To all those wide-eyed millennials looking for a break

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It breaks my heart to see millions of millennials still chasing rainbows and hoping that the US government or a cartoon character such as Berne Sanders or crooked Hillary Clinton were ever going to change their lives.

Maybe it is time to grow up folks and grow some too and realize that no one is going to take care of you other than yourself if you want to build anything meaningful in your life….whether nailing a big corporate job or creating your own empire. NO ONE. So get used to it, life is not fair and this will never change.

Ever since the paleolithic era we’ve been fighting over scarce resources. Whether this was food, shelter or trendy sabretooth skirts.

Times have changed – but the essence remains the same; it’s resources we’re after.

Money mainly.

In the old days, we used to have a trading system where hunters would trade their catch with fishers for example. This is an equal exchange of value of differently skilled people.

The same concept still applies today. Money simply has made trading your entire life easier.

This system allows us to tap into the expertise of others. The more difficult the task, the more money they get.

Being able to do what others cannot is what makes you “valuable”.

Anyone can sell shoes, anyone can run behind a dumpster truck, anyone can sell fast-food. But not everyone knows how to build a house, lay electrical wiring or perform an open-heart-surgery. The more difficult and in-demand your skills are – the higher your value will rise.

If you want more income – You have to deserve it first.

How?

By building up difficult skills that are high in demand based on your strengths….Nothing else will do it

This means that the barrier of entry for competitors will be high (less competition) and you work in a field where your skills are highly valued.

Additionally, building on strength gives you an “edge” on others….Sounds sweet right?

So what are strengths? Have you ever asked yourselves this question?

Strengths are the things we naturally excel at – the things that come “naturally” to us.

How Do I Find My Strengths?

You find strength through self-analysis

The best way I’ve found to do this is by keeping a journal of my life in which I’m able to spot different trends. Over time you’ll be able to hone down on what you’re really good at.

Here are three ways to discover your strengths:

1. Self-Assessment

Here are some questions you should ask yourself when looking for your personal strengths:

  • In what did I grow up around? Competence can arise from early practice, what types of activities were you involved in as a child?
  • What do strangers compliment me on? You/your direct surroundings often notice your natural strengths faster than you do. Just ask around.
  • What did I want to become as a child? What were the underlying trends?
  • What have I been doing the last 10 years? Competence comes from doing a certain thing for a long period of time.
  • What can I effortlessly talk about without losing drive? An interesting topic is most likely something you’re highly skilled at or highly interested in.
  • What are the things I effortlessly excel at? What activities come easy for you?
  • In what areas do I learn quickly? Some skills are perfectly suited to our temperament and therefore we’re able to pick these up much faster than others.
  • Who do I envy/admire? Jealousy is a nasty but beautiful emotion as it shows us what we truly want. The same goes for admiration.

2. Reading

Furthermore, a great book that will help you find more strengths is Managing Oneself by Peter F. Drucker

Read the summary and define for yourself:

  • Am I a reader or a listener?
  • How do I learn best?
  • Do I work well with others or do I perform better alone?
  • Do I produce results as decision maker or as an adviser?
  • Do I perform well under stress or do I need a structured environment?

Alright – what’s next?

3. Personality Tests

A great way to explore further is by doing some personality tests (although they are often too general – it’s quite likely that they’ll give you some more career-indicators)

Here are the ones I recommend:

  • MBTI-test
  • DISC-assessment
  • Enneagram

Learn more about each type by simply Googling the results you’ve gotten.

Put all of these answers in a separate word-sheet and try to determine for yourself the answer to this question;

How can I combine my skills (based on strength) and my interests to solve a need for other people?

Going Deeper

In our current information society it might be not enough to be simply highly skilled in only one particular field. The combination of different, highly valued skills is also often what elevates your value.

Here’s some other tips to prepare for the future:

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked.

Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday.

Be Impeccable With Your Word. Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

Don’t Take Anything Personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

Don’t Make Assumptions. Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

Always Do Your Best. Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.

Keep track of global trends. Where is the world going and how can I prepare for this? Especially the technological boom is very prominent – stay ahead of the robots!

Work for yourself. Everyone will need to become an entrepreneur in the future

The world is your oyster …. Just because the past didn’t turn out like you wanted it to, doesn’t mean the future can’t be better than you ever imagined.

Essence

The world is an inherently competitive place. You’ll need an edge to become indispensable & the only way to become indispensable is to excel at things others cannot do.

Of course competence at a skill will lead to enjoying the activity more – enjoying it more means you’ll be doing it more which in turn makes you more competent.

It’s an endless loop.

Eventually you’ll start to LOVE it and it’ll become your “passion”. So don’t go searching for something until it “feels just right” but create it by building on strengths. Don’t waste time and energy on an endless passion-chase.

Note: Strengths are solely performance indicators (not unchangeable truths). So don’t obsess about them. You can still “be whoever you want to be”, but you won’t perform optimally if you build your life on weakness. It can be stretched – just not indefinitely.

So tell me; what are your strengths?

I hope this personal analysis is timely for you. There’s so much wasted time & energy (and frustration) in fields where we just don’t have a natural advantage in. And the world is simply too much of a competitive place not to use this.

Now that you know the basics, go for the kill and never look back.

The BEST revenge is “OBSCENE WEALTH”.

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BREAKSIT

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That’s what I call the Brexit vote – “Breaksit.” It breaks stereotypes, it cuts across demographics, it astounds the pundits, and it breaks the unity of a pseudo-government called the European Union. It breaks preconceptions. Brexit was a rebellion by the people of England against an overbearing, uncontrollable, unaccountable socialist bureaucracy without adequate checks and balances. England will be free of this octopus with its insidious tentacles that destroy national sovereignty and upend traditional social order. I was convinced, before the vote, that England would vote to Brexit. So few of the political pundits agreed with me, but I was sure it would happen. I was also sure that the stock markets would (temporarily) tank.

For the investor, this is an extremely good buying opportunity. For the 401K and IRA owner, it is a time of confusion and stress. “How could I lose so much money in one day?” you ask. Just hold on. The market will be back. If your investments were sound, they still are sound. The companies in which you invested will survive, and will continue to prosper. If your investments were risky, they remain risky, and the companies may fail – or may succeed beyond your wildest expectations. That’s the nature of risk. I’m going to ride the roller coaster, and look for opportunities at the bottom.

England will do well. There will be a “period of adjustment” because it was linked so intimately to the European economic system, but Europe will still need English products, and England will still need European products, and so a new trade agreement will be reached. Similarly for the US: Our economy is intimately meshed with the English economy and also with the European economy. Our trade agreements with Europe will remain, and we will quickly reach new trade agreements with England. Trade and economics will return to normal.

Scotland may or may not decide to separate from the United Kingdom and re-join the European Union. Even if they do, H.M. Elizabeth II will still be Queen of Scotland. If Scotland splits, Scotland will no longer be united with England in a common government (almost federal), but Scotland will still have H.M. Elizabeth II, as Head of State for Scotland, just as Canada still has H.M. Elizabeth II as Head of State. Northern Ireland will be in a similar quandary: whether or not to leave the United Kingdom and unite with Ireland so as to be a part of the European Union. Both Scotland and Northern Ireland need to determine whether their economic systems are more tied to England’s or to Europe’s.

We all shall all wait and see what will happen. Only the Shadow knows.

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The Symbiosis of Institutional Investors and Activist Hedge Funds

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Second quarter 2016 has waxed brutally for hedge funds in the realm of regulatory compliance. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has called on investigative authority over hedge funds such as RD Legal Capital LLC and Platinum Partners LP for full disclosure of investment vehicles and practices. Of late, Visium Asset Management has joined the growing list of hedge funds flagged for insider-trading. The Wall Street Journal recently cited SEC’s Director Andrew Ceresney as stating hedge fund “Valuation [to be] one of the core issues.”

As we pointed out in our prior article Hedge Fund Performance and Regulation hedge funds historically had greater leeway in choosing how to value and categorize the portfolio’s underlying investments, drawing on the Securities Act of 1933’s Regulation D safe harbor rules. We also stated that regulatory compliance dictates from the SEC should remain constant, and not increase as hedge funds are above all performance driven. There is deep reasoning behind support for hedge funds, especially activist hedge funds, in the investment world – reasoning that laymen may not understand, but which focuses on the benefits institutional investors derive from seemingly mutually exclusive activist hedge fund activity.

Activist hedge funds exhibit corporate control activism, which according to L. Bebchuk, A.Brav, and W. Jiang, Harvard Law Review authors of The Long-Term Effects of Hedge Fund Activism, can be categorized via three strategies. First, as shareholders of a potential acquirer company, the strategy involves taking high stakes in a target company to ensure full acquisition over competition. Second, as shareholders of a potential target, hedge funds may use blocking strategies to benefit target shareholders. Third, hedge funds have themselves taken aggressive positions in a portfolio of companies solely in order to become activist, rather than diversifying and becoming involved when companies are exhibiting non-performance. Although not widely publicized, traditional institutional investors such as large pension and mutual funds engage in shareholder activism mainly through SEC Rule 14a-8, forcing inclusion of shareholder proposals in the proxy statements of vested public companies.

Marcel Kahan and Edward B. Rock of University of Pennsylvania Law Review do a superb job of explaining the constraints of institutional investor activism and the ensuing need for hedge fund activism via Hedge Funds in Corporate Governance and Corporate Control. We examine the most poignant points:

Pension Funds

  • Governance changes through shareholder proposals have largely been a practice of public pension funds due to the sheer asset size and scope. We have seen a surge of shareholder engagement from pension funds from 2015 to present, with the plunge in global economic and business climates. However, while proxy contests from pension funds aid in activism, the activism is more post-event reactive to company performance than pre-event business structuring. As the authors put it, pension funds traditionally handle only the “motherhood and apple pie issues” of shareholder engagement.
  • Pension funds have political constraints that inhibit an aggressively proactive approach to shareholder activism. Many pension fund trustees tend to overlap between private and public sector duties such as “gubernatorial appointees or elected politicians.” Such positions may lead to a bias towards political establishment dictates as opposed to actively working with company Boards to ensure optimal investment returns. The authors cite CalPERS as a prime example of such constraints, as historically the pension fund has held a strong pro-union position and has widely held union representatives on the Board.

Mutual Funds

  • Mutual Funds are generally retail investors.  The authors state that only TIAA-CREF has held what can be considered as an activist position in the industry. Mutual funds tend to take even a more passive position than pension funds in shareholder engagement.  Specifically, the necessary semiannual filing of all amounts and values of securities renders it difficult for mutual funds to take aggressive “pre-emptive strike” positions in a portfolio of companies.
  • SEC guidelines clearly stipulate the percentage of assets that all mutual funds can have in illiquid investments. In addition, mutual funds have requirements to redeem shares on short notice. These requirements put mutual funds in a passive shareholder engagement position.
  • Diversified mutual funds have major regulatory barriers and expenses that inhibit assertive activism. Unlike hedge funds, mutual funds for the most part do not charge performance based fees, and so depend on feed based on a fixed percentage of the of the mutual fund’s assets under management. Since activist investor proxy contests are costly, we find that most index mutual fund management would prefer to take a reactive position.
  • Most mutual funds have conflict of relationships due to affiliations with other non-activist financial institutions such as insurance companies and conservative pension funds. Many mutual funds have corporate pension plans as core business, and may not want to practice aggressive shareholder activism so as to not jeopardize client preferences.

Shareholder proposals from both pension and mutual funds are more a corporate governance wish list from shareholders, and fall more under the category of broad shareholder engagement than the activism partaken by activist hedge funds. Mutual and pension funds do not use the leverage that activist hedge funds employ to take the necessary positions for pre-emptive strikes to change company financial and operating structures.  As the authors rightly state, “hedge fund activism is strategic and ex ante: hedge fund managers first determine whether a company would benefit from activism, then take a position and become active.”  Hedge funds have become almost synonymous with activism. However, Kahan and Rock point out that only US$50 billion of the US$3 trillion global hedge fund assets under management are structured for shareholder activism. The point being that hedge funds are not solely formed to be activist investors. Yet, the small number of hedge funds that are activists truly pack a punch in active corporate governance.

The Columbia Law School’s Blue Sky blog’s article, Hedge Fund Activism: A Guide for the Perplexed has a bit of a mixed review when it comes to the activist hedge fund outlook. While there is an acknowledgement of activist hedge fund influence on company performance, the article takes an almost tongue in cheek approach to the effectiveness of activism, stating that  “institutional investors and knee-jerk academics…both believe that activists are doing the Lord’s work” as the champion of shareholder engagement, but in actuality hedge funds are by and large self-interested. From the points offered by Kathan and Rock on the limits of institutional investors to actively engage in pre-emptive structuring of companies to bolster shareholder interests, the industry must avow to the need for activist hedge fund activity, whether the motives are self-interested or otherwise. Regulatory dictates of the hedge fund industry may bring about transparency in valuations and curb insider-trading in the short term, which can be beneficial. However, a plethora of punitive regulatory barriers can seriously hinder effective shareholder engagement and corporate governance that may only be achieved through hedge fund activism.

REFERENCES

  • Bebchuk et al. 2015. “The Long Term Effects of Hedge Fund Activism.” Harvard Business Law Discussion Paper. Columbia Law Review. Pages 1064 – 1154.
  • Coffee, John C. Jr. 2016. “Hedge Fund Activism: A Guide for the Perplexed.”  The Columbia Law School Blue Sky Blog.
  • Copeland, Rob et al. 2016. “Scrutiny of Funds Grows.” The Wall Street Journal. Print Edition.
  • Kahan, Marcel, et al. 2007. “Hedge Funds in Corporate Governance and Corporate Control.”  University of Pennsylvania Law Review. Pages 1029 – 1069.

 

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Emerging Economies – Black Holes or Treasure Troves?

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Diamonds South Africa

It is often said that there is no gain without risk. The greater the risk, the greater the potential gain; and the greater the potential gain, the greater the potential risk. Investors look to emerging economies because the potential for gain is great; but at the same time, the potential risk is great. Until just recently, the investment world looked to the BRICS group of emerging markets to produce much of the growth for the world economy, and these five emerging markets played every-increasing political roles in the world due to their growing economic clout.

A look at Brazil, the “B” of the BRICS group, gives rise to concern. President Dilma Roussef just lost an impeachment vote against her, and this shows just how far Brazil’s current government has fallen in recent years. Since she took office, President Roussef has faced a host of problems, many of which are the direct result of her and her party’s leadership. The largest of these problems is corruption, which has been the undoing of many regimes in Brazil. Now, the massive Petrobras scandal has destroyed the credibility of the government and, in particular, of President Roussef. The scandal has created a loss of confidence in the Brazilian economy, plunging the nation into a recession, one of the worst in Brazil’s recent history. Shortly before, Brazil believed it was positioned for a long period of China-like rates of economic growth, allowing the country to play a dominant role in Latin America and giving it a major voice on the world stage. Instead, thanks in large part to President Rousseff’s government’s lackluster performance and corruption, Brazil has fallen further behind most of the world’s other leading powers in political power and economic development. Rousseff appears to be on the way out. Last weekend, the lower house of Brazil’s parliament voted in favor of launching impeachment proceedings against her, easily exceeding the two-thirds’ majority required to do so. This motion will now go to the Brazilian Senate, which is expected to suspend President Rousseff for the duration of the trial, and then to sit in trial over her next month. President Rousseff has countered by accusing her political opposition of staging a coup.

India and China continue to meet expectations, despite China’s recent slowdown and India’s struggle with internal divisions; and Russia continues to play a greater role in many of the leading political and security issues facing the world today, despite its recent economic woes. However, the woes of Brazil and South Africa show that they have undoubtedly failed live up to expectations on the political and economic fronts in recent years. For both countries, much of the blame lies with their political leadership, which has led both countries astray. Unfortunately, this poor political leadership has caused great harm to both countries and could result in long-term loss of power and influence.

South Africa, the smallest of the BRICS – and the least qualified for membership in such a group – has been backsliding in recent years. This is due largely to the disastrous leadership of President Jacob Zuma and the deep divisions that have emerged in that country’s dominant political party, the African National Congress (ANC). Of course, low natural resource prices have severely hurt the South African economy. However, the current government there has failed to take the steps needed to diversify the country’s economy away from its dependence upon natural resource exports, and instead has rolled back many of the programs that had been enacted by its predecessors. Meanwhile, President Zuma also has faced a number of corruption scandals in recent years that have weakened his ability to govern South Africa. As a result of these economic struggles and corruption scandals, South Africa has found it more difficult to play the leading role in Sub-Saharan Africa that it has sought to do since the end of apartheid.

The problems facing Brazil and South Africa are clear examples of how poor governance (corrupt governance that does not understand the market economy) can squander massive economic and resource advantages. Brazil and South Africa are both incredibly rich in natural resources. In Brazil, President Rousseff’s disastrous leadership has caused Brazil’s failure to take advantage of its huge resource and demographic advantages that are in many ways similar to that of other large “New World” economies. Meanwhile, although South Africa has great resource and infrastructure advantages over many of its emerging market rivals, President Zuma’s numerous missteps are squandering these advantages. As a result, South Africa is losing political clout in its region, while its economic lead over its neighbors is shrinking. While both presidents are nearing the end of their reigns, both countries have the opportunity to elect more capable leaders. Nevertheless, the opportunities wasted by both countries could have long-term consequences, both within their borders and across their respective regions.

So, what is the interested investor to do? An investor may park his or her funds in more predictable economies, minimizing the investment risk. Alternatively, the investor can perform thorough research and invest carefully in the BRICS, being careful to hedge the bets. Some investors, instead of investing in companies in these countries, invest directly, creating industry in those countries. That can have a high degree of risk, but also a very high level of reward. The BRICS are like diamonds in the rough – indistinguishable to the untrained eye from clear quartz.

Image credit: http://static.rappler.com/images/Diamonds%20South%20Africa%20hands%20AFP.jpg

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Financial Impacts of Foreign Events

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Events around the world have an impact on financial policy, investment strategy, trade and commerce, and each of these has an impact on the others. It is time to do another review of global events and their financial impact. This article contains both analysis and my own editorial opinion. It does not necessarily reflect the opinions of whoever publishes it.

One issue that has attracted a great deal of interest in news reports is the issue of internal and external security threats to Europe. Much of this has to do with the mass immigration of refugees from the tumult in the Middle East, and Islamist Jihadist extremists in their midst. However, in my opinion, the greatest threat at present is the deepening fragmentation within Europe of public opinion camps – and policymaking camps – over policies and policy-making of the European Union. Three factors are influencing this: the rising power of Germany within the EU; the apparent inability of the regions minorities – and particularly the recently-arrived Islamic minorities – to integrate into European society; and the threat of terrorism, largely from Islamist Jihadist cells within the immigrant population. These threaten to stall the region’s efforts at greater integration and enhanced common security. External factors that are affecting this are: the collapse of previously stable states in North Africa and the Middle East into failed states; the retreat of the United States from the world stage, both militarily and from its historic leadership role; and the resurgence of Russian State military ambitions and its apparent efforts to resume the empire-building of Peter the Great. Middle Eastern events have produced the flood of refugees that provides internal instability; the retreat of the United States leads to increased instability world-wide, and a fragmented Europe has difficulty in dealing with this without US leadership; and Russia provides threats to the eastern frontiers of Europe. Unfortunately, all of these factors are likely to intensify in the near future rather than to wane.

Europe is beset by some of its most serious threats internally since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The European Union has failed to achieve the unity of purpose and policy needed to handle the complex issues it faces. National policies tend to take precedent over pan-European issues in the stronger European countries. Economic uncertainties and failures have awoken the struggles between left and right that had remained largely submerged when Europe was facing the threat of Soviet invasion. Ethnic and religious minorities that remained relatively quiet during the Cold War are now asserting themselves, in large part either in opposition to, or emboldened by, the influx of Muslims. This threatens to balkanize Europe politically, even as national boundaries and states remain as they were. High levels of joblessness and financial insecurity among many of these minority populations produce demands that the State “do something.” Germany, Sweden, Greece, France, Italy, and Belgium are particularly affected by this. Recent terrorist attacks in France and Belgium have highlighted the problems resulting from uncontrolled immigration and the failure to screen out dangerous immigrants from those simply seeking a better life.

Externally, the situation is worsening as well. The unprecedented period of peace along the eastern periphery that followed the ending of the wars in the former Yugoslavia enabled Europe and the European nations to focus on internal issues, downsize their militaries, and further subsidize and adjust their social subsidies. The resulting decrease in levels of military, security and intelligence activity paved the way not only for internal attacks by terrorists but for Russia’s expansionist imperialism. When Europe needs her most, the United States is “leading from behind,” which means not leading. There are even calls by US politicians to reconsider whether NATO is even useful.

Internal and external political and security risks to Europe and its nations are at their highest levels in decades, and rising. The resulting instability depresses legitimate trade, encourages smuggling, increases illegal arms trade and distribution, and produces demands on central banks to “do something.” From the standpoint of central banks, there is little that can be done financially without cooperation from the political sphere. Trade and commerce need these things in order to prosper: the rule of law; stable currency; lack of barriers to trade; low levels of regulation; societal security and prosperity; and government policy that aids all of these. These things can be summed up as small government, economic freedom, and stable currency. Many politicians (and their followers), however, are headed left, which will only make the situation worse. A central bank can only do so much. All it can do is to stabilize its currency. This causes profligate governments to fail financially, and leftist politicians don’t like that. A resurgence of capitalism is needed, and the world needs the US to lead that resurgence.

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