Category Archives: Money matters

Such volatile stock market

The stock market took another tumble despite the latest bank rescue plan announced by the UK government, and a coordinated 0.5% interest rate cut across the world, involving Americas, UK and European Union. Never have I seen these countries working together at the same time. Just goes on to tell you the scale of the financial problem we are now facing. Property bubble, subprime problem, inflation, bank liquidity problem, now leading to increasing unemployment. The economy is definitely heading for the worse. Has it turned the corner? Apparently not yet, as goverments are still coming up with rescue packages to try and help various sectors – property, bank, insurer, manufacturing etc.Few days ago I thought the banking sector might have already reached the bottom. We started moving into the stock market, acquiring bank shares. That was before the US finally approved the $700 billion rescue plan to buy up toxic debts. Yet that did little to stabilise the market. Today’s announcement from the UK to part-nationalise banks I feel is welcoming, as it should help strengthen the banks, bring some sanity back to how bank should be remunerated, and get the bank to operate more sensibly. Unfortunately, investors are still uncertain and the stock market continue to slide.To be honest, I still feel the banking shares are unbelievably low. If people have cash to spare, it is at this kind of turmoil that you start investing in the stock market, to maximise the return on the meagre sum of money we have got. Often people will question about the timing. Yes, we don’t know how low the market can go, and people always want to catch the absolute bottom. But can we always get the “best” deal?

More mortgage rate rise

Two years ago when we were considering which fixed-rate mortgage deal to go for, there was this “financial adviser” recommending us to take a 2-year deal, instead of a 5-year deal that we are interested in. He even showed us a prediction, from Royal Bank of Scotland I believe, on the trend of the interest rate, that it would be heading down. But of course we knew that he has some vested interest in trying to get us to go on the 2-year deal, as then we might be looking for him again in two years time for “advice” when the deal ends, rather than in five years time. Hence more commission for him, you see?It’s now just over two years into my mortgage. Looking at the news on the current mortgage rate, I’d say we’ll need to shell out 2% more per annum if we were to take out a mortgage now! And that hasn’t even included the higher mortgage arrangement fees borrowers need to pay, and the higher equity they need now to secure good rates!This so called “financial adviser” makes me laugh. I’m proud not to have listened to him, and my friend is certainly very pleased to have taken my advise rather than his. Perhaps I can call myself financial adviser too 🙂

Preparing financial accounts

I’ve set up a meeting with the accountant next week. So looks like the time has finally come for me to prepare the accounts for her to inspect. I initially thought it is going to be a rather daunting exercise. But with the help of the template W found me, it was surprisingly easy to do! It however required me to go through bank statements, receipts etc. I think that was the annoying bit, as I’m not a very organised person. Now that I’ve done a set of accounts myself, I think it is a very good practice to keep the accounts up to date. For obvious reasons like I will not then be required to do everything at the last minute!Things are really getting more interesting for my travel business. But it’s time to renew my license. I’m a bit apprehensive although the CAA has agreed to renew my license subject an extension to my bond. Mainly because it seems that the credit crunch really has done some damage to the insurance industry as they appear to have tighten their practice. Anyway I’ve just sent the accounts that I’ve drafted to the insurer. Let’s hope that they will give me a good rate for the bond amount I requested!

Business account with HSBC? Don’t bother.

It’s not the first time I complain about HSBC now. For personal banking, the interest they give to your current account is dismal, 0.1% APR or something ridiculous. I tried to check on their website just now and I think they are trying to make it difficult for people to see their rates. You have to download PDF files before you can see the rates, and they make everything look so complicated. Used their credit card service before and to be honest with you, they are small in the credit card market. The bank is probably very lean and efficient. But as a customer if you have something you want to complain, they often come back to you with some incompetent “specialists” that are just poor. Take for example their credit card service. W had s transaction she wanted to refute but they came back with some mickey mouse “specialists” that have not even heard of chargeback. And you know what we have to explain to them instead what chargeback is. They then brought in in-house legal assistants and started denying our rights as consumers and very conveniently stayed away from the hassle, to save themselves work.As for business banking, they have a bunch amateurs working at the branch. I have deadline, given by the CAA, to secure a bond guarantee for my travel business within two months. Their so called commercial manager, a young chap, at the Reading branch is very well aware of that. They need cash deposit, fair enough, I provided them. I was reassured time and again that I will be able to get the bond certificate in about 2 days time once I have the money deposited in the account and have the application form sorted. However, I was called 2 days ago, after almost a month and a half of communication with that young chap, that I was denied by their “system”. He couldn’t quite put his finger on what exactly has gone wrong, when the full amount of cash is already in their account! How annoying is that?! It’s not as if I’m borrowing money from them, not a penny! You know what, he told me that he can’t do anything right now, as he can’t override the “system”. He could try again in three months time, but of course he’s aware that that’s not a solution, and it certainly doesn’t sound like he can get it right the next time either! How inflexible is the “system”, when even his senior manager can’t do anything about it. Unbelievable, like the decision from Rob Style to award a penalty to Chelsea today that never was, and which nobody can do anything about! Well done, that leaves me two weeks to sort out the bond.The “business specialists” may sound like they are always there to help you with your business when you set up the account with them. But no no, they are just good in setting up the account. When you contact them, almost 99% of the time you can only reach their voice mail. You’ll be lucky if they return your call the same day, if at all sometimes! Unbelievable. Often, they are only interested in trying to hook you into more of their service, like their payment processor. Contacting them via email is even worse! Don’t bother. It doesn’t seem like they check their email everyday. Asked the “specialist” who deals with setting up my account to get me some documents, like the mandate and signature specimen, when I set up the account, she didn’t know that she can just print them off their database. She gave me reasons that she had to go through their filing system in the basement, which is time consuming, and she couldn’t find the documents I wanted. The reason I knew she’s bollocks because after weeks of inaction from her, I decided to turn up at the branch when she was on holiday to try someone else. And his colleague did just that. Frustrating isn’t it. I hope that woman knows how ridiculous she is!I hope other banks are not as poor…

Taming Robin Part 1

This is a rather unexpected exercise. In theory, I’ve sort of learnt from a friend Peter, who is a birding expert, on how to tame a robin months ago. And I’ve longed been wanting to tame one myself. But, as much as I wanted to, I just wasn’t presented with the opportunity. Some very simple reasons are my backyard is very small, often birds are scared away as soon as I open door, and I did not spend enough time in the backyard.

Anyway, I was in the middle of clearing up the backyard yesterday to make room for some gardening this summer. Then this robin, rather fearless in my opinion, flew quite close to where I was working, to my pleasant surprise. The reason it was willing to come so close was presumably because the robin was looking for food around and spotted worms or insects movements on the ground I was working on, despite seeing me holding a big digger 🙂 So happened that we had some cut yellow cheese left around the garden, which were left there for birds, I decided to try my luck and throw a piece of cheese near the robin I named as Robin. To my delight, not only did Robin not react to my throwing movement, but in fact he responded by picking up the cheese I threw him!According to Peter, it usually takes a few days to tame a robin to feed off one’s hand. And the way to tame a robin is to try and get it to come closer and closer to a human for food, to slowly gain the robin’s trust. As Robin seems to have kids to feed, I’m fairly confident that he will be visiting my backyard for food again, especially if I keep the swiss cheese coming. So looks like we are going to have a tame robin very soon!

RobinRobin, by arctanck

Dominant Google

As a search engine, there’s no denying that Google is the king of the moment, accounting for more than half of Internet searches. The reasons for Google’s popularity can be down to its no nonsense, clean and tidy approach to the search interface and search results, giving us “good” starting points to what we want to look for in the current sea of information (or mess really). Some people even jokingly refer Google to as God, as it just seems to the most likely entity people will turn to when they have a question.As in most cases, I don’t believe that it’s healthy to have an overly dominant player in any field. We only have to look at why regulators always try to encourage competitions in a business environment. Credits to Google for getting into this position ahead of previously more household name like Yahoo, Lycos. And not to mention their role in taking advertising on Internet to another level. In doing so Google becomes one of the biggest companies in the world, with market capitalisation of more than $100 billion!A capitalist world has a funny way of rewarding individuals. Sergei Brin, co-founder of Google, is now the 26th richest person on the planet, with a net worth of $12.9 billion. In a world where there are around one billion people (one-sixth of world’s population) still suffering from hunger and malnutrition, it really does strike me if there’s a need for anyone to be this rich (and in such short period of time!). Afterall, what can you buy with $2 billion that you can’t buy with $1 billion?To be honest with you, I don’t know Sergei Brin all that much. So it’s probably unfair to pick on him as an example. But Google’s recent acquisition of a 2-year-old video sharing website,, for $1.6 billion is yet another madness in this capitalist world don’t you think? No disrespect to youtube’s community generated video content, but they are at best amateur. Compared to content generated by say BBC, the stuff on youtube are really of low educational value, by and large, and of really poor quality. Some are quite entertaining, but mostly are rubbish. And tell you what, there will be even more rubbish, as will be triggered in much the same way as by Google on most rubbish that we all see on the Internet today, thanks largely to Google Adsense, that allows webmasters to easily display pay-per-click advertisements on their websites.The business logic of buying youtube is mainly its ability to command eyeballs, with 20 million visitors every month and growing, and hence potentially more advertising revenue. But it is ashamed that such a big sum of money (not a big sum for Google of course as they have so much crazy money in the form of inflated shares) is paid to such a low value entertainment portal that doesn’t do all that much.Anyway, let’s hope that these not-so-coventional rich men can also follow the example of Warren Buffet in contributing their self made fortune back to the society, rather than blowing them off too easily…

Let it snow, let it snow

This is definitely the heaviest snowfall I’ve seen in the UK, in almost 10 years I’ve been here! We have experienced one of the warmest month in January not that long ago. And today we have heavy snowfall all around the UK. Isn’t it interesting how global warming is affecting the weather pattern?

Snow Reading
This was taken using my new camera phone outside my flat before I head off work at around 08:45. Very pleased with the Sony Ericsson K800i phone so far, very handy.
Snow River Kennet
This is River Kennet, when I was on my way to work, where I also scared off a heron 🙂
Cycle path
This is a stretch of the cycle path that was still pretty untouched with snow. Really quite an experience cycling through fresh thick snows.

Tesco record profits

To survive in the current business environment, efficiency is no doubt absolutely vital. But for supermarket chain like Tesco to record �1.15bn profits (for the first half of the year), we are talking about more than just surviving! Money has to come from somewhere, to make up the figure. So naturally, consumers are the one who pay, as they purchase products from the supermarket. However, the consumers are not losing out here, as a trolley of 100 common items bought at Tesco would cost only 74p (according to The Grocer) less at Asda, which claim themselves to be the cheapest supermarket chain in the UK. The clear losers are the producers and farmers. According to the Welsh dairy farmers �supermarkets are charging up to 57.5p per litre for milk with farmers receiving around 17p. Ten years ago supermarkets were charging 44p and farmers received over 24p�.I understand that public listed companies are designed to deliver performance to the shareholders. But for these supermarkets to (partly) booze their profits by squeezing money out from the farmers make Microsoft looks like a saint. At least Microsoft’s biggest shareholder, Bill Gates, is making good use of his wealth and set up one of the largest charitable foundation in Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.

Electoral roll

I remember laughing at an advertisement sticked on a bus persuading people to get themselves registered on the electoral roll in return for better credit ratings. Not so funny anymore when I found out that the two credit ratings agencies – equifax and experian really do use the electoral roll information when they compile my credit histories. So this time I was quick to reply to the council when I realised that my name wasn’t registered to vote on this new property that I recently moved into. Basically equifax and experian use the information on the electoral register as a source for your name and address. So if you weren’t on the register, you have one less source in your credit report to back that you are living in your current address.I used to think that if i didn’t owe any companies any money, or didn’t have any bad debts, I should have good credit history (having mentioned that, it’s probably worth spending £2 to get a copy of your credit history from equifax and experian, just to make sure that the credit history that they compiled reflects your actual position. If they weren’t you should definitely inform them). However, it appears that it doesn’t quite work like that (sounds like it’s coming from the stupid Nationwide advertisement) :). In fact it’ll do your credit history some good by owing banks (say loan or mortgage) or credit card companies some money, but do remember to make repayments (with some interest) on time. By doing so, it shows that you are a good debtor, not running away from debts, and making repayments promptly :)But why is it necessary to build a good credit history? Well, it depends. For me, I want my credit history to work for me when I need to borrow a large amount of money, especially in the case where the amount is much more than my earning power.