so. 

I have my own personal model about our elite secondary schools. I call it the Great Wheel as it is inspired by the Game of Thrones.

I imagine Singapore education system like a wheel with RI, ACS and HCI on top and it rolls forward over all time but with us peasants at the bottom. You might be fixated with the school on top and get upset about a top secondary school, but the issue is really the wheel that keeps rolling on and on, there will always be a top secondary school as one displaces the other. You can evade the wheel, seek FIRE, or buy some shitcoin to avoid facing this kind of labelling at work or you can use the political process or 50 years of your life to attempt to Break the Wheel.

If an ACS boy inherited a lot of wealth, we can argue that he got lucky in life. But if an RI boy inherited a higher intelligence and conscientiousness, we have to accept that the genetic lottery played a big role in this as well.

Anyway, until I realised how elitist the government sector was, Breaking the Wheel was my personal fantasy. 

But these days, I suspect the PAP wants to Break the Wheel a lot more than I do. Alumni bonds are way too strong and can even threaten party coherence and loyalty to the nation state. 




Sunday, September 12, 2021

Come for my ERM Community Event Q32021 on 16th September 2021

Ok, as I'm 95% done with my slides, I should be able to share details on the next ERM community event. 

Date/Time : 16th September 2021 / 730pm

You can register for the event here : 

https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/4216003897172/WN_NpZR1TGWTbqQHcTF0nfc1g

The theme is employing the ERM framework on overseas markets. A large proportion of my program focuses on investing in the local markets and this creates the impression that I only teach investing in the local markets. Recently, I managed to enrol a student from Australia who has applied the same framework to the ASX and I've been piggybacking on his stock screens to make my first move into Australia. 

If the framework works Down Under, why not apply it to the most divisive markets today which is China?   

The community event will be divided into about three parts :

a) International Investing: Australia


I will be running through the entire ERM framework applied to Australian stocks. Students can treat this as an extension of the ERM programme that discusses how to build an Australian portfolio.

c) International Investing: China

The next topic is a hot one. One signal that markets have bottomed out is when a Dr Wealth instructor gets flak from random folks on the web for no rhyme or reason. 

I've independently done some work on explaining how a retail investor can think about China which should be interesting as I'm not really tainted by the talking heads in the media on investing in China. I try to read a popular book on international politics and then I will apply it to what I know about a country to form a conclusion.

At the end of the session, I will also be applying the ERM framework on making my first series of Chinese stocks. 

d) Update on the ERM portfolio

I will update everyone on how the consolidated portfolio is doing so far. It's not too bad and my students continue to make fairly smart moves in the market.

e) Fractal Market Analysis



From now on, I will begin to stretch the boundaries on what is possible in investment training, so I will pick really hard topics on Finance, topics that I barely understand, and I will try to teach them in a short public lecture. At this level, my task is to actually find a way to deepen my own understanding of the subject matter and this is largely inspired by Richard Feynman's technique where he would teach a topic to deepen his understanding of it.

I will be covering Fractals Market Hypothesis (FMH) which claims to address issues raised by the Efficient Markets Hypothesis. I will also demonstrate how these concepts actually work when applied to the local stock market. 

f) Alumni referral program

Finally, I have a fairly strong community of 565 alumni and I've made arrangements for them to earn their next cup of Starbucks Coffee with a referral program. 

Anyway, if you have nothing on Thursday evening, why not just pop in to see whether you understand what I spoke about. It should be challenging unless you are already part of my community. If it's all greek to you, at least you can debate with me whether my stance on China makes sense. 


Wednesday, September 08, 2021

Does Singapore feel cheap ?

 


I've been busy preparing for the next community session where I will do some thinking about China, so I've been using the book The 10 Rules of Successful Nations by Ruchir Sharma to come up with a few pointers on how to think about China. The aim is not to be the final word on China, as I'm sure there are better investors out there on this topic, but a guide on how to interpret the news in a better way.

There is one point of analysis that I will not include in my presentation which I think I can share on this blog. 

One of the rules of a successful nation is that it must feel cheap at least to foreign visitors. 

This is a strange criterion because it is a subjective feeling of a country. Another criterion is that this is from a foreign perspective, so Singaporeans can't be arbiters as to how cheap we are. For me, Kuala Lumpur definitely feels cheap but the Gold Coast in Australia, with its $3 doughnuts feels quite expensive.

If I were to venture a guess as to whether Singapore feels cheap, I would venture to guess that foreigners should find Singapore expensive. The price of vehicles is enough to prove the point. Another rude shock is probably the price of beef that can be expensive compared to back home. but on the other hand, if the foreigner lives like a local, our hawker centre fare is way cheaper than many other countries. And let's not even think about the cost of domestic help.  Up until recently, you can even get Michelin star fare for less than $10 here.  

The author speculates that having a currency that feels expensive can be a powder keg if this is combined with an increase in the current account deficit.  When this happens, it is normally the locals who will flee the local markets and send their capital elsewhere. 

Thankfully when I checked our numbers out we are still on a surplus. 

The author suggests looking for cases where the country feels expensive followed by ballooning current account deficit to predict a crash. When the balance of payments gets restored to a surplus, investors should be able to earn a fortune from the market recovery. 

I still haven't figured out where to make out this game plan but I suspect a few of our neighbours might make great candidates.  



Friday, September 03, 2021

ERM Community Event for Q32021 - this time it’s all about China


The time is ripe for ERM to take a clear objective stand on China. 

One sign that is unmistakeable is that I was having lunch with another Dr. Wealth trainer and he was telling me that old “friends” who have been observing him are coming out from the woodworks to show some “care and concern” about his China positions. This is very familiar to me as it reminded me of March 2020 when I was having my own dark moment with S-REITs. 

So in my opinion, this is very much like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a split will occur in your timeline and a lot of wealth will be either made or lost depending on which stand you will take. ERM is a slightly more advantageous stage as our portfolios are doing ok and can farm some winnings into the beaten counters in China.  

So there is no better time for thinking about China in a community event. 

I have not decided to take a bullish or bearish stance in my next community event yet, there is still plenty of research to do, but I intend to apply the ERM framework and start enumerating the key issues investors need to think about when they decide to put money in China stocks. If they do invest in the HSCEI, which factors will likely apply to give them the greatest chance of success.

Our next community event will be divided into three parts :

  • We will begin with short introduction on transplanting the ERM approach to an International market with Australia as a worked example.
  • We will then try to bring the same approach to China, but with some emphasis on the political situation there. 
  • Finally, we will also reveal ERM’s first referral program where alumni can refer friends and family to attend my courses. 

Members of the public may register for the event here, but 40% of the material does assume knowledge on the ERM approach. Like all community events materials will only be available within our closed groups :

https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/4216003897172/WN_NpZR1TGWTbqQHcTF0nfc1g

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

The moral dilemma of educating Mr. Shitcoin

 


I’ve finally found an interesting puzzle for readers to solve. 

Mr. Shitcoin is a friend of a friend, and his case study is very interesting and challenges the boundaries of what we mostly know about financial education and the morality of financial knowledge. According to a friend, Mr. Shitcoin was an ex-uniformed services personnel who is so gormless, well after age 55 he actually forgot or was wilfully blind to the idea that that he had money left in his CPF. 

So I started having a theoretical discussion with my friend and discovered two unresolvable dilemmas. 

( NB: As neither me or my friend is at age 55, we are still not clear administratively what happens when CPF knows that someone reaches that age. Nevertheless, I think it is still fun to think about these two moral issues. )

A) Whether Mr. Shitcoin should buy a high-end sports bike to reward himself.

The first point of friendly disagreement is whether Mr. Shitcoin should buy a high-end competitive bike to reward himself as a mid-life crisis reward. In our discussion, we agreed that Mr. Shitcoin is a nice agreeable fellow who lacks conscientiousness. 

My friend, who is more knowledgeable about bikes,  argued that this is a mid-life crisis so Mr Shitcoin should not buy a bike. High end bikes might also be faster and present a bigger danger to him. 

I argued otherwise.

I reasoned that a bike as a dream reward is nowhere near a European car, a divorce,  or, worse, a law degree which cost me $500,000 in opportunity costs. I reasoned that Shitcoin needs to buy a bike to get it out of his system so that he will feel that his life in public service was worthwhile. I explained that I cannot change my own position because my mid-life crisis was way more extravagant and my JD cost me $500,000 and I would replay the process of studying law all over again even if i knew that it would result in no career after that. I just need to get it out of the system much like a trip round the world.

B) Whether Mr. Shitcoin needs to know about pledging home equity to draw more money from his CPF 

Before I continue, none of us knows whether CPF would automatically allow the drawing of the maximum amount accounting for the home equity pledge when you reach 55 years of age. So I am unclear as to whether I need to explicitly pledge my property to withdraw an extra $90k from my CPF account. In my case, I hope to put ERS or $270k+into my CPF-RA, so this is not even an issue for me.

My friend reasoned that it is better not to inform Mr. Shitcoin of this option because he can’t handle his money on his own and this knowledge may destroy him as he will proceed to distribute his CPF to needy friends and relatives.

I took the opposing position that it’s our god given right to destroy ourselves with our own money and that this is not a loophole like the CPF Shielding hack. Home earners like Shitcoin earned the right to withdraw what is rightfully theirs so it is morally wrong to keep Mr Shitcoin in the dark. 

What do you readers think ? I think my friend has a point as equally valid as mine but we both agreed that he was Neutral Good and I am Lawful Evil in outlook hence the disagreement. 

Apologies to folks who thought this were a cryptocurrency post.





Saturday, August 28, 2021

Letter to Batch 22 of the Early Retirement Masterclass



Dear Students of Batch 22,

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

This is a period where many investors in Chinese Tech stocks are feeling edgy with the intervention of the Communist government on the workings of their most innovative companies. While local income investors have primarily been shielded from significant losses so far, I’m reminded of what the ERM program went through in March 2020. This is a reminder to stay humble when you invest and don’t laugh at folks experiencing a downturn.

The Ghost Month has also seen most of the ERM portfolios lose a little bit of their value, making it a good time for the students to engage in some bargain hunting. I hope you will see this as a golden opportunity to build your first portfolio if you have not done so yet.

As I tried to provide more practice for the class this year to review each stock pick qualitatively, you will find that our portfolio is quite extensive compared with earlier batches. We have a portfolio of 20 stocks for this run which will stretch the size of the portfolio I will build for this batch of students. This batch has also decided to be more adventurous with local tech counters.

Hopefully, Singapore’s COVID containment strategy will succeed. We will benefit from more travel receipts and tourists within the country, which will have a knock-on effect on some of our investments. This portfolio is also more aggressive given the more significant number of local tech stocks that were reviewed and approved for portfolio inclusion.

Lastly, I hope that Batch 22 would participate actively in the FB group.  In end-September, we will be conducting a community event where we will consider the ERM approach to investing in Chinese stocks for yourselves and members of the public to showcase material from the ERM course.

Hope to see you then!

Christopher Ng Wai Chung

Friday, August 27, 2021

Should internet marketers behave with more class ?


I'm in the middle of conducting my class, so I don't expect to be blogging, but a very large financial education provider which is almost a household name today was suspected to use my partner's keywords to do their internet marketing. This created a small scramble when I started to consult some of my pals on whether my business partner has a civil case and what steps we need to take to deal with future occurrences. 

Balancing a little bit of legal research along with some feedback from my friends in the SME sector, I have to accept that the use of keywords to push up rankings to get views is a common practice, likely because most victims are rational and will not risk more capital to stem the small amount of fianncial damage that is not easy to quantify. 

Ultimately it falls to internet marketers to determine how they want the public to view them. 

I've worked with great marketers but I also worked with quite a number of scumbags. Sometimes you can't tell them apart because the brand perception comes months after the campaign ends after a lot of goodwill is lost after spamming the public.

Some of the lousier marketers just want to attract eyeballs and they don't really care what happens to the brand going forward. I've seen the way how some truths become bent just to attract a larger crowd. 

The differentiating factor between a good marketer and a bad one is class. 

Those with class will spend more time understanding the brand and will focus on end-to-end conversion rates. Those without will ring-fence their responsibilities and wash their hands clean once the ad achieves a requisite number of hits, regardless of the final sales outcome. 

To me, if this were deliberate action, this large education provider has reached a new low in hiring this kind of marketer.

I think it takes a really low-class marketer to use someone else's brand to hijack eyeballs from another. Although I think we can take the higher road for this incident, I doubt this will be an isolated event. 

I'm grateful that my business is not affected by this, because if the victim were my business, I will take legal action once I have just 51% chance of success. 

A nice public open court hearing will expose these internet marketing practices to the world at large and we can let Singaporeans decide whether they want to associate themselves with the offending brand.