19 Jul 2016, 3:11pm
housing personal finance:
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  • Residential property investment success with Castle Trust

    Every Briton loves residential property, because ever since 1993, every man and his dog has been able to clean up with buying UK residential property. What’s not to like – no capital gains tax, banks lend you shedloads of money to buy an asset you otherwise couldn’t afford and no marked to market margin calls. Hell, they’ll even lend you money to buy other people’s houses, which is why we have middle class parents with buy to lets wringing their hands that their precious offspring can’t get a foot on the housing ladder and rent into their 30s.

    Three years ago Cameron decided to add fuel to this fire buy lending more money to people that couldn’t afford to buy houses, called help to buy. This pissed me off so much that I decided it was time to get in on the action. I didn’t want to buy a house for other people,  because I distrust the British property market more than Bernie Madoff because of what it did to me early in my working life, when I stupidly bought a house on five times my annual pay, albeit with a 20% deposit.

    It’s really hard to describe how much that buggers you up financially. Put it like this, my shareholding net worth is considerably more than my housing net worth. The latter I built up painstakingly from that early start across 20 years (until I discharged my mortgage). The shares I started in 2009 – okay so I was at the peak of my earning power and particularly keen to amassing capital, but nevertheless, accumulating housing wealth was a slow horrible grind for me, I was underwater for ten years.

    Since Cameron was giving out free money I decided that I may as well put my hand out for some of it, So I went with a Castle Trust Housa. I only went with £1000, because I was about to pass through a few years of lean times living off capital and investment returns, so most of my spare capital went into stock market investment. As a term lump investment with no income this was exactly what I didn’t need, but I did it for the principle. I didn’t incur any dealing costs or liquidation costs. and they have now sent me this letter

    housaOccasionally, in the three years since taking this out I’ve suggested it as something to consider for people saving for a house deposit bemoaning that the deposit gets overtaken by rising house prices. It makes sense to invest the deposit in something tracking the asset class, and while the Halifax house price index will never track the prices of the house you want to buy in a particular part of the country (particularly if it’s London), I was drawn to the Housa precisely because it was an index product.

    It was very illiquid – there was no secondary market for Housas, so if you needed the money within the three years (or five years) then you were simply SOL. There was obviously provider risk, Castle Trust used the Housa money to advance mortgages, a delightfully simple principle reminding me of the halcyon days before everything became financialised, you know, where real people clubbed together to help other real people raise the cash to buy a house. We used to call them building societies before they lost their soul to abandoned credit controls under Thatcherism, financial deregulation and greedy carpetbaggers.

    I wasn’t depriving some poor first-time buyer from buying a house 1 by front-running them and renting it back to them as a buy to let. So all in all an easy win. The 30% win is neither here nor there on this amount – perhaps I should have borrowed money to up my stake, but it is the first time I have managed an unequivocal profit on UK residential housing, unlike 99% of my fellow countrymen.

    It’s a shame this low-cost way of investing in the house price index has gone

    Castle Trust clearly want to get rid of this index product – they will only pay it out, not roll it over, and what they are offering now is nowhere near as attractive or even useful as a house price hedge. They are now offering basically fixed-rate corporate bonds on their mortgage business. The Housa was also secured on their business and I recall it made me uncomfortable at the time, but I was happy to take the haircut if the house price index fell, which would automatically ease the pressure on the company if people started defaulting. What made the Housa attractive was it had no carrying costs, purely the risk from the index and the provider risk, and since it was secured on the asset class underlying the index I felt okay about that. I won’t touch their alternatives.

    The problems for house buyers deposits are still that a sequence of Housa bonds or equivalent doesn’t really match how you want to use a deposit – you save over the years and then want to commit the entire deposit to the house purchase, at some unknown date.  You’d have to stop saving into housas three years before you buy, the flexibility is dire compared to a liquid alternative you can dripfeed into –

    Spread Betting

    You used to be able to spreadbet the Halifax house price index with IG Index, but the carrying cost of spreadbets is surprisingly high at 2.5%, pretty much the same long or short. You get the advantage of liquidity, unlike the Housa, but you pay that cost and a spread. On the other hand leverage is easy with spreadbetting. I don’t know if I were a young person trying to track deposit whether I would be tempted by leverage. The old head on my shoulders now looks at that and just seems despondency, desperate costs and massive tail risks, but on the other hand it would offer someone the chance to gear up if they feared prices escalating away from them.

    Part of the trouble with house prices is the cycles are slow, so all these annual costs can rack up and kill you because the underlying volatility and gains are too low. They look huge because a house is such a large purchase, Moneyweek had an interesting article on why spreadbetting sucks on house prices. It brings home just how much of a shame it is that Castle-Trust’s carry-cost-free alternative has gone.

    A young person will be more dynamic and risk-taking than me, and they have the advantage of having nothing to their name, so if their spreadbet goes titsup they have the option of walking away from their debts by declaring bankruptcy. I’m not advocating the idea, but faced with years of saving and falling behind, I can see an attraction is taking the risk if they are prepared to go through six tough years if prices fall. I considered walking away from massive negative equity in 1990 and going to work in Europe 2

    Low interest rates are no kindness to new house buyers

    It is a shame that we have no financial products that can help the young save in a deposit that at least tracks house prices. The very low interest rates now have decoupled savings from house prices with the pernicious rise of people talking about affordability – ie how much can you borrow at current interest rates assuming this will hold for the next 25 years. You amass equity very slowly at high income multiples, so you are exposed to the risk of negative equity for much longer in your working life than previous generations, and low inflation doesn’t help erode the real value of the principal. True, they had to suck up higher interest rates than now 3 but that has a silver lining – it incentivises overpaying, because that delivers a real win even on small amounts. The maths that make affordability good at low interest rates and high income multiples also make paying down the capital harder (because it’s a bigger proportion of your pay) and less worthwhile, you’re effectively renting the money from a bank, and much closer to the renting situation generally, even if you think of it as ‘owning’ the house.

    Even if we did have suitable financial products it’s no competition with buying a house on a mortgage, and you can’t live in your house price index bet either, though at least you don’t pay capital gains on it, should you have any.

    UK housing is a harsh mistress in a downturn

    …but she’s put on a lovely face for nigh on 25 years, tracking and soaking up the massive expansion of credit. So I’m inordinately chuffed with my £300 won from this most toxic of markets for me. True, Brexit seems to have done me several orders of magnitude more good in the numbers attached to the shareholdings I bought, which is just as well as I want some compensation for the damage my buccaneering countrymen have done to my financial future. And I am staying well out of the UK residential housing market in future – even if Castle Trust had offered me a roll-over I’d have walked away.

    Winter is coming to Britain. People are going to lose their jobs, and a good part of the reason for Brexit is that globalisation is making the lower part of the jobs market more and more crap, to the extent that middle-income families are getting 30% of their income from welfare. These are not people that will be able to afford to spend more and more of their non-income on housing, particularly if inflation and interest rates rise. If there’s one market I want out of, it’s UK residential housing, and now I’m out I’ll stay out until it has its Minsky moment.

    Notes:

    1. Castle Trust do lend to landlords too, so I could have been shafting the young by proxy
    2. I appreciate the poignance of that now, but heck, I was a Bremainer, so it wasn’t me that hurt this option for twentysomethings
    3. I paid 6.5% for most of my time and 15% just after buying the house (from a start of 7.5% in 1989)
    12 Jul 2016, 9:49am
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  • Down the rabbit hole

    This is gonzo politics and puzzlement. What goes for normal service will be resumed when the dizziness goes away. I’ve tried to be equally offensive to all sides here, because none of them comes out with great glory.

    I’m wondering if someone’s put LSD in the water supply. It’s less than a month since some of us including me discovered the limits of our filter bubbles. It’s like waking up covered in engineer’s blue with a cow looking at you strangely and surrounded by Swiss guys in lederhosen and thinking “Eh? I only started out last night with three bottles of cider in Croydon”. There’s only one thing to do – invoke the spirit of Yeats

    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

    Vada a Bordo …Cazzo!

    Where’s Gregorio Falco when you need him? Been less than a month since the referendum and we’ve discovered that Cameron is made of the same stern stuff as Francesco Schettino. Having run the ship aground trying to appease the headbangers in his party that lacked the spine to join UKIP he starts calling for Mummy and abandons his post as the ship is taking on water. We then see a string of effective knifings and backstabbings which end up with the last woman standing allocated the role of top dog, while loathsome Leadsom who asserted having children uniquely qualified her for the top job exits stage left at the eleventh hour, pursued by a bear, the press pack and her own folly of denying the evidence of a tape recorder. Beware the hermeneutic rule about the bullshit before the but, dear lady, you parse such sentences by crossing it all out from the beginning until the t of but…

    Yes. I am sure Theresa will be really sad she doesn’t have children so I don’t want this to be ‘Andrea has children, Theresa hasn’t’ because I think that would be really horrible but genuinely I feel that being a mum means you have a very real stake in the future of our country, a tangible stake. She possibly has nieces, nephews, lots of people, but I have children who are going to have children who will directly be a part of what happens next.”

    1607_mummy2560

    Children – not prohibitive but not necessary and not sufficient to be PM, Andrea

    Reproduction has been done since time immemorial with unskilled labour, and anyway, that’s not why we’d hire you to run the country, though I admire the swift decision to exit the kitchen due to an excess of heat. Next time feel the bloody door for heat before you open it, huh?

    Back to the seminal question of the rabbit hole. Not only did I discover something about my fellow countrymen that I’d rather not have known, but okay, at least that’s opinions and like other parts of the anatomy we’ve all got one. It’s the succession of ghastly putative leaders in quick succession that did my head in:

    the effete narcissist BoJo, motto “think only of yourself” and let the devil take the hindmost

    cut down like a tree by the creepy wierdo Gove, who is apparently clever though he despises expertise in its many forms, frying pan, meet fire,

    Leadsom’s self-immolation would have been entertaining if it hadn’t been for the real possibility of her trying to steer the ship off the rocks, presumably into a watery grave because she mistakes enthusiasm for ability. After all, Angela Merkel is child-free and appears to be a competent head of state, though perhaps not a competent head of the EU finance department… more »

    1 Jul 2016, 12:18pm
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  • Those stock market rises you’re seeing ain’t real, guys

    I am surprised at the nonchalance in the UK personal finance scene about the fall in the pound as a result of the Brexit vote. I am not making a long-term prognosis about whether or not Brexit is a good thing, but what is incontrovertible is that it has led to a sudden drop in the pound relative to other currencies. To avoid the vicissitudes of other countries’ fortunes I am using IMF Special Drawing Rights to compare the pound with. Let’s have a definition

    The value of the SDR is currently based on a basket of four major currencies: the U.S. dollar, euro, the Japanese yen, and pound sterling. The basket will be expanded to include the Chinese renminbi (RMB) as the fifth currency, effective October 1, 2016.

    Since the SDRs include the pound, a fall in the pound slightly devalues the SDRs, so the picture looks slightly better than it really is for a drop in the pound 😉 If you don’t trust those cheese-eating varmints at the IMF you can see the same effect in the good ole United States Dollar down below.

    A fall in the pound relative to other currencies makes us poorer than the rest of the world. We have to exchange more pounds for foreign goods – these foreign goods include most of the food we eat and the fuel we heat our homes with and put in our cars, it’s not academic. Because of lags in the distribution of goods this shows up as higher prices over time, typically over a year. I was a Remain voter so my view is that this change is a strategic impairment of the pound. This is my opinion – it is perfectly possible that the pound will rise over the coming year as the myriad delights of Brexit make themselves manifest in a cornucopia of joy. In that case my thesis is entirely wrong, and it will all come good. If you believe, nay, if you know that to be the case then save yourself the trouble and stop reading this pusillanimous piffle right now.

    Let’s have a fact check – has Brexit made the pound fall?

    1607_xdrytd

    how many IMF SDRs (ticker XDR) for a pound

    I think that’s a yes, so far. Probably about 10% this year. It’s not the only time, we all got a hell of a lot poorer following the financial crisis. Stands to reason, we make jack shit 1 and sell financial services, and the GFC was, well, a global financial crisis. And that’s what most of the services are, I guess.

    We don't really make anything any more. Source is linked to image (fig 8)

    We don’t really make anything any more. Data source is linked to image (fig 8)

    So we took it straight between the eyes

    the 10 year story

    the 10 year story

    Does it matter?

    Well, Britain imports most of its food and fuel, while we focus on being clever whizzes at financial services, Ricardian advantage to the fore, eh. So you get to pay more for that food and fuel compared to people in other countries. However, there have been deflationary effects on these – the oil price has dropped since the GFC for instance. So let’s narrow this to does it matter to investors?

    Well, yeah. Let’s take a look at the price of VWRL in pounds. Hmm, that’s not so bad, it actually went up after Brexit. I managed to buy some in the confusion, so I am feeling chipper, look at me, ain’t I clever?

    VWRL in the GBP I have got

    VWRL in the GBP I have got

    Now if I were an American and had done that after the initial drop, I would be feeling different. Not bad, but no turbo boosters from the falling pound.

    VWRL in the USD I haven't got

    VWRL in the USD I haven’t got

    So the fall in the pound has made foreign assets dearer for me compared to if I were not buying with pounds. While that makes me think whoopee-do when I look at my ISA screen and I think hey, I am a fantastic investor. Not only did I stay the course through Brexit and even buy, I am up on the deal because all the numbers are going up, it also means something else.

    I have lost my compass

    I have lost my main navigational instrument, and my ISA allowance has just fallen by 10% in real terms compared to the rest of the world. So have my tax allowances, and for those rich enough to worry about such things, so has your Lifetime allowance.

    Now one of the cogent arguments against this mattering is

    Some commentators seem to think that there’s both a perfect level for sterling and that they know what it is. I didn’t hear wailing when sterling fell from over $1.70 in 2014 to under $1.50 in 2015. If it ends up at c$1.40 after the current turmoil, so what? No need to sacrifice our first born to Cthulhu just yet.

    Well, I was wailing earlier in the year 😉 There is something up with me, I am much more nervous about the pound than most other people. It scared me in 2009 as I was shovelling money into foreign assets in my AVCs while Mervyn King was printing money and devaluing the pound. So let’s take a butcher’s hook at the GBP against USD (unfortunately I couldn’t find one for IMF SDRs going out that far)

    GBP against USD

    GBP against USD

    This is not a continuous story of success, or even random noise against a mean, and it’s a headwind against UK investment – even against the Euro we are 20% down over the same period. If I’d held exactly the same portfolio as an American investor over those 12 years, I would pat myself on the back because my numbers on my screen would have risen 40% up on his. And I would be lying to myself. The truth lies somewhere in between, and we normally just don’t see that.

    So I’m not saying I know what the perfect level of sterling is. Devaluation of the currency is how governments charge us for the taxes we aren’t prepared to pay for the services we demand, though this last hit can’t be blamed on the government. So while I don’t know what the level should be, I do know that it’s headed in the wrong direction, has been for years, and I’m getting poorer relative to the rest of the world if I hold cash in GBP. We will notice that in higher inflation in the years to come, particularly if the oil price continues to rise in USD. Of course Donald Trump may help us with that in November, though I suspect we may have other problems then.

    It is true that long term adjustments to exchange rates are A Good Thing. It allowed the Greeks to pay themselves more and more and feel good about that while the Drachma depreciated so tourists could still afford to go there and their rice filled vine leaves were cheaper in British supermarkets in Pounds. And then they joined the Euro. Basically floating exchange rates allow you to be lazy bastards collectively relative to the rest of the world and get away with it. If somebody asks you to take a pay cut of 10% there’s hell to pay and rioting on the streets. If you get the same pay and you currency drops by 10% then there’s the same fiscal result but no rioting. Stopping that happening is the original sin behind the Euro, but that’s a fight for a different day. I am still of the opinion that the Euro will blow one day, and we may be glad of our Brexiteering spirit as blood and guts rain down in the aftermath.

    Those stock market rises you’re seeing ain’t real, guys

    And being less productive is what we have all just voted for, but I am surprised at the simplicity of UK investors so being chuffed at their portfolios going up. Now of course that’s a win on having sat on the cash, or worse still, having sold and then rebuying, but do the thought experiment. Say you bought your portfolio with pounds the night of the Referendum. For some reason it bounces, so you issue the same purchase order now. And it’s dearer, so you get to pay more money for the same portfolio. That is Not a Good Thing. When that happens to the price of food, petrol, Starbucks lattes, wine and German cars that won’t be a good thing either.

    Which is why I wince when people celebrate on the rise in the stock market. It’s not real. Indeed, my portfolio is the highest it’s even been. My pension will be worth less, the cash I hold is worth less, yes I am richer in the ISA but poorer is so many other areas. Oh and I am stuck on an island with these guys.

    1607_stuck

    Deep joy. I’m putting a hold on the champagne.

    Notes:

    1. we actually manufacture more in real terms value than we did in the heyday of manufacturing in the 1970s, but do it with far fewer people
    27 Jun 2016, 10:16pm
    economy personal finance
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  • Brexit damage limitation

    We have decided to quit the EU. It was a democratic decision with a gap of over a million between the sides, so it’s pretty clearly what the majority wanted. Unlike many Remainers and a large part of the London/finance set that make up the PF blog community, I have sympathy for the part of the Leave community who say their wages and jobs pushed down by the free movement of people after the A8 accession of countries that were much poorer than the UK. I believe their choice is not in their long and medium term interests nor in mine, but I can see where they came from.

    The little Englanders and harkers back to Empire I have little time for. Let’s hear it from Boris Johnson on this

    We used to run the biggest empire the world has ever seen, and with a much smaller domestic population and a relatively tiny Civil Service. Are we really unable to do trade deals?

    We used to run the biggest empire in the world because we industrialised first and had the edge on being able to clobber other places into submission. Things have changed in 100 years peeps. The modern predilection for everyone’s a winner would have no truck with the entrance exams for the Empire Civil Service.

    I want to preserve my capital against the own goal that is Brexit. I may have sympathy with many of the people who voted Leave, but I don’t want to sponsor their decision any more than I have to.

    You wouldn’t start from here (after the Brexit result)

    as the classic joke says. Fortunately I am not coming from a standing start. I started a while ago. In 2009 my HYP was largely FTSE100 based, I’m fortunate in not having great exposure to banks because I can’t value them and only a small exposure to property/housebuilders because UK property scares the bejesus out of me. But I didn’t like the geographical bias and started to shore it up with an outer circle of index funds in emerging markets, Dev world exUK and more recently VWRL world equity trackers. I was aiming for focusing less on finance and more on Life, because I was dealt a good hand by Osborne in being able to use my DC pension savings to front-run my main pension.

    My main problem is that I hold sterling assets. And the big problem is that sterling will become increasingly worthless as trade and foreign investment falls. We’ve already taken a massive hit in the financial crash. I am particularly exposed to this as people still working may see their wages rise with future inflation, where as my networth is the accumulation of previous earnings. On the other hand I have advantages – redundancy is not a threat to me and I don’t owe anyone any money.

    XDRs are a basket of currencies, against the £

    XDRs are IMF Special drawing rights,  a basket of foreign currencies, against the £. I use XDRs because individual currency pairs just show relative changes, XDRs are the luminiferous aether of forex which gets us away from all this relativism…

    Okay so a lot of it (more than half) are foreign assets denominated in sterling, so the fall in the pound will merely give me a false impression I am a great investor by raising the numbers on the screen  rather than make me fundamentally poorer in these assets, but in the end my pension is in Sterling which is most of my effective networth. Unlike some I don’t consider my house in my networth so I am neutral on that and I don’t own any rental property, so if house prices fall I don’t feel that is a bad thing.

    price of gold in pounds

    price of an ounce of gold in pounds

    Oh and I bought a lot of gold last year, because the ermine is a skittish creature and the 2015 valuations of the UK stock market and the US stock market, together with the infinitesimal chance of Brexit 1 scared me, and people thought gold was trash, witness the GBP/XAU chart. OK so I sold some of it before the referendum to half-split the profits which was a bad move in hindsight, but I still took a profit, and I will hang on to the ballast of the rest for a while. Unfortunately I also hold a lot of cash because I have only recently crystallised my SIPP. My dear fellow countrymen have made me 25% poorer in real terms last week, this will come through in the price of imported goods like food and fuel and pretty much anything I do if I stick a paw outside this sceptred isle.

    1606_wilson

    Harold Wilson was quite right in my schooldays when he said the pound in your pocket will stay the same. It’s what you can get with that pound which changes, so I really need to do something about that cash. I have already started with some of it into VWRL, and will drip feed some of the rest as I extract it below the tax threshold into VWRL. I will accept the risk of a market crash in five years time when I will have run the SIPP flat; I will start coming out of the market in four years time and if I take a hit on the SIPP I will start to take income from the proceeds of the ISA. And if it all turns into tears in falling rain, well, that’s just the way things pan out.

    I owe Monevator a few beers – my original HYP was heavily UK based with big fish from the FTSE100. But his diversification articles were compelling, and I shored the UK core up with Devworld Ex UK and emerging market index funds. In the HYP I was fortunate enough not to have a predilection for banks (how do you value a bank?) or house-builders, though my REITs look like sick puppies 2. For some perverse reason my ISA ended up on the week 3 though it took a hit early Friday. But I have bought more gold and more VWRL. The obvious choice is in many ways Lifestrategy100 but the GBP version is too UK biased, hence a favouring to VWRL. World equities are tanking too, but the pound is tanking faster.

    I’m interested in ideas though, what if anything do readers think as a way of losing less capital through the troubled times to come? Or is it as simple as sometimes you have to stick your head between your knees and kiss your ass goodbye… This one is big, and it’s bad.

    Notes:

    1. as perceived at the time, but you should always bet a bit against your prejudices
    2. It’s not like these bad guys are underwater yet, but it’s getting that way
    3. denominated in the increasingly worthless pounds
    24 Jun 2016, 11:12am
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  • Dude – where are my shares? Brexit across-the-board ISA fail

    An ermine wakes to a new world and it appears I was on the losing side. The good thing is that at least the outcome of the Brexit referendum is clear; a four point lead isn’t handsome but it’s not a knife-edge. So I thought I’d open a bleary eye and perhaps buy some shares with my increasingly worthless pounds. At least I am not afraid of redundancy in the shitstorm to come, and it’s an ill wind and all that. So I whip out my TD ISA, and consider buying, to discover that my six-figure ISA has been looted – evaporated into thin air, pffft – just like that. The robbers only left a little smattering of cash, I ought to be able to buy a bag of peanuts with it on the world markets in a couple of months 😉

    TD ISA FAIL

    TD ISA FAIL

    Bummer. So I yomp over to my Hargeaves Lansdown SIPP, and observe some shocking spreads, see if I can buy. I don’t actually want to buy in a crystallised SIPP cos of tax, but hey, any port in a storm?

    HL - computer says NO

    HL – computer says NO. I’m not actually sure I wanted to buy VMID at that price but it was the first code I could remember and I’ve never bought in HL before.

    We’ll see later on in the day, eh? Update at 10am – TD have given me my shares back. I am amazed at the fightback – I have lost a whopping 3% which is neither here nor there for the market mayhem promised. I mean, for God’s sake, does nobody remember January? The VUKE I bought then is still 5% up, FFS. This could, of course, be because the pound is going down the toilet so fast that the weight of the foreign assets I hold are lifting the numerical picture. This is then an optical illusion – my fellow countrymen have probably made me 25% poorer in real terms. Thanks guys.

    Now that I can trade I bought some VWRL. There’s a race going on here – the little matter of Brexit seems to have frightened the global horses more than I had expected, which makes it cheaper. As you can see it in USD

    VWRL in the USD I haven't got

    VWRL in the USD I haven’t got

    So I bought some in the GBP I have

    VWRL in the GBP I have got

    VWRL in the GBP I have got

    where you can see the pound falling faster than the assets. But to be honest I can’t actually see Brexit being such a huge deal for the rest of the world in the grand scheme of things, and if it’s good enough for Lars Kroijer it’s good enough for me. Yes, I paid more than I would have done yesterday, but then I thought Remain would win. Though I hold a lot of gold just in case 😉

    About the other passengers on the Brexit bus, there’s more of them that I thought…

    UKIP poster for leave says something to me, and I am not sure I like it

    UKIP poster for leave says something to me, and I am not sure it’s a good sign…

    The worst thing about the result is the thought of cocks like Farage and Boris running the country. Still, the will of the people has spoken, a primal scream against globalisation and austerity as well as a FU to the EU. Let’s hope the good people of the British hinterland who voted leave feel a bit more chipper about their jobs and public finances in a year’s time, eh. There were many good arguments to be made on both sides. One of the greatest wins of Leave would be the proletariat not having to support the landed gentry through farming subsides any more, but sadly that was promised away. It seems a curious own goal – the CAP is about 40% of EU spend and ceasing this redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich would seem an obvious win 😉

    I didn’t like the people on the Leave bus, and it turns out the represent the slight majority of my fellow countrymen. I will investigate if I can get German citizenship by jus sanguinis – sadly it is through the maternal line so although it will help me I am not automatically entitled as it would be had my Dad been German. I was able to easily pass the citizenship test from my general knowledge of the principles of a democracy and a decent guessing of the German character, but my German is not good enough at the moment. I am in no hurry to cease being British, but I would like to see if I can get dual nationality and become a citizen of the EU. Some of the ugliness of the Leave side, in particular the potent racism and xenophobia, makes me a little bit scared about the Britain I will grow old in. I would like to have the option of somewhere to run to 1 should some of the heart of darkness I have seen recently begin to rise – neither of my parents was British by birth. When my mother came to Britain in the late 1950s, she had some trepidation, because of course only a decade before Britain and Germany had been at all-out war. She found 1950s Britain was a kind and tolerant country, and while there was the odd piece of hostility it was far outweighed by the gracious and kind welcome she encountered. I hope this is still part of our national character, because it was not overly apparent in the referendum campaign on either side. In general while there have been remarkable increases in tolerance and acceptance of differing lifestyles in the 60 years since she came, tribalism and incivility seem on the rise in a lot of areas.

    But perhaps I am seeing through a glass darkly; I didn’t get what I voted for. Britain is still a rich country with stupendous natural beauty and I believe a basically decent people. Perhaps they showed more wisdom – after all, I viewed this referendum as running against the tide of history, I would be surprised if in 20 years the EU were the monolithic mass it is now. I would be very surprised if the Euro were still used by as many countries as it is now, indeed if it still existed at all. I am not omniscient – there is heart of darkness enough in Europe, perhaps I will grow to be fond of the English Channel again from the vantage point of Das Inselreich.

     

     

    Notes:

    1. It’s always good to have options, I’m not giving a view on what will happen.
    20 Jun 2016, 3:00pm
    reflections
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  • Imperial College sends me an indirect message from Oswald Spengler

    Half a lifetime ago I went to Imperial College to study Physics. I then took some of this knowledge and used it in the world of work, I got to use stuff like Laplace transforms etc in filter design, and generally applied a bit of it. However, perhaps the biggest win was learning how to learn. Imperial reflected to me just how much the world has changed in a shade under 40 years, with an offer of free drinks too!

    Imperial in the City: Networking event for alumni working in finance
    29 June • 18:30 – 21:30 • Corney and Barrow, Canary Wharf E14 4EB

    This networking event is a great chance to connect with other Imperial alumni working in finance. Your first two drinks will be complimentary, courtesy of Imperial College London, if you register in advance of the event. Please also bring your business card for the chance to win a bottle of champagne in our prize draw. Spread the word among fellow alumni in the finance industry.

    Peter Thiel, Donald Trump 2016 supporter and personal grudge holder extraordinary 1, summed up the reasons why the West’s economies are faltering and returning less on investment. Now while Thiel is a pretty odious character IMO, he is a brilliant guy and a sharp thinker. There’s no law that says character has to go with smarts.  I share his view on why the West has lost its mojo.

    We used to think the future was going to be better that today, and we used to have a damn good idea of how to go about it. We were often wrong, but we rolled up our sleeves and wrangled the world to make it more like how we wanted. It brought us decent sanitation, heated homes, longer lifespans. It also brought us reality TV, fast food and corporations too big to fail, but there has to be collateral damage in any enterprise. Thiel called this definite optimism – you’re optimistic and you know how to go get it. The young Ermine went to school in that world, all that jazz about people on the moon, much of the advances following the world wars made science and technology an interesting place to be, and I went to Imperial College to go learn Physics. Then I took some of this into the world of industry to go and make a few things happen, some of which were actually new.

    Something changed, I would say in the 1980s though it had nothing particularly to do with Thatcher. Somehow we lost our nerve, , and also some of our vision for the future. It’s understandable in Britain – ever since the 1920s Britain’s influence in the world fell away, particularly after the Second World War, and the US wanted the top dog slot anyway. But I didn’t expect it, and the problem affected the US too. I suspect the seeds were sown in the 1973 oil crisis.

    We became indefinite optimists – we thought the world was going to be a better place but we didn’t know the hell how. The answer to that is to corral financial resources – and let’s face it, everyone aiming for financial independence is an indefinite optimist. If you know what would work to make the world a better place you’d do it or buy it. But if you don’t, then in Thiel’s taxonomy you become an indefinite optimist – you accumulate general purpose capital because you then keep maximum optionality in taking advantage of whatever things will make the future a better place than today. You become a good passive investor, because you’re damned if you know what will work, but that something will if you diversify enough, because you are indefinitely optimistic about the future.

    Finance is indefinite optimism

    Indefinite optimism, writ large – in some ways finance is indefinite optimism encapsulated.There’s nothing wrong in working in finance – but thirty years ago Imperial’s graduates tended to go into industry.

    Money is a claim on future human work, and you have to be optimistic that there will be future humans and they will be prepared to put in the work for your symbolic tokens when you get round to cashing them in at an exchange rate that is acceptable to you. And good luck to y’all in your networking event.

    Someone got there before Peter Thiel, however, the German historical philosopher Oswald Spengler, whose magnum opus The Decline of the West paints the picture. All cultures experience

    “its childhood, youth, manhood, and old age”. “Each culture has its own new possibilities of self-expression, which arise, ripen, decay and never return”

    Spengler contrasted the earlier vital stages of a culture (Kultur) and the later stages when all that remains is a Zivilisation of people preoccupied with preserving the memories of past glories. Part of the essential myth of the West in continuous growth, it is a bedrock assumption and in contrast to some of the cyclical principles of Eastern thought – cyclical reincarnation had no place in the religious ideas of the West for instance.

    Declinism is, of course, an eternal draw to those in the second half of life – they project the micro onto the macro. And yet I see similarities in Spengler’s narrative, and in the Economist’s thoughtful Bagehot overview of the tribal debate otherwise known as the EU referendum, which hopefully we will be shot of in a week’s time. Perhaps it is all part of the bigger picture – the Gramsci quote cited by Bagehot

    “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”

    was quoted three years ago in the New York Times riffing on the same sort of thing. We are living through remarkable change on many fronts, and many aspects of the old order, assumptions that held throughout my childhood and most of my working life, are changing .The balance between labour and capital has shifted dramatically in Western societies. The assumptions of capitalism are also weakening in the presence of very large corporations who can dominate important sectors globally. Facebook and social media has largely reduced the open Internet and Web of the 1995 to 2005-ish to a lowly transmission mechanism. The British press is owned by press barons with a very similar outlook to each other so a monopoly of sorts – once we had regulations to control how much of the fourth estate was in one individual’s hands but of course deregulation meant the end of such dirigiste thinking. The nation-state itself is too small to tackle some of the global issues of our times. None of these problems are insoluble, but Gramsci’s observation is apposite, because the old is dying faster than the new is being born. This is inherent in the passage of history, because otherwise the old will try and strangle the new at birth, but it does mean there will be an transitional period. Transitional periods tend to be interesting times, and not always in a good way.

    I will grow old in the gathering interregnum, you dear reader, may have some chance of seeing the distant shoreline of the New. We do not know how long it will last, or if the sleep of reason will end before the morbid symptoms overtake the light. I made the mistake of following a link after the dreadful killing of a politician which led to Twitter. I don’t know what social media does to our brains, but the boorish lack of civility doesn’t give me hope. Intelligent discourse and civilised disagreement is necessary to feel our way to a new order. It’s been in terribly short supply over the last few weeks, in the vacuum the monsters seem to be multiplying.

    Goya's darwing from 1799

    Goya’s The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters

    We could use some definite optimism, but maybe Spengler and Gramsci are right – the West has had a good run but it is time to pass the baton on to other civilisations, perhaps yet to be born. We have some attempts in the direction of definite optimism.

    1969

    1969 Apollo mission 47 years ago

    Perhaps the cynical me has not thought as a child for too long and I do admire the motivation behind Tim Peake’s work, but I recall what watching the Apollo moon landing in July 1969 was like. I was at primary school and less than half the households had a TV, but the school rigged a black and white TV in the assembly hall to watch this at lunchtime. There was none of the vox pop of schoolkids asking cheesy questions – we kids were amazed at adults doing really amazing stuff that captured the imagination. There was a much greater distance between the adult world and children’s world then, and I’m not so sure it was all a bad thing, it gave something clear to aspire to. I learned electronics as a child from books written for adults, not the facile handholding and visual props of the kid-oriented maker space 2 now.

    2016

    2016 Tim Peake addressing some schoolkids

    I haven’t yet worked out if in the intervening 47 years we have gone in the direction of bread and circuses or advancement, but good luck to them all on getting more people into science. Definite optimism or bust I say…

    Notes:

    1. Gawker shouldn’t have outed him, but that’s pressing his case with extreme prejudice and outside the rule of law
    2. only some of the maker space is child-targeted, but descriptions are much more process-orientated  rather than teaching the principles of operation and designing from them. It’s a ‘here’s this picture, now go lay out these exact parts in this exact way’ rather than ‘here’s the schematic, go make this happen somehow’
    10 Jun 2016, 12:39pm
    living intentionally
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  • create your future with journalling

    Creating your future with a journal is a bizarre idea, but the art of creative visualisation is a mysterious beast. A lot of the problem with doing something long-term, like reaching FI, is that it is made up of an awful lot of small steps, and it’s easy to lose the way. Many years ago DxGF 1 bought me a copy of The Artist’s Way at Work. Bless her – she had only known me when I was a good worker bee and hadn’t reached the Turning Inward which meant that I was so done with work as a concept, but that’s a different story. TAWAW is partly about recovering the spiritual and internal drive in connection with creative expression, this is the function that in many people expresses in work giving them meaning in life. This drive was reorientating in me to different parts of life, and as a result TAWAW was flogging a dead horse and merely began to piss me off. However, it has helped many people and has a big following, though I guess not so many of them are engineers.

    TAWAW is all about getting back your mojo at work and being more successful and creative. It may well work if you are self-employed and in charge. I was going to toss this book out a couple of years ago but fished it back out – I had a feeling that it still has a song to sing to me 2, but it wasn’t right for that time. One of the big things in that was about “morning pages” – go get a piece of paper in the morning, before you turn your damn computer on and before you look at your phone and write down what you think, what you want of this day, year, life – whatever comes to mind.

    It’s good stuff, and sort of worked for me for a while, at least I saw odd little wrinkles that I wasn’t consciously aware of, in those parts of the scribble that I could read. They were adamant you do this longhand. I am still capable of using a computer without automatically firing up the Web at the same time so I did switch to using a journal program I had used on and off as a work tracking notebook, Rooksoft’s Blog 3. That way I get to actually read what I have written. Although it’s called Blog and could make static web pages, a diary/journal has no business being on the open Internet, although the blog format came from online diaries. Just like a teenage girl with her red diary that nobody, particularly her mother, should read, you need the freedom to think the unthinkable without criticism and repercussion. And articulate it. There is a case to be made that a journal is a write-only medium, but if you are trying to create your future then you need to read it back every so often.

    Journalling is a big thing in the self-help niche, but the tragedy is you only get to see its value after you have been doing it for five years or more. I was recovering some of mine from the old program, to use Jekyll to give me some data future-proofing 4, and I came across some entries that reminded me of the value of this.

    A bit over seven years ago a despondent Ermine was sitting in the office looking for a way out. I had been hit with a performance improvement plan and interpreted this as the writing on the wall. In looking at some of the simple living and frugality websites, I’d come across Creating a Five Year Vision on simpleliving.net before they realised you can’t make money to frugalistas selling books. To the cynical me five year visions and particularly the way they advocated in imagining you were looking back from then seemed either very Soviet Russia or alternatively smacked of cosmic ordering and greaseballs like Deepak Chopra. Although in a purist world you shouldn’t garner information about the destination from your fellow passengers on the bus, I can’t help it, if Deepak Chopra is on board I’m getting off at the next stop. If cosmic ordering worked we would have a country full of Lottery winners and inflation running a bazillion percent.

    Ariadne giving Theseus the red threat to retrace the Minotaur's labyrinth

    Ariadne giving Theseus the red threat to retrace the way out of Minotaur’s labyrinth

    However, we humans are frail and sometimes need the guidance of Ariadne’s thread across the pathless way once we have lost sight of our origin and the destination has yet to come into view. And I needed that bad after taking a massive hit to self-esteem and seeing the prospect of a shortened career crashing and burning ten years short of my planned retirement date. So inspired by that post I wrote this some time in 2009.

    In Five Years0905mountain_sunrise

    I want to pursue interests, be inquisitive, to learn about new things for the sake of it. I want to be able to recognise trees, and birds. I want to listen to the song of the city as well as that of the countryside.

    I want to be the weight and waist size I was at 21. I want to read, for joy, to be lost to books. I want to be kind, to be open to others, to lose the insularity and harshness that sometimes imprisons.

    I want to explore the inner world, though I wonder if I have drifted too far from it to see that distant shore. I want to build sensor systems, to see stoats in the countryside, and watch a hundred sparrows line up on a wire one day.

    Then, of course, there are all the things I don’t want to do. I don’t want to work for The Firm, at least the unreformed Firm as it currently is. I don’t want to hear the corporate bullshit and to be able to simply turn my back on anybody who uses the phrase “raising the bar” and a hundred and one perversions of the English language. I want to have nobody other than me or people that I respect criticise what I do and have a money input as a result.

    I got most of the way there – the one fail is the weight. I drank far too much red wine to dull the everyday pain in the three years after I wrote it, and while I have pulled my weight below what it was in 2009 5, this is still a work in progress. I have no idea of if it is realistic – it is perfectly possible that a 55-year old body with the same weight as my 21-year old self will have a different waist size. I believe I will find out, in a couple of years.

    I have seen a stoat in the countryside, but I haven’t seen a hundred sparrows on a wire yet. These are all metaphors for the freedom of the natural world – this was a wage slave that once resented the song of a charm of goldfinches on a June morning because they were free and I wasn’t. But overall, even though this was written at a low-water mark in my life, it mostly came good. All the freedom from goals were achieved.

    The rest of the narrative of that period in the journal is also a record of the three-year final push to FI – the endless grey days of just putting one foot in front of the other, the small victories of reaching Friday and a brief respite of the weekend. I still can’t believe I was prepared to drink homebrew, FFS! But the red thread held – it is all too easy to lose the big picture as you fight the day-to-day battles. Perhaps there is something to Cosmic Ordering, provided you focus on the things you can change, like saving up to win financial independence as opposed to changing the balls of the National Lottery.

    I had always looked at journalling as a record of the past, but perhaps it is also a way to create some of the future. I am closer to what I wrote in 2009 in all respects, and much closer than I expected at the time, and all the direction of travel is in the right direction. Mr FinanceZombie wrote one of these too, and I wish his future self all the best and hope it works out well.

    Don’t deaden the picture of your future self by writing a S.M.A.R.T description

    You’re creating a myth, storytelling, it is all about the hero’s journey. The stoat and the sparrows were symbols for me to get out into the natural world more and appreciate it.Here are a load of sparrows. They’ll do. I don’t need to count 100, just have plenty, and a hedge will do instead of a wire.

    Equally a whole bunch of lapwings would be a good substitute. What I wanted was more real nature, less office wall and fewer screens in my life

    Lapwings

    Lapwings near Felixstowe

    The sensor systems are a metaphor for being creative with technology. You will recognise the place you sketched out if you got there, and perhaps life will throw you different opportunities and challenges on the way. It doesn’t matter – what seems to be inspiring is painting a vision of a better place. You don’t have to get to that exact place, but it has to be real enough. Business management is full of tosh about smart goals and rubbish like that. Smart goals are great for optimising one-dimensional problems, and absolutely terrible for inspiration, creativity or even civilised living which are a balance of many different variables.

    Avoid making your vision conditional on things outside your control. I’ve heard far too many people spend far too much mental energy on “when I win the Lottery”. You won’t. 6 And every minute spent on dreaming about splashing the Lottery cash are minutes taken away from creating a better life with the tools and talents you do have right now.

    So consider articulating your hopes and dreams. You may just get there, because the inspiration of an imaginable picture keeps you from straying from the path towards it. Much to my surprise, it worked for me.

    Notes:

    1. Dear Ex Girlfriend – the glossary system I used died in a software update a couple of weeks ago 🙁
    2. There’s a version for new retirees, although it’s kinda wrongfooted from the off for me with This book attempts to address many taboo subjects for the newly retired: boredom, giddiness, a sense of being untethered, irritability, excitement, and depression, to name just a few but you never know – perhaps it has an answer for some folks asking themselves the question So what do you do all day
    3. Don’t use that now, it doesn’t work right with anything post WinXP
    4. remember this has no business being outside your four walls, so it has to work on a standalone system, preferably without a database, and definitely no Cloud
    5. retirement is infinitely better that working for physical activity, and Ipswich is a relatively compact town where anywhere I want to go is in walking distance or bike distance.
    6. and if you really must play it for some reason don’t think about what you’ll do with the money before you win it – at least you then just get to pay for your empty dreams in cash, rather than time as well. You can buy time enough to daydream with the winnings, should it really be you
    3 Jun 2016, 12:16pm
    living intentionally
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  • So what do you do all day?

    One of the common things wannabe early retirees and those around them seem to worry about is what are they going to do all day. It always struck me as the most bizarre thing to fret about, but it appears that many people define themselves by work, and the answer to ‘what do you do for a living’. If you do that, then yes, the question is valid, although perhaps you might want to take a step back and ask yourself how it came to be that you define yourself by what you do rather than what you are. There is even a small constituency of folk who define themselves by the level of their spending, these should never retire 😉 At least not until they have read Erich Fromm’s “To Have or To Be“.

    It’s part of the class of issues generally going with ‘what others think’. Most people are actually too busy worrying about what others think of them, it’s part of the human condition. Jim has summarised the issues well

    What will your response be if you overhear your other half talking about you “lazing around”, “putting on your pipe and slippers” or “knitting cardigans”, while they continue to bring home the bacon? Did you note a tone of pity in their voice as they try to explain why you couldn’t sustain the pace of the working life any longer? Were you really so unhappy in your job that you just couldn’t take it any more? Or were you fired? Made redundant?

    to which I confess I initially though “Eh? Meh” but it’s clearly an issue for some. What I do all day as a retiree is fantastically more diverse and varied than what I did at work. It’s not that surprising – you tend to specialise at work, and specialisation trends towards knowing more and more about less and less, particularly in a globalised world.

    Now at work you are constrained to do that because you optimise your ability to earn money, albeit at the expense of making your career more brittle due to its specialisation, and this tends to get worse as you get older. But if you lift that constraint, then I’m with Heinlein’s Lazarus Long

    “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”— Robert Heinlein, Time Enough for Love

    So which of these have I done since leaving work. I’ve designed buildings, balanced accounts, taken and given orders, acted alone and cooperated, solved equations, analyzed new problems galore, build compost and measured its heat profile, programmed computers, and microcontrollers. I’ve dug trenches and laid irrigation, climbed hills and walked many more miles that I would have while working.

    Among others I’ve surveyed birds, built instruments, learned all sorts of stuff, gone for drinks with friends, explored places, got lost, found my way again. I’ve helped two groups raise more than £100k via crowdfunding. The invading and fighting and dying I’ve passed on, and diapers were never something I wanted to wrangle, but each to their own. The point is that there is a richness to experience as an early retiree relative to the working me for the simple reason that I have far more freedom of action, which goes along with the independence part of financial independence. For sure, you could just as well use the time to stare at the wall, watch endless runs of daytime TV or potter in the allotment. There’s nothing wrong in that if it’s the sort of thing that lights your fire. Independence is the independence to, perhaps more than the independence from after a while.

    I was going to try and break it down more but fortunately Root of Good has done the job perfectly with the Early Retiree’s Weekly Schedule, and lives a more structured life so it makes more sense 1

    Root of Good's early retirement schedule

    Root of Good’s early retirement schedule

    I don’t have the structure RoG has with the school run, nor the penchant for games and Netflix but it shows the freedom they have, and particularly the great comparison with the ghastly strictures of the work schedule later in their post. As they say, that schedule has way too much red, and was only 9 to 5 and didn’t include commuting.

    As a retiree there is also the greater flexibility – a couple of days ago I was able to fit in a meetup with a friend from Denmark over on a short work visit to Felixstowe where he had a space because of a delay to his meeting. Once again, freedom to take up opportunities.

    There is a joy in being a generalist again, to keep learning for the hell of it and the curiosity, indeed some of the exploration of a child but with the power of an adult mind rather than the simplistic incomprehension of a child. Of course learning some things are harder – it would have been easier for me to have learned Morse code as a teenager, or foreign languages as a child, and new motor skills in general. But nearly everything else is easier after a lifetime of learning how to learn, and resources to learn are far easier and cheaper now.

    There’s no shortage of interest in the world – and it’s more interesting because of its variety, when you have the independence of choice. You don’t always have to do what you’re best at – I am going out this afternoon to shoot video for someone. I’m no Spielberg, but I have learned some of the rudiments of storytelling over the years, so I can do this to help someone tell their story, and get other people on board with their project. I get to do something different for a while, it helps the common weal a little bit and I get a little bit better at storytelling. It isn’t my greatest area of expertise, but then you don’t stop growing until they shovel the dirt in. Specialisation is for insects, and for work.

    Notes:

    1. I am tracking this in Outlook to see what it looks like for me, but it’s much more bitty and broken up.
    23 May 2016, 10:57am
    personal finance:
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  • Brexit or not – opportunities and hazards?

    In about a month’s time the UK will have a referendum on leaving the EU. I’m not going to spend much time on the merits or not, because the result will be whatever it is. I will observe, however, that you get to know something about your destination if you look at your fellow passengers on the bus. And the passengers on bus Brexit seems to be folk I don’t want to ride with – people who haven’t realised that the sun set on the British Empire a very long time ago and a few random chancers and headbangers from the Tory party. The one thing I do hope and pray for is once the result is known, whatever it may be, we don’t get to do this again for another 40 years 1. I suspect by then it will be a moot point for different reasons.

    The quality of discourse about which way to vote is terrible, largely because so much is inherently unknowable. Osborne stands up and says house prices may fall by 18% if Leave wins. To which I ask myself exactly WTF this is regarded as a bad thing in the first place? Is it really so terrible that some of our young people might actually get to be able to buy a house and some borrow-to-letters get to know the deep joys of negative equity, and secondly, what is Osborne’s confidence interval on this stat? How certain is he of the assumptions behind this ridiculously precise-to-two-figures assertion – the range is probably between -50% and + 25% and he may as well say God knows. The same charge can be levelled against the other side – deciding to leave is a complex and chaotic process that depends on many variables that are inherently unknowable, open to fate and the whims of other people and countries. I’m not clever enough to have an informed opinion, and that probably goes for most 😉 So this is not about the merits of either course of action, and headbangers of either side aren’t welcome in the comments.

    Financial hazards and opportunities

    The choice is between the status quo and something different, and it’s probably fair to say that financial markets in the short term don’t really like ‘something different’ in general. That’s not specifically to decry the putative upsides the Leave camp are making – if they are right these upsides will show up over the five, ten, twenty year timescales. Certainly if one is convinced by the Leave economic case the course of action is to buy UK equities into the post-June whirlwind and sit tight for a few years – a mix of VUKE and some UK small-cap index fund would cover most bases.

    I’m not personally that convinced. There is also the slow run on the pound which is already 25% down from the financial crisis, as a chart of IMF special drawing rights (a basket of foreign currencies to try and average out individual country forex swings) per UK pound shows

    1605-gbpxdr

    Which has no doubt made my ISA look better than perhaps it really is because there is now a fair amount of foreign stuff in it – indeed it is making my Charles Stanley ISA, which is purely a index fund of Dev world ex UK look better than it really is. And since that is over 50% US and I think the US is shockingly overvalued it’s not what I want to do. But sometimes in investing you have to invest in stuff you don’t believe in. The US isn’t a bad place to have a lump in if I am expecting turmoil in the UK and perhaps also Europe more widely. Obviously there’s the potential turmoil of the follically challenged trickster becoming POTUS in November 2, but let’s tackle the nearest fire first, eh. Oh and let’s not forget the Greek crisis and other tribulations. One of these days that damn Euro is going to go titsup…

    Now a run on the pound could be countered in many ways. Buying foreign stuff, indeed buying forex or spreadbetting it. Buying gold isn’t a bad way to go, although I already have a bit too much gold from late last year. But I’m not after optimizing my long term asset allocation. I am looking for a defensive position until after the referendum.

    There are two outcomes I can see. One is that remain wins. My asset allocation is broadly where I want it to be at this stage, and in five years time the referendum will have been a hiccup in the general trend. The only opportunities in this eventuality is if the uncertainly before the referendum makes prices cheaper. I bought some VUKE a couple of times earlier this year, this holding is currently 7% up. Should the turmoil of Brexit send that below par, or close, I am tempted to buy more of that sort of thing. Although a Brexit win will probably hit those firms, they are big fish and 70% of earnings come from overseas they can probably come good over time.

    The other is of course that Leave wins, in which case gold will have been the right way to go because the pound is likely to come under severe pressure for a while. I’m still okay with the FTSE100/VUKE which I think will come good in the end. So, undecisive bastard that I am, I have chosen to do all three. I have switched the cash in my TD ISA with gold ETFs, I have brought forward my monthly purchases of the L&G Dev xUK index fund for the next three months and if FTSE100 starts to tank in the runup to the referendum I have a full year’s worth of ISA allowance to put into Charles Stanley, although I’m not going to use all of it on this. In the end I can’t protect myself against the downside, but I may as well try and lose a little less in the worst case, and if possible profit from the volatility in the best case.

    The FT has a piece on Brexit finance ramifications and a poll tracker as does the Economist. But in the end William Goldman has the edge on all the pundits  – “Nobody knows anything”. He was talking about movies, but it applies just as much to Brexit and its outcomes or not.

    Notes:

    1. in which case it’s highly unlikely to be my problem either way
    2. I don’t necessarily agree with all of the Spectator’s conclusion, but it’s a fun description and one by Americans rather than a slightly more balanced way of saying the same by us effete Europeans, which seems right in something that is essentially an American choice
    19 May 2016, 5:35pm
    housing
    by

    42 comments

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  • Archives

  • Buy to let is a rich person’s game – shock alert.

    Aw, diddums. The Torygraph is spitting bricks about the unprecedented assault on private buy to letters in the Budget. Apparently buying houses to rent out to people too poor to buy them themselves is becoming a rich person’s game. Colour me flabbergasted. You’re buying extra copies of the single most expensive thing most Brits ever buy, just because you can, so you can fleece some of your fellow countrymen for an essential good. Of course BTL is a rich person’s game. The amazing thing is that we permitted, nay subsidised, non-rich but still extremely well-off people to borrow cheap money to give poorer people the shaft for so long, and indeed it’s another rum thing that it was a Labour government that aided this stiffing in the first place and a Tory government that applied the brakes, ever so gently.

    Obviously if you’re rich enough to buy more houses outright, well, go for it. But the one thing that the British housing market doesn’t need is more cheap borrowed money chasing a limited stock of houses, so it’s about time that these leveraged ‘landlords’ got run out of town, particularly at the moment when interest rates are low.

    Now it’s been a very long time since the Ermine rented a place, but my experience of private landlords was that in general they were thieving scum that wanted all the profit for themselves and spent as little as possible on their properties. Now part of that was my own fault – I had bought into the collective mantra the pollutes the British psyche that renting is fundamentally A Bad Thing. I was Monevator’s sister, probably before she was born 😉

    “I am just throwing money away by renting.”

    I combined this with another toxic tendency, one I still struggle with at times, which is if it’s something I don’t feel a passion for, I buy cheap. And often buy twice 😉 Now with renting I avoided the buy twice, but I did buy cheap. Not because I had to – I could have afforded to pay twice as much. But I was tight. Because I am throwing money away by renting, I tried to throw as little money away on that. Not to do something else clever like save for a pension but to spend it on beer and travel and music and shit like that. I was in my 20s FFS. The downside of this of course is that I was drawn to cheapskate landlords, because I was a cheapskate. I’m sure there are good landlords. I never ran into them. I never rented houses, either – only rooms – well and got together with others to rent a house but we each occupied a room. The only decent landlord I had was the work colleague I rented a room from for six months before I stupidly threw money away on buying a house at the top of the market.

    So when the Torygraph wheels out some dude called Craig Scott-Dawkins, ten years younger than I am who  owns five buy-to-let properties in Leamington and Warwick, the Ermine heart of stone chills to his plight

    He said: “I voted Conservative because I thought they were going to take a steady approach. But they’ve knifed us in the back. These changes are making it more difficult for those of us who want to prepare for retirement. 

    Let’s bottom out what is actually happening here. Let’s take a look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, what the human animal focuses on

    1402_Maslow's_Hierarchy_of_Needs.svg

    A house sort of goes in the red bit. Since we’re not snails or tortoises, we need a roof over our heads to keep the rain off, and hairless wonders that we are walls keep the wind off us so we don’t freeze in these cold Northern climes. There’s no fundamental need to own houses, true, and in many other European countries renting is a perfectly good alternative. There is a strong argument to make that renting suits modern employment patterns better, at least until having children, but that’s a different issue. So our poor Craig isn’t rich enough to actually afford to buy the capital base of his evil empire, and he’s bitching about losing his subsidy. Well excuse me Craig, but you aren’t a landlord because guess who owns these damned houses – that’s the bank. You are a lord of jack shit, you are a bank worker making their money work for them. You are also exposing your unfortunate tenants to the risk of you getting taken out by rising interest rates on your overleveraged farrago. How do I know it’s overleveraged? Because you’re a subsidy junkie. If you really had the money you wouldn’t take the hit on the tax changes, because you were charging interest against tax, something that the poor bastards who actually want to buy a house to, y’know, actually live in the darned thing, haven’t been able to do for over 25 years.

    The trouble is that the government in the UK had made regulations about renting so bad for both landlords and renters that it’s a deadly embrace that isn’t much fun for either when it goes wrong. The renters have little security of tenure, but if they dig their heels in the landlords seem to have to jump through some odd legalistic hoops too kick ’em out. It’s something made for people with deep pockets who can play a long game, not the ‘my BTL is my pension’ brigade, who believe in housing as an asset class because they can touch it as opposed to things like shares or bonds. That’s religion, and it shouldn’t be subsidised by the taxpayer, particularly when it puts our young people at such a disadvantage compared to our old gits who have suddenly got pension lump sums to splurge from Osborne’s pension freedoms.

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