Saturday, July 30, 2011

Moom's Taxes 2010-2011

I can't submit my tax return yet as I don't have details of the tax treatment of a couple of distributions I received. But I did all the other calculations now to get this out of the way. In the following table I make some assumptions about the distributions:

Click here for the 2009-10 data. For those of you outside Australia, the Australian tax year runs from 1 July to 30 June. There are no state income taxes and no joint taxation of married couples. All numbers are in Australian Dollars (1 AUD = 1.10 USD).

I was only employed in Australia for 6 months of the year, hence the relatively low salary, which is after 10% voluntary super (retirement) contributions. Gross interest and Australian dividends are pretty self explanatory. Dividends are just direct payments from companies. Dividends and other Australian income not including capital gains paid out by a managed (mutual) fund is include in the Income Distribution from Trusts. I had a net capital loss, but you can't deduct any of that against general income (unlike the US), so zero is entered here. Foreign source income is a lot bigger than last year because I worked in Sweden for a month. It's also the reason why I have such a large foreign tax credit as I was charged 25% flat tax on my earnings there. Total income comes in 28% higher than in the previous year.

The work related travel expense is due to not being fully refunded for flying to CCL. Australian dividend deductions are mostly margin interest. Taxable income was up 32%.

Gross tax is the tax due on taxable income if no credits were allowed. The low income tax offset is a credit available if your income is under $67,500 and is maximal at $1,500 if your income is below $30,000. Franking credits are credits on Australian dividends for corporation tax paid by the companies. This is Australia's way of reducing the double taxation of corporate profits. As noted above, I paid a lot of foreign tax, mostly to Sweden this year. As a result I should only owe $6,624 to the Australian government, which is an 11.82% tax rate. As $12,266 was withheld, I should get a $5,642 refund. Withholding was very high because it is based on me earning my salary for 12 months rather than just 6.

High End Japanese Restaurant

When I posted a picture of Yoyo looking at Sushi I said that was a high end Japanese restaurant too. This place was on the 39th floor of a building in a Seoul satellite city with a great view. You had to take your shoes off outside the private dining room and then get up into the room. In the middle was a table over a sunken well. So you were sitting on the floor Japanese-style but actually your feet were in the well and so you were actually sitting at a table Western-style simultaneously. There were endless courses.

In the picture there is sashimi (on balls of shredded radish) on the right and sushi in the plate. The mug has hot sake with fugu fins in it. My host said that his grandfather liked to drink this. It was interesting and not bad at all. There was also beer.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Bibimbap at the National Museum

Bibimbap can be served in a sizzling bowl which you are supposed to add soup and hot sauce to complete the preparation. But, then, sometimes it isn't, like this example at the National Museum:

Thursday, July 28, 2011

River of Alcohol

A bar with a river of alcohol! The traditional Korean drink makoli to be precise:

This was in the Sinchon neighborhood. You can drink as much as you like for W4,000 each (just under $4). You can also order food. The main menu was in Korean and Japanese, but there was also a Chinese menu. No English menu. Again, recommended by our Hong Kong guide. So, the dishes cover holes in the table. You lift the dish and ladle out some drink into your cups. It is about as strong as cider or a strong beer. It is the first stage in the production of rice based liquor before distillation.

Sovereign Credit Ratings

With all the talk about the U.S. credit rating possibly being lowered to AA from AAA due to the debt ceiling debate debacle, I was wondering what the credit ratings of other countries were as a point of comparison. Wikipedia, helpfully has a list. According to Standard and Poors, other AA countries include:

New Zealand
Saudi Arabia

Not such a bad club to be in. Some are countries with un-democratic governments but low debt like China and others democracies with very high debt levels like Japan. Apart from the U.S., the AAA club currently includes:

Hong Kong
Isle of Man

These are democracies with reasonable debt levels and good track records or tax havens. Yes, Hong Kong is a tax haven. I don't think that Singapore counts as a tax haven and isn't a democracy really (despite having elections) but it does seem to have very good and reliable financial regulation.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Neighborhood Restaurant

We found lots of attractions and places to eat in Seoul by following a guidebook that Snork Maiden bought at Hong Kong airport. First she had to translate from Cantonese to Mandarin and then to Korean though some things were actually labelled in Korean. This was very helpful. By the end of the trip I could read all the Korean consonants. One of the places recommended was just round the corner from our hotel and we ended up eating there twice. We would never have tried some place like that without the guidebook. The basic menu consisted of 20+ dishes (and rice and soup) for W7,000 (about $6) per person. This is what it looks like (with an additional dish in the middle):

As here, you can order "additional dishes" in addition to the basics. The restaurant is in a traditional house with a tiled roof. The host brings the menu on a giant wooden spoon:

There is actually a menu in English, surprisingly enough. We actually asked for one in Chinese first. Here is a Korean pancake (W10,000):

The dish we were least enthusiastic about were these leaves (I think it is perilla):

Snork Maiden's Taxes 2010-2011

Time for the annual report on Snork Maiden's taxes. For some reason, these are some of my most popular posts. For comparison here is last year's report. I can't actually submit her return until I do my taxes which won't be for a while (I need to gather a lot of tax statements from investments first). This is because they are now requiring full details of a spouse's income in order to avoid paying the Medicare surcharge. This is an extra 1% tax on total taxable income for household's earning more than $A146,000 a year who don't have private health insurance. Our income for the 2010-2011 tax year was about $A120,000 but we need to prove that.

Compared to last year salary (after superannuation (retirement) contributions rose by 3.3%. Distributions of Australian income from managed (mutual) funds almost doubled but foreign income fell a little. She had about double the amount of unrefunded work expenses. As a result, taxable income was up 3.0%.

The amount of tax due in last year's post is wrong. In fact, tax due rose by 2.7%. This year's tax refund should be $A633 compared to an actual refund of $A203 last year. The estimated tax rate is slightly down at 22.11% of taxable income. There are no state income taxes in Australia so this federal tax is the total income tax.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

End of an Era

Soros to return all outside money to investors. I didn't realise that it was down to just $1 billion in outside money. The Alchemy of Finance was one of the books that got me interested in trading. In the end that didn't turn out to be a very productive thing for me to try to do, but it was fascinating.

Chun Restaurant

At this place, in the Sinchon neighborhood, the staff cook your food in a big pan built into your table. It is supposedly chicken, but was mostly cabbage. Before:

and after:

Monday, July 25, 2011


Namdaemun (Nan da men in modern Mandarin Chinese - South Great Gate) is a market area in the centre of Seoul. We had lunch one day in a restaurant there after going camera shopping. This is what it looked like:

The main dishes are a spicy tofu stew and cold buckwheat noodles. After serving the noodles a woman came and cut them with a big pair of scissors. We didn't think much of the sushi. In centre from left - soup, kimchi, tofu, radish. Also in the picture rice and bean-sprouts. You always get served a bunch of small dishes for free in Korean restaurants but I found they were a bit more substantial in Korea than in other countries. Close up of the noodles:

Also typical of restaurants in Korea is that there is a lot of chopsticks and spoons on the table which you select as many as you need:

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Temple Food

We went to a restaurant in the Insadong neighborhood that claimed to serve "temple food". This meant that the food was vegetarian and made of locally available ingredients and featured some things that Buddhist monks might have traditionally eaten. Lunch was a fixed menu for W22k per person (about $20) with a large number of small dishes. As my friends commented, this was pretty lavish for monks. The first set of courses looked like this:

At top left and bottom right are crunchy cracker, at top right pancake, and at bottom left tofu-like. In the middle was very salty peppercorns. The next round looked like this:

Top right is tempura vegetables (mushrooms and capsicum) and in the wicker basket mostly greens/herbs of various slightly different varieties surrounded by kimchi, tofu, and other dishes, soup etc. There was also rice (not in the picture). The dessert course featured some sweet stuff and crispy puffy things that seem to be popular in Korea:

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Yoyo Tackles Korean Food

Yoyo takes on a Korean melon:

Yes, they are really small. Snork Maiden thought that the skin was edible. I wasn't so sure. Yoyo wasn't much happier with this box of sushi:

Each piece was individually wrapped in plastic. It wasn't that good. On the other hand I went to a high end Japanese restaurant. I haven't got the pictures from that yet. Yoyo looks happier with this almond liquor and salted almonds:

The liquor was really sweet. We didn't finish it.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Yoyo en Route

Traditional pictures of food coming up soon.

No you can't actually take a train to Pyeongyang from this station. 50m down the tracks there are stop signs:

Though until 2007 there were trains to the industrial area just across the border.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Tax Changes as Part of Climate Package

The government announced its climate policy package today. It's expected to get through parliament. The carbon price will apply to only the biggest 500 companies by emissions but they'll pass on the costs to a large extent to consumers. There are also tax cuts as part of the package including tripling the tax free threshold to over $18k a year. If we multiply that increase by the 16.5% lower tax bracket that is a tax cut of $2,000 per year. But media reports are saying the cut is much smaller than that - $600 for people earning $20k p.a. and zero for people earning more than $80k per year. So apparently there are some other changes which haven't been discussed. I guess the low income tax offset will be abolished and that might explain the $600 number. But something else must increase to remove the benefits from higher income households.

Friday, July 08, 2011

HFRX Index Performance June 2011

The HFRX hedge fund index lost another 1.59% in June and is down for the year by 2.12%. By comparison, the MSCI World stock index was down by 1.54% in June but is up 4.99% for the year. All strategies but equity market neutral lost money in June. The latter is also the best performing strategy YTD.


It looks like I'll be going there soon too. Two new countries this year then. It's going to be an even crazier year, travelwise.

P.S. Next year I'll be going to New Zealand. I've never been there as you can't really go there on the way to somewhere else (well maybe some Pacific islands). It really is the end of the world :)

Saturday, July 02, 2011

End of the Financial Year

The Australian financial year ends on June 30. Investment results for June are always delayed due to this. But here are the preliminary accounts for June in USD terms:

This was a crazy month in terms of income and expenditure. Income was inflated by travel refunds (for the trip to Cloud Cuckoo Land and one to Sydney (Snork Maiden went on business and I went along for fun and we drove there and back) and an advance for travel expenses (a per diem rate of $A275 per day!). Maybe I should count these things as income but the latter two really are. We didn't spend $A587 in getting to Sydney and back and I'm not going to spend $A1,100 on my trip. And I did somewhat enjoy myself on the CCL trip.

This month seemed to be a non-stop shopping trip. Snork Maiden was buying presents for people when she visits China. I bought a new watch, got my glasses fixed (more than 400 dollars), bought a new drive of sorts for my computer, had some largish medical and dental bills, went to Ikea in Sydney etc.

In USD terms we lost 1.64% this month on a preliminary basis. We lost money investing for the fourth month in a row in Australian Dollar terms. It's a slow decline but pretty depressing all the same. We're now down 4% for the year in AUD terms and up 0.66% in USD terms. The MSCI though has gained 4.99% for the year so far. The Australian stock market has been underperforming on a global basis.

As a result net worth fell $A755 despite all the income coming in and rose by USD 2,961.

Couldn't Buy GTAA for my Mom

I blogged that we wanted to buy shares in the Cambria GTAA ETF for my Mom among other investments we were making in the portfolio. But the bank (one of the biggest global banks) which has custody of the portfolio (they don't manage it really, we (my brother and I) do so that's why I put it this way) said that they couldn't buy the shares because a US Partnership was involved in this stock and the "security settings" blocked them from buying these shares for non-residents. I was able personally to buy shares in GTAA through Interactive Brokers. So this is weird. I contacted the GTAA portfolio manager and he thinks it's weird too and passed the info on to the relevant people. After the changes we did make - we were allowed to buy shares in the China Fund on the NYSE - the portfolio looks like this:

The rate of return for June was -1.11% overall, whereas the MSCI World Index lost 1.54%. You can see that we managed to reinvest some of the Sterling cash but not even the majority of it. We got rid of most of the USD cash and about half the Euros. We need to retain some cash to possibly pay taxes including on the capital gains on the bond funds we sold. The reinvestment in bonds is in a convertible bond fund rather than straight bonds. Otherwise we invested in a real estate fund and tried to increase holdings in non-US stocks and alternative investments. The long-run picture of asset allocation looks like this:

The breakdown is much cruder and we don't have observations for every month. The main thing to notice is the increase over time in the allocation to equities and the reduction in cash. We are now at 31% equities, which is close to where we want to be I think. The real estate share has mostly increased due to the increase in the value of my Mom's apartment. The portfolio is now more similar to the allocation in endowment portfolios. It is particularly close to the Australian Future Fund allocation and the Harvard allocation. The main difference with Harvard is that they have 13% in private equity and this portfolio has zero in that class. Instead, the portfolio has 27% in fixed income vs. Harvard's 13% in that category. There is also more in cash and less in "real assets" in my Mom's portfolio. This makes sense for a "small" investor. Small relative to Harvard though big relative to most personal finance bloggers :)

Friday, July 01, 2011

Non-concessional Superannuation Contributions

Does it make sense to make non-concessional superannuation contributions? These are after tax contributions to a retirement account in Australia. In other words, the money is taxed at your marginal rate and then put into a retirement account and locked up until you are least 60 (if you are born in 1964 or later as I am). The advantage is that the tax rates on earnings are lower than in non-retirement accounts for high income earners. Instead of a 38.5% marginal tax on regular income (interest, unfranked dividends, and short-term capital gains) there is a 15% rate and the long-term capital gains rate is 10% instead of 19.25%. Of course, for so called "franked dividends" the effective tax rate is 8.5% outside of super and 0% in super. So, do the lower tax rates make it worth locking up the money for 14 years at least (in my case)? I'm expecting to pay zero capital gains tax for a while given accumulated losses and after interest and expense deductions I don't pay any tax on dividends anyway. So, I think the answer is no in my case, for the moment. My employer will be putting almost the maximum pre-tax contribution allowed into my super anyway.

When I get nearer retirement age I expect to stuff the maximum allowed non-concessional contributions into my super account for a few years. This is because there is zero tax on earnings once the super account is paying out distributions.