Friday, September 19, 2014

When you reach your goal, you have the choice to move the post

More than 40 years ago as a 19 year old student, I did my first geological fieldwork in France around 90km north of Nice. I got there by train and hitchhiked from Nice to LaMartre dragging a canvas tent with metal poles and some other stuff along with me. 30 days later, I was to return from Nice by air to the Netherlands – my first airplane trip!

I planned to spend the last days of my stay on the beach and sleep right along the water under palm trees.  The Police didn’t agree and send me to a place in town, I was to check-in by 6pm.  I had barely checked in when the doors closed for the night. I had checked into a homeless house run by the Salvation Army and wasn’t allowed to leave until next morning.  All night I heard the sounds of a partying town around me, but couldn’t join the fun. The next morning I was kicked out onto the street at 6 am. I had 4 hours left to enjoy the beach and eat a bun with sardines, some lettuce and other stuff. They called it ‘Pain au Bain’ and it was the most delicious breakfast I ever had. I walked along a road with expensive houses to the airport: “One day, I’ll have a place like that”
Now, many years and adventures later, I am back in Nice and eating 'Panini Bagnat' on a terrace while keying in this post on my tablet. If I really wanted I could buy myself a place here. That is a thing about dreaming and setting goals. You may work towards it, but once you are there, you may see life differently. Now I think about my family in Canada; about friends over there. Yes, I have the option to fulfil this dream or… I can adjust it, having my cake and eating it too. 

As a successful investor you create the financial means to reach your dreams and goals; by doing so you’re creating the option to realize those goals or to… move the goal post. You have created freedom. What dream(s) do you want to realize?

BTW I have rented a car and on Monday I will revisit LaMartre.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

You are human and can chose; a seagull isn’t and can’t

Self-knowledge and goal setting (and achieving) are important for an investor. What are you trying to achieve and why? These are truly fundamental issues. Recently I read a great line, I just don’t remember in which book. You get born and you die. In between is your free time. That is exactly true.

Whether you believe in a God or not, in the end we are on earth to do the best with the time we have and if we treat our neighbors as we would like to be treated ourselves things should generally work out. Whether you have a life partner or not, you still have to allocate your life’s time according to what you want to do and according to what you want out of your live. If you don’t know what you want, how can you find a person to spend your live with?

Planning and looking forward is what makes us human. Those were the mysteries of life that I was contemplating on the beaches of the Costa d'Azul in Nice, France. What is the point of looking out over a beautiful landscape or sea if we don’t think; if we don’t plan and spend our time alive in the best possible manner? Why would anyone stare out over the sea without contemplating life unless one is as mindless as a seagull (are seagulls mindless?).

Girl contemplating life in the face of oncoming waves :)

 Or are we just as mindless as a seagull living oblivious of what our live is about?
Really, why make all this money if you don’t know what for? As humans, we have some control over our destiny, we can plan and reach goals – we think and that, ladies and gentleman, makes us human and possibly unique [on earth?]. Our self-awareness, our ability to think that gives us the power to set our destiny. Sometimes circumstances are not easy, but we always strive to get from where we are to some place we think is worthwhile going.

Vacations are taking us out of our daily routine. Daily routines make us sometimes forget what we want out of life - we forget taking stock and forget to mark our progress. Vacation is 'time-out'; celebrating where we are in life and planning where to go next.

I am celebrating hard on the market of old Nice while contemplating life from behind a ‘verre de vin rouge’.
On our vacation we may not find all the answers in our enjoyable search for sense and destiny in life. But we should be able to step back and ask ourselves again what we want and then go for it.

 Oohh, I love to live in Nice in a little apartment looking out over the sea… all day long! Holding hands with my love and doing…. Eh…. doing what? Well, I could work 6 months a year in North America and spend the remaining six months in Nice counting waves on the beach! Well, if that is what you really want what is stopping you? Personally, I’d lose count after the 10th wave and go nuts turning into a seagull!

 Still how would you pay for that apartment in Nice? Ah… now we’re planning and setting goals! That would be your second big investor attribute: I want money to…. And I need how much? Maybe a bit extra, just in case my math is not so good or in case something nasty and unforeseen happens to me.

Maybe your goal in life is to become a seagull not in charge of anything but with the waves of life crashing on you as they come. You are human and you can chose, a seagull isn’t and can’t (so far as I know).

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Comparing North American with European Economies is a bit like comparing apples and oranges

Today, I walked along the Basilique de Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart) at the core of Montmartre and the place was once again filled with people. People were even sticking out of the windows right below the great Dome of the basilica. Walking up to the church through the narrow cobbled roads of Montmartre, numerous small eateries can be found. When I tried to buy a few drawings of Paris as mementoes, I was politely asked to pay cash rather than credit card – ‘les artistes’ prefer cash. Not necessarily to escape bank charges (although that helps) but also sales and more important income taxes.

My farther, many years ago, ran a store in the Netherlands and he always preferred cash for the same reasons. You see, although North Americans think they live in the most free and capitalist part of the world, real anarchism finds its roots in Europe – never let us forget that. While we, North Americans, dutifully volunteer our incomes to the government, Europeans avoid the taxman like the plague. U.S. commentators often looked down on countries like Greece during the ‘European debt crisis’ because so many of its citizens were not paying taxes. ‘No wonder those countries were so deep in debt!’, was often the self-righteous outcry of those living in the center of North America's 'free world' under close scrutiny of the NSA, CIA, Homeland Security and SS… eh FBI… and many other institutions that are supposed to keep an eye on its population.

Yes, there is a lot of bureaucracy in Europe but its citizens have centuries experience avoiding it. Barter between friends and family is an exquisite skill. All those small French restaurants with 3 to 5 employees and supplied by the local grocery stores, fish halls and butchers, who can keep track of them? So much is in the underground economy. Life is in many ways so different; yes the French are not rich in monetary form. The Parisians live in tiny apartments often priced between 200,000 and 350,000 Euros (even now during a recession if you believe the economists). Many Parisians don’t have cars rather they own Vespas and Bugatti motorcycles and mopeds. But they live also all day out of house on the Paris terraces and streets. I haven’t been in a bad restaurant yet, nor have I dealt with rude waiters. The French live in style; so do the Greek and the Italians and it is just not our style.

At one point, I stated that my goal in life was to earn enough money so that I could live as well as when I was a student doing my thesis in Spain. In North America we mix up earning lots of money with lifestyle. But living in big houses, going on vacation to Hawaii, Mexico or Disneyland in summer, at Christmas and during Spring Break-up while racking up debt on lines of credit and credit cards leads more likely to a heart attack than to an enjoyable lifestyle.

With all the in uncertainties in measuring GDP, unemployment, participation rates and purchase manager indexes, comparing European economies with North American ones is in my books a fool’s game. Oh by the way, in the Netherlands GDP last quarter grew, on an annual basis 1.25% and unemployment fell to 605,000 a significant improvement over previous quarters. So, with Draghi lowering interest rates maybe it is time to buy some more European index funds. I think, over the longer term Europe is not so bad a place to invest and its stock markets are still cheap.

In spite of all the babble, Western Europe is political stable. Oh by the way, the only reason the U.K. is not a full member of the EU is that London is today Europe’s financial center and the British fear that the rest of Europe wants a say in and a share of the commissions from those markets.  By staying just a bit shy of being a full member, London thinks it can have its cake and eat it too. Cameron says he wants the U.K. out of the union. Well if Scotland breaks away, and if London loses its status as ‘financial center of Europe’ in case the U.K. steps out of the EU then England starts to look a bit thin.

Basilique du Sacred Coeur

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Anecdotal economic data from Europe

Well, I haven’t posted a lot during this busy summer. Now I’m on my second day in France, after having spent last week in Holland, or better ‘the Netherlands’.  First thing noticed in Paris, the capital of the land of bon-vivants is the large number of smokers – not only the old; many younger persons smoke here as well. That is quite a contrast with Canada where healthy lifestyle is close to an obsession.

Here in Montmartre everyone sits on little terraces drinking coffee, beer and even wine while smoking like chimneys. You wouldn’t think there is a recession going on – everything is loaded with people. My math is not always perfect and I arrived a day early by train; the hotel was fully booked and they arranged a room in another Best Western 500m down the road. I hobbled around Rue Ordener (I first spelled it ‘ordinaire’ over-confident in my French language skills); Rue Ruisseau with no creek in sight  J; Rue Helmes and Boulevard Barbes.  All filled with people. The first night I ate in a restaurant along the Rue Ordener which filled up as the evening went along; there was life music with classic guitar and violin electrically enhanced playing jazzy tunes. As the evening went along, the restaurant filled up. Tables were added on the sidewalk until it was filled while pedestrians moved around the tables. Ca c’est normal! My food and wine was excellent but a continuous stream of scooters, small cars and city buses moved a few tables away from mine.
In my morning café, I was informed that they served only cookies but I was welcome to go to a nearby boulangerie and buy some croissants and consume them along with an 'caffee alonge’ (for us Canucks that is a regular coffee) in their café. French and their tourists are apparently cheap.  I paid 8 Euros for a cappuccino, an caffee alonge and some pate with French bread. Since I spend nearly 2 hours reading in the café I left a 3 Euro tip. The waiter was all excited, claiming that French tipped normally not more than 50 Eurocents which equates to a bit more than 50 cents Canadian.
I sat for hours in a cute little park In the middle of Montmartre with a playground. You must have heard that Europe’s population is quickly competing with the age of methuselah but this park was full of little critters and doting parents. The streets in Montmartre are filled with strollers and handheld toddlers. Les Parisiennes have apparently never heard that they are graying at an alarming rate. According to statistics, rather than in expensive strollers, citizens of Paris ought to ride in wheelchairs.

Tonight, I am eating in yet another restaurant in Montmartre, accidentally with an Italian menu. When I entered early in the evening it was empty.  Aahh! So there is economic malaise after all! An hour later it was full.  Yes life in France, especially supper, doesn’t start until eight pm – after I devoured a delicious bruschetta starter filling an entire large plate for 7 Euro.
Before I forget, they rent smart cars here as well along the city streets, just like in Calgary. Only these you plug in and they are not GM volts or a Tesla of $100,000 plus.
Electric cars for rent along Rue Custine, Montmartre, Paris