Sunday, October 3, 2010

Quick thoughts on the Sunday Times, 3 October 2010

I haven’t had much time or inclination to write on substantive topics lately, but I’ve still had some thoughts. Just not enough to write lengthy posts on.

I’m starting a new tag, “quick thoughts”, to denote short posts that deal with random topics. Today’s quick thoughts are responses to the Sunday Times, 3 October 2010.

“Inflation Up: How to make your money work harder” – Invest, Page 30

No mention by Lorna Tan on the hardest inflation hedge of all: gold. Disclosure: I’ve been heavily invested in the precious metals for the past 2 plus years or so. That gold is still not mentioned in the mainstream media is great news; it means it hasn’t entered bubble territory, yet.

As always, I make no claims to offering investment advice. I do not share the gains or losses of readers, so make your own investment decisions. If you are at all interested in precious metals, please do your own research.

Personally, I’m invested in gold and silver exchange-traded funds, BUT not GLD or SLV. There have been some allegations or suspicions of fraudulent dealing by both. My holdings are in ZKB and ZSIL, both managed by the Zurich Cantonal Bank. Why? You’ll have to do your own research to figure out why. One thing to note: these two exchange traded funds are traded only on the Swiss Exchange, and the last I checked, only one broker in Singapore offers access to the Swiss Exchange, and that’s Saxo Capital Markets.

“Rail-life Stories” – lifestyle, Page 8

The closure of Tanjong Pagar railway station and its relocation to Woodlands is understandable. Sad, but understandable. It’s not just the land that the station sits on is prime and can be redeveloped, but also all the land that the railway currently sits on.

Still, it would be nice if we had the equivalent of a Grand Central Station or Union Station in downtown Singapore. I love the romantic look and feel of grand railway stations, and I have fond memories of Union Station. As a student at Hopkins, I used to take the train between Baltimore and DC when staying in Baltimore got too boring. Also, air tickets from Dulles International Airport were sometimes substantially cheaper compared to tickets from BWI airport.

High-speed rail between downtown Singapore and downtown Kuala Lumpur would lead to all sorts of positive synergistic effects.

“Screen off the sun” – Pulse, Page 10

I’m not a fan of sunscreen. I apply it to prevent sunburn, not out of a desire to be fair (heck, I’m a guy) or prevent skin cancer.

Unknown to many, there is a sunscreen controversy brewing out there. In a nutshell, there is some evidence to suggest that sunscreen, ironically enough, may increase the risk of malignant melanoma.

Personally, I’m more concerned with vitamin D deficiency. More and more studies have found vitamin D to be implicated in many crucial metabolic processes, and it's unclear if each of us is really getting the amount we ought to be getting. What compounds matters is that if we avoid sun exposure, there really aren’t that many dietary sources of the vitamin, especially if you don’t fancy dairy products.

Coldwater fish oil is one non-dairy source. The problem is that to purge fish oil of contaminants like PCBs, most reputable fish oil supplements, which are touted for their Omega acid content, are probably devoid of vitamin D, thanks to extensive purification processes.

So far, I haven’t found a really satisfactory solution. If you take fish oil, there are good fish oil products out there, like Carlson’s fish oil, which unfortunately isn’t available in Singapore, but still, it won’t provide you with Vitamin D. Personally, I just take Michael Pollan’s advice to eat food. So here’s to an extra serving of saba and shishamo whenever I eat Japanese.

Oh and contrary to Mary Schmich's advice, I'm laying off the sunscreen unless absolutely necessary.


bean said...

There appear to be some warning signs for gold already - from the FT: "JPMorgan has reopened an underground gold vault in New York that was mothballed in the 1990s. Many commercial banks dismantled their vaults in the 1980s and 1990s. But now they are rushing to build: JPMorgan recently built a vault in Singapore, while Deutsche Bank and Barclays Capital are considering opening new vaults in London."

I find Saxo excessively bling and somewhat dodgy. I've dealt with some of these CFD providers (like IG etc) and at least on the FX side they have a tendency to spike your FX crosses for just 1 pip (I suspect to hit the investors' stops).

Hmm ZCB interestingly has the highest ratings by (gasp) all 3 ratings agencies! The same ones that almost brought down the world's financial system. I trust you had other reasons/basis for your trust in this bank or ETF.

Check out the heart scan blog ( where the doc talks about vitamin D and other health related topics. I've ordered some D3 but have been doing more outdoor sports like beach volley, tennis & soccer. It's silly to be vitamin D deficient here in sunny SG where it only rains half the time and floods slightly less.

Still on the Pose method? I foolishly used it for my 3 km jog and my calves were sore for more than a week.

Comments/thoughts on the recent spate of high-profile passings?

mjuse said...

As far as investments go, it depends on what your view is, and my view is that there is still considerable upside to gold in the long term. A reply to your news story may be found here:

A short term correction, however, is certainly not to be ruled out. I am not a trader, as you sound to be like, as I've found I simply don't have the temperament for it. My view is a long term one rather than a trading one.

Saxo is a not exactly a sterling bank. They had a bucket trading scandal sometime back. And there's been a lot of bad press from their forex customers. So you are right. But I don't trade forex, I use absolutely zero leverage as a rule, and Saxo is a member of the Danish Guarantee Fund. It's also regulated by MAS as a broker. That is sufficient assurance for me with regard to counterparty risk, which is the only risk I am concerned with as a gold investor. Depending on your investment outlook and habits, your mileage may vary.

ZKB is indeed one of the world's safest banks as it has a cantonal guarantee. The main reason why I subscribe to their ETFs is that they are fully backed by physical and are convertible on a week's notice. That kind of guarantee and convertibility you do not see in other gold ETFs, with the exception of the Julius Baer and the Sprott PHYS funds.

If your quibble is with their rating by the rating agencies, then I should point out that all our local banks have lower credit ratings than ZKB. And none are backed by the Singapore government. Do you not bank with them because of that?

Vitamin D deficiency is unlikely to be a problem in sunny sg. The real question is, are we getting the optimal level of vitamin D we should be getting? The jury's still out on that. I think I will still avoid slathering on excessive sunscreen because of that.

I've benefited from the Pose Method, but it may not be everyone's cup of tea. And I did warn that sore calves are the likely result of trying it out for the first time. Again, your mileage with the Pose Method may vary.

I have no comment on Mrs Lee Kuan Yew's recent passing. She wasn't exactly a public personality despite her undoubtedly great influence. So I have nothing to say. I certainly don't have anything bad to say; speaking ill of the dead is gauche.