Sunday, May 06, 2012

Temporary blog hiatus in force

For reasons of prudence, I am shutting up shop on the blogging front for a month. It's one less distraction while I study.

Of course, procrastination is not so easy a beast to slay and the room must also be cleaned, the clothes washed, and ....

Book: The Big Short

Just like his earlier best-seller "Liar's Poker", "The Big Short" manages to stack in large amounts of detail while at the same time racing through with the pace of a thriller. Lewis provides a great overview of the shenanigans that went on in the sub-prime world from the perspective of a group of outsiders who spotted how the whole apple-cart was rotten and built speculative positions around the thesis that the house of cards was about to come tumbling down.

Even though there was very little by way of revelation for me (I was well plugged in to the markets over this period) the narrative and character focus still made it fascinating and most enjoyable. Highly recommend to all with even the remotest interest in economics or finance.  

*****  I feel like I should dock it a point because it stole a day from my study schedule!


Saturday, May 05, 2012

Calorie smackdown

It's been a good day for eating.

The day started with a bowl of porridge with gold top milk and a squirt of honey, then a greasy samosa for lunch, then a couple of home baked cookies, then a freshly baked bread roll, then five jammy dodgers at 85 calories a pop, then a baked potato with butter, then two mini ginger cakes (180 calories each), then a 750 calorie ready meal which tasted fantastic, then another ginger cake, then a glass of gold top milk, and lots of tea course. There's still time to go before the day is through so there's a good chance of breaking through 4000 kcal.

The aim of the day wasn't to force feed myself, but just to see if I still had the capacity to pile it in - once my studies are over, I'm planning to go on a mission to stop feeling like a head on a stick. Based on today eatings, a tripling of my typical daily calorie intake may well be achievable, although I'll probably switch out the junk for vegetables etc and make up the difference with lashings of olive oil.

Music - Alex Care - Too Close

I was drawn to the song in the new Internet Explorer advert for inexplicable reasons and then I saw the music video...which contains ninja action. This is brilliant. There is no scope for debate. No scope.

Pensions - Ouch, this stings

Looks like it isn't just the young generation who are bearing the brunt of the recession (low empoyment prospects, falling asset prices, inflation in the real economy, etc). The outlook for the elderly is also looking rather dim.: as central banks keep interest rates artificially low, retirees are faced with dismal annuities which puts an axe through their living standards. Those in middle have (un)wittingly shoveled their burden onto the generation above and the generation below:

from the Economist:

"... currently payments into British (defined contribution) DC schemes, from both employer and employee, are just 8.9% of salary (the American contribution numbers are similar). According to the Pensions Corporation, another consultancy, a 35-year-old who funds a DC scheme at such a level will retire on just 8% of his final salary if interest rates are low. To earn the equivalent of a DB (defined benefit) pension worth half their final pay-cheque, they or their employer would have to contribute 55% of their salary.

That might sound a tall order. But funnily enough, the Bank of England contributes 56.4% of its payroll to its DB scheme, which is almost entirely invested in inflation-linked bonds. It is a nice irony that the bank, which has done so much to discourage saving, is one of the most prudent savers of all."

Looks like it's not going to be a good time retire any time soon if you are relying on a private pension. But it's also pretty difficult to stay in employment. Rocks. Hard places.

Film: Oldboy

Now I'm conflicted. Oldboy was my introduction to Korean cinema and when I heard it was being remade I was like, "PLEASE NO!". Despite excessive use of upper case and the addition of an exclamation mark the Hollywood machine just continued on without skipping a beat.

But now I hear the remake is being directed by Spike Lee, who has the potential to deliver the goods in spades.

What to do, a what to do? When it comes out, and if it's deemed to be pretty good, the best course of action may be to watch both films back to back.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Scream for $120m

Edvard Munch's The Scream has just broken a new nominal record, fetching $120m at the Sotheby's auciton house.Tobias Meyer, Sotheby’s head of worldwide contemporary art is quoted saying “It is worth every penny that the collector paid for it”. The problem of course is that it isn't. Should the seller try to sell The Scream today or tomorrow, it is unlikely to achieve the same premium. Which begs the question of how to value something. Do you value the picture at how much you are willing to pay to acquire it? Or should you value it at what you can sell it for?

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Boom - Groupon

I posted a short sell a few months ago at $17.90. Current share price? £10.58.

The brokers I use (spreadbet and CFD) wouldn't allow me to go short, so I made nothing from the call. It's okay though, as there's always a turkey out there somewhere.

Elsewhere in the world of short selling I see David Einhorn caused the share price of HerbalLife to collapse just by asking a few innocent questions.

And before I overdo the boastfulness, I'll make it known that my swiss franc trade really sucked. The euro-swiss exchange rate has pretty much frozen and looks set to stay in this comatose state for the forseeable future. I may have to extract myself out of this position, nurse the wounds and live to fight another day.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

It's quite late at night

and I am listening to a podcast on the importance of sleep. Go figure.

Ah, I may as well type out some notes as I listen:

- Almost all of the neurotransmitters in the brain are involved in sleep in some way.

- What is sleep for? Consensus seems to be that memory consolidation is a critical part function of sleep, as well as deciding whether to make short term memories into long term. Sleep also impacts creativity in solutions. It was neatly described in the podcast as a way to organise the jigsaw pieces of the days bits of information.

- Physical health aspects are also linked to sleep, probably because a lack of sleep creates a stress response which affects the immune system (well documented increases in cancer and metabolic issues with restricted sleep).

- We are effectively paralysed in the REM (rapid-eye movement) of sleep. This cycle can take around 60-90 minutes. (Sleep-walking occurs in other cycles).

- The average sleep time is around 7-8 hours, but it's very much an average. It has been argued that we previously slept a lot longer, even as much as 8-9 hours as late as the 1940s.

- The key is to listen to your body's requirements. If you are utterly dependent on an alarm clock, you are not getting enough sleep. A good indicator is if you wake up a lot later in the weekends than the week day.