Saturday, March 28, 2009

Air disasters

“The International Air Transport Association (IATA) reported that 502 people died in airliner accidents around the world last year, compared to 692 in 2007. That was despite an increase in the total number of crashes, from 100 to 109. The association said there was one airliner accident for every 1.2 million flights.

Authorities say commercial flying is at its safest in a 100-year history. ‘Safety is the industry’s number one priority’,’ IATA’s director general said in a statement accompanying the report.”
[AP Feb 25, 2009 – Yahoo! News]

A month after the report was published; we read news of multiple crashes of commercial, cargo and military jets. Expect more reports of air disasters to come out this year, especially between now in spring to the summer holidays.

For those looking for a likely rationale for why much more air disasters will occur in 2009, it is probably because of poor maintenance due to the ongoing retrenchment of personnel across the board and other costs-cutting measures announced by airline companies or even faulty engine designs. (Aviation authorities and IATA should take note of that.)

So plan your holidays well this spring and summer; fly only with airlines which have a good flight safety record and not in trouble. Notwithstanding what the civil aviation authorities and IATA will tell you about their strict regulations and flight history. These are dire times for many countries and airline companies, remember?

In case you still have not caught on to what one is hinting, I have recently told a sibling to avoid taking a flight back during a particular month within the spring/summer season to visit a sick relative. She has decided to defer the planned visit until the end of 2009.

Of course you can leave it to fate, if you wish. The choice is always up to you or not.


I had wanted to blog another forewarning together with this entry, however since there was a huge rumbling from heaven during the drafting, it has been deferred. And the continuous thunder has since gone away to a safe distance. Let us see if heaven will allow it to be blogged later. There is still some time left before that particular unlucky omen happens. Governments could have their hands full, if the omen actually occurs.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Sail back into safe harbor

Amid the glut of bad news, it is heartening to hear that some Asian pension funds have recently sold down their equities holding and switched to the safer Government bonds (equivalent to Treasuries or Gilts). Perhaps recent wild swings in the stock markets and the past six months’ huge evaporation of wealth are more than what their trustees can endure, or perhaps they have wizen up to the fact that it is better to be safe than be sorry before the huge losses in their books mount.

(Or perhaps they should wait for the heavily arm-twisted FASB of the US to provide for the new standard for false, oops, marked-to-make-believe accounting for long term - toxic or depleted – assets to replace the existing marked-to-market one.)

Collectively, pension funds across the world have lost several trillions of dollars in the recent global stock market meltdown. It has been reported that on average most have lost between twenty to thirty percent on their investments.

While the Asian pension funds (excluding Japan) are much smaller compared to those in the US, Japan and Europe, their trustees would have a similar fiduciary duty to protect the lifetime savings of members and retirees. Would the members mind a lower dividend on their savings in these times of crises? I don’t think so. But if they find out that the pension fund has lost a large part of their lifetime savings, then there is hell to pay. And Governments will have another crisis on their hands. (Take note of that.)

There is a reason why I say that the recent switching of funds from the stock markets to Government bonds by Asian pension funds is good news. They could be saving a lot of pain and heartaches (read further losses) going forward.

Compared to the giant pension funds in the US, Japan and Europe which account for about 83% of global pension fund assets, the Asian ones (excluding Japan) are smaller but faster sail boats in the flight to safety. That is they have relatively smaller holdings in equities. And perhaps they are sailing back into safe harbor where they can anchor before the next financial tsunami hits. (Reading future news today?)

Like big ships, tankers and ocean going cruise liners still out at sea, the giant pension funds would take a much longer time to unwind their equities holding to reach safety. And can therefore be subjected to violent storms and winds. If they can withstand the ferocity of this tsunami, well and good, if not many could sink - another disaster in the making.

If the expected stampede to get out of the global stock markets happen, curious individuals (investors) watching at the shore line could be swept away by the financial tsunami, possibly losing their lives or lifetime savings.

The accurate card reading lady fortune teller was correct, more than a decade ago, when she predicted and kept insisting that I was like a fast boat which will sail back to safe harbor every time before the big storms hit (stock market collapses).

The only thing when asked, she could not answer was how did I know? Possibly she is still trying to figure out the reason like some readers after all these years. How would I know?

My late parents did know, my close friends do know, those who sold their Malaysian stock investments every time I went overseas during the Bull Run in 1993 knew something, and probably by now some regular readers too.

Shush! Heaven's secrets!


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

On trust and respect

One of the wise students of Confucius, known as the philosopher Yu had this to say on trust and respect:

‘If trust (xin) is based on what is right or just (yi), speech becomes less complex.

If respect (gong) is given according to ceremony or customs (li), it distances shame and humiliation.

Then there is no loss to both kin and ancestors.’

[Analects 1 .13] [AL]

(James Legge and Hinton gave diverse interpretations on the passage; therefore I decided to look it up and wrote out a simple translation.)

Amid the current crises, students and investors may find wisdoms in the above passage worth remembering.

If we place our trust on someone or something that is not based on what is right (yi), there could be a loss not only to ourselves but also to our family, relatives, and to our ancestors. When you are affected they could be too. Think of the great wealth destruction of tens of trillion dollars in the US and in the world.

Investors in failing companies can also expect the CEOs to issue either nonsensical or complicated statements or blatant lies to gloss over the companies’ failures and insolvency. (Students or scholars may discourse over wrong points or hold on to incorrect practices because of mistranslations and misinformation.)

How many more times do investors need to hear that the titans - banks, auto companies, and insurers - are solvent and would be profitable going forward, before they realize they have been had?

If students and investors choose to rely on misinformation or on the unreliable - be they Gurus, CEOs, Masters of the Universe, Treasurers, or Central Bankers - there could be more pain, shame and humiliation at the end of the day.

Have we just as quickly forgotten their famous rhetoric of the day in 2008 –

‘Give me a bazooka, I will not use it’; ‘The ball park losses of US banks would be in the region of USD 100 Billion’; ‘We are solvent’; 'Our banks are solvent';‘The market has reached the bottom’?

All these before the huge bailouts now called rescues really started in earnest. Yes, many investors and those who were there to provide checks and balances were taken in by these confidences building rhetoric.

Ah, if only they had the foresight. Then they do not need to give long speeches to cover up based on hindsight.

And some of the Masters of the Universe still demand respect (and their bonuses)! Well, perhaps that was the customary practices of the US and Europe in the recent past.

But no more, I am certain, since the American and the European people are much wiser and inwardly raging. And so are people from all over the world. These masters of the universe had also forgotten that respect is given and not demanded. No matter how rich or poor they are.

And they bear no shame, since it was never their fault. It was the fault of the brokers, the rating agencies, the borrowers, China, the short sellers, the accountants, the guys who devised the various derivatives of mass destruction, and now the Government. Gambling addicts, drug addicts, and prodigal sons speak almost the same lingo as these bankers, don’t they? They will eventually blame their parents who had bailed them out from time to time until they go broke.

Luckily for these master villains, the US is no longer the Wild West; otherwise there could be thousands of lynching parties (including millions of foreigners) out looking for them! Now that was the customs (li)!

Talking about moral hazard, the US government may need to keep an eye on Harvard too. The esteemed university from where most of these ‘Masters’ graduated including a recent past president may be in need of a helping hand. It had also caught the gambling bug.

It was the fault of its students who taught the institution how to gamble! (There, given the ultimate excuse for a venerable institution, if it needs a huge bailout, oops, grant.)

How times change, but human nature and truths remain the same.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Confucius knew his Yi well

For the discerning, there are several instances or passages where Confucius made specific references to the Book of Changes in the Analects. Yet we get to hear from modern Yi scholars that the great sage did not know about this profound Chinese classic. It is rather specious.

Perhaps these particular modern scholars have no shame for not being earnest and sincere in their Yi studies. Or perhaps they had pretended to have read the four Confucian books trying to impress and to mislead their audience.

To know the Yi well, we have to learn like the ancients and the wise down the ages. There are no short cuts to learning deep and profound subjects like the Yi and/or the Tao; we students have to go through the works. Otherwise would Confucius himself at the level of a sage requested for a further fifty years to study the Yi to ensure there will be no great faults?

For discerning readers, earnest and sincere Yi students alike, take a look at what the great sage said in this passage [Analects 9 . 8]:

‘The Fang bird does not come; the river sends forth no map; - it is all over for me!’

Together with a few other instances quoted from the Analects and the Zhouyi in this blog, does it not show that Confucius knew his Yi rather well?

Friday, March 06, 2009

Falling into the abyss

The holy sages certainly knew human nature well when they dedicated in the Book of Changes, a hexagram called Kan / The Abysmal on crisis and how to overcome it. Abysmal means bottomless or extremely bad. Abyss means bottomless chasm, deep gorge or primal chaos.

With the advent of science, there are similar bottomless pits out there in space, known as black holes. We now know that surrounding stars and the light are continuously sucked in by these black holes. (Think of the US and European financial and other institutions being bailed out or rescued.)

However scientists still do not know how deep these black holes in heaven are, not dissimilar to the top economists and well meaning strategists who really cannot fathom the depth of the current abyss in the global stock markets and the economies on earth.

Of course everyone has a right to make a best guesstimate and some do it for a living – fund managers, stock analysts, economists, advisers, fengshui masters and fortune tellers.

In these times of crises, if you want to rely on these professionals for your investments, make very sure you are following the right ones, and have deep pockets. Otherwise your good money could be sucked into black holes or you could quickly find yourself trapped and falling into an abyss with no end of the tunnel. And with no sight of the light too.

In the past, one has hinted about all these things – abyss, black hole, heaven falls, wrong calls of bottom(s), no recommendation of which fengshui masters’ predictions to follow this year, heavenly signs, asking regular readers to go into hiding and to return to the Light.

As I mentioned to my learned Daoist friend today, if no one wants to listen, tough. One is not going to reveal too much of heaven’s secrets and get seriously whacked again. At the very least, I am happy to know of some who listen.

The final cut could be when individual and institutional investors’ panic sell thinking the final hour of Armageddon has arrived.

That would be the real bottom of the abyss as defined by the ancients and the best of the best investment gurus in the past. Meanwhile we need to have a touch of patience.

But over the past decades, I have seen it many times before; no ‘follower’ is willing to budge when I ‘panic buy’ during actual stock market bottoms! And they lament afterwards.

There is nothing to blame, it is human nature. Seized by both fear and panic, only the very wise or foolish would dare to budge.

Just like the Way, opportunities during a crisis come and go. Time waits for no one.

If we missed them this time, we may have to wait for another lifetime for such opportunities to come along again.