Saturday, July 31, 2021

Maybe Singapore does not deserve you, Joseph Schooling !

I don't have a lot to write about this weekend as I will be reserving my strength for the Dr. Wealth Blog.

What's trending now is are the merciless attacks from keyboard warriors on Joseph Schooling for losing the chance to defend his Butterfly Gold in the Tokyo Olympics and the many folks who jumped to his defence. A couple of famous folks have even commented that "victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan".

I'm not here to motivate Joseph Schooling to keep trying for us, that's really up to him. It's not like our government gave him a lot of support before he won gold for the country. Sports is not something we'd like to emphasize as a society as compared to, say, private banking. 

Instead, my belief that is that Singapore, in general, does not deserve a sports champion like him. Singapore is too caught up with navel-gazing and envy to sincerely celebrate Joseph Schooling as a fellow countryman. The financial blogosphere is familiar with this kind of saltiness - how many bloggers who accumulated $100,000 before 30 ever escaped getting slammed on social media?

The fact is I'm also a keyboard warrior and I can't tell Joseph Schooling what to do. But I do know that most Singaporeans are hyenas who values strength and success through the Almighty dollar. 

As such, allow me a moment of hubris to say what I would do if I were in Joseph Schooling's shoes.

a) I will complete my NS

This is a good time to complete my NS. 

As the only Gold medallist in Singapore, I'm not likely to be tekaned in camp. I will likely obtain "white horse" status and can even train in sports during this time. I would focus on smaller events like winning a few medals in the SEA games. 

b) I will complete my degree if I have yet to get one. If I have a degree, I will go for an MBA

I suspect that top MBA programs will make way for an Olympic Gold medallist without a high GMAT score.

Youth and energy will fade in time but what remains are your paper qualifications that Singaporeans are obsessed with. As Singapore's only champion, you are highly likely to be able to get assistance on any local campus. The aim is not knowledge but social capital, which will be easy given your superstar status.

Hobnob with the rich, party with them, and occasionally guide their kids in the swimming pools. 

c) I will find a way to get into private banking

If I'm not wrong, DBS has some kind of arrangement with Joseph Schooling such that he will have a great post-sports career. Star power translates very well into front office work, and clients may want direct access to a local champion. Starting salaries will be many times the level of even a top-flight business graduate in Singapore. 

Maybe I can execute the James Lye manoeuvre, where I am VR Man one day and a jet setting banker dealing with UHNWI from all over the world a short moment later. 

Why be a journalist like Clark Kent? This is why VR Man is way better than Superman.

I think if Schooling were to play his cards right, he'll be a middle-aged banker who will become a regular face on the Singapore Tatler. He will probably marry extremely well and, being Eurasian, will be a great pick for politics under the PAP banner. It is very likely Singapore will not see another Olympic gold for another 30-40 years (the last guy was Tan Howe Liang).  

But to play the game right, he needs a decent NS record and a good paper qualification.

As for the bastards who mock him for drinking too much Milo, they will still be bitching on Reddit or EDMW. 

Have fun staying BBFA!

 




Monday, July 26, 2021

Should we learn a thing or two from Communist China?

 


The past few days have been quite shocking for political observers who saw some massive moves to mess up education providers and tuition centres in China. The fallout has been very unpleasant for folks who have been harping about Chinese Tech firms for the past year. Starting from today, those voices will soon be silent. Like the US Tech and Cryptocurrency flex bros, everyone will be going back to lick their wounds. 

I have to admit, I'm really enjoying all this. 

While I lost a bit of money here and there, but with over 98% in local stocks and being told repeatedly that Singapore markets sucks, I'm just trying to enjoy this short moment of triumph, but I can't go too far because I was "in the barrel" on March 2020. 

How do we analyse China's move? The willingness to throw their most entrepreneurial and innovative citizens under the bus should be shocking even for the best political analysts. 

There are some signals in hindsight. Lowering birth rates and an ageing population is clearly measurable. I also suspect that the pandemic is creating more inequality and penalises a lot of rural Chinese. The third is a cultural revolution that the CCP is ill-equipped to handle, young Chinese "lying down" in the midst of an involution. 

So cock-blocking tuition centres is a very good move. Parents will always be competitive and want the best for their kids, but if tuition can only take place at specific times of the week, kids can develop their own interests and personalities. Also, middle-class parents do not have to fight a reluctant arms race against upper-crust families. 

I think if Singapore is not careful, we'll have our own brand of involution and instead of "lying flat", many Singaporeans will become Australians. 

Some measures may make sense :

a) Tuition can be reined in without affecting a tutor's livelihood

I delved into household expenditure surveys of 2018 and found that we spend about 5% of our total expenses on education services, which is not so bad so there is no need for a blanket policy to block kids from having tuition. 

But why should we accept 5%?  One possibility would be to block Sundays for tuition centres to cover core subjects and progressively tighten. 

b) Tighten FA licensing requirements

If we are on the topic of current costs for the middle class, might as well analyse my favourite bunch of so-called "professionals". Unfortunately, personal care services and insurance is bundled in the same category but it covers almost 3 times that of education services, so I doubt any heavy firepower will be levelled against FAs over the short term. 

  • But does it make any sense to label what is effectively a sales effort advisory work? 
  • Does it make sense to award titles like MDRT to advisors based on sale volume and not from effective advice?

I don't think we can evolve into a fee-based regime yet, but not insisting on a degree ( in fact a local degree ) to get a license to advise on something so important as money and personal finance is a policy failure on the Government's part! 

This may be a precursor to a fee-based regime in the future. 

c) HDB to function as an exchange to buy and sell the property. 

If you analyse the expenditure of a median household member in Singapore, even I have to admit that the big bad is not the FA but folks in the real estate business. Imputed rental of owner-occupied units is 50% more than the Miscellaneous good category where insurance resides.  

This means that aggressively interfering with real estate markets can move the needle substantially for middle-income Singaporeans and make life better. 

Maybe the government can draw the line that BTOs beyond a particular year has to be bought and sold through HDB via fixed prices. This allows Singaporeans access to cheap housing and prevents excess profits to be earned. Real estate speculation will still be possible for the few elites who can afford private housing. 

The upside is that it's easier to raise families, the downside is that locals can no longer sit on a treasure chest and grow rich purely based on luck. ( We can grow rich on investments rather than property )

If this kills off a few real estate agents so I get less junk mail, all the better.

At the end of the day, I'm just a keyboard warrior running this blog, there are smarter guys looking out for this country. 

Fact is, if a policy intervention tackles tuition, financial planning woes, and real estate simultaneously, the upside is huge for the pockets of the median Singaporean. 

It is also psychologically healthier, parents do not get subject to all that fear regarding their children's future, folks don't get harassed so often walking in malls by FAs handing out LED balloons to their kids, and we will get less junk mail from those pesky real estate agents.

Come to think of it, I can base an entire political manifesto around these three issues. 



 


Friday, July 23, 2021

JIPABAN - On bad financial advice from Hokkien songs


If you think about it, the MVP this month are the cheekopeks who visited Vietnamese hostesses and brought the entire country down. Things got so bad even the National Day Parade got postponed. 

For weeks, the media attacks against cheekopeks and ah bengs who visited prostitutes escalated so badly, I'm not sure whether it's become cool for Singaporeans to punch down against their less-educated peers. The only exception is that since heterosexual Chinese men are being attacked, liberals sit this one out, and let everyone bash these poor guys.

If there is really one song that captures the feeling of a cheekopek who visit KTV lounges, it is this classic called Jipaban. The song speculates on what like is like as a millionaire. 

As you can find anything on the Internet, a full translation of the song lyrics can be found here.

Like many Hokkien songs, the song had pathos. The singer laments about not amounting to much in life, missing out on travel opportunities, and seeing peers start successful businesses, marrying and settling down.

Let's analyse some of the lyrics to see whether they make financial sense:

a) Travel 

One of the things the lyrics say is that if the signer has a million bucks he will travel. He will go to Hawaii, eat sushi in Japan or have a spaghetti meal in Italy. This is not too expensive for a single guy, a trip to Japan may cost about $3,000 pre-covid and Hawaii/Italy may cost slightly more. 

With $1,000,000 generating $40,000 as safe rate of withdrawal, $1,000,000 can pay for all that travel. 

Of course, somehow this guy must be able to generate this 4%.

b) Buy a car

After travel, things escalate very quickly, the singer wants to buy a car which means paying for a COE. All expenses for a car should range from $1,500 to $2,000 for the next ten years. The worst thing is that the car is a depreciating asset. 

Our cheekopek millionaire should start thinking about driving Grab to offset the costs of having a car, otherwise it will ruin half the investment income arising from the million dollars of invested assets.

Still I think owning a car is not fatal. 

c) Buy a house

Beyond getting a car, it gets much worse, the singer wants to buy a house. 

As most Singaporeans can afford HDB property, I can only speculate that the singer intends to upgrade to a private condominium. Even in the best case, the current HDB has to be sold to generate the downpayment. 

Moving forward, loan repayments can range from $2,500 to $3,500 even for a modest unit which may be unsustainable even with a million dollars . Our cheekopek friend may intend this to be a short project, selling it to earn a profit after MOP period is over and maybe earning some money in the process.  

It's not a bad idea, but I still think just upgrading to a 5 room or a jumbo should suffice.

d) Buy a shop to collect rent

It's heartwarming to find at least one piece of good advice in the song. 

Buying a shop to collect rent is wise but hard. I did a quick check on Property Guru to see whether there are units for sale at Beauty World and many will bust the $1,000,000 budget but loans should cover up to 80% of the value of the property. There is at least one shop in Katong Shopping centre for less than $1,000,000, so this may suit the singer's budget. This will still will likely be cash-flow negative as the mortgage is over $3,000 per month. 

I still think that REITs are less complicated and a safer choice.

e) Get a wife

I leave this last bit for readers to think whether our cheekopek would be able to find a wife even with a million dollars. I'm personally not optimistic given what I know about Singapore women ( In fact, I married Malaysian ). The cruel reality is that $1,000,000 represents financial capital and not social or cultural capital.

He can, of course, go to Vietnamese bride agency. Not sure whether they are in operation today.

Sadly for everyone, a song like Jipaban has not aged well. It was written in 2001 and inflation has ravaged the value of having a million dollars. Thanks to globalisation, inequality has gotten even worse as $1 million may not be able to bridge the lack of social and cultural capital in Singapore. Finally, there are too many forces conspiring to make our friend part with his money through commissions and sexual favours that will allow him to maintain his millionaire status for very long.

Maybe the singer can update the song into "Ngerng Pa Ban" or Two Million dollars. This should provide a higher quality of life for Cheekopek.

For me, I think a simple life of travel, funded by REIT dividend payouts is good enough.

 


Monday, July 19, 2021

Who still believes in a meritocracy these days?



Sometimes, I get the privilege of being invited by younger bloggers, entrepreneurs or influencers for breakfast. Being exposed to their ideas update me on what's really going on because as I get older, I stop doing stuff younger and single people do. Becoming an investment trainer also limits me to a more conscientious and ambitious crowd, so there is always run the risk of losing touch with the ground. 

My recent conversation is with an up and coming "media mogul". Our political leanings are almost diametrically opposite. He seems to think that government should take more responsibility for things while I prefer to blame fellow citizens for society's ills. Nevertheless, it was a really fun conversation that was very informative for me.

The most interesting segment was our discussion on meritocracy and I was curious what young people feel about meritocracy today. 

My friend's experiences were interesting. He obviously has many elite friends and he shared with me that in the top secondary schools, discussion and conversation is no longer about capabilities and grades. In the top branded schools like RI, ACS and even Hwa Chong, students often spoke of their lineages. What kind of families do they come from. Which exclusive housing estates do they live in. 

I felt that this was very different from my experiences growing up because, in the 1980s, only ACS was like this.

We both come from the more Vanilla-flavoured JCs in Singapore. I came from NJC and my friend came from TJC. 

What my friend shared with me is that the only folks who still believed in a meritocracy came from the second tiered JCs like NJC, TJC and VJC. These institutions are the only ones where folks believed in hard work ( we acknowledge that we have no choice because we're not as smart as the RJC and HCJC students and we don't have the unlimited expenses accounts of ACJC students, working hard is the only thing we can do to shift the odds in our favour. )

This is, sadly, reflected in our career choices. When I was in the private sector, folks from my JC were not so easily found. JC alumni were rare in IT during the days where CECA got freshly signed. With competition coming, IT was not a smart move if an engineer wants to enter the middle class. 

However, when I took the plunge into a disastrous foray into the public sector all my seniors from NJC were waiting there to manage me. 

My boss even had the same Computer Science tutor as me in JC. ( Computer Science majors in JC were super rare )

Was it inspiring to work for an organisation managed by my own kind?

Actually, it was horrible.

In the private sector ( Specifically P&G ), I can at least say that for once in my life, I aspired to become something like my boss. Good pay, upper-middle-class condo living with a loving family.

My public sector management was shit. 

Rumour was that someone I had a reporting relationship with was a divorcee who so traumatised his wife, she became a nun. 

A bag of dead otters, freshly beaten to death with a stick, had more personality than him. 

I think I'm a fairly good public speaker who created a course that generated over $1,000,000 in revenues, so I should know a thing or two about Powerpoint presentations. My boss made me memorise a 15 minute presentation and micro-managed the process to his exact wording. That's where my taxpayers were going. 

It's not a joke that the public sector is full of divorced, mid-career loser beta-males and single women who are waiting for your company until the dread of night. It helps to visit Glassdoor before making a decision whether you really want an iron rice bowl. 

This is not a discussion on whether a meritocracy works, I'm a semi-strong believer in meritocracy provided it's powered by low taxes and some amount of personal risk-taking. 

But my conversation with my friends has reminded me of the cult of brainwashed MBTI ISTJ compliance types that run our monolithic public services who are fanatics of the meritocratic system.

Philip Yeo would go on to label these types of executives eunichs.

The real tragedy is realising we took the same training and we are cut from the same cloth.

Some amount of self-loathing will ensue...

 

  




 



Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Maybe Singaporeans should just lie flat and give up on their ambitions ?

 


We're seeing a lot of bloggers talk about "Lying Flat" movement which goes to show how much traction this idea has. This is going to be a discussion on how to actually execute it in Singapore.

The basic idea behind the movement is to just give the middle finger to your dreams and ambitions and give up, not so much to preserve your mental health but as a protest against society. There is a certain hint of privilege behind this movement as folks who can live with their parents have a huge leg up as they do not need to pay any rent, nevertheless, some government data can assist us in designing this lifestyle.

a) Model the expenses of a retiree

The first step we need to do would be to model the expenses of a retiree. Fortunately, I've already done this research that resulted in a Dr. Wealth article I wrote on what happens to retiree's expenses when they get older. (Link is here

If you spend like an ordinary person in a HDB household ( not counting rent ), you will need $1,627 a month which is not really conducive to lying down. A more reasonable expenses target would be $1,154 which is a median retiree's expenses per head. I suspect to meet these, you have to forego bulk of your entertainment and really go BBFA, focus all your effort playing computer games and stream movies.

So let's impute $1,154 as monthly expenses.

b) Model the earnings of a food delivery driver 

The second step is to figure out how you can earn $1,154 per month. I've decided that the lifestyle should not invest because we'd just end up with another bland flavour of FIRE. Whoever lies flat would still have to work for it, albeit the work would be really minimal.

So the work that gives the worker the most control is the gig economy and fortunately, Seedly has a great article on delivery riders here. If you read the article, a reasonable salary would be $600 a week, but it is 40 hours of back-breaking work. Furthermore, you would still have to contribute to Medisave, which can take out 4-8% of your earnings. Take out 5% in our example and your take-home is about $570 a week. 

c) Now lie flat like you owe nothing to society

So with a top-line and bottom-line established, we know that two weeks of food delivery work at 80 hours will subsidise a month of expenses at $1,154, so the default position is that to lie down sustainably, you will be working about 50% of the time compared to average Singaporeans - a 20 hour workweek.

This is not exactly something I'd like because I work way less than that in real life thanks to FIRE.

But there are obviously ways to improve that ratio. 

One is to lie down so much that you spend less than a median retiree in Singapore. If you can miraculously live on $600 a month (possibly by dumpster diving), then you would only be working 25% of the time. If you can find a short and interesting gig at rates higher than $15/hour (like becoming a sugar baby) then you can relax even harder.

Therefore, a sugar baby who does food delivery and dumpster dives occasionally might be the iconic symbol of the "Lying Flat" movement in Singapore. 

If such a person does not exist, maybe we should invent someone like that. 



 









Saturday, July 10, 2021

How to "travel" when you are stuck at home.

 


First of all, I'd like to thank everyone for their well-wishes. My mum is doing well.

But it has still been a tough week and I really needed to unwind which means do stuff that is less consequential but to relax and improve my quality of life. 

One of the things I miss the most is travel. I don't do expensive travel. Most of the time I just go to KL to do some shopping and lots of eating. I recently heard that my favourite Sang Har Mee place at Lorong Imbi has shut down ( or moved ). I feel sad that some of my favourite haunts may not even be around when Singaporeans can visit Malaysia again.

So right now I am stuck in Singapore. The closest thing I can do to travel is to read Koh Buck Song's Around the World in 68 Days. I like it because it covers countries that I will probably not get to within my lifetime like Oman and Madagascar. More interestingly, it's not just a real travel guide but also a book on how countries can rebrand themselves. So it looks like my reads are still consequential after all. 

Of course, reading about a location cannot possibly replicate the real travel experience, so I try to supplement what I read with youtube videos. 


This is one of my favourite videos on Oman because there are plenty of references to street food. My wife and kids are huge fans of food vlogger Sunny. 

Youtube has plenty of videos that can be helpful to folks who need some travel therapy. One of my favourites has always been the Middle East because I doubt I will ever find a travel buddy to go there. Even if I do, I'm terrified of diarrhoea. A friend who has been to Egypt tells me that he had diarrhoea for almost his entire trip. 

Visiting a souk on Youtube is soothing and does not affect the quality of your bowel movements. If you actually want the diarrhoea experience, you can always eat McCrispy meal which checking out this wonderful walking tour.



I don't have grand travel plans once Singapore becomes fully vaccinated. My first priority is to visit relatives in the North and do something to support the Malaysian economy. 

A student wants to visit to see if he should buy a GCB there. I just want to kaypoh a bit and eat the zhi char there. 






Wednesday, July 07, 2021

Some Thoughts on Managing Family Health

 


This was one of the toughest weeks of my life. 

Let me start with a legendary tale of our Unions. 

There was an urban rumour that once upon a time, a union leader with NTUC had health problems and went for a heart scan. He discovered blockages in his veins and promptly resolved them with an angiogram followed by an angioplasty where a stent was installed to resolve the blockage. After the operation was over, the union leader hectored all his union drinking buddies to take the scan. After all, they had the same unhealthy habits. The other leaders went, albeit reluctantly as the scan was expensive. But quite a few union leaders also discovered they had blockages and promptly had operations to save their lives. Many lives were saved by this union leader, I did not share his name as the person who related the story to me was also not clear who he was.

When my mum had high blood pressure for an umpteenth time, I also decided to take her medical matters into my own hands. The sad truth is that I don't really trust GPs because they often had 5 minutes to determine what was your problem. So I switched over to a cardiologist in the private sector to take control of managing my mum's hypertension. The cardiologist improved her average BP reading from 200 to <120 with the new drug. Not satisfied, I wanted to break the family curse so I insisted my mum take the Heart CT Scan as well and blew thousands of dollars of family funds on it.  Unfortunately or fortunately for us, the scan detected a major blockage so my mum had to complete an angiogram and angioplasty yesterday. 

Today she is resting at home after a successful operation.

On hindsight, I really have no idea what her GP was doing. She always had BP medicine but she had a special drug to eat when her BP spikes. The GP's approach was a quick fix without delving into the root cause of the issue. It was only pulling strings and asking one of my students for help (he works in healthcare) was I able to be introduced to a good cardiologist who could make the problem disappear.

Anyway, this is just one data point but I'd like to raise two lessons I learnt for readers.   

The first lesson was that "advisor equity" matters. 

I can walk into the sunset and FIRE, but teaching my program allows me to network with my students, many with useful information and contacts that can enhance other areas in my life. On top of my work as a trainer, I have doctor friends who regularly ask me for stock information over Whatsapp who can easily spare a second or two with medical opinions on pricing information I share with them. Even though I do not practice law, I do act as the first point of contact for friends in trouble and can introduce someone currently in practice. In fact, I play rainmaker to my lawyer buddies. 

If you think you can "Tang Ping" or lie down after you FIRE, then you are losing a major resource. Most successful FIRErs know a bit about markets that can make them very useful to others. 

The second lesson was that a sufficiently large investment hoard can function as a health and surgical plan.

I could not get H&S insurance for my mum even if I wanted to because she had hypertension her whole life. Going through an angioplasty in a private hospital is going to be extremely pricey even if you took the cheapest suite like us at Gleneagles. Predictably, my mum had a rude shock when she heard about the price. 

When I heard the price tag, I calmly told my mum about the lifetime of savings she and my late dad made when they DID NOT PAY H&S insurance. This was a proactive surgery made while my mum was healthy, we can reduce the risk of complications. More importantly, the savings over my father's lifetime allowed the full sum to be replenished with only 3 months of dividend payouts! 

So we are trading three months of dividends for an unknown but significant extension of my mother's life. My mum's blockage was actually 90%, all this while she was living on borrowed time. 

In the end, even Medisave came to my rescue when my mum went private, it was not much but it was better than nothing.  

Anyway, the money spent on health will recover in time, my family will obviously be very careful when we re-accumulate our lost income over the next three months. Just like Singapore reserves, we will never know when we will need it again in the future so best be prudent. 

( Readers who need an introduction to a cardiologist can email me in private. I did not share details on costs and billings, but I guarantee smart readers can figure it out with the info I shared )