Sunday, August 12, 2007

Sir, your shirt dem ugly

Sorry Sir, maybe your people were too respectful to say, but seriously. Dem ugly. White would have been better.

And the video, Sir. Wooden. Serious. Overwhelms the message.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Did they really say that???

Crazy quotes from today's Sunday Times...

Madam See Biew Wah, who was sent by Singapore Airlines to Paris in 1972 to model for Pierre Balmain, when he was working on the Singapore Girl's iconic uniform: "He was extremely particular. If he didn't like something, he'd just rip it off." She claims she now has an "invisible uniform", which has kept her strong and confident.
You bad boy, Mr Balmain. Now she's all weird and talking about invisible uniforms.

Tan Boon Long, an undergraduate who turned S$125,000 into S$723m over three weeks in a stock-trading contest, when asked what his psychology was during the game: "I was risk-neutral. I placed very big bets I wouldn't have dared to in real life. And I put down all the money I had." His strategy was to buy mainly stocks and covered warrants that cost a few cents and which offered huge gains in percentage terms. He has made 6% on his real-life portfolio since last July.
Ah Boy ah, I think you better go check the real meaning of risk-neutral, hor. Like before you bet the farm would be a good time. Or maybe you should just leave it to the pros. 6% since July long-only is really bad.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

On the Landmark Forum

An old friend has been trying to get me to go to the Landmark Forum, an intense training course touted to bring out the best in you.

There's lots of controversy, as you can see here, here, here and here. Some people call the Landmark Forum a cult. But others swear by it, as you can see here and here. I'm curious, but there are some elements of the Forum which, well, raises my antennae, so to speak.

If anyone has had an experience with them to share, that will really help.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Manscaping comes to the fore

Hilarious site for Philips' new shaver. Check out the music video.

Friday, November 03, 2006

How to believe...?

Gahmen: No one will be left behind.

WSM: Get out of my elite uncaring face.

WSK: I stand by her basic point.

Mr Wang says it better.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

It's that time of the year again!

Ahhh white truffles... That, among all the autumnal goodies including moon cakes, sanma (pike mackeral) and ankimo (anglerfish liver) truly gets my juices going.

White truffles on linguini at Iggy's.
So simple yet mind-blowingly good.

White truffles on scallops and mashed potato at Senso.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Science lesson for the Straits Times

See today's Straits Times, page H1.

Krist, a whale shark is NOT a marine mammal. It is a shark, i.e. a fish, i.e. NOT a mammal.

A simple Google search would have turned up this well known fact.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Rather stupid

Chicago marathon winner slips on sponsor's decal as he crosses the finish line. Suffers brain hemorrhage. Officials discover plastic is slippery when wet.


See the video here.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

We're back!

We're back after a short break! No prizes for guessing where we went... : )

Daddy had some airmiles to burn. And yah, it was nice to holiday with Mommy again after quite a few years. So we left the kids with the Grands and zoomed off in search of the quitessential Japan Hour experience. You know, the whole ryokan-onsen-kaiseki-"oiiishiii des!!!" combo. The place was a little onsen town called Kurokawa, a 3-hour bus ride from Fukuoka. We stayed at two ryokans there - Yamamuzuki and Okunoyu. Here's what they look like (click on the pix for slightly bigger versions).

Main entrance at Yamamizuki

Traditional Japanese bedroom

Attached onsen bath

Flagship outdoor riverside bath

Main entrance at Okunoyu

Japanese-Western combo room

Attached outdoor bath

Flagship outdoor riverside bath
Overall, we got what we wanted in all its Japaneseness. A few observations though:

1. The ryokans differ quite a bit in style, but also in subtle details which make all the difference, like whether the decor includes kitschy faux-bamboo, whether you can see the hot water piping or whether they conceal it so well that you actually think it springs from that gap in the rocks. Like whether each dish in the kaiseki meal just feels like it has been given that personal touch. Yamamizuki wins hands down, we think.

2. No matter how many times you have seen it on Japan Hour, it's still a culture shock (but in a such good way!). Like how there's no shower in the room (it's in the communal bath), or how there's no bed in the room at daytime at a traditional ryokan (where do you collapse in front of the TV then?). And of course, bathing au naturel in the open (which Daddy enjoyed, but Mommy took some getting used to).

3. That onsen bathwater is si peh hot!!!

4. That we ate surprisingly little seafood. Maybe foreign Japanese restaurants overemphasize this part of Japanese cuisine. The food was still pretty shiok, though.

Kaiseki spread at Okunoyu. Yamamizuki's was better
but served course-by-course, and less photogenic.
Kurokawa itself is a nice little town, in a Japanese-alpine village kind of way. Here's what it looks like.

A river runs through it
The weather was good, and the autumn colours were just showing. A month more and it would have been brilliant.

Nice to get away from the haze!
We also spent two days in Fukuoka, which is a nice little city, much more manageable in size than Tokyo. Food and shopping were pretty good, and not a expensive as you might think. Like-for-like quality-wise, Japanese food is cheaper than in Singapore. Only thing which marred the experience was that we got ripped off at the local food stalls (which were still cute as a button). Nuff said - do unto others, right?

Fukuoka gets even for Newton Hawker Center
Special mention to Maiko, who sacrificed her half-day off to show us what's special in her part of the world. If you are reading this Maiko, thank you so much. You are welcome at our home anytime.

Arigato gozaimas, Maiko-san!

Fukuoka off-takes

Click on the pix for bigger versions.

How do you get people to come if it's so terrible?

When you cannot think of a name for your building

Top row, fourth from left says "Toddy Coffee".
Must be from the estate.

Food from all over = GROVAL Buffet?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Can Malaysia move on?

The Business Times published an article today about an "acrimonious debate" which has broken out in Malaysia over a think tank's claim that the ethnic Malay share of corporate equity had reached 45% by Sep 2005. The current figure, according to the government, is 19%. The think tank's claim is controversial because since 1971, the government has always pushed for Malays to own at least 30% of the country's corporate equity. The article goes to some length to discuss the various methodologies which are employed by both sides to derive their stated results.

One may debate the details, but Manu Bhaskaran, an economist whom I admire a lot, cuts to the chase, saying:
'What strikes me as surprising are all these old stories. The world is moving on and talking about globalisation, of attracting the best talent - and Malaysia is still obsessing about the ethnic division of spoils.'
So the question, I think, is this: can Malaysia move beyond its racial politics and plug in to the world? Or will it be left behind, bickering over who gets what of the pie, and yet ignoring the fact the the pie is in fact shrinking, no, getting eaten, by global competitors?

Going by what PM Adbullah has said, one would think that the Malaysian government is in fact quite aware of the issue at hand. In a speech in Apr 2006 to the KL Business Club, he said:
'We have seen increased competition from our neighbours and from other regions. We have seen foreign direct investments chase new development opportunities elsewhere... With everything that is happening in the world – escalating oil prices, the rise of China and India, a continued global macroeconomic imbalance – the next five years will probably determine whether we’ll make it... The sense of purpose and urgency that it has created is not without basis. I am not an economic historian but as someone who has studied the rise and fall of civilisations, I am under no illusion that this is one of those turning points in our history.'
On the realities of racial politics, he goes on to say:
'If my government had to politically rely solely on a constituency represented by this audience here tonight, we will be out of business. Although you move and shake the world of business, you are in a minority. The mission will only work if i have the support of the majority... The economic philosophy that has allowed for this to be accepted as a national mission is that growth must be accompanied by distribution… Without a solid social foundation created by a distributive policy, we will not have the stability to stay relevant. Policies to help the bumiputera – a cornerstone of our social contract – will continue but will be designed to bring the best out of the community rather than consigning them to a culture of dependency. These socioeconomic priorities are uniquely Malaysian and are firmly non-negotiable.'
Which all sounds very first-world and yet sensitive to local realities. But yet nothing much has actually changed. So where's the disconnect? In all probability, it boils down to the necessities of staying in power, made all the more troublesome by the criticisms of an ex-PM, no less. And the fear is that Malaysia will not be able to get with the big picture, take the tough medicine and move on from the way things have been for the last 35 years...

Monday, October 02, 2006

Jia-Hui is one!

And this blog was started when she was born - how time flies! All four kiddie cousins gathered at grandma's as usual for the celebrations. But then, hor, combine four rowdy kids, a camera-phobic baby and a jealous elder sister, and you're going to have seriously few decent photos. Still, Daddy got a good one with the girls:

And got Mommy in for one as well:

The kids participated in seasonal festivities:

And had a blast as usual:

Oh, and check out Xin-Hui's vintage tai-kor-tai water bottle!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Not the same when the angmohs do it

The Departed, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Martin Sheen and directed by Martin Scorsese:

Infernal Affairs, starring Andy Lau, Tony Leung and directed by Alan Mak and Andrew Lau:

The angmoh trailer (they gotta make it more obvious):

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Perplexing article on HDB scam

The Business Times reported today about a new HDB scam called the "cash-down" scheme. Here's how it is supposed to work:

Someone may have bought his flat for, say, $400,000 during the market peak in 1996. With the drop in price, he may be able to sell it today for $300,000 - but the price declared in the official sales documents is lower at, say, $280,000.

The declared sale proceeds ($280,000) will go straight into the seller's CPF account, but he retains the undeclared $20,000 cash that he receives separately from the buyer.

The buyer may be enticed to agree to such an arrangement if he gets to buy the flat at slightly below the market price. In this case, the flat could have fetched a higher price at, say, $310,000, but the seller agrees to sell it for $300,000, so the buyer enjoys a $10,000 saving if he goes along with the seller's scheme.
All sensible so far, but here's where the logic gets confusing:

The scheme is said to involve mostly sellers suffering from negative equity on their property because they had bought their flats at high prices during the boom years. What they do is under-declare their sale price so as to prevent all of the sale proceeds from being returned to their Central Provident Fund (CPF) accounts.

This happens because many owners would have used up a lot of their CPF savings to pay for their flats and the interest cost involved in servicing their mortgages.

Says an HDB resale market observer: 'Whereas the cashback deals were triggered more by greed or profiteering, cash-down deals seem to be driven by hardship and a need for those suffering from negative equity on their HDB flats to get out of the rut - so they can downgrade to a smaller flat, or move on.'
To clarify, negative equity refers to a situation where the value of an asset (in this case an HDB flat) is lower than the value of its attached liability (in this case a loan from the HDB or bank). Hence, asset - liability = equity is negative.

My question is this - how does the scam help you if you are in negative equity? Take the example above. Say the outstanding loan on the flat is $320,000. Hence the seller is in negative equity of $20,000. He will have to repay the bank or HDB $320,000 no matter what.

If he was not in negative equity, i.e. if the flat could be sold at say $350,000 today, the $320,000 loan will be deducted straight from the sale proceeds, with the remainder going first to CPF to cover withdrawals and interest, then to the seller in cash.

If the seller was in negative equity, as in this case where the flat can only be sold for $300,000, all of the proceeds will go to pay off the loan, and HDB or the bank will come after you for $20,000 more in cash. If you under-declare the sale price they will just come after you for more cash.

The only way all this can make sense is if the loan was from the HDB, and it does not have the practice of requiring the seller to top-up the difference between his outstanding loan and the selling price of his flat, i.e. if it forgave the negative equity. (The banks will never do this.)

I have not found anything in HDB's literature to suggest this, and I find it hard to believe HDB will be so generous. If this was true, there will be many who will exploit this route to erase their negative equity. And negative equity will then not be such a big issue.

So I'm back to scratching my head over the logic of the whole thing. Hmmm...

Hedge fund trouble and the analyst job market

The Business Times reported today that Amaranth Advisors was raising new equity after wrong-way energy bets lost the firm US$4.6b this month. That's quite a chunk of the firm's US$9.5b under management. Apparently, this is the biggest hedge fund loss since LTCM collapsed in 1998.

I'm just looking at this in relation to the huge rise in recruitment by hedge funds in Singapore over the last year. Several of my friends have made the move, lured by lucrative fees, attractive profit-sharing schemes and off course, the potential for outsized gains. Amaranth itself has an office in my building.

Timely reminder... good luck at the tables, guys!

Monday, September 18, 2006

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Scholarship cut-back could be best for all

"PSA, DBS and SLA have cut back on their scholarship programmes. Is this the start of a trend as employers become more wary of bond-breakers?" So asks the Sunday Times in today's edition. The three agencies did not pin down reasons for the change, said the paper. But a PSA spokesman was quoted to say: "The number of scholarships we offer year to year varies and depends on the organisation's needs and how these needs are met by other channels such as direct recruitment."

I think that the quote is more enlightening, and enlightened, than the paper realizes. My read of the situation is this - that the agencies have awarded far more scholarships than they should have, and in so doing have directly contributed to the bond-breaking problem. Intentions were most probably good when the scholarship schemes were conceived. But honestly, how many Ivy League or Oxbridge graduates does an organization like PSA or SLA really need? Do they really need to bond tens of scholars a year?

My hope is that agencies offering undergraduate scholarships are beginning to realize that bonding large numbers of high-calibre individuals does no one any good when there is no clear understanding of how they will be employed. Unless the right challenges are found for these ambitious scholars, you will always have bond-breakers who leave in frustration. Which leaves the agency equally pissed as well. It is better to not have started the process at all.

Mr Wang has lots more to say on the issue, including answers for those who rue the reduced education funding for those who need it.

Voice & accountability in Singapore lowest in 10 years

According to the World Bank, voice and accountability in Singapore is at its lowest in 10 years, as measured against a sample of 213 countries. In its 2006 report on governance, Singapore scored 38.2 in the category, meaning that it beat only 38.2% of all the countries surveyed on this measure. Singapore had scored highs of 63.8 in 2002 and 59.1 in 1996, but has seen its rating fall drastically in the last three years.

The World Bank defines voice and accountability as the extent to which a country’s citizens are able to participate in selecting their government, as well as freedom of expression, freedom of association, and free media. I'm still digging into the World Bank's comprehensive website on the survey to see if I can find the exact reason for the decline, but by any measure, the result looks pretty dire.

Meanwhile, I pulled a couple of interesting charts from the site. First, a chart comparing the voice and accountability scores of 20 East Asian countries. At a glance, one can imagine calls of "Look at Taiwan! Look at South Korea! Do we want to be like them?!"

Now let's look at the same chart for 20 OECD countries. Will we then say "Look at Switzerland, Australia, UK and Japan! We do want to be like them!" Food for thought. Click here for a basic table of the World Governance Indicators for each country.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Kiddie pix @ Grandma's!

So, everyone trooped back to Grandma's for a self-declared long weekend, giving Daddy a much-needed break. Xin-Hui had a blast as usual, and Jia-Hui seemed quite happy too. Except we still have a bit of that reaction to the camera problem...

Left: Xin-Hui at 12 months.
Right: Jia-Hui at 11 months.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Babies and the analyst job market

So, the gahmen says we'd better make more babies or we'll have to import more foreign talent... Makes me think of the current job situation in my industry. FYI, the job market for equities analysts is hot, hot, hot. This is quite a new phenomenon, taking root really only in the last year or so. Before that the market had been pretty weak following the bear markets of 1998, 2001 and 2003.

I was speaking recently to a senior regional analyst from a top international brokerage. They are looking to fill an analyst position in Singapore and have been looking for months without success. And they can pay MEGA bucks. Another big-name house lost an analyst some weeks ago, and did not even bother looking locally. They brought in someone from their Australia team instead, which I thought was great solution, rather than competing for whatever talent was available in Singapore. At our shop, half the analyst positions have turned over within a year.

I've never seen such a job market before, not even in the go-go mid-90's. Now we have hedge funds and property funds taking analysts from long-only houses, long-only shops ramping up analyst teams, and all three poaching from the sell-side. Meanwhile, sell-side brokers are replenishing numbers and top-tier names are poaching from second-tier houses. On top of that, the traditional breeding ground for new analysts - local brokerages, have all but disappeared. The upshot being, analysts with two to three years' experience are filling jobs specified for five-year-olds, and getting paid that way.

I'm gonna teach my kids to pick stocks, man. A is for "Assets", B is for "Book value"...