Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Memoriam - A good life

Recently my younger brother found an old email from my father who passed in early 2006. This email was written late 2005. My father wrote very little in that email but said much. He knew mortality was near and he chose my brother to handle A delicate matter (the title of his email). In that email, my father told him that it was difficult for him to talk about but it may be easier for my brother. And he attached his own obituary. 

I remember my father as a man always strong in his convictions and he was not easy to bend. But in that email, he showed his vulnerability and then in the attachment, he showed grace, wisdom and happiness. My siblings and I do feel at times that we lost our parents too early and it may be so but what we got was the two greatest guides we could ever have asked for. We were and are lucky. 

And my father's words in that attachment covered all that he loved, his family first and foremost, the lodge and the importance of his friends. But it is these words that he left that, i believe, he left us his final lesson and guidance. 

“He came to the world, his hands were empty

but when  he left,  his heart was full”

When i read these words, i remember my father's repeated question to me - "What is a good life?". I have answered this question with varying answers many times BUT i answer it now with his final lesson in mind. A good life is a life surrounded by love, respect and happiness. 

My father had a good life. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Cash is King (yeah seriously)

Recently a friend helped me frame my thoughts around cash and the issues that with inflation and the very poor interest rates that banks pay, our cash generates little when not used/invested. This view drove me aggressively to look at using my cash actively to invest in liquid assets. My investment choice was stocks (and still is). 

But it's been a rough two months (Dec15-Feb16) with markets dropping close to 20%. Now to me, i don't view my net worth as a number but more as how much i have achieved against my long term goals - university and school fees for my daughters, financial security for the family and the like. 

So here i am sitting on a sizeable investment portfolio with very little cash as i viewed my liquid assets as available for sale and then the market dropped and i realised that my goals that i track monthly dropped significantly. I did not feel secure, calm and assured that i could take advantage of this opportunity (low prices = opportunity). 

This made me realise as much as stocks are a great long term investment tool, there is a place for cash as well. The security it gives you, the flexibility it gives you to maintain calm and continue investing and most importantly, the ability to take advantage of opportunities that come, especially the once-in-a-decade like opportunities like we saw in 1998 and 2008. 

So i have revised my view - there is a place for CASH. 

But now in Singapore, how do you maximise your CASH holdings?

Now thanks to that same friend who compiled some data, i hope to put in a plan to do this. My goal is simple, to feel secure, to maintain calm to continue investing and to take advantage of investment opportunities when they come. The key words - secure, calm and opportunity. 

So first, what are the best cash accounts out there. 

We evaluated 3 accounts, the DBS multiplier account, the UOB One Account and the OCBC 360 account. 

To make a like and like comparison, we looked at what 50k in these accounts could generate in interest and then only looked at what the conditions we would need. (We also excluded any conditions that pays you additional interest only if you invest in an insurance/investment product - that's not cash). 

So for 50k, the DBS Multiplier pays 2.08%, the UOB One Account pays 2.43% and OCBC pays 2.20%. As you can see, all pretty close. Now what are the conditions? All three require your salary to be credited to this account. All 3 require a bank credit card and regular use of the cards monthly. DBS even allows your home mortgage payments to be applied to this balance as well and OCBC/UOB require 3 GIRO bills to be paid. 

For me, it was an easy choice, my salary is currently credited to DBS. Then i got a DBS Mortgage. So i opened the DBS Multiplier Account a few months ago and now to add to the monthly balance (that they require) i have applied for a DBS Credit Card (the Altitude card) as i just want mileage points. 

So my first advice to those of you who are keen on maintaining cash, choose the right account for you and maximise this balance. 

Now the next steps, creating a FD ladder. To me, to feel secure, calm and to be able to take opportunities when they come, cash needs to be available. As such, my goal is to place FDs maturing each month for at least 12 months. 

Now most of the banks pay a very low 0.05 for a 1mth FD up to 0.25 for a 1yr FD save for the Malaysian banks like Maybank/RHB and the Indian banks like  SBI and ICICI that pay up to 0.75%.

So here, i think the FD rates are quite meaningless but the need to set up a proper FD ladder framework is key. 

So my choice the DBS Multiplier account and a FD ladder at a convenient bank. 

So assuming a 50k in the DBS multiplier account and an average 10k placed over 12 months earning an average of 0.25%, the interest earned will be 87 a month for the DBS account and 25 for the FD amount. A GRAND total of just about 112. 

Now as the saying goes - BETTER than nothing. 

But the goal is clear, to keep secure, calm and to be ready for opportunity. 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Health Era or so I Hope

When i started this blog, it was a means of me sharing my thoughts, my ideas and a desire to write. There was no theme and no direction. Every piece was motivated by an event, a person, a muse, an inspiration and obstacles that needed to be overcome.

I have written before about my medical issues but for the sake of a future reader or one day if my daughters do find this blog - let them know, my issues were myriad and i fought the good fight. I did not go gently into the night. I raged against the dying of the light.

So my issues started with pre diabetes, high cholesterol, high uric acid and then a fractured and dislocated tail bone and NOW, surgery to repair an ankle ligament, removal of dead bone and replacement of cartilage in my ankle.

Now i am embarrassed when i am asked - you are 40 but what have you done. All i can say, i neglected my health for so long and now i am paying the price. So in December 2012, i started on this journey of regular medical check ups and blood tests every 3 to 6 months - all with the goal of regaining my health without meds or more realistically delaying the need for meds. And as all my efforts and paths - i READ, i analyse, i collect data and finally use the data to ensure that there is progress, incremental but definite.

So i apologise to the reader for the following but as i read, i wanted a place to note what i had read and now understand but it may be boring to some. For me, i realise information and the use of information drives all that i do. I am a believer of Incremental Progress as long as its backed by DATA.

So this current information is about foods  and the benefits of some and how at home now, i have changed my diet to one of salads, fruits and controlled and portioned proteins. I do not know who this will benefit but i was sparked to write, and i never stop when that spark is lit.

Alcohol raises HDL (good cholesterol). Increase in apolipoprotein A-1, major protein component of HDL, extracts cholesterol from cells and moves to liver for extraction.

Oh thank god!!!! Alcohol or as a good friend's father, a doctor and surgeon, said in moderation is beneficial. In fact he said 14 units a week is good and pick your days - my kind of doctor and surgeon. Binge drinking is of course WRONG (special note to my daughters) but as my dad used to say Responsible drinking and appreciation is RIGHT. Now it's good to know there is science to back this up.

Free Radicals - unstable oxygen molecules that enter the body and needs electrons which they take from the body including arterial walls. Anti-oxidants places itself between the radicals and healthy cells in the body. They give up the electrons the free radicals need. 

Free Radicals - BAD. Anti-oxidants - GOOD.

Vitamin C - increases HDL and lowers LDL (bad cholesterol). Vitamin E - reduces the oxidation of LDL which causes heart disease. Good sources of Vitamin E - pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, nuts, kale & asparagus. 

So salads with seeds, some fruits daily. We are on the right track.

Apples - contains pectin which has been proven to reduce cholesterol. The skin contains the antioxidant quercetin which prevents oxidation leading to heart disease. 

Artichokes - contains cynarin which increases bile production of the liver. Needed for excretion of cholesterol. 

Avocados - high in monosaturated fat and rich in oleic acid, which reduces LDL while keeping HDL stable. It also lowers triglycerides. High in fibre needed to clear cholesterol. High in potassium which lowers blood pressure. 

Beans - high in soluble fibre which lowers blood glucose responses, stabilises blood sugar, slows absorption of fat. High in Omega3 fatty acids. Reduces cholesterol and triglycerides and may increase HDL. 

Berries - highest in antioxidants, high in folate, fibre and pottasium and Vitamin C. Prevents oxidation of LDL, heart disease. 

Blueberries contain pterostilbene which is very effective in lowering cholesterol. In fact may be as effective as certain cholesterol lowering drugs.

Broccoli - high in Vit A & C, soluble fibre, calcium, potassium, folate. Is a superfood. Contains glucoraphamin which reduces inflammations and prevents heart disease. 

Oh yes, please. Anything to stop inflammations. I have gout. I hate saying it and admitting it but when you have an attack, you are thankful for great MEDS that can reduce inflammation. Now here, if they say eat broccoli a day and i can avoid the PAIN, i am a believer and i will eat it every day.

Calcium - reduces blood pressure, LDL, increases HDL. Calcium blocks absorption of saturated fats and binds with cholesterol containing bile which is then easily excreted. Vit D is needed to aid calcium absorption. 

These are some of the many supplements i now take - Calcium and Vit D.

Canola oil - same benefits as olive oil but lighter for cooking. Good in reducing LDL but maintains HDL. Low in saturated fat. 

Dark Chocolate raises HDL, prevents LDL oxidation. 

Cinnamon - high in antioxidants, improves insulin sensitivity. 

Eggs - raises LDL and HDL but of the large particle kind which excises cholesterol and is less likely to stick to arterial walls. 

Exercise - boosts HDL, gets LDL out while reducing triglycerides. Improves efficiency of enzyme lipoprotein lipase which attacks triglycerides, breaks it down to base which makes HDL. Weight loss increases HDL levels. 

Fish - other meats high in saturated fats increasing LDL and promoting oxidation leading to heart disease. Fish is low on sat fats and high in omega 3 fatty acids - decreases triglycerides, increasing HDL and enhancing insulin sensitivity. Keeps blood platelets from clinging to one another preventing clots, lowers blood pressure. 

Flaxseed - high in omega3 from linolenic acid plus high in soluble fiber. Reduce LDL

Fibre - insoluble fibre clears the gut. Soluble fibre combines with water in the GI tract and forms a gelatinous-like substance that prevents cholesterol absorption. Fibre may lower levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a risk factor for future heart disease.

Tea - There are 4 types of teas - black, oolong, green and white. Black and oolong are fermented teas. Green tea is non fermented but allowed to be matured and air dried. White tea is also non- fermented but is picked young and steamed immediately. This preserves the polyphenol content which reduces LDL, triglycerides, increases HDL and prevents oxidation of cholesterol. It may also help insulin sensitivity and some proof that it helps in fighting and preventing cancer. 
  So far that's it but the learning journey continues.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The returns to NORM

VedsInvest Fund1  - 2 May 2015

General Thoughts –
I recently read a report from Gavekal, one of the few investment advisory firms that i like reading. They tend to focus on big picture issues and then narrow down their focus. Another one of those costs that i will need to cater for when i start my own firm on top of my Bloomberg.

In this report, the author highlighted that the average return from 1965 to 2012 in the S&P 500 was around 10% and the expected returns was between -10% to 25%.  Since 2012, though the average return has been 16% with returns from +9% to 25%. They argue that this is primarily from the intervention of central banks that push liquidity to ensure financial markets remain steady and growing.

I am not sure whether they are completely right but there is some truth to what they say. But the bigger take is – Can we expect returns to maintain at 16% when historical averages are at 10% OR should we expect corrections to bring long term averages back to norm.

Again the answer is not that easy. But if the question was “In the long run, should we expect corrections to bring long term averages back to norm?”. Then my answer is a resounding yes. But in the short run, looking forward the next 2 or 3 years, i am unsure.

As such my strategies remain the same, looking for stocks that have good growth prospects, a relatively strong balance sheet and a good track record. I suspect this strategy will do relatively well as markets go up BUT hopefully will outperform significantly when markets go down. Only time will tell. 

VedsBlog @ 2 May 2015

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Farmer Story - When is enough?

Recently, i have been reading a lot of investment books or more precisely books either written by or about great investors of this generation. The current book i am reading is by Peter Lynch - Beating the Odds. Lynch was the fund manager for Magellan Fund, an equity fund. He was one of the greats when at the age of 43 he quit and chose to spend more time with his family and pursuing work that appealed to him. He continued to invest and served on many charity boards and helped set up investment panels and plans for many of these charities.

When he was considering retirement he had many come to him and propose a closed end fund that would be exchange traded. Those that came to him told him they could raise billions against his name and the management fee alone would pay him close to 15m a year. He could then set up analysts, fund managers who would do most of the investment/work using his investment philosophies and strategies. The kicker they said, was immaterial of how the fund performed, he would make his 15m a year.

In the end, Lynch said NO for 2 reasons, that his desire to beat the market was just as strong and he would not be able to take that money knowing that he was not doing his best for his investors. He left the industry at his prime at age 43. The following was what he wrote in the early introduction chapters of this book - Beating the Odds.

I have always been sceptical of millionaires who congratulate themselves for walking away from a chance to enrich themselves further. Turning one's back on fat future paycheck is a luxury that few can afford. 

But if you're lucky enough to have been rewarded in life to the degree that i have, there comes a point at which you have to decide whether to become a slave to your net worth, devoting the rest of your life to increase it or to let what you accumulated begin to serve you. 

There's a Tolstoy story that involves an ambitious farmer. He is given an offer for all the land that he can encircle in a day. After running at full speed for several hours, he acquires several square miles of valuable property, more than enough to make him and his family rich for generations. The poor fellow is drenched in sweat and gasping for breath. He thinks about stopping but he can't help himself. He races ahead to maximise his opportunity, until finally he drops dead of exhaustion. 

This was the ending i hoped to avoid. 

This was the ending i hoped to avoid.

This line stayed with me as i read the rest of the book and finally i came back to this chapter and wrote it down and was felt compelled to write about it. It is nice to feel this strongly again to be able to want to write.

As i turned 40, i wonder as i work and struggle with my wife to achieve our financial goals for our children and for ourselves, could i reach a point in my career to do what Lynch did and MOVE on at age 43.

I doubt it but i think the choice of when to stop is not the right question or focus - it is more the choice of letting what you accumulated begin to serve you. To do this, we must accumulate and then use it to pursue our bigger and more personal goals.

I believe i am lucky as i feel that even though i may have a busy or stressful life, i have parts of Time to be with my family. But, what i want is the choice of all-Time to spend it them and at the same time to feel i am achieving my own goals of being relevant, being influential and being liked. I want time of Choice to build my own Financial Advisory business and pursue my own charity goals.

At age 43, Lynch did this by knowing that he had accumulated enough for his choice of lifestyle of giving back and spending the time he wanted rather than the time he could. I am not sure when i will be able to say the same but i know i am PLANNING for it.

This is the beginning i hope to create.

VedsBlog @ April2015

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Life streaked Silver

We traveled the silver streak
We crossed and jumped the mountain
We saw down and we yelled defiant 

We optioned to go up 
Young and free
Coming down compulsory 
Still young less free

But we lived the silver streak
Now we are the silver streak

Bright, happy and option free
I choose the life streaked silver