A long hot summer, perhaps a Grexit – and hopefully a rescue mission

This is a story too hard to call, and yet it seems to be gathering speed. Hot summers are also good for a decent rumble in the markets, in the immortal words of George “Dubya” Bush

If money isn’t loosened up, this sucker could go down,

And here it is from Tsipras himself

Now I’m sure there’s going to be loads of punters and talking heads, most of them better qualified than I on the whole macro thing, but this is my blog so I’ll add to the wall of noise.

I think the Greeks are taking the piss wanting to stay in the Euro on other people’s ticket, though I do see the point that the Germans are also taking the piss in a different way. The advantage the Germans have is they are the ones with the money. Fundamentally there seems to be the tension in the design of the Euro and the regulations about fiscal probity and not having it as a transferunion, it’s like wanting things to be light and dark at the same time. We’re about to find out, when push comes to shove whether we will have fiscal probity or we will have a transfer union in the Euro, and the symptom will be Grexit in the first case and Grescue in the second.

My hope is for Grexit – it is a second shoe that didn’t drop in the 2009 financial crisis. Something unsustainable gets worse and worse as time goes by. I see the point that Europe stiffed the Greeks by bailing out Europe’s banks in 2010. Greece is owed something by Europe, but not everlasting transfer – unless that is democratically agreed not just by Greeks wanting it or not but by Germans and the rest of the Eurozone voting for a transferunion – it’s not just up to the debtors to holler “I want”. Too much of European policy is decided before putting it to the people, and that sort of thing needs to stop until the people can catch up or say “enough of that”. Half the trouble we have is that it’s not clear if there’s enough common cause for a United States of the Eurozone, the symptoms seem to indicate not. A lack of common cause in Europe has been ugly in the past.

Europe does owe the Greeks something. A Grexit will be a serious shitstorm. Not much can be done to avert the initial storm, but Europe could do well to take inspiration from the United States. Both the Marshall Plan, and indeed how Nixon handled Hurricane Camille in the 1960s rather better than Dubya handled Katrina that attacked the same region.

The Nixon administration realised they could not fight the storm, but they could chase it, and render assistance the day after. Perhaps something similar is owed Greece – yes, they may have to default, and return to the drachma to regain fiscal sovereignty. In the shitstorm that ensues, Europe should render humanitarian and basic stabilising  financial assistance without strings and given, not lent. It will then be up to the Greek people how they want to live, with some semblance of fiscal probity or with the high levels of tax evasion they seemed to have. In the latter the value of the drachma can fall to adjust, and people still feel good.It’s got form…

As time went by you needed more and more drachma to buy that 1990s US dollar
As time went by you needed more and more drachma to buy that 1990s US dollar (I mislabelled the £ and DM which need to be switched)

I called this too early in February and maybe I call this early now. A long,hot summer is good for damn fine financial crisis.

Interesting times ahoy?

Too tough to call at this stage, but it’s worth getting ready. I don’t think that the credit crunch was ever properly fixed – what seemed to happen is QE went into inflating asset prices – that’s houses for you lucky BTL landlords if you can sell at the higher price and share prices for the rest of the PF community. The hard-pressed middle seemed to get the short end of the stick, and indeed are due for a second helping in Osborne’s budget next month. Further afield there seems to be trouble in paradise China though there seems to have been a fair bit of irrational exuberance too.

I need to shift about half my AVCs to my SIPP, but the remaining half is due to come out in just over five years time, and I don’t need it for income. Although as a deferred member I am a second-class citizen it appears I can still switch from the cash fund I have been in for a while (when I thought I would have to draw it early) to the 50:50 Global:FTSE100 index fund that served me so well between 2009 and 2012. Since I can shift some to a SIPP I am not up against the 25% tax-free PCLS limit any more, so I may well go back in for another bite of the cherry over the next few months, spreading myself over time buying into (hopefully) a falling market.

At the moment the market isn’t really reacting in any big way. For sure, I may look stupid saying that in the coming week!  The Grauniad says Shares slide as deepening Greek crisis shakes global markets and the Torygraph says World Markets in Turmoil but we’re only talking 2% – at the elevated levels shares have been this last couple of years a 20% fall would probably still be a correction rather than a dive IMO 🙂 Only hindsight will tell us if these are the trumpets at dawn heralding the second phase of the 2007-9 credit crunch. But yeah, looks like times could get more interesting and the stock market a lot less boring than it has been of late.

Interesting times are also times when it’s more comforting to have paid down the mortgage and be debt-free, with a unreasonable amount of cash, and have most of this year’s ISA allowance free. Mind you, over at Fidelity there are fellows telling you to go a step further and hold physical cash in the mattress…

Let’s hope for some statesmanship from our EU leaders

It may be time to surrender a piece of the Eurozone dream in the case of Greece. But I despise the talk of Greece having to leave the EU at the same time, and I hope in the back rooms there are people drafting a different tone. If the Greeks move to the drachma which is probably their best long-term route, the history of the EU and indeed the spirit of the people who set up the Treaty of Rome in 1958 should prevail. Europe fought a second world war because the victors pushed for an ignominious defeat. Greece doesn’t belong in the Eurozone, but it belongs in the EU if that is the wish of the Greek people, and the EU as a whole owes it the grace of assistance across the troubled times ahead. It’s time for a magnanimous resolution, and giving thought to establishing what a successful Eurozone looks like, what needs to happen and whether the people really want that. The markets will be gunning for the next target soon…





Don’t be in thrall to Total Return

Poor old Greybeard over at Monevator has stuck his head above the parapet again saying he will use actively managed investment trusts to smooth his retirement income and make it easier to manage. Meanwhile Insourcelife has paid down his mortgage in his late 30s, some ten years earlier in his life cycle than I paid down mine in my late forties.[ref]Insourcelife is American so paying off a mortgage may be an easier ask as houses are less expensive relative to wages I believe, certainly from looking at US real estate windows on a business trip in 2007 where I could have easily bought a house cash, but impressively Insourcelife has done this with children which probably more than offsets the difference![/ref]. Paying off a mortgage early is an opportunity costThe Accumulator sensibly decided to invest instead. Here are two people giving up some Total Return, OMG, that’s nuts!!!

The world of personal finance seems to be moving towards an intellectual materialist rationalism that favours Total Return over all else[ref]I’m projecting some of my own prejudice here, but passive investing is still a belief system IMO. Any belief system has axioms, and I am uncomfortable with some of them, in particular the ‘valuations don’t matter’ one. My perspective is different, however – I don’t have 30 years of investing without extracting returns ahead of me like a young Boglehead starting out would have[/ref]. Now if you are a 20-something with 35 plus years before you can get a hold of your pension savings then yes, I agree TR is what it’s all about in those pension savings taken in isolation. If you are a retiree who wants to featherbed your adult children because you think the robots are coming to take way their middle class jobs then TR is important too, because although you can’t take it with you they will and a little bit of you will live on, enabling you to do the whole terror management theory thing of living beyond death. Beats having your head frozen, I guess.

The trouble is that life is a balance, and often maximising one aspect above all else has undesirable consequences. Money is crystallised power, a claim upon future work. You can prioritise one aspect of it like total return, but then you will have to deal with being exposed to massive volatility. It’s easy to sit back at 30 and say I’m cool with that but you need to have gone through a couple of stock market crashes to know if you are cool with that really. Maximising TR means you should run towards that sort of fire 🙂

The Ermine is not a Total-Return maximising rationalist

I have done some dumb things in personal finance. I retired 8 years early – the gross money I would have earned in the remaining eight years probably roughly equals my total networth[ref]the opportunity cost is in fact a fair bit lower, I was a HR taxpayer and couldn’t have extracted anywhere near the gross amount because of limitations on pension contributions introduced since I retired.[/ref]. Oh no – hundreds of thousands of pounds kissed goodbye to-  how crazy is that? Well, I don’t know – the world of work was driving me round the bend with it’s stupid metrics and micromanagement – I am ERE craftsman, not gamesman. The view is a hell of a lot better, too:

giving up a six-figure sum to see this
giving up a six-figure sum to see this
or this
or this
instead of this
instead of this – hell yeah.

I paid my mortgage off early – even at the time I knew this was a teeny bit irrational, and took a whole year with it dropped down to to about £1000[ref]it was a flexible mortgage so I could have ramped it back up at will up to the original repayment track[/ref] mulling over whether I should pay it off. Then I did, and although every so often I observe that I take an income suckout between leaving work and getting hold of my pension savings, faced with the same I’d do it again, because at that time I wanted peace of mind that if I got iced from work I could lock down and make it through.

There’s a time to maximise your total return, and that’s probably when you’re young, because you aren’t usually putting much in. But as you go through life, beware of black-and-white thinking. Sometimes you have to consider throwing some red meat to The System and giving up some total return, particularly after you have retired, because it is about the ride, not just the money. Otherwise we are in the danger of becoming that “man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing” Oscar Wilde warned of in Lady Windermere’s Fan.

I’ve given up a very decent six-figure sum, pasting my potential Total Return by about 50 to 25%. I  did it because it is more important to live to see another few decades with health intact, and sometimes you have to take chances in life. It is nearly three years since I left work, and would I do it again if I had my time over? Hell yeah – because the aim of the game is to maximise Total Life Experience, not total return. It’s a balance thing, not a single variable.

For sure, I’m poorer for it in money, but I am richer for it in Life. Money is not the only thing you can run out of…

The Escape Artist put it this way

Why behave as if this one life we get is just a dress rehearsal?  If you are one of those people and you carry on working in your all consuming City or Corporate job, then you are wasting your life.

If maximising total return is stressing you out in retirement as you see your capital eroded which is reminding you of the Grim Reaper’s call then give up some total return. Use investment trusts, have a plan to annuitise at some stage/stages, give up the fight slowly for an easier ride.


Passive income from ebook writing isn’t passive – reflections from Avalon

Funny old game, this passive income lark. I personally define it as income that you get regardless of what you are doing. The classic dream is steady income paid while you are lying on the beach. Wikipedia defines it in somewhat US-centric terms as

Passive income is an income received on a regular basis, with little effort required to maintain it

I spent a few days soaking up the sun in the atmosphere of Glastonbury, enjoying a chilled time and exploring the place.I came just before the well-known festival, to appreciate the summer solstice – the closest I have come to the festival was a distant view of it 7 miles from Glastonbury Tor.


Unlike the festival-goers I had decent weather. I was looking for some of the background story, bought some books, but I have a predilection for books in electronic form these days. Following up the Glastonbury connection, passive income is the Holy Grail of the idler, and there are an awful lot of Knights of the Round Table chasing it. It’s bad enough that people who have at least earned the money first behave like teenagers in love:

People looking for investment income home in on bad ideas like Premier League footballers sniffing out WAGs with loose morals.

Dunno what he’d say about the wretched river of humanity out of Eden seeking the Free Lunch without Consequences, but the old boy Mephistopheles is in business in different garb offering Passive Income to the penniless, the poor, and the pecuniarly challenged.

Sometimes I wonder if these good people would use their time better getting a job and saving some of their hard-earned, but then I think that any time I stand in line behind somebody buying a lottery ticket in the Co-Op. There is something irresistible about the concept of something for nothing. It’s been there since time immemorial in the search for the Philosopher’s Stone[ref]I am aware that there are many esoteric personal transformation aspects to the story of the search for Philosopher’s Stone, but it is the profane rather than sacred that fits my narrative :)[/ref] that turns lead into gold. The story metamorphosed into the search for the perpetual motion machine in the Victorian era, and turns full circle in the search for a passive income, that turns the leaden hours of the idle into a stream of gold. I’m hassling the Calvinist work is good for you doctrine there – I for one don’t find the workless hours leaden and indeed I would regard humanity’s development of robots to do all the work leaving us to a life of leisure the pinnacle of engineering success, if only we could build a human society that didn’t start to look like a winner-takes-all Gilded Age which seems to be where we are headed at the moment.

The ebook proposition – wresting the medium and the message away from Facebook. Into Amazon – oh boy…

One of the tragic things about the Internet is that the original open platform has been taken over by corporations like Facebook, Google and Amazon , who drove out the universality of the end-to-end principle because we readers are idle, want a uniformish UI, and are suckers for attention-grabbing trivia that the platform can monetise the shit out of. In Web 1.0 ISPs tried and failed to hold customers on their ‘portal’ to save you the graft of looking for interesting stuff, but now we hire Facebook and Google to do that very job. Once upon a time it was possible to get a copy of vi, grok some HTML, create a website with useful information, serve some ads and make a modest income. I still have some website real estates from the 1990s that even after 20 years do provide a modest income this way but the trend is long-term decline. Some of this is, of course, that the topics age – let’s face it what was newsworthy/interesting in 1995 is often less riveting twenty years later on, the effort to maintain some of these with other people dropped away around ten years ago. One of the sites performs a technical service which still seems to have some fans judging by the pleading to fix I get if my web hosts changes the version of PHP and it goes titsup, it seems to have got embedded into the processes of some communities. I even tell them they can get the facility easier and more prettily using OS getamap but they don’t switch[ref]correctly, it seems – I was there before getamap and may be there after it’s been deprecated[/ref]. It provides enough revenue to be worth Googling the error code and fixing the code or third-party library to keep people happy.

It’s harder to establish a modest website on a topic now – the Internet is much larger but there are also winner-takes-all effects that raise the barrier to entry, so it’s basically a go-large-or-go-home world. The Amazon ebook seems to be the place where some of the small fry information providers have gone to, if the topic is suited to a write once read many and non-interactive format. For many to many discussions we used to have forums (before that we had Usenet and email mailing lists, but the latter scale terribly), but with the demise of the medium-sized website vis-a-vis the big beasts many of these are dying out, moving to Facebook groups

I don’t regularly use Facebook, and it’s a source of sadness for me when a forum I’ve used goes down for some reason and the topic migrates to Facebook. Facebook fosters the narcissistic and the voluble, there seems no threading or fine topic capacity, and to be honest I’d rather read people’s thoughts on the topic rather than endless trivia about their children, pets and minor ailments. As the old forums die, the wall of noise increases. Life is too short to strip out the tales of lives of quiet desperation from a Facebook group topic feed[ref]Facebook is designed to narrate everyday trivia and that’s fine – but trivia seems to pollute group topics to a degree that it never did on forums and bulletin boards, these usually had a separate section like MSE’s Money Savers’s Arms off-topic section.[/ref]

Continue reading “Passive income from ebook writing isn’t passive – reflections from Avalon”