Saturday, January 28, 2023

Huat ah! How I made $80,000 during the Chinese New Year holidays.

The Year of the Rabbit is not supposed to be a good year for Tigers, but according to astrologers, we have different horoscopes corresponding to hours, days, months and years. So I was born in the day and the month of the Rat. So I should also pay attention to predictions based on the Year of the Rat. 

For this year of the Water Rabbit, Rat is ranked number 1. That instantly made me feel better. 

Then for no rhyme or reason at all, I received a string of good news.

  • SRX sent me a report on the valuation of my EC. It reported that the value of my home increased by $30,000 a month. I'm not an expert on real estate, but readers can comment on how real this valuation is. 
  • Ether, my only leveraged position, has climbed over 50% to $1,600. My position is quite small, given that most of my holdings are in the Terra blockchain after its collapse, but the news made me happy.
  • On the first day of trade for the Year of the Rabbit, my portfolio gained about $50,000, led by my holdings in banks and some of the residual funds into HK Tech ETF.

So, that's how I made $80,000 ( $100,000 by today) over the Chinese New Year holidays. 

But that's not the reason why I am really writing this article. 

Perhaps two weeks ago, my industry was in the doldrums, and we urgently needed to boost our income. It should not be surprising that financial advisors, even some peers of mine, will jump at any good news to drum out excitement. 

I don't think the shirt-term buoyancy of the markets should overly sway readers. People want to forget about a horrible 2022, but inflation has yet to be tamed. I believe that the EU will likely fall into a recession. While I'm fully invested today, I'll only begin leverage again in February, but I want to see the Fed raise rates by 25 bps instead of 50 bps first. 

There will be a lot of financial pornography over the next few weeks, FAs will be congratulating customers for holding out through 2022, but readers should remember this:

  • Who lost your money in 2022?
  • Of those who lost your money, who came clean about it?
  • Who gave a cogent explanation of why money was lost in 2022?
  • Who made money (commissions) regardless of whether you made or lost money.
  • Most importantly, which strategy paid you in 2022, regardless of how bad things were that year. 

It's easy to talk about making $100,000 a week. There were many moments when I lost six digits of my capital a day in 2022.

I'm going to end this article by getting readers to consider what REALLY makes money in Singapore. I suggest that everyone consider this before even embarking on a journey to improve their personal finances. I will disqualify REITS and dividend stocks from this discussion because of a conflict of interest.

1) A local professional degree

This deserves an article on its own, and even the Government has conceded defeat that University degrees earn so much more than a Diploma. Imagine that gap between a diploma and degree holder getting wider every year, then proceed to imagine the gap between a general degree and a professional one. 

I will discuss policy interventions in a future article, but I stand by all my previous articles that I will cajole and bribe my kids to enter a JC program. 

2) An executive condominium

I bought an EC when some peers were getting resale flats. My rationale in 2014 was that ECs are the only shape-changing real estate assets you can buy in Singapore. You buy an HDB, and you own a private condominium ten years later. 

I'm sitting quite close to $650,000 in capital gains after eight years. It was my only source of comfort even after my defensive investments tanked last year. 

I'm not a residential real estate expert, I refuse to be as bullish as my real estate agent pals, but I'm also not as depressing as experts like Property Soul. 

My only view is that capital gains from ECs are essential to bind heterosexual breeding couples in Singapore. You can argue about how difficult it is to be married and raise kids, but the wealth miracle from ECs is the Government's way of telling you not to emigrate to Australia. There is a way to be enriched by taking on this life in this stressful and competitive society.


3) CPF

Once upon a time, a supervisor and peer had a heated argument about CPF in my office. My supervisor told my colleague that if he was so negative about CPF, does he have a net worth outside CPF higher than our CPF total?

That instantly caused my colleague to shut the fuck up. 

CPF's power comes from the fact that it's not voluntary. It's one way to prevent folks from destroying their financial lives. We must recognise that not everyone has the willpower to plan for the future. In my current life, it is hard enough to convince some people not to destroy their own lives. 

I'm currently working on an article with mainstream media on building a retirement bridge with SRS and CPF, but CPF, Special Account especially, is also a calm oasis in our financial lives in a downturn, and FAs will be hard-pressed to find a means of a guaranteed 4% return.

If you can get all three assets down pat in Singapore, you will do more than fine in Singapore. 

The only issue is that as you get these areas in your life right, you might find yourself stuck in golden handcuffs crafted by our most brilliant policymakers. 

My industry is here to help you deal with that. 


Saturday, January 21, 2023

Happy Year of the Rabbit ! How I apply Chinese metaphysics to my life.


After today, I can finally end my one big year where my Chinese horoscope is governed by the Grand Duke Star, which means that 2022 was a year of tough challenges. 

In the Year of the Tiger, despite launching a new course, rising interest rates began to nibble on my revenues, and I ended up earning less than in 2021. Concerned that the Grand Duke was glaring at me, I activated my practice certificate and spent the past 2 months learning how to be an entry-level associate again while still selling my investment courses and doing media interviews. While I still have some gas left in the tank ( unlike some NZ PM who just resigned recently), I suspect I would need to wise up to my situation sometime in June this year, and some tough career choices need to be made, but the New Year should not be the occasion to make such difficult choices... yet. 

The Year of the Rabbit is supposed to be slightly better and less frustrating for Tigers, and for good measure, I took my Bazi and realised that I'm born on the Day of the Rat, and I'm heartened to note that things will improve from last year for both Tigers and Rats.

But the big question is how things can improve. At the moment, I've got four irons in the fire : 

  • One possibility is that local banks improve NIMs so much this was tantamount to me shifting my funds towards a batch of growth dividend stocks over the past few months. 
  • The other is investors realising that local interest rates are coming down and REITs get a nice boost. I already saw some good news from Sabana last week. 
  • There is a more negligible probability of investment courses doing better this year. 
  • Finally, the odds of actually being able to bring a profitable file to my law firm are even more remote. 

One big thing is already looking up. As I started to go back to work, my blood sugar readings began to improve, and all the expensive tests I took last year concerning my pancreas' health were negative. It may be how I commute: a lug of a heavy laptop to work every day and walking a reasonably long distance switching from different MRT lines. 

We really would never know whether these predictions will turn out true. 

I thought I'd share my story about why I follow what fortune tellers say on the web and TV.

About around a decade ago, I visited Taiwan with my wife and volunteered to have my fortune read. Since I had stepped into the tourist trap ( they sell expensive Bixiu figurines), I should get a reading and following the advice in good faith. The fortune teller took my details and told me quite accurately that I had a lot of near misses to the huge wins in my life, and that was true given that I narrowly missed getting into a good secondary school, getting a scholarship, joining an Olympiad Team, getting into consulting. I've basically spent my life getting silver medals. The soothsayer said in terms of talent, I had everything in place but lacked an "East Wind" alluding to Zhuge Liang's attempts to borrow the East Wind to win a war by sacrificing his life force. 

That East Wind was that I was a lone wolf and didn't like to call for help. I needed to be more open to collaboration.

Now even if you are a rational and logical person, this is great advice, even if it came from someone who understood the psychology behind Barnum statements. I verified the reading with the online Bazi portal. I confirmed that the fortune teller followed the formula in figuring out the balance of my elements, so she was not bullshitting me based on body language.

So I decided to change my approach to life. I will seek help and be more trusting of other people. 

Not long after returning, I was invited to attend an investment game by this "fringe" financial education company called BigFatPurse. Frankly, I was like many readers who thought that folks who teach investing are conmen.

But I was done being a paranoid asshole. 

There was even a miscommunication when I showed up in class, and the location was changed, but I decided to still hunt down the class venue and showed up with a gift of books. I decided that maybe, behind BigFatPurse, I would meet a benefactor.

So this explains my strange journey as an investment trainer today. BigFatPurse mooted the idea of a company to consolidate the bargaining power of financial bloggers, and the company remains profitable today. I did eight sold-out financial talks in law school thanks to our collaboration which convinced me that life as an investment trainer is possible. Even today, I drew my highest income as an investment trainer. 

To be fair, I would say that I still rate pretty highly on disagreeableness, and I still won't collaborate with everyone. Chinese Metaphysics has its limits. Where Chinese Metaphysics ends, Western pop psychology can take over - I know I work well with INTJs because of their high representation in the FIRE communities, and these days I actively seek to collaborate with them. 

Hope this answers the question as to why I only work with a select few people in the Financial Wulin.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

On Solutions versus Distractions


I was invited to read this excellent article by Mark Manson on cheat codes for the Game of Life and wanted to think deeper about the differences between solutions and distractions. The key idea from Mark Manson is that solutions put us in a better place, and distractions don't. So you can do well in life if you plan to eliminate distractions and replace them with solutions.

But the reality is not that simple. 

Take Dungeons and Dragons, which I consider one of the most significant assets in my life that shaped my approach towards work, school, life and personal finances. A cursory examination would make RPGs more like a distraction than a solution to my problems because many judge gaming as frivolous. 

But we also want to avoid using hindsight and results to decide. A D&D player who becomes a billionaire obviously used RPGs as a solution, but a fellow player who becomes an artist-bum-cum-welfare-queen does so because he was distracted by RPGs. 

That does seem fine to me.

Alternatively, there is the subjective approach, which is a problem or a solution based on what went on in my mind when I did it. So if I played D&D to cope with being a failed novelist and use the game to create a narrative that I would never have been able to do in a manuscript, this might be a distraction. If I play D&D to widen my network of geeky friends and relax so that I can be more energized in my workday, it's a solution. But that makes me uncomfortable, too, because folks in the FP spectrum of the MBTI will be able to reframe everything as a solution in an RPG, and to them, fucking a unicorn can be a solution to a problem too.

One nifty way around this is to imagine life as a game played in four phases, each lasting a quarter of your lifespan:

  • Spring - In this phase, you get a great score if you can learn many things, get exposure, or attain paper qualifications from prestigious institutions.
  • Summer - In this phase, you get a high score from high earnings and income.
  • Autumn - You get a high score from your accumulated net worth in this phase.
  • Winter - In this phase, you get a high score from your relationships.

This looks like a cookie-cutter way of defining success, but bear with me for the moment.

You get a more modest score if you achieve something from a later phase, but you score nothing if you achieve something in earlier stages. For example, if you can accumulate wealth in Spring, that could count in this game. But if you get a windfall in the Winter stage, you don't get credit for it because you won't have much need for money in the later stages of your life, but you need lots of love, connections and family. 

With this gamification of life, it becomes more objective to determine whether what you are doing is a solution or a distraction. It's a solution if it gets you a score in your current life phase. Getting an MBA is a good solution for someone in Summer, where the human capital boost can be very high, but once you hit Autumn, it becomes less valuable unless you can monetise it quickly to raise your net worth. If you ignore dating in your Summer, you lose out on relationship points in Winter compared to friends who decided to settle down earlier. Victory in the Winter phase does require careful planning in the earlier phases. 

Okay, so once we have a clearer idea of what's a solution versus a distraction, we will find that many things we do in practice are distractions. But this would mean we must depart from Mark Manson's approach to self-help. 

I believe that our aim is not to eliminate all distractions from our lives. Exercising in a gym does not score in any phase, but it keeps you healthy enough not to drop dead before Winter. Getting a six-pack, however, is clearly a distraction. You could be trying for a six-digit annual cash flow instead.

Many activities we engage in can be intrinsically fun (atelic), and you do not need to organise your life behind one big agenda. In such a case, a large part of self-help is simply removing some distractions and replacing them with solutions until we reach an equilibrium that will make life more comfortable. 

A life without the occasional distraction would be pretty drab, and you might become depressed and not even play out the later stages of the Game of Life. 

Of course, I'm not an authority on how to design the game of life. I merely took a traditional view of what success looks like in modern society and gamified it. Feel free to invent your own phases and come up with a scoring system of your own. But once you do this, ensure that you are consistent with yourself when deciding which habits to adopt and which vices to discard. 

Friday, January 13, 2023

Dungeons and Dragons, tabletop RPGs, and the threat of cultural vasectomy


I've not been gaming a lot these days because of my work in a law firm and evenings preparing for my next ERM course. But of late, it has been hard to be D&D fan because woke creatives have overrun my favourite hobby. The straw that broke my back was the umbrage directed at different racial categories like Orc, Elf and Dwarf, which somehow reminded some players of racial discrimination in the real world. 

In modern gaming, folks can find any excuse to get offended by something, so the concept of races has been relabelled as species so some folks will not get butthurt.

The past 48 hours have been dramatic for folks following what's happening to the D&D world. Apparently, in an ill-fated move to attempt to monetise the hobby more, the business suits in Hasbro managed to alienate the entire player base when they tried to withdraw the Open Gaming License that is the rice bowl of creators and supporters of the hobby. Just today, angry fans began to unsubscribe from the game portal, prompting the company to cancel an announcement of the new Open Gaming License.  

The drama is still going on; right now, anything can happen to the hobby.

Although I'm not really vested in any outcome, given that my last D&D game was over a year ago, I just want to see a constant change in my hobby. Like in all things, some changes will be welcomed ( like not-so-good paladins who love smiting infidels and the occasional fey), and some changes ( like changing races to species) will not.

As great as a hobby was for me, I don't want it to get stuck in the past.

I'm casually reminded of the concept of "cultural vasectomy". This arises when going retro completely dominates a medium like music, and we get so fixated on what's good with the past we forget to build something new for the future. Similarly, D&D's market share is so enormous thanks to shows like Critical Role and the incompetence of competing brands like Pathfinder, which will reduce their propensity for genuine innovation.

Just take a look at TTRPG gamers from my generation. Are they really growing? Stuck in the 1990s reading Sandman and any of Alan Moore's works, getting all twisted and angry with Amazon's Rings of Power because Galadriel was not meant to be such a feminist icon. Vampires can only be cool if they are modelled after Anne Rice novels, but Twilight sparkly vampires are sacrilege ( I play a sparkly Ventrue called Edward Cullen ! ). Gen X gamers traffic in cultural capital that depreciated aeons ago. Like those uncles who went to the U2 concert or listened to Depeche Mode.

How cool is that?

D&D5E is no longer changing because its creators do not wish to release a lousy edition. That has happened more than once. If they only make incremental changes to the rules, then we will always remain in the grip of this Millenial gamer's cultural vasectomy. I suspect the secret to excellent editions of D&D comes from shit editions published before.

So this is what I hope to see in the hobby:

  • Hasbro doubling down to kill the Open Gaming License. They bet on loyal die-hard fans of the hobby who will sustain them and pay for their books. If they got the balls to do that, they could count me as a loyal buyer of their books. 
  • The shitstorm peaks and the industry retaliates by launching a newer open gaming license. Let a thousand flowers bloom.
  • The industry fractures with Pathfinder and OneD&D taking market shares close to each other.
  • Plenty of competing RPG rulesets emerge as alternatives to Pathfinder and D&D, most will have a small market share, but some may have a dedicated and loyal fan base. Like Worlds of Synnibar.
  • Eventually, Hasbro restores the D&D licence under their control but slowly corners a smaller, more loyal fan base. This fanbase can consist of pariahs, just like in the 1980s. It can bring back the old 1st Edition grappling rules and THACO.
  • Players can choose between D&D (the Orthodox Church), Pathfinder (the Protestant movement) or hundreds of alternatives (Shrine to Petty Gods)
  • All purported groups in Singapore claiming to be a gamer's league eventually cannot sustain so many different rulesets so we all devolve into small groups of gamers who play mainly at home or through Zoom. 
  • So no more cults of personality in this part of the gaming world.
Anyway, I doubt Hasbro has the guts to do what I hope, but we shall see. 

Sunday, January 08, 2023

How C Students can find success in life


Many authors have attempted to write a motivational book for C students. The C Student's Guide to Success by Ron Bliwas was an old book I found in a second-hand bookstore for $5.90, so I thought it would be a novel take on success.

I think the first problem is figuring out who a C student in Singapore is. The author's idea of a C student is someone who comes from a State University in the US with an average GPA. It's not apparent how this translates into Singapore. Law students in NUS often get a C grade but get snapped up quite quickly in the workforce, with salaries hitting over $5,000 per month and an employment rate of 100%. 

If we pitch the book to non-degree holders, then the question is whether a significant part of the audience would even take the initiative to hunt down the reading in the first place. Singaporeans, students of all grades, have an aversion to reading after going through the education system. My observation of non-degree readers is that they are more attracted to Robert Kiyosaki and Gary Vaynerchuck because they are chock full of quotable quotes. 

So I suppose a book on C Students from the US should translate to someone who gets an ok grade in a newer local university like SIT, SUSS or a private university like SIM. 

The next question I want to ask when reading this work is what's preventing A students from enjoying the book? 

I believe that A students should take the initiative to hunt down books that target C students because it tells us how C students caricature A students. In this book, I find the usual diatribe that A students have a life too easy and lack emotional intelligence. I'm not too keen to disagree with the author here because companies hire A students to do heavy-duty analysis and have a lot more responsibilities at a younger age, so based on comparative advantage alone, they may not have the incentive to develop a "service mindset". 

The next question is what kind of advice we can give C students that generally would not be useful to A students. That is something that I sense that the author has failed to do adequately. The advice to be a good human being, share credit when it is due, develop salesmanship skills, and find a good mentor works for everyone. With A students reaching management ranks earlier, it may be even more crucial, leading to a stronger corporate culture.

I find two pieces of advice particularly useful specifically to C students. 

One piece of advice would be to identify a working environment that would give them a chance to excel and thrive. 

Many corporate environments may hire C students but will only groom A students for upper management, so savvy C students may need to hop around until they find the right domain, likely in the SME space. The author correctly identifies that "shopping around" for the right environment is dangerous for C students because they suffer more considerable risks when resigning from a steady-paying job. 

The second advice is to do work that nobody likes to do. 

This is the opposite of what an A student should do: to do work that gives them maximum visibility. In my observations in my current industry, I would say that the most admired role model is a paralegal rather than a lawyer because he honed his skill over 40 years to become the backbone of the firm. More importantly, his success is multigenerational, with his children already forming successful families, and he has beautiful grandkids. This is not something many A students are even able to dream of in this current economy. Many A students are BBFA and would rather watch clips of Siew Puiyi than develop a connection with someone. 

Suppose someone puts a gun to my head and forces me to advise a non-degree Singaporean student today. In that case, I will ask them to shadow and eventually become a backbone for an SME that will cherish their participation. It may mean faithfully showing up for 8-10 years doing residual work from IT automation that no PMET wants to do. Eventually, you will end up owning the entire company because no one will know what will break down if you suddenly disappear one day. 

Of course, that's easier said than done. 

We live in an age of crypto, real estate asset tokenization, NFTs and the metaverse. Critical in the construction of crypto-tokenomics is in allowing a young single male to dispense with the delay of gratification and gives them something to flex on a Tinder date. As I have alluded to on this blog, during the heyday of crypto, if a program like Anchor can return 20% per annum, which young man in his right mind would devote the time and effort to become the backbone of an SME?


This book is now very much dated and written by someone in the advertising industry. It remains to be seen how a book like this could be written in this new era. 

Maybe one of you can get ChatGPT to write the next one.

Tuesday, January 03, 2023

On HDB - What is the opposite of innovation?


One popular idea gaining traction is that Singapore's HDB policy stifles innovation and risk-taking, which has been shared by some real-estate gurus or famous Millennial voices like The Woke Salaryman. 

The central idea is quite persuasive. 

As a generation of young Singaporeans gets tied down by expensive mortgages, Singaporeans begin to make career choices that are more predictable and secure, and this often precludes options that involve creative pursuits and entrepreneurial risk-taking. 

I have argued in the past that home ownership creates positive externalities, and I would not want to live in a neighbourhood where folks rent their property because there is less incentive to look after the area. 

I will try to unpack this argument further and talk about this ephemeral concept of innovation and why we are not thinking as critically when we try to tie this up with the HDB policy. 

a) Can we import innovation?

The first question is that for policymakers to succeed, we may need Singaporeans to benefit from innovation, not necessarily to become the source for it. We're not known to be great creatives, yet our GDP per capita is one of the highest in the world. If we can import innovation, best practices, or even culture, what's there to say that we would be lost because we can still benefit from it.

So an argument needs to address the importation of creative talents, and we can choose those who are already proven right by the markets.

b) Folks can choose to be creative. The problem is that they don't want to lose out to those who are not.

I firmly subscribe to Jordan Peterson's idea of the lobster world. When guys get together, it becomes impossible to avoid the formation of hierarchies based on financial success. In Singapore, if you pick a creative and entrepreneurial path, you are essentially taking a much higher risk of failure, but that means perhaps a smaller house or more awkward questions in Chinese New Year.

But I think what guys hate is to be "marked down" by women. If women choose the stable and somewhat boring resource provider rather than the creative edgelord, the creative edgelord will... be even edgier.

No rule in Singapore says you can't live with your parents and pursue your entrepreneurial vision. The problem is that that accountant boy next door who has a personality of a doorknob is getting laid, making babies, and earning $600k from his EC. What the fuck are you doing, re-reading your old collection of BigO magazines and masturbating in your bedroom?

This is unique to Asian societies that run on personal responsibility rather than welfare. If the state does not contribute to child-rearing, economically more resourceful and stable men have a better chance of getting laid. In Scandinavian countries, single mums get a lot of support, and the beefier kind of men tend to win.

c) What is the "opposite" of innovation?

It would be dumb if we thought that our policymakers would create an HDB policy and trade-off innovation and creativity for nothing in return.

But what did we get in return for the HDB policy? It cannot be simply the positive externalities of 90% home ownership, which is a big deal to me.

So this blog is going to try to take a stab at this problem. We need to realise that in this working world, there is a lot of "Sai Kang" or vital grunt work that pays decently but is unpleasant, and no sane person would do it if they were financially independent. 

Who resets the network switch at 3 am if remote access fails? 

Who is good at pivot tables and audits your finances? 

Who combs every clause in your sales and purchase agreement?

Who procures toilet paper for the government?

I can say with authority that writing a tender document is nowhere as personally satisfying as drawing Renaissance Art or NFTs.

How do you tie intelligent, conscientious folks to work that keeps the Nation and systems running. We can't all be in the business of creating NFTs. Maybe for one creative, ninety-nine needs to do work that is BAU. 

This is the crux of the HDB policy. Suppose they can keep golden handcuffs on some citizens and reward them financially for doing BAU work, which they otherwise would not do if they were economically independent. Give women a reason to prioritise predictable men. HDB is perfect because women who want to roost will wish to a nest.

So the opposite of innovation is predictability. Predictability can make a nation wealthy and powerful in a world where water needs to flow from taps and supermarkets need to be well-stocked with chicken. 

That's the key to what makes us tick. 

Creatives and suits have fought over the lobster world for Millenia. Nation states will enact a policy to favour or nerf one party for the greater good. 

HDB is such a policy. 

Think about what we stand to lose if we get rid of it.