Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Investment Journey - Part 4 (University level)

Hi all,

Some of you may be wondering about how long will this series end? Will it be like a long sitcom that runs for 100 episodes? Nope...I don't really plan for a finale yet, it may just end till the level of semi-FIRE days which is what I am currently enjoying my life now. The main reason to run this investment journey like a storybook is to chronologically detail my growing up stage and the development of my investment brain. I hope this will inspire some readers, in my little ways, to hone their investment brains and hearts as well in this often lonely, sometimes painful journey to its end goal.

My university days are pretty tough after I left the army. Quite a drastic adjustment to pick up books but certainly feel great to wear civilian clothes to school. I still fondly remembered the first day to NTU campus for my first lecture - I was lost trying to locate the theatre and asked a lady randomly for direction. Coincidentally, we were going for the same lecture and we became good friends thereafter. My time was spent going to lectures, tutorials, doing assignments, exams and the rest - earning my school fees and allowances through giving private tuition. Sadly, I do regret not enjoying a life in Hall and having bonding with my uni friends. I remained as an acquaintance to many, appearing during classes only.

My university days almost set me up for a big stumbling block to my investment journey. I studied in Banking & Finance in NTU, learning the hard technical knowledge of the financial markets and instruments which supposedly help everyone to be richer. Well, it is now very clear to me that all these instruments are created to enrich the financial players, and often, at the very expense of the retailers (a.k.a retail investors). 

In short, some may view it as a casino. When you walk into one, the odds are stacked against you - you tend to lose more than you win if you stay in the game for long. That's why some may treat the stock market as casino as well, where the dealers are the big hands (big funds, HNW investors etc) who are pitting against all other retail traders/ investors and in the long run, they win big against all the losses contributed by others. Sounds truly unfair, right? Yes, to some degree, I still subscribe to this belief, as evident from many insider trading and big hands controlling. The financial jargon to this is Efficient Market Hypothesis - semi strong form. In layman terms, whatever the public knows about the stock, all these information are already priced in. The advantage to win lies in the hands of the insiders.

Image result for Efficient Market Hypothesis - semi strong form."
Yes, I set up a brokerage account with Philip Securities when they came to NTU offering free account setup service on the spot. Why wait? Instantly, they offered me 10k credit limit and I learnt about contra trading since then. I remembered during my breaks, I will "monitor" the market in the computer lab and enjoyed seeing flickering prices dancing. I felt like a bank trader, trying my best to spot the next gem to bet on. I bought Creative Technology then for 5k size, and flipped it within 2 days for a mere $50 profit. I wanted success, albeit a small one, to feel confident and eventually proceeded to trade other stocks which are pretty unheard of today such as BIL, Roxy etc. Eventually, my portfolio dropped by 50% from 10k to 5k net value and I called it quits by not logging it my account for one entire year.

I treated the stock market as my casino, thinking of making quick bucks easily. Mr Market somehow tamed me with losses, and I humbled to learn more about proper investment gradually. We all want success in whatever we do, but we never want to pay for it with a high price of pain. In many investment journeys shared by others and myself, the commonality is the pain of learning, losing, and waiting.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Investment Journey - Part 3 (Army level)

Dear SFFians,

Good day to you, I hope the week has been good to you. If not, reset your mind, soul and body and recharge it with positive vibes with time spent with your loved ones. Fill your mind with happy memories every day to make each day worthy of its breath.

One reader privately messaged me, "Since I am semi-FIRE already, how do you pass your time each day?" Certainly a very sober question to ask any retiree, be it semi or fully retired, there are days that go unplanned, some days routine, some days impromptu and some days for others. Bear in mind, there is no fixed schedule daily, weekly or monthly. 

For myself, I am a freelance trainer and let my calendar be filled with training dates in advance. Then, I will add on key events and errands to run such as birthday parties, friends' gatherings, family events, short holidays/ stay-cations, doctor's appointments etc. Stay organised and it feels good to have some little things to look forward. Any empty time slots will be very much impromptu where I will spend most of it with my wife and toddler son, which are mainly playing times (indoor/outdoor).

Image result for sniper"
Flashback to Army daze, I guess the only shining light amid all the physical and mental torturing has been to toughen my mindset and emotions especially on my patience towards people and things. Like a sniper, you will have to endure hours or even days of hiding before you can gun down your enemies.

We often crave for instant gratifications, which is very normal as we want quick results after our effort. Who likes to wait long long? We want instant bragging rights to many things (be it controllable and uncontrollable ones) to showcase our perceived superiority. Investing is somewhat different, you will be very disappointed if you want your share price to jump instantly after you buy or drop instantly the moment you offload the shares.

The Market is not your slave, and you are not his master. In fact, 99% of the time, it's the reverse. Start realising and internalising this truth will ease you into the zen of investing where peace of mind and serenity will do you more good than harm in bringing you fruits of harvest. You can't just eat the apples the next day when you only throw a seed and water in the soil.

Besides that, army daze provides lots of time pockets. We often rush to wait, and wait to rush. We do not carry smartphones during my time, it is not even invented then. Pager and public phones are the only tools to connect to the civilian world. So, very often, we share the precious newspaper and take our very sweet time to read and digest out of boredom. Well, somehow, that trains my mind to think and probe deeper on how the world behaves in certain ways and how the financial market reacts to it. Daydreaming all these thoughts have partially brought me out of the army world momentarily and I believe it to be therapeutic.

Reading and critical thinking are indeed essential core skills of investing, you need to formulate your own opinions about things and will be able to stay convicted with patience in your investments.

For instance, I bought the hotly debated Eagle HT one week ago @0.46 and just offloaded them today at 0.53, purely on valuation gap analysis. All the rumours, bad news and substantial shareholders selling have depressed the share price to its extreme, and the only way to recover is through cold hard fact of good results. 1 week of patient holding has paid me off handsomely.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Investment Journey - Part 2 (Sec/ High School level)

Dear SFFians,

Gone were the days when PSLE exams were much "easier" compared to today, I managed to do pretty well despite not putting lots of effort or having lots of professional tutors to help me. My score is good enough to walk into any SAP schools in Singapore then. I literally walked into the best SAP school in the west area, somehow I thought life won't be that tough and I could still enjoy my student life playing arcade, computer games and ball games. 

I continued to play lots, and I paid a price for my playfulness. I didn't perform well as expected and teachers did not give me the spotlight I used to have during my primary school days. But, during Secondary 2 streaming, somehow I managed to squeeze myself into a Triple Science class, which requires at least 70% overall cut off score to qualify. It sounded prestigious and I think it still is as of today.

Image result for cream of the crop"

Secondary 3-4 was pretty hellish for me, it's more about my self-esteem issue that I was constantly being side-lined and neglected by teachers due to my under-performance. I was the bottom of this cream of the crop by results, and often had to attend free tuition classes after school to keep myself afloat and worthy to stay in this elite class. Some classmates would mock at my "broken" English and never failed to correct me with a sarcastic tone. One English teacher even said to me during my O levels, "Just aim for a pass will do, not higher!" How discouraging to me...and I eventually got a B3 for my English (surprised!)

Since then, I did not wish to see my classmates and teachers again, as they reminded me of my unworthiness in front of them. I decided not to choose the same junior college or Science stream as them and instead went for a lower ranking school - Saints Andrew's Junior College (SAJC) where by "elitist" classmates will never choose. True enough, I saw none of them when I moved on. I chose Commerce stream as I felt that I was never really that good for Science and I wanted a fresh change in my learning. Learning about money and management should be more interesting than all these physics and chemistry formulas, right?

I took Accountancy, Economics, Maths and Management as my 4 core A level subjects and continued to hold on to them despite faring poorly in Management and Accountancy at times. My teachers are very encouraging, especially my GP tutor (Mrs Pryke). I need to give full credit to her, as I fondly remembered when she told me this, "KY, I believed you can performed much better in your English, I can see that in you." Such inspiring words lingered and pushed to me do better in GP... (yes, I got distinction in the end and no one believed that.) 

Same goes to my Management tutor (Ms Amanda), when I kept failing the subject, she gave me private tuition to uncover my gaps and encouraged me to write more points to score. I can't thank them enough for believing in my potential to excel and I did it. To me, teaching is not just a job, it's a profession to inspire people to be their better self.

They inspired me to explore the world deeper, in the realm of world affairs, news, economics and finance. In short, to be a better investor, I feel that one needs to immerse and keep abreast of world news to have a broad picture of how the world is doing now. With the wide knowledge being refreshed daily, you can form your opinions and viewpoints about the future and not to be easily influenced by rumours/ hearsay. 

You can start easily just by reading newspaper daily. If this is too hard, imagine Warren Buffet reading 500 pages daily.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Investment Journey - Part 1 (Kid level)

My main education throughout my entire education journey has been predominantly in Singapore, no overseas certifications to rave about as I came from a very humble family background. Yes, indeed very humble that my parents had to worry daily on survivor-ship for our family. My dad was an odd-job shipping labourer who worked at times on board if there were jobs, while my mom was a seamstress staying at home sewing piles of pajamas to pay rent and taking care of me and my sister. We stayed in a 1-bedroom rental flat and 4 of us would sleep on a king sized mattress. Good thing that my elder sister and I were pretty small sized then. Life is ultra boot-strapped but as kids, we were innocently happy with nothing much.

Since young, I did not have the luxury of having new toys to play with, and I was somehow glad that I could run to my neighbour's house to play with his new toys, like MASK and Silverhawk. Those who played with these should belong to my generation. The "fun" lasted a while until a day I accidentally broke his Silverhawk's wing and he cried miserably to his mom (it's a complaint!), and since then, I wasn't allowed to play with him anymore. I felt jealous and betrayed, a weird thought floated in my mind - "I don't need your toy, I can buy mine one day!" Considering a primary one kid, my backbone is pretty strong.

I craved for tidbits and ice-cream near my primary school, and could only drooled when others were happily slurping their melting ice-creams. My pocket $$ was a mere 20 cents - sorry it's never enough for kids' luxuries. That was the year 1985. From then, I learnt the lesson of savings - one needs to save enough to afford the things we need in life. You can imagine how skinny was I to scrimp and save that daily 20 cents by not eating during recesses just to save up for the "Ting-Ting" sweets and ice-creams.

Image result for child counting money

So, when you are poor and have yet to learn to spend, you learn to save. I have yet to master the art of borrowing from friends or steal to enjoy these. Yes, I had painfully saved up enough to buy "The Raven" - a black car which can transform itself to dive under water, and eventually it was stolen when I brought it to class to show off. I cried miserably for hours and my form teacher failed to track the thief. From then, I learnt to trust no one in class and found my classmates to be evil and nasty. Good thing is I left the school one year later when my family moved to another place.

The point I am driving here is that I was brought up in such resource-poor environment by circumstances that I was forced to save before spending. I believe this mindset has set me up to becoming who I am today or it has indeed framed my mind since secondary school on the track of making more $$$ to save $$$ in order to spend more $$$.

You can jolly well label me as a materialistic child or a money-faced person. My sister prefers to call me "kiam-siap" whenever I refused to treat her tidbits with my hard-saved $$$.

It ties in nicely to my investment philosophy - If you are not disciplined to save with what you have or earn, it's very tough to achieve the discipline of making investment, lest talk about becoming successful in investing.

Would you agree so?

Monday, October 14, 2019

Why I name this blog as Semi FIRE Fish

Dear readers,

I have been contemplating to set up this blog for over a year and finally got down to kick-start this first post after overcoming some inertia. I have some close friends, and many normal friends which I chatted with, and they all share one common query to me, "How come you don't need to work full time? Got enough money to support your stay-at-home wife, your newborn son, and your retired parents?"

The common response I gave to close friends is, "Money will never be enough, it's a function of how you spend (expenses), how you earn (active + passive), and how you invest (across different asset classes). For me, I know all the numbers and capture them regularly like a personal portfolio manager."

The other response I gave to normal friends is, "Well, my freelance work's income is equivalent to a full time salaried middle manager's income. The difference is the working time - I work 25% of the year, while spending 75% of my time on personal/ family matters.

How I wish I can tell them straight in their faces that I am already a semi FIRE fish, swimming leisurely in this big ocean. For those who are unsure about FIRE, this has been trending quite a while in the investment community which stands for "Financial Independence, Retire Early". Yes, I would label myself semi FIRE as I still want to work partially to stay connected socially and economically rather than being conveniently labelled as a BUMMER by people around me, including loved ones. Why am I a fish then? A fish follows its own pace to live. If the fish wants to dash and swim fast, it  needs no one to force it unless it faces threat. Very often, it swims leisurely to enjoy the flow of water.

That's why the corporate race is often termed as Rat race, hardly anyone calls it a Fish race. Some fish don't even follow the flow of water, or even go against it to achieve its own personal objective, like salmons which swim against current to lay eggs.

My character resembles much like a fish - subtle, quiet, amicable, flow with nature, and resilient in my own ways.