Columns
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Family Money

Personal Directions

The Doctor's Consultation by Dr. Iain Corness

Agony Column

Camera Class by Snapshot

Recipes from Rattana

Dr Byte's Computer Conundrums

Family Money: Sitting in Judgment - (Part 2)

By Leslie Wright,
Managing director of Westminster Portfolio Services (Thailand) Ltd.

Last week we started looking at how most of us judge funds based on past performance, generally against an index. We saw that this can be misleading, and statistically, out-performance one year rarely forecasts out-performance the next year.

In fact, to repeat my closing line of last week’s article, research has demonstrated time and again that a fund’s past performance bears almost no relation to future performance.

There are good reasons why this happens. One problem for fund managers is that active stock picking is such a bad science. Economists have shown that most of the movement of a share is due to the overall performance of the asset class it belongs to. A manager can be very smart at rooting out promising shares - but if the sector to which the shares belong moves, so will the shares. Similarly, share earnings are also strongly correlated to the performance of the sector.

Another factor is the “efficient market hypothesis” which premises that in an active market that includes many well-informed and intelligent investors, stock prices will reflect all available information. If a market is efficient, no information or analysis can be expected to result in out-performance of an appropriate benchmark.

The implications of the efficient market hypothesis are profound. Most individuals who buy and sell shares assume the securities they are buying are worth more than the price they are paying, and that the securities they are selling are worth less than the selling price. But if markets are efficient and current prices fully reflect all information, then buying and selling securities to try and outperform the market will effectively be a game of chance rather than skill.

Given that some funds do outperform, the implication is that these outperform largely from luck rather than skill. Therefore picking these funds is also largely due to luck, despite greater research into rating funds.

Balancing your portfolio

One fund management expert counters that a proper benchmark allows you to gauge market volatility. “The risk profiles for all sorts of market sectors, from industrial goods to staples like energy and basic commodities, are fairly predictable,” he explains. “They also vary predictably against each other. Although returns from individual sector funds will be hard to predict using a benchmark’s historical performance, there is valuable information to be gleaned from the way the overall sector moves. This is important in constructing a balanced portfolio,” he says.

Another expert says that benchmarks are a “headline indication” of what sort of investment fund you are getting into. When building a portfolio it is useful to know that your fund is closely following a particular index. This will allow you to have an idea of what the ‘investable universe’ is like, and delineates the size of the pond. A fund manager will use that information as a reason to dip in and out of the pool in the hope of getting access to that particular risk profile; investors can look to benchmarks to do the same.

Small-cap stocks

Another reason to follow benchmarks is that if you know that your fund or portfolio manager is pegged to a benchmark, you can be fairly sure that you’re not going to get any major nasty surprises. But within that straightjacket, intelligent managers have the possibility to choose the right equities and potentially make a bit of extra return. Indeed, some active managers, while generally acknowledging the “efficient market” argument, say that certain corners of the stock market allow clever managers to pick up extra return - and to beat the benchmarks.

Small-cap stocks are often seen in this category, as well as more underdeveloped sectors such as emerging markets, where greater “information” opportunities exist. The large-cap markets have been analysed to death, goes the theory. Just look at the international business news on TV! Small-cap stocks contain un-mined bits of information that a shrewd manager can be the first to discover, and therefore exploit.

Are benchmarks irrelevant?

How best, then, to judge the performance of our investments? In the long run, the average performance of developed world stock markets has been just over 8% per year, bull and bear markets combined. But over the last three years of stock market falls, both cash and bonds have handsomely outperformed most equities and equity funds. In this environment, whether your fund is benchmarked to the S&P500 or another index has been irrelevant: it has simply not been a good time to be in equities. Most of us have had our fingers burned, or at least scorched.

Until this extended stock market slide, many bog-standard investment funds were returning 20% per year. In 1999, for instance, the average US investment fund returned a little over 27%. The average technology fund returned 135%. Investors were complaining to their portfolio managers that they were “only” earning 40% on some funds. Yet this is a fallacy of believing that stock market bubbles translate into trend-busting performance over time. They do not.

Importantly, it is up to individuals to benchmark their investments, not their fund managers. The current global slump should make investors rethink just exactly what is the most suitable benchmark for their investments, not the ones used by the professional fund managers who will continue to flatter investments in the best light possible.

Instead of falling for this or that transitory fund performance, which is rarely replicated in the long term, investors should concentrate on building a balanced and diversified portfolio through investments that offer low risk levels of return.

Your investment goals should focus on what you need to provide for. This means investing strategically for the long run, not whimsically or speculatively for the short term. Work out when you want to retire, and how much capital you will need to provide for it realistically, or when you need to pay school fees, and create a balanced portfolio accordingly. That is the only sound reason to look at benchmarks.


Personal Directions: The day that you had

By Christina Dodd,
founder and managing director of Asia Training Associates

I would like to share some thoughts and words with you this week concerning the way we live our lives every day and how we regard “the day” that indeed allows us to live our lives. Without this precious time, what would we do, what would we have ... what would we be? I wrote this article that you are about to read last year and it touched quite a few readers who confessed that it was a bit of a “wake-up call” and, for some of them, one that was well overdue. Sometimes we don’t consider the very special things around us, the very special people and the very special day we “get through” every twenty-four hours. Time has been given to us for certain reasons and it is entirely up to us as to how we best use it and gain benefit from it. But like many special things in our lives we only appreciate them when they are no longer there.

The Day That You Had...

“I was reading some motivational literature recently and came across a passage that is very thought provoking and I think very touching as well. It’s meant to be read or considered at the end of the day when we finally have a few quiet moments to ourselves (probably the only few quiet moments for most of us). It goes like this:

Have you made someone happy or made someone sad?

What have you done with the day that you had?

God gave it to you to do just as you would.

Did you do what was wicked or do what was good?

Did you hand out a smile or just give them a frown?

Did you lift someone up or push someone down?

Did you lighten some load or some progress impede?

Did you look for a rose or just gather weed?

What did you do with your beautiful day?

God gave it to you.

Did you throw it away?

(Author Unknown)

Upon reading this I really wish I had a rewind or erase button, don’t you! This rather powerful verse makes us think about every single element of our day; how we behaved, what we said to someone, how we looked at people, what we did and didn’t accomplish and so on. Whoops - it gets a bit ugly doesn’t it!

It leads us to thinking: maybe we should have been nicer to the young sales boy behind the counter; maybe we should have shown a lot more interest in our son’s homework; perhaps we should have held the door open longer to let the little old “lueng” coming behind us through, instead of allowing it to slam in his face (we are all guilty of this universal behavior and don’t say “no-one holds the door open for me!”). Perhaps, when it all comes down to it, we should have put more effort into filling our day with actions and deeds of value and meaning.

It leaves me also wondering then, would the better time to read this verse be at the beginning of each day, rather than at the end? That way you could be one step ahead couldn’t you! Do you think it would work?

The way we reflect on “the day that we had” is quite interesting. Some of us I’m sure lie in bed with the lights out in our very own private space and time and think about what went on during the day - do a general overview. Some of us begin to think in earnest about what has to be done tomorrow. That’s a good thing to do as it prepares us and enables us to put activities into perspective. And some of us become locked into our prayers and more often than not, within our prayers, submit a shopping list to the fellow up above - with due dates to boot! What I am intrigued by and would like to know is, how many of us at the end of the day say, “Gee God, thanks for a great day” - and leave it at that!

It would probably be truthful to say that very few of us end “the day that we had” with these particular words and thoughts. Let’s be honest about it. I remember sitting and having quite a lively and animated discussion with friends a few years ago about this very subject. I’m not exactly sure how we actually got onto it, but we all had to admit that before we went to sleep at night and when we were in prayer or thought, we always seemed to be asking for something: asking for a task to be easy ... asking for a problem to go away ... asking for something good to happen ... asking to win the lottery! The list of requests is endless. I must admit that we all felt pretty terrible about it. The number of thankful thoughts and words at the end of our day were few and far between. Asking won hands-down.

We really do have to keep working at improving ourselves don’t we! It’s tough being a good human being. We take so many things for granted and one of them is time. We certainly take for granted the time we have here to share with families and friends and to do something meaningful with our lives. Perhaps it’s because we do not truly understand the value of time and how precious it is until it is taken away from us - and then we go into shock. Have you been there? I know I have.”

For more information on “personal and professional” growth and development please contact me by email at christina.dodd @atasiam.com and visit Asia Training Associates at www.asiatrainingassocia tes.com

We can cater to your specific needs and requirements and tailor programs accordingly to ensure that objectives are met in full and that our training brings the desired results.

Until next time, have a wonderful day!


The Doctor's Consultation by Dr. Iain Corness: Will watching footy on the telly kill you?

by Dr. Iain Corness

Well, guess what! It can! That is according to a UK study reported in the British Medical Journal, a medical paper not prone to sensationalism like the UK tabloids these days.

Learned professors from the universities of Birmingham and Bristol looked at hospital admissions for a range of conditions on the days surrounding England’s 1998 World Cup football matches. Now if you are not a footy fan, let me explain. This was when England was eliminated from the 1998 World Cup by Argentina in a penalty shoot-out. There was national pride riding on that match to an enormous degree.

The multi-centre analysis looked at the number of admissions for acute myocardial infarction (heart attacks), stroke, deliberate self harm, and road traffic injuries on the fateful day and for the five days after England’s World Cup matches, compared with admissions at the same time in the previous, and following, years and in the month before the tournament.

The results are interesting. The risk of admission for heart attacks increased by 25% on 30 June 1998 (the day England lost in the penalty shoot-out) and the following two days. No excess admissions occurred for the other conditions or on the days of the other England matches. No one threw themselves over the cliff or jumped off the roof. They just clutched their chest in pain instead. Individual analyses of the day in question and the two days after the Argentina match showed 55 extra admissions for myocardial infarctions compared with the number expected. These are figures that you cannot put down to mere chance.

Now just in case you think this is some strange British effect, an increase in cardiovascular deaths among Dutch men was associated with the 1996 European championship match between the Netherlands and France, with the Dutch on the losing end. So is it a football thing? The answer is one of those brilliant medical Yes and No answers.

The scientific conclusion was that heart attacks can be triggered by emotional upset, such as watching your football team lose an important match; however, I must add that it had already been noted that physical and emotional triggers, such as environmental disasters and vigorous physical exercise, can bring on an acute heart attack.

Now let’s look a little closer to home - how about all the “broken hearts” one hears about? Well, if you were to carry out this study on heart attacks after marital break-ups, I think you would find the same results. The condition did not get the common name of a “broken heart” if there were not some physical basis to it.

So what can you do to avoid your heart attack? I do not believe that banning telecasts of Man U or Real Madrid is a practical answer, nor is joining a monastery so you don’t get involved with the opposite sex. The answer is to make sure your heart is in good enough shape to withstand all the stresses that another fumble by goalie Seaman could put upon it.

That requires your knowing your cardiac risk factors as Cholesterol, Blood Pressure, Blood Sugar and whether you are obese. And how do you find that out? By attending your cardiac physician and arranging to have the tests done.

Do it before the footy match this next weekend - or before your girlfriend takes off with the football player next door!


Agony Column

Dear Hellary (sic),

I have a new maid from up-country working in my house. She is 16 and quite cute and knows nothing about life in the big city, i.e. unspoilt by the night time scene. Her family are relatively poor. If I wish to ‘adopt’ her, what should I pay her family? Is this legal? A box of chocolates for your answers.

Sure Thing

Dear Sure Thing,

First off, I may have been a hell-raiser in my youth, but I sure as hell like people to spell my name correctly, if they want me to be serious in my replies. It is Hillary not Hellary, OK, my Petal? Now about your maid being 16 and “quite cute” - I am sure that even you at that age were “quite cute” too, even though that seems to have well worn off by this stage in your life. As far as taking this young girl into your care, I would sincerely hope that you do not offer financial inducements to an already impoverished family. Legal or otherwise, poor or otherwise, they deserve to keep their daughter “unspoilt by the night time scene” to use your words - especially night times with old lechers like you. You may take the chocolates and pop them you know where, Poppet!

Dear Hillary,

I have read your chronicles for years, and had lots of good laughs. Please continue the good work. So that my fellow Farangs in trouble with Thai ladies do not lose all hopes, here is my true story. As a young, unmarried, well paid executive in Bangkok during the fifties and sixties, I have been victim of an uncountable number of Thai women, including one adept of black magic who half-destroyed me. Farangs my friends, beware, the less you believe in this sort of things (magics), the more vulnerable you are, until I had what can be called a spiritual experience, and my life changed completely.

Through friends, I met a freshly graduated nurse who, having applied for a job at a US hospital, wanted to polish her English. We were married two years later, and soon we had a baby boy. I wanted this boy to have the same sort of education in Europe as I had, so I resigned my comfortable, well paid job and we moved to Europe with the baby and the cat, both taking turns to cry in the plane.

We stayed 36 years in Europe, had another four children who are all university graduates by now. One hot August day I fell unconscious and collapsed, and was taken to hospital, where I remained in coma during three weeks. Showing her nurse diploma, my wife was authorized to enter the intensive care unit. Day and night, hardly taking time for eating and sleeping, she sat at my bedside, praying.

When I finally woke up from my coma, the head-nurse told us that she had never seen so much love and devotion. Farang my friend, good luck.

Survivor

Dear Survivor,

You have been lucky in more than one way, haven’t you my Petal. What can I say, other than to wish you all the best for the next 36 years here. It seems your family has been lucky too, but I am a trifle worried that the cat was not mentioned a second time. Was the plane trip too much?

Dear Hillary,

We read all about the poor English and American tourists (male) who find themselves heartbroken over another fruitless romance with the local Thai ladies. Apart from the fact that none of them seem to learn anything, but that’s a common problem with men anyway, what about the life for us women in this country? There are many professional women who are here on secondment, as well as those women who come here to have a holiday. We have our needs too, Hillary. Are there any places or people for us? Why do you not get any letters from women, Hillary? Perhaps it is because we women have a better idea on what can be achieved in this world, have our feet more firmly planted on the ground, and when we do have a problem, learn to fix it ourselves? Hillary, you have to agree, or admit you are one of “them”.

Libby

Dear Libby,

Admit I am one of “them”? Them what’s Petal? Actually you astound me, Libby. Males have always been the ones who are supposed to internalise their problems and we women are told to tell the men that it’s alright to cry and let their feminine side come out a little. Now here comes liberated Libby saying that women shouldn’t ask advice or admit to problems of the heart, and if we do, we should internalise it and fix it ourselves. The whole world really is upside down! Sorry, Libby, I don’t agree with you at all. I think it is good for men to have a shoulder to cry on. As for you, I can see you have a perfectly balanced life - you have a chip on both shoulders.


Camera Class: Colour your world - and get great wall art!

by Snapshot

Wall art is something any photographer can achieve, without any special equipment or even special training (other than reading this article, I suppose). The secret is in thinking colour, taking your time to compose and then sitting back and letting your local photo-shop do the rest. Here’s how.

Take a look at the photographs with this week, and you will soon see that these could have easily been taken by you. No tricky exposure details either. Whilst I usually run my camera in ‘Manual’ mode, for this exercise I let my 15-year-old Nikon do the work instead, sticking it on Auto mode, just to see what would come out. If you can view this page in colour, you will see that it worked fine. (Go to the web version of the paper and it’s in glorious technicolour!)

These pictures were all taken on a trip to the flower market in Chiang Mai, but any flower market anywhere would give the same opportunities. What you are looking for is colour and the stall holders do that bit of work for you too, by displaying large bunches of the same blooms. I do not profess to know much about botanical species, but colour I can recognise!

Since you are again looking at ending up with these photographs on the wall, try as much as possible to fill the frame with the blooms. This means that you really must move in close. However, make sure that you are not too close for the camera to be able to focus. With compact point and shooters you may have to do some rough estimations of how close you really are. With SLR’s you can directly see if you are in focus. While concentrating on the blooms, do not forget to get a couple of atmospheric shots of people and their purchases as well.

Having got your prints back from the photo-processors, select the best ones and return to your friendly photo shop girls, with whom you will be on first name terms by now, and get some enlargements done. 10 x 8 or 11 x 14 prints are not expensive, then get them mounted in simple thin frames and hung on your wall. You have just produced “art” at a cost so reasonable, you may as well make doubles and send them off as presents at Xmas.

Recapping - look for colour, move in close, select your enlargements and don’t let the frame overpower the photograph!


Recipes from Rattana: Hor Mok Talay (Steamed seafood curry)

This is a very typical Thai dish and is generally on the menu of all seafood restaurants. All the ingredients are available at the local markets, though if you are not too fluent in the Thai language, take a native Thai speaker with you. Although the recipe calls for sea perch, any white fish will do.

Ingredients Serves 4

Prawns de-shelled, deveined 100 gm

Squid bite-sized pieces 100 gm

Crabmeat 100 gm

Sea perch sliced fillet 100 gm

Kaffir lime leaf finely sliced 1 tbspn

Coconut cream 3 cups

Fish sauce 2 tspns

Sweet basil leaves 2 cups

Shredded cabbage 3 cups

Red chilli thinly sliced 2 tbspn

Hor-mok chilli 2 tbspn

Cooking Method

Pound the Hor-mok chilli into a paste and add 2 1/2 cups of the coconut cream in a bowl and stir well. Add the prawns, squid, crabmeat, and sea perch and stir gently to mix well, adding fish sauce to taste. Make a bed of sweet basil leaves and shredded cabbage in the bottom of a large bowl and spoon the seafood mixture onto this. Pour the remaining 1/2 cup of coconut cream on top and sprinkle with chilli and kaffir lime leaf.

Place the bowl in a steamer in which the water is boiling and steam over high heat for about 15 minutes. Remove from the steamer and it is ready to eat.


Dr Byte's Computer Conundrums

Several readers have written to me asking questions about sending photos to family and friends using e-mail. For example, Outlook Express and Eudora allow you to attach a photo (as a digital file) to an e-mail and send it. But, some internet post boxes have file limits that only allow files under a certain size. The Internet being what it is, can we get around this kind of limitation?

The simple answer is to compress files, or in surfing jargon, ZIP files and send the zipped file. Most internet users will have come across Zip files at some time or other. But before I go further, I should point out that another relatively simple solution is to split a file into several smaller parts (see Dr Byte 3 March 2003 for more information about this method). If you choose to split files, the receiver needs to know how to re-assemble the parts.

Microsoft’s latest XP (and ME) operating systems include built-in tools for managing compressed files in the ZIP format. With the right click menu in Windows Explorer, XP users can easily create, open and edit ZIP files. But Windows will not allow users to build self extracting ZIPS, split ZIPS into multiple parts, or handle files encoded with other compression algorithms (non ZIP). Fortunately the choices for dedicated ZIP applications that do all these things and more, is better than ever.

I first encountered ZIP problems in 1996 when a client sent me a rather large file (the equivalent of 20 floppy disks) and it clogged up my e-mail account for days. I not only couldn’t download the file or any other e-mail stuck in the queue behind this file, but my e-mail service got very upset too. When I eventually managed to get the file, it was a single hand drawn sketch that had been scanned and sent as is. As a result, I started to look around for better and more efficient ways of handling large files and over the years have used several different applications.

Its difficult to chose between the top three ZIP applications: PentaZIP, PKZip and WinZip. You can use each via the right click menu. Each can scan ZIP files for viruses if you have an anti-virus software application installed (and I am sure you have!). In tests undertaken by a leading technical laboratory, each zipped up 9 files (totalling 49MB uncompressed) in less than 30 seconds. PentaZIP lets you schedule when you want to ZIP a file, but its more expensive than PKZip or WinZip and its interface is more cluttered. Although PKZip edged out its main competitors on the speed tests, each of the top three clocked in the test at under 30 seconds. PentaZIP is available from www.penta zip.com at a cost of $49 (approx 2,090 baht) direct download. This one gets my 4 stars.

PKZip is one of the oldest around and was the first ZIP application I ever used (its seems a lifetime ago). In those days it was run from DOS and you had to learn the commands to make it ZIP and UnZIP a file. Today, PKZip’s real edge lies in its simple, spacious interface which makes it the most intuitive of the top three. Unlike its competitors, PKZip can protect secure compressed files, not only with passwords but also with digital signatures and certificates - welcome extras for the security minded. PKZip is available from www.pkware. com and is around $29 (approx 1,240 baht). PKZip gets my 4 stars.

WinZip has the same low prices as PKZip but has a fully functioning free version which comes with a NAG Screen. It’s nearly as easy to use as PKZip and the Wizard is reasonably easy to use. It scored well on the zipping tests and won on the unzipping tests, taking just 11 seconds to unzip the 9 files. You can create self-extracting and password encode zip files, which is a big plus. You can download the pay or the free version from WinZip Computers Inc. at www.winzip.com WinZip also gets my 4 stars.

I was also impressed with the interface with OnTracks ZipMagic. Download direct for around $39.95 (approx 1,710 baht). But this utility took around 45 seconds to zip the 9 files and its expensive. You can get ZipMagic from Ontrack Data International at www.ontrack.com and this application gets 3 stars.

There are two utilities that offer alternatives to the ZIP format. Stuffit for Windows, $29.95 (approx 1,280 baht) direct download. What’s interesting is the Stuffit SIT format is widely used in the MAC world and it’s helpful if you’re going to be working with Apple people. The other alternative is WinRAR, $29 (approx 1,240 baht). WinRAR was very effective with zip compression, but the RAR compression was slow, taking over a minute to Zip the 9 files. Stuffit encoding into SIT format was very, very, very slow, taking almost 8 minutes. Both support ZIP coding and were able to zip files more quickly then Zip Magic. You can get Stuffit for Windows from Aladdin Systems Inc. at www.aladdinsys.com - 2 stars - WinRAR from Softronic at www.rarsoft.com - 3 stars.

Finally, if your looking to save a few baht and don’t like WinZips free version, consider Globalscape’s CuteZip which is available for $19.95 (approx 855 baht). CuteZip lacks many of the conveniences provided by the top three, and it was by far the slowest at compressing 49MB of files, taking more than 40 seconds longer than PKZip. On the other hand, CuteZip can create self-extracting ZIP’s and split files into multiple parts. These two abilities alone may be reason enough to use this. You can download this from Globalscape Inc at www.cuteftp.com and gets my 3 stars.

So just how much did each ZIP Zip? On average, PentaZIP, PKZip and WinZip managed to compress 49MB down to just under 16MB. WinRAR 12.1MB for the RAR Version and 15.1MB for the ZIP version.

So next time you have a photo or three to send, ZIP it! If you have any tips that you’d like to share, or any questions about your internet or pc experience, contact me: Dr Byte, Chiangmai Mail.

[email protected]