Month: October 2017

Wealth Destruction Behaviors – TTI’s Personal Anecdotes

For those who have requested for complimentary SGX Bull Charge tickets and signed up, SGX has informed me that race pack collection will be available from 3rd November onwards. SGX will send you guys another email closer to the date, so do look out for that.

I’d probably take it as a time trial, so if you see a chap running seriously like he’s going to compete with Mok Ying Ren, that could very well be me. HAH!

There hasn’t been any updates on SG TTI for the past 3 weeks, as I bunker down to get some serious work done. Lotsa things have been happening, particularly so on the personal life front, and oh boy, do I have a story to tell with regard to this. I’m sure mummies and daddies out there would be very interested to know, but that’s another story for another time. (Soon, I promise)

In my earlier post, I alluded to new happenings over at InvestingNote. I’ve met up with the guys, and apparently they’re launching a new “marketplace” of paid subscription investing services, somewhat similar to SeekingAlpha (Hope I’m not jumping the gun by announcing it here)

I was asked to be a contributor, and whilst I have a lot of ideas on how this can be done, it never seemed like I’d be able to do it on my own, with my time constraints. I met up with some others who could potentially be partners as well, but couldn’t get anything tied down.

I’d have thought my friend Alain T would be great for this, as I’ve a fair idea of how he thinks and functions, but like myself, time is a big problem for him. As he said “Don’t know how you’d juggle your day job, a family, TTI blog and this though tbh” (He missed out the actual investing part)

LOL. The simple answer is, I probably can’t.

So I guess this is a dead end right now, I’ve since declined to be involved for now. I wouldn’t want to have a bunch of paid subscribers on my name and then have 0 value for them. (As it stands, TTI’s last blog update was 3 weeks ago so….)

On the investing front, Q4 started out pretty good thus far, with some of my largest holdings continuing their drive upwards (BBR, LTC Corp, Geo Energy) but I have no inkling how it’d perform against my benchmark – STI ETF.

We’ll see.

I’ve taken some profit off the table on names that have risen substantially, in preparation for my next idea.

In the past 3 weeks, I’ve done DD on 3 ideas; I was initially considering picking up some beaten down Spanish equities, in light of the Catalonia independence saga. After DD though, I’ve decided to forgo and stay on the sidelines. My opinion is that this may drag out for a while longer, and anyway, the drop hasn’t been substantial enough to account for the uncertainty. (For those who are interested, EWP is the best way in my opinion, to gain a broad based exposure to the Spanish market)

Amongst the other 2 ideas, I’d probably allocate a small amount of capital (under $50k) for 1.

The last remaining idea is a typical deep value, contrarian position that I’m getting excited about. I’d like to spend yet more time digging and probing around, but currently, my intention is for this to be a major position (over $100k).

I’d likely start accumulating this week.

So… a lot of activity on this front, I’d probably do a portfolio update soon.

Just today, in response to a query, I ended up re-reading my initial thesis on Asia Enterprises Holdings, written back in August 2016:

Asia Enterprises Holding Ltd Analysis – August 2016

I’ve kinda stopped following the company for some time, and now, going back to read the analysis I wrote then, I found a lot of joy reading it. It’s a work of art IMO. I loved the detail and the insight, much of which I’ve actually forgotten.

Damn fine piece of work, if I had to say so myself.

OK OK, self praise is no praise, I get it. Still….

My conclusion then is that the share price is unlikely to deviate much from the $0.17 to $0.19 range, and that’s exactly where the share price is today, 14 months later from my analysis.


Now, let me get to the actual post proper.

This post is all about……… stories.

Over the years, I have come across, what I deem, to be incidents or people who have engaged in highly wealth-destructive behavior and/or activities.

633) destruction.jpg

This is a recollection of a few of them. These are my real life experiences/encounters, some minor details may not be accurate, but the gist of the stories is real.

The lessons to be learnt, I believe, are self explanatory, so form your own opinions.

Perhaps you might laugh, or you might shake your head, just remember that these actually DID happen, and to people whom I know and work with.

Obviously, specific, identifying details won’t be revealed for privacy reasons.

Enjoy


1. Understanding your odds in the game

As a young Dr many years ago, serving my bond within a government institution, I used to be real chummy with this cleaning lady. Her job is literally that: to clean up instruments and… well, anything that needs cleaning.

While other Drs go for lunch together, somehow I’d always find time to pack lunch back and eat with her at least once a week. I’m not particularly sure why, but I’ve a special affinity for elderly aunties in low paying jobs. They’re just…. unrestricted in their conversations.

Plus she helped me once with an errand whilst I was still a student attached to the said institution. So I guess I felt grateful.

As a cleaning lady, her pay was a miserly $1,050 / month. (This was a decade ago, I’m sure with the government’s recent push to increase the salaries of lowly paid jobs, this would now be higher.)

Yet, this lady would spend at least $20 each time, twice a week, buying 4D. (For the uninitiated, 4D is the national lottery system). Apparently there are 2 draws (correct me if I’m mistaken), 1 during mid-week, and 1 during the weekend.

$20 each time, twice a week, for a month, means that $160 is spent each month on buying lottery. It doesn’t sound like much, but that’d be 15% of her monthly income. 15%! My god. The travesty!

And she’d do this religiously, rain or shine. My advice has always fallen on deaf ears. She’d literally say to me (in a mixture of mandarin and dialect)

“Choy! Don’t jinx me… When I win the 1st prize, I will give you a big treat ok?”

Of course, I never got that treat.

But that’s not the story.

634) Lottery Ticket

Once, cleaning lady bought the numbers 2535, and the 1st prize was 2536 (numbers have been changed, I can’t remember the exact numbers la!)

She was so excited that she came running into my room to tell me that she almost won. Cleaning lady said with not a tinge of disappointment, but with a ton of excitement: “This means next time I will win! I am so close!”

I frowned.

And gently told her the outcome is binary: Win or Lose.

You can’t “almost” win it. It doesn’t matter. You either win or you lose. There’s no almost.

And the events of this draw has no implication on her next draw anyway.

Cleaning lady looked at me with enlarged eyes: “2535 and 2536 only 1 number away, I really almost win what! What are you talking about, only 1 number wrong. Very close!”

Again, I tried to explain that that’s not how it works. It doesn’t matter if you bought 2535 or you bought 0000. The outcome is the same.

Again, she couldn’t wrap her head around my logic.

“But I really bought 2535 and my last digit is only 1 away from winning the top prize what!!!”

At this stage, she was exasperated that I couldn’t share her excitement, and ran off telling the nurses how she “almost won”. I remember even hearing her trailing voice in the other rooms “Dr XXX don’t understand, obviously I almost won what. You guys come and see……..”

Over subsequent lunches, numerous detailed explanations complete with logic diagrams and examples……. I still failed to win her over.

Cleaning lady was completely adamant that she almost won, and that her time on the pedestal  would be coming soon.

That’s when I realized, that for some segments of the population, statistics and odds are foreign concepts. It’s like teaching someone a new language. They have no inkling of the concepts and what it entails.

Anyhow, after some time, I came to accept that the $20 paid twice a week, is actually a form of entertainment for cleaning lady. It’s her version of going to the movies.

It gives her hope, and even when she loses aka “almost wins”, it gives her real unbridled joy. Like no kidding, like real genuine joy all written over her face. I’ve never seen a more happy loser.

So who am I to tell her otherwise? What’s the price of hope?

To me, 15% of your hard earned blood money is akin to murder. But to her, it’s her sole entertainment, something she looks forward to twice a week.

Since she paid $20 for hope and joy, I might as well help her maximize the joy she’s getting from it.

So I learnt to keep my peace, and in fact, celebrated with her the next time she brought up her “almost” glory.

2. Desperate times calls for desperate measures? Don’t!

A nurse in one of our clinics, let’s call her “B”, started showing very good job performance despite only joining the company recently. (This was a few years ago)

As part of the nurses’ job responsibilities, they had to take turns to be the last to leave the clinic, closing up the accounts by tabulating the day’s takings and depositing the takings into the bank.

B was amicable and well liked by her colleagues. She constantly volunteered to be the last one to leave, and helped all her colleagues with their work. She was very responsible, and highly dependable, and earmarked as a “star performer”.

Then the ugly truth came out.

Secretly, B was pocketing part of the clinic’s daily takings into her own pocket. She constantly volunteered to be the last to leave as she wanted free rein in manipulating the accounts and covering up her tracks.

Still, as the saying goes, paper cannot wrap fire.

Eventually, B was found out and a police report was lodged.

As more details came spluttering out, we came to find that B had been keeping a portion of the business’s takings every day. She finally got found out when she kept a sizable portion 1 fine day, and the accounts department noticed the large discrepancy and questioned her.

Apparently, B did all this out of desperation. 2 months ago, she and her then fiancee (or boyfriend, I’m not too sure) signed up for a bogus real estate financing plan. They were promised high investment returns of over 80% over a relatively short period of time of a few months. The agent told them that their monies would be invested in overseas properties in far flung markets which were chalking up unbelievable returns.

Every month, she’d be approached by the agent to “make payment”. If she made all the payments that she signed up for, she’d eventually get back her capital + 40% returns. Or so she thought.

We all know how the story goes from here.

That 1 day when she got desperate and pocketed a cool $16k, was the day when she was pressured to “make payment”, or risk losing all her previously invested capital.

Naively, her plan was to “borrow” the money, make payment, and quickly get back her 180% of her invested capital so that she can deposit the difference without anyone realizing the money is missing.

To top it off, what added to her desperation was that her fiance/boyfriend disappeared, leaving her saddled with the burden of continuing this “investment”. Under both emotional and financial duress, she acted out of desperation.

In chess terms, this is called a “blunder”, and you add a “??” to at the end of the chess notation. Like “Qxe5??”

The end result?

B went to jail for her moment of folly. She never saw a cent of her invested capital returned to her, much less the attractive returns she was promised. The company wrote off the entire sum of $16k + whatever amount was pocketed before that, and decided not to pursue this debt, after hearing of her circumstances.

TBH, I suspect we wouldn’t have been successful even if we tried to pursue the debt, as advised by our lawyers.

Everyone lost.

Except the con-man/investment agent. Not sure what exactly happened on that side, since we wrote off everything, but I think he/she got away with it and remains at large.

In the real world, sometimes, villains do get away with murder. This ain’t the movies.

Some may pity B. Some may think she deserves whatever she got for her folly.

I’m sure everyone would agree that it’s ridiculous why someone can fall for such an “investment scheme”. 80% ROI? For any Tom, Dick or B who just put some capital to work buying “overseas real estate”? The capital wasn’t even a large sum. If it’s a genuine scheme with genuine 80% ROI, hell, SG TTI can close shop right here. Why bother to do all this work?

But the reason why these schemes exist is because……… they do work… sometimes.

There are people who still fall for them.

Ultimately, greed is a very seductive thing.  Add greed to naivety, sprinkle in a touch of desperation, and you have a potent recipe for disaster.

Aside from the obvious lesson in distrusting anything that sounds too good to be true, I guess the other lesson here is that when you’re desperate, just…. STOP.

Seriously, just freeze. Don’t do anything. Just think.

There’s a medical reason for that.

When you’re desperate, your body produces high levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. This in turn initiates a fight or flight response. This means that you’re pressured to make a decision to solve what is deemed to be the immediate problem, without any thought to what happens after that.

It’s a very raw, very primitive type of body response mechanism. It allows you to survive the immediate, but many a times, at the expense of your well being later. After every fight or flight response, your body inevitably has to undergo a greater repair and restoration phase. (In this case, take the money first and make payment first, forget about what happens if I get caught)

I’m not sure what B is doing now. The last I heard, she was extremely remorseful. I kinda pity her. To begin with, if she had a more intelligent/responsible boyfriend/fiance, her situation would’ve been very different.

3. Does what you have define you, or do you define what you have?

One of the nurses whom I used to work with (Let’s call her C) was an outright fashion geek. “C” would literally look forward to that 1 pay day in the entire year where she’d receive both her salary and bonuses together, and proceed to bust that entire pay on something branded, usually a handbag.

And LV was her absolute favorite.

I’ve always considered such behavior to be somewhat silly.

Why exactly, do people want to buy and carry branded stuff? Esp ladies and their branded bags.

What exactly are you paying for, when you buy a branded bag?

I’m convinced that a large portion of the reason is simply….. for bragging rights. To show off.

That must be it. Well, you could argue that oh, you’re paying for quality. But that’s easily debunked because if I had the SAME bag, SAME material, SAME workmanship, but slap on a “Giordano” on it, the market price would immediately drop to a tenth.

So the only plausible reason for buying something branded, is because……. it is branded. For bragging rights. For showing others that hey, guess what, I’ve arrived! Look at me! Aren’t you envious?

Which doesn’t make sense to me. Long time readers would know that I would very much rather spend money on accumulating experiences. Who cares what other people think?

Anyway, the people who have truly “arrived”, actually don’t give a damn about what other people think.

Back to my story.

One day, literally the day after “C” received her bonus, she came into the office with a sparkling new LV bag, and promptly proceeded to show it to the other nurses.

There were the usual “ooooohh” and “ahhhhhs”… but 1 nurse commented innocently: “Is it real? or fake?”

Immediately, “C” got defensive.

“Of course ok! I just got it yesterday, genuine!”

And C proceeded to explain everything about the “series” of the collection and the very princely price tag.

Still, doubts remain amongst some of the other nurses.

“But the logo here looks a bit weird right? Isn’t it supposed to match?”

For the rest of the day, (perhaps even the rest of the week, if I had bothered to pay attention), “C” had to spend time defending the status of her newly purchased, prized LV bag as a genuine one.

I didn’t really pay much attention cos this kinda chatter amongst nurses is honestly quite commonplace. They talk, they gossip and they banter to pass time and make their job more interesting. No biggie.

A few weeks later, my colleague’s wife came to the clinic to meet him after work. She sat in the waiting area whilst waiting for him to wrap things up.

Almost immediately, the nurses started gossiping (in my room).

Nurse 1: “Did you see Dr XXX’s wife’s Prada bag? Very nice right… I also want 1…”

Nurse 2: “I know that series, it’s the latest one. I think SG don’t even have it yet, maybe she went overseas to buy it.”

Nurse 3: “Wa, how much does it cost?”

Nurse 2: “Latest series Prada birkin… I think at least $7k – 8k. Maybe even more. I remember seeing it online before”

Nurse 3: “WOW. But it’s worth it. It looks very nice, very classy.”

Nurse 1: “Of course… Dr XXX’s wife ma. Must be she ask him to buy for her”

And the conversation continued for a while longer…

The next day, during lunch, I casually mentioned to my dear colleague: “hey, yesterday the girls were in my room, all gossiping about your wife’s handbag man. They really envy her”

He replied equally as casually, in between mouthfuls: “oh, that one is a high quality fake. Buy from HK recently only. I think only $300+ SGD. Around there la. If you going and you want, I ask (my wife) for the contact for you.”

………..

Which begs the question:

Does what you have define you, or do you define what you have?

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