Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Bitcoin for Gold Exchange

After the craze for Bitcoin and other crypto-currencies, it would appear that the trend is currently in favour of Gold.

Indeed, the collapse of crypto-currencies (loss of 70% of the total value of virtual currencies) in recent months and especially Bitcoin which fell below 7 000 USD, encourages investors anxious to preserve their capital to move towards precious metals.

But first of all, what is Bitcoin and what is its origin?

Bitcoin would have been invented by a Japanese named Satoshi NAKAMOTO in 2009. However, this remains a rumour as many people have proclaimed themselves as the inventors of the famous digital currency.

The Bitcoin principle is quite simple. It is a new currency outside the banking system based on what is called the "Block-chain". The block-chain being metaphorically a chain of bicycle of which each link is a book of account which lists a great number of transactions.

In a classic banking scheme, transactions are collected in the bank's computer and validated by the bank. In the case of Bitcoin, transactions are validated by the block-chain which is distributed on a multitude of computers around the world that download and validate transactions from the block-chain. Namely that these computers generally belong to private individuals and are paid in Bitcoin for their work. These are called "miners". Therefore, the advantage of the block-chain lies in these computers whose system is very secure thanks to the many mathematical algorithms used. A transaction cannot be usurped.

On the other hand, the reliability of crypto-currencies has been called into question several times following computer bugs. Moreover, like any currency, Bitcoin is subject to speculation and is as likely to appreciate in value as to lose. Indeed, the Bitcoin having plummeted by more than 60% of its rate since the beginning of this year, worried investors are forsaking digital currencies to transform them into a more real and ancestral value such as Gold.

For example, Bunker Gold&Silver, a leading precious metals dealer based in Singapore, whose customers have turned away from crypto-currency in favour of physical gold. Investors fear and worry that the massive price appreciation is not sustainable. More and more people are realising that these digital assets have much higher levels of risk than traditional assets.

The advantage of gold is the fact that there is no password or digital wallet to lose, volatility is much lower, growth is historically sustainable and most importantly, you can hold your investment in your hands.

Indeed, gold is considered as the safe investment because it has existed for 4 000 years against other currencies such as the US dollar which is the current world reference currency. For example, after a long period of stability between 1792 and 1971 (-100.00 USD on average), its price has soared to over 1,000.00 USD and is steadily increasing. Today, the gold price is approaching 1,400 USD/OZ.

One of the good reason to invest in Gold is for insurance against a financial meltdown, disintegration of fiat currency and or crypto-currency collapse. This is why many investors buy physical gold with their Bitcoin in the end.

*This is a guest post

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Why TPG Telecom Is Not A Threat To The Incumbent Telcos In Singapore?

The telecommunication industry is set to change in the near future with the fourth telco, TPG telecom starting business in 2019. However, I don't think this will be a threat to the incumbents in Singapore and I will tell you why in this post. Previously, I spent 6 years in the telecommunication industry working as a telecommunication engineer. Deploying mobile networks was bread and butter for me and I know this industry inside out including the challenges of setting up base stations all around Singapore just to provide the coverage that is needed.

TPG Telecom announced on 19 March 2018 that it will be launching its first mobile product aimed at seniors aged 65 and above, offering several free perks for them. TPG said it will offer this group of customers a SIM card, 3GB of monthly mobile data and unlimited local calls for free for the first 24 months. This is actually a good move to get customers on-board. However, I would think those who subscribe to the new telco will face a risk of poor network coverage. Why is this so?

Why TPG Telecom Is Not A Threat To The Incumbent Telcos  In Singapore?

Mobile Coverage

TPG telecom has to provide outdoor street level coverage for 4G within 18 months from the start of the new spectrum rights. This should be done by December 2018. However, do note that this is only for outdoor coverage and not for indoor coverage so the mobile coverage is expected to be weak in buildings and underground premises all around Singapore.

Under the spectrum rights, they are only suppose to meet 85% of In-building coverage by 1 Jan 2020 and 99% MRT underground stations coverage by 1 Jan 2022. Imagine subscribing and paying for your mobile phone bills and realise you can't use your phone in your office building, shopping malls and while you take the train? This is a scenario which is highly likely.

Outdoor street level coverage

Before I go into In-building and MRT underground stations coverage, let me talk a little bit about outdoor street level coverage. In order to deploy a mobile network which covers outdoor areas, mobile base stations have to be built and connected to an antenna which transmits and receives signals. These base stations are mostly deployed at roof tops of HDBs, private residential buildings as well as commercial buildings all around Singapore. It is said that TPG has to secure spaces for 3000 base stations in order to meet the network coverage required. This deployment will not be cheap or easy at all.

From my own experience of deploying mobile base station, many roof tops in Singapore have already limited spaces to deploy these mobile base stations. There is constantly a need to seek approval from relevant authorities and private building owners for this. There are also requirements to meet safety standards so the antennas cannot be deployed just anyhow. The challenge is there and I'm not sure how TPG is able to deploy their network in such a short time with existing spaces on roof tops of buildings already taken up by the incumbents.

Furthermore, base stations and antennas are not cheap. I will not reveal the actual cost of these materials but from what TPG said that they are predicting to spend between $200 million to $300 million for the rollout of its mobile network here, I really think they will most likely over spend on this budget.

For your information, according to M1, their fixed asset cost for network and related application systems already cost $517M as at end Dec 2017. This is almost double the budget of TPG telecom. For Singtel, they indicated that they spent $150M just to upgrade their network from 3G to 4G a few years ago. In my opinion, TPG telecom's budget of $200M to $300M seems too low to deploy a new mobile network in Singapore from scratch.

In-Building coverage

For in-building coverage, it is even more complicated thus the reason why the authorities gave more time to meet this network coverage. In order for mobile coverage to work in buildings, TPG telecom will have to build a base station inside the building itself and lay cables and indoor antennas all over the building just to provide the mobile coverage. You can look up the ceiling of buildings in Singapore and you'll notice some small cone antennas which has the sticker Singtel, Starhub or M1. These are the antennas of the incumbents and the reason why we can use our mobile phones inside the building.

The deployment of mobile coverage inside buildings is a tedious job. Because of the need to lay cables practically on all areas of the building, the job process is long and costly as well. This can only be done at night when the office building or shopping centres are closed. It takes a few months just to complete one building in Singapore. For bigger buildings, it can take up to a year. Can you imagine how many buildings are there in Singapore?

Singtel has a video to explain how mobile network coverage is deployed in Singapore. You can watch it here below:




MRT underground stations coverage

The next level and the most difficult is deploying mobile networks in MRT underground stations and the tunnel itself. In my work experience, it is practically hard to get the mobile network to be deployed in the MRT underground tunnels. The reason is simply because there is limited time for the company to work in the MRT underground tunnel network.

Most of us should be aware that there is major MRT infrastructure upgrades all across Singapore. There is limited maintenance engineering hours because the MRT runs all the way to midnight and starts early in the morning. As such, there is early closure and late opening of the MRT operations since the end of last year just to cater more time for MRT infrastructure upgrades.

The priority will always be given for MRT upgrading works and track access is always controlled by the operator themselves. I am of the opinion that TPG telecom will have a hard time deploying their mobile network in the MRT tunnels as they compete with the MRT upgrading work projects and the limited hours available. The incumbents took many years to upgrade their mobile network from 3G to 4G in the MRT tunnels and some parts are still not ready yet even until now.

It is unlikely that TPG telecom can have much mobile coverage in the MRT tunnels itself.


Another failure in the making?

It will be tough competition for 4 telcos to exist in Singapore altogether. Especially for the 4th telco, it is exceptionally hard to operate in Singapore itself. In the past, there was also another fourth telco in Singapore but it failed and exited the Singapore in 2001 just 1 year after it started. This company was Virgin mobile.

Besides that, a lot of mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) have already started their business in Singapore. Some of these operators are Circles life, Zero Mobile, Zero1 and most recently My Republic also announced they will partner with Starhub to start their mobile services. How is TPG going to compete in an already saturated market?

Because of the impending entering of the fourth telco, shares of Singtel, Starhub and M1 were depressed for quite some time now. When Singtel shares went lower to $3.40, I accumulated more along the way and it is currently the largest stock holdings I have in my portfolio. I believe Singtel will be the less affected by the fourth telco even though there are other things to consider when investing in Singtel such as its weaker overseas business.

Ultimately, let's see how the telecom industry develops in Singapore. The future will speak for itself when the time comes.

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Monday, April 30, 2018

The Scary Truth Of Long Term Healthcare Cost In Singapore

Most of us would have heard of the saying "you can afford to die but not get sick in Singapore". There is definitely truth in this saying because healthcare cost is really a bomb and this bomb will get bigger in the future. Healthcare spending budget is the 4th largest in Singapore at $10.2 billion for 2018. This amount is expected to be increased over the years as we prepare for an ageing population and rising healthcare cost.

A more scary cost than hospitalisation bills

While all of us know that hospitalisation bills can be quite scary, I think many do not know that there is another more scary cost than hospitalisation bills. This is the long term healthcare costs after a patient discharges from hospital. Hospitalisation bills can often be covered by Medishield life or private integrated shield plans but long term healthcare cost can rarely be covered by any insurance at all. The best we have is disability income or Eldershield which pays out a sum of money in the event of any disability but not many people would have this.

According to statistics from MOH, in 2016, there are 2.6 Million people with integrated shield plans but only 437,000 Eldershield policyholders with supplements. MOH did form a special committee to look into this Eldershield and some recommendations were made. You can read about it here.

The purpose of my article here is not to talk about insurance but to go into detail the possible long term healthcare cost needed and the various subsidies available. The question is are there safety nets for this in the event if our love one falls ill and require long term medical treatment and are subsidies enough? What can we do to prepare for this?

Another purpose of writing this article is to create awareness on the difficulties which caregivers faced when caring or supporting a family member with disabilities. This is a concern which many people face but help is limited. I've done a survey where many people participated in and voiced out their main concern areas which I will share in this post as well. Thank you to all who participated in the survey to make this post possible.


The scenario of needing long term healthcare cost

A family of 4 with a Father, Mother and 2 children live in a 4 room HDB flat in Singapore. The father is the sole breadwinner of the family and earns about $5000 while the mum is a housewife. Their 2 children are studying in University in their final year of studies. One day, the father suffered a heart attack and was rushed to the hospital. He survived but the father became disabled and became bedridden. He also lost his ability to eat and drink and requires to be fed through tube feeding of milk only. He is unable to work and the family lost their only income as a result.

The above is a typical scenario of what happens when a family member suffers a critical illness. It can be heart attack in the above case but can also be other critical illness such as stroke, cancer, accidents, organ failures etc. With advance healthcare, most patients survive but the illness renders most people disabled after surviving the episode.


Long Term Healthcare cost required

When a person becomes disabled due to a sudden illness, the income is lost completely. The family members most probably have to find ways to sustain their lifestyle and find as much help as they can. Continuing the above story, it is fortunate that the 2 children just managed to graduate from university and they found a job. They earn a combined gross salary of $7400 which is quite a decent salary and they decided to care for their father at home after he discharges from the hospital.

However, they soon found out that the long term healthcare cost needed for their father are as follow:



NoItemCost per month
1Hiring a maid to care for their disabled father $600
2Levy for maid $265
3Milk Powder$1,000
4Adult Diapers$200
5Home Therapy (3 sessions a week)$1,200
6Home Nursing$200
7Follow up appointments$100
8Medication$100
Total$3,765.00
The above cost is for more severe cases of disability. For those with less severe cases of disabilities, the cost may be lower. The costs are also before any subsidies. 

The list above may not be conclusive and there may be more or less items according to different circumstances. Just like that, the 2 children have to fork out additional $3765 a month just to care for their father. This is on top of their current life which they still have to continue sustaining. With combined gross salary of $7400, their combined take home pay is only $5920. After deducting the healthcare cost needed, they are left with $2155 for a family of 4. Is this even enough for living expenses? 

This scenario is more real than we think. I can come up with the various cost at my fingertips because this happened to people around me recently and I've been researching and finding out more in order to help them. 


Also, with their income, they are not eligible for most subsidies even though they don't really earn a lot. 


Survey of People Who Need To Take Care of disabled family members

As mentioned earlier, I had done a survey to gather information on the issues which people face when they are caregivers for a disabled family member at home. With disabilities, there will certainly be long term healthcare cost involved as the disabled family member cannot work anymore and have to depend on someone to take care of him or her. Let's take a look at the questions and the responses in detail:

Q1: Which family members with disabilities do you have to support or care for?

Most people are supporting their parents (66.67%) or their grandparents (25.93%). 


Q2: How many family members with disabilities do you have to support?

Most people are supporting one family member. There are some who are supporting 2 or even 3 family members which is quite tough. 



Q3: Where are the family members with disabilities staying at?

Most of their family members are either staying with them or staying at another family member's house where they have to take care of the family member at home. There are some who have family members staying at nursing home probably due to lack of time to take care. 



Q4: Which of the following assistance does your family member need help on?

Most family members when they are faced with disabilities, they need help for most of the 6 daily living activities with mobility ranking the highest.



Q5: What is the amount you have to fork out in order to support the family member/members with disabilities?

Now comes the financial cost part. Most people have to fork out between $1000-$1999 per month just to care for the disabled family member at home. I reckon this will be for the milder cases of disabilities where the family member still can eat and perform some daily living activities at home. 

There are some who have to fork out between $2000-$3000 a month or even more than $3000 per month for more severe cases of disabilities. 



Q6: Which of the following subsidies do you receive?

Question 6 is all about subsidies. There are various subsidies which I will talk about in a subsequent post. People who are in this situation would have tried to find all kinds of subsidies available in order to continue living a normal life as much as possible. Ultimately, this is not a situation which families would like to be in so it is a tough time to go through. 

For the subsidies, we can actually see that most people do not get the subsidies which are available out there. The most common subsidy which people get is the foreign domestic worker concession levy and the grant where they will be eligible when they hire a maid to take care of their disabled family member. Other than that, most people do not get much other subsidies. I'm not sure if it is a lack of knowledge on knowing the subsidies available or the subsidy is just too difficult to get once you have a higher income. By higher income, the threshold is actually only $2600 monthly household income per person. Once you are above $2600, you would most likely not be able to get most of the subsidies. 

For the response which people put as "Other", most of it is NIL which means they do not get any subsidies at all. 



The Scary Truth Of Long Term Healthcare Cost In Singapore

I hope this article has done its purpose of raising awareness on the issues which people faced when caring for a loved one with disabilities. The last 2 questions I had in the survey were open ended questions where I asked what is the biggest financial cost and also what is the greatest challenge they faced. 

The biggest financial cost comes from the milk feed, medication, transport fees, diapers, domestic helper, hospital bills, medical equipment and many more. The responses were vastly different for different people which shows that the cost involved is quite wide ranging. 

The greatest challenge was more aligned where most people comments were quite similar. Most people stated that having not enough time and money was the greatest challenge. There were also emotional stress dealing with the issues at hand including the worry of the family member's health going forward. 

Being a caregiver is not just about the long term healthcare cost but also the emotional anxieties and stress involved. I'm sure more can be done to support these caregivers in the form of support groups and also financial assistance. There are already schemes in place and support rendered which I will go into detail in the next post. However, I still think more can be done for this group of people. 

If you're from any voluntary welfare organisations or the relevant government ministries, I would love to have a chat and hear from you if there are more things which can be done for caregivers in Singapore. You can drop me an email at sgyounginvestment@gmail.com and I will get in touch with you.

For those who are caregivers currently, the road is certainly tough and you would probably need as much support as possible. You can refer to AIC silver pages to find some of the help you need: https://www.silverpages.sg/  

Everyone can help to share this post to help create awareness for those who are facing challenges on being a caregiver.


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