Friday, November 28, 2008

Happy Holiday

It is the year end holiday season. Time to spend your money and leave for the dream holiday! Here are 10 travel tips.

1. Plan early. Lookout for great deals, keep track of advertisements, visit fairs and compare prices. Lookout for exclusion clauses, terms and conditions.

2. Go through the itinerary. How many meals? Mode of transport? Type of accommodation?

3. Passport & Visa. Make sure the passport has six months validity. If visa is required, ensure sufficient time for application.

4. Local customs / laws. It is not nice to offend the locals!

5. Money. Monitor the exchange rate earlier. Foreign currencies are dipping at the moment. Encourage to use credit card for large purchases as it is possible to get better rate!

6. Weather. Find out the best time to travel. Pack the correct clothes.

7. Personal safety. Avoid high risk places! If you are travelling alone, inform someone on your itinerary.

8. Keep lists. Get all the contact numbers i.e. credit card, embassy etc

9. Don't leave your address on your suitcase. If it is stolen, someone may pay a visit knowing that you won't be in! Just tag your contact number / e-mail is enough.

10. Ticket. What a way to start the holiday, all packed up and ready to check in but could not find the ticket.. & passport???

Happy Holiday!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Postcards from Bella Italy

Ciao (pronounced chaow). Spent last week in Italy, courtesy of the entity that pays my salary. Let me share some facts and figures on Italy:

Italy is a founding member of EU and G8. It was ranked as the seventh largest economy in 2006, behind US, Japan, Germany, China, UK and France. The economy remains divided into a developed industrial north and a less developed agricultural south. The less developed south is a haven for organised crime.

Italy has a smaller number of MNCs than other economies of comparable size. Instead, the main economic strength has been its large base of SME companies.

The major exports are motor vehicles (Fiat, Aprilia, Ducati, Piaggio), petrochemicals (Eni), electricity (Edison), home appliances (Merloni, Candy), aerospace/defense (Alenia, Agusta), firearms (Beretta); but the more famous exports are fashion (Gucci, Armani, Valentino, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, Benetton, Prada), food (Ferrero, Barilla, Martini & Rossi, Parmalat), luxury vehicles (Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini).

Italy is ranked as the fifth major tourist destination in the world, with over 43.7 million tourists a year.

However, the financial crisis did not spare Italy. The banks have weathered the crisis better than their European peers but its economy contracted by 0.5% in the 3rd quarter, the steepest quarterly fall for a decade. Analysts expect the recession to continue for at least three more quarters and full year GDP is seen falling by around 0.3% in 2008.

Prime Minister Berlusconi urged Italians to keep shopping. From observation, they are heeding the advice as the malls were mostly packed with local and Japanese shoppers looking for Gucci, Prada and French brand Louis Vuitton!

Grazie (pronounced graatseeyay). Chiveo

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Be Greedy When Others Are Fearful

Excerpts from an article by Warren Buffett titled "Buy America. I Am" published in the New York Times on 16 October 2008 :

"A simple rule dictates my buying. Be fearful when others are greedy and be greedy when others are fearful.

I can't predict the short term movements of the stock market. I haven't the faintest idea as to whether stocks will be higher or lower a month or a year from now. What is likely, however, is that the market will move higher, perhaps substantially so, well before either sentiment or the economy turns up. So if you wait for the robins, spring will be over.

Today people who hold cash equivalents feel comfortable. They shouldn't. They have opted for a terrible long term asset, one that pays virtually nothing and is certain to depreciate in value. Indeed, the policies that government will follow in its efforts to alleviate the current crisis will probably prove inflationary and therefore accelerate declines in the real value of cash accounts."

These are the words of the investment guru! And they definitely jive with my article published on 16 Sept titled "Long Term Investment Goals".

Investors should have a disciplined perspective that focuses on achieving medium to long term investment goals. Focus on the long term horizon and refrain from over-reacting to the short term movements of the stock market.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Integrity & Ethics

In looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities : integrity, intelligence and energy. And if they don't have the first, the other two will kill you. - Warren Buffet

Integrity or the lack of it is making this world a lousy place to live in! Then there is also the lack of ethics. Think melamine, collapsed schools etc.

According to Concise Oxford Dictionary:
1)Integrity - the quality of having strong moral principles.
2)Ethics - the moral principles governing or influencing conduct.

Example of someone with low integrity but good ethics could be a politician who does not possess innate moral values but outwardly campaigns against corruption and other vices as an obligatory gesture to remain popular. (Sounded very familiar!)

On the other hand, someone of high integrity but poor ethics might be a cult member who passionately believes in his entity ideology to the extent that he would kill for their so-called justified cause. (Equally familiar!)

Another food for thought.

What is legal does not necessarily mean ethical.
Example - as an employer, you always give all your employees only what is minimally required under Labour law.

Ethical does not necessarily mean legal. Example : You rush a dying a person to the nearest hospital but exceed the speed limit.

Any thoughts on the above?

*adapted from the latest issue of MIM magazine.

ps will be a away for a week, so no update till 25 Nov! Ciao!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Care About Planet? Recycle Children!

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” (Desmond Tutu)
Interesting article published in The Sunday Times UK, written by renowned British journalist, Ariel Leve dated 28 Sept 2008.

Go green. Be environment friendly. Blah!Blah!Blah! Many of us are doing our bits to reduce, recycle and reuse. However she is taking it to another level. Hats off to her. Read on.

“ I feel bad that maybe I’m not doing enough. But then it occurred to me – I’m doing more than most. I’m not having children. That’s about as environmentally friendly as it gets. Putting less people on earth does far more to prevent global warming than buying organic blueberries.

Moreover, not only am I protecting the environment, but I’m protecting innocent people from coming into a world that is being destroyed. Why show them the Grand Canyon only to follow with, And one day it will all be gone. How cruel is that? I’m not just an environmentalist, but a humanitarian too.

....Although chances are, that’s not going to happen. I’m more likely to adopt. Adopting a child is a form of recycling, right?"

Could not believe it, then read on.

I am a father of two. Before I was married, during the gung ho 'I can save the world era', I had the same sentiment. Not on the child recycling part but dreaded to raise children in current crazy crazy world! In addition to the above issues, there are concerns on safety and mental health issues! I always thought it is cruel to them as they will ‘suffer’ and getting stressed out with the expectations heap on their shoulders. Blame it on ‘kiasu-ism’?

Perhaps, due to this ‘kiasu-ism’ and a little bit of other defilement like selfishness, ignorance etc, here I am, a big daddy!

Your green thoughts please!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Crying Out For Blood

More disturbing headline “Most Pempena investments are bad”. The Tourism Minister admitted that only a few of the 24 companies that were invested in by Pempena Sdn Bhd, the controversial subsidiary of the Tourism Ministry, showed profits in the last three years. Pempena had invested RM54mil via equity participation and advances made to its Investee Companies from March 1997 to November 2007.

That’s all? Announcement made and end of story? How can – anti climax! Another one bites the dust. Another throwing good money after bad thingy. It is high time someone must take full responsible for this mismanagement. (nicer word – thought of using other words!).

It is driving us crazy. Expect the rakyat to pay higher taxes and reduce the subsidy for petrol, then lo and behold, flush out this money with questionable investment and projects!!! Change Must Come to Putrajaya!!!

To Cut Or Not To Cut?

EPF is hogging the headlines again. After the Valuecap fund injection (my articles dated 28 & 30 Oct), EPF is doing another round of national service. Reduction of the employees’ contribution from 11% to 8% would be made automatically for the ease of members effective January 2009 until December 2010. Those who wish to maintain their 11% rate must fill up Form KWSP 17A (AHL) and hand it to their employers for submission to EPF.

What is the rational for this move? Our left pocket to our right pocket? Or our pockets to their pockets? The Government has estimated that RM4.8bil a year will be freed up for spending in the economy if all EPF contributors opt for the rate cut. The idea is to boost private consumption by putting more money in workers’ pockets.
It is a very optimistic estimate. Personally I believe that the majority will stick to the status quo. Tell me, to cut or not to cut?

To cut and have more disposable income. Assuming you earn RM5,000 a month. 3% cut will put additional RM150 in your pocket. What happen next? Within days, without the financial discipline, the RM150 will end up in someone else pockets! Your retirement nest is the loser here!

Not to cut, status quo and have more retirement money. Trust EPF to declare 5% dividend x RM150 = RM7.5. Satisfied with the return?

Alternatively, let me spin it differently. Cut. Take the money. Instead of spending it away why not put it to good use. Invest. Grow the money. RM150 probably could not buy us a good share but it could be invested into other investment products like unit trust fund. Explore the benefits and check out the market risk. The present condition has made this investment very attractive and affordable. It is up to us what we want to do with the extra cash. Let us make it a left pocket to right pocket transaction and not our pockets to their pockets deal!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Saya Anak Selangor

Yesterday, I experienced a refreshing encounter at a public service counter. Read on.

After dad demise, an uncle urged me to claim the funeral expenses from Selangor state government. Can meh? Apparently the new government is living to its election manifesto in handing out welfare aids. Started logging into the website Downloaded this form called Borang Tabung Jasamu.

Dad complied with the terms and conditions as he was born and bred in Selangor. Started compiling the supporting documents but there was a slight hiccup. These documents need to be certified by the Penghulu! Where the hell to find this Penghulu as we are living in a residential estate which at no fault of us had been gifted to the Federal government with a stroke of a pen! Made some calls and got lucky. Was directed to the nearest Penghulu at Gombak.

On Monday morning, went to this kampong and found this young 29 years old Penghulu. Yes, he was that young from his IC number! Horror, this young turk rejected my application. “Your dad’s last address was in Kuala Lumpur, so he was not eligible” Huh! I have read the terms & conditions and damn sure that he qualified (born in Selangor and resided there for more than 15 years). Tried to slow talk “Tok Penghulu, please sign la” “Cannot, I will get scolded” Huh!

Started to get impatient and gave him this case study “Imagine if I lived my whole life in Selangor, then when I fell sick, I moved in with my son who was based in Johor. Then within few months I kicked the bucket. Does that mean I ain't no anak Selangor?” He did not want to hear this argument and kept on saying the entitlement is based on last known address! Finally he came to his senses and made a call.

“Ok, I will sign but if rejected don’t blame me!” Huh! Bloody young ciku….

Yesterday, I submitted the application to a counter staff at Pejabat Daerah Gombak. In less than 5 minutes another officer came over. Lo and behold she handed an envelope to me. “Kira i.e. Count it”. 1,2,3.. I counted RM2,000. A bit shock and shiok! though. Shocked not because of receiving the money but the efficiency! I always thought they will sit on the documents and if the stars are properly aligned, I will receive a notification in a month or two to collect a cheque! This sum will not make us rich but it definitely pay some bills!

Anyway, the intent of this article is to broadcast that Selangor state is handing out many other benefits to anak Selangor. In addition to Tabung Jasamu, senior citizens (above 60 years) can register for Takaful coverage. Insurance payment will be paid upon death. (Dad missed out on this as he was not registered / insured). Then there are aids for single mother, newborn, undergraduates etc. No sure if there's any aid for being a toyol! Check out the website for more information. Can also contact this no 03-55447450 or 55447000.

Now everyone wants to be anak Selangor!