Friday, May 15, 2009

Temasek sells BOA stake, loss estimated to be US$ 4.28b

Just read online that Temasek has sold its 13.7b percent BOA stake during 1Q 09.
Reuters cited a source briefed on the deal saying that the shares were sold for between US$2.53 and US$14.81 in the first quarter.

Based on a Reuters calculation which assumed an average price of US$8.67, Temasek may have suffered a loss of about US$4.26 billion.
I thought the banks bought in were supposed to be for long term? 2007 till now is barely 2 years, "long term" is defined like this?
They better have a good reason to realise the loss at the worst possible time. US$4.26b is not a small sum, considering Temasek can even buy 100% of SPH for S$4.26b.
Portfolio balancing is definitely not the best reason to sell. More news on this will definitely follow.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

When facts are false

"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." The statement refers to the persuasive power of numbers, the use of statistics to bolster weak arguments, and the tendency of people to disparage statistics that do not support their positions.

Statistics is a powerful to induce people to make wrong decisions based on numbers.

Consider the following statement: “Attempting to move in and out of the market can be a costly affair, particularly because a significant portion of the market’s gains over time have tended to come in concentrated periods. Looking back at the performance of the S&P 500 since 1980, an investor who missed out on only the five best performing days in the market would have ended up with a portfolio worth roughly 26% less than one that had been fully invested throughout the period.

Further, missing just 30 of the best performing days for the market since 1980 would have reduced the value of a portfolio by about 73%, compared to one that remained fully invested.”

Source: MARE: Market Analysis, Research and Education, Oct 16, 2008. “Stock market, exit at your own risk”

There is nothing wrong with the statement. All the above stated are known facts. However, it gives people the false impression that you will definitely lose out if you exit the market “prematurely” upon investing and you only miss out the 5 or 30 best performing days but got hit by all the worst days, which is unlikely. Basically, it condemns market timing and embraces long time investment.

Consider the market turmoil last year, if you had exited or cut your losses in Jan 08, you would have missed the 40% downturn. You would probably miss the 20% recent rally, but you will still be better off!

The notion that statistics lie is common knowledge, but we should also be mindful that the motivation behind each statistics evidence is to induce people to make certain decisions. Consider the following fictional examples:

There is an epidemic in Singapore. 10,000 people are infected and on the verge of death. A new drug is available. If you choose to administer the drug, you will save 5000 people. If you do not use the drug, 5000 people will die. What will you do?

There is an epidemic in Singapore. 10,000 people are infected and on the verge of death. A new drug is available. If you choose to administer the drug, 5,000 people will die. Will you administer the drug?

You should be indifferent on both choices. However, the above simple example shows that the way numbers are phrased and presented will induce different emotions (thus choices), formation of different perspectives and possibly even different investment or life philosophies.

I once had an IFA agent who used to service my insurance polices and investment, 2 years back. The first thing he did when he met me was to scrutinize my then present polices and lament on how poor protection I had, how irresponsible my past insurance agents were.

He gave me his blog address to show his superb knowledge on finance and his “many” testimonials of satisfied customers. Eventually, when I invested with him, he disappeared and when I asked him difficult questions, requested financial transactions, he even scolded me (without my name) in his blog and classify me as one of the “clients from hell”.

Eventually, I fired him and sold off all my holdings for his poor and tardy after sales service in 3 months. Today, he is still doing extremely well, possibly earning in excess of $150k per annum. (When I met him, he was earning $120k per year!) Well, he made use of statistics to help him earned a good reputation. Uploading positive testimonials of satisfied clients (minus the complains component); bragging on how accurate his prediction on market was by linking his past posts when 50% of his predictions were wrong; portraying an upright image on himself by thrashing tie insurance agents etc.

All the above are just another form of manipulation of numbers and facts to induce people to make favourable decisions, to erm the “owners” of statistical evidence.

So the next time people show you numbers to prove a point, take it with a pinch, opps, I mean with a bucket of salt!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Sales talk

My property agent called me today to promote a 500 sq ft property selling at $950/sq ft at balestier area. He claimed that the swine flu is similar to the Sars period in which after that, it is likely that properties would soar. The property is only a 15 minutes walk to Toa Payoh MRT station, good buy best buy must buy!!!

I kindly declined his “lobang”.

To put things in perspective, the swine flu is not even 1% of Sars impact. Firstly, swine flu though contagious is not as lethal as Sars. Many people have recovered from the flu virus and it is still a mystery why people in Mexico die from it.

The global financial crisis is still unfolding, GM, Chrysler and Ford may face bankruptcy and that means millions of jobs off the table. Weak recovery is expected only in 2010 2Q.

Banks are still not lending, credit crunch is still at its thawing stage.

Property market have reached the peak 6 months ago and are now sliding slowly now. Buying a property now is akin to catching falling knives. And if you are leveraging, it means catching falling knives naked!

Usually when they claimed that it is “10 mins” from town or MRT station, you have to add another 50% margin error. Their estimation is usually grossly misleading.

It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out if that person is trying to earn commission or giving sound investment advice.

In another case, my colleague was persuaded to offload their newly TOP at a loss by their property agent as he claimed that their house has depreciated 20% and banks will demand top up on their depreciated amount. Example, they bought the house at $1m, taking an 80% or $800k loan. Now the property is only worth $800k and the bank is only willing to loan them $640k. Hence they are liable to return $160k, “anytime”.

Again, unless they default on their monthly mortgages, banks do not demand sudden top ups for no good reasons.

I believe there are knowledgeable, good property agents around. But the only way not to get ripped off by agents is really to educate yourself.

Sorry agents, but my money is hard earned and hard to earn.