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in money business , photography is life |

The donate-a-photo app has been around for about 2.5 years now; I only just spotted it recently on instagram. The idea is to share a photo a day, and Johnson & Johnson will donate USD1 for every photo.

Each cause will receive a minimum donation and will appear in the app until its donation period ends or its goal is reached.

Sounds simple and innocent enough. Win-win all round. Right? Everything I read online about it has been generally positive. Except my first reaction was skepticism. Originally the app used the tagline selfless selfies and encouraged people to upload their selfies. That was a massive red flag. Invasion of privacy, facial recognition, profiling. It’s yet another data gathering exercise to market their products.

My second reaction was, what will happen to these photos? This is a good way of gathering thousands of photos that they don’t have to pay royalties for. Rule #1 of sharing a pic with a big brand is be careful. They mislead, engage in bait-and-switch tactics and generally don’t give credit or compensation. Over the years, I’ve had requests on flickr to add to a website or use in a magazine (the biggest was Travel and Leisure). I’ve found that the ones that promise “credit and exposure” without paying are the worst, they don’t even send you back the link to the story (no, T+L never sent anything back). I’ve stopped responding.

The donate-a-photo app does say that the photos shared will be added to a gallery to promote the app,

but they will never be used to sell any products or for any other commercial.


What’s the harm, I thought. I’ll upload some innocuous pics and if it gets money to the right causes, it’s all good. So far I’ve added a couple of pics of trees and one of smiley pastries. I also signed up for the UK version as opposed to the US version. It’s smaller in scale, in terms of causes included—only 2 so far this week. Unlike the US charity navigator I can’t find any good UK based charity vetting services. I may switch to US so I know more about the causes offered.


As of today, J&J claims that they have received 801k photos, which suggests they have donated $801k. Over 2.5 years it’s roughly $320k per year. Even rounded up to $500k, this is probably just a fraction of their philanthropy budget. According to this infographic, they gave $131 million in 2011, representing 1.1% of their pre-tax profits.

Creating an app like donate-a-photo is a smart idea. Lots of good publicity, and using the sharing economy concept to run the campaign. They already have a department that liaises with causes, just agree on an amount to donate and timeframe. Once the amount is reached or timeslot completed, move the next cause up the queue. Run a report every once in a while, send the money, update the app and website, claim the tax benefits. The general public do all the work of populating the galleries and spreading the word to their friends. And it makes everyone feel good.

in money business |

Most of my career was spent at what are euphemistically called Banks That Are Too Big to Fail, ie companies that people love to hate. Before I got corrupted, I spent around a year at a small management consultancy that was based in a building shared with a pub, with a view of cows and sheep.

I participated in pensions from all the companies I worked at, including schemes from 3 countries. The only pension plan I don’t get statements from is from when I was at the consultancy. Because they were so small, they set us up with an external provider, Equitable Life. I was the conscientious sort, so even in my twenties I contributed £200 a month (the max I think) to the pension, which was a big chunk of my salary then.

My life took an unusual turn, I ended up making a career out of being transferred to various places around the world. I sort of forgot about the small pension and didn’t keep track of what was happening for ages. Somewhere along the line, I read that Equitable Life came close to collapsing due to large unhedged liabilities, was no longer accepting new business and wasn’t sure if existing policyholders would be paid. True, I only had a small pension with them, compared with people who have lost their life savings, but it was still bad news.

About a year or more ago, out of the blue, I received a letter from an entity called the Equitable Life Payment Scheme requesting confirmation of my policy details and an explanation that I may be due some form of compensation. Initially I was skeptical, thinking it was a scam, but I did some googling and it seemed to be legit:

The Equitable Life Payment Scheme was set up by HM Government to make fair and transparent payments to Equitable Life policyholders who suffered financial losses as a result of government maladministration which occurred in the regulation of Equitable Life.

When I got back from our trip, there was a letter waiting for me from the scheme. It says that they have contacted all those policyholders it can trace and enclosed a statement on the amount of payment I will receive.


From what I can gather, the value of my pension is £5,500 but if the government had regulated Equitable Life better, or if I had invested in a comparable policy with a comparable company, my pension would be almost £7,900. The theoretical loss I suffered is £2,400. There isn’t enough money to compensate me for the entire loss so I’ll be getting £540.

It’s disappointing. Because Big Insurance was allowed to run around promising what it couldn’t afford and not subjected to sufficient oversight, we poor folks are getting a measly 20% of what the return we would have enjoyed. I know, it’s ironic, coming from someone who spent so much time at i-banks. The value of your investment may go up or down, or you can lose the whole lot, isn’t that the disclaimer that goes with every single financial product?

What I’m confused about, and I can’t find any information anywhere, is whether my £5,500 is still around. Has it been lost? Repackaged and sold? Floating around someplace unclaimed? How do I set about finding out, I don’t have any point of contact at Equitable and I’ve never received any communication or statement from them. Again, it’s a small amount compared with other people, but it’s a useful lumpsum.

Anyway, I don’t have the payment yet. Looks like I’ll be getting a cheque, which is annoying because it means I’ll have to mail it back to my UK bank. Who uses cheques anymore? Ah well. At this point, any compensation is better than none.

in money business |


It started, innocuously enough, with an ikea knife. My everyday utility knife broke, after more than 10 years’ usage. It was just a simple serrated knife I got at a supermarket, nothing fancy, the initial intention was a disposable knife. I have other knives, including a fairly decent set. I was still on the lookout for a replacement, because this utility knife is the one I abuse and not worry about it breaking. We were strolling at Ikea and I saw their 365+ knife, a small paring knife sized which could work. It was priced at local $100, around US$13. May be it’s because I got used to smaller numbers in europe but the number 100 (actually I think it was 99) seemed large.

It’s a good price for an everyday knife, but for some reason I was baulking at the price. Then mm suggested that she’s noticed this in me for a while, that I’m looking more at prices and opting out of buying whereas before I wouldn’t even have thought about the price.

She has a hidden agenda, which isn’t really too hidden because she’s flat out told it to me more than once. She thinks I should go back to work and earn some money.

I have enough to live on. I think even enough to retire and live on income generated by my portfolio. I don’t want to go back to the stressful work environment. But have I become too careful with money? She says that she has noticed this trend lately that’s why she doesn’t suggest that we go out as often. May be. If asked, I generally say I prefer to stay in and cook rather than eat out. Is that because I don’t want to spend the money or is it because I don’t think restaurants serve good food? Debatable.

I don’t really understand her accusation (okay, may be too strong a word but I felt it wasn’t said in a positive way). We just travelled around Europe for a month. After I recorded everything, we spent around US$160 per person per day, excluding personal spending and gifts. Including all flights, trains, car rental, hotels, food and sights. That’s pretty good, and I don’t think it’s cheap at all.

I didn’t buy the knife. May be I will, after I compare prices and quality at other shops. I don’t think it means I’m changed because I have no income. I just want an everyday knife I can use for the next 10 years. Sometimes I get allocated emotions and actions by other people (mostly mm) when the actual emotion / action is so much simpler. Sigh.

in money business , my inner science geek |


I was googling for images of the 2-line stock market ticker for LL cover when I came across this, a periodic table of the stock market. I get excited when I come across displaying information or ideas as a periodic table (or as tetris). In this one, the atomic symbol corresponds to the ticker symbol of the stock. Based on the NYSE and Nasdaq. So the top of group 6 is occupied by C for Citigroup. There are quite a number of blanks, but it’s pretty great anyway.

in 101.1001 , challenges , money business |


Task #78 of 101 in 1001 is to have a money-free weekend.

Which is easy to achieve by simplly staying at home. There was enough food at parents’ place to last a while, and I made glazed chicken wings and ribs for dinner on saturday night. Instead of running outside I used the stationary bike. Most of Saturday was spent reading.

Sunday I did research for the April trip to Hokkaido with mm. Put all notes and links in an evernote notebook, including hotel details, maps, things to do, restaurants, bars and transportation. What I don’t like is you can’t print a whole notebook, you have to print individual notes separately. I printed them to pdf them combined them into a master pdf document. Our accommodation is finalised — start with 2 nights at a regular hotel in Sapporo, then 2 nights at 2 different onsens in Jozankei (5 mins’ walk from each other, so no problem with transferring), then back to Sapporo for 3 nights at an apartment I found on airbnb. It’s the first time I used airbnb, last time in Kyoto it was the more established homeaway/VBRO. Looking forward to the food there — king and snow crab, fresh sashimi, uni, salmon roe, even the famous sweet melons. And of course our visit to Yoichi distillery.

I guess not going out was a sort of cheat’s forced way of having a money-freen weekend. Then again I could have gone on an online shopping spree. And of course there’s the overhead spending — electricity, utilities, food already in the fridge. There are loads of other ideas, I like ideas such as having a cupboard potluck, organising one’s finances / house / junk, pottering around at home and generally doing stuff that is more relaxing and simple. We could all do with a simple weekend.

in 101.1001 , challenges , money business |


Task #77 in 101 in 1001 challenge: build a net worth calculator.

Personal finance websites talk a lot about calculating net worth and balancing chequebooks. I’ve always been a bit confused about why it’s such a big deal, and why it’s apparently so hard to figure out net worth. It’s a simple spreadsheet exercise. Add up assets, add up debts, take one away from the other.

Took me about an hour, to find all the statements or log onto bank websites. The only current liability is credit card debits waiting for the next statement. I didn’t include this because: a) trivial amounts and b) they’ll get paid once I get the next statement. Since it’s impossible to have the exact figure — statement dates, some investment accounts only report annually, fx etc — it will always be an estimate. Everything got converted to GBP and USD to create the sum total.

Data is summarised by currency and by subtotal of banks vs investments vs property. I don’t know what is an optimum ratio between cash and investments. Advisors say have at least 1 year’s worth of expenses available as cash, so I think I should move more cash to a safe vehicle to generate a return as opposed to it sitting there doing nothing.

in money business |

Watching a program about superyachts and a preview for Extreme Couponing comes on. Talk about extremes.

Those superyachts are all basically the same — 100ft+ monsters with multiple staterooms all decorated with shiny wood paneling and gold sinks, galleys that are larger than some people’s homes, and in-your-face opulence everywhere. The only difference is the number of electronic gadgets, jacuzzis and sun decks they have. Costs are measured in the millions of dollars. The ultra rich live in another reality as far as I’m concerned so I don’t think about them, except when these wealth display programs come on. Being rich is fine, but the obsession with displaying the wealth is a little unhealthy.

That’s why the preview for Extreme Couponing was so out of place in the middle of a program on the super rich. Can’t imagine any of those yacht owners couponing. People make fun of extreme couponers but mm and I can’t stop watching the program. Some of the couponers featured started couponing out of economic necessity, to make sure their families have food and household supplies they need, for as little cost as possible. Yes, no one would ever need hundreds and thousands of boxes of toilet paper or toothpaste, but if they can benefit the couponers, their friends and families and even the ones who donate the goods, then it’s all good.

Professor Robert Schiller, one of this year’s Nobel Laureates in economics, said that income inequality is the most important problem we are facing today. I’ve also been watching and reading about the documentary Inequality for All, which was a Sundance winner. There’s an hour long interview with Robert Reich, who presents the film, on democracy now and he talks quite eloquently and convincing about his cause. This seems to be a thought-provoking film, I hope I can find a dvd when it comes out.

Everyone has a different view on wealth and wealth distribution. Some people are richer, some are pooer; some earn more than they should, some earn much less. But the gap between the top and the bottom has grown too large, too alarming. It’s also a global, not merely American problem. What can those of us who fall smack bang in the squeezed middle class do? Individually, we are more concerned in the last few years in holding onto our jobs, to make our net income (which has been falling in real terms) go further; in other words to survive. I guess it starts with us being aware of the issue, and to acknowledge that income inequality is a problem rather than accept the argument the top 1% keeps rolling out, that the markets are always correct. Remember, the very people who run the markets are the same people who manipulate it to suit them. Mr Reich said,

We make the rules of the economy, and we have the power to change these rules

We need to better educate ourselves, and hold those we trust with these rules of the economy to strict standards and governance. We are all born and raised unequal, but something I fervently believe in, is that ethical standards should apply to all equally.

in money business , outside interests |


Met with my financial advisor about the state of my investments. Emerged from the meeting fairly happy. I did task her with investigating if I have enough capital to generate enough income so I don’t need to work. I think I’m okay, just about.

We are also converting a couple of my accounts to another platform, one that is more flexible, easier to use online and has more investment options. One of the options we talked about was to invest in some single company funds. The one she recommended was a Barings Germany fund. In the past, I could invest in pan-European but not just Germany.

Why Germany? It’s been voted the most positively viewed country in the world. Economic stability is first a foremost. As is frugality, organisation and just that particular German way of doing things. I probably won’t like living there, then again, I loved loved loved Switzerland and I was living in the German-speaking part.

in money business |


Met with our financial adviser. Seems like my portfolio is improving from when the market crashed. Our FA had also moved to a new company so it seems to be a good move. Now that I’m back from my London sojourn, I’m thinking of whether I need to keep so much in GBP. The other alternative is to switch to EUR denominated funds. Also may be switch platforms to get access to a larger selection of funds.

in money business |


So one of the first things RM said to me when we got to dublin was, “they use pounds here, right?” Snerk. Um, no. Which is why my EUR stash was dramatically reduced and I need to get some more for the bbmm Provence (and may be Brussels) trip. The rate has edged up, eurozone crisis and all. YTD average is 1.21, and it’s now around 1.24. I should go get some this weekend.

in how the day went , money business |


Joined my ex-team members for lunch, then went back to the office with them. Chatted with my friend I for about 1.5 hours. Our financial advisor came over and went over my stuff, then went over bbmm stuff. Drinks with mm at the Marriott, a couple of glasses of wine, buffalo wings and a small baked camembert. I think I’m switching to Italian wines, I had something from Masi which was very good.

in money business |

Ocado Sprinter
image courtesy flickr user kenjonbro

I got a £15 voucher for ocado so I thought, instead of zipcar, I’d have them deliver. The conditions were that I had to spend at least £75, so I trawled through their website looking for all sorts of household items. Ended up getting loads of coke zero plus toilet paper, comfort, shampoo and such like. There were legitimate things I got too. The good thing is that their delivery times are flexible, up to something like 11pm. Actually, during the course of one evening, I saw 4 different vans at different times and was wondering if they could do better at planning. Quite happy with the service, it’s an alternative to zipcar to Tesco.

in money business |


I lost about 13% of the value of my US portfolio this year. Sigh. Since inception the cumulative ROR is about 18%, although it was up to 30% at one point. Not happy, but nothing I can do. The holdings are fine. I have mainly US large caps in this portfolio — apple, amazon, oracle, home depot. There’s some cash left over, which my FA suggests that we put to work. Hopefully this will remedy the situation somewhat.

This is just my US portfolio. I’m guessing the total hit globally is more than 13%.

in money business |


Read in the evening standard that families are living on £162 a week after taxes, bills and transport. The alarming statistic is that this represents a 7.9% drop from last year, and with inflation at 4.5% on top.

Yes, I have more left over and I can survive on a weekly grocery budget of £25. The problem is, savings suffer big time. Everyone is feeling the pinch. I’ve been thinking of retreat strategy.

in in the news , money business |


Despite actions to the contrary, with inflation at a record breaking 4.5%, astronomical taxes, killer housing costs and a net take home that feels like it’s been halved (I dare not do the analysis lest it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy), I can only tolerate so much. I know I’m already very lucky, that my complaints boil down to how much less I’m saving and not that I can’t afford to buy food. Still am unhappy about this. And don’t start about work. In my mind I have dates and plans, preliminary at this point.

in money business |


Today is the last chance to get an ISA for this tax year, so I made an appointment at my bank. Got my ISA for this tax year, and tomorrow apply for a new one for the next tax year, maxed out on both years. Shifted a couple of old, old ISAs to this account so they’re all managed under one roof. The investment questionnaire shows that I’m a progressive investor, which is one step down from adventurous and one step up from balanced. The progressive funds are 70%-ish equities, 15% commercial property and the rest commodities and bonds. Sounds about right.

I have yet to meet a financial adviser who wanted to do this, but one of these days I need a review of all my accounts in all the countries. Problem is most of my advisers are focused only on their countries or regions, and I don’t qualify for private banking. The good news is that I have good geographic coverage, now in all 3 major continents, so it should be fine.

in money business |


A five pound note, that’s all the GBP cash I have on me right now. Oh, plus some coins to total probably about ten pounds. I had to pay my rent deposit by cash, it was either that or go to the landlord’s agent’s office and pay by debit card. Cheques don’t seem to be a viable option anymore, which is okay by me, except when I don’t have a lot of cash on me. I can get more tomorrow at the cashpoint of course, but it’s a strange feeling, of having no money. Okay, not no money. Worse case scenario, i have a bunch of USD.

in money business |


According to the global rich list, I’m the 786,570 richest person in the world. Heehee.

Don’t take it so seriously. All it asks is annual income, without taking into account taxes, cost of living, personal circumstances. I got this from get rich slowly, which talks about wealth and the ultimate question, “how much wealth is enough?” True, 786,570 may not be that far off (+/- a couple hundred thousand) but is it enough for me?

in in the news , money business |

So google is getting out of China, and most publications in the English speaking world are hailing GOOG’s ethical and principled stance against cyber attacks, censorship and even human rights.

While I think a certain amount of (admittedly western) moralistic approach was behind the decision, I do not for one moment believe it’s the main reason. If any, I’m willing to bet it ranks may be within the top 10 reasons, and that’s it. Who is google to think that they can influence an entire government? If they want to operate in a country, they need to obey the laws of that country.

The main reason has to be business driven. That google is losing market share to baidu is very significant. First, baidu is associated with the mainland government, so there is validation in the eyes of the population. Second, if I get blank screens or crap results every time I search, I’d eventually stop using that search engine — much like how microsoft and yahoo bled search market share to google.

Lots of commentators say that it’s China’s loss, that it’s the start of the road to oblivion. How wrong, arrogant, and presumptious they are. Sarah Lacy at techcrunch said it best:

We tend to have the view that China is some copycat Internet backwater, and that’s just not true. China has formidable engineering talent, plenty of venture capital, the world’s largest Internet audience, and in many cases better methods of monetization

There is perception that China is still some backwards third world country where people use ricksaws to move around and eat rice with their hands. I shake my head at that ignorance. Google (heh, ironic) any image of Shanghai, or Beijing, or any of the Pearl River delta cities and you’ll see luxury cars, brand name products and a general prosperity that surpasses any city in the world.

Compare China with America and what is the most striking commonality? Sheer size. In terms of geography and population. Dominated by large cities situated at coastal regions (something that Russia can’t compare). Which means…single market. Why is it that American products are so different from the rest of the world? It’s because it’s enough for them to develop in their home market and make good profits. This is why the American mobile and internet market lags behind, American cars are poorly designed and American domestic flights are no better than torture. American consumers don’t know better, and there are enough of them who utilise mobile and internet, drive cars and fly on planes to pad the bottom lines of American businesses.

I’m not trying to slag off American business. My point is that in a similar way, China’s single market is in the same position. There is such a vast pool of people wanting to move up to middle class through consumption that Chinese businesses don’t have to worry about the rest of the world if they don’t want to.

And that is one of the scary things keeping CEOs of non-Chinese companies up at night.

in 101.1001 , money business |


I signed and sent my tax return back to my friend AK, who doubles as my tax consultant while I’m on assignment. Last year’s total comp managed to reach a milestone I’d set for myself. It’s a decent amount, although I’m sure it will not be repeated this year cos of the market conditions.

in money business |


So I got home today after a weekend at Car’s, opened my mailbox and saw that my credit card has finally arrived. It’s been a long journey, and I feel like it’s only just beginning.

Which totally pisses me off.

I’m a good banking customer, I have a very, very healthy balance in my account. I also have credit cards all over the world. I use up a small % of my limit and I pay my balance in full each month.

But here’s the stickler — I have little to no credit history in the US. Who knows what is in my credit report, whatever is in there is from New York. 9 years ago. So basically, I don’t get the treatment that my history and bank balance warrant, and at times I feel like I’m having to prove myself to financial institutions. Ironic given where I work.

It’s easy to blame governments, Wall Street fat cats and irresponsible citizens who overspend. The true culprit is probably a combination. I don’t understand the mainly Western, and notably American, mentality of spending future money. Spend within your means and save as much as you can, that’s fundamental and common sense. There are so many stories about how people are affected by the financial crisis, and I feel a tiny bit of sympathy for some. But for most others, like this guy, I want to punch him in the face. It’s bad customers like him that are making me seem like a bad customer, and one of these days I’m going to get very cross.

I have a pending transaction at amex — I’m transferring my card over, but they seem to want to treat it like a new application. Let’s see how this one goes.

in money business |

I got my ATM / debit card, I’m a little scared of using it. Heehee.

in money business |


my financial adviser suggested switching into Chinese and Latin America funds. I’d already took the plunge in latin america last year, and the thinking is that since they are cheap now, it’s worth considering.

In this climate, it’s difficult to find sure investments, and the trick is to diversify without increasing the risk too much. Simon Hallett at Harding Loevner said in the new york times:

The risks in the world are in the U.S., U.K. and the fringes of Western Europe. Iinvestors are starting to get paid to take emerging-market risk. I don’t think the risks have gone up as much as prices have gone down.

I don’t quite buy into the whole BRIC concept, the 4 countries are totally different economically, politically and fundamentally. They’ve just been packaged together cos of some theoretical similarities, and how they have emerged (no pun intended) amongst their peers in their regions.

So I’m glad that we’re focusing on just 2 of the 4 BRICs. Russia is too volatile. As for India, I have quite a bit already in other investments, and India’s gotten more expensive lately. Sure, China is expensive too, but it’s always worth buying when the markets are down. Yeah, I just bought hsbc at 65.9, which is just over the 52 week low of 65.5. It might go down even more, I’m not that bothered.

in in the news , money business |


The headlines: Lehman Files for Bankruptcy; Merrill Is Sold.

It wasn’t unexpected. After all, we’ve had Bear Stearns and a bunch of US financial institutions fail. We’ve seen share prices for banks plummet. We’ve seen CEOs ousted, massive write-downs by otherwise safe financial institutions (UBS, Citi) and a very jittery industry trying to just survive through 2008.

The consumerist quoted this from bloomberg:

“We are unwinding what has been years of silliness in the financial markets, and the silliness is being vaporized as we speak, unfortunately with the stock price of a number of companies involved in it.’”

Notice no one is laughing at the silliness of it all?

Still came as a shock, for news on both Lehman’s bankruptcy and Merrill’s sale to BoA to hit in the same day. It’s no secret that I work in a financial institution though I’d prefer not to say where. This hits home big time and yes, I am personally affected by this (though, fingers crossed, not my job).

mer 1 yr

The blame game has already started. But for me, hoping that those who created, sold and mismanaged these toxic instruments will get their comeuppance is simply not realistic. For every million-dollar producer there are 10, 20, 30 back office staff — the IT technician who set up his 15 bloomberg screens, the settlements officer who cleared his trades, the payroll administrator who processed his salary. It’s the same junior employees, back office staff, innocent customers and beleaguered homeowners who will end up paying with their jobs, their mortgages and their lives, all without a fat bank account to break their fall. What justice is that?

in 101.1001 , money business |

mm and I have a few joint investments. The lumpsum account we opened 5 years ago was a pooled account so we qualified for a larger bonus, and it has grown pretty well since. The markets are down, so we lost some of the gains, but looking at the longer term it’s doing fine.

It’s gotten to the point when we can split the account and open our own single name accounts. Same reasoning…to get a new account bonus. Plus our investment philosophies are sometimes slightly different. She thinks about it more, and actively follows the market. I tend to be more laid back and conservative. This probably means she gets better returns, but it’s fine by me.

So after my big trip to Chile, seeing the prosperity there and talking to K a little, I’ve been wanting to put some money into Latin America. Not a lot, but as a diversification. Mostly, our FA says she’s not as familiar with the market and if we were to put money in Latam why not Eastern Europe or BRIC?

Today we went to sign documents for the account and we ended up deciding to put a little into Latam. The fund she recommended was Templeton Latin America Fund [pdf] and I put 2% of my portfolio there. We maxed out on # of funds at 10. The mix is 25% hedge fund, 25% student accommodation, 35% fixed income and only 15% equities. We’ll switch from FI to equities in stages, the aim is 70% equities but this is too much of a bear market to do that in one go.

in 101.1001 , how the day went , money business |

The rules are simple:

We are not allowed to spend any money on anything, no matter what. In other words, we can’t make a run to the store to buy food, we can’t spend money on any sort of entertainment, and so on.

No additional expense on utilities (eg no premium movies on cable). They even updated recently with a list of 100 things to do over a money-free weekend.

It’s very straightforward for me. All I did was stay home. I didn’t do grocery shopping — I have enough food for the weekend and even through Monday and Tuesday so I can do shopping during the week. I wasn’t tempted to buy anything from amazon, I didn’t pay any bills, in fact I didn’t even speak to anyone between talking to Mum on the phone friday night and going to bed sunday night.

I read, napped, played computer games, did a couple of food memes, enjoyed several foot massages on my uSqueeze, made fruit salad, made lunch for Monday.

This type of weekend, I never want to end.

in money business |


Five dollar comparison is a website set up by the design team at Nokia.

To explore the relative value of five dollars we are collecting examples from around the world by asking people to submit photos of objects or services that cost the equivalent of $5.

I’ve been following Jan Chipchase on greader ever since I read about him in the New York Times. He is one of the instigators of 5 dollar comparison though I didn’t know it when I came across the flickr group. I’m intrigued by what he, and his team, are doing even though I only have a peripheral understanding of the exact why. I suppose it’s the same as marketing and design, these aren’t logical sciences that I can analyse on excel.

This is from Otaru, the tea set from Kitakaro of cheesy puff with custard, coffee and soft ice cream for ¥500. It was perfect for what we needed then — mm needed coffee and I needed a snack.

in money business |

bbmm has quite a healthy amount of money with our financial adviser, yay! It could be better, some of the UK property funds really took a hit, but we’re keeping a long term view.

What we are finding is that I’m much more conservative, and prefer to wait out downturns whereas mm wants better returns, faster. We can usually compromise though, which is good.

in in the news , money business |

The New York Times featured an excerpt from “The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker,” by Steven Greenhouse, a Times reporter. The book, published by Knopf last week, examines difficulties faced by workers at companies like Fed Ex and Wal-Mart, and points to Patagonia and Costco as models for corporate America.

In his job at a Wal-Mart in Texas, Mike Michell was responsible for catching shoplifters, and he was good at it, too, catching 180 in one two-year period. But one afternoon things went wildly awry when he chased a thief — a woman using stolen checks — into the parking lot. She jumped into her car, and her accomplice gunned the accelerator, slamming the car into Michell and sending him to the hospital with a broken kneecap, a badly torn shoulder, and two herniated disks. Michell was so devoted to Wal-Mart that he somehow returned to work the next day, but a few weeks later he told his boss that he needed surgery on his knee. He was fired soon afterward, apparently as part of a strategy to dismiss workers whose injuries run up Wal-Mart’s workers’ comp bills.

Immediately after serving in the army, Dawn Eubanks took a seven-dollar-an-hour job at a call center in Florida. Some days she was told to clock in just two or three hours, and some days she was not allowed to clock in during her whole eight-hour shift. The call center’s managers warned the workers that if they went home, even though they weren’t allowed to clock in, they would be viewed as having quit.

The book opens with damning examples of unfair worker treatment, painting a bleak picture of how actual earning power for lower skilled workers in American has decreased as the economy boomed, and corporations raked in the profits.

Corporate profits have climbed to their highest share of national income in sixty-four years, while the share going to wages has sunk to its lowest level since 1929. “This is the most pronounced several years of labor’s share declining,” said Lawrence Katz, an economics professor at Harvard. “For as long as we’ve had a modern economy, this is the worst we’ve seen it.” Very simply, corporations, along with their CEOs, are seizing a bigger piece of the nation’s economic pie for themselves, leaving the nation’s workers and their families diminished.

America has never had the concept of lifetime employment like Japan. However it seems that if someone were to work for an employer, they should expect at least a basic level of reward for their time and effort. Is it 8 years of a business-friendly government? Or simply corporations becoming more greedy? The bottom line, shareholder value and P/E ratios have completely taken over any humanity in corporations, and there seems to be no sign of this stopping.

I found the excerpt of chapter 1 interesting. I’m not sure it’s a book I’d buy, but I could think about getting it from the library.

in habitat , money business |

Almost four months after I paid off my mortgage I finally got all the title deeds from my solicitor. Oh man it’s a huge pile of documents. It’s not just a certificate that says I’m the owner, it’s the entire history of the property. The first document dates from 1951 that details the allotment of the plot by the government and its first purchase. Then various owners before eventually being sold to the developer who built the current building. The owners before me had the property for generally a year or so — probably speculators or landlords — before it reached me. It’s interesting to follow the story of the apartment, all 4.5” thick of paper.

For me, the most important document is the Release letter from my bank, that I am

FREED AND ABSOLUTELY DISCHARGED or and from the said Deed and of and from all principal, interest, and other monies thereby secured and all claims and demands for or in respect of the same or in anywise relating thereto

A very happy “woot!” is in order methinks.

in money business |

finance crystal ball

I was looking at my categories and realise that I seem to talk incessantly about macs, web 2.0, travelling and food. I only have a handful of posts about finance — perhaps it being the newest category is a factor.

So what’s been happening on my financial front? Now that at NewJob I’m free to invest in the markets without getting Compliance pre-approval (ah, the wonders of being a non-sensitive person), I tend to keep an eye on the market much more during the day. Generally it’s reading articles and keeping an eye on certain stocks at marketwatch or the wsj.

I bought a few shares and subscribed to a couple of IPOs. I now have a bank, a dotcom and a property developer. Because I have a free overdraft (which I never used or bothered to cancel) I can’t use IPO financing and had to fund all the purchases using my account balance.

What’s IPO financing? Give an example:

  • My bank balance = $1,000
  • An IPO is to be launched with issue price $4 per share
  • This means I can buy 250 shares max

With IPO financing, I borrow money for a short time so I have enough funds to lock in the shares.

  • So I borrow $9,000 to make my available funds = $10,000
  • I can now apply for 2,500 shares

This is especially important when an IPO is oversubscribed, because the final allocation is usually dependent on number of shares subscribed. Let’s say I am allocated 500 shares. This is quite reasonable for a popular issue. I still get more shares than I would have been able if I just relied on my own funds.

  • Total cost for the 500 shares = $2,000
  • The bank takes back $8,000 of the loan — this is the “extra” that wasn’t needed because I was allocated fewer shares than I applied for
  • I am charged interest, which actually comes out of the $8,000
  • The bank will expect repayment of the $1,000 it ended up lending me, plus the interest
  • In most cases I will sell part of my 500 share allocation to repay the loan
  • If the price on the first day of trade is more than $4, and I sold immediately, then I would have made a profit

IPO financing is basically a leveraged finance product. It’s well used in consumer brokerage and is a good way for the general public to invest in IPOs that they may not otherwise be able to, due to share allocation rules.

There’s a big downside of course. All sorts of risk when investing in shares, and now it’s amplified because of the larger number of shares in the picture. The investor is also relying on: a) it being a bull market; b) over-subscription for the shares and most importantly c) the share price going up.

There’s talk about the dangers of a recession, or at least a downturn in 2008. With the sub-prime mortgage fiasco, high oil prices, and a weak dollar that doesn’t seem to want/need to strengthen, it’s definitely time to be careful and not get caught up in the IPO craze. Am I bad for wanting a bear market? Share prices will fall and I have cash-in-hand.

I have a colleague who works at the e-trading desk and she has 17 monitors (yes, that’s right) in front of her. She was showing me what each screen is for. It’s fascinating. Long long long time ago I turned down a 2-in-1 chance to be a research analyst at an investment management house. There are days when I have a tinge of regret, thinking about how my career might have ended up.

in money business |

I’m still on a personal finance kick. There are a lot of retirement and net worth calculators around, and they tell pretty much the same story. Can’t get away with US-centric questions and scoring (telling me to max out my 401(k) is only useful when 401(k) plans exist for me). Still, it’s fun to do these tests. A good one is from A.G. Edwards — a quick 14-question questionnaire gives a score which is similar to the credit score system.


Not bad. My score is helped by owning my home outright, low taxes and being able to allocate a large chunk of my net take home towards savings. Although if I change the answer to the question of how long I have been in my job to 5-10 years my score increases to 825.

There’s a little bit of advice of how to maintain and preserve the nest egg. Nothing new, although I’m reminded that I really must make a will.

in money business |

been reading quite a few personal finance websites lately, doing research the mortgage vs investment. One thing these websites are good at, is to state the obvious and give generic advice that make sense … and then it doesn’t. Oh, and dazzle people with numbers, of course.

Take the Latte Factor for example,

Putting aside as little as a few dollars a day for your future rather than spending it on little purchases such as lattes, fancy coffees, bottled water, fast food, cigarettes, magazines and so on, can really make a difference between accumulating wealth and living paycheck to paycheck.

According to the article, we should give up our daily Starbucks latte, take that $5 and invest it in a vehicle that yields at least 10%. They claim that after 40 years the savings will grow to $948,611.

There are a lot of assumptions made with this model. The 10% return is after taxes and fees, so the actual return will need to be a lot higher — and that’s unrealistically in the long term. Secondly, there’s no mention of inflation. $1million will almost certainly be worth a lot less in 40 years.

The idea is sound but the presentation is flawed. The underlying message is watch where the small expenses drip and every little helps — which makes perfect sense. Unfortunately it reads too much like one of those pop-up ads we love to hate: “give up one latte a day and you’ll become a millionaire!” — which creates a false sense of hope, like a diet pill.

In the end the big ticket items must have a heavier weighting. Running a car or living in accommodation that is more expensive than one can afford won’t even leave room for the lattes. Taxes, accommodation, utilities, transport — those can’t be avoided and we should cut those before we think about the small luxuries like the fancy coffees. I know it’s easier said than done to move to a cheaper place, and we don’t dictate which tax bracket we are in. What I’m saying is that both the big things and small things matter, it’s not a question of picking one over the other when trying to cut expenses.

Ultimately, it’s a matter of being sensible. Here’s what I try to do:

  • I don’t spend what I don’t have — I’ve never had a store card and I pay off my credit card bill in full
  • I put as much as I can into tax efficient savings programs
  • I try to be a little bold with investments — use safer vehicles to buffer the ones that are higher risk
  • save on the small stuff but not obsessively. I bring my own lunch to work but I go out with my friends too
  • don’t buy something just because it’s on sale — saving $3 on something that originally cost $8 is a great bargain but if it’s something I don’t actually need it’s $5 down the drain
  • I understand that occasionally I simple have to have a certain luxury or indulgence, and that’s fine

Perhaps I could be one of the millionaire next door too.

in money business |

I paid off my mortgage today. I started November 1997, with a principal that was approx 50% of the purchase price. I partially repaid about 5 years ago; all in all I managed to clear the debt in just under 10 years. Not too bad.

The decision was of course whether to continue with the mortgage or to invest the lumpsum. Intellectually the argument is that if I can get an investment return greater than the mortgage rate I should be investing it. Then again there’s the emotional comfort in knowing that I’m debt free. It wasn’t a difficult decision.

I have zero debt. Zero.

Oh boy.

The amount I previously set aside for the mortgage is being redirected towards a monthly savings plan that should hopefully net 10% or more. I went with my financial adviser’s advice and allocated between:

  • high dividend stocks
  • global agribusiness
  • property equities
  • eastern Europe
  • ASEAN markets

These are more risky and slightly unusual mix. I can do that because of our main investments that are in more traditional equities, property, energy and bonds. Besides, it’s a monthly plan so the strategy is different from investing in a lumpsum, I can afford to tolerate some volatility.