ad astra per alia porci

How to “Niederhoffer” A Class
April 30, 2007, 3:35 pm
Filed under: Lifeskills

Tips on how to do well in university by Victor Niederhoffer

  1. Always take a major course in its off-time. Your competitors will be those who either flunked it previously or aren’t serious about it.
  2. Whenever you are unprepared in class, speak out early so you will be less likely to be called on regarding the assigned material. If you aren’t prepared for a particular question on an exam, write your own and answer it.
  3. Never take a course with a male instructor when attractive females are sitting in the front row (and vice versa). A related principle is that teachers grade students of the opposite sex more leniently than those of the same sex. Because professors of both sexes grade males more strictly than females, males should try to conceal their gender on papers and tests as much as possible, and females should make their gender obvious.
  4. Try to enroll in course that are experiencing declining enrollment. The professor will be grading high to keep the course alive.
  5. Avoid courses taught by graduate student assistants who seem to be trying to engage you or others romantically.
  6. Visit during the professor’s office hours as frequently as possible. It will be harder for a professor who knows you well to grade you harshly, especially if item 3 or item 5 pertains.
  7. Start slowly in courses that are known to be graded according to improvement during the term; incorporate systemic errors in your initial papers and exams so that you will be seen to improve during the course of the semester.
  8. Always recapitulate the professor’s favourite catch phrases and cliches on your papers and exams.
  9. Study the past exams. Previous questions and themes are often repeated.

Man Wah Holdings
April 24, 2007, 12:55 pm
Filed under: companies analysis

Man Wah Holdings (SGX: M42)

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Notes from The Little Book on Value Investing
April 23, 2007, 1:42 pm
Filed under: investments/finance/economics

Personal notes from The Little Book of Value Investing


Christopher H. Browne and Roger Lowenstein

Two ways to determined intrinsic value

· Using statistics and financial ratios

· Appraisal method

o Making a company-specific estimate of what the stock would be worth if the company were sold to a knowledgeable buyer in an open auction

The two tenets of value investing – intrinsic value and margin of safety

Margin of safety

· Graham buys stocks at 2/3 or less of intrinsic value

· Avoid investing in companies with a lot of debt relative to net worth

· Have a broadly diversified portfolio – a minimum of ten

· Be a contrarian

How to find out intrinsic value? – Book value, cheap earnings and balance sheet analysis

Buy earnings on the cheap

· Look for low price/earnings ratio

· The lower the P/E the higher the earnings yield, which is EPS/ stock price

· Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization – EBITDA

Buy companies below book value per share

· Book value – what a company owns less what it owes

· Have a global approach – look for foreign stocks too

Investing globally

· Watch out for difference in accounting – it might lead to opportunities

· Invest in stable markets of developed economies and countries

Buy when insiders buy

· Management has intimate knowledge of the fortunes of a company

· No other motivation for insider buying other than to profit

· Insider buying of below book value stocks is even better

· When insiders sell, it might be for a myriad of reasons, hence it is not always bad

Watch for company buyback of stocks – companies feel they are undervalued and prospects are good

Watch the movement of major shareholders – look out for successful investors

Where to find info and do research

· Websites – Bloomberg, Yahoo! Finance,

· Publications – Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, Barron’s

· Find who owns a stock and track their movement – hedge funds etc

· Read fund manager reports for ideas

· Look at prices paid in corporate mergers and acquisitions to find stocks that are selling at a significant discount to what they are actually worth to a knowledgeable buyer

o Most of the time mergers and takeovers occur at a price close to the real worth of a business

Identifying bad bargains – how to determine why a company’s shares are cheap and which ones have low chances of recovery

· Too much debt – Graham: “A company should own twice as much as it owes.”

· Missed earnings estimates set by professional analysts is not fatal and it tends to create opportunities for value investors

· Cyclical stocks might be a bargain but only if it is not overly leveraged since its earnings are cyclical

· Avoid companies with excessive pension liabilities and a contentious labour environment

· Avoid companies faced with strong competition and product obsolescence

· Steer clear of overly complicated financial reports and accounting fraud

· Buy companies in industries which business is easily understood and/or for which there is an ongoing need

· Look out for investment moats

· Practise healthy sceptisim

Company health

· Check the balance sheet

· Liquidity is important – current assets vs. current liabilities

· Current ratio as indication of company’s ability to pay short-term obligations – preferably 2:1 in last few years

· Long term assets – long term liabilities = shareholder’s equity or book value

· Debt to equity ratio

· Strong balance sheet is indicative of a company’s stamina and ability to withstand problems

Earning prospects

· Check the income sheet

· Sales/revenue vs. expenses (cost of production of goods sold)

· Gross profit = sales – expenses

· Gross profit margin = gross profit / sales

· Operating expenses = fixed expenses and all employees not involved in production

· Gross profits – operating expenses = operating profit, or earnings before interest and taxes

· Final earnings = operating profits – (interest expense + taxes + depreciation)

· Check the trend of the income statement over 5-10 years

o Increasing or decreasing? Cyclical?

· Check the shares outstanding

o Too many shares? Too much stock options? Or company buying back shares?

· Return on Capital – divide earnings in any given year by the beginning year’s capital, stockholder equity plus debt

o A high ROC means greater chance of financing growth with self-generated cash

· Net profit margin = earnings / total revenue

Identifying the best companies – questions to ask

· Ability to raise prices and sell more

· Can it increase its profits?

· Can it control or reduce expenses?

· Ability to sustain profitability

· Any one time expenses?

· Any unprofitable operations it can shed?

· How much can it grow?

· How growth is achieved?

· What does the company do with excess cash?

· How does it compare financially with other companies in the same industry?

· What do the insiders do?

· Does it plan to buy back stock?

· How much is it worth if sold?

Some fashion tips…
April 22, 2007, 3:32 am
Filed under: fashion and grooming

365 Style and Fashion Tips for Men


Claudia Piras and Bernhard Roetzel


Suit, Shirt and Tie

  • Pinstrips and chalkstripes are regarded as the accepted uniform of the business world
  • Black is not a suitable colour for a business suit except as a background colour to white pinstripes.
  • Always keep your jacket on during a business meeting with a client.
  • Light-gray suits are not suitable for evening occasions while darker shades are.
  • The shirt collar must stick out at least a quarter inch above the jacket.
  • White is a classic colour for business suits.
  • Avoid short-sleeved shirts for the office.
  • Anyone with a good eye for quality would look first at a shirt’s side seams. The narrower it is, the higher the quality.
  • When choosing a tailor, go by personal recommendations.
  • The best shirt buttons are made of mother-of-pearl.
  • The best way to test the quality of a tie is to hold it at its narrow end and let it hand down. If it is twisted, it is not cut properly.
  • Neckties made from silk, cashmere or wool should never be washed.
  • Never try to smooth out crumpled neckties by ironing them. All you need to do is roll up your tie and the creases will come out by themselves.
  • Wool ties are too casual for business. Wear silk ties to office.


  • Shoes must be a perfect fit.
  • The most conservative type of shoe is the stout, black
  • Loafers should be quite a tight fit across the instep when you first try them.
  • If you are wearing shoes with a metal buckle, the buckle must match that of your belt.
  • You should wear dark knee-length socks with your business suit and light-coloured ones with casual wear.
  • Always put a shoe tree inside your shoes after each wearing.
  • For best results when cleaning your shoes, rub on some shoe polish in the evening and leave overnight before polishing the next day.
  • Lace-up shoes should not be too tight across the instep. The lacing should still leave a little gap when the shoe is fastened.

Smart Casual

  • Never press a crease into your jeans
  • The most popular type of leisure wear pants are chinos. They cannot be too creased or baggy.

Mixing and Matching

  • Every colour can be repeated, but only once.
  • Avoid wearing navy-blue socks with black shoes
  • Feel of individual garments must harmonise. E.g. shiny black shoes do not match with a tweed jacket.
  • Avoid wearing a shirt, suit and necktie with the same patterns.

Personal accessories

  • Visible jewelry should be restricted to two rings, a watch, and a pair of cuff links.
  • A man’s chief accessory is his watch.
  • Make sure that any metal elements in your jewelry and accessories match each other.
  • The colour of the belt should match the shoes.
  • If you want to be really precise, your wristwatch should also match your belt and shoes.

Hair, beard and body

  • The most important thing about a hairdo is that it should look natural.

Shopping with style

  • If your jacket is taut across the stomach when buttoned up, it is too small around the waist.
  • Trousers are the right size around the waits if they just stay up comfortably without the aid of a belt.
  • You can judge the quality of a suit from the interior finish of the pants. The more detailed the finish, the more expensive the suit.
  • Never buy a suit made from synthetic materials.
  • Never try on trousers after a lavish meal.
  • The quality of a suit can be seen if the creases on it disappear overnight.
  • Never buy a shirt without trying it on first.

Notes from Dressing the Man by Alan Flusser
April 22, 2007, 3:27 am
Filed under: fashion and grooming

Dressing The Man


Alan Flusser


Dressing well depends on two pillars – colour and proportion

  • Learn which colours enhance your complexion and the proportion that fits your personal architecture

The face is the destination to which one’s attire should escort the beholder’s attention.


Two colour techniques

  • The first technique involves the relationship between the complexion and an outfit’s level of contrast
    • The colours of any given ensemble should exhibit the same degree of contrast as that manifested by one’s skin and hair tones, a person’s two primary colour signposts.
    • A man’s complexion can be scaled down to two basic formats: contrast or muted. If your hair is dark and skin is light, you have a contrast complexion. If your hair and skin tone is similar, your complexion is muted.
    • Asians generally have high contrast complexions, hence a high contrast ensemble works.
  • The second technique focuses on the enhancement of the face through repetition of one or more of its tones in the surrounding apparel
    • Features to consider in order of importance: skin, hair, eye colour, special pigmentation in skin

The Dress Shirt

  • Most men are taught to use the dress shirt as a harmonizer between suit and necktie; the classy man uses the shirt as a focal point.
  • The length and spread of the collar points should complement the head’s contour and size
    • Long straight-point collars with little spread between their points will extend and narrow a wide countenance, just as the broadly spaced points of a spread collar will counterbalance and long and narrow face.
    • Long-necked men require taller collars with wider neckbands that raise the collar’s height, while short-necked men need lower-sitting collars with a more forward slope.
    • Small collars make a large head appear even larger.
  • Collars counterbalance the facial structure by either softening dominant lines or strengthening weak ones.
    • Long-pointed collars that are either pinned or buttoned down will help to countermand faces with angular features and strong lines.
    • A full face that sags around the chine or cheeks demands a stiffer collar
  • With top button closed, two fingers should be able to slide comfortably between the neck and the collar of a new shirt.
  • The shirt should be cut full enough to allow the wearer to sit without concern for whether its front will gape open.
  • The shirt length should be that you can raise your arms without it pulling your trousers up.
  • When a necktie is worn, the collar’s points ought to be able to remain in touch with the shirt’s body, no matter where the wearer turns his head.
  • Semi-spread to cutaway collars should have no tie space above the tie’s knot, with points long enough to be covered by the jacket’s neckline.
  • No part of the collar’s neckband should peek over the tie’s knot.
  • The shirt must fit snugly around the wrist so that the additional length required to keep the cuff from pulling back from the arm is extended does not force it down the hand.
  • Shirt cuff and hand should move as one; if the hand can slide through the cuff opening without first unfastening it, the cuff’s circumference is too large.
  • Shirt formality
    • The stiffer the collar and the more open the collar points, the more formal it is
    • Double-button cuff is more formal than single
    • Smoother or more lustrous materials are dressier

The Suit Jacket

  • Jacket shoulder – natural, fitting, not too augmented
  • Jacket collar – ½ inch of dress shirt collar to be shown above the jacket collar at the back
  • Jacket length – two methods to decide length
    • Jacket length in relation to the torso: divide in half the length from the collar’s seam to the floor
    • Jacket length in relation to the arm: jacket’s bottom should line up with the thumb knuckle
  • Waist button – When fastened, it should divide the body so that the torso and legs  appear at maximum length
  • The gorge and lapel width
    • If he is short, a man’s lapel notches should sit higher up his chest, the longer lapel line emphasizing verticality
    • A broad-shouldered man should have a broader lapel
  • The jacket sleeve
    • Full at the top, and tapering down to the wrist bone, and it must hang straight
    • The sleeve’s converging lines should conform to the broad shoulder and narrowing waist of the jacket
    • The band of linen between jacket sleeve and hand must be present; at least ½ inch of shirt cuff must be seen below the jacket cuff
    • When worn, the fit must not be too tight; there must be no “X’ shaped crease at the front of the jacket at the waist buttons

The Suit Trouser

  • Suit trousers should extend the line of the jacket, hence lengthening the overall figure
  • Worn at the waist, not the hip
  • With pleated trousers, the hip and thigh must be cut full enough so that the pleats lie flat and do not pull open when standing
  • When standing, the trouser crease should bisect the kneecap and finish in the middle of the shoe
  • Cuffed bottoms should rest with a slight break on top of the shoe, and cuffless bottoms should slant towards the heel
  • Trousers should slant forward just before the shoe
  • The proper width of trouser cuffs should be 1 5/8 inches for men under 5 feet 10 inches

The Dress Belt

  • The choice of dress belt should be dictated first by the shoe’s colour and then by the hue of the jacket and trouser.
  • Avoid mixing leather colours such as a brown belt with black shoe and vice-versa.
  • Generally dress belts should be an equal or darker shade than the suit.
  • A darker belt imparts a dressier look
  • The more the contrast between belt and trouser, the sportier the result.
  • The colour of the belt should minimize the transition at the waist without interrupting the liner flow of the coat and trousers.
  • The belt’s end should finish between the first and second belt loop of the trousers.

The Dress Shirt

  • The choice is guided first and foremost by the appropriateness of the collar shape to the wearer’s face
  • Small face, small collar and vice versa

The Necktie

  • The necktie’s correct width is determined by the jacket’s lapel
  • Broad shoulders means a wider lapel means a larger-scaled necktie and vice versa
  • The secret of tie aesthetics lies in compression the knot that it can dovetail high up into the inverted “V” of the collar’s converging sides
  • To enhance its staying power, a dimple or inverted pleat should emerge from under the middle of a taut knot.

The Pocket Handkerchief

  • A natural effect: angle it towards the shoulder with points irregularly arranged, since it echoes the slant of the jacket’s lapel and reinforces the breadth of the wearer’s chest and upper body

The Dress Socks

  • The socks must match the dressiness of the trousers and shoes.
  • Socks should match trousers, rather than the shoe.
  • With navy suit and black shoes, navy socks are richer than black; with a dark grey suit and brown footwear, charcoal hose would be the more stylish colour.
  • For black trousers and black shoes, black socks should be avoided.
  • The more formal the ensemble, the finer or more sheer the sock is.
  • The socks may match the necktie.
  • The bulkier the outfit, the more one must step up the sock’s thickness.

The Tailored Ankle

  • Trouser bottom should cover about 2/3 of the shoe

Proportion and Body Type – Tips for short men

  • To elongate the figure, the eye needs to be distracted from the waistline and led north to the shoulders and south below the knees
  • The jacket length needs to be kept on the short side, yet cover the seat of his pants
  • The single-breasted, two-buttoned jacket with a medium “V” that opens down to the waist is more flattering to the short figure than the higher, closed fronts of the three-button coat
  • Lapel notches should rest higher on the upper chest for a longer lapel line
  • Jacket sleeves should finish to show a half inch of shirt cuff: this helps balance off the sleeve and shorter jacket length
  • When it comes to jacket detailing, less is more. More details reduce the lines
  • Wear trousers on the waist
  • For trousers, the cuffs should be 1 5/8 inches, or not have it at all

Mixing Patterns

  • When mixing patterns of the same design, the size of each pattern has to be as different as possible. E.g. broad lines mixes with narrow thin lines
  • Mixing two different patterns: keep them close in size. If patterns are small, do not have two small patterns, otherwise it confuses the eye. One big pattern can be paired with a small one.
  • Mixing three patterns
    • Use different patterns but same scale
    • If two patterns are the same, separate the like designs in size and select an unlike pattern that is visually compatible with both.
    • If all patterns are the same, graduate in scale.

Notes from John Train’s The Art of Investing
April 22, 2007, 3:21 am
Filed under: investments/finance/economics

Excerpts from John Train’s The Craft of Investing


An Investment Credo


  1. The basic purpose of investment is to buy a stream of earnings and dividends that will rise substantially faster than inflation: that is, to preserve capital in real terms and provide an income to live on.
  2. Within this broad objective, active investment management seeks to buy undervalued securities that should rise faster than the market, and can then be sold in whole or in part to buy new undervalued securities.
  3. We have a number of specific techniques that we follow when making an investment. Some of them are:
    1. Normally, we want to know more about a company whose stock we buy than almost anybody else outside of management.
    2. The stock should be misunderstood by the market at the time we buy it, for reasons that we also understand.
    3. The imputed rate of return, assuming that one could buy the whole company at the market capitalization implied by the price per share, should be much higher than either inflation or the nominal return on bonds.
    4. We only buy the stocks of outstanding companies that we would be willing to hold for a long time in the absence of any market… the way one buys a house. We do not buy unseasoned, mediocre or troubled companies that seem underpriced: that is a more profitable strategy if it works, but increases risk if things go wrong.
  4. Here are some of the characteristics of an outstanding company:
    1. By nature it can float on the surface of inflation. This usually means that it dominates some particular area of a growing market, and it is able to pass on price increases to its customers.
    2. Management is superb, and dedicated to the shareholders’ interest, with substantial ownership position.
    3. It is not a natural target of government regulation, consumerism, or intense competition (e.g., Japanese).
    4. It has a high profit margin, and makes a high return on capital: in cash, not just in taxable accounting profits. In practice this usually mean that I has very low debt, and also that it is the low-cost producer in its industry.
    5. Typically, an outstanding company that is big enough so that we can feel confident we understand, and still small enough to have a lock on something with dynamic growth, will have sales in the middle to high hundreds of millions of dollars, and will not be significantly unionized.
    6. Often such a company will be a “productivity play”; that is, it enables other companies to make more money, rather than competing in the consumer market.
  5. We do not employ margin. In a severe market decline, good stocks can be cut in half in a few months. If one is employing meaningful margin, one risks a wipeout, even though everything recovers in due course. That is even truer of short sales.
  6. We maintain reasonable liquid reserves at all times, increasing them when we believe the market to be dangerous. Our cardinal objective is to avoid a major impairment of our clients’ assets.
  7. We do not regard bonds as a desirable long-term investment, unless one reinvests most of the income. If one spends bond interest during a period of inflation, one is to some extent really consuming capital, since because of inflation the value of a bond in real terms often declines at a rate comparable to the after-tax interest received. And above all, during hyperinflation bonds can lose most of their value in real terms.
  8. One is, on the contrary, increasing capital in real terms if, for example, one owns shares in businesses whose value is building at the rate of 15 percent a year before inflation (or, let us say, 10 percent after inflation) and one spends 5 percent of one’s capital a year, even though the actual dividend income is only 3 percent.

Information websites
April 22, 2007, 3:19 am
Filed under: investments/finance/economics

Information Websites

(taken off Ken Fisher’s The Only Three Questions That Count)




Data Includes:


Global stock market news and quotes, calculators and other media

Bureau of Economic Analysis

GDP, current account balance, import/export

Bureau of Labour Statistics

CPI, unemployment, productivity, inflation

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Statistics: births, deaths, health trends and statistics, demographics, etc.

Department of Commerce

Trade conditions

Energy Information Administration

Energy source statistics, historical data

Forbes Magazine

Business and market news, personal finance

International Monetary Fund

International economic and financial statistics

Lexis Nexis

Comprehensive search engine of news, public records and information sources

Morgan Stanley Capital International

MSCI indexes, data, characteristics, performance

National Bureau of Economic Research

Business cycles (recession timing)

New York Stock Exchange

New York Stock Exchange

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

International economic and trade statistics

Real Clear Politics

Essential political news, headlines, blogs, polls, etc.

Russel Index Service

Russell index data, characteristics and valuations

Standard & Poor’s Index Service

S&P indexes, data, characteristics, constituents

The Economist

World financial and economic news, current events weekly

The Financial Times (

International stock market, business and world news

Thomas/US Library of Congress

Legislative information

U.S. Department of Defense

Official news, reports

U.S. Federal Reserve

Bank balance sheet, credit statistics, money stock, flow of funds

U.S. Government Official Web Portal

Links to all government branches, departments, areas

U.S. House of Representatives Office of the Clerk

Legislative branch details, history, election statistics

U.S. Office of Management and Budget

U.S. Budget

U.S. Treasury

Taxes, interest rates, social secutiry, medicare

Wall Street Journal (US)

International stock market, business, and world news

Wilshire Index Service

Wilshire stock indexes, valuations

World Health Organisation

Global health & burden of disease statistics, mortality, news, alerts


Notes from Super Cash: The New Hedge Fund Capitalism
April 22, 2007, 1:17 am
Filed under: investments/finance/economics

Ideas and notes taken off Super Cash: The New Hedge Fund Capitalism by James Altucher. Not all the ideas are reflected here, only those that I feel are relevant and of further interest. A fascinating book on the various unconventional techniques used by various hedge funds to earn returns.

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China Paper Holdings Limited
April 21, 2007, 2:24 pm
Filed under: companies analysis

China Paper Holdings Limited (SGX: C71)

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some places for men’s fashion and shoes
April 19, 2007, 8:59 am
Filed under: fashion and grooming

Extracts from Urban…

Sharp outfits for men

EDC Men – Espirit, Wisma Atria, Isetan Level 3, tel 67342396

Topman – Wisma, Vivo

River Island – Vivocity, 02-41/42 tel 63768122

Library – Tangs, Orchard and Vivo

Zara – Vivo, Liat Towers

Shoe Shops

BeetleBug – B1-28 Wisma Atria, 02-05 Parco Bugis Junction, 02-32 Parkway Parade

Pedro, under Charles and Keith – B1-29 Citylink Mall, B1-36 Wisma Atria, 02-185 Vivocity

Zara – Vivo, Liat, Ngee Ann City

In:Famous – 02-209 Vivocity, sneakers

Everbest – Marina Square, HarbourFront, Suntec, Plaza Singapura – made in china shoes

Robinsons – Centrepoint, Raffles City

Primavera – Marina Square, Vivocity, Junction 8

Substance – OUB Centre, Wheelock Place

River Island – Vivocity

Modern diet, primitive body
April 17, 2007, 1:46 pm
Filed under: training and nutrition

Reading various books on diet and nutrition has led me to draw certain observations and truisms regarding our diet. Modern diet, as epitomised by the ubiquitous fast food meal, is heavy skewed towards a diet rich in trans fat, protein and excess carbohydrates with a distinct lack of fiber and nutrients and is detrimental to human health since it does not meet the requirements of the human body which is largely made for a diet that our primitive cavemen ancestors had. While modern culture and cuisine has evolved greatly over the years, the genetic dispositions of our body with regards to its nutritional needs and habits have not changed much.

This fact sheds some light on many quirks of our eating behaviour. Prehistoric men were hunter-gatherers and foragers; they ate what they could find and meat, fat and organs from animals were luxuries. Whenever they can get their hands on quality protein and innards, they ate it for its nutritional value. In a way, they are psychologically tuned to like fats and protein, which was a positive trait for survival since fat and protein were rare commodities then. Today, while we can easily obtain protein and fat, our prehistoric psychological  disposition has not changed fundamentally. We love fatty, oily foods and meats of all kinds; now that it is made so easily available, our prehistoric brain tells us to gorge. Hence the increase in obesity levels the world over.

It does not help that the quality of food that we have in this modern age has greatly deteriorated. Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma is a fascinating book that illuminates aspects of our food culture. Pollan traces the source of all food to corn. Industrial corn is produced in large quantities which in turn is used to make a whole variety of food products that are not necessarily good for human health. Beef nowadays are largely from corn-fed cows, which are essentially sick cows since cows are not made to consume corn. Cows eat grass and yet most of our beef comes from corn-fed cows. Simple logic: eat sick animals and you will get sick yourself. Corn-fed cows produce meat that are much fattier and less nutritious than grain-fed cows. Same goes for chicken; chicken meat these days come from corn-fed chickens that are kept in steel cages. Real chickens run around looking for grubs in the ground. Essentially, most of our food has passed through many stages of processing and alteration that it is no longer healthy for us. All kinds of chemicals are in our food.

These findings and readings led me to the conclusion that in order to have a healthy diet, one needs to eat food that lies at the bottom of the industrial production chain. Think of cereal for example, the all-American healthy breakfast. Sugary, processed cereals are not half as healthy as whole grains, muesli, bran and berries mixed together. Luncheon meat is filled with salt and the unwanted parts of pigs; eat proper fresh pork bought from the wet market instead. Basically, eating like how our ancestors did does wonders to our body, since our bodies have barely evolved in terms of its nutritional needs and habits.

Also, curb the desire for oily, fatty and protein-rich food. Note that I am not advocating total rejection of these kind of foods; I am suggesting moderation. And Grandma was right, eat more veggies and skip the dessert. You will be much healthier that way.

a constant reminder of risk and the chance of blow-up
April 16, 2007, 2:44 pm
Filed under: investments/finance/economics

The decision to have as my blog address is a practical one: it forces me to be constantly reminded of the existence of risks and the odd event that might happen in the markets at any moment, represented by the metaphorical “black swan”. Having more than one black swan serves to intensify this sense of fear, hence the use of the plural in the blog address. Try imagining one market crash happening after another in rapid succession. Keeps me awake at night.

The Scottish philosopher David Hume first coined the idea of a “black swan” incident. Deeply critical and sceptical of the use of induction as a means of obtaining knowledge, he cited the example of how people used to believe only white swans existed because thats the colour of swans they see back home in Europe. However the appearance of a black swan refutes the entire claim. In his book “Fooled by Randomness”, Nicholas Nassim Taleb used the term “black swan incident” to refer to an event that has a very very low probability of occurring (in statistical terms, an “outlier”) and based his entire investing philosophy around this central idea of the unforeseen, super-rare event that occurs in the markets and taking advantage of such an event should it happen.

Needless to say I have been very much influenced by Taleb’s fantastically readable book on the role of probability in life and (especially) the markets. For quite a while, I have always been pretty much set on parking and dumping my entire savings into a “diversified” portfolio of exchange-traded funds because of the various books i have read over the course of the past year or two. They include A Random Walk Down Wall Street by Burton G. Malkiel, various books by John C. Bogle of Vanguard fame and many ad hoc personal investment books. Most advocate index funds as a “safe” and surefire means of prudently investing one’s savings.

The main push factor for the use of index funds as an investment vehicle is the central assumption that the stock market will rise over time. Many studies, like Jeremy Siegel’s Stocks for the Long Run, have shown how since inception, stock markets, especially American ones, have been on the rise, despite the various market crashes and unexpected events that occur. For every fall, the stock market rises twice. One dollar invested in the 1900s will grow to tens of thousands in the 1990s. That sort of thing. I used to subscribe to this viewpoint wholeheartedly, largely because of the lack of a viable alternative to active management and the seductive allure of the simple logic behind the case for index funds.

About 70% of fund managers fail to beat their benchmarks; while it is possible to choose a manager with a market beating strategy, the main question is an epistemological one: how do I know if a manager has superior skill? Not by reading a fund’s investment strategy statement, thats for sure. Most fund descriptions are by and large similar, usually split in the value or growth camps. Can I analyse the fund manager’s stock picks and decide if he has a viable strategy? Of course I can, but if i have the skill to do that, I might as well pick stocks myself. Past performance is no indication of future performance; surely the past 5 years’ performance cannot serve as a usable proxy for the performance in the next, say 30-40 years that you will be vested in the fund. Hence choosing a correct mutual fund is really hard, if not impossible for an average investor. Index funds seem like the best choice of investment vehicle for the lack of a better alternative.

Like Descartes’ monster in the brain which draws all into doubt, Taleb’s book sowed the seeds of doubt in my head. What if a black swan event happens? Won’t it erase all my gains from my investments? Buying an index fund means gaining full exposure to the black swan event. I am not taking assymetrical risk, as espoused by Ineichen in his book Assymetric Returns. I am exposing myself to a potential fatal collapse in the market. Of course, one can point to the historical prices chart and say that if I just stay in the market and tide over the storm, my index fund will recover in time and appreciate.

The main problem is, what happens if the black swan decides to appear right at the end of my investment holding period? Doesn’t that mean I lose a large part of my savings? What if the market crashes at an entirely inopportune time? Yes, one can try to time the market, but studies show that no one can do that well. Timing the market also defeats the purpose of indexing.

Hence my current policy towards my savings. I will actively manage my own investments in a bid to preserve and enhance my savings. It seems that there is no other way. Not that I mind though, because investing so far has been fun and a real intellectual joyride.

Notes from John Neff on Investing
April 16, 2007, 9:57 am
Filed under: investments/finance/economics

Here are some notes, quotes and ideas from John Neff on Investing  by John Neff and S.L. Mintz.

John Neff was the legendary manager of Vanguard’s Windsor and Gemini Funds for 31 years. He beat the market 22 times while posting a 57-fold increase in an initial stake.

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purpose, motivation, a beginning
April 14, 2007, 4:14 pm
Filed under: miscellaneous

Several significant moments occurred over the last few months that prompted the creation of this blog: my release from a year and ten months of compulsory military service for my nation, my twenty-first birthday, my decision of university course and my purchase of my first stocks.

All these events gave me a heightened sense of my entry into adulthood, a life of responsibility and unfolding possibilities. I feel a strong need to document my thoughts and actions as a means to grow and understand myself. As George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

This is exactly what this blog is for: a means to deposit my thoughts about a range of subjects I am interested in, a journal of my trading and investment exploits and a database for my education in finance and economics. The human memory is fallible and selective, mine notwithstanding, and this blog will serve as a repository of my thinking, actions and mistakes and an avenue for me to reflect on the past and my thinking and formulate new thoughts and ideas.

Writing and maintaining a blog is like talking into a hole in a wall, a soliloquy between an individual and the digital wilderness. You never know who might be on the other side of the wall listening, but it doesn’t bother me if anyone chances upon this blog and reads the entries; the blog is largely for private consumption with no compelling need for an iota of publicity.