What is it that We Live For?

It is 2.12 am as I write this. As I had difficulty sleeping, I decided to pen down some of the thoughts that have been running through my head. Life seems to have accelerated so much since 2014. Ever since I came back from my exchange in Thailand and starting to prepare for graduation, life has indeed become so much richer. What, then do I mean by richer? To some, being richer might simply mean having more money in their bank; being able to afford that flashy car and house, or being successful in the corporate world. On the contrary, being richer is to me, not a financial state, but rather the experience of life’s moments in its varying vicissitudes. During the past 3 years, I have experienced pain, loss, betrayal, spite and failure to great extent, both in my private and work life. However, during the same three years, I have also felt joy, hope, loyalty, respect and success. It is this roller coaster of emotions that makes life so much richer. Can the peaks of life be truly savoured if one has never been in the valley? I doubt so. Failure makes success all the more sweeter. Ever felt that soothing sensation when you popped a sweet in your mouth after taking some bitter medicine before? If you have, you’ll know what I mean.

In 2013, a good friend of mine contracted a debilitating illness that essentially damaged extensively his ability to think and speak. He was 25. It was this first hand experience that struck me that life is really fragile. When we really feel the brevity of our lives, do we then start to observe that time passes so, so quickly. It literally flies by. Our choices on what to pursue and make out of life then, becomes so much more important. Your time is limited; some more so than others. And when we all come to die, as all must and will, our accomplishments and titles will not mean as much then. Death is a common destination we all share, and our names will be forgotten in time to come. Does it make much difference if we are a million richer than our neighbours? Or will it matter if we are sitting on a higher position than our peers? Honestly, no one cares. Neither should we harbour too much bitterness against loved ones and friends who have done us wrong. Forgiveness is a powerful teacher. Kindness knows no limits. It is only with the extension of love and kindness to others, does life then seem so much more meaningful.

I want to live a life of meaning. A rich life. Question is, what about you?

Have a blessed week ahead.

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Thoughts on Life

Lifeisagift
Today, I went to repair my bike which I bought a few months ago. Turns out that the previous owner did some nasty things to the bike which caused a couple of safety breaches and thus incurring a heavy repair price tag. I was pretty upset thinking about the amount of money I had to fork out to fix my ride, as I thought I had gotten a good deal at the price I bought. It affected me all the way home, as I had already spent a considerable amount of money to renew the COE for another 10 years.

At the same time, a couple of comparisons regarding peers in the day made me wonder whether my decision to work in my current industry was the right one. As I spaced out, it suddenly hit me…that I was still alive and well. And that alone was something to give thanks for. At that moment, I felt contented.

Looking back at the year, I realise that I have lots to be thankful for. To be able to continue pursuing my dreams healthily and to have loved ones by my side is something I am grateful for. I have witnessed close friends being mentally incapacitated indefinitely and attended the wakes of others who gave up on life too early. There are also many others who do not even have the same opportunities at life as I do. This is a good reminder for me not to compare myself to others and to stop being too uptight with money. Life is indeed short. Treasure it. Live it.

“You only live once. But if you do it right, once is enough.” – Mae West

 

Cultivating Good Habits

Break Bad Habits
Just today, I gleaned a couple of lessons. I had fixed an appointment with a friend at 11 in the morning, but found myself procrastinating and only managed to get out of my bed at around 9.50am despite being awake since 8.30am. It usually takes me 1 hr 15 mins to get to town by public transport, and I had not yet washed up and dressed. Obviously, I was going to be late by at least half an hour. I realised that I had the tendency of arriving late at appointments, and it was not a trait that I was proud of. Frustrated, I decided that I had enough with this negative habit and that I was going to start being punctual for any appointment. After washing up, I took a cab down and arrived on the dot. The trip down cost me quite a bit, and knowing my aversion to spend on unnecessary comforts, it did hurt. It was a painful lesson, but I deserved it and knew that my punctuality was more important. I made the mental note that I would continue to take cabs to be on time if I had to.  Hopefully, the thought of unnecessary spending would aid me in breaking this bad habit of mine. My friend arrived 15 minutes later than me, and I was certain he would not mind waiting another 15 mins for me if I had taken public transport. Nonetheless, I believe my word and commitment is more important, and being punctual is a form of respect to the other party. I just hope that I don’t need many cab rides to maintain this good habit.

We had a simple meal, followed by some shopping for fishing materials before heading to the river to fish. Today was the first time I fished in a long while, and it was good to start from zero all over again. I learnt the basics like how to set the hook, and casting, along with the different artificial baits that we used. I find fishing useful for training one’s discipline and patience. It is pretty similar to the world of investing, where discipline and patience are two vital traits one needs to succeed. One has to prepare well beforehand, and wait patiently for the fish to bite. Similarly, one needs to do his research well and invest only when the price is right. Although we did not manage to catch any fish, I took away a more valuable lesson. Certainly, I am looking forward to more fishing trips.

The last thing that I would like to do more of is to take better care of my health and body. I have noticed that I have started to worry too much about the future, which has caused unwanted anxiety and stress. I find that sometimes I try to save on food only to spend more on medical bills when I fall sick. As such, I have decided to eat well and live well. One area that I am looking into is the practising of mindfulness, which is a mental state of only focusing on the present. In conjunction with that, I am trying to incorporate the habit of gratitude into my daily life. Indeed, yesterday was history, today is a gift, tomorrow is a mystery. Let the future worry about itself.

If we want to improve our lives, then we should all start breaking bad habits and forming better ones.

 

Time to Stand on My Own Feet

two-feet
Recently, I have decided to be more selective of the type of investing events I attend, after participating in a recent summit which I found to be not worth the time and money. I am starting to find such events repetitive and simplistic, with a heavy dose of promoting one’s own resources in a strong marketing strategy. One of the reasons why I attended was to find out whether the speakers had any stock tips for the current year, something I believe most who went wanted as well. In retrospect, I realise that it is a very lazy form of thinking on my part, and makes me no different from those who go from one hot tip to another without doing my own due diligence. Nevertheless, events like these may still be beneficial for those who have just started out investing.

In the last two years, I have been reading the blogs and articles of many well-known investing bloggers, and have invested in the same stocks as them at certain times, only to cut my losses when the stock moved down heavily. It was only last year that I realised that what works for one may not work for another, as the temperament of each individual investor is different. As such, I embarked on my own journey at self discovery, and started to pick stocks on my own after doing my own research. I feel that it is time for me to step out of my comfort zone fully this year, and listen more to my own observation and judgement. I remain grateful to those who have aided me in my investing journey so far, as I believe that every article, book, or event attended played a part in my learning. I will still continue to seek out good learning opportunities, as it is a lifelong process, but I hope to refrain from the venomous habit of hunting for hot tips in the market.

 

“You’re neither right nor wrong because other people agree with you. You’re right because your facts are right and your reasoning is right—and that’s the only thing that makes you right. And if your facts and reasoning are right, you don’t have to worry about anybody else.” – Warren Buffet

Why Qualitative Analysis is Important

Whats the story
When evaluating a stock, one has to consider both qualitative and quantitative factors. The qualitative factors tend to be regarding the business model of the company, its risks and opportunities as well as the quality of its products. As such, it can be really subjective. In this regard, I find the quantitative factors quicker and easier to analyze as figures do not lie (unless they are being manipulated, which in this case qualitative factors like the quality of its management would come into play). However, it is important not to be blinded by numbers alone, as numbers on its own do not tell the whole story.

When I was starting out, I used alot of financial metrics like ROA, ROE, debt to equity, increasing trend of sales and earnings, etc. to filter stocks. These churned out a number of companies of which many turned out to be solid businesses. Convicted by many of their financials, I paid less attention to the qualitative side. This proved to be a costly mistake. Some which I have personally invested in are China Minzhong, Food Empire and Challenger Technologies. All three companies had strong financials, growth, and a sturdy balance sheet. However, I did not understand the risks of each investment completely. In China Minzhong, I did not understand the industry, its competitors, and the quality of its goods. For Food Empire, I did not comprehend fully the currency and country risks of the business itself. Its two main markets were Russia and Ukraine, and as such, the performance of the business could be affected by political situations, along with economic problems. We have seen how the Russian rouble depreciated massively against the USD this year due to political issues and the tanking of oil prices, which brought turmoil to the oil industry – a major contributor to Russia’s economy. As for Challenger Technologies, I was able to pay visits to its stores, and get a first hand feel of its business and products, but I did not fully apprehend the risk of online retail. Granted, all three may still be great businesses to some, and better investments to others, but the point I would like to highlight would be that qualitative analysis is crucial in any investment.

In 2014, we have seen how companies with fantastic financials perform badly, for eg. Biosensors International, Cordlife Group. I had been keeping up with these two companies for their strong financials but I was not able to understand their business model from a qualitative standpoint. I had no experience with the medical industry, and thus it was not in my circle of competence to analyze Biosensors. As for Cordlife, I have had exposure to its products but could not understand the complexity of their investments and holdings in other associates. Moreover, their deal with CCBC was confusing to me. It is important to understand what one is getting into, and if things seem too hard to understand, it might just be better to stay away.

Saying ‘no’ to an investment when you are unsure of it qualitatively is an important thing we all need to practise if we are to get better at investing. In essence, always ask yourself – “What’s the story?” behind this investment before pulling the trigger.

 

 

 

Simple Joys of Life

life-lessons

This year was a landmark year for me, in terms of the life lessons gleaned. A friend whom I considered one of my closest in university had a difficult battle with a brain virus and is now bedridden at home. Doctors say he is unlikely to recover and chances are he will remain mentally incapacitated for life. This affected me greatly as I witnessed firsthand how fragile life really is. This incident has inscribed in me the importance of contentment. Every second here on earth is a gift that we should never take for granted. Being a very impatient and ambitious person, I am starting to learn how to live in the present and to enjoy every moment in my life, instead of living life always planning for the future.

A culmination of factors also led me to a period of mild depression, where I found no purpose in my life. All along, I had obediently followed the standard pathway of a Singaporean son, completing my high school, followed by national service, and then university; only to realise at the end of it, that I still had not found what I wanted to do with my life. Peers were landing jobs, rushing to build their careers, and starting to build families, while I was living off my savings and part-time work to payback my university loan. I constantly looked to others and compared myself to them, only to find myself even more upset. It took me a few months, but I finally realised and understood that comparing ourselves to others is futile. Everyone has their own paths to take in life; one path can never be the same as the other, and we should not use money or social status to judge the progress one has made in their own lives. Being contented with what one has and being a good steward of our resources is more important.

My birthday this year was perhaps, the simplest one I ever had. In fact, I never even noticed it coming, until I was wished by friends. A simple meal of soya chicken rice alone for lunch and a family dinner was more than enough for me to give thanks for. I enjoyed the company of my close friends, of which at this stage in life, could be counted with one hand. Nevertheless, I can hardly remember any other birthdays in which I was any happier.

Earning a meagre wage, facing an unstable situation, and a lack of social interaction was a triple whammy, but being grateful for life itself gave me a new perspective, and an undeniable inner joy. “Take your time, don’t live too fast”, for we might end up like the poem below:

“First I was dying to finish high school and start college.
And then I was dying to finish college and start working.
And then I was dying to marry and have children.
And then I was dying for my children to grow old enough for school so I could return to work.
And then I was dying to retire.
And now I am dying…

And suddenly I realise I forgot to live.”

~ Anonymous

Truly, it’s the not the end, but the journey that matters. I used to rush everything I was doing, but now I’m trying to enjoy the process. A simple example would be my past focus on getting to my next task on my to-do list, rather than embracing the actual task at hand. Let’s learn to take life one step at a time, and to treasure each moment that it brings. Wishing everyone a blessed Christmas and a great year to come! 🙂

Margin of Safety

safetyfirst
If I was to sum up one key investing lesson I learnt this year, it would be the Margin of Safety concept. Investing without a margin of safety gives little room for error, and puts one in a dangerous position. Below are some of the lessons learnt with regards to having a Margin of Safety in investing:

1. Money not invested is not lost – Many of us rue our chances and regret not taking the plunge before the prices of the stocks in our watchlist shoot up, but I believe it is important to remember that money not invested is not lost. There will always be opportunities to find good deals if we are patient and observant.

2. Do not overpay for growth – Overpaying for growth is another dangerous thing to do, as the stock might suffer a double whammy in a re-rating of its PE and a drop in profits; leading to a sharp drop in stock prices. This can easily destroy one’s portfolio.

Currently, I prefer growth stocks which pay sustainable dividends which makes the wait for the growth story to play out more palatable. Financial theory tells us that a firm can only grow at sustainable growth rate which is derived from the product of its retention ratio (1 – dividend payout) and its ROE. Thus, it is usual to see growth companies paying little dividends so that it can use the retained earnings to grow the business. Thus, I believe the only way to get a good dividend yield, yet not needing a high payout ratio is to buy the stock at a low PE. However, it is rare to see growth companies trading at such valuations, but when the time comes, it might be very rewarding.

Warren Buffet quotes, “I don’t look to jump over 7-foot bars: I look around for 1-foot bars that I can step over.” It might be easier if we keep investing simple by focusing on stocks which are easy to understand and practising a margin of safety before going in.