Wednesday 15 May 2024

Finance Investment Movement 45

Sometimes, you know an inevitable situation is about to occur. It may take months or years to conclude. Yet, there's nothing you can do or perhaps choose not to intervene. Take for example the recent closure of Thambi magazine store at Holland Village. My last visit was 1.5 years ago (mentioned here). When I was growing up, it's one of the many physical stores that peddled magazines and publications of various types, from sports to politics to fashion. To me, Thambi stood out (from Bras Basah, Kinokuniya or Borders) not that it had an amazing collection but because of its location. A corner away from the bustling world. A gathering spot for both students and working adults. A place where I could stand up reading a magazine while waiting for a friend to arrive or for the rain to pass. The nearby MRT station wasn't even in the plan at that time and even though the journey home took 45 minutes, it was an area I used to frequent. Unfortunately, the arrival of the internet sealed the fate of Thambi, akin to a stage 4 cancer diagnosis. I am one of the many guilty ones who stopped our patronage thereafter. Today, it's become a happy memory, one that I share with my wife.

Financial planning takes a long time. You have to start somewhere, build a portfolio up and let it roll. Similar to Thambi, the key is to have belief and remain steadfast in your work towards financial security. The lesson we can draw is also to prepare for changes and disruptions. Therefore, insurance and emergency funds are the foundation before any foray into other investments. I have put those in place while the SSB plan is still in progress. However, there's a bigger than expected renovation expense that's upcoming which I'm saving up for in the next few months.

Tip: Le Petit Caillou 2016, good nose, young berries, to be enjoyed now

Tuesday 30 April 2024

Month of April 2024

School just started for my eldest son at SIM. He's enrolled in the Management Foundation Study program which would eventually lead to a diploma and degree. For now, he's keen to get into accountancy. I recall my own study journey with fond memories and wish to be of help later on in finance related topics. The student mix is rather interesting; at least 50% foreigners from a variety of nationalities and they usually have to enroll for a language course previously. For the local males, they had either completed NS or ITE. So, that makes my son the youngest in the cohort. Talk about a small fish in a big pond! Good luck boy, may you prosper in the environment and enjoy the experience.

Was it a surprise when Singapore announced the PM transition decision? My sensing is, the timing is appropriate which gives the incoming PM options to explore. Therefore, depending on internal and external environmental factors, the ruling party could call an election a) as soon as possible if something major happens eg war events escalating to a severe level or b) after the National Day rally and up until next year if required. Meanwhile, the list of candidates to fill the various ministerial positions will be deliberated and careful considerations on which voting areas to deploy them. The objective is surely to win all seats but strategic actions must be taken to account for potential losses to opposition parties. This will be one of the earliest and important tests the incoming PM and his team must pass.

On a drizzly morning, I was on usual duty to send the kids to school. We were travelling on a downward sloping portion of CTE when the car in front of me braked suddenly. In response, I did the same and there was adequate safety distance to prevent a collision. But the driver behind didn't manage to do. My bumper got damaged as it sustained several cuts and scratches. Fortunately, none of us was injured. The next two days, I was trying to negotiate a private settlement with the other party but unable to reach a compromise after a series of checks with our workshops. So I had to file an insurance claim and it's now pending settlement.

In between my business travels, I managed to find time to visit some restaurants. This month, I tried lunch at Capasso and Ling Ling, afternoon drinks at Orh Gao Taproom and dinner at Dosukoi X Donpachi and Kura Oyster Highball Bar. Perhaps it was a lucky month as all of them were really good in their domain. Now, I have a few more places to go during odd hours such as 2pm or even 2am!

Tip: Almaviva 2017, herbaceous fruity notes, decent length, already good yet can wait a few years

Monday 15 April 2024

Finance Investment Movement 44

I met a friend whose job is to monitor global properties and be involved in his company's decision on whether to invest eventually. It's a national topic of interest and our conversation started and ended without mentioning Singapore in between. So where's his radar pointing towards? First off, we agreed to write off China in the short term as the domestic economy is in a heap of trouble. Next, he felt that Australia's valuation was too high and couldn't justify capital yield returns. The focus moved to Europe and due to its expansive landscape, we spoke mainly on two countries. Germany is a no go. It had missed the opportunity to ride ahead of its neighbours. Since Brexit, this was the place where many financial headquarters were supposed to relocate but didn't materialize. Covid dealt a further blow where the tourist and exhibition sectors got hit hard and still not recovered yet. The car industry, where the Germans are arguably the continental kings, had fallen behind the electric vehicle trend. The top brands were out-competed by the Chinese and Japanese. Unless there's a drastic cut in production costs, it's difficult to see how Das Auto can retaliate effectively. What's left in Europe then is England. The economy is generally seen to be chugging nicely, the Pound is weak and the education industry could always depend on that few branded names. Therefore, it was concluded that London is an investible place and specifically only in student accommodation. Finally, my friend gave a vote of confidence to Japan as well, mainly because the Yen is very attractive and a property asset can be used as a hedge against inflation while borrowing cost will remain low for quite some time.

It so happened that I was asked to go look at industrial property in Johor as my company thought about moving to save cost. To my surprise, prices have increased at least double from my last recollection. Swathes of land were being cleared and there seem a buzz in the area. I met a few agents and the information collaborated. Maybe the Agong effect is about to be showcased.

Tip: Mondot 2019, bushwood with flowers, wakes slowly then presents a medium bodied bouquet

Sunday 31 March 2024

Month of March 2024

I was privileged to be invited for lunch hosted by a prominent local businessman. Among the twenty attendees were mostly seniors in my industry and a few of my age group. We were brought to the penthouse level of a building that gave a bird’s eye view of the city landscape and served a proper Bordeaux amid six courses of wonderful modern Chinese cuisine. But to me, there was something even better. Candid sharing by everyone which was facilitated by the host asking simple and direct questions related to business challenges. He wanted to know how well Singapore’s SMEs are holding up. The often heard remarks such as lack of labour, input costs, inflation etc were presented. Those are problems but what are the counter measures, he asked and then added, sustainability mindsets could help to frame everyone’s next business decision better. To that, the older gentlemen became uncharacteristically silent. The bright and airy room suddenly turned gloomy. What an effective comeback, to the point and might have hurt a few resistant souls. He rattled off a few concrete examples from his business operations to complete the story. It felt like a teacher schooling children except the teacher addressed several of his students as elders. I was just taking mental notes and observed the posturing each took. Like the saying goes, there's no free lunch in this world, yet I enjoyed a lunch that was not only free but one that also provided honest feedback and meaningful conversation.

Since my nose operation last June, I was due for a final review. The doctor noted my slight weight loss and recommended to stay away from egg and dairy related products. After a quick scan, he declared himself satisfied and cleared me in a medical sense. It's a relief and what happens next depends on my discipline and luck, hopefully there's no recurrence for the rest of my life.

The National School Games has returned once again. In the sweltering heat, the children competed for honours while parents watched on. I could see the youngest son performing well alongside his rugby teammates and their progress was clear. In fact, most schools showed improvements. However, the local sports scene is poor. With twenty schools in the competition, there were about seven head coaches (excluding teacher in charge) doubling up for referee duties alongside some paid ones. Essentially, one could referee a subsequent game opponent. Some of the coaches even worked for various schools that could potentially meet in a match up. When I asked my son's coach on his view, he lamented that the career as a sports coach was not great and the number of coaches decreased during Covid. He's in his early forties and doing this out of interest. In Singapore, there's only around fifteen full time rugby coaches and this pool is aided by part timers.

Tip: Bourgueil Gauthier Pere and Fils 2020, inky purple, sweet aroma and soft body

Friday 15 March 2024

Finance Investment Movement 43

We live in an amazing world full of flora and fauna that never ceases to surprise. The number of undiscovered species probably outweigh the current known numbers. I am also constantly bewildered by activities that go around the world. Hundred thousands fans flooded Singapore for a series of concerts. The humanitarian crisis at Gaza has many sympathizers yet no one seems to be able to lend a concrete hand. Nividia rises like a rocket to the moon. America can only produce two presidential candidates close to 80 years old. Together, they form a very odd impression to me. Gold, bitcoin and US stock market converge to hit all time high at the same period. For investors, it's a confusing time amid the differing signals. I believe in staying in the market although circumstances meant that entry timing play an important role.

While I await lower stock prices, money still needs to work. One of the best offers is the Moomoo cash fund subscription promotion. At 6.8% pa return, it's hard to beat. Considering that I had taken part in the previous campaign, therefore it was an easy decision to put fresh funds this round. Another is the HSBC ega which offered up to 4.65% pa with credit card spend. Then there is the latest Tbill yielding 3.78% pa and my CPF along with SRS went into it.

Tip: Chateau Lamouroux 2011, good grip of tannin with earthy undertone, past peak freshness

Thursday 29 February 2024

Month of February 2024

After receiving his O level results last month, I was more anxious than my son in going through the options available to him. He had set his mind on doing accountancy which I fully support. There's only one issue. His results put him on the borderline of qualifying for the course offered by the various polytechnics. By right, in the Joint Admission Exercise, it was a straightforward action to simply put the nearest school and fill up the gaps with other less desired courses. Even though this was done, we weren't fully convinced and signed up for the SIM Open House over the weekend. The 1.5h spent provided a different perspective. As the details became clear, we were amazed to find out that a student could go through a diploma in 20 months, complete National Service and return to finish a degree in another 24 months. This meant a time saving of about a year compared to the same cohort but the tuition fees would cost about $10k more. We signed up, submitted the required documents and waited about two weeks for the letter of admission offer. That's now accepted and school starts in April. If things go accordingly, my son would graduate when he reaches 22!

Health wise, it's been a bad month. I fell sick a week before CNY. It was on off fever, body aches and itchy throat. Laying in bed for two days while dosing medicines, it didn't feel like I could recover in time. Then the fever just disappeared one morning and I could participate in the festive visits. But my youngest son got afflicted next and he suffered the same symptoms which meant he had to miss school. The doctor mentioned that a trending viral fever was going around. Covid had caused people to be extra cautious with mask wearing so the general population immunity had decreased. It's made worse by mass gathering over meals so the infection rate was high. This turned out to be true, at least in my family's context, because the next victims were my wife and followed by second son. Till today, they are still coughing or easily fatigued. Hopefully they recover soon.

As per the usual CNY practice, I caught up with relatives not seen over the year. One had transferred to be principal of a special needs institution, one became the head chef at a Japanese restaurant, an aunt had a fall recently and likely needed back surgery, also enjoyed a steamboat lunch with another aunt etc. Many nephews and nieces had grown much since I last saw them. Unfortunately, I don't think they would ever enjoy the close bond I have with my cousins, established over many years of constant meetups since young.

Tip: Sogen Samurai Queen JD, nectarine with strong expression, like tasty spring water

Tuesday 20 February 2024

Learning To Be Wealthy And Not Rich

I discovered this book by chance while waiting for a flight at Changi Airport. It caught my eye due to its author, Morgan Housel, whom I read some of his online articles and found them succinct. The book title was the other reason I chose it as I wanted to understand how big an influence that something as intangible as psychology has on a person dealing with money concepts.

Each chapter is quite short, 5 to 10 pages on average, perfect for quick burst of reading whenever I was free. But this took me six months to complete! I went through the book twice. The first round took four months because I was distracted and only touched it sporadically. Yet the topics were attractive enough to go for a second round so that I could really delve in the details. Don't be mistaken, it's not hard science and nothing formulaic.

The topics generally cover areas such as thinking in terms of risks, how a wealthy person behaves, encouragement to save and investing luck. Beneath all these lies the main issue; the individual's approach. While the market economy is a jumble with forces pulling in various directions, the key is to be clear on your own investment journey. The main thing I learnt is to strive for a life on my own terms, having money is just a tool to make it happen. Don't get disheartened when things go a little offside as it should be when events and policies are always unpredictable. This reminded me of the recently announced changes to the CPF SA which has big implications on many people. I took a deep breadth and decided it's time to move on. No point dwelling and better to spend the effort on recalibrating my portfolio.

Tip: Tenuta San Guido Alberto 2014, gum and raisin, chewy tobacco with uplifting nose

Thursday 15 February 2024

Finance Investment Movement 42

It’s been four years since my last visit to China. During these years, from what’s reported and feedback, it seemed China’s economy had taken a huge blow and people were generally downbeat. The property sector is badly impacted, foreign investors are pulling out and government financials are tight. So in my latest business trip, I went about to verify on the ground. My first night in Shanghai gave an indication. I was in Nanfeng City mall to grab dinner. The restaurants were mostly empty, maybe because it was a weekday. In the subsequent days, I spoke to bankers, friends and observed the surroundings. One of them told me the unofficial Shanghai population number had decreased from 11m to 9m. Many businesses had folded over the Covid period. Previously, the local government had pushed out low value manufacturing in order to focus on better quality sectors such as AI and banking. But with business owners relocating overseas, that had caused more damage than intended. Jobs were lost, wages stagnated and that’s affected domestic consumption. The banks are willing to lend but there are no takers. As a result, tax revenues dropped and government payments got delayed. So it’s become a vicious cycle that saps confidence. Worse, the BRI strategy had seen countries defaulting on debts and now appeared fragile with uncompleted projects mounting. Funds are urgently required yet the RMB is being weakened. Within the CCP, the military and appointed minister are being revamped to weed out corruption. The confluence of many factors have projected a certain idea of a weakened China. At the moment, nobody expects things to get better this year.

My opinion is China would require a monumental effort. Fortunately, they have the resources and structure to make quick changes. This might take a few years so I won't be in a hurry to make a bet. Therefore, it's better to play a safe card by putting funds in government bonds, the bluest chips or Etfs with non China focus.

Tip: Cloudy Bay Te Wahi Pinot Noir 2019, remarkable floral nose with good balance, a winemaker's pride

Wednesday 31 January 2024

Month of January 2024

Without fail, a new year is a much celebrated event as everyone attempts to forget the old and refresh the current state. I was home having dinner with friends and indulged in some good wines, with beef and pizzas complimenting as sides. It's amazing how conversations can flow for hours only to be punctuated by a glass refill. All you need are topics revolving around PTFS (Parenting, Travel, Food and Spouse). My kids were more enthusiastic about remaining awake for the countdown but in the end, none of us made it as we were in bed by 1030pm. I didn't even catch a glimpse of the television entertainment shows. 2024 welcomed me at dawn which hopefully brings a meaningful reset in another year of my mid life journey.

I was seated in a hall, next to my wife, and glanced straight ahead. There was a sea of blue and black. It was noisy as chatters rang out like bass concert music. One can hear it but cannot make out the words. The animated expressions received immediate reactions. Some were delighted faces, fingers cupping over their head, a number of shocked expressions or simply a clenched fist. Then, it was our turn. Seeing the lanky frame of my eldest son at the teacher’s desk, my heart beat really hard. He was about 20 meters away and walked towards us. Then the all important digits appeared. Two seconds later, there was a sense of relief. He had done better than expected for his ‘O’ levels! His decision in May last year paid off as Combined Science result was an A2. I gave a few pats on his shoulder and said, “Well done, Kor. This is great!” Around us, other parents continued their anxious wait. Inevitably, there were a few sobbing students who at that very moment, required no words but just a supportive arm. This was as nail biting as my time.

There were a number of events to highlight this month. The second son went on his 4D3N school adventure camp, came back sunburnt and flat out after canoeing, trekking and staying outfield. Most importantly, his attitude was positive. More good news was in store when the younger sons received their Edusave awards. Hopefully, such encouragement can spur the youngest one in his PSLE this year. My wish is for him to be in the same school as his second brother next year. I made a business trip to Selangor for a site visit and discussion on an old power plant that required maintenance. It's partly coal fired and budget was tight. Being environmentally friendly was not in consideration. Climate change will continue to hang around when state actors are oblivious to certain actions.

I probably over ate due to the following reasons. My family celebrated twice, one for good results and the other for the second son's birthday. My wife and I tried out new restaurants at Angie's Oyster Bar and Grill (for its cheap oyster deal) and Bistro Gaston (for something different). We also dined at past favourites such as Tapas 24 (happy hour drinks), Xiao Long Kan (good for value) and Chingu (bbq craving). Last but not least, the CNY lunches and dinners were in full swing.

Tip: Gallo Signature Cab Sav 2018, medium bodied, juicy and chewy tannin, fine expression

Monday 15 January 2024

Finance Investment Movement 41

We began the year with financial markets welcoming the latest product entrant by way of the Bitcoin etfs. There's eleven of them approved and trading had already started. Well, this gives legitimacy for fund managers to gain exposure to a previously sidelined market space and I think there's more to come. As I have only a minor position in Bitcoin, it's not impacted me but if Ethereum etf goes the same way, that would be exciting. Finally, after 18 months leaving cryptocurrencies alone, I'm reviewing my portfolio to see if something needs to be done. This segment is going to heat up.

As interest rates plateau and likely to taper downwards, there's anxiety to find a longer term product to lock current rates in. I got a sizable fixed deposit that's about to mature which include Aud. Hoping that some banks come up with a CNY promo and I will be first in line to apply. Meanwhile, I still believe in the narrative whereby the SGD is overly strong against certain currencies and there's still room to exchange more.

Tip: Simon Bize Et Fils Beaune Blanc 2019, delicate white flowers with some zest, uncomplicated