Thursday, September 14, 2023

Next week : Istanbul


After this round of training, I've decided to take a break and travel with some old friends to Turkiye. I will be flying off to Istanbul on Sunday morning. This is only the first trip in 2023. I will be heading to Osaka with my family in October. 

Just a couple of points for the curious :

  • The disparity between money changers and Revolut is enormous. I converted SGD 500 to 8500 Turkish Lira with a local money changer. When I used Revolut, I got 9843 for the same amount. I guess the trick is to minimise the amount of cash you must carry when travelling. 
  • There's almost zero probability that my group would not get scammed. Some tips I got include picking things that belong to someone other than you on the ground, even if it seems like you are helping somebody else. Taxis can drive halfway and then claim that their meters are broken. Shopkeepers wrap up stuff for you when you are making enquiries on prices. 
  • If the price is not too unreasonable, you should close the deal and move on without much drama. I will focus on buying as little as I reasonably can since I'm not a shopper anyway. 

For this trip, I may have overplanned, reading one travel guide and then giving myself a crash course on the history of Istanbul from the classical Greek era as the town of Byzantion to modern Istanbul. 

I'll catch you guys on this blog when I return!

Saturday, September 09, 2023

Letter to Batch 31 of the Early Retirement Masterclass

Dear Students of Batch 31,

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

First, I would like to apologise to the class for the lack of energy for my delivery.

Batch 31 concludes possibly one of the most challenging classes I ever taught. I started getting muscle aches and a sore throat from Day 1 of the class. I even visited the doctor that morning, but despite every medical precaution, my throat and cough kept progressively worsening. On the last day of training, I was literally on over ten kinds of drugs to mitigate my cold symptoms, my diabetic control and my hyperactive thyroid. 

Despite all this, we could still build a reasonably attractive portfolio that generated about 6.5% yields. And to do this when our equity risk premium is over 6%. This portends well for the portfolio's future – but you need holding power.

It would help if you held onto the portfolio until the time interest rates are seen to stop rising, which can happen soon before the end of this year. After that,  you can experience an upside when favourable circumstances arise. One possible scenario is when China uses the “bazooka” to stimulate their economy. Another is when some hope of peace appears in the Ukraine.

In the meantime, as you build your portfolio, expect some short-term pain as REITs continue underperforming against the STI index. Find solace in dividend payouts and see every downtrend as a bargaining opportunity whenever possible. Our stock selections in this batch do not contain much controversy, and I look forward to investing in your picks as soon as I find the liquidity to do so.

Lastly, I hope Batch 31 will participate actively in the FB group. I look forward to seeing you in the following community seminar slated for Sep/Oct 2023.

Hope to see you then!


Christopher Ng Wai Chung

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Tan Kin Lian's results are consequential in this Presidential Elections


I am confident that Tharman will win the elections on Friday. 

Still, more importantly, Tan Kin Lian's results will be more consequential thanks to the attempts by significant opposition members to politicise this election. Even after TKL's dismal showing, I'm still receiving some reports that he will have diehard supporters because he sounds more like them than the other two candidates.

If you had only been in the echo chamber of PMETs, TKL is expected to lose its deposit, but if you have been following global trends that led to Trump's election and Brexit, you should refrain from writing off TKL's results so readily.

The book Head Hand Heart by David Goodhart may already influence our 4G leadership. The idea is that modern societies reward the cognitive elite too much, ignoring the needs of the people who rely on manual labour ( hand ) and the caring professions ( heart ). After being sidelined for many decades, folks who are not in the cognitive elite, namely non-degree holders, joined by private degree holders in our case, develop so much pent-up anger that they will vote for any cause that will destroy modern society as we know it. 

This is a problem we have known as RPG players for a while. If we invent a game where wizards are more powerful than fighters and clerics, the game will not be popular because it lacks game balance. Calls will be made to beef up fighters/clerics and nerf the wizards. 

Sadly, the book was able to define the problem but does not delve into possible solutions. If anything, Singapore is already ahead of the curve - SIT does not look like a research university but an attempt to build a lucrative industrial apprenticeship program for polytechnic students. Skillsfuture also enables folks to qualify for new careers within a lifetime. We need to give Lawrence Wong time to rebalance the different work-collars.

We need to relook at the consequences of too much emphasis on the cognitive elite if Tan Kin Lian scores more than 20% after this Friday. I can think of examples where some policies are so complicated that folks with average IQ may need help to grasp them well. 

The elected presidency is one such policy. Last night, we witnessed that even a presidential candidate, a student of RI and an actuarial scientist need to comprehend the limits of a President's power and be reminded by the moderator what the role of a President is all about.

Another policy is CPF Life. To make an informed choice between the Basic, Standard and Escalating plan, a citizen needs to understand the concept of an annuity and forecast his lifespan to minimise regret. Do we need three flavours of CPF Life? If you are an Oxford PPE, you can deal with 27 flavours of CPF Life, but even three flavours may be too much for ordinary citizens. 

Suppose you look specifically at what makes Singapore successful. In that case, the scholarship system that allows the PAP to cherry-pick the best for their own ranks is one factor that keeps government expenses, corruption, and inflation lower than in other OECD countries. 

If I were an opposition supporter, dismantling this scholarship system would be one of the surest ways to level the political field, more consequential than dismantling the GRC system because this is like the supply line that feeds the PAP army. The opposition can manipulate Hands and Hearts to vote for them to make this happen because they have been sidelined for so long. Tell me this: Has anyone ever celebrated when you parachute an army general into the C-Suite of a GLC?

Goodhart's book influenced Lawrence Wong because he has alluded to the head, hand and heart triad before in his speeches, but I'm afraid that Singapore may not have done enough.

A non-degree holder PAP MP has not existed for quite a while. The last was Charles Chong. Discrimination against non-degree holders in politics is current and more egregious than race or gender. If Tan Kin Lian wins big this Friday, we may need to reserve one seat for a non-degree MP in a GRC to ensure their views are heard. 

Imagine a country where none of our Ministers have children studying in our Polytechnics or ITE.

Whenever a policy recommendation is made, it will always be one made for "other people's children".

Anyway, I might be wrong, and TKL loses his deposit on Friday, but I think we should still heed Goodhart's warning and bring balance to the head, hand and heart triad before angry Singaporeans start to vote to merge with Malaysia. 

Like we learn from the West, when you spurn the heartlands, they may stop voting based on their best interests and start voting based on your worst.

There will be no dividends for me to collect after that.

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Financial Lessons from Presidential Candidate Ng Kok Song


My vote for this upcoming presidential election is obvious - I will vote for Tharman. It's essential to send out a message that in a multi-racial society, an ethnic Chinese citizen can vote for an Indian leader regardless of what the ruling party says about Singapore not being ready for a minority PM. I'm also a realist who believes that India's economy will be very dynamic compared to that of China, which has been mismanaged by an autocratic Communist Party, and having a symbol that is ethnically Indian is for the greater good of Singapore as we build further commercial inroads into India. ( A Suzhou Industrial Park in India? )

But while my head is with Tharman, my heart goes to Ng Kok Song, who has not only tried his best to bring dignity and environmental friendliness into his campaign but has given so much down-to-earth financial advice to folks following his campaign. My wife has signalled her intention to vote for Ng, and I fully support her decision.

I will probably write a lengthier article on Dr Wealth Blog elaborating on this advice, but I will list what has been shared here and grow this dynamically as I get more snippets of wisdom from Ng. 

Here goes :

  • Points out that public speaking and communication skills are the most important to develop and may need to improve in schools. This is closely followed by financial literacy.
  • Family finances can be managed well if run just like a professional portfolio.
  • Sharply identifies saving money as the most critical skill in personal finance. 
  • The way to invest is to prefer a diversified portfolio of assets across different asset classes.
  • Your time horizon needs to be extended for investment to bear fruit.
  • The expected returns for a diversified portfolio are a nominal 7-8% for decades.
  • You need to keep expenses low, hinting that ETFs are the best way to go ahead for retail investors. ( FAs will never admit this ! )
  • The whole point about managing finances is "optionality", the power to leave a boss who is terrible to you. 
  • Alluding to the duality of wealth generation in Singapore. You must do well in your investment portfolio and supplement it with residential property. 

Readers are free to chip in if I miss out on anything.

Of course, any discussion on Ng must discuss Sybil Lau, his fiance, who attracts much attention because she is 30 years his junior. My favourite quote from her is this :

" For lack of a better word, I'm financially independent. "

Folks tell me that some auntie networks say Sybil is a gold-digger who wishes to marry a 75-year-old fund manager. If you dig into her background, she is much wealthier than him. This reflects the power of a financially independent woman. Ng is eloquent and very much an intellectual, so Sybil has found a soul mate.

I wish for Ng to continue engaging with the public even after his campaign for the Presidency is over. Of course, I'm interested in more than just his views on finance. I'd like his views on love and relationships as well. Remember this - He's loyal to his first wife until the end.

Of course, BBFAs and Useless caste members are probably tempted to vote for that THIRD GUY. Now, it is made more popular because of the statement issued by AWARE.

It's your vote and your right to spend it as you wish. But INCELS could learn something from Ng because he's found love even when he's about to get into his 70s, which many INCELS can't even smell in the prime of their lives.

Monday, August 21, 2023

Are Dividends the best form of Mental Wellness ?

Thanks to a face-to-face Dr Wealth event last Saturday, I've forgotten how much I enjoyed speaking to a big crowd. Talking to an audience gives me a "high", and sometimes I get "high" and disable my filters. So occasionally, I make utterances that might be highly controversial or offensive. For those utterances, I hope that history will never remember them, but sometimes my words resonate with the audience, and I get a spontaneous ovation. 

One utterance that worked well with the crowd is that "Getting dividends is mental wellness." I had a crowd of Millenials, Gen X and Baby Boomers, so out of the blue, I simply decided to critique Gen Z's obsession with mental wellness because Gen Z's obsession with mental wellness distinguishes Gen Z from older folks. There are very few Gen Zs to offend in an investment talk on a Saturday afternoon. When discussing mental wellness, I suddenly uttered that getting dividends is a form of mental wellness, and the crowd erupted in applause. 

This is all unscripted because it was a spontaneous Q&A, and I've since calmed down, so it's time to critically examine this idea. 

For a while, I've always been very amused with how Buddhism entered the West. It did not arrive as a religion but as a psychology because white people, who were becoming more individualistic and less religious, began to discard religious dogma for the inner tranquillity of meditation. 

Similarly, I can imagine what Gen Z have to deal with today. Social media is full of falsehoods like "girl maths" and weirdoes proclaiming that dividends investing is dangerous. If Gen Z wishes to approach investing as a field of study and means of wealth accumulation, like my students, they would have to deal with quite a lot of information. For example, they need to know what a standard deviation is. As I've discussed with many groups, this will always benefit INTJs and ISTJs more than any other personality type. 

From the quantitative perspective, dividends investing has many competitors. Even AUM-based advisors want to wean you off dividends for their mean-variance-optimised ETF portfolios. If you use maximum drawdown over March 2020, dividends investing is dangerous. If you use Beta, it's safer than some market indices. Dividend investing cannot win in every part of the market cycle. 

But from a self-help perspective, dividends rule. 

Dividends put money in your bank account even if you are in a coma or have negligible emotional intelligence. When I was pretty "high" on Saturday, I read many self-help books over the years, like How to Win Friends and Influence People, and the Power of Positive Thinking. Still, only when I started getting dividends was I able to attain the peace of mind and happiness I craved because I had the freedom to FIRE a toxic employer.

Of course, every idea has its limits. 

I hope I don't come across as dismissive of some Gen Zs who really have clinical mental issues, dividends can't solve a mental illness directly, but they can pay for therapy and medication. Also, many Gen Z struggles with regular employment as they are young, so their first dividend is still quite far away.

For Gen Z, we need to develop something more relatable. 

I play Baldur's Gate 3 on GeForce Now and pay about $9 monthly for 10 hours of priority gaming. If you visit any page on the Straits Times Index ETF the current dividend yield is 4.13%. 

We take $9 x 12 months and divide by 0.0413. We get $2,615. By setting aside $2,615 to buy Singapore's largest blue chip companies, you effectively get a perpetually "free" essential subscription to GeForce Now, which is covered by dividends payouts. 

I'm glad face-to-face seminars are finally back. 

Hope to see more readers at our next event.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

FIRE lifestyle with Baldur’s Gate 3


My next course is still sometime away so I’ve been playing a lot of Baldur’s Gate 3 in the meantime and don’t have very much to share on this blog. It looks like I will be spending at least the next 100 hours or so to complete this game. 

If any of your are wondering, I’ve paid for an early access of the game over two years ago but I did not play the game very seriously then because it was incomplete. When the game launched officially about a week ago, I was furiously getting rid of older games on my machine to make way for this monster of a game which takes up over 100GB of space on my PC. Even after installation, the game ran very slowly on my old laptop and the gameplay was very bad even in the lowest quality settings.

Fortunately I have pals who are in the gaming industry and they told me to subscribe to this cloud based gaming platform called GEForce Now, so now at $9 a month my PC gets to behave like one with a high end GPU unit. 

This is where FIRE becomes useful, if you can set aside $2700 into diversified mix of global ETFs of different asset classes, $2700 will allow you a sustained subscription of $9 a month at a withdrawal rate of 4%. You can use the 60/40 portfolio, or you can use local dividend stocks.

But that’s not all, the irritating thing about GEForce Now is that after 10 hour of usage, I would have to queue to get a gaming rig. This queue can be long and I can wait for maybe an hour to gain access to a rig. FIRE allows me to play Baldur’s Gate during office hours when the queues are very short. So I’m quite happy to say that I finally have some leisure time during other people’s office hours. 

Finally, what do I think about the game as a D&D fanboy.

Well, for starters, Baldur’s Gate 3 is inspired by D&D but it is not exactly a D&D game, that honour would go to a game called Solasta. But I think BG3 is an excellent CRPG and any attempt to make it more like the TRPG would lose more fans. Some things that annoy me is when my Paladin cannot smite a monster with the butt of my pole arm and when I make attacks of opportunity, but BG3 makes it up to me with magical items that will be considered broken in the TRPG.  

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Some simpler personal finance moves for your consideration

I thought I should share with everyone what I've been up to recently when it comes to Personal Finance. I'm no expert in doing these moves and I welcome any reader to share tips and tricks to make the moves more optimal. 

What triggered these moves is a conversation I had with my mum. Taking a page off Marie Kondo, I felt that there are very few objects left by my dad that had actual sentimental value and have enough financial value for me to keep for my children, as I have no use for these antiques, it would be much better if my mum liquidated them into cash for herself. Specifically, we intend to turn them into local equities that produced a steady dividend income. Also, my mum's getting old, and it would not be a wise idea to hire a maid with so much valuable stuff lying around the house. 

Off the bat, I desired to keep my parent's Rolex collection for my kids, and everything else can be gotten rid of. This is an easy decision to make as I'm an only child. 

So this is what we did:

a) We liquidated my dad's coin collection

We started with my dad's coin and notes collection. We first started with getting a ballpark valuation on Carousell and noted down a range each coin sells for and we agreed that buyers should pay about 80% of the valuation. We were pleasantly surprised that gold coins can maintain their value with the spot Gold price, but everything else is unlikely to bring in much. My mum is fortunate enough to have a $5 British Borneo note that fetched $350, a fraction of its worth on Carousell, but overall we managed to get the 80% valuation we asked for for the whole batch. 

What we've learned is that pawnshops will take in gold coins for the gold value, but specialist coin shops at People Park's centre will pay more for the vintage value of the coins. Don't visit the stalls selling coins because they don't have the money to pay for your collection anyway.

If you are lucky, the person buying the coins will give you a lesson on antiquated notes. In some years where the production of coins is very low, even a 10-cent Malaysian Sen can fetch hundreds of dollars.

Otherwise, I think you should not treat your coin-collecting hobby as a money-making enterprise.  

b) We deposited coins that are strewn all over our home

The next step is much harder, over the decades, we have not been managing our spare change very well and we have accumulated over 10kg of SG coins at home. This is a horrible state of affairs. 

So we decided that we would take a financial hit ($0.015 per piece) and deposit everything to the DBS coin deposit box nearby. 

Prior to making the deposit, we took away the $0.50 and $1 coins because my kids can use them in school over time. We still ended up with a huge bag of coins we have to push to the bank. 

The coin deposits are surprisingly hard to use as they had a limit of 1000 coins per session. In hindsight, I thought I should have bought a toy spade to shovel the coins into the machine. We ended up entering the passcode to the bank card about 10-12 times. 

Even after paying all costs, we liquidated $700. I estimated the operation costs us over $100 which did not feel all that clever in hindsight. 

I think we were too eager to clear the space for the coins. I already use a lot of spare change when I go to Sheng Siong but clearing the pile will take years.  

You can refer to this link for better hacks.

c) I deployed a new script to abuse scammers

This one is unrelated to the others, but a friend boasted that he was able to really piss off a phone scammer by asking the scammer whether his mum was proud of him becoming a con man. I decided to pick up a few unsolicited calls to speak to them.

True enough, there was always a Malaysian Chinese guy asking me whether I know him. I deployed the script and just kept asking whether his mum knew what he was doing and whether she was proud of his line of work. After some needling, the scammer went berserk, began to scold Hokkien vulgarities and hung up on me. 

Some friends have since offered new ideas like claiming that I was owed money by the scammers, but I can only execute those scripts when I am targeted by them again. 

This has become so fun, I have started looking forward to scam calls. 

In summary, the moves I made on liquidating our assets added a five-digit sum to our bank accounts. Even if I put them into a super stable counter like Parkway Life REIT, that's an additional $300+ every year. 

We are nowhere close to getting the job done, as I have to review my dad's stamp collection next, which will be a colossal headache.

For folks keeping Magic the Gathering Cards for future generations like me, you would also have to think of a future where your kids may not want to inherit your collection and advises you to liquidate before you pass it on. 

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Inaugural All-Weather Portfolio Masterclass has launched successfully


I've been too busy to create an update on my business. After training there was that business with Sabana REIT, and then it was getting my Baldur's Gate 3 to run properly.

Last weekend, we managed to launch the first batch of The All-Weather Portfolio Masterclass, which centres around six Python Jupyter Notebooks. This is a huge risk because no other trainer in this market has been able to use computer code to teach beginners how to invest. The scope of the course is fairly ambitious, we managed to cover trend-following, mean-reversion, dynamic bond and short strategies in just under two days of face-to-face training. This is a steep learning curve for students, but it is also a ridiculously steep learning curve for me.

One of the biggest challenges is debugging code, as I found a logic error and had to update my code even after my lessons are over after I deployed training fees into the market. This caused me to turn over about half of my stocks after I corrected the program. The upshot of this is that I've learned to trade ETFs in a better way because Interactive Brokers allow the purchase of ETFs based on USD capital rather than units of stocks. Low costs and fractional ownership also made my mistakes less expensive. This enabled me to snap out of trading in SGX mode, which kinda these days if you use traditional brokers paired with CDP. 

As the programme is attracting quite a decent number of engineers, the programme has started paying dividends as the folks started to tinker with code, ported it over to a Windows executable format and started looping it to collect reams of backtesting data. This gives me a platform to add materials to my program and refine it even further. 

Although I pre-tuned the programs to run without much variable adjustment, I'm glad that some folks have decided to modify and personalise them for their own risk preferences. The beauty is that it is certainly possible to incorporate momentum measures to improve on the vanilla-flavoured asset allocations proposed even by financial advisors here.

The discussions in this program are very technical and involved, and I'm still troubleshooting some minor issues for students as I write this article. 

The serious challenge is sustaining this programme and looking for folks who want a different twist to investing in ETFs. The next batch of training is in December, as of now, I'm unsure whether the markets will give me a profitable course intake.

In essence, you are building your own robo-advisor. The fact that mainstream media has revealed that robo-advisors are not even profitable businesses and still rely on VC funding warms the cockles of my heart, as even my humble programme offering is technically more profitable than theirs. 

Maybe it's because I don't use beautiful people to advertise my product, most of the time it's just me.

Monday, August 07, 2023

Which is more dangerous ? Dividends investing or dividends investors ?


A couple of weeks ago, someone from the 1M65 groups must have made some comment about dividends investing being quite dangerous. It triggered an outpouring of snark from the dividends investment community with some hilarious trolls flexing on the groups whenever they collected some money from their dividends stocks. 

I don't know the context by which the statement "dividends investing is dangerous", but from the point of view of someone tracking maximum drawdowns across the pandemic period, dividends strategies have dropped 40%+ during the crash of 2020, so the statement is not totally unsupported by the numbers. But I'm also not inclined to agree with that statement because more recent volatility measures have shown lower standard deviation for dividend counters. 

But just this morning, I've learnt how dangerous dividends investors really can be once you piss them off.

Today, I attended a Sabana REIT EGM, to internalise the REIT manager. A better report on the context can be found on SG Budget Babe's website here

To summarise what happened earlier this morning, REIT investors were sick and tired that Sabana REIT management is not aligned with their needs, so they voted to replace them with an internal manager.

From my perspective, this is a very good development because it signals to the other REITs that if they do not align their actions with the unit holder's best interests, they can now suffer the same fate as Sabana REIT. 

Here are some of my thoughts as I mingled with fellow unitholders:

a) Many REIT investors just want to be paid a regular dividend

I think we know by now that the market roundly punishes most REITs who declare rights issues willy-nilly. 

The folks with me today in the room reminded me of the folks mentioned in the book The Millionaire Next Door. In today's meeting, most of the folks who voted in favour of the resolutions to replace the managers are elderly folk who are very obsessed with their DPU. I'm very happy to actually witness these extremely savvy old hands in action. 

A key issue to the anger investors are feeling is that management tried to convince them to let ESR REIT absorb their assets for a lower value in the past, and subsequently, as the performance improved, investors felt betrayed by the managers for trying to deny them this improved performance this latest quarter, even as management tried to take credit for increasing DPUs. 

b) It was really an issue of justice over fear 

Somehow I met the elderly who are in support or against the resolutions. The folks against the resolution think that it affects their paycheck and don't want to rock the boat. The folks supporting the resolution want to mete out justice for not aligning with the best interests of the unitholders.

Another misstep by the Sabana management was that they kept emphasizing the riskiness of internalising the management team, which led to accusations of fear-mongering. This was quite unwise as dividends investors are very proficient at multiple sources of income. 

Eventually, some investors were shouting across the room that they are not kids and would not be so scared easily.

c) There are no illusions that internalisation will be very painful over the medium term.

I don't think the unitholders who are fairly experienced will ever think that the road to internalization will be an easy one. We are looking at a timeframe of over a year, and probably two more EGMs to get the matter behind us. No one here could also predict what would happen to dividends over the next twelve months, although the 7+% seems stable at the moment. But many investors like myself have owned Sabana since its IPO and we do not think that things can get any much worse. I should also note that it is actually very heartening and shrewd that Quarz Capital remains open-minded to hiring existing Sabana staff to the internalised entity.  

I asked a very vocal activist what will happen if the price dips tomorrow, he says he views it as an opportunity to buy more shares. Personally, I also share that same optimistic sentiment as it would be a rare gem of a REIT with internalised management in the future. 

Now I'm going to get to the most important part of the meeting this morning. 

What was the buffet spread like? 

I think the spread was much better than my last Sabana AGM which was many years ago. I was able to get for myself a full plate of Ayam Penyet with unlimited cups of coffee, effectively giving me a free lunch although you can argue that it's actually "ownself eat ownself". The Sabana team did not stay back to mingle with us, but I had a quick chat with Havard Chi of Quarz Capital. 

All in all, I absolutely enjoyed myself. 

The drama I witnessed today is as fun as the NUSSU EOGMs we had when I was an undergrad with colourful personalities and politics. I think that investors should absolutely participate in this rare form of democracy on this island. I would rate this higher than a trip to a zoo or even a theatre performance. 

This to me represents the real incentive to own local stocks under the CDP account as it will be parked under your name and as a shareholder, you have some teeth to teach REIT managers a lesson if they are not aligned with you.

Regardless of the future outcomes, we took a stand for our rights as unitholders and REIT managers should learn to be afraid of the investment community in the future.

This is a historic victory for the Singapore investment community and I am proud to have played a role in this. 

Wednesday, August 02, 2023

A male perspective of Barbie the movie


Because of all that hype, I watched Oppenheimer first, followed by Barbie after a few days. The women in my family were not interested in the movie, especially my daughter, who has intensely disliked dolls since she was petite after seeing a creepy Chucky lookalike at a bubble tea stall. 

I did not really like the movie, but that's because I was not the intended audience. The movie was the first since the pandemic to get women to attend cinemas in droves, and I was happy that groups of girls were dressed in pink in the cinemas. If you can, encourage the women in your family to watch it. It's like Avengers End Game for girls. 

So Barbie is not really a movie that should be commented on by guys, but since I paid for a ticket to watch it, I might as well talk about it anyway.

Here are my points:

a) The Patriarchy treats low-status men way worse than women

The Patriarchy is the villain in this movie. However, it needs to be shown how the Kens overturned a women-led Barbie society just by reading a book on Patriarchy and involving horses. It was even more ludicrous that Asia Ferrera's character could dispel the Patriarchy by coming up with a big rant.

We need to have a better idea of how the so-called Patriarchy works. 

Men know that not all of them will be accepted by a woman, but women will take a more holistic view on choosing a mate, so men in the past would commit violence against other men to find a mate. Over time, men found a way to make peace with each other and came up with the concept of marriage so a few guys would not just monopolise all the women. The competition eventually went into displays of economic resourcefulness. The drive to find a mate is the basis of all civilisation. So the patriarchy is just a system for men to determine who wins and loses and gets to pass on their genes to their children. 

Here's the cinch - the patriarchy will not exist if women do not have standards. If women choose to spurn low-status men, then men will go crazy killing each other to ensure that they don't end up in the lower ranks. This means bigger guns, bigger cars, and bigger erections.

b) Allan is a traitor to his gender and will be destroyed in normal society

The fan favourite of the movie is Allan and Mattel only produced one run of the Allan doll. You got a guy in rainbow colours who is Ken's "best friend", and you wonder why there is no demand for the doll.

I've met a lot of Allan in the IT workplace. If it's one thing IT engineers and project managers hate, it is the effete and scheming eunuch in the workplace who loves ratting on fellow colleagues and picking on male engineers who do not "sayang" them enough. It was so funny that the Indian office sent its "Allan" to Singapore for a project. The Indian Project Managers would warn the local managers before he arrived so that we could defend ourselves or prepare a "warm welcome" for him. Sorry, I can't really provide more details as I still have friends who are ex-colleagues. 

I have no issues with girls who like the concept of an Allan, but I want to remind you that we will "thrash" them until they learn to hide their bitchy scheming or desire for "adulation" from male colleagues. 

c) No, you will never be Kenough

With an insight that Barbie conflates the workings of civilisational progress with the Patriarchy, you will never be Kenough. I fail to see why anyone can conclude that they are Kenough when Barbie does not even give a shit about Ken when he looks like Ryan Gosling. 

Within the system, men must maintain their status to maintain women's interests. Make a slip, and you can fall. If you have a male child, you want to confer that advantage to him. To do that, your empire needs to be bigger, and you need to engage in activities that will widen the size of your empire or bank account. Of course, in the past, you need to kill more people and take their territory. Now you just need to ensure that your income sources increase exponentially.

Of course, there is no need to think so hard about the nature of Patriarchy when you actually watch the movie. 

If a sequel to the Barbie movie is ever made, it will look at how guys really play with Barbie Dolls. It should guest star some GI Joe toys and be rated R21.

Saturday, July 29, 2023

There's value in doing nothing


Beyond the books by Haruki Murakami, Japan has a lot to offer to personal finance readers because translated works are so rare and often untainted by Western sensitivities. I think this latest read of mine entitled Rental Person Who Does Nothing by Shoji Morimoto should find itself on every FIRE aspirant's bookshelf, I rank it at the level as books like Die with Zero which I have reviewed here.

Shoji Morimoto, a married man with kids, became an instant celebrity when he offered himself for rental. He charges nothing but whoever rents him needs to pay for his transport and food. Everything was done over Twitter, so he gets to choose which assignments to pick up. I picked a few interesting insights from this book :

a) You never really do 'nothing' when you rent yourself out for your time

This is the most upbeat message from this book. Something is always being done when someone gets rented out to do nothing. I realise that a special kind of relationship can happen where someone becomes someone who is neither a stranger nor a friend. In Japanese society, a rented person performs roles like listening to another person's writing ambitions or accompanying someone who is filing for divorce. I think Shoji, in starting this service, really landed on something like what Starbucks is. Starbucks is a third place between work and home. Shoji is a person between a stranger and a friend. 

b) You will always be compensated even if your services are free

Something interesting happens when you do not charge for your time beyond a meal and transport allowance. People actually make an effort to make the experience positive for you. It could be the sheer weirdness of the engagement, or it could be in the form of Amazon gift cards. If you offer a boring engagement, Shoji will just pick someone else. 

I have grave doubts that a service like this will not be abused in Singapore as Japan is just a more civilised society that shows concern for others. Also, over time, Shoji was able to get corporate sponsors as he became a viral sensation.  

c) This book plugs the gap when it comes to post-FIRE issues folks grapple with

What I find amazing is that throughout the book, Shoji claims that his lifestyle is unsustainable because he's living on his savings. This is not a weakness for someone who attained FIRE. What is also amazing is that someone who attained FIRE can credibly do this kind of work for fun. 

After reading this book, I can't really help being drawn to this really revolutionary approach for my own life. But for me, it's actually dangerous to hire myself out for free as I need to make disclaimers that I am not giving out financial or legal advice. My ENTJ character is also quite impatient and I might find it hard to contain my urge to solve problems or judge people as they arrive, hardly the essence of someone who does nothing. 

Finally, I already do this - for my 600+ strong ERM community, I do have lunches with some of them whenever they want to discuss something, but it's up to them to make it worth my time. I've actually gone book shopping with their kids to pick books on economics, I've also accompanied a squad of multi-millionaires to attend investment presentations where I just sit there and ask embarrassing questions. Like Shoji, sometimes this work can be tiring, I don't like rich people who get an investment trainer out just to validate their own investment ideas.  

I think there is a successful business idea out there that can come from this book. It has to be localised to the Singaporean context, and to prevent abuse, it might not be free at all. 

So I may approach a few interested readers who might be looking for something to do. 

Monday, July 24, 2023

What's your next career move : Corsair or Eunuch ?

You may notice that my writing may have adopted quite a Mediterranean flavour as I have just started planning a trip to Turkiye in September. I don't frequently travel, but I have also been deprived of it since the pandemic, so in spite of a shit year revenue-wise, I've got Turkiye lined up in September and Osaka the following month. 

But this article is really about career management. 

As I'm about to celebrate my first decade without a regular monthly paycheck in about a few months' time, I'm not really qualified to talk about the modern workplace anymore. But I've noticed that some thought leaders in the career coaching and management space were affected by the recent retrenchments so maybe I should share my two cents worth about what is happening out there.

From what I see, the tech sector is going through reorganization and given that all this is cyclical, many workers in the tech sector will face what my generation faced in the 2000s after Y2K. They are luckier in the sense that there was no CECA waiting for them in 2005, but the disruptive impact of AI is yet unknown and so the tech sector, which is famously ageist, may hire AI experts from fresh graduates instead and hiring may be at much lower numbers because a fresh graduate armed with an LLM tool can have the productivity of maye three software engineers half a generation ago. I just had a family gathering yesterday and even a very successful engineer like my cousin made doubly sure his son avoided a technology degree and studied finance instead because, in his view, the tech sector was too cyclical for anyone's good. 

Sometimes I wonder whether it's even worth reading management books and following career management coaches. Through no fault of these influencers, your real challenge is sector cyclicality. When a downturn happens, I witnessed top performers being outsourced along with poor performers. This devalues all that jockeying for position, politics and networking to get the right kind of mentor. Personally, between playing in the political field, I prefer learning new technology and picking up advanced prompt engineering. But what do I know?

So in my earlier years, I would carry a copy of the Harvard Business Review to work. Now I really regret doing that ( It was also very pretentious ). The articles were quite fluffy and a subscription never really taught me how to time my career exits in a cyclical industry. Instead, I had really bad runs in my career, like being in HP during the Carly Fiorina era. In contrast, reading just one article by Clifford Assness in the Financial Analyst Journal on dividends investing continues to impact my life and my wallet today. 

There are three useful ideas I have for my readers. 

a) It's not as risky to be a Corsair / Entrepreneur these days

If the job market starts to get too competitive when you reach a certain age like 35, then the path of running a business becomes less risky in comparison. So one option is to consider becoming a Corsair. You don't need to dive in immediately, but you can take a pay cut and learn the ropes from another entrepreneur. 

A corsair is some kind of pirate on the Barbary Coast. It's a flashy existence but your life expectancy can be short. But I think local entrepreneurs should realise that the stigma against failure is not as high as a decade before and you can start again after you fail. 

The best school for entrepreneurs is the NUS Overseas College. You can independently research how many jobs the alumni have created so far. My wish is one day my son can qualify for it. 

b) Alternatively you can join the government and be a Eunuch

As I speak from personal experience, nothing can be more emasculating than doing Government Procurement. It's really the closest thing to feeling like an eunuch without actually getting your balls cut off.

If the flashy life of a Corsair is not for you, consider the calm life of a harem eunuch. It's financially rewarding and you will be more immune to market cycles. 

But the eunuch metaphor cuts deep. I networked with many IT sales folk who tells me they mapped out all the Empress Dowagers they need to please to get revenue flowing into the companies. I can fully understand why someone lady bosses in IT are always called Dowagers. I kinda suspect Qixi was their role model. 

My experience is that very soon, you will realise that the pay is not bad for a good reason. 

c) Bend the rules and get over-employed 

If you do not want a life of a Eunuch or a Corsair, then you really need to become creative. I attempted to negotiate a profit-sharing package with a law firm because I wanted to earn multiple streams of employment income. I failed. Then I failed again to get a day job teaching in a polytechnic. In both cases, I was upfront about my existing training business which became a showstopper in the latter case.

A good software engineer is likely to do better than me. You can attempt to be hired by two employers at once. If the industry becomes too cyclical, you may wish to do more than one job at the same time to at least reach Barista FIRE within 3-5 years. Thereafter you can continue on one. I suspect a tool like Github Copilot can enable over-employment in a widespread manner.

Like anything that skirts company policy, make sure you read your employment contract carefully. 

Now employers are not so open-minded to working from home anymore, so employment contracts may be more well-enforced. 

In summary, I think that when we read about career influencers losing their jobs, I hope that it can get you thinking about why sometimes your career is really not within your control and you're really just a victim of market cycles. 

A career influencer between jobs should be accorded the same standard as a financial influencer who loses money in a bad year, so I'm inclined to be forgiving. 

I remain a huge fan of these influencers and hope that they will share the process of recovery into a new vocation.



Thursday, July 20, 2023

What lessons the current affairs hold for BBFAs.


I thought perhaps the latest events in the political space should warrant another article on some brutal lessons for BBFAs who read this blog. After all, I'm a self-styled Senator of BBFAs, which makes me some sort of unofficial (and unpaid) MP to my readers.

a) Male powers peak very late in the dating and mating game

A poet pal credits the idea that the 50s is a particular time men are very vulnerable to adultery and marriage breakdown because their wealth and power peak while their health and virility have still not begun their decline. I only partially agree with this analysis, because a day later, we're treated to a presidential candidate in his 70s with a fiancee that is younger than his elder son.

I would argue that sexual attractiveness monotonically increases with wealth and power and it is not something that can be stopped by waning health, marriage quality, or even andropause. 

BBFAs who are not getting anywhere in the mating game can just focus on their wealth and power until they eventually find someone. If my analysis is correct, there is no real need to experience any angst over a guy's singlehood. 

Single men do not exist, they are just men whose wealth and power have yet to arrive. I hope this can motivate BBFAs to be empowered in their investment journey. 

b) Marriage happens because of constraints on female fertility.

If men just keep getting better all thanks to compound interest and time, then why does marriage happen at all? 

Simple. Women need to get married because their fertility is constrained by time. I should casually remind readers that one of the fiercest advocates of egg freezing is Cheng Li Hui. 

Modern marriage happens when men are not at their peak yet and women have time constraints. That's not even enough - the government MUST toss in the BTO benefit to make marriage even viable. Will men throw their freedom away knowing that their bargaining chip gets better with time? Why should women bet on men whose real economic power has not been realised yet?

HDB and the BTO system must be the answer. If you marry at the right time and produce future taxpayers, the government can grease your palm with over $300k-$800k of real estate appreciation. 

This is how the Singapore Dream can continue to incorporate marriage and procreation. 

With this realisation, I'm no longer so eager to offer housing options to singles because bachelorhood really needs more nerfing.

c) Serial polygamy will keep happening in the Singapore political scene because of later peaks in male power.

In modern societies, polygamy is illegal, but powerful can skirt the law with serial polygamy - the art of having sequentially different spouses over different ages of their life!  

Another interpretation of what everyone is seeing in politics is the reality of serial polygamy in Singapore society. 

As male power peaks at a later age, you find that men find alternatives to enact their personal dream of polygamy. One avenue is through adultery and divorce. The other is through longevity. 

Tongues were wagging when Ng Kok Song's fiancee is 30 years younger than him, but I find it touching that he was loyal to his wife all the way until her last day on earth. Of course, he is great marriage material!

d) Serial polygamy is also enabled by women!

Women are wired to be choosier when picking a mate. This is because they are designed for higher parental investment. 

So it comes as no surprise that a lot of attractive and smart women will hold out until they find a guy worthy of them.  What is the use of having ten thousand Simps, when you can get half a slice of a billionaire?  They also know that male power peaks very late and sometimes a divorce or a death can make a powerful alpha available again. 

In modern societies where marriage is weak, supported by a housing policy, then even marriage itself is not a powerful fortress to defend a family. 

The power of True Love is something that even a Prime Minister cannot stop.

As such, my suggestion to BBFAs males does not really change. 

Continue to invest in yourself and build up your assets. We've witnessed the sheer power of an alpha male who can manage money well and I think we can learn from that. It's fine if you don't join an investment course, attempt the CFA exams to sharpen your mind. Maybe the CFA rebrand itself as the Tongkat Ali of your mind, but I think they really need to lower their passing rates.

Do not be discouraged by your lack of success on Tinder. If the only people you meet on Tinder are ugly people or financial advisors, understand that Tinder provides an advantage for beautiful people. Caring or humourous males should not have any business trying their luck there. 

Your Tinder should be the Sunday or Business Times, get yourself launching your startup or IPO there and you can still score someone soon enough.

In the meantime, keep playing Diablo IV and using your dividends to offset your monthly data bills!

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Thoughts on charismatic men.

Recent events in Singapore politics ruined my attempt to blog about the employment space, so I thought it might be better to just talk about current affairs.

More than two decades ago, when I was an Engineering undergraduate, a girl from FASS in my Toastmasters Club consulted me on which major should she pursue. I asked her what her grades were. For Math, she got a B, but she got a D for Sociology. I bluntly told her that she needs to focus on what she was good at and pick Maths. It was not clear that Sociology had better prospects in those days so with the data I had, she should focus on her strengths, pick Maths, and I stuck with that argument.

She attempted to argue with me, but I dismissed her reasoning - It's her data. She needs to live with it.

Also listening to the conversation was the President of the Sociology Society, a dynamic and energetic speaker, he interjected and told the lady undergraduate that she should choose Sociology. He just told her to follow her dreams and let her passion take care of her grades.

Needless to say, the logic of an Engineering student was trumped by Sociology pathos on that day.

She became a Sociology major.

When it was apparent that she would not qualify for Honours year in Year 3, she started talking about not having industrial skills to tackle the workforce and started asking about Java Programming. Obviously, by then, I knew that her mind was made up and just wanted me to validate her decision. She was not hot enough for me to do that, so I just crudely dismissed whatever she had to say.

I was an engineer. 

I will tell you exactly what the numbers mean to make a great decision. 

If you want someone to sayang you, go find the humanities guy. I'm not here to win a popularity contest.

Even today, I loved relating the story of how a little bit of pathos from the Sociology dude totally trashed my calm logical analysis which would have led possibly to a better career. I really did come off looking like an asshole in that conversation, but the President of the Sociology Society oozed Charisma and I marked the lesson as to why pathos matters a lot in life if you want to be persuasive. 

But, maybe if she was hotter, I would position myself in a different way - maybe I'll stroke her hand and offer her my engineering math textbooks.

Coming back to current affairs.

PAP does not have enough charismatic men because PAP politicians actually have the hard business of keeping our nation running. As such, Tan Chuan Jin is a rare breed of politician that is very personable, appeals to emotions, and also has Christian sensitivities. 

He's the equivalent of the "humanities" guy in the PAP.

A very deadly combo.

I met a 1990s actress who admits to a teenage crush on Tan Chuan Jin and complained that every time she wanted to talk to him, she was interdicted by his wife even as they got older and met in reunions. She told me that she does not same the same feelings for the other guy Chan Chun Sing who are from the elite Illuminati class.

Charismatic men are required to shield technocrats, the Gan Kim Yong and the Lim Hng Kiangs, who can science the shit out of the numbers and make Singapore an economic miracle today. Even our founding fathers had visionaries like Goh Keng Swee, who is so severe, maybe even functionally autistic, who might need a charismatic firebrand like Lee Kuan Yew to keep them in power. 

So Tan Chuan Jin is almost indispensable and the same standards that apply to him, cannot well be applied to, say David Ong.

It's like my Aunt who said after reading about a car accident involving a good-looking man, "Wasted, leng zhai die so young." I will jokingly say, "Mmm leng zhou tak sei lah !" (Cantonese: Ugly deserve to die right? )

But Charisma is dangerous. 

With Charisma, there is less urgency to do the hard work and analysis and back things up with persuasive data. There is less need to do operational work, you just need to talk. You can live your life telling folks to just "Follow their Passion", and "Think Win-Win", frame emotional platitudes in Powerpoint slides with a picture of an eagle, use words like "Synergy", phrases like "Start with Why", and people will just forgive you for not really telling them very much. 

In my last course preview, I got slammed by a trader because my Python programme did quantify maximum drawdown. 

If you combine Charisma with virtue signalling, the price is very high if you fall. Because you are positioning yourself at a moral standard above most ordinary men, but you are Charismatic so women will beat a path to your door. I was stunned by RI's attempts to remove his picture from school and some religious groups tried to delete articles related to him.  

I admit that if I were to be subject to the same temptations as Tan Chuan Jin or Leon Perrera, I will also fall.

There is only one story I can share that may be able to prevent the dissolution of my family in such a case where maybe one day, I become really powerful and lady MPs throw themselves at me. 

I have a super-charismatic close friend who played the field before he got married, and had sex with any woman he was attracted to before marriage. Now he is in his 40s, he tells me he regrets having sex with all those women because after he stops the sexual dalliances and moves on, they usually stop being his friend, because they actually really wanted a chance to settle down with him. If he kept their friendship, by just being professional, they would become useful business contacts later in life.

In any line of work, you will encounter really capable women who get things done and are intellectually really sharp. Sometimes, but rarely, all this comes packaged with really good looks. 

Just remember that over time, they can create really good business opportunities for you, and even become great business partners. 


Over time, you will definitely regret acting on your impulses or objectifying them. 

Friday, July 14, 2023

Who would have your back, a Skrull or a commissioned FA?


There have been two well-thought-out pieces on commissioned Financial Advisors. 

First Investmoolah argues that you are much better off avoiding FAs and consultants in your lives (link). Then, Woke Salaryman substack explained why FAs in particular are quite braggy (link). 

The first argument is that given how disadvantageous some instruments get sold by FAs, you are more likely to lose out if you buy some high-commissioned product from someone out to squeeze commissions out of you. The second argument is that FAs who are braggy and show off their conspicuous consumption like expensive holidays tend to get rewarded with more sales. 

The net effect is that commissioned FAs are not too different from Skrulls in the MCU. 

A lot of sacred places have been infiltrated by FAs. Now even MAS is aware that dating apps are full of FAs looking out to sell to a Simp. I also get information from students and friends that FAs are also doubling up as community organizers. Some even take on paid jobs as wine experts to fish for more clientele. Even if you do not buy anything, befriending an FA may mean being subject to their social media which will feature an aspirational lifestyle and looking at pictures that might affect your mental wellness. Let us not forget that because everything shown on social media is curated, it has the effect of making the person seeing all this feel even worse about their own lives.   

Today, this article wants to put a different spin on this issue.

I think the easy answer is to ignore, unfriend or disassociate yourself from FAs. But the finance industry is not dumb because they have an army of marketers to cast doubt on your personal finances. I mean, what are your real options if you really have been diagnosed with cancer? Over 99% of attempts to sell me critical illness and whole life insurance were not attempted by actual FAs because I hate them so much, but by well-meaning colleagues who are their customers. For me, these are the folks who are the biggest obstacles to my FIRE which in 2000, was truly a lonely road. 

I advocate the harder way to solve this FA problem. 

The first solution is internal -  to work on yourself.

You need to educate yourself about investments and set up some kind of facility that allows you to own investment assets like stocks. If you have done NS, buy the SAF term life policy to cover yourself first as it will be the one and only time anyone will attempt to sell term to you. You do not have to attend investment courses that I run, but I do recommend some investment books during my free ERM previews as a service to members of the public. The best option, in my view, unbiased by my job as an investment trainer, is to self-study the CFA, which, when combined with books on investing locally in Singapore, can be a powerful vaccine against FA indoctrination.  

This solution I advocate is tough because it can burn up the second half of your 20s as it has done so for mine.  

The second is external - to see local Financial Advisors as a problem Parliament can solve.

There are two approaches to doing this. 

For me, my ultimate legislative objective is to simply no longer allow insurance businesses to be excluded as a pyramid selling scheme. ( The law can be found here. ) But a more realistic alternative is to get MAS to do a review of the industry again as it has done in 2013. MAS wanted to outlaw commissioned sales in favour of a fee-based approach, but I hear from insiders that the industry lobbied aggressively put a stop to that. Maybe this time, a change can occur because there are actual countries running on the fee-based model and there is more diversity in product offerings locally. There are also bloggers, thought leaders and influencers to lobby for change. 

This is something you can bring up to an MP, that will relieve the middle class of unnecessary financial burden that will not plunder our reserves. 

Sometimes I really feel like Nick Fury fighting this Secret Invasion. I don't demonize every commissioned FA I meet because they update me on the more nefarious practices (like LED balloons) and give me intelligence on commissions and product updates. In return, I do work with them on some win-win initiatives I run. But the good ones are quite rare - for every Talos, you might see 20-30 Graviks waiting to show you their latest Rolex purchase on Instagram, or their latest European holidays, all paid by the ILPs you buy from them. 

I would like to think that the FAs I work with are those that will do even better under a strictly fee-based regime. 

At the very least, it would soothe their conscience.