Saturday, December 30, 2017

Year 2017 Portfolio Performance and Dividend Income

With the closing of the stock market for the year, it is time to compute the required statistics to measure my performance for the year. In this piece, I will review how I have fared as well as the strategy to employ for the new year.

Similar to what I have done previously, I will go through my dividend income first. For my SGD-denominated counters, the trend in dividends received pales in comparison to 2016. This could be attributed to the following reasons: (a) profit-taking on some of my counters in the earlier half of the year, (b) poor economic conditions leading to some counters delivering lower dividends, (c) delisting of yet another income counter (Croesus Retail Trust), and (d) delays in the declaration of distributions (RHT Health Trust). In 2018, I expect dividends to drop further.


In contrast, the dividend payout from my USD-denominated counters increased. This is primarily due to capital injections into such counters. Percentage-wise, it looks like huge gains. However, I would like to point readers to the y-axis. In dollar terms, it is insignificant. I intend to build-up this portion of my portfolio slowly. Partly to get my feet wet and ease myself into the US stock market and partly to minimize the damage in case of a market correction. Whenever the US market allows, I will continue to nibble at counters in my watch list.


Purchases
In Q4 2017, I could not resist the temptation and bought quite a number of counters, albeit in small quantities. 

I purchased small quantities of Yeo Hiap Seng for their investment properties. Technically, it is not an asset play (stock price < cash + real estate + securities), but I am treating it as such. Yes, this is a new position.

I initiated a new small-ish position in SATS in October when the price fell. Using technical indicators, the counter was at its 52-week low and is on a downtrend. However, its historical PE trend indicated otherwise. Being cautious, I intend to gradually increase the size of accumulation in proportion to the extent of price depression. However, the price rebounded shortly after my purchase. Anyway, I am holding this counter for its income-generating ability.

I added to my Singtel position in November when the price fell.

I initiated a new small-ish position in HongKong Land in mid-November when the price fell. Similar to SATS, I intend to gradually increase the size of accumulation in proportion to the extent of price depression. Based on historical trends, HongKong Land usually trades at a ~50 percent discount to book value. If, however, you value it using current yield, HongKong Land still has more room for its price to drop (7% yield at its best during the GFC, see here). 

I added to my position/averaged-up in Welltower REIT just last week after monitoring its performance for the past one year (I first initiated a position in the REIT in December 2016). My position is still small. 

I initiated a new small-ish position in Thai Beverage just a few days back. I have been mulling over Thai Beverage for quite some time. "Valuation looks good, but what if the market corrects and I could get a better deal?" "Oops, I think I missed the boat." "Let's wait for that entry price again." "Doesn't seems like it will ever hit that particular price again unless there's a market crash." Similar to SATS and HongKong Land above, I intend to gradually increase the size of accumulation in proportion to the extent of price depression.

I have also added some more (physical) gold to my portfolio.

Performance
Using the XIRR function in Excel, my portfolio returns is as follow:

For my SGD-denominated portfolio:
Returns for Year 2017: 19.00%
Annualized returns since portfolio inception (March 2015): 11.60%

For my USD-denominated portfolio:
Returns for Year 2017: 20.09%
Annualized returns since portfolio inception (March 2016): 19.61%

My USD-denominated portfolio includes SGX counters that are traded in USD. Specifically, Dairy Farm, Mandarin Oriental, and HongKong Land. 

There's no typo error in the portfolio inception date. The first counter which I purchased that is traded in USD was Dairy Farm in March 2016. The very first counter which started my investment journey was Nikko AM STI ETF in March 2015.

Oh wow! The returns from my USD-denominated portfolio comes as a real surprise. I vaguely recall all of my US consumer staples stocks bleeding very badly just last month. They have rebounded quite well. The high returns probably come from my holding of Dairy Farm since March 2016 as well as my complete divestment of Mandarin Oriental in Q2 2017 after the company tried to place the Excelsior on the market (see here). 

Meanwhile, the returns for my SGD-denominated portfolio is boosted by the high-quality REITs (MIT, PLife, First REIT, FCT, CMT) as well as other yield stocks (ST Engineering, SGX, FCL) which I have collected cheaply and have been holding on tightly ever since. In Q2 2017, I have taken profit/cut loss on a number of counters, which could have contributed to the returns (see here).

Moving forward, I expect my returns to fall.

Bleeding ones
It would not be fair if I do not point out the duds in my portfolio.

When I do not include dividends, the following counters are in the red: Nera Tel, Starhill, Vicom, Singtel, Kingsmen, QAF, RMG, Yeo Hiap Seng, and Thai Beverage.

After taking into account the dividends received, the following counters are still in the red: Nera Tel, Singtel, Kingsmen, QAF, RMG, Yeo Hiap Seng, and Thai Beverage.

I am not too worried. The potential damage that some of the more-worrisome counters could do to my portfolio is contained through position sizing while I am keen to build a bigger position for some of the other bleeding counters.

Flops
So much for trying to time the market and anticipating a market crash. I exited T Rowe Price, iFAST, and Hong Leong Finance thinking that these counters would be hit the hardest in a market crash. Apparently, the market hasn't crashed yet and I look like a complete fool. In fact, I exited T Rowe Price and iFAST at a loss. As of today, T Rowe Price continues to hit higher highs.

Strangely, I am at peace with my decision to divest those counters. I guess it must be my inclination to rather protect my capital from potential losses in a market crash rather than reveling in unrealized gains. 

The only counter which I really have to kick myself is United Industrial Corporation. I chickened out and locked in my profits as I am uncertain how the market would react to asset plays during a crash. Oh well.

Along similar lines, I have also divested my STI ETF in Q2 2017. So much for market timing a market crash. -.-

If there is a market crash, I will be reinstating my POSB Invest Saver account to automate the collection of STI ETF on the cheap.

Dilemma
My investing strategy entails focusing on income from multiple sources. There should not be any sort of over-reliance on any one or few counters. As a result, I diversify/diworsify (depending on how you see it) a lot. 

What I currently have are small positions across many counters. At one time, my largest counter has a market value of $9000. On average, the market value of each of my counters stands at around $1500. Even though I am sitting on plenty of unrealized gains, it makes absolutely no sense for me to lock in profits for some of my smaller positions. I am unable to sell half of my holdings since commission charges would wipe out the returns (good % returns; poor $ returns). Conversely, selling all means killing the golden goose permanently.

Come hell or high water, I would have to be comfortable with seeing my unrealized gains evaporate in a market crash.

Net worth breakdown
Compared to my Q3 2017 update, there does not seem to be much change in my net worth breakdown. Phew! With all the buying in Q4 2017, I am quite surprised that the pie chart did not change much.


As per before, quoting my Q3 2017 update, "The pie chart depicts the breakdown in my net worth across the various asset classes in percentage (pie chart neither includes my CPF nor my emergency fund). To be conservative, I computed my precious metals allocation at spot price even though I am holding everything in physicals."

Strategy moving forward
I'll continue to build up my cash reserves. As and when the market allows, I will continue adding small positions or small amounts to my existing positions.

With plenty of consumer staples (Dairy Farm, Sheng Siong, Thai Beverage, Yeo Hiap Seng, QAF, Kimberly Clark, J.M. Smucker, Hormel Foods, General Mills) and healthcare (PLife, First REIT, RHT Health Trust, RMG, ISEC, Welltower REIT, Abbott Laboratories) stocks, a relatively high precious metals and cash levels, I hope to ride out the market crash.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, December 22, 2017

What will I do after achieving Financial Freedom (part 2)

This is a continuation of my previous post (see here). After some thinking, I think it is not wise to blab about my interests as well as the potential areas of interests that I am keen to develop. Else, I will really overdo it with the number of "parts" there are to this post.

To make it more relatable, I think it would be better to show how I could potentially fill up my schedule with various activities over a 1-week time-span. For this hypothetical scenario, let's assume that I wake up at 8am each day and head back to bed at 10pm.

Why 10pm? I am a morning person who rise early and rest early.

To make scheduling "easier", I'll divide the time into 2-hour blocks. Hence, there are 7 such blocks in each day (8am - 10am; 10am - 12pm; 12pm - 2pm; 2pm - 4pm; 4pm - 6pm; 6pm - 8pm; 8pm - 10pm). This is just to make the blog post less-complicated; I am not going to really restrict myself in this way.

Other key assumptions have to be made before I begin. I assume that I will be single all the way and have no major financial commitments.

Here is what my schedule could look like after achieving financial freedom.


Okay, definitions, and their corresponding elaborations, are up next.

Exercise: Includes "low-intensity" exercises such as brisk walking to more "moderate intensity" stuff such as swimming, badminton, etc. Technically, I am not supposed to do any exercise as per the doctor's instruction owing to my medical condition. Hence, I expect to spend most of my "exercise time" on brisk walking through the various park connectors. When I was a student, I have brisk walked across park connectors countless of times. It is therapeutic, helps me to work up a sweat, and I could gamify the sub-routes to take. Beautiful scenery too, if you know which paths to take. :)

I have contemplated on more "exotic" physical activities such as swordplay and jousting before. On second thought, it may or may not materialize anyway.....and I don't think it is good for my health.

Spinning stuff is also a decent form of exercise once you achieve some form of competency in it. As there are multiple divisions which require different skill sets, it could be both a challenging, rewarding, and definitely time-consuming hobby to pursue.

Since we are on the subject of skilltoys such as yoyos here, it reminds me that I have other skilltoys such as glowsticks (see here for a visual demonstration), astrojax, and devil sticks collecting dust somewhere at home. The thing is that some motions cut across skilltoys and practising one of them could very well have a synergistic effect on my growth in the others.

Read: I am being very broad here and am playing around with semantics. This could include just plain reading of books, both fiction and non-fiction. It also includes Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) such as Coursera, EdX, and other similar online education providers. It also includes any formal or professional education that I may take up just for interest's sake or to try to get an insider's view of another field just to broaden my horizons (in a way I'm doing the latter now....).

With less constraints, I foresee myself spending more time in the library devouring books. The end goal (if it is even appropriate to call it a goal!) is to develop myself to become a well-rounded individual with exposure to various schools of thought.

Gaming: This includes both computer games and console games. As it is, I have a "backlog" of computer games to play. If arcades still exist in the future, I would occasionally visit them for their music/rhythm games. This ties in with the above point on exercise as well. Once you reach some form of competency in music/rhythm games, they could qualify as exercise.

Besides the more traditional conceptions of "gaming" above, I used to engage in tabletop wargaming. What you do is you purchase miniatures, assemble them, and hand-paint them. Besides admiring your accomplished work, you also take these miniatures to the field. You deploy them on a table with various terrain against other players and fight it out. Christopher Ng of Growing your tree of prosperity does this too. Something like the below picture.....


Back in Upper Primary/Lower Secondary, I used to host my own free-form text-based roleplaying website. You create characters and stories purely with words and get others to do the same, weaving their characters and yours together in a journey of epic proportions. I probably will attempt to revive my website after I attained financial freedom.

Reflection: Some may get this while others may not. I need time alone to reflect. It could be on anything. It could also be just soaking in the moment, being present in the here and now. 

I need to reflect on the stuff I learn/experience, to internalize it and make it personal. To progress from a shallow understanding to a less-shallow understanding. I need to have ample room to bounce ideas in my head, to think absurd thoughts. A cognitive playground for me to play in, so to speak.

I need to be a detached observer, like a scientist who curiously observes his or her target specimen.

Visiting museums and reflecting on the exhibits.

I could do this by staring at the ceiling (like what SMOL would do), observe how my pets (specifically, crayfishes and shrimps) behave (like what AK and Cory would do), or observe fellow human beings in their natural habitat. You can learn a lot through observation and it makes you think.

Job: As I have shared in my previous post, I like what I am doing. If there are interesting, meaningful, and challenging problems to solve at work, and since I get paid for doing it, why not continue working? One issue that I observe with this mentality of mine is that my health could suffer as a result.

Ideally, a scaled-down version of work would provide me with a good mix of "job" and "me-time." But you never know. Such arrangements may not materialize.

Hence, I have also thought of doing part-time jobs to keep myself mentally and socially alert. Preferably holding a part-time job in the area of my spiritual community. Firstly, to be part of a spiritual community and second, using the spiritual community's connection to the wider society as a platform to reach out to disadvantaged people in society. Of course, I am already "somewhat" doing this as a social science researcher since my work deals with the disadvantaged people in society. 

Social: Meeting with friends and family. Spending time together and creating memories. Nothing much to elaborate on for this.

Spiritual: This ties in with what I have briefly mentioned in the "Job" section. To be a mere participant/learner in a spiritual community and the possibility of working as a part-time staff in an organization aligned to my spiritual community. I get "spiritual nourishment" and I get some form of interaction with others who subscribe to the "same" spirituality.

Most likely, I will be topping up credits and upgrading my postgraduate cert to a complete postgraduate qualification to go into academic religion research in a niche area which I am interested in.

Of course must keep it hush hush. Last thing I want is a leadership position and meeting the expectations of others. @_@

Personal Projects: PP stands for Personal Projects. I have mentioned some of them in my previous post. To reiterate, I want to learn how to grow my own food and automate the process of growing them through the use of Arduinos and the like. I want to improve on my programming skills. I want to improve on my miniature painting skill and branch out to other areas of painting. I want to re-pickup a certain musical instrument and learn totally new ones. I want to re-pick up a certain language and learn totally new ones. I want to sharpen my investing skills. I want to learn gardening and help out as a volunteer at gardens. I want to keep more/different marine pets. I want to develop my own game. I want to learn how to design my own character sprites to be used in the games I create. Bla bla bla, yada yada yada.

Could I do all these things while I am still working? Nope. I have to be selective.

Will I be satisfied with merely dabbling in each of these activities? Sure, why not? I could spend my non-working hours on some of them. 

Are you reeeaaaaallllyyy sure with that? If have, have. If don't have, don't have. I am contented as it is. :)

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

What will I do after achieving Financial Freedom (part 1)

This post is a response to La Papillion's most recent post (see here). Now I am starting to think twice whether is it a bad idea to respond to his post. I have plenty of thoughts concerning this topic and I think it would be quite difficult to form it into a coherent whole.

I think the most important thing is to know why you want what you want. Not many people are able to sufficiently distill their raison d'être and clearly articulate it to others. Personally, I struggle with expressing my worldview to others. It always end up not coming out the way I want it to sound.

People generally encounter obstacles in the first phase. They live their life without careful reflection, unconscious to the fact that there is another realm of existence that they have not considered before. The closest illustration that I can whip up on the spot now is to invoke Edwin A. Abbott's novel Flatland. In Flatland, there are various creatures that live on different dimensions. One fine day, Sphere, a 3-dimensional creature, visited the 2-dimensional world. A Square, a 2-dimensional creature, failed to grasp the realities of Sphere and the 3-dimensional world in which Sphere belonged to. When A Square had the chance to visit Pointland, the 1-dimensional world, he experienced the same frustration of trying to communicate his reality to another being who is unable to shift its reference point to that of another. (Actually, Plato's Allegory of the Cave could also be used here).

Why does this happen? A fundamental shift in cognition is jarring. It forces the individual to confront the most basic of questions: What is the meaning of life, what am I here for, and what do I want out of it/how do I lead my life. Fortunately, many do not need to ask themselves these questions. Life is somewhat structured in a manner that they could engage in various activities without thinking through why they do what they do. Often, it is society and the people around us that shape us to live this way. This is not wrong. In life, we are inundated with all sorts of pressing deadlines, urgent concerns, and just plain noise that distract us from contemplative introspection. We need to sit down and craft out a coherent worldview that accommodates the potential scenarios that life could throw at us, and our prioritization of what do we want to make out of life. Not doing so is like being a driftwood out at sea, bobbing wherever the waves take you.

Being a driftwood is dangerous. From what I have observed, there are some who mistake financial freedom as the be-all and end-all. Financial freedom is not a panacea. It does not generate meaning. Meaning has to be self-generated, else the person could just be an empty husk post-financial freedom. A hollow being that seeks substitutes after substitutes to patch what they deemed to be lacking in their lives. SMOL and Wall Street Playboys have emphasized this fact multiple times in their writings. A downward spiral could occur for those unprepared to manage this. Wall Street Playboys highlighted some vices that people who have "made it" gravitate to. In SMOL's comment to STE, he highlighted male seniors who go around as auditors of mystical garden assets.

I shall try to attempt to articulate what I want out of life; how I can convert what I enjoy doing now to what I could potentially do when I am financially free. Of course this is susceptible to change. Whenever we reach some sort of milestone, we readily redefine who we are as a person and look for avenues in which we could further develop as a person. This is growth.

Family and Friends
I am highly introverted, hence low amounts of social stimulation would suffice for me. I aim for quality, not quantity. At this present moment, I am blessed enough to recognize that I have abundance in this area.

In terms of family, I am very close to my mum. With or without financial freedom, I am spending quite a lot of time with her. To some extent, this will mitigate any deathbed regrets of "what if", "if only", etc.

I have a few good friends who watch my back. We mutually support one another. They are not perfect, and neither am I.

When I studied a module on Developmental Psychology in my undergraduate days, the Socioemotional Selectivity Theory really gelled with me. As people age, they gravitate towards people in their inner circle. They know who matter most to them and prioritize these individuals over everybody else.

Do I know who I value the most? Do I know who belongs to my inner circle? As my inner circle, do I accord to them a higher priority than frenemies, fair-weather friends, and acquaintances?

Would how I treat my inner circle significantly differ from pre-financial freedom to post-financial freedom? Generally, it is okay, but it could be better.

To throw a spanner in the works, what if all my family and friends died in a catastrophe? Theoretically, my spiritual core will mitigate this to some extent. In fact, I might challenge myself and use the amount of time taken to bounce back from the adverse event as an indicator of my spirituality. Second, to borrow concepts from personal finance/investing, I should practise some sort of socioemotional diversification and socioemotional energy allocation. I am open to the possibility of developing greater friendships with others who are currently not part of my inner circle but have the potential to be part of my inner circle and have reached out to them (I think this is one example of INTJ personality type trying to "optimize friendship.")

Interests, hobbies, and the like
Ho, ho, ho. I think I can write a lot here. But for the sake of my reader's sanity, I shall attempt to keep it brief. Unlike LP, I classify spirituality with meaningful work together, as they intertwine together in my life. As meaningful work is something that I am genuinely interested in to do, I classify it under the overarching category of interests and hobbies.

In one of my recent post, I shared that I enjoy my vocation as a noob-level researcher. Hence, work, to me, is something that I find interesting and actively engage in. Well, that is not 100% true. There will be politics at work, workplace stressors, and certain pointless stuff that I need to do because that is "how work is structured" (As a Social Science Researcher, why should I waste time commuting to work, access journal databases that could also be accessed at home, write stuff, and waste even more time to commute back home? A better alternative is to permanently work from home, unless there's a need to head back to the office) that mildly annoys me from time to time.

After achieving financial freedom, I would still prefer to work. I would like to keep myself cognitively active, soak up ideas from brighter minds (there's plenty, especially in research), bounce off random ideas I have with these individuals (maybe I should do a separate post on the random research topics I have in mind?), and experience a sense of achievement from doing well in what I am interested in.

My research interest is in <censored> psychology (censored because with all the information in this post, it will reveal my true identity). I have moderate interest in the Cognitive Neuroscience branch of Psychology and Quantitative Psychology. I have taken a module on the former in my undergraduate life and I enjoyed it. As for the latter, I am occasionally reading up on it in my spare time to challenge and entertain myself.

Outside of social science research, another vocational path which I am interested in is data science. For this reason, I have taken up R programming. Regular readers would know that I have written multiple R scripts on my older blog posts to help me with some routine investing tasks  (e.g. stock correlation computations, dividend yield trend calculation). Depending on how you see it ("fun" or "boliao"), I have done some sentiment analysis on my WhatsApp chat with financial blogger friend, Rolf.

If I were retired, I could also consider working on some side programming projects that I am interested in but lack the time and expertise to do so. For example, developing an actual investment app that I can use. Quite shiok what! I will know what metrics I want and how I exactly calculate those metrics. In the process of developing the app, I would learn plenty of nifty stuff from back-end databases to front-end user interfaces, etc. Learning more about text mining would be good too. That way, I can parse selected data from financial reports automatically. For fun's sake, I have also thought of some sort of "wisdom harvester" to summarize the wisdom of Uncle CW, Uncle Temperament, and SMOL from their respective blogs. :D (have yet to think of the actual mechanism though; I only possess a rudimentary grasp of text mining).

If my readers have noticed, the specialist diplomas I have taken do not relate at all to my work. I signed up for them out of interest. I could argue that it links back to my work, but such an argument is, at best, tenuous.

In my second specialist diploma, I played around with microcontrollers such as Arduino. I have also thought of growing my own food at home. It's not to "save money" or what not. It is just something that I want to try. Then one day, it struck me that I could combine electrical/electronic engineering (Arduino) with growing my own food at home. Automating the watering of crops, temperature measurement, soil quality measurement, etc. Learning about these two fields and integrating them together could occupy a huge chunk of my time already.

In my current specialist diploma, I learned how to better optimize the presentation of myself online. I'm a hobbyist blogger, but if I ever want to commercialize my brand, I could do so (Nah!). Most entertaining is to understand why certain optimizations work and their underlying mechanics. A whole new world, really.

Oh! Right, I almost forgot about personal finance/investing. So far, I am enjoying all the readings. My analyses are still pretty superficial and it could be developed further. Let's just say that I screw up my investing journey totally. Like, I get a 0.01% annualized return over the next 30 years. Would I engage in counterfactual thinking where I convince myself that I should have spent my time on more productive outlets? Not quite. I still managed to learn valuable skills such as how business owners think by reading between the lines, hone my bullshit-detector, etc.

As much as I try, I still fail to summarize what I want to do post-financial freedom in one blog post. Stay tuned for part 2 (most likely there might be a part 3, 4, 5, etc). Do note that I have yet to get started on other non-bookish hobbies yet.

tldr: Unintelligent Nerd has plenty of interests he could pursue if he has achieved financial freedom. He can do a successful job of Ownself Entertain Ownself. He will list some more interests in his next few postings.

Monday, December 4, 2017

A Quick Analysis of Société Bic

A couple of months back, I was looking through the consumer staples sector and I came across Société Bic that is listed on the Euronext Paris (EPA). For those unaware, EPA is the French stock exchange.


Société Bic is a company that sells stationery, lighters, and razors. I personally have come across the ballpoint pens that the company sells. I don't think I have come across the other two product categories which they carry. What I liked is that the company is not dependent on any one category of product; their revenue sources are quite diversified (see screenshot below) and demand for their products are generally stable.



Fortunately for non-French speaking individuals like me, their investor relations page and other documents are in English.

According to their 2016 annual report, the reported revenue and net income is €2025M and €249M, respectively. Compared to their 2015 financial performance (revenue: 2242; net income: 325), this is a drop of ~10 and ~23 percent, respectively.

Is this concerning? At a superficial level (because I have yet to dig deeper into this company!), it does not appear to be the case. From my screen capture below, revenue and net income seems to hover around the same range.


With the exception of 2015, earnings per share remains within the 5 euros range. Dividend-wise, the company increased the amount of dividends distributed in 2016 even though EPS declined in 2016 (see screenshot below). Correspondingly, the payout ratio increased.


I've taken a quick look at the trend in numbers of shares outstanding for financial years 2014 to 2016. The change is minimal.

I like their balance sheet as the company has no debt.

Cash flow from operations is healthy. Their main business of selling stationery, lighters, and razors generate cash flow for them. After taking into account capital expenditures, the company has shown positive free cash flow over the years.

According to Morningstar's website, the PE trend is starting to become more attractive.


As I am yield-focused, Morningstar shows that Société Bic is currently trading at 3.6% yield. Using my R script (see here), the chart shows that Société Bic could yield up to ~5.75% (based on what happened during the Great Financial Crisis).


Not vested as my inclination towards small positions, coupled with custodian fees, transaction charges, and taxes would put me in the red (even after considering dividends received). -.-"

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Free course for Temasek Poly Alumni

Just a quick post. Don't say Unintelligent Nerd bojio when there's free lobangs.

Apparently, Temasek Poly Alumni are entitled to redeem one free SkillsFuture Series course (see here for details). The course has to commence within the period of January to December 2018.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Working for Free/Working for Entertainment

It has been quite some time since I've last blogged. My specialist diploma programme is now underway and I'm taking a breather now that I have completed most of my project work. In the course of my studies, I came to re-confront my naivety because of something my lecturer shared with the class.

I have not really shared this in detail in my blog before. Why am I investing? Is it a means to escape the rat race?

Nope.

I have always been enamoured with the life of a researcher. What joyous fun it is to spend my days theorizing, thinking up of experiments, and observing whether my hypotheses are able to stand the test of scrutiny. It is fun to read journal articles and learn how better minds think. The nuance in their thinking. The way they communicate their expertise. Their mastery over one or more fields and their octopus-like capability to draw insights from one domain to enrich their knowledge in another domain.

Well, that's how it is.

Until I realized in my undergraduate life that there are folks who are able to pursue what I want to pursue with absolute ease. These are your rich kids......and there's quite a handful of them in my field. As is often the case, their parents are public figures, business owners, or high-ranking executives.

After some time, the green-eye monster reared within me. I rationalized that because of their wealth and connections, they are easily able to go much more further than me. I rationalized that they are able to get job experience faster because of pa and ma's help. What I did actually have evidence of was that these individuals work for free in some cases. Money is of no concern to them. For some of these less-than-remarkable rich kids, a "job" is just a plaything to them. For the other group of highly-motivated, high-achieving heirs of elite parents, a "job" is an entertaining avenue for them to collect achievements and beef up their resume to the stars.

I could not recall how I stumbled onto investing. All I thought of back then was that income investing could even the odds in my favour. It seems viable. An alternative income stream, so to speak, to prop myself up if I return back to school as a full-time student, or in the worst case scenario, to work for free doing the things I liked best if enough high-achieving rich kids flood my industry and "spoil market" and work for free.

What really was drilled into my head is that I am too naive. Heirs don't flock to the social sciences only. They do open businesses that bleed cash flow. Wait! What? Well, they are passion projects with income support from their "sponsors."

Financial engineering. Much.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Random thoughts on various subjects

It has been quite some time since I've last blogged. My life has been a flurry of activities since my third specialist diploma programme commenced around two weeks back. So far, lessons are interesting and challenging. But this time round, there is more internal turmoil within me. Intrinsic motivation is somehow quite diminished and it takes considerable effort to muster my energy level. I guess I must be quite burnt out.

I have been accumulating blog topics in my mind. As I am not able to expand on each individual idea to a full-length blog post, I will be using this blog post as a cathartic tool, so don't mind the hodgepodge-ness of the topics.

1). I have always thought that investing in a private company (be it equity or debt) is quite cool. Before learning about investing, I wonder how people are able to source out such lobangs and participate in them. These opportunities seem to be more arcane and alluring, more so than their publicly-listed counterparts. Is it alluring because such opportunities are rare for ordinary folks like me? I guess so.

You could create a brokerage account and plonk in some money on publicly-listed entities. However, you can't do that for private companies. You need to know the right individuals before doing so.

A couple of weeks back, I was given this opportunity to invest in a private company's debt. Nope, I did not invest.

Looking back, I am quite surprised at my nonchalance. I would have expected myself to be quite eager for such opportunities. Former yield-pig me would surely have been tempted by the 18% per annum yield. Now? I know such yield is fraught with potential dangers. Further, it will eat up 40% of my war chest. Plus, I do not know much of the industry.

2). Opportunities come to those who are prepared. My team at work has expanded significantly. One of my new colleagues shared that a friend from another research cluster is looking for a freelance IT guy. As I am the "residential IT guy" (am I? data analyst/researcher = IT guy?), I was offered this opportunity. Well, the remuneration is worth salivating (1.5 years my salary), but I know I am not up for the task.

My existing colleagues were quick to hop on the bandwagon once they heard about the remuneration package. They thought I was up for the task and wanted to freeload on my effort. Visibly disappointed after learning the truth, they commented that the IT industry is highly lucrative and is something worth learning. Oh really?

I started learning R programming approximately 3 months before starting to learn about investing. That's like exactly 3 years of hard-knocks, frustrations, and banging my head against the metaphorical wall. And I barely scratch the most superficial surface of statistical programming.

Well, some people think they can suka suka learn IT and earn millions. Not easy bro/sis.

3). Compared to other industries, I find that the social science sector is quite forgiving and familial. Yes, there are still subterfuge and covert operations, but, generally, the environment is quite benign. I have seen my fair share of workplace shenanigans from fellow millennials. In other sectors, these shenanigans would get them either blacklisted or fired.

Hence, it came as a surprise that an individual from my previous company was terminated from her job. Her misdeed? She and another colleague was caught sleeping at their desks during lunch hour by the guy who sits at the top of the organization chart.

Meanwhile........other millennials such as my existing colleagues remain utterly in the dark as to what could potentially happen with just a single misstep at work........

4). The silver lining is that said lady who was terminated was saved by my boss. There was an opening in my current organization and my boss roped her into our project and assigned her under me.

I do not know what to make of this. In a way, this is also an indication that I am progressing in my career, right? An added responsibility (first time for me, in fact) to learn how to manage people that is under me.

Then and again, aiyo, I'd rather much do my own work and mind my own business. But I'll rise up to the challenge and take it in my stride.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Makin' money thru spinnin' things

I think this will be a more "fun" post than usual?

Every once in a while, I will come across posts from other financial bloggers emphasizing the importance of developing a side hustle to diversify one's income streams. Out of curiosity, I have searched the net for viable side hustles. The answers are almost always the same. Be a writer. Be a celebrity blogger and earn through page views. Create an e-business. Create apps. Man! This is hard! I can suka suka pull off any of the above with ease meh? 

Then I looked around me and observe other more non-conventional methods to earn money. Normally, they are hobbyists who, in the process of enjoying their hobbies, hone their expertise in their craft to a sufficiently high level. I have a friend who started her own online bakery business after taking her baking skills to the next level. I have another friend who started her own online florist business after realizing she has the passion and gift in that particular area. And then there's photographers who are able to immortalize beautiful memories on film.

I have enough on my plate already, but there's no harm thinking what I could potentially do right? A half-baked idea which I had was to consider starting a statistics tutoring/consulting business. I like that idea, but seriously, is there a non-bookish hobby that I am sufficiently skilled in and could monetize if I so wanted to?

Then, one day, it hit me! Donkey years back in secondary school/poly, a significant part of my life revolved around yoyoing. Yes, that roundish thing that is connected to your finger by a string. I've worked as a yoyo performer before and have been invited to perform for kids on several occasions. 

Is it all just up-down, up-down, and loop the loops? Nah. Enjoy the following 5 yoyo videos (roughly 3 mins each) featuring the 5 yoyo divisions:

1A division: Single yoyo, string tricks
2A division: Two yoyos, looping tricks
3A division: Two yoyos, string tricks
4A division: Offstring (yoyo not attached to string. Yes, yoyo could fly off)
5A division: Freehand (yoyo attached to string, but string not attached to finger but to a counterweight such as a dice. Yes, yoyo, string, and dice could fly off)

1A
Featuring Hiroyuki Suzuki, 1A division World Yoyo Champion for 2012. He has won 1st in 1A multiple times, but I think this is one of his best performance. Some people call him the world's fastest player. And look at his horizontal tricks. Mind-blowing!



2A
Featuring Shu Takada, 2A division World Yoyo Champion for 2012. I just love his infectious enthusiasm for yoyoing. Great stage presence too!



3A
Featuring Hajime Miura, 3A division World Yoyo Champion for 2016. During my time (LOL! I sound so old), 3A was still an underdeveloped field. Well, things have changed after almost a decade.



4A
Featuring Rei Iwakura, 4A division World Yoyo Champion for 2016. Multiple times world champion for 4A. I also love his great stage presence and confidence.



5A
Featuring Takeshi Matsuura, 5A division World Yoyo Champion for 2012. One of the younger world champions.




Hope you all enjoy the videos!

Now, for some random yoyo trivia:

1). For those observant enough (hardly anyone though!), they may notice that Unintelligent Nerd has a scar on his face that came as a result of a yoyo smashing into his face. It happened while he was performing and there was blood all over the place. He went to A&E to had it done up.

2). Not enough evidence that yoyos are dangerous? Unintelligent Nerd's metal yoyos have cracked the floor tiles at home and have smashed the ceiling lights before.

3). It's not the yoyo; it's the player. Unintelligent Nerd has observed kids who got their parents to buy them a $100+ yoyo and couldn't do anything with it. And then sell it off to others for 5 bucks. -_-

4). A $100+ yoyo? Seriously?!?!?! So ex for a toy! Errrr, by the way, there are $1000 yoyos too. It's marketed as aircraft grade titanium, precision-weighted, gold-plated, etc.....etc....

5). I think I qualify as a collector also? I think I have more than 50 yoyos lying somewhere around the house. My most expensive yoyo cost like $150? 24K gold-plated some more. Shit! Time to get shot by other frugal financial bloggers liao. Toh long! Give chance, I recant my non-frugally ways liao! It's been years already!

6). Meanwhile, those national masters/national grand masters of yoyoing use their old-school wooden yoyos. No metal to increase yoyo weight to spin longer. No ceramic ball bearing to reduce friction. No precision-engineered yoyo halves to increase stability, etc. Just think of them as the Uncle CW of yoyoing (e.g. over 50 years of yoyoing experience and contribution to the yoyo community). Just give the world champions in the yoyo videos above a noob old-school wooden yoyo and let's see who is the real McCoy. (Okay lah, to be fair, they will still do exceptionally well with a noob old-school wooden yoyo).

Hope you all enjoy this post!

(Okay, time to wear my anti-flame suit with regards to point 5 above >.<).

Sunday, October 1, 2017

PhD Prostitutes

A couple of days back, I saw the following article being circulated on my social media feed: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/sep/28/adjunct-professors-homeless-sex-work-academia-poverty

This is not new to me. I have read articles on the increasing amount of student debt in the United States. Students leverage up to pursue a degree in order to live the American Dream. Once they have gotten their coveted degrees, they are faced with the sickening realization that this is not enough. Masters! PhDs! You need MOAR to edge out against your competition.

But are post-graduate qualifications really worth it? It depends on your major. In certain spheres on the internet, humanities and social science majors receive a lot of flak for their choices. They pay hefty tuition fees, acquire critical thinking skills (which is debatable), and receive job offers that do not commensurate with the tuition fees they paid. Instead of receiving prestigious job offers in Academia, they are left destitute as interest upon interest of debts pile on.

Articles, such as the above, highlights the cracks of the humanities and social sciences fields. They provide people with a glimpse of the dark underbelly of said fields. I remember trying to find the contact of a US researcher in my previous job. What I got when I threw in the researcher's name into Google were not academic publications. Instead, it was an interview where she shared that her temporary contract jobs in Academia paid her the same amount as her previous job as a grocery store helper. Minimum wage! Now with the added burden of paying off her student debts!

Even in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields, there is this difficulty to secure jobs for PhD holders. There is a thread in the BIGS World Facebook Group where Azrael of The Tale of Azrael commented the following:


So what am I to do, seeing that I am certain that research is my calling? Bide my time and build my funds. Think, and think again of the ramifications of each decision. Build up my dividend stream in a deliberate manner. And do.not.overcommit.my.funds.to.education (Very Important!).

(Eh? First time Unintelligent Nerd recommend against personal development/professional upgrading? Must be he "sot sot" liao!)

Friday, September 29, 2017

Q3 2017 Portfolio Update

I didn't bother to find the exact date, but I should be 2.5 years old in the market as at September 2017. When I first started out in investing, I read voraciously (both books and blogs) and checked the prices of stocks in my watch list fastidiously. Now? I really couldn't be bothered with the latter.

I am predominantly an income investor who invest for the long term. Once I identified my target, I allocate a sum of money that I am comfortable with to it. The amount I allocate varies, depending on the counter's riskiness and the extent of opacity I have on that particular counter. Therefore, the counters which I have more knowledge and conviction in are given a higher weight in my portfolio than counters which I am less knowledgeable in. Once done, I check up on the individual counters from time to time.

Sometimes, I think I am pushing my luck with my sloven ways in portfolio management. Whenever there are new corporate actions, I observe bloggers, investment sites, and forums bustling with activity. Yours truly is the clueless clown who is last in line to get and react to any new information. There have been multiple instances when I logged in to my bank account and realized that there are dividends that I do not know of that have come in! How unbecoming of me!

What's with my ramblings? My Q3 2017 dividends were lesser than my Q3 2016 dividends. At first, I don't even know why that is the case until it dawned on me that I have been trimming down my portfolio in Q2 2017 (see here). Clueless? Much.


Moving forward, I expect dividend income to drop further. I am waiting for the payout from Croesus Retail Trust in end October. Once CRT is delisted, it will deal yet another blow to my portfolio's income generation.


Next, we have my USD-denominated counters. Do note that the y-axis for the above chart is different from the first chart. I am still getting nowhere in terms of dividend income from my USD-denominated portfolio. Well, if I really wanna force some sort of silver lining to focus on, I could say that: Hey! I got some kopi money in Q3 2017 instead of a big fat zero in Q3 2016.

Portfolio Actions in Q3 2017
I am still cautious and am still holding tightly to my cash. However, my itchy fingers got the better of me, so I nibbled on Singtel, Raffles Medical Group, and General Mills.

Singtel to increase my non-REIT income and reduce my exposure to the REIT sector. I was already vested in Singtel previously.

Raffles Medical Group to average down. When I first initiated a position in RMG, it was a nibble as well. Back then, the price has corrected slightly, but the earnings multiple was still fairly lofty. I kinda knew it would fall further but my itchy fingers got the better of me, so I initiated a super small position to mitigate the risk of the potential fall.

It is a psychological thing, really. It is something that I must learn to overcome myself. I either learn to: (1) accept and internalize the fear-of-missing-out feeling, wait for value to emerge and enter at a safer level, or (2) nibble a new position and nibble down together with the down trend.

New position in General Mills. Consumer staples company facing some headwinds. Nuff said.

The Bleeding ones
Ho ho ho! The consumer staples sector is bleeding.

In my portfolio, J.M. Smucker and Hormel Foods are bleeding. Will be looking forward to nibble average down if the price permits.

Kimberly Clark is going to bleed soon (with reference to my entry price), so it's back on my watch list. Same goes for Welltower REIT.

At the SGD-portfolio side, the bleeding ones are the usual culprits (QAF, Raffles Medical Group), so I am not too concerned. There's a new member to the list though (Kingsmen Creatives).

Net worth breakdown
I think it would also be helpful if I include a section on my net worth breakdown. It's more for identifying how prepared I am for a market crash (available cash for investment against what I currently have in equities).


The pie chart depicts the breakdown in my net worth across the various asset classes in percentage (pie chart neither includes my CPF nor my emergency fund). To be conservative, I computed my precious metals allocation at spot price even though I am holding everything in physicals. 

Moving forward, and after deducting allocations to our emergency fund, I will be trying to increase the proportion of cash held in the overall pie chart of my net worth. That's provided if gold/silver prices doesn't pull back and tempt me and I don't suffer from "itchy finger" and nibble on equities further.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Physicians Realty Trust: How are the Acquisitions funded?

Now that Physicians Realty Trust is on a downtrend, it is time to revisit a particular aspect of the counter.



Physicians Realty Trust is a medical office REIT listed on the NYSE. It went public in 2013 and, since then, have been embarking on an acquisition spree. I first came to know of the counter when I looked through the holdings of some other US financial bloggers and it piqued my interest. I have left it at the back of my mind as it wasn't the right time to invest in the counter back then. Months later, the share price has fallen off quite a bit.

My main concern is how are the acquisitions funded. Is it by debt, equity, or both? If equity, does that mean I have to prepare myself to subscribe to rights on a frequent basis, in order to prevent dilution of my holdings?

At IPO (year 2013), gross real estate investments were $124 mil. At 31 December 2014, the properties were valued at $819 mil. At 31 December 2015, the number was $1.6 bil. At 31 December 2016, the number was at $2.9 bil. From this trend, it could be inferred that Physicians Realty Trust has been aggressively acquiring medical office properties. This trend is still continuing. The REIT highlighted that it is on track to achieve its 2017 acquisition guidance to bring in $1.2 to $1.4 bil worth of assets (see here).

See below for Physicians Realty Trust's Balance sheet. The columns, from left to right, are for year 2016, 2015, 2014, and 2013, respectively.


Shareholder' equity has been growing over time. It grew from 204 mil in 2013 to 1.7 bil in 2016. This is corroborated by the increase in the weighted average number of shares outstanding (see below). The columns, from left to right, are for year 2016, 2015, and 2014, respectively.


I would like to highlight the quadrupling of shares outstanding along with the introduction of Operating Partnership units and other dilutive securities in year 2015. As a REIT investor, I would not like to see this ballooning.

What about dividend growth? With all the acquisitions, the top line has definitely grown. What about the investors' pocket?


Sorry to disappoint. It has been flat from 2014 to 2016. In 2017, the distribution for the latest quarter rose from 0.2250 to 0.2300 QoQ. Not much, but it is improving.

What am I going to do? Nothing.

Will I eventually buy it when its price drops further? Maybe, as some sort of bond proxy when there's an even greater margin of safety.

Not vested in Physicians Realty Trust

Friday, September 22, 2017

Emergency Fund and other Miscellaneous Updates

Since writing this post, I have been faithfully allocating a portion of my salary to our emergency fund. For the months of August and September, I contributed a total of $3000 to the emergency fund, bringing the total sum up to around $14000. Assuming a monthly contribution of $1500, our emergency fund will hit the target sum of $20000 in January 2018.

Well, I could accelerate the process though. I could consider bumping up the monthly contribution amount. But is this worth it? It will make me cash-strapped and miserable for the next few months, just to hit the target, at most, a month earlier?

Then there's also that small sum of money that will come in from the delisting of Croesus Retail Trust. Should it go into our emergency fund or to my war chest? As it stands, I'm going to allocate it equally between our emergency fund and my war chest.

The more I think, the more I question my own judgment. Is $20000 really sufficient to tie my mum and I over any setbacks that could arise from a recession? If that's the case, $25000 sounds like a better number. Wait! Why not $30000? The action that I will take from this realization is to continue contributing a smaller sum each month to the emergency fund once the target $20000 is hit. Therefore, I could scale up my contributions to my war chest while still maintaining some sort of contribution to our emergency fund. So, that's that.

Recently, I have also been thinking of plonking down my CPF monies into investment. For now, this is just a thought experiment. I transferred the entirety of my OA to my SA after my first year in the workforce, to aid in the compounding as well as to "try it out." Since that single occasion, I have done nothing to my CPF funds.

Sure, I could compound my CPF funds faster if I leave my OA at $0 perpetually. I'm glad that prudence won out and that there are still funds in my OA right now. I am currently trying to evaluate, from various angles, what are the drawbacks from investing with one's CPF monies during market crashes. After all, a veteran financial blogger once implied that market crashes provide sufficient margin of safety to invest your nest egg in quality, high-yielding companies that would be able to beat the OA (and, maybe, the SA) interest rate. Anyway, I can't do much. My OA is still underfunded and it will take some time for it to grow.

On the work front, my contract is renewed for the next two years. Similarly, my colleagues' contracts are also renewed. I am still cautious as it is not a funding issue but a data collection issue (see here). Soooooooo, if the numbers do not come in, the project would still fold. Oh yes! My colleagues are already celebrating (......and inflating their lifestyle). -.-

I am also on the lookout for a Critical Illness Insurance policy. That is one area where I am still lacking coverage. As there are some changes in the policy in my work place, I can no longer use my company's flexible benefits for education. Instead, I could use those same benefits for insurance instead. So, all is not too bad. I am thankful.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Eschew the too-good-to-be-true carrot

This post is inspired by one of Uncle CW's post (see here). In that post, Uncle CW highlighted that one of his friends (presumably holding a management post) has a subordinate whose mother-in-law paid for their HDB in cash.

Uncle CW then remarked to his friend that he/she should not push his/her subordinate too hard at work as he could quit anytime.

How true is this! Heavy financial commitments such as monthly mortgage payments are a good deterrent against worker bees from leaving their hives.

This reminded me of a conversation I had with one of my group mates from the Specialist Diploma programme I took. Halfway through the programme, she left her job for supposedly greener pastures. One of the main pulls, of course, was the great remuneration package. A couple of months into the job, she was dead exhausted. She had to work till the wee hours of the night, be on call, and had to report to work on weekends. And she got an unappreciative and unreasonable boss to boot. Her status as a high flyer is axiomatic though. Amidst all this, she still managed to score top grades in the Specialist Diploma programme.

Eventually, she was headhunted by another company and she left the high-paying firm. Through the conversations I had with her, I managed to glean that she has a strong financial defence. No heavy financial commitments, has some side businesses, financial assets, and a solid cashflow. Furthermore, there is demand for people of her calibre.

Her colleagues, however, were not that fortunate. Some of them had heavy financial commitments to attend to and are likely to acquiesce to whatever the boss dictates. The high pay also serves as a strong deterrent to resigning. Must pay for condo, car, family, etc, how to resign?!?!

What piqued my curiosity was how the company selects its potential employees. As they have the means to pay, they are very deliberate in selecting individuals who fall within a certain profile (hint: people with heavy financial commitments). Well, that ended quickly. She is an outlier that operates from a position of strength. :)

Too demeaning to chase after the carrot? Turn your attention elsewhere then! (but before you do that, please build up your defence first........)

Friday, September 8, 2017

Dividend yield trend during GFC using R

Done with writing another R script! Instead of correlating different counters together, this time round my script will be used to visualize the trend in dividend yield across time. I'm particularly curious as to the yield of some counters during the great financial crisis (GFC). It's more for planning how I could prioritize my available funds.

The function takes in three arguments: (a) the counter symbol, (b) the start date, and (c) the end date.

The function consists of the following steps:
1). Use quantmod to import the historical data for a given counter into R, with the start date and the end date specified by the user.
2). Retain only the closing price for said counter
3). Use quantmod to download the dividend data, and their corresponding payout dates, into R. The start date and the end date are the same as that in step 1.
4). Sum up the dividends received across the time period.
5). For each day, divide the sum of dividends received by the closing price to produce the daily dividend yield.
6). Plot the data as a line graph using ggplot, where the x-axis and y-axis are date and daily dividend yield, respectively.
7). As a cautionary measure, produce a data frame of the data. If there is any error in the data manipulation/data presentation, I will be able to drill-down to the source of the error rapidly.

The good thing about writing your own functions is that you know what goes into it. Different firms adopt different fiscal years in their reporting. To simplify comparisons across counters, I defined total annual dividends in my function as the total amount received when the counter goes ex-dividend (because Yahoo Finance tracks the ex-dividend date, and not the payment date) during the calendar year. To better illustrate what I am saying, please refer to the visualization below.

Consider a company that ends their fiscal year in June. By right, annual dividends are computed based on total dividends paid out between Q3 2007 to Q2 2008. However, my function will only consider total dividends, for the same counter, based on the counter going ex-dividend between Q1 2008 to Q4 2008.


I'll reserve my thoughts to the end of the post.

Let's start with some STI constituents k?

DBS


UOB

Capitaland Mall Trust

Capitaland Commercial Trust

Ascendas REIT

Singtel

ComfortDelGro

ST Engineering

SGX

Hong Kong Land

Thai Beverage


Enough with STI constituents. Let's take a look at other equally interesting counters.

Dairy Farm

Frasers Commercial Trust

Fraser and Neave

AIMS AMP Capital Industrial REIT

Parkway Life REIT

Hong Leong Finance

Lippo Malls Trust


Thoughts
1). Thai Beverage yielded more than 100% during the GFC?!?!?!? Is that accurate? The raw data looks fine when I checked it though. However, according to SGX's Corporate Action section, the dividends paid during the 2008 calendar year was in thai baht while the stock price was in Singapore Dollars. Okay, that explains the supposed crazy results.


2). On the internet, I have encountered a particular type of hearsay stating that ST Engineering would yield 7% during recessions. Apparently, my chart does not corroborate that particular hearsay. When I created another chart (not shown above) for ST Engineering from 01 January 2009 to 31 December 2009, the maximum yield is still around 3.5%.

I initiated my position in ST Engineering on February 2016. According to other online yield trackers, I got into the counter at 5+% yield. When I tried to compute the yield at around February 2016 with my function, the result showed that I got the counter at around 3.60% yield.

I shall attribute this to the difference between calendar year and ST Engineering's fiscal year.

3). When I look at these yield charts, it clearly reminded me of my inexperience in the market. How was a particular company like in, let's say, 2007? What direction was the management taking then? What was their attitude towards cheap money? Name some major corporate actions that the company took. What could be gleaned from these actions, their pros and their cons? How are their competitors faring? What about the overall shape of the industry? Is there a structural decline in the industry? What were investors' sentiment back then? Obviously, I can't even provide a comprehensive enough answer to the questions I have set for myself.

Experience is built up through time spent as an investor, coupled with active reflection on the ins and outs of the market, their various industries, and the individual companies that make up those industries. At this juncture, I have but only 2.5 years' worth of experience in the market. Textbook-learning aside, I just have to progress, open my eyes wide, and breathe in the "feel" of the markets.

Friday, September 1, 2017

My Experience with Specialist Diplomas (Part 2)

This is a continuation of my previous post on Specialist Diplomas (see here).

Course Content (continuation)
Normally, lectures and tutorials are conducted in the same session. The lectures will be conducted in the first half, followed by the tutorials (or labs) in the second half.

Besides learning in class, the lecturers also provide additional materials for out-of-class-learning/e-learning. This is more for self-interest though. Despite being a nerd, I don't touch these materials. What? No time lah! Holding a full-time job and studying the main syllabus already saps up my time considerably.

Assessment
Generally, there are no final exams. You may now breathe a sigh of relief.

However, there are quite a few assessment components. Normally, you have a mid-term test and an end-of-module test, with the end-of-module test comprising a larger percentage of your module grades. In addition, there will be group project work and some individual assignments to complete as well.

Let me digress for a moment. In 1 year, you have 2 semesters. In 1 semester, you have 2 terms. Depending on the polytechnic and/or SD programme, the length of each module and the academic load you take each semester differs. Normally, you are required to complete 4 to 6 modules in a SD programme. In my case, I had to take 4 modules for each SD.

For my first SD, the programme was structured such that I took one module per term. In contrast, I had to take 2 modules concurrently in my second SD, with both modules lasting a semester. If you don't understand, nevermind. Just see the visualization below.


There are both pros and cons to each. If the SD you are considering to take is structured like my first SD, be prepared to rush like mad. The mid-term test will hit you in like week 4 or 5 when the term commences. There's no time for slacking. You have to revise consistently.

At first glance, you have "more time" if the SD is structured like my second SD. Don't be deceived though. Remember, there is still project work and individual assignments to complete. Most likely, you will even have to meet up with your group mates outside class time during your term break to cheong your project. Also, you will perceive time to crawl in this format.

For those that are curious, yes, there is bell curve grading. For my first SD, one of my lecturers implied that there is. In my second SD, it was quite obvious. In one of the modules, there was a difficult lab test and 3/4 of the class failed it. I was one of the studious lucky ones who managed to solve the lab in time. Therefore, I got slightly better than a passing grade. When I received back my grades, my results were clearly bumped up. The others who actually failed were given a passing grade. That's how I knew.

Mid-term tests and end-of-module tests could be paper-based or online. Similarly, tests could be either open-book or close-book (open-book tests are generally harder). Interestingly, for one of the polytechnics, the questions you get from online-based tests are randomly sampled from a pool of questions. Hence, the difficulty of the set of questions you get is heng/suay one. Some of my classmates who studied a lot sian jik pua when they got a set of questions which were considerably harder than the rest. (Ironically, the top student of my cohort had one of the easiest set of questions LOL).

That's all for now. If I do remember any other pertinent stuff, I would do an "addendum" post on Specialist Diplomas.

Can't wait for my 3rd Specialist Diploma programme to commence this coming October! Woohoo!