Saturday, December 26, 2009

Never buy a property that is fully sold ?

Joseph Tan is one of the most truthful guys who shared his property investment experience. Most property investors would properly brag about how superb property investment is, a smaller group who are willing to admit their failures would curse on it. But believe it or not, Joseph Tan's story actually covers the majority of how a property investor in this region would experience after some time i.e. from the 2nd to 5th property.

Basically he wasn't fully equipped with proper tools to start with but yet making great returns in his first 3 properties. However, the 4th one turned out to be a big lesson and he is sharing it with all. (details in Alan Tan's blog )

If disaster like this happened on the 4th or 5th property, it usually break even with previous earned profit or at worst became an expensive lesson. But for some who faced it on the 2nd or 3rd property, it usually crash their whole personal finance portfolio. Those who managed to stay alive had to start all over.

Most of his sharing are malpf compliant except one controversy point : Location, Location, Location ! For those who has followed malpf long enough, they know that malpf claims Location factor in property investment is just an overweight marketing topic by the developers. You can always jump on the developers band wagon to make some money but it wouldn't be a rock solid property investment strategy.

However, the main reason to mention his sharing is his 3rd point : Don't Buy a Shop in a Fully Sold complex - because - the developer will NO longer promote the property. Generally
  • if not many people are buying, its unlikely you will buy it (something must be wrong )
  • if many people are buying, its most likely you want to buy too ( must be an opportunity, don't miss it! )
And yet he shared his priceless advice ...

There are quite some insights to this sharing.
  • even such a successful business man like him still rely on developer to 'upkeep' the property/area.
  • if the area ( complex ) is no good, your property ( shop ) is no good too.
In any investment, once you are relying on others to make profit, your task is to make sure you join them as early as you could and leave right before they leave. Its NOT a rock solid investment, its more like a speculative exercise.

I am not sure if Joseph bought the shop in Galaxy Ampang but most other smaller shopping complexes in that area faced similar fate. However, some of the 1st batch buyers back then actually earned 15-20%. They jumped out before the developer did.

I know at least 2 private owners who are still keeping properties there and do not feel that bad about it. The biggest difference is they bought the shops for almost half of what other paid for back then.

I don't know if they had foreseen they had to wait 10-20 years but they did adhere to the first part of solid property investment strategy - always buy the property lower than its worth else its NOT a good buy.

Another specific factor on shopping complex is the floor level. The hottest property investment arena in Malaysia is Sungai Wang but once you go above 3rd floor, the value and worth drop drastically. For any non hot-spot shopping complex, looks no further than ground and 1st floor. Else you are not buying a shop, you are just buying a store room. The prices are assessed quite differently.

Strategy Cost ?

"Cost" is the money you paid in order to get something you want in return.
"Strategy" can be simplified as the methods you use in achieving a goal.

Strategy cost is the money you MAY have to pay if you use certain methods but NOT necessary ... depends on how it turns out. For example,

When buying shares in stock market, you will have to pay some broker fees, stamp duty and clearing fee etc. Those are the real cost incurred. The way to calculate cost is usually fix, pre-arranged and agreed up front. Putting these fees aside, right after you bought a share at $1.00 the immediate buy back price is usually lower i.e. $0.99. The difference between this buy and sell price can be seen as strategy cost.

You don't really pay this 1 cent. If the price goes up and you earn money, you earn 1 cent less. If the price goes down and you lose money, you lose 1 cent more. So strategically you are 1 cent disadvantage to the market.

Some may say this is future costing. You actually pay this 1 cent but only deducted from your withdrawal at a later date. Although there is nothing wrong to think of it this way especially account wise, but it could be more beneficial to use strategy cost to access which strategy is better in your investment.

Strategy cost shares parallel direction as your investment movement. When you buy a share, you want its price to go up so that you can earn money. The 1 cent difference affects your ability to do that.

Strategy cost may not be fix and is usually depends on situation. If the demand for the share you bought is low, the buy back price could be $0.98 or even $0.95. So buying a low demand share is strategically more disadvantaged to buying a high volume stock. In this case its a comparisons among 1, 2 and 5 cents. No long just a general concept but a measurable comparison.

Since you don't really PAY strategy cost, it is rather vague to talk about it. But strategy cost becomes more useful when you are comparing different investment methods or different situation.

The very recent comparison is between buying something with CASH vs getting a LOAN.

Malaysia RM50 Credit Card fee waivers

It was mentioned before Malaysia's government initiative to charge RM50 tax on credit card to 'reduce' debt is a plain zany act. When confronted by many institutions and experts, Najib (some of his photos here) even goes public exercising his power to enforce his budget 2010.

Just in case you haven't heard, the time to pay this RM50 tax is the same as your annual fee due month. So if your cards are due in December 2010, you can hold it for another year before cancelling it out. But if your cards are due in Jan 2010, you better find out when the statement date is. You HAVE TO cancel your cards before the statement is generated. Once this RM50 tax is imposed, the banks will NOT be able to waive it for you even if you cancel your cards AFTER the statement is printed.

So far I only know UOB and EON banks will waive this RM50 tax for real.

You have to use your EON cards for 36 times to waive this RM50 tax. Normally you will have to use 24 times to waive its annual fee which is about RM150. So another 10 times more should be ok for those who really use the card.

UOB is one of the first banks to waive this tax in public. Varies options may be available but the one I know is just use RM300 and you will get back RM50 cash benefit to knock off this RM50 tax. UOB is also closely tighted to Robinson so if you shop there often, it could be the card to keep.

see ? The effect is already started .... you have to spend much more in order to save this RM 50 ...

All other cards who offer you RM50 rebate by using the points you have accumulated are just playing with your Finance IQ. It is a common practice that you get back a minimum of 0.2% rebate by using credit cards in this part of the world. The return may reach you either in the form of points accumulation or direct cash rebate on the bill. So giving you the option to 'waive' this RM50 tax with your points is the same like taking your money from your left pocket when you said you want to avoid taking out money from your right.

Do you know any other banks who will REALLY waive this RM50 tax ?

You can use this form to cancel your credit cards

BEST rates in Malaysia - update 2009 12 26

Although Fix Deposit rate stays at 2% for 1 month and 2.5% for 12 months but generally FD interests are 'starting' to rise. This is inline with the speculation that interest rates will be raised by Bank Negara ... and its just a matter of time. This trend will affect both FD rate and BLR.

Three Banks have the lowest BLR since mid 2009 : 5.25%
The Royal Bank of Scotland Berhad
Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ (Malaysia) Berhad
J.P.Morgan Chase Bank Berhad

But most loans come in terms like BLR + or - another numbers. Remember to compare your own true and effective loan rate including fee++ before deciding on a loan package. Usually these lowest BLR banks also offer less attractive effective final rates ie. BLR - a lower number. Some other deals that follow strictly on BLR on the other hand, would be great to deal with these banks.

The highest saving account interest is 1.88%
Mudharabah Basic Savings Account-i by CIMB Bank Berhad
minimum deposit RM 20
interest calculated daily, compounded monthly

The actual rate may only be 1% now. I suspect that they haven't update their marketing system yet. The actual rate payment is on a profit share bases, so the rate is not really as 'guaranteed' as other saving accounts. But historically, statistically and even politically you will most probably be getting back slightly higher interest than promised. For how long no one knows ...

However, this is still the best choice for a saving account. Other banks' Al-wadiah or Mudharabah accounts are ok too.

Some offers 1.5%
J.P.Morgan Chase Bank Berhad - Saving Account, calculated daily,compound every 6 months
Bank of America - BBS Saving Account, calculated daily,compound every 6 months
Bangkok Bank - Basic Savings Account, calculated daily,compound every 6 months

The other high interest accounts 1% are
The Bank of Nova Scotia Berhad - Basic Savings Account, calculated daily,compound every 6 months
Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ - Savings Account, min RM200, calculated daily,compound every 6 months

Best Car Loan rate for New Car is 2.7% by Maybank
Bank Muamalat offers 2.85% but its effective rate could be lower than Maybank. But it has a RM600 admin charge. Both banks can have up to 90% margin and 9 years tenure.

Bank Muamalat offers the same rate for Used Cars. That makes it the BEST rate for used car loan. Late payment charge in Bank Muamalat is only 1%, compares to the normal practice 8% in all other banks.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Loan is disadvantaged to Cash but Limited !

In an earlier article, a myth was broken where it says "getting loan will Decrease your liquidating options" so if you have the cash to buy the whole thing, you should go ahead and buy it and NOT getting a loan. Because once you get a loan, you will end up disposing your item Slower and get back Less worth - which is the opposite of liquidation.

That message has disturbed a lot of old friends who have been using loan successfully in their property investment. They have been borrowing loan in their investment for more than 10-20 years and almost always successful getting back a bigger return as a result of the loans. If loan is not a good thing or not liquidating, what has happened in the past 10-20 years, they just got lucky ?

Loan or any form of effective borrowing,
is a leverage tool.

Lets take a look at the same example used in last article; You have the option to buy an property for $100,000 and you could also get a loan where the interest is 5% for the next 10 years. Below spreadsheets show a few calculations;
The left most column in bold under "sell direct" mean if you bought with cash earlier and sell now, you would have get back this much money after the appreciation or depreciation.

The right most column in bold under "sell with loan" mean if you got the loan in the beginning, then this is what you get back in net after deducting the remaining capital.

The most important column in this article is the 2nd column from the left under "no loan - loan". It shows the difference of buying with cash vs buying with loan. If it is a positive number, it means buying with cash has an advantage earning or saving against buying with loan.
Below show 2 cases where the property could have appreciate or depreciate 10% a year ...

Case 1 : Item "appreciate" 10% a year

Case 2 : Item "depreciate" 10% a year

If you focus on the numbers in 2nd columns, they stay the same. It doesn't matter if your item increase or decrease in value, the differences between buy with cash and buy with loan are the same.

If your item appreciate, buying with loan will earn $5,000 less.
If your item depreciate, buying with loan will less $5,000 more.

It may still seems like a disadvantage to some readers up to here. But it actually is limiting the strategical cost of a transaction. No matter how the market goes, the person who got a loan will only lose $5,000 comparing to those who bought with cash earlier. In order words, the strategical cost of getting a loan is $5,000 for the 1st year.

You may also observe that this strategical cost is decreasing over the years. 2nd year the difference is less than $10,000 ( $5,000 x 2 ) and 3rd year is even less than $15,000 etc.

Limiting strategy cost no matter how the market goes is a very powerful situation in investment.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

An Economist of Our Time

Few people stand up to a close scrutiny. Paul Samuelson, who died on Sunday at the age of 94, fell apart at first glance. The man was a mountebank, a particularly offensive mix of knave and fool whose crowning as “Titan of Economics”, as the Wall Street Journal put it, said volumes about the society which did the crowning.

He neither understood nor followed the age-old advice that Clint Eastwood’s Inspector Callahan disdainfully summarized: “A man’s got to know his limitations”. In that, he was a fool. He knowingly and methodically downplayed, dismissed and covered up the contradictions that came into his ken, especially the ones which sprang from his “theories”. For that, he was a knave.

He was a “popularizer”; he stripped the “complexities” from the ideas to make them more palatable to the masses. He explained, according to the New York Times obituary, “what Marx could have meant by a labor theory of value”. (Marx meant what he said!)

He dabbled in everything and left behind “voluminous” writings. To the Times, they are the evidence of his “astonishing array of scientific theorems and conclusions”. What they are is a circular canon of superficiality; they show how one may write million of words on a subject and not advance it one iota forward. His Economics is a case in point. It sold millions of copies. It was a veritable cash cow for the Titan over a half a century. And it reads like a Danielle Steel novel, only with more inconsistencies. It is a hillbilly tune to the grand symphonies of the classical economics.

Here is a sample of the Times’ description of Samuelson’s contribution to economics, beginning with his much touted Neoclassical Synthesis.
Mr. Samuelson wedded Keynesian thought to conventional economics. He developed what he called Neoclassical Synthesis. The neoclassical economists in the late 19th century showed how forces of supply and demand generate equilibrium in the market for apples, shoes and all other consumer goods and services. The standard analysis had held that market economies, left to their own devices, gravitated naturally towards full employment.

Economists clung to this theory even in the wake of the Depression of the 1930s. But the need to explain the market collapse, as well as unemployment rates that soared to 25 percent, gave rise to a contrary strain of thought associated with Keynes.

Mr. Samuelson’s resulting “synthesis” amounted to the notion that economist could use the neoclassical apparatus to analyze economies operating near full employment, but switch over to Keynesian analysis when the economy turned sour.

To summarize: Theory A worked under Condition A, but not Condition B. Theory B worked under Condition B and not Condition A. Paul Samuelson came along and “wedded” the two together to create Theory AB. He suggested using part A under condition A and part B under condition B. This, he called “Neoclassical synthesis” – or “Can’t We Just Get Along?” (He probably got the idea from quantum mechanics, where the light is shown to be both wave and particle at the same time).
His speeches and his voluminous writing had a lucidity and bite not usually found in academic technicians. He tried to give his economic pronouncements a “snap at the end”, he said, “like Mark Twain”. When women began complaining about career and salary inequalities, he said in their defense, “Women are men without money.”
So the “Titan of Economics” wanted his comments to have bite, just like Mark Twain! How could have one explained to him that Mark Twain’s comments had a bite because he was conscious of the larger social inequalities. On this topic, he would have probably said: Women are black men.
Mr. Samuelson also formulated the theory of public goods – that is, goods that can be provided effectively only through collective, or government, action. National defense is one such public good. It is nonexclusive; the Navy, for example, exists to protect every citizen. It also eliminates rivalry among its many consumers; that is, the amount of security that any one citizen derives from the Navy subtracts nothing from the amount of security that any other citizen derives.

The features of public goods, Mr. Samuelson taught, stand in direct contrast to those ordinary goods, like apples. An apple eaten by one consumer is not available to any other. Public goods, he concluded, cannot be sold in private markets because individuals have no incentive to pay for them voluntarily. Instead they hope to get a free ride from the decisions of others to make the public goods available.
Here, Samuelson compares the U.S. Navy with an apple and “concludes” that no one would voluntarily buy a nuclear attack submarine, no matter how bad the crime situation got in the neighborhood. From this, he draws the further conclusion that the government has to force everyone to pay for the navy. (Notice how he chooses the safely remote Navy and ignores police, a more logical and intuitive example of the “public good”. Some might have questioned the “nonexclusivity” of the police force from their experience.)

Mr. Saber, now, really. You must be exaggerating; having fun at the expense of the dearly departed. There had to be some value to Samuelson’s work. More than half a century of prizes, awards, citations, recognitions; his book being translated to more than twenty languages and now all these posthumous praises. Surely you are not suggesting that all that is due to chicanery and the man fooled most of the people all his life. You, yourself call him an economist of our time. Even with the hint of disapproval that it is there, he had to do something to deserve the designation. No?

Samuelson influenced our world in two ways. Both were destructive. Both set back the cause of science and gave a black eye to civilization.

One is his “introduction” of mathematics to economics and, later, finance. A single sentence in the Times obituary – in code, as usual – captured this sinister deed:
Mr. Samuelson was credited with transforming his discipline from one that ruminates about economic issues to one that solves problems, answering questions about cause and effect with mathematical rigor and clarity.

Here, “mathematical rigor and clarity” means calculation. It is referring to Paul Samuelson taking economics, which was a social and philosophical discipline concerned with discovering the laws of the dynamics of social change, and bringing it down to the service of the businessmen, putting it to use for the calculation of profit and loss. It was the opportunistic seizing of an opportunity by an opportunist. And it was a serious blow. If the war of ideas were fought like wars, Samuelson would be shot for treason. I wrote about this in Vol. 1:
Pursuing mathematical finance along the lines of Portfolio Selection was advantageous in other ways too. It provided a respite from the contentious ideological disputes in economics between the Left and Right that in the era of McCarthyism were beginning to assume an ever sharper, and potentially career-ruining, tone. Research in mathematical finance had no downside risk. It was socially safe, it provided a perfectly respectable line of research and, with luck, it could lead to new discoveries and from there, to fame and fortune.

But, taking the Times’ descriptions, how does one solve problems and answer questions about cause and effect without ruminating about the issues? This question did not concern Samuelson. He was not interested in the larger social issues that resulted from the business decisions. His work on linear programming is the Exhibit A in this regard. From Vol. 1:
Linear programming epitomized the “objective” science. It seemed to be the embodiment of Friedman’s assertion that “positive economics is in principle independent of any particular ethical position.” The solutions it offered were arrived at mathematically and were indisputable. There was only one best way of scheduling oil tankers between a given number of ports if the profits were to be maximized or costs minimized. Democrats and Republicans, capitalists and communists, oil producers and tanker owners, all had to agree on it.

But while mathematics is abstract, it is always applied in the context of given social conditions. And precisely because mathematics is abstract, upon application it assumes the characteristics of the context to which it is applied. If the context is the Battle of Britain, the mathematics of linear programming shows the best way of organizing fighter planes. If the context is the profitability of commercial airlines, it still shows the best arrangement, which is establishing “hubs” and cutting service to low traffic destinations. Both solutions are mathematically correct. In the latter case, because the purpose behind the application of the method has changed–and that purpose is determine by social conditions–the solution leads to a different kind of consequences: medium-sized and small communities become further isolated.
It mattered little that Samuelson’s knowledge of mathematics was, like his knowledge of economics and finance, shallow. In Vol. 2 of Speculative Capital, you may recall, I examined a densely mathematical passage he wrote on warrants pricing. I was taken aback by flagrant flaws in calculation and reasoning and, especially the way Samuelson handled a contradiction that his own formulation had created; he simply dismissed it as “prosaic”. I wrote: “The passage, after it ceases to be funny, remains difficult to believe”.

What mattered is that Samuelson “delivered” the goods, the goods being the nations’ best and brightest to the service of finance. “When today’s associate professor of security analysis is asked, ’Young man, if you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?’, he replies by laughing all the way to the bank or to his appointment as a high paid consultant to Wall Street”, he wrote in the introduction to Merton’s Continuous-Time Finance. That was the new goal of economics: training highly paid consultant to Wall Street. Looking back at what took place in the business schools and economics departments in the past 30 years, we must, in fairness, acknowledge Samuelson’s service.
When economists “sit down with a piece of paper to calculate or analyze something, you would have to say that no one was more important in providing the tools they use and the ideas that they employ than Paul Samuelson,” said Robert M. Solow, a fellow Nobel laureate and colleague of Mr. Samuelson’s at M.I.T.
Exactly. That is the secret of Samuelson’s fame and success: genuflection in the direction of the businessman. What a falling off was there.

Still, this retrogression pales next to the effects of Samuelson’s other deed, whose impact went further and deeper in the society. I do not suppose the man who emptied economics of social elements noticed or appreciated the irony.

Prior to Samuelson – and Friedman – writing and speaking about economics had been in the form of discourse, which is “proceeding from one judgment to another in logical sequence”, according to its dictionary definition. All classical economists were schooled in logic and philosophy. They could disagree with each other – and they often and vehemently did – but each side could answer and refute the opposing arguments point by point. Because there was a logical relation between the points of a case, in this way one could, if he had the logic on his side, refute the core thought of his opponent.

Samuelson, and his partner in crime, Milton Friedman, changed that. The change was violent and disorienting. It had a similar effect on the intellectual terrain that the introduction of the machine gun had brought to the battlefields of WWI. Whilst previously cavalry had charged the enemy lines, now two men behind a machine gun could hold the line against a thousand charging cavalrymen.

Samuelson and Friedman had no core theory, no central point, no logical anchor, only an “astonishing array of scientific theorems and conclusions”, which meant that they could not be nailed down to any particular position; they switched the subject and sides at will. And they were “formidable debaters”, according to the New York Times, precisely because the substitution of the spoken word for the written word created the ideal environment for their style of polemics. They uttered rapid-fire sequence of nonsensical assertions, peppered with false statistics that they knew no one could check.

With the rat-a-tat of their drivel, they killed discourse. They made discussion, and even conversation, impossible. What do you do with a man who goes on and on about the contrast between the U.S. Navy and an apple and cannot be thrown into a madhouse because of his Nobel Prize and M.I.T. tenure?

In this way, the Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum of economic scene invented the aggressive in-yourfaceness of unreason that we see today in talk radio hosts, Rush Limbaughs and the public figures. That is the main legacy of Samuelson with which we will have to live for years to come.

The Times obituary mentioned that Samuelson had trained and mentored many “brilliant” economists who went on to occupy important positions in academia, government and the private industry. Looking around at the social and economic landscape, I must say that I could have surmised that on my own.

The Trojan War
is over now; I don’t recall who won it.
The Greeks, no doubt, for only they would leave
so many dead so far from their own homeland.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Is Timing Really Everything ?

One of the commonly spread concepts in investment is that "Timing is Everything". The mother of all laws in investment is "Buy Low Sell High", hence knowing WHEN to buy and WHEN to sell is key to everything. Although this seems very logical and correct but it may NOT be the Best strategy one should apply in investment, especially in personal finance.

Timing is indeed very important but it doesn't have to be "Everything".

Timing can be further categorized into (1) timing the exact moment and (2) timing a general period. For example, is current market just over its peak now vs generally the market is still rather high now. While it seems impossible to predict the exact future but its always simpler to get a sense of what may happen next.

I predict that The sun will rise tomorrow morning


The sun will be seen at 7:23am after the clouds are cleared off in 13 minutes

If an investor is Correct All The Time, focusing solely on timing would be a smart thing to do. Otherwise, timing become a variable that can help you as much as killing you. As a matter of fact, it will always help you sometimes and it will always kill you some other time. Hence, knowing what to do when your timing is right or wrong becomes even more important especially when you can't be Correct All The Time. Namely the profit take and cut lost strategies.

It takes 2 timings to get one complete transaction. Buying at the lowest today does not guarantee anything yet if it goes lower tomorrow. Selling (short) at the highest today may still have a higher tomorrows. Hence a perfect transaction that is built by 2 perfect timings can only be justified as an after event. In probability study, even if you can guarantee getting the timing Correct, but there is only half the chance you can get it Correct again twice in a row. In other words, even if you know 100% correct timing when to buy low, but there is only 50% chance that you can also sell high at the perfect timing.

So no matter which ways you look at it, "Timing is Everything" is Not a Guaranteed method. It can make you one in a million, but most people will not get anything positive out of this strategy especially long term wise.

Hence you may need to form an investment strategy that can cater for any timings and events. That would be a rock solid personal finance. If there are certain timings or events that your current profile cannot handle yet, then just temporary exclude investing during those timings and events. Until one day you learn enough to build a more solid personal finance to cater for those timings and events. Thats how malpf's wealth pyramid was introduced earlier, you start with something you don't really need to know like Fix Deposit and slowly learn more before handling mutual funds and stock investment.

However one of the positive human nature is to pursue greatness. Everyone want to hit jackpot no matter how slim the chances are. Timing may not be Everything but it is the Ultimate investment skill. Until today, there is no one formula for Guarantee Exact Timing (GET) in investment yet. And the person who come up with one will sit in the same hall with Newton and Einstein, most probably above all of them.

Hence, totally abandon timing an investment is as ignorant as adhere solely to it, if not worse. What should we do then ?

Build a rock solid personal finance first, then leave a 5% room in it as play money for you to practice timing in real life. This way, overall you will still have a good life ahead of you while not giving up any chances that you can be great! When you find out you are really good at timing, slowly increase your 5%. Otherwise lower the 5% or totally eliminate it especially when your 95% are not even earning more than 5%.

How about you ? How much are you relying on Timing in your life ?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The U.S. Treasury Reaps Big Profits

The news that the U.S. Treasury had “reaped” $936 million from the sale of JPMorgan warrants was everywhere over the weekend. Google “treasury + $936 million” and see for yourself.

Credit the U.S. Treasury with the P.R. job. Its announcement said that JPMorgan’s warrants provided “an additional return to the American taxpayer from Treasury’s investment in the company”.

Additional return. Investment. American Taxpayer. Only Apple Pie and Motherhood were missing from the formal communiqué.

If the “return to U.S. taxpayer” had any meaning, or if the sum involved even matched what Maddoff “investors” are going to get back from the IRS, I would go through the trouble of showing in numbers what this “return” entailed; I know a thing or two about warrants and options.

Still, you can form an informed opinion about the matter from the concluding sentence of the FT article that reported the happy news on its front page:
The Treasury said the price was well above what JPMorgan had offered to buy back the warrants, adding that the auction had been oversubscribed.

The price was well above what JPMorgan had offered. That is called lowballing.

The auction had been oversubscribed. There was nary a word about the buyers, but you could bet your top dollar that they were all professional traders and fund managers. And they were falling over one another to buy the warrants, which is why the auction was oversubscribed.

Bravo, Secretary Geithner – playing one scene of excellent dissembling and letting it look like perfect honor.

A Brief Commentary On a Picture

According to the New York Times, this is how Prof. Sidney Plotkin of Vassar “dramatizes the pressure a president faces in a falling economy”. Click here to see how.

The paper said that Prof. Plotkin shines “a Marxist light” on the economic crisis, though Marx is an “uninvited guest,” the professor was quick to add.

What does he know about his uninvited guest?

Marx wrote: “In the analysis of economic forms … neither microscopes nor chemical reagents are of use. The force of abstraction must replace both”.

Prof. Plotkin has substituted dramatization for abstraction. He no doubt thinks that this shows his enthusiasm. And he may well be enthusiastic. But there is a deeper rationale behind his theatrics which makes them appeal to his students and administrators.

Here is an excerpt from the manuscript of Vol. 4 of Speculative Capital. We pick up where the product is produced and must now be sold, i.e. converted into money. Without this conversion, the production process will come to a halt:
Given this centrality of sales and its practically limitless sub-specialties in a Capitalist society– in the U.S., one would find hiring ads for “nuclear waste salesman” – it is natural that the subject is deeply embedded – intertwined, really – with the culture. Often, it is the driver and creator of the culture, especially in the “Anglo-Saxon” U.S. and U.K., where the businessman’s influence goes further than it would in other nations. The culture in these countries could be said to be the culture of a salesman, as it is shaped by the habits, sensibilities, tastes and priorities of a salesman. This point can best be seen by a look at Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.

The book’s title is precise. It telegraphs the content, so attention must be paid. Carnegie wants to win friends. Why? Because he wants to influence them. But the purpose of this influence is not bringing new friends to the righteous path. Carnegie is not an Islamic zealot practicing the Prevention of Vice and the Propagation of Virtues. He wants to influence people in order to sell to them. Friendship is a strategy, a mere means, towards that end. Note the word “win” – not finding friends or making friends but winning friends. The purpose is exploitation, after which “friends” become what they always were: people. It is a singularly cold-blooded and cynical title.

A straight line connects Dale Carnegie to the modern financier, Michael Milken who, responding to a minion’s comment that the rate they were charging a friend was too much answered: “Who are we going to make money off of if not our friends?”

I am not overstating the role of this depression-era salesman. Dale Carnegie did not invent the ways of salesmanship. He merely categorized them – arranged them around a central theme and in doing so, gave them cohesion and focus. His is the authentic voice of a salesman the way braying is the voice of a donkey.

Look at his chapter titles: Three Ways of Handling People; Six Ways to Make People Like You; Twelve Ways of Winning People to Your Way of Thinking; How to Change People Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment (in 9 steps, ending with “Making People Glad to Do What You Want”). Little wonder, then, that his book became the manifesto for a country whose “chief business” President Coolidge had declared was “business”.

What Carnegie began has grown into a multi-billion a year “self-improvement” and “interpersonal skills” business. Millions of people have taken courses on dressing, speaking, walking, even sitting – that would be “your silent presence” – to hone in their selling skills.

The graduates have then gone on to quietly instill the culture with the values that they learned and internalized in the classrooms. In this way, the modus operandi of the salesmen has turned into the cultural trait of the society. When the modus operandi changes, the culture changes.

One main change in the past 40 years has been the intensified competition due to the falling rates of profit. That has made selling a far more stressful occupation than it was in the heydays of the U.S. industrial power. The salesman is under constant pressure to be more “productive”, meaning that he has to sell more in less time.

The ensuing stress has darkened his mood. The passive Willy Loman has given way to the obscenities-spewing, conniving and downright criminal salesmen of Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross.

In practical terms, efficiency squeeze has necessitated harsher sales tactics. One is that the prospective buyer has to be evaluated quickly: is he/she going to buy or not? There is no time to be wasted on those “just looking”. This could only be done visually, checking the prospective buyer’s car, clothes, shoes – in short, any outward signs of material wealth. Hence, the elevation of the visual and “first impression” above all else. Rorschach test is the “psychological” test of this culture in which the salesman constantly and quickly “sizes up” his prey ...

In this way, the reliance on the visual becomes the norm. The “visual art” rises.
Prof. Plotkin’s understanding of economics is shaped by the salesmen, in the same way that Black, Scholes and Merton’s understanding of options was shaped by the traders. Those who have read Vol. 3 know the price one pays for blindly following these agents of circulating capital.

Is Loan really Better than CASH ?

You may have heard people are claiming its better to get a car loan than buying it with cash even if you could, especially from those car salesmen. Likewise, property investment gurus say that its better to get a home loan. These are some of the key reasons why they say loan is better than cash;
  • Liquidity - keep your money with you, you may need it in future.
  • Income tax department may come 'disturb' you seeing that you have loads of cash.
  • buying stuff with loan usually gets more gifts.
It shouldn't be too hard to realize the main reasons why people pursue you to get a loan is because they may get a share of the interest you are paying. For example, car salesmen earn double the commission when they sell you a car with loan. Property agents want you to buy more property with the limited money you have hence they can earn multiple commission instead of just once. Other than that, most others who pursue the same are most properly are just due to ignorance.
This situation is exceptionally terrible when you are buying a new car. The car salesmen will literally give you a bad service if you mention you will buy the car with cash. They will try their worst effort pursuing you to get the loan no matter what. Else they would rather NOT sell you the car at all.
Getting a loan simply mean Pay Less NOW AND Pay More at the end. To be precise, you will have to pay interest to the loan you are getting.

Loan = Cash + interest

So you will definitely be paying more when you buy something with a loan. If you do not need the facility of 'Pay Less Now', you are basically paying the interest for nothing but ignorance.

Lets clear away the simpler excuses first;
  • Income tax only penalize those who earn income illegally so unless you DO have something to hide else there is really no reason to worry about any audit.
  • All 'gifts' come from your own money, the more gifts you receive in a deal, the more suspicious you should worry about the real value you are receiving.

Now the toughest part is the liquidity. It will be very hard to say keeping some money with you is NOT a liquidity option. But it is not necessary always the best liquidate option.

First of all, when you buy something with cash, its just between you and the seller. However, when you get a loan to buy the same thing, there is at least an additional party involved ie. the person who gives you the loan. Its has not just become a 3 parties complexity, its actually a totally 2 different transactions and a 4 different roles play.

( with Cash )
Buyer and Seller


( with Loan )
Buyer and Seller
Borrower and Lender

So in addition to the interest, you will also pay more fees when you get a loan. When you want to sell your item, you will need to pay this fees again and perhaps also getting approval from this lender. Relatively a cash purchased item can be sold off immediately. From this perspective, doesn't cash purchase sound like a more liquidated option ?

Lets say you could buy something with cash at $100,000. You may also get a 5% loan and pay $1,060 monthly for the next 10 years.

Lets say half way down the road on the 5th year, the item has depreciated to $50,000 (13% depreciation rate). If you bought it with cash, you would end with a net cash $50,000 after selling it. If you got a loan, you would have paid $63,639 in the past 5 years, meaning you still have $36,361 cash at hand. Together with the $50,000 you may think you have more than $80,000 but you still have to repay the capital left in the loan, so at the end you end with a net cash of less than $40,000 which is less than the cash purchase option.

On the other hand, lets say your item appreciate 10% a year. On the 5th year, you could sell it for $161,051. But if you got a loan in the first place, you may get back about $140,000 net, which is still significantly less.

So no matter if your item appreciate or depreciate, if you sell off your item earlier or later, buying something with loan will only end you with ;
  1. slower to sell off your item because it involves 2 transactions and it cost more fees too
  2. getting less cash back at the end
The last I check, disposing something off slower and getting back Less cash is NOT exactly a liquidating option at all.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Will Banks take care of your interest ?

I was once young and naive. Banks are so big, earn so much money that they wouldn't bother to cheat my money. Its safe to leave everything to them and they will take good care of my money, especially when I am not a big user ... but ...

Notice in this statement that previous left over balance is only 1 cent. As a matter of fact, this account has been having 1 cent balance for 2-3 months. Recently I had to use up to RM 100 so that I can use ALL the points to exchange for food voucher before cancelling it. Suddenly there is a finance chargees of 22 cents.

How in the world can there be a 22 cents finance charges out of a 1 cent balance ? The finance charge is 16%.

After digging out the whole Eon team including the highest management demanding for an explanation, no one can answer that except apologizing and waiving the said ridiculous calculated fee. I couldn't help to think how many people out there have been abused by such system bug ? 22 cents x 10 million EON credit card holders = 2.2 millions a month.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Cash Flow vs Asset, which is more Important ... ?

Cash flow is money in your hand where you can USE right now to buy food and petrol. Asset is something that is worth some value but may not be CONSUMED directly like a house and car.
Although there may be more complication like cash is part of asset and the correct wordings for this topic is liquidated vs non-liquidated assets etc. But if we simplify personal finance as much as possible, cash is cash and asset indicate non liquidated net asset.
Many people who are good with their personal finance numbers always asked which is more important ? Maintain a positive Cash Flow or increase net Asset ? Well, the simple and direct answer is:

Cash Flow is more Urgent and
Asset is more Important

Enough cash flow is important for you to live on. At the moment cash ran out, you may start to suffer so much that your personal emotion may kick in affecting all your other judgement; Including selling your asset way under its value. So what if you have a billion dollar castle in a desert while all you need is a drip of water ? So cash flow not only allows you to get by but it can totally destroy you. When cash flow approaches negative arena, its an Urgent warning !

A properly setup asset will automatically increase your worth in time and it is the key to passive income in personal finance. So the long term goal is to have enough asset setup so that you can live happily ever after. Without any asset, you will always HAVE TO earn what you need. Active income means you HAVE TO always work despite if you like it or not. You will have less choice. So setting up good assets are Important in long run.

Following the Urgent vs Important concepts, the standard way of improving the situation is:
  1. Make sure you solve all the urgent matters,
  2. then allocate time to do more important stuff,
  3. and make sure all the important stuff are done to eliminate chances of any urgent matters in future.
Like wise ...
  1. Make sure you have enough cash to get by then => $C
  2. Acquire as many good asset as possible and lastly => ( $A x i% )
  3. Target to have enough asset's return to cover all your cash flow needs
( $A x i% ) > $C

Needless to say, most people are rat racing in step 1 for a long long time. Then once they moved on to step 2, they felt relief and may relax too much that they forgot to keep a healthy level of cash flow. Not knowingly that cash flow can come back anytime to destroy all the stuff you have setup in step 2. This is especially obvious for people who turn from a career to a business during their mid age life.

Before reaching step 3, you will have to juggle both your cash flow and asset ....

Monday, November 30, 2009

A Daisy Chain of Crises

What should you conclude upon hearing of the financial crisis in Dubai?

Perhaps the question is too vague. So let me give a hint:

  • after the collapse of the financial system in the U.S.;
  • after the collapse of the financial system in the U.K.;
  • after the collapse of the financial system in much of the Western Europe;
  • after the collapse of the financial system in the Eastern Europe;
  • after the collapse of the financial system in the emerging countries;
  • after the collapse of the Russian economy in 1998;
  • after the collapse of the Mexican economy in 1994;
  • after the collapse of the financial system in Argentina in 2001;
  • after the collapse of the “Asian” economies in 1998 – that would be Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, The Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan;
  • after the economic and financial crisis in 1998 in Latin America – that would be Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, Columbia, Uruguay;
  • after the collapse of the Japanese economy that has been going on for almost two decades;
  • after the protracted economic and financial crisis in Turkey in 1980s and 1990s and the 2000s that saw Turkish lira lose its value 1,000,000 times;

After all these crises, what should you conclude when you hear of the crisis in Dubai?

You must conclude that theses economic and financial crises cannot, by definition, be aberrations or exceptions. They are more like a natural phase of the system, the inevitable and necessary aspect of its operation.

That is the subject of the Vols. 4 and 5 of of Speculative Capital: the crisis as the “property” of the financial system currently in place in much of the world, with all the social, economic and financial implications that follow.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Malaysian Life Expectancy

I found this in one of the un-published drafts ...

Life expectancy at birth : male 69 / female 74

Healthy life expectancy at birth (2003): male 62 / female 65

Probability of dying under five (per 1 000 live births): 12 = 1.2%

Probability of dying between 15 and 60 years m/f (per 1 000 population): male 197 = 19.7% / female 109 = 10.9%

Basically a male Malaysian can expect to live healthily until age 62 and then drag 7 years before dying at age 69. Likewise women may drag 9 un-healthy years in average before passing away. Some people may have planned for their departure. But almost all people forget their lives WILL NOT just END like that. Instead, it will most probably be a .... ... ... kind of ending. You will most probably be causing troubles to yourself, your family or at least to the society! Other than the finance preparation, what else have you done to prepare for your golden years ?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

More Info : invest your EPF money in stock market direclty.

It was mentioned before that you can use your EPF money to invest directly in the stock market, especially through Jupiter and Amara. The main selling points are;
  1. cheaper than invest to Mutual Fund ( 5.5% ) vs 3% charged by Amara
  2. freedom to invest in any particular stock and not a whole portfolio.
Although Jupiter only charges 0.1% or minimum RM 10 brokerage fee but actually Amara, the licensed EPF withdrawal facilitator, have more charges other than the 3% one time drawn down fee.

The significant ones are
  • Transaction fee : 0.1% or minimum RM 15 per contract
  • Custody fee RM 0.005 per 1,000 shares per month
Add together with Jupiter's fee, your total brokerage fee may effectively be at 0.2% or minimum RM 25. So each MOTS (Minimum Optimized Trading Size) is RM 12,500. With RM 25,000 you can only make 2 transactions.

Assuming you fully load all your investment in the market and average price per share is RM 1. Then 25,000 shares /1,000 x 0.5 cent = RM 0.125 every month. 1 year would be RM 1.50. That would be 0.006% of your initial RM 25,000 investment.

At the end, you may still be paying 4-5% fee in the whole process. In contrast to mutual fund's 5.5%. If saving fee is your main target, perhaps becoming a mutual fund agent yourself could end up saving more. On the other hands, most of the EPF oriented mutual funds are charging less fee.

So if EPF gets a 5% return, you should be able to do more than 10% in order to 'invest yourself'. Else you may just be depleting your ASS - Automatic Saving System.

Also be reminded that if you make a lot of transactions, you may end up paying more than 6% fee.

Friday, November 20, 2009

You can use Your EPF money to invest in stocks ?

If you have enough money in your EPF, you can withdraw some of them into a stock trading account and invest for yourself. This may interest those who think they are more market savvy than EPF investment. ie. you were NOT happy with EPF past year performances or you think you can do better than them in future.

First of all, depends on what your age is, there is a certain amount of money you have to leave in account 1. After minus out this amount, you can withdraw up to 20% of whatever left in Account 1. However, the fund receiving party may not simply accept any small amount. A common minimum amount to be withdrawn is MYR 30,000.

Together with Amara, Jupiter Online recently has an offer where the minimum amount is lowered to MYR 25,000. This way, more EPF account holder can use their money for this purpose.

Fees being charged are
  • One time 3% drawn down fee. ( by Amara )
  • 0.1% or MYR 10 brokerage fee ( by Jupiter )
The following table shows how much you need in your Account 1 in your EPF so that you are eligible for this. If you have never withdrawn from your EPF before, Account 1 is 70% of your total EPF.

My advice ? Financially one shouldn't simply withdraw money from his Automatic Saving System. Statistically MOST people do not earn consistently from stock investment. Although many may think they did great but almost certainly they have miss calculated the power of compound saving. Not to mention most investors DO NO even have a systematic trading strategy and plans.

Assume foregoing EPF payout is 5% in average. Withdrawing would minus out 3% from the fund. So you can out perform EPF if you consistently gain 8.1% return. ( where does the extra 0.1% come from ?)

A good stock investor can get 6% to 12% so its still a viable option, especially if you agree with these ...
and perhaps some tools that can help you
  • see how the world moves before your market opens @ (the story)
  • use this tool to calculate price to buy with historical EPS and projected PE
Be reminded that the best investment gurus like Buffet and Benjamin only out perform market by 6.46%, full story here.

Those are just recommendation base on finance and statistic. If you personally hate EPF or simply don't trust them with your money, you probably just want to take all out despite everything else. Keeping your money in the stock broker account usually gives you a slightly lower than Fix Deposit interest anyway.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Question of Perspective

Last Friday, William Dudley, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York delivered a long speech on “Lessons From the Crisis” in the Center of Economic Policy Studies Symposium at Princeton University. I don’t suppose you could get any more serious than that in terms of authority and setting, even though the speaker felt compelled to issue a disclaimer: “As always, my remarks reflect my own views and opinions and not necessarily those of the Federal Reserve System.” It is astounding how no one dares to speak freely, even when the subject is a non-political, technical one and the speaker is the president of the New York Fed.

My aim is not to offer a blow-by-blow critique of the speech. What I want to focus on, rather, is Dudley’s perspective, the way he sees things. I wrote about this seeing-things-through-the-eye-of-finance-capital in here and here. So the focus is not on Dudley. He is merely a Rumian part that adequately reflects the whole.

The technical description of markets and processes in the speech are generally accurate. But look at the circumlocution and the child-like narrative when the speaker explains the tri-party repo market.
In the case of the tri-party repo market, the stress on repo borrowers was exacerbated by the design of the underlying market infrastructure. In this market, investors provide cash each afternoon to dealers in the form of an overnight loan backed by securities collateral.

Each morning, under normal circumstances, the two clearing banks that operate tri-party repo systems permit dealers to return the cash to their investors and to retake possession of their securities portfolios by overdrawing their accounts at the clearing banks. During the day, the clearing banks finance the dealers’ securities inventories.

Usually, this arrangement works well. However, when a securities dealer becomes troubled or is perceived to be troubled, the tri-party repo market can become unstable. In particular, if there is a material risk that a dealer could default during the day, the clearing bank may not want to return the cash to the tri-party investors in the morning because the bank does not want to risk being stuck with a very large collateralized exposure that could run into the hundreds of billions of dollars. Overnight investors, in turn, don’t want to be stuck with the collateral. So to avoid such an outcome, they may decide not to invest in the first place. These self-protective reactions on the part of the clearing banks and the investors can cause the tri-party funding mechanism to rapidly unravel. This dynamic explains the speed with which Bear Stearns lost funding as tri-party repo investors pulled away quickly.

The result was a widespread loss of confidence throughout the money market and interbank funding market. Investors became unwilling to lend even to institutions that they perceived to be solvent because of worries that others might not share the same opinion. Rollover risk—the risk that an investor’s funds might not be repaid in a timely way—became extremely high.
These words are simultaneously convoluted and simplistic. When the speaker says that in the tri-party market “investors provide cash each afternoon to dealers in the form of an overnight loan backed by securities collateral”, it is as if a 5th-grader is explaining the market. And he has the order wrong. The drivers of the tri-party repo market are not investors who provide cash but the broker dealers who seek money to buy an asset that they themselves could not otherwise afford. If you miss this point, you will not understand the tri-party repo market.

Dudley’s language reflects his thought process, the ways he see things. But the language is not only a passive reflector. It has an active, pernicious side as well: It hinders thinking by creating the impression that something new was told and learned while in fact nothing of the sort happened. So the real cause remains unexplored. Look at this explanation of the crisis:
At its most fundamental level, this crisis was caused by the rapid growth of the so-called shadow banking system over the past few decades and its remarkable collapse over the past two years.
But why was there a remarkable growth of shadow banking? Why did it collapse? Mr. Dudley is giving as the explanation of the crisis the very things that he is called upon to explain.

With such muddled thinking, his “framework” to fix the problem naturally degenerates into a discussion of the “psychology” of lender and borrowers, as in this gem:
This second cause of liquidity runs—the risk of untimely repayment—is significant because it means that expectations about the behavior of others, or their “psychology”, can be important. This is a classic coordination problem. Even if a particular lender judges a firm to be solvent, it might decide not to lend to that firm for fear that others might not share the same assessment.
This is the nonsense that he must have heard from some CEO or one his minions as the cause of the crisis.

I wrote about the role of the tri-party repo market in fermenting the crisis here and here. Read them to see why I emphasize, and mean by, the perspective, the “angle of vision on reality”; it liberates the language and allows for imparting knowledge.

On the larger question of the cause of crisis, I have already pointed out that only two issues matter: the structure of the financial system which develops naturally and could be said to be imposed onto the system, and the fall in the value of the securities due to the transformation of values to prices. Most of this blog has been about the first issue. The question of transformation I will take up in Vols. 4 and 5 of Speculative Capital.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Is Buying New Car the Only Way ?

One of the previous articles showed a method to calculate how much one should pay for a car. In that example, the number is $1,300. That article then relates the $1,300 to a purchase of NEW car selling at $43,000 or below.

However buying new car shouldn't be your only way to have your very own transport.

Used Car
You may only get a SMALL NEW car with $40,000+ but you can get a pretty NICE USED car for only $20,000. That is an instant 50% saving !

Do you have friends or relatives who have extra cars parking at their homes only being used once in a while ? There was once I drove my uncle's Mercedes for a month and I only paid $800 for it. Last weekend I visited 10 eligible neighbors telling them my car has broke down and I need to borrow their cars for a month. 3 of them are willing to do so for $500.

Car Pooling
Usually people don't car pool and there are many excuses for that. But at the moment I showed some cash, 15% of the drivers suddenly become more friendly. This is especially good for regular trips. As for the weekend get away, I looked for shopping and travel buddies who drive.

What other creative ways you can think of to use your transport money ?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Govt. goes public - Don't subsidize the RM50 !

It was hinted before that government may try to stop banks to subsidize credit card users on the RM50 fee to be enforced by the government starting next year.

Today its no longer an internal warnings between government and banks. Government has made it public in the news on this. But of course it was made in a polite way,

if banks subsidize our RM 50
we will FAIL to reduce
Credit Card Debt problem !

Actually following one of the latest sharing commented by Alan in last post, banks faced many rejections on the ideas they proposed to bank negara. But BNM has no control whatsoever on the points accumulated in your credit cards. So when banks use the point system to return the RM 50 value to the credit card users, government fail to stop that approach. Hence, government goes public with news to add public social pressure to the banks.

Its interesting to see how politic and finance fight so fierce over our precious RM 50.

I am predicting the next move from bank is introducing 1Card - use ONE bank's credit card as to replace ALL other banks' card. Such Credit Card will have combined limit of all your other cards. The trouble they are facing now is to combine all the rebates offers because each bank only have contracts with certain retailers.

Imagine a Card that you can swipe up to $200,000 !! You can buy a house instantly with a plastic !!