Friday, October 31, 2008

Reinvesting Distributions

A couple of years ago, I stopped automatically reinvesting the distributions from my Colonial First State Managed Funds. It turns out it was a good idea not to reinvest the distributions when the stock market was near its highs. Unfortunately I didn't always just pay down debt with the money... Anyway, times have changed and I am now switching back to the automatic reinvestment option. I doubt these funds will have much in the way of distributions in the near future anyway, but whatever it is it'll get reinvested at what are relatively low prices. I'm not switching the distribution payout method on Snork Maiden's account as it is very straightforward to make the reinvestment online ourselves and when we do we can rebalance the account. Reinvesting in the funds in my margin account though requires faxing or mailing in a form to CommSec, which is a hassle.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Berkshire Hathaway

After yesterday's massive rally boosted the value of my account, today I had the buying power to buy back Berkshire Hathaway at a cheaper price. So not everything is bad. And the stock has even gone up since I bought at the beginning of the session. I also added $A1,000 to Snork Maiden's Colonial First State account allocating more to funds that have declined so as to rebalance the account.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Performance of Commodity Trading Advisors

An interesting paper on managed futures funds, otherwise known as "Commodity Trading Advisors":

"Fooling Some of the People All of the Time: The Inefficient Performance and Persistence of Commodity Trading Advisors"

They argue that the after-fees performance of the average fund is hardly higher than U.S. government bond returns and that no skill is shown on average by CTAs. The latter isn't a surprising result, the former may be a bit surprising. But maybe not when you find that annual fees averaged 4 1/2 percent!

On the other hand some managed futures funds have very good track records and can provide diversification benefits. The question is will their outperformance persist? If it does then it will have been worthwhile to research the better funds to invest in.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Warning Signs

They really like warning signs in Hong Kong. This one seemed kind of apt:

They especially like warning signs inside taxis:

We counted around 22 stickers inside each back door.

Pictures of Food in China

Revanche asked for some food pictures from our trip to China, so here are some pictures of food and related things. These are freshwater crabs, which are popular in Tianjin:

Their claws are furry even after being cooked. There are huge barrels of live ones scampering around in supermarkets.

Here is the table at Snork Maiden's parent's at lunch on the day we left for Beijing:

Note both cold and warm dishes. Bread on the lower right. In this part of China people eat at least as much bread as noodles and rice (and sweet potatoes and corncobs are also popular). I can't remember what the top right dish is. The middle top dishes are some kind of vegetable with tofu and some extremely cooked very crispy fish. Generally, Chinese cook fish too much for my taste. Top left is a piece of very tasty green radish. Bottom middle includes some white bambooy stuff, some dark fungus and some green vegetable. All cold.

This is a dish at a small local Sichuan restaurant in Beijing a block from our hotel:

The red things are peppers the brown chicken. You don't eat the peppers luckily, just pick the chicken out :) Lunch came to RMB45 for the two of us with about three dishes and probably a beer or tea.

This is a very large more expensive restaurant a few kilometres from our hotel on the same street:

In this kind of place the menu is likely to feature pictures and English in addition to of course Chinese. So you can order stuff by pointing if you don't speak Chinese. Luckily I had a Chinese speaker with me :) Yeah it's called "Golden Tripod Attic". A chain apparently as there is another one between the Yonghegong Temple and Ditan Park.

This guy was a decoration in a Yunnan restaurant near Houhai in Beijing:

The menu features some interesting fungus recipes and stuff cooked in banana leaves.

Some kind of noodle soup in a cheap noodle place in Hong Kong:

Prices in cheaper places in Hong Kong match mid-level prices in Bejing and are still half the price of restaurant prices in Australia.

This isn't very clear but it's supposed to be a dessert made of soy milk, rice, and gingko fruit:

It cost about HKD 15 in a small dessert only restaurant. Cheaper places in HK have no English on their menus just like in Beijing. The only English the first taxi driver we encountered in Hong Kong seemed to know was "safety belt". He only understood our address when we showed it to him written down. The level of English knowledge is a bit higher than in Beijing but far far below Singapore. Snork Maiden fluctuated between trying to talk to people in Mandarin and in English (They speak Cantonese in Hong Kong with Mandarin as first foreign language and English as second foreign language in the public schools). At this restaurant in Kowloon:

I said to her: "Now imagine you were in Thailand and trying to get your food :)" At least she could read the menu and there were some pictures on the menuboard you can see in the background. But we were served one wrong dish and our rice didn't show up and we weren't sure it was coming. Of course, it is usual to eat rice late in the meal so maybe that's what they were thinking. Between Mandarin and Cantonese we weren't sure what was going on. You can also see the woman in pink in the background cooking at the store entrance. Umm here's a pile of some kind of clams or something:

Round the corner from that place was a dessert restaurant where moom tried this:

The black on the bottom is glutinous rice, the white, coconut milk based stuff, and the yellow mango. The menu had English and pictures (a chain). One dessert had "mango in mango juice with extra mango"! There were also some very odd things including desserts with "harsmar".

These are live crabs for sale in Hong Kong:

It looks very cruel to me.

Snork Maiden was very happy to learn that there is Ben and Jerry's ice cream in Hong Kong:

We don't have any in Australia unfortunately. On a finance note, that banknote was issued by HSBC, not the monetary authority. We also saw Standard Chartered and Bank of China notes. Only HKD 10 notes seemed to be government issued. The only other place I've actually seen that is Scotland.

We spent most of our second full day in Hong Kong on a trip to Lamma Island. These are fishfarms in the harbor at Sok Kwu Wan:

And here are the restaurants lining the main street:

Fish hanging up to dry maybe?

And here is a fish not totally destroyed by Chinese cooking methods :P

This is what we ate - they often post lists like this on the table and the waiter ticks things off as they are delivered:

All I can read of that is "beautiful", "sky", "water", and "cow". Now that's puzzling :P Here you can see the fishtanks in the restaurant:

Some contain quite peculiar creatures like mantis shrimps:

And to finish off the meal here is a fingerbowl:

I don't know why the water is colored. It looks like Russian tea.

Damage Control

That's all that is on my financial agenda at the moment. I just sold four stocks to meet another margin call. A couple at minor losses and two at big losses. Three were "industrial stocks" and I'm planning to have none of those in the long-run. And the other was my remaining share of Berkshire Hathaway B. This way at least I get to pick what to sell rather than have the broker pick.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


We got back from China this morning. We left Australia on 1st October. Seems like much longer. We were in Tianjin, Beijing, and Hong Kong as well as the special development zone north of Tanggu on the coast east of Tianjin and the Great Wall at Badaling as well as a reforestation/carbon sequestration project in that area. Also had a glimpse of the rural areas between Beijing and Tianjin. In Hong Kong we stayed on Hong Kong Island and also visited Lamma Island and Kowloon. We had a mix of experiences in each city from the very touristy to the very untouristy - visiting homes in each city, shopping, travelling on public transport as well as taxis etc., meeting friends, relatives (in Tianjin and Beijing), colleagues (Beijing) and other local development/environment professionals (Tanggu, Badaling). Sightseeing in each location - foreign tourists are usually outnumbered by 100 to 1 roughly by Chinese tourists from all over the country in the PRC - observing the domestic tourists (and pilgrims at temples) can be as interesting as looking at the site in question. Yeah, and there was a lot of eating including home cooking in Tianjin, various banquets (in Tianjin and kind of in Tanggu), small local eating places, grocery shopping in smaller and larger stores and street markets, and western and Chinese fast food outlets. Moom was working on his Chinese. Snork Maiden attended a conference in Beijing she helped arrange. There was also a lot of shopping for clothes, tea, gifts, and even a pair of glasses - you don't need to be able to read either Latin or Chinese characters to do an eye test in China. Maybe I'll put up some pictures when we have them sorted out. Let me know what you'd like to see.

Friday, October 10, 2008


As you can see, I removed all the goals from the sidebar. We are so far from them there is little point in tracking them. When I went into the market earlier in the year when it was down 20% in the US and 25% in Australia, I figured there might be 10% downside from there and I was prepared to handle it. Now the market is down 40% from the peak, so I miscalculated. At this point we are very battered by the market but can still survive. I'll report on September together with October. It's going to be interesting after the second severe bear market in a decade whether a lot of the proponents of indexing into stocks, and mostly US stocks change their tune. I know that I will be a lot more cautious in investing in the future after being mauled twice by bear markets. I'm not going to go to the opposite extreme of what I've been doing though, rather making sure I am diversified and not using much leverage.

I also removed the word "trader" from my profile. It's time to get back to my previous career and investing patiently for the long-term. Some people can be highly successful traders. I'm not one of them.