Sunday, November 26, 2006

Its the lead-up to Christmas!

I walked the streets of Zurich this afternoon - looking for some roasted chestnuts (of which, I am totally addicted to) and was caught up in the Christmas spirit - whoa! Traditional old European towns really go all out at Christmas, and Zurich is no different - lights everywhere; lots of Christmas trees, and the chocolate stores doing a roaring trade.


Friday, November 24, 2006

See the world, find an old-fashioned girl

Funny title, I know! just one of the songs from the album - Gomez 'How We Operate' that I have been listening to.

It rocks! hard to categorise, the sound is mature, diverse and the closest music I can liken it to is Live, but much better ;) see the plethora of 5/5 star reviews on iTunes Australia, and check out its review it is in-depth!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Opportunities for Australia?

The issue of the environment / global warming is starting to re-assert itself on the Australia political radar. I have some interest in this, and tonight, I read the summary of the report on nuclear energy.

The key points were:
  • Australia currently is known to have 38% of Uranium reserves; the largest deposit being the Olympic Dam site, currently owned by BHP;
  • Nuclear energy is a 'safe' energy source, as can be seen by its implementation in a number of countries, notably, France, Sweden, Hungary, etc. which nuclear energy for more than 33% of energy requirements;
  • Australia is an ideal continent (little or no seismic activity) for both nuclear power plants and nuclear waste disposal (e.g. Simpson desert!);
  • Greenhouse gases could be reduced by 15-20% with the broad-based implementation of nuclear energy
The Australian government, next year, will reap its third 15+ billion dollar surplus; I contend that this is an ideal opportunity to commission the construction of nuclear energy plants to, provide for both current and future generations. What it requires is just some foresight, vision, and drive. There is a precedent - this occurred in 1949 when Ben Chifley commissioned the Snowy Mountains hydro scheme (Australia's largest renewable energy source) and we all aware of the obvious advantages this brought to Australia (skilled workers, multiculturalism, 3.5% of Australia's energy requirements, etc.). It is a time for change!

And lastly, I read that in France they are going to commission a Nuclear Fusion energy plant - wow, this could be the first wonders of the world in the 21st century!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Time to get online

Ok, I just thought I would say - if you have a land line (telephone) and broadband at home - then you are losing money (no wonder Telstra - T3 listed on the ASX at a premium). Telephony has advanced; moved on.

I recently started using Skype and it is fantastic! With my Macbook Pro (with its in-built video camera), I can have a video conversation (for free) with anyone in the world. Just try it - it truly is an upgrade over voice-voice conversation that one has to pay for over a land line. Indeed, if anyone is contemplating traveling OS and wants to keep in contact with family, friends, etc. set them up with a Skype id.

So, I am lamenting the fact that while Internet communication is the staple here in 'old Europe', in Australia, the uptake of broadband is still poor (in terms of relative population using it, and bandwidth offered). Some of my friends still do not have Internet at home (and indeed only have a work email address - surely this can't be good for productivity!), or are on the lowest bandwidth plans. Seriously, I would not consider anything less than ADSL2, or cable for an Internet connection.

So everybody - get online! and if you get skype - give me a call 'markyjones'. And, it is interesting that if you are truly online all the time (especially with video conversation) then the ol' tracksuit pants and beanie may never get a guernsey ever again!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Quote of the year

I read this recently.
'In 10 years time you'll be the same person you are now, except for the people you meet and the books you read'
I couldn't of said it better myself.

Do I need a car?

I recently read an article from a new blog source I have: the 'Barefoot Investor' who specialises on providing financial advice for those not from the 'grey brigade'. The article was justifying why one would not own a car. I shared similar concerns when I sold my car earlier on this year and actually posted the costs associated with owning a car.

I have not owned a car for the last 6 months, although does it count if you are living in Europe? So what if I was living in Melbourne again? well - this is a thought I have tossed around recently.

It is true, the advantages of owning a car are predominantly subjective: (i) it can be enjoyable to drive (well I enjoyed driving my WRX); (ii) it is convenient (for shopping, etc.); (iii) it can be a part of your identity (status?). But, and this is a BIG but - a car is v.expensive! it does not make sense as an investment - by its nature it depreciates rapidly in the first few years of ownership; there are annual registration and insurance costs, and petrol is so variable - all these costs add up. Moreover, a car is not necessary - you can enjoy other aspects of traveling (e.g. reading in public transport), you can shop frequently (in small amounts) to avoid the need for a car, and even for weekend-getaways you can hire a car! There are also short-term hire car services available in the inner city suburbs of Melbourne - and your carbon footprint is significantly reduced.

So - I have decided - I am going to try not to own a car in the short / medium term. Like it is mentioned in the article - I am going to 'tread my own path' and bugger off status / perception.

Now all I need is that my girlfriend and all my mates to live near me ;)

Thursday, November 16, 2006


I am not one to go on about the weather differences between time zones, but I couldn't resist this time. Today, it's snowing in Victoria, Australia to an altitude of 400m (in Spring!) and here today in Zurich, Switzerland (in Autumn) it is a balmy 15 degrees and sunny!

Of course it is night time here at 5pm - perfect time to go to the pub ;)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Its getting cold ... so now it is time to run

Yes, I started my running campaign last week. Maybe inspired by Lance Armstrong's own completion of the NY marathon, or maybe just because it is getting cold and wet (which is not ideal, and indeed downright hairy on a road bike), I am now trying to run 3 times a week (which I did last week!). I am also signed up to my first 'fun run' - Zurich Silvesterlauf; which I presume translates to the Zurich Christmas run. It is a 8.5km run and I have have registered for the < 48 minute group; my aim to run it in < 40 minutes.

So on to week 1:

I started with a leisurely somewhat painful 30 minute run at lunchtime on Tuesday. It hurt and it was not easy. Surprisingly, to do this in the middle of the work day was somewhat relaxing and I found that I was able to focus on work a lot better in the afternoon, although I was absolutely starving following, despite having a large lunch.

I followed this up on the weekend with 2 x 5km runs. Wow - I couldn't believe how much it continued to hurt! I have been cycling on and off for the last 3 months, despite this, after each run, my chest was extremely tight, and my calf muscles have been sore now for a week. Having said that, there was some conditioning as I seemed to just be able to manage 4m 30s / kilometres over 4 km. Now in the next 3 weeks I just need to extend that to 8km; sheesh.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Australia's cartel!

Ok, I must be thinking about my investments at the moment - this is no doubt related to the ASX's recent outperformance in October and the fact that I am now a couple percentage points below an 'ideal' 50% gearing ratio.

So, prompted by Macquarie Bank's research changing its bank preference from ANZ to WBC, I started thinking whether I should further invest in Australia banks. There are four major banks in Australia and, I believe, there is currently legislation maintaining the domicility of these banks to be Australian (i.e. they cannot be overtaken by larger, more competitive offshore companies). This leads to a cartel-like core distribution of bank services in Australia. Of note, most of the Australia banks have provided capital returns of 15%-20% over the last 10 years; ironically, it is better to invest in a bank's shares than in its core savings accounts!

I digress, so ANZ coming off a year of 28% capital return is downgraded and WBC is now the preferred pick of the banking sector. So before I invest, what do I need to consider? Is WBC affected by its exposure to the downturn (and potentially further decline) of Sydney real estate? what will the impact of increased rates be? and on the positive, WBC is at an 11% discount to its peers (I believe its PE ratio is mid-14s) and that the CEO was rather bullish in sentiment. On top of that the 5% dividend yield does look attractive. Decisions, decisions ...

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Gearing ratio - follow up

Will add a few links here as I find them, but I thought Jem's comment on gearing was common sense, although he shied away from stating what amount he currently gears at! There was also a follow up on Enough Wealth on gearing - nice!

Jem's Blog
Enough Wealth Blog

Gearing ratio?

I have done some reading on investing (as most of us do). The consensus approach is that while you are young (define young!?), individuals should gear as much as they can of their income. The rationale is - when you are young, you have less financial responsibilities (e.g. no family, no rates, school education fees, costs of living are reduced, etc.). In addition to this, if you are completely wiped out, then you have x years to re-build and re-accumulate wealth.

So if this is true, what is the ideal gearing ratio of someone my age - 31 years ... young. A gearing ratio being a simple fraction between what investments / capital are owned by me and what investments / capital are owned by the bank. The higher the gearing the more you have invested and the more return, or loss you can make.

Google gives no answer on this; indeed the entire blogosphere seems to be slightly deficient when it comes to financial advice blogs although I just found a blog from Australia and seems to have some good things to say - Enough Wealth.

Well, after some 'cleaning up', I am now sitting at 48.6%; that is, of every dollar I have invested 51% is mine and 49% is the banks! It would be interesting to hear what other people think, and I will have a bit more of read around to see.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Google me!

Ok, recently, I googled my Internet identity - 'markyjones' and the entire first page is related to what I have been doing on the Internet. Of interest, it is typically my profiles on various web sites:, stumbleUpon, flickR, etc.. I was chuffed nonetheless as with a name like 'Mark Jones' it is difficult to have any sort of individual identity.

I am irked however, that identity 2.0 has not kicked in and that all of us can't have just one identity on the Internet, as I recently found out that I cannot have my favourite pseudonym for YouTube - someone already has taken it!

So what happens when you Google yourself?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Light snow showers?

WTF; following a 20 degree sunny (Indian summer) Saturday - signs of Europe's true weather are starting to manifest - yes a report of snow for Friday:
Zurich, Swizterland; Friday; Sunrise 07:10 (CET); Sunset 17:07 (CET)
Friday's predominant weather is forecast to be light snow showers.
Minimum: -7°C; Maximum: 5°C