Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Freeze eggs also men's fault ?

Some readers may remember that I wrote an article on egg freezing some time ago. You can read the article by following this link. In that article, I discuss how enabling egg freezing puts men at a disadvantage because it has the effect of making young women temporarily unavailable. When women are confident enough to freeze their eggs, they will leave the mating pool and reappear at an older age. In that article, I urged policymakers to approve egg-freezing, but make it easier for men to marry foreign spouses as a counterbalance.

Recently, a pal sent me this article to read (link). 

It is now time to review the concept of egg freezing.

Fortunately for policymakers, a medical anthropologist will be publishing a book that details the kind of person who will go as far as to freeze her eggs. Because the procedure is not exactly cheap, it comes as no surprise that women who undergo this procedure are high-achieving professionals. 

What comes as a surprise to me is that 91% are single or in tenuous relationships, with a significant one-third of women having no previous relationship experience. Egg freezing is, therefore, some kind of plan B. 

This leads to the anthropologist taking a potshot at men!

She blames egg freezing for this thing called the "mating gap".

  • Men are reluctant to marry high-achieving women.
  • Men are immature and not ready to start families.
  • Men are ageist. 
This blog is an apologist for men,  I am after all the BBFA Senator. 

Now, I'd like to refute each point one by one.

First of all, I admit that men are reluctant to marry high-achieving women. But you also need to note that women also despise low-achieving men. I'd like to argue that between men and women, women are actually pickier. You are free to enjoy my article on unusual pairings here.

Secondly, not all men are immature and not ready to start families. Only the men who are willing to consider a relationship with an egg freezer are immature. Maybe a women's desperation to start a family forces her to pick an unconscientious male. 

Thirdly, I think men evolved to prefer younger women, you can't socialise this away. It's ridiculous that a medical anthropologist will blame guys for rejecting older women when it's probably more likely that women will reject men with low economic resources.

Ok, now we need to see how all this new data changes my view on egg freezing.

I think egg freezing should still continue to be approved because it can generate new investment options. But we need to have a clearer view of the sorts of women who freeze their eggs - the odds of harvesting the eggs one day is very rare and it's not because of medical viability. If you can't get a relationship in your 20s, don't expect a relationship when you are older in your 40s.

Now there is also the fear that the medical industry will promote egg freezing as some kind of miracle procedure that will never solve the relationship issues. Instead of freezing eggs, it may be better to invest in some US Office RETI counters for double-digit dividends.

Finally, I hope that some people will find this an entirely ridiculous idea. 

There are men who are uneducated. 

There are men who are short.

There are men who have no money.

I don't see these guys masturbating into a Tupperware and storing it in the freezer. 

If no woman wants us, we just earn more, pick up some Thai, and try our best.

That is the BBFA way.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Personal Update

As I do not have much to write about, maybe it's time for a personal update.

a) Financial markets

As I stopped leverage aeons ago, I was unaffected by developments in the financial markets. As interest rates rose, my REITs and Business Trusts shrank, but my dividends were not hit that badly, so I can afford to hold. If I do have a worry, it's the US-based office REITs, but I'm well diversified and don't have double-digit yields this year. 

My interpretation of bank failures is that they may be a signal to the Fed to stop raising rates. As I'm not really vested in the US, my concern is about contagion to local banks. But that risk is also small.

I don't think local dividends investors will need to really be too concerned about the markets. 

Just stay calm and collect dividends this month.

b) Career

I'm ramping down my work in the law firm and focused on building my new program. I'll probably head to the office to buy everyone snacks before I go off. 

The funny thing is that I've tried going for a few interviews weeks ago and thought employers decided to give my profile a pass, but for one job offer, I seem to get into the advanced stages.  While monetising my time during the day is no longer my priority, I have decided to press on without really being vested in the outcome. 

c) New Course

 The bulk of my effort has been put here and the past 3 weeks have been exhilarating. As data can be fetched from Yahoo Finance, I'm not longer limited by the availability of Bloomberg terminals and built up 4 robo-advisors and 4 back-testing tools to optimise and review some trading ideas from various books I've been reading.

The outcome will be an investment course that teaches students how to create and tune Robo-advisors through the use of some code I've written in Jupyter notebooks. The backtests are very successful after some tuning and my all-weather portfolios can get a Sharpe ratio close to 1 in the tough period between 2018 and 2023. More interesting is that the four strategies are almost uncorrelated from each other. 

So I've basically been coding in Python and creating Power Point slides for the past 2 weeks. In time, I might do an ERM Alumni event that will preview one chapter from my new program. Some ERM Alumni are interested in a networking and makan session, so I might be talking to Dr Wealth staff to see whether this is financially feasible. 

Anyway, even if the new course may not take off immediately, I should be able to launch my personal hedge fund with a small portion of my capital in April. 

d) Hobbies and Leisure

I guess I'm lucky because I enjoy coding robo-advisors and back testers, so I have no real need to put in any work into my hobbies.

But I'm happy to say that I have watched the Dungeons and Dragons movie last night. I think the D&D brand was cursed with really bad movies in the past so my expectations were not high. The latest D&D movie was a blast that is fun for new fans but full of fan service for longtime D&D players.

There is some demand for DM work and some folks are asking me to run a game. 

I will see what I can do.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Pivoting from Wealth to Relationships

I consider myself extremely lucky, as after my last post, my old JC pals got me out to cheer me up this week. My mum has recovered, but this is a grand opportunity to review my priorities. 

Almost as if I needed another sign, I just received heartbreaking news that a secondary classmate of mine is currently in a fight against an aggressive form of cancer. 

One of the most challenging issues my generation will have to cope with is when we should pivot from emphasising our wealth towards pouting more effort into our relationships. In your 40s and 50s, wealth is a big deal as you need it to thrive in Singapore society, but you soon reach a stage where you find less need to flex your economic status but want deeper connections with loved ones because that’s the last thing that matters in the final stage of your life. The financial equivalent is when a person can begin the process of decumulation or the gradual spending down of wealth they have accumulated. 

As we think deeper, we realise that friendship is a complicated topic, because all relationships need cultivation and in earlier stages in our lives, there are more important priorities like financial security or starting a family. As a consequence, men suffer from the lack of friendships the most because we get penalised for looking vulnerable and tend to keep our weaknesses to ourselves.

When thinking about this pivot, the first question is when should we shift from thinking about wealth accumulation to the accumulation of rich personal connections? I can't help but think of confirmation signals in a trade. When creating my new course, I often have to backtest trading algorithms. One technique I employ to confirm a downtrend is to observe that a stock has been falling for the past year and also been falling for the past month. Dual signals are more robust than just one, and this can be easily put into programming code.

The general rule of thumb is if you see your parents getting older and becoming frailer or losing them entirely to old age, and you witness folks in your generation falling sick, it is time to consider a pivot. At least from what I have observed, both signals have come true many times over the past year.

The second question is how to pivot. Which relationships to cultivate? 

The book The Good Life, which contains research on the lives of volunteers, provides a very functional view of what good friendships are like. Friends are there to diminish your hardship and reduce the stress of existing in Singapore society.

This is an exquisite way to construct a filter and decide which relationships to cultivate. Which friends are there for you when you face a crisis? Which friends have a sense of humour and provide levity in hard times? If you have friends who can solve your problems and make life easier, you need to cultivate these relationships.

But note that if you agree with this utilitarian view of friendship, you should also try to be there for your friends while in a crisis. 

If you apply this idea to practice, you may conclude that the wealthy may struggle with their friends. People will always be available when there are free meals and parties. This is not a valid test. But only in times of crisis can you figure out which relationships are worth cultivating. 

[On a personal note, I’ve been grappling with building my new course and coding almost everyday. If you want to know my views on the economy, I guess you should be attending my course previews for now. ]


Saturday, March 11, 2023

A Moment of Clarity


As we get closer to the close of the first quarter of 2023, it’s been dawning on my that my work in the law firm is not going bear fruit over the short term. The life-energy exchange of time versus money will be quite low for some time as this is a career that requires a long term commitment. As a consequence of this, I began to explore a different working arrangement with the law firm for the past few weeks. In this arrangement, I will return to go full steam as a financial trainer with a new course in the works but will go to assist the firm in periods when the work gets heavy for an hourly wage. My comparative advantage is that I’m tech savvy and faster with compilation of bundles and I can still do fairly competent research.

Everything is in the air as we head into March until my mum fainted from low blood sugar last week and hurt her hips, so now I’m spending a larger bulk of my time running errands for her and buying her meals. 

While my mum will recover in about week, I can help thinking that this is a warning that such events will happen with greater frequency in the future, and I will need to shift my career goals towards more time flexibility. 

So for now, I will not renew my practice certificate this April. 

My focus will be coming with a new training programme with all my spare time, as I can do this at home. This programme will involve quite a lot of coding as I try to come up with a proper system for students to create their own robo-adviser.

My secondary focus is to take this opportunity to spend more time with my mum. I want to prioritise travel with her while she is still able to do so. 

I am definitely disappointed for striking out a second time in the legal profession, but I’m already 48 and mid-life career can produce more disastrous outcomes. I talked about this on my blog initially because I want to make it harder to pull out this second time. 

Right now nothing much has changed and I will assist and direct legal business to firm I’m working with. I have a few job interviews in progress, but I will not prioritise them for the moment. 

In spite of this disappointment, it means that I’m free to hang out on most days again, and I’m back to being an investment trainer. 

More on this future course will be coming soon, I’m only 25% done with course materials.

Hopefully, I will be able increasing the frequency of blog updates after this. 

Loyal readers can let me know what you want me to talk about next.


Friday, March 03, 2023

Spiritual influences of my approach towards FInancial Independence

Generally, I try my best to avoid discussing religion on this blog, but recently, an opposition politician and "Intelligent Vaxxer", Goh Meng Seng, shared something hilarious on social media.

The idea is that this person somehow suffers because he has attained FIRE but does have a grasp of the meaning of life. Goh Meng Seng then goes on to give a lesson on the Dharma. 

Generally, I would refrain from giving any credit to anyone on social media who claims to have a better idea of the meaning of life. If someone's meaning of life is, for example, constantly losing elections and getting POFMA'd, I will not judge what gives their life purpose. 

Instead, I want to point out in this post the spiritual influences of my version of FIRE. 

I have personally gone through many stages of spiritual evolution. When I was young, I was hunted by Christian Fundamentalists in primary school for my D&D hobby. A teacher did not like the cover of the 1st Edition D&D Player's Handbook and thought I was a Satanist. I started out with a very negative impression of religions, especially those that do a lot of preaching and proselytising. I don't alike anything that comes between me and D&D. Consequently, I became a staunch Atheist. I spent a decent amount of time being called up to the Office of Student Affairs in NUS for anti-religious troll posts. Multiple Christian groups complained about my exploits as an undergraduate. 

As I got older, I realised that Atheism itself is a position that requires faith in the idea of the non-existence of God. Subsequently, I also encountered Atheists who were unreasonable and no better than the Christian fundamentalists who oppressed me as a kid. Over time as I got older and more conservatve, I realised I could ally with Christians because they defended the same family values I hold sacred from progressive and woke forces in society, Social Justice Fundamentalism is magnitudes worse than any religious inquisition I experienced as a youth. Also, cell groups even play D&D. 

So these days, I've softened my position. 

Today I identify as a free-thinker. To me, human brains evolved with the capacity for faith because otherwise, it would be tough to live as the final outcome is always death and not everyone can figure out the meaning of life as Goh Meng Seng has done. This evolutionary adaptation of the brain is what humanity has to cope with the suffering of being alive.

Also, I have a deep respect for religion as a community. It's an excellent way for people to get together. I even tell young people to have the flexibility to convert if they really desire to find a life partner. 

Eventually, I found a trove of wisdom that can assist us in attaining Financial Independence.

In my second book, Harvesting the Fruits of Prosperity, I appropriated the concept of Nirvana to demonstrate the freedom a FIRE aspirant can attain if he can live on his dividend payouts. It becomes the close analogue of the cessation of suffering that Nirvana can grant. In my book, I consider the crossover point where dividend payouts exceed monthly expenses as the attainment of Financial Nirvana. Another snippet from my writings is shown here :

Of course, I went beyond employing Buddhist concepts to guide the FIRE aspirant. We should not forget that much progress came from the Protestant work ethic. The following snippet is taken from my second book, which channels sociologist Max Weber on why you must earn and work hard towards Financial Nirvana:

In hindsight, I would have spent more time looking at religion and philosophy to make the journey towards Financial Independence easier for readers of my works. Incorporating religious and spiritual concepts in my writing gave it much depth. It showed that deeper spiritual meaning can come from the pursuit of financial goals and can unite differences in philosophies.

I was pleasantly surprised that after publication, Christians gave feedback that they found my writing very spiritual, and millennials found it very woke. 

I guess regardless of religion, our money struggles are very much the same. 

Sunday, February 26, 2023

The Idea of "Two Singapores" is not a new concept. But I think this idea is.


Leader of Opposition Pritam Singh, I think the only SMU JD in parliament, went viral when he spoke about Two Singapores emerging if we fail to rein in inequality. 

Interestingly, this idea has been introduced previously by yours truly. 

I wrote Growing Your Tree of Prosperity in 2005, and I've taken a screenshot of a page I wrote about 18 years ago. I'm sharing another snippet of my writing.  

Having two Singapores is such an old idea. There is no novelty in talking about it. And in the SMU JD program, novelty earns you an A+ in-class participation. 

Singaporeans should consider themselves lucky these days if there are two Singapores. We can solve the problem by taxing one Singapore and distributing it to the other.

The problem arises if we have 20-30 different Singapores with their own social norms and circles. Policymakers will have a brain aneurysm trying to balance out this kind of society. 

There is a certain fractal quality of income gaps in any society. Policymakers can target broad differences, but the finer societal differences are impervious to policymaking.

Take, for instance, the salary gap between polytechnic and university graduates. We're focused on that today.

But it gets more interesting. If you zoom into different local degrees, there is a gap between non-professional and professional degrees. You can google the massive difference in salary between an NUS graduate in Art, Media and Design versus a Law or Computing degree.

It gets worse. 

Within a degree qualification, major gaps exist as well. Compare lawyers' salaries in an international firm versus a big 4 versus a small firm. Look at the difference between what a Specialist earns compared to a GP. There might even be an intra-group salary gap.

As you zoom in on a population, you will find a gap between different sub-groups within a population. As you zoom into these sub-groups, you may find more gaps. If the gaps worsen over time, it may be because the premium knowledge workers are getting higher regardless of which sector you are in. 

If there are many Singapores, Then as a policymaker and individual, you've got a severe problem. No matter how much training, you'll always be in a collective with vast salaries and income gaps. 

If there are two Singapores, one Singapore is happy and cannot complain. If we have 32 Singapores, only one Singapore will be happy at the pinnacle of society. Does taxing the upper echelons solve that problem?

Economic intervention is something that MUST be done. But it will only solve the problem if we also attempt to change the mindset of citizens, which is hard and involves many fine-tuned interventions. Moving a rich-kid primary school to Tengah will just be the beginning. 

There might be one, albeit ugly, alternative.

Singapore stops seeing itself as a country but a temporary place to earn money. So we take in foreign talent, let them work and try to succeed in a low tax regime, but eventually, most of them will go to a cheaper place to retire. Some foreigners will make it to have children, but they will eventually be tested because they might not make it to produce the next generation. Future immigrants may drive real estate to levels the previous generation will not be able to handle. There's a certain perverse justice and fairness in all of this since most of us are descended from immigrants anyway. 

If you are an opposition MP or PAP supporter who wants to mine future talking points in Parliament, do follow the links to Amazon to buy my book. 

I'm also available to give speeches to your party cadre.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

How can one stop being a simp?


One benefit of having the occasional coffee with readers of this blog is that their questions often lead to new articles. This time, a loyal reader wanted my advice on stopping being a simp. During the session, I could not really come up with a good answer, so I thought I'd give a better answer here.

For one thing, we can't really use a dictionary definition of a simp - someone who is excessively sympathetic and attentive towards a person who does not reciprocate in return. I think this is what I observe of simps for the purposes of this blog.
  • It's generally a guy who simps for beautiful women. Ugly chicks don't get simps.
  • Often the love languages expressed are acts of service and gifts. Beautiful women do not really value the other forms of love language from their simps.
  • To rule out married cheekopeks and sugar daddies who do almost the same thing for different reasons, simps are generally not on the high-income scale and relatively young to middle-aged.. 
So if we take this rules in, simps are young to middle-aged men who give presents or perform services to hot women who are out of their league, losing valuable economic resources but not getting any reciprocation in the process.

Once we agree on this definition of simps, we will be able to give advice on how to stop being a simp. 

a) Climb the economic ladder.

My best advice is to focus on climbing the economic ladder. Make yourselves better and get into the league. The problem with simps is that they are on a lower rung on the economic ladder than the position the women are in the looks hierarchy. 

Readers of my blog, remember this iron-clad rule :

For guys, love is rarely unconditional.

The advantage of being a guy is that you can get into a rigorous habit of self-improve to climb the ladder. Women's positions are primarily tied to the looks they are born with.  This entire blog is written for the incels ad BBFA who want a better a status in life. 

You can also read this article on modern dating for further inspiration.

b) Expend effort on someone ugly or more amenable to accepting you

An example of how a poor dating market works is SDU for folks in my generation. In dating events, guys and girls talk among themselves until some pilot or hot chick shows up. Then all the women gank the pilot, and all the guys flock around the hot chick. The problem is the pilot, or hot chick is actually a plant by the dating company for business development reasons. They are actually looking for something other than a partner. ( Some just want to sell ILPs to simps )

The situation would be better if guys picked a women who they think, based on his own capabilities and earning power, can credibly win her love. This means going against centuries of the genetic programming of overconfidence and picking someone more plainer looking.

One way is to date older women. Another dating market that repels most men is women who are very successful in their careers.

c) Go for foreign women

The problem for men is that it's within their power to climb the status ladder. But this means that every guy will try to jostle for position on the totem pole. Only some guys get to be on top. If it's not feasible to improve yourself to rise through the ranks of society, then take all your toys and play in a different field. The truth is that the average guy in Singapore can project a lot of economic power if it's wielded in other parts of South-East Asia. 

Lastly, I just want to say that it's not easy to stop being a Simp. So much genetic programming will need to be undone. I'm not even sure the economy can survive if simps just decided to go on strike and start allocating their economic resources just to enjoy themselves.

If I'm in my 20s, I might also be a simp. If you push, I'll admit that I have a preference for maybe someone like Annette Lee, who is quite wholesome, funny, and sings quite well. But Annette Lee married someone who works for a hedge fund. 

This totally vindicates my article.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

The Fork on the Road

For something to be defined as failure, it must humble the person who failed. If failure is just a precursor to success, then the person has imbibed a lot of shit from success gurus. 

For the past three months, I have attempted to balance a legal career while conducting an investment course, and I have realised this is unsustainable. 

An investment trainer's job is powered by optimism. We invest because we see a better future. 

A lawyer's outlook is generally very pessimistic, as we need to look out for risks and dangers when we think about what kind of advice we want to give. I find that there's very little room to see any good in others in this line of work. 

I was trying to place two large stones into my jar, but the jar was too small. And while I was chugging along, I couldn't help that I might need to discard the option before the year was over.

The question I've been asking myself is, what would the future of my career look like if I'm forced to make a choice. Perhaps I should talk about this on my blog before pulling the plug.

a) Investment training

If I stay on investment training, I cannot sustain myself with one program like ERM. Based on my projection, I will only earn between 15% of my peak this year, given the high-interest rates and low interest amongst retail investors. An 85% dip in earnings is quite hard to swallow, but I can wait for market recovery.

One way to carry on is that I have to launch a new course. I've been coding a few investment techniques and already have four Jupyter notebooks to launch a new quantitative investing course. But this is just 5% of the work, as there are lecture notes and previews to prepare. But now, I know I can launch it.

If I take this route, my legal work will be pushed to the background if I don't end it. I'm reluctant to give up the practice but may go to the office to do just pro bono work. My legal work will generate negative earnings in 2023 as I have to pay for insurance. 

b) Push on with my lawyer transformation

I can choose to push on with legal work. This means looking for a salaried associate position. This is because I've not been successful in looking for files, and a profit-sharing arrangement has not worked out. My attempts to replicate a payout like investment training does not translate to my legal career.

The upside is that the industry is hungry for associates again, and I can move on with a new career which is stable and will come with good increments. I've spent the last 3-4 months familiarising myself and am now ready to dip into a new position, but I have to choose a family-friendly path, which can mean a career in conveyancing. 

I've lined up interviews next week, and if successful, it can mean a short break from my investment training career. 

This also comes with great reluctance because I've been conducting training for four years and enjoy doing it. I may attempt to negotiate my way to keep training on weekends and use my leave to run my business, but this will not likely succeed. 

(Also, I will continue to build ERM portfolios with my community with 600+ members rather than just letting it go. I have a solid plan to do this.)

So this summarises my angst regarding my career at the moment. I suspect I don't have enough information to choose at the moment because I am still missing information on what my time is worth. 

I would like to delay pulling the plug on one of my careers, but as my practice license needs renewal on 1st April 2023, I have to start making a decision soon.  

Monday, February 13, 2023

[VDay Post] Why shouldn't Money be a Love Language?


It was Gary Chapman who pioneered the idea of the Five Love Languages. The idea is that you can have better relationships if you figure out your own love language or your partner's. The five love languages are:
  • Physical Touch
  • Gifts
  • Acts of Service
  • Quality Time
  • Words of Encouragement.
After a while, self-help gurus tried to expand the model into seven love languages. Some article I read a while ago added intellectual conversation and emotional connection, but if you google the seven, you will get Communication and Expression of love and affection.

Now all this fine and good, if you are in the business of selling self-help books. Recent surveys show that for the men who read this blog, they really need to focus on other things in life to attract a mate. Dating companies conduct surveys in Singaporean women and find out that they prefer the following:
  • Education Qualifications
  • Salary
  • Similar religion
So my question for Valentine's Day in 2023 is simply : 

Why can't money be a love language?

If you think about it, money can be used to buy gifts. It can also buy services that end up giving you more time, which pays for more quality time and enables more acts of service. It provides more economic security and in an economic regime of high inflation and rocketing real estate prices, why can't it be formally inducted as a love language?

I think if we can acknowleged Money as a Love Language, we can have a very fruitful conversation about what kind of money is your Money Dialect, to which there are several interesting examples :
  • High-earned income
  • Dividends / Royalties
  • Investment Growth 
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Inheritance
  • Marriage
Even if your Love Language is Money, there are many ways to make money, so you should think  about what kind of Money Dialect you speak. 

It's pretty obvious my Money Dialect is Dividends. Someone who is always hunting for expat men might see Marriage as a means to get more financial security. Someone who is always studying to join a high-paying profession will speak the Love Dialect of High-earned income. 

Reading someone's Money Dialect is a useful skill even if you are not looking for romantic entanglements. A person who has a Money Dialect of Dividends will tend to prefer to save a lot of money to grow their passive income. This person may clash with someone whose Money Dialect is Entrepreneurship. 

There is nothing more annoying for a dividends investor to keep hearing about self-aggrandizing stories of hustling and Lamborghini cars.

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Letter to Batch 29 of the Early Retirement Masterclass


Dear Students of Batch 29,

It’s been a great honour and privilege to conduct a 5-Day Early Retirement Workshop for you.

When I was preparing the slides for Batch 29, we saw some glimmers of hope in the market. The US Fed declared that we were in a period of disinflation, and markets rallied. ERM portfolios built by previous batches of students all began to see positive signs.

The possibility of a recovery then led to the possibility of restoring leverage to our ERM portfolios. While we can consider leveraging our investments again, two major impediments to executing this manoeuvre exist.

Firstly, interest rates are at an all-time high. Leveraging Singapore stocks with Interactive brokers will cost over 6%. This is higher than the dividend yield of Batch 29, which is a respectable 5.97%.

Secondly, the US economy generated more jobs, and unemployment has dropped. This can mean that inflation will be harder to control. The investing public has probably underestimated how far the Fed will raise interest rates and how long they can keep it at such a high level.

Because of these twin considerations, we will hold back on leverage for the moment, and I intend to pick up the stocks using my traditional trading account.

We will revisit the possibility during the next batch of training.

Lastly, I hope that Batch 29 will participate actively in the FB group. Sometime in Q1 2023, we should meet for an online community webinar.

Hope to see you then!

Christopher Ng Wai Chung

Wednesday, February 08, 2023

Career Counsellors in Secondary Schools


Last week I was volunteering at my secondary school providing career talks, I had my first encounter with a career counsellor. The formal designation is Education and Career Guidance Counsellor or ECG Counsellor.

It's pretty clear that Minister Chan now has his hands full with reforming the education system to cope with an AI-enabled future, now we have folks who focus on career guidance for secondary school students. 

In my opinion, the implementation of this is still quite iffy because the counsellor I met had to cover not one but two secondary schools, and I'm not sure how much of a difference this would make to students if counsellors were spread so thin. Do note that my alma mater has two counsellors in charge of mental health likely because of the incident at River Vally Secondary School. 

My encounter with that specific career counsellor, sadly, did not paint a positive picture of this new role. Prior to our career panel, the counsellor gave an interesting pep talk on how ECG counsellors fit into the school ecosystem and explained why he had to engage with us. I perked up when he said that some of the things that might be presented may not align with a modern view of career counselling citing the old-school preferences of "Sciences over Arts" as an example of such a bias.

He got me really hyped up on my own presentation, which was really about hyphenated careers and why students now have more time to try out different professions rather than jumping into a professional law or medical degree immediately. I wanted to really open up the possibility of at least a pure numbers and tech person entering the legal profession. 

What actually happened was that we gave our talks as scheduled but the ECG counsellor disappeared. Beyond the pep talk, there was no engagement with volunteers. 

After this event, I doubted that the ECG counsellor could have done more. He might need to get into the territory of vetting our slides and risk offending some alumni. Alternatively, he might have to organise another event and state what MOE's position is. Some matters are quite consequential to students: I did tell the students to use ChatGPT for all their homework to figure out how to do better than an AI.

On the whole, I can imagine how ECG counsellors need to deal with conflicting interests in their daily jobs :
  • In the JC versus Poly debate, how can the ECG Counsellor reconcile promoting a Polytechnic education when salary gaps are so high between Poly and University graduates?
  • Will the counsellor try to promote jobs that are prone to be outsourced or vulnerable to high-interest rates like technology and engineering roles at the expense of getting secondary school kids to aim for banking and finance instead? 
  • Will the Ministry have a different message on career counselling to different secondary schools? Will RI have a different career counselling content than my secondary school?
All this does not mean that ECG Counsellors suck. If anything, I think we need more ECG counsellors and create a path for burnt-out educators to take on this career path after a short stint, perhaps, in government HR. 
Personally, I will not trust the State to chart my career :
  • When I was in Sec 3, Poly lecturers were sent to my school to convince us to take on the Polytechnic career path. That one event sealed my determination to get into JC program. I think they need to be held accountable for leading students to a poorer employment outcome and lower salaries curing right now. 
  • In NUS, during my final year, a talk by a GIC manager to engineering students was cancelled because authorities were afraid of Engineers not joining the tech industry. It was that same government that brought in foreign talent to keep engineering salaries low half a decade later. This, in turn, led to Aljunied GRC's fall in the 2011 elections.  
I was a difficult teenager to teach when I was 15 years old. 

Instead of seeing ECG Guidance counsellors as a source of career advice, I think my younger self will openly challenge them. Smart kids should google salary statistics and minimum grades to qualify for a specific profession. 

ECG Counsellors should be openly challenged and forced to debate on their outlook on the employment landscape. 
  • If they represent MOE, they should be asked on their own opinions whether they think it's conscionable to ask students to aim lower in life. 
  • Ask them whether they'd give the same advice to their own kids.

Saturday, February 04, 2023

On plumbers who emigrate to Australia to get $100,000 salaries

Recently, an anonymous poster claiming to have graduated from ITE bragged online about earning about $100,000 annually. This post attracted a lot of supporters and haters. 

Haters attempted to discredit the poster and combed through the post to see if there were any inconsistencies. One argument from this faction was that after paying income and consumption taxes, the numbers would not bad as favourable as they looked. Another argument was that this poster was lying. The weakness of this argument is that no matter how you play with the numbers, a $100,000 income after taxes in Australia would still be more favourable than the wages of a local ITE graduate. 

Supporters generally use this post as an opportunity to discredit the government, hinting that societies that respect trade labour exists and ITE graduates are better off emigrating there. To me, supporters are insincere. They do not consider some benefits of staying in Singapore - escalating real estate prices allowing wealth creation within a short time, and low investment taxes. If I look at social media and read about the pro-Australia folks in Singapore, I see a reflection of their dissatisfaction with society. While they might have a point,  I think it's more about them and their hissy fit than plumbers with a Nitec qualification. 

Looking at both sides of the argument, I think it is safe to conclude that an ITE graduate can take on a trade role in Australia and earn $100,000. But doing so requires overcoming some obstacles specific to that trade which has not been discussed in the original post. This will require some grit.

I think that if we can agree that my point is reasonable, then there may be some truths that we need to confront :

a) ITEs should actively encourage graduates to emigrate

Singaporeans have complained that Malaysians have been more than willing to take up blue-collar work here to keep services cheap at the expense of local tradesmen. If ITE provides such solid training in trade skills, it makes more sense for locally trained tradesmen to ply their trade in a country that pays them more so that they can remit their earnings back to support their parents back home in Singapore. This is straight from the playbook of Malaysians who work here.  

Perhaps a final-year module can teach ITE, graduates what steps to take to emigrate to Australia. When I was working for the unions, I met some union leaders who had fascinating knowledge about the Superannuation system in Australia, even though I suspect they don't know what CPF shielding is. 

b) It has to follow logically that our polytechnics must be terrible institutions

Recently we've been treated with very unflattering statistics about polytechnic graduates in Singapore. 

A diploma holder earns about two-thirds of a degree holder, and authorities are now coming alive to the idea that this gap can cause a serious fracture in society. In the 1980s, the polytechnics sent their lecturers to neighbourhood secondary schools like mine to tell us to aim lower in life and not insist on entering University. I wonder how they are reacting to the statistics now. 

Now things get worse. 

If the poster is right, an ITE graduate is better off skipping polytechnic and going to Australia instead. If this is true, then what does this say about the value-add of a polytechnic diploma in Singapore? As tax payers should be continue to expect our government to keep putting so much investment into polytechnic education?

I think this is something policymakers need to think about.  


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.