Monday, February 25, 2013

HK Marathon - race organisers screw up (again)

Yesterday I took part in the Hong Kong Marathon. Even at the slower end of the field, it's a good challenge and something that I hope to be able to continue for a good many year yet.

In spite of the challenges of the course, the race organisers have made a few improvements over the years - including adequate water stops and a more interesting course (although still suffering from lack of crowd support on most of the route).

This year, they managed to get a couple of things badly wrong. The first (and lesser) issue was to drastically reduce the number of portable toilets on Hankow Road. The combination of more runners and fewer facilities produced the predictable result of a lot of needlessly long queues and a number of people relieving themselves in nearby alleys.

The more significant issue was the timing of the 8:30 half marathon start. This guaranteed that the fat part of the bell curve of full marathon runners ran into the back of the half marathon field at around the 28 km mark and had to spend much of the rest of the race ducking and weaving through much slower runners (and many walkers). At times I was forced to walk because I couldn't find a gap.

An obvious blunder that any competent race organiser should have avoided.

No wonder the race has such a bad reputation.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Book Review: Karl Marx - Capital Volume 1

Karl Marx in many respects provided the intellectual framework for many communist and socialist planned economies. Capital Volume 1 sets out a substantial part of Marx's economic theories as well as some observations on working conditions during the early stages of the industrial era.

The economic theories have been widely criticised on academic grounds. The flaws are fundamental and render his theory untenable on even a very basic analysis. I was in particular struck by the conclusion (not articulated by Marx) that people would work to the same level of efficiency without personal materialistic incentives and that the correct rate of return on all inputs to the economic process other than labour is zero. In the light of modern understanding of economic processes and human nature, Marx looks completely out of touch with reality. As a side note, I was particularly amused at his descriptions of unproductive workers in the Appendix - including authors with Milton being used as an example of an unproductive worker.

Of greater interest, as the description of working (and living) conditions in industrialised countries. Leaving aside the distorted and rose tinted view of life in pre-industrial times and the fact that Marx either sneeringly dismisses or ignores the benefits that accrued to society as a whole from industrialisation, these sections of the book were powerfully written and conveyed what I believe to be an accurate depiction of the horrific conditions experienced by workers (and many non-workers) during that era.

If he had stuck with social commentary and left economic theory to others, Marx might have been remembered for something other than the man whose fatally flawed economic theories contributed to some of the greatest humanitarian tragedies of the twentieth century when various communist/socialist states attempted to apply them in the real world.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine's Day - and hating it

As Ebeneezer Scrooge might have said; bah, humbug!

Valentine's Day is one of my least favourite days of the year - it's right up there with filing tax returns and the annual visit to the dentist (which is considerably cheaper). The senseless exploitation of (mostly) men in the interests of enriching florists and restaurateurs has to be one of the most effective ways to build resentment and kill romance ever devised. It's as good a method of encouraging family planning as I've come across.

As usual, I will not be letting myself be gouged for overpriced flowers. However, we will be going out for dinner tonight ... we managed to find a place where we can enjoy a quiet meal together without being irked by an over-the-top price tag.

And yes, I am very grateful that Mrs Traineeinvestor's views on Valentine's Day are the same as mine.

Kung Hei Fat Choy

A slightly belated welcome to the year of the snake. If you want to be precise about it, according to Chinese astrology, the new lunar year is a black water snake.

Not to be taken too seriously (or at all as far as I am concerned), I was told that my personal horoscope tells me that my career will be under pressure this year. Give that I will be retiring in a matter of months (exact date still floating), I found this quite amusing.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

The investor's dilemma

A dilemma is a problem that offers (usually) two choices, neither of which is particularly attractive. And this is precisely what I, as an investor, feel faced with at this time.

On the one hand, we are continuing to experience inflation. Even at around 3% pa (+/- a bit depending on where you live), the real value of money is deteriorating. With central banks continuing to print money and, in at least some places, private sector credit creation either still in, or returning to, positive territory, it would be a very brave investor who would bet against continuing inflation over the longer term. Holding cash or most of the bonds that are available to retail investors more or less guarantees that the real value (purchasing power) of my investments will shrink. I don't like the idea of holding assets that I expect to lose money on.

On the other hand (and, I am starting to sound like an economist), the price of risk assets does not generally represent good value. While the Hang Seng index is far from expensive, neither is it cheap. The same can be said for most of the other major markets. It is of come concern that there appears to be a wave of new found optimism infecting the markets. Words like "momentum" and "rotation" and references to retail investors returning to the market are popping up all over the place. I'm generally happier when the the bad news pundits are dominating the headlines. I don't like the idea of buying into a market which doesn't offer Buffet's "margin of safety" either.

Since I am feeling particularly indecisive, but recognise that with retirement only a matter of months away it is better to err on the conservative side (whatever that may be), the only things I have decided to do are (i) not to chase the market and (ii) aim to allow my cash/near cash holding to end up higher by the time I retire than it is currently. At the moment, I hold 42 months of expenses in cash/near cash. By retirement, I am now aiming for at least 50 months. This does not actually require me to sell anything - just invest a little less than the sum of the cash coming in from various sources between now and then.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Five pay days to go

Only five months to go. Actually, it could be slightly longer since I have agreed to extend for up a little bit if necessary to ensure that there are no loose ends when I leave the office for the last time.

I have cancelled my term life policy (in spite of the paper-pushers at the insurance company to frustrate the process with their ineptitude). One less expense to inflict my bank account post retirement).

Medical insurance has been renewed for the year. I will not know until mid-year whether the insurance company will allow me to continue coverage post retirement. Against the possibility that they will not, I have opened a dialogue with an insurance agent regarding private coverage.