Thursday, July 21, 2016

Uses for WD40

I recently discovered that this oil-type spray is not the best for losening hinges and locks - you're better off using a thicker machine oil for those purposes. However, WD40 does work wonders in many other areas:

  • I just used permanent marker on my white board and it dried super fast. I sprayed on a little WD40 and it completely dissolved the ink in seconds. 
  • I've also used the spray to remove sticker residue from a CD case and from a washing worked a little miracle.
I'll be adding to this list as I try and test other uses.

It's a good thing I don't have a house

Otherwise I might have bought a manikin, which was on sale at BHS for a mere £40. It could have made for an excellent conversation piece, or possible garden statue.

BHS is in its final phases of administration, is even selling it's fixtures and fittings.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Car insurance - it pays to shop around

Having recently switched out my dinky 1.2 litre Vauxhall Corsa for a 2.0 litre Audi A3 with a modified exhaust (not my choice!), I was expecting my car insurance to really sting me this year. When I ran my details through two insurance search engines, they gave a best price of £520 for the year. Not too bad, I thought. Then I tried a third search engine, which enabled me to be a bit more accurate with my details, and this yielded a quote of just £430. I called my insurance company, who I've been with for a decade or so and said it was time to call an end to our beautiful relationship, or something to that effect. Well, the kind person on the other end of the line used their special powers (i.e. delegated discounting capability) to bring in a quote of around £353, which is even cheaper than what I'm paying for the Corsa.

Not a bad result for less than an hours worth of searching.

: )

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Brexit - changing of the guard..could've been worse

Theresa May is our new prime minister. It's too early to form a meaningful opinion but the fact that a 'remainer' is at the helm is surely a good thing. Don't get me wrong, from an economic transactional perspective we are in a much, much worse position than we were before. It's just that it could have been much, much worse.

Another FT tweet - income inequality

Macro: An eyebrow raising set of facts from BAML (via the FT's Twitterstream)

Monday, July 11, 2016

Pokemon Go!

What, I've only just learned about this?  Lord knows how distracted I would be if I owned a smart phone.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Brexit - how we decide things has changed

From Gillian Tett at the Financial Times:

"Before the referendum, British citizens were subjected to a blitz of advice about the potential costs of Brexit from “experts”: economists, central bankers, the International Monetary Fund and world leaders, among others. Indeed, the central strategy of the government (and other “Remainers”) appeared to revolve around wheeling out these experts, with their solemn speeches and statistics.

The pro-Brexit politician Michael Gove warned, “People in this country have had enough of experts,” and to some extent he was proved right: the country narrowly voted to ignore their advice and leave anyway. 

... citizens of the cyber world no longer have much faith in anything that experts say, not just in the political sphere but in numerous others too. At a time when we increasingly rely on crowd-sourced advice rather than official experts to choose a restaurant, healthcare and holidays, it seems strange to expect voters to listen to official experts when it comes to politics.

In our everyday lives, we are moving from a system based around vertical axes of trust, where we trust people who seem to have more authority than we do, to one predicated on horizontal axes of trust: we take advice from our peer group.

You can see this clearly if you look at the surveys conducted by groups such as the Pew Research Center...

What is even more interesting to look at, however, are the areas where trust remains high. In an annual survey conducted by the Edelman public relations firm, people in 20 countries are asked who they trust. They show rising confidence in the “a person like me” category, and surprisingly high trust in digital technology. We live in a world where we increasingly trust our Facebook friends and the Twitter crowd more than we do the IMF or the prime minister.

In some senses, this is good news. Relying on horizontal axes of trust should mean more democracy and empowerment for ordinary citizens. But the problem of this new world is that people can fall prey to social fads and tribalism - or groupthink.

“The rise of ‘a person like me’ has given birth to a ‘post-truth’ era, where comforting narratives and familiar messengers beat fact and argument,” points out Nick Barron, an Edelman executive. “Social echo chambers prevent effective scrutiny of individuals, organisations and campaigns that we think are on the ‘right side’ of an argument . . . ‘My truth’, ‘our truth’ and ‘the truth I feel’ beat ‘objective truth’.”

Either way, nobody is going to put this genie back into the bottle. So we all need to think about what creates the bonds of “trust” in today’s world. And recognise that the 20th-century model of politics, with its reverence for experts and fixed parties, may eventually seem as outdated as restaurant guides. We live in volatile times."

Brexit illustrated

Brexit - correlation is not causality

Listening to some interviews on the side of the Leave campaign, I hear some folk lament the 'good old days', you know, the days when you knew your neighbours etc. I've been focused more on the transactional aspects of Brexit but it sounds like the cultural aspect played a significant role in people's decisions. But there's a problem of attribution here. The sudden rise in immigration has been a cultural game changer in many areas but the rising trend of individualism was present regardless, and the good old days will not be coming back irrespective of our immigration policy. These trends are happening globally and are unavoidable. Similarly, the decline of the nuclear family, the rise in government paternalism, etc, these are all issues outside of Brexit.

I do buy a lot of the points the Leave campaign are selling, but my argument is that there is an element of bias in overweighting the emotionally evoking, visible negatives versus the invisible positives (e.g. benefits of free trade, principles of toleration and inclusiveness, encouraging foreign investment, wealth in terms of GDP, capital markets, housing wealth, job prospects, lower prices due to terms of trade, lower inflation and on and on and on).

In addition, when it comes to decisions of importance, I'm an advocate of minds ruling hearts, of rationality having the final say over emotions. The problem here is that emotions always come first, with self-justifying reasons following hot on the trail.

I do find all of this all terribly interesting. It is giving me a chance to apply some Stoicism and positive thinking, challenging the reactionary part of my brain that screams we are 'going to hell in a handbasket. It's also a bit of a spur to form a coherent view on some of the topics of the day instead of just spouting the received wisdom from the various camps I have a foot in.

Brexit observation - equity and bond markets so far

It's interesting to observe that the FTSE has recovered strongly since the initial Brexit shock, while the bond market rally (due to a flight to safety) has sent global bond yields tumbling even lower. The government can currently borrow money on a 10-year duration at just 0.86%.

It seems a bit odd that when the future economic outlook for a country's is pretty much rubbed out and replaced with a big question mark, when it's currency is decimated, when it's government creates the worse political vacuum seen in decades, and that when a country's credit rating is downgraded, that it's cost of borrowing plummets. This is how distorted the capital market has become. It is in no way a sign of faith in the plans of a country but reflects a shortage of safe assets globally. It is, nevertheless, very odd.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Brexit tweet

Dan McCrum Retweeted

@tompeck This is not anarchy. I am an anarchist, when we do things we organise and have a plan. This is incompetence.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Brexit - pushes bond yields even lower

This matrix of government bond yields is astounding. All the bonds in red have a negative nominal yield. These are indeed very interesting times.


And here's some related commentary from the credit rating agency Fitch:

"Investors' flight to safe assets following the UK's EU referendum on June 23 pushed the global total of sovereign debt with negative yields to $11.7 trillion as of June 27, up $1.3 trillion from the end-May total, according to new analysis by Fitch Ratings. Brexit-related concerns drove more long-dated bond yields negative, with particularly big shifts in German, French and Japanese yield curves during June. Worries over the global growth outlook, further fueled by Brexit, have continued to support demand for higher-quality sovereign paper in June. Widespread adoption of unconventional monetary policies, including large-scale bond-buying programs and negative deposit rates, have driven the large increases in negative-yielding debt seen this year. ... The biggest drivers of the total increase during June were seen in longer-dated bonds. For example, German 10-year bund yields swung into negative territory and sub-zero yields moved further out on the curve for Japan -- now out to 17 years. Also, in Switzerland, virtually all sovereign debt carried a negative yield on June 27."

Brexit - George Magnus comment

From George Magnus:

"In the space of a week, a kind of revolution has kicked off in the UK. In the ensuing vacuum, we have no government to speak of, and no opposition. The non-party that won the referendum has not been willing or able to articulate a template for how it would like the UK to proceed, and taken its campaign promises and proposals off its website. The campaign uncorked strong feelings over immigration and now disturbing, if still sporadic, elements of xenophobia."

Brexit - Martin Wolf on the benefits of waiting

From Martin Wolf's FT column:

 ... The UK should avoid triggering Article 50: that would eliminate its leverage and would push it out of the EU within two years, probably with no further trade agreement. Any such stalemate cannot continue forever. But there could be benefits, for both sides, in avoiding too hasty and brutal an ending.

The story goes that a man condemned to death told his king: “I could teach your horse to sing, within a year.” The king replied: “Very well. But if the horse is not singing a year from now, you will be executed.” Upon the criminal’s return, his cellmate remonstrated: “You know you can’t teach that horse to sing.” He replied: “I have a year I didn’t have before. A lot of things can happen in a year. The king might die. The horse might die. I might die. “And, who knows? Maybe the horse will sing.”

I suggest we try that year or so.

Brexit - Football edition

FT comment on England being knocked out of the euros by Iceland


Brexit - Winnie the Pooh chimes in

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Brexit week begins - it's quite something to pull the rug out from under yourself

For the next week or so I will post interesting insights and observations around the UK's historic decision to leave the EU.

My initial reaction is not one of shock but frustration. Having the rug pulled out from under you is one thing, but managing to pull it out from under yourself, well that is something to behold, a truly bewildering achievement in recklessness.

When looking at the broader landscape in terms of net benefits to UK and EU citizens, I firmly believe the economic argument is in favour of remaining - few economists would disagree. Beyond the economics there was a strong case for unity on the social and political side of things, but it was in these domains where the debate got really heated, and it was in this heat that the facts got twisted.

It's interesting to note that immigration and sovereignty are both issues that have particular psychological characteristics which played very much to the 'Leave' camp's favour. Firstly, both issues generate an 'us against them' mentality. The world over, we tend to hold negative feelings against the 'other'. The 'other' may be a neighbouring country that we make jokes about, a group characterised by skin colour, or maybe a group tied together by a different faith, etc. So long as they have a marker to place them in a foreign group, they can be alienated and we can blame them for some of our ills. Consider the communists and the Chinese in previous times. The threat almost always coming from the outside in. In this debate we had two 'others' - the EU beaureaucrats and the immmigrants. Add to this the ability to put a face to the perceived problem and you're onto a winner. Faces win over statistics everytime. We see documentaries about illegal benefits cheats who come over from Romania, we feel threatened by hearing the immigrants language and their influence on our society, and we see how our neighbourhood is changing for the worse because of the 'other'. I'm not denying any valid truths behind these fears and views, but they do appear to be heavily distorted by a type of availability bias, which was easily manipulated by the leave camp. The positives are harder to bring to the foreground and so are overlooked or underweighted. Narrative and the personalised case carries outsized weight against the statistics. This is why a charity asking for donations to alleviate a famine will focus on the single case instead of the vast, faceless thousands. We connect to the story, not the statistics. Annoyingly the remain camp focused on the fear of leaving instead of focusing on the positive stories, which could have provided the required emotional counter punch to the half-truth claims of the leavers.

The other thing I noticed was that many in the leave camp were deliberately not interested in looking at net benefits but focused on one or two of the issues, and even then the focus was a narrow one. For example, if we take the immigration issue, it is clear that UK will never have full control over immigration unless we want to destroy the economy, simply because this will be a central negotiation point when it comes to agreeing our terms of trade with the EU.  Not only will the EU will have the upper hand when it comes to negotiations but they won't make it easy for us as we have put the whole European project at risk. Many voters seemed to switch off when it came to the 'experts' and expert opinion, deliberately blinding themselves to valid arguments in order to retain an odd type of internal coherence. It's not that they denied the facts, but they chose not to pay heed to them. It's the opposite of paralysis by analysis. Pick your own issues and chose your own facts. Hearts ruled minds and rationalism paid the price. It kind of proves that we haven't come as long a way from the Dark Ages as we like to think. One of the 'Leave' camp's ignorance blind spots, for example, was the absence of any type of substantive answer to the question, 'What will happen if we leave?' It's kind of an important one.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

School of Life: Gustave Flaubert

Another quality video from The School of Life, this one's about the author Gustave Flaubert.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Brexit and the old media

Poor old newspapers didnt stand much of a chance when it came to the Brexit results. Even if they left their print runs to the very last minute, there wouldn't have been time enough to print a definitive story.