07/07/2016 – Basics

When one reaches an advanced stage of professional practice it’s easy to forget the basics because they are no longer needed or have already been done by entry analysts for you. Although it’s not crucial that one should retain everything, it’s quite useful to reacquaint oneself with the fundamentals from time to time.

Here are some of the finance books I’ve been flipping through recently:

  1. Finance, by David Whitehurst – this textbook contains decent summary of capital risk, structure, financing methodologies, and some derivatives. It also includes some elementary financial planning and mergers&acquisitions which doesn’t have much substance but good as a light read on industry expectations.
  2. Introduction to the Economics and Mathematics of Financial Markets, by Jaksa Cvitanic and Fernando Zapatero – you have to expect some hardcore materials when one of the authors’ last name sounds Eastern European, and I’m expectantly trudging through it at a slower pace than the other books. Luckily I’ve encountered a lot of its notations when I was studying for actuarial exams so it’s been making it a bit easier to read. It touches on mainly portfolio modeling techniques, asset pricing, risk mitigation, and a bit on probability theory. The book dedicates two chapters exclusively for fixed income hedging and option pricing, signifying the amount of past research done for these two fields.
  3. Finance, by Zvi Bodie and Robert C. Merton – aha! Written by one of the Nobel Laureates who revolutionized the options pricing world and also crashed the world markets with the same idea, this book is surprisingly light in terms of difficulty…if it were in English. I’m reading this in Chinese (yes!) to A) get a deeper understanding on modern finance theory, and B) improve my Chinese. So far I’m checking google translate every 2 to 3 pages which is not too bad considering I haven’t yet used it in any professional capacity. The book actually doesn’t go too much into theories but looks at the markets as a whole from both a quantitative and qualitative perspective. The book looks at the evolution of financial markets, then delves deeper into its various components such as accounting, investing time frames, and valuation models. It’s one of the classic reads so I’d recommend it if you are interested in the topic (and perhaps read it in a language you are more adept in).

My GRE is coming up soon and I’m debating whether I should write the GMAT instead, dilemmas!

06/05/2016 – Path to CFA: Level 1, Part 3

Life definitely passes in a blink of an eye when you’re busy. Like 1000s of others, I’ve written one of the world-acclaimed CFA exams yesterday, finally done (so far)! I’ll first give a quick summary of my thoughts on the exam in general and the exam taking experience, then I’ll give some general tips for studying for the L1 exam if I (god forbid) have to take it again, I’ll finish off with some curious thoughts about the CFA in general because I’m still tired 🙂

The CFA L1 Exam in General

The entire CFA L1 curriculum, if I have to put it on a difficulty scale between 1 to 10, would rate as a 5. Don’t get me wrong, the exam wasn’t easy, but what the materials lack in difficulty, they make up for in the volume of information. I started studying in mid-January thinking I could finish all the materials by mid-April, but due to work and other commitments I didn’t finish all the materials until the beginning of May, which gave me about 3 weeks to do practice exams.

Now this sounds like it’s plenty of time, but due to the length of study time, I’ve forgotten most of what I’ve studied in the beginning, and it was a nightmare because I chose to study Accounting and Financial Statements first to get the difficult stuff out of the way. So I ended up using about a week to re-learn the material, then spent one week doing practice exams before bleeding out 1 practice exam in the final week due to work commitments.

Exam Taking Experience

I picked up my friend who was also writing the exam and headed off to the Toronto Congress Center, I thought I was early at 7:10am but hell no, plenty of people have already set up their stuff and looking dead serious. We relaxed by waiting in a giant line at Tim Hortons… wait you don’t care about that? Suck it up and pretend you’re interested, please. Just kidding, here goes the actual account.

I generally cruised through both morning and afternoon session, not because it was easy, but because they are generally straightforward and you simply know the material or you don’t. If I had to pick one the afternoon session would be the harder of the two, or maybe I felt that way due to sleeping only 6 hours the night before. The accounting portion was muddy to go through as usual, and the other portions giving me trouble was fixed income and economics.

I almost passed out in the second hour of the afternoon session, and pretty much slept for about 10-15 minutes before continuing the exam. It’s known that you shouldn’t eat too much at lunch, but apparently too little is bad for you too, who knew eh?

One thing I would note is the seriousness of the person reading the instructions for the exam, including the mandatory ethical behavioral pledge we all had to sign. From her tone it sounded like offenders will be stabbed by pitchforks in a reddish and hot environment. Ok, she did wish us good luck on our exams so it’s not too bad.

General Tips

Overall, the exam material was quite straightforward, the exam committee however, is quite devious as they enjoy creating questions that are tricky mostly in the way they’re asked. This is especially prevalent in Ethics, where you are required to get an excellent score else face failure (even if you scored perfect in all other sections). General tips for studying the L1 is:

  1. Start early – material isn’t sky high difficult, but it’ll bury you in information overload if you don’t already know most of the material
  2. Study Accounting before Ethics, and study Ethics last – these two sections are important and weigh a ton on the exam, studying those last allows the materials to remain fresh in your mind and would require less ‘re-studying’ when you’re trying to memorize the rules (learning it is counter-intuitive as real life work experience will instantly crush ‘what you learned’)
  3. Actually stick to the study schedule – this might be a no-brainer, it’s easy to get lazy because you’re tired or unmotivated, but studying anything – even a small portion of a chapter – would help as it’ll keep the materials fresh in your mind
  4. Physical exercise – you need those endorphins to keep you going (also for giving you something else to depend on other than your DHV stories when wooing the ladies)
  5. Relax the day before your exam – you’ve studied hard, last minute studying will scramble your entire thought pattern and impression of the exam testing experience, do anything except study, but reading Ethics in general is fine
  6. Get a personal driver, or a friend/family drive you to/from the exam venue – this is optional. I tested in Toronto so this might not apply to you. In general you need it when you’re getting out the zombie horde of a parking lot, plenty of horrible drivers so keep yourself sane and cool by having another person driving you home (or a lobster eating party) after your exam

 

Random Thoughts

It’d be interesting to find out if the exam content is the same from country to country (theoretically it should be), because some really smart Asian kid who just took it 12 hours earlier could memorize most if not all of the exam answers and sell them to the highest bidders in North America. I tried to find the dates of which the CFA Institute held the exams in Asia but couldn’t find any. Of course, the smart CFA charter-holders may have already thought about this and created contingencies for it, why else would we sign a candidate pledge at the beginning of each of the exam sessions?

 

 

Congratulations to all those who’s been studying all these months for the CFA exams, you survived and deserve a break! Time to make up to your friends and family whom you’ve neglected.

02/29/2015 – Path to CFA: Level 1, PART 2

One might guess by the lack of posts that I’ve been hard at work studying for my CFA, for the most part, that is true. Being bogged down in administrative responsibilities isn’t fun, but definitely part of an adulthood that I’m becoming more comfortable with everyday (for example, cleaning up after the cat).

So far I’m a little behind schedule, I’m supposed to have finished Accounting, Economics, and Equity sections, with Corporate Finance/Portfolio Management deadline coming up soon. The accounting section took longer than expected due to extra time spent on understanding taxes and its many connections to other financial statements. I can see why people don’t like studying taxes, but it’s a necessary component of our financial system that keeps it alive; they just need to make learning it a bit more sexy.

I’m almost done with Economics, and luckily most of the materials are quite intuitive and relatively easy to understand. Its “hardcore” mathematics section is relatively straightforward, the difficult part is sifting out the irrelevant portions of economic mathematics (which there is a lot of).

One thing that struck me as a CFA characteristic is its sheer volume of information. The material isn’t difficult, but takes great discipline to go through this much material within a short time frame. This is more of a test of personality than intellect (at least, for Level 1). It reminds me of the premise for the movie Limitless (2011) featuring Bradley Cooper, where the main character (Cooper) became a genius through the use of drugs but underwent a painful recovery after forgoing sleep and food regularly (side effect of the drug). Now if I could only get my hands on some of that stuff 😉

I intend to complete the Economics module by the end of this week. Then move on to the rest of the course, where it would be covered in a faster pace since the bulwark of the course material would be behind me.

Currently experiencing on and off recovery from a minor cold, but expecting some alleviations from the warm Canadian weather this week.

 

01/06/2015 – Path to CFA: Level 1, Part 1

Late last year I decided to study for the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation, so despite the unfavorable CDN/USD exchange rate I signed up for the early bird June 2016 sitting of the CFA Level 1 examination. It still cost me almost 40% higher in exchange rates.

My study plan is roughly as follows:

  1. 01/09/2016 – 01/23/2016: Financial Reporting & Analysis
  2. 01/23/2016 – 02/13/2016: Economics
  3. 02/13/2016 – 02/20/2016: Equity
  4. 02/20/2016 – 03/05/2016: Corporate Finance & Portfolio Management
  5. 03/05/2016 – 03/12/2016: Derivatives
  6. 03/12/2016 – 03/19/2016: Practice Questions
  7. 03/19/2016 – 04/02/2016: Fixed Income and Derivatives
  8. 04/02/2016 – 04/16/2016: Alternative Investments and Ethics
  9. 04/16/2016 – 05/30/2016: Practice questions (includes reviewing more important topics)
  10. 05/30/2016 – Test Date: Review and rest

The schedule looks extremely packed, but having studied roughly 30% of the exam material already in my previous studies it shouldn’t be too difficult to follow. I’ll spend roughly 6 days a week studying the material, and the final day as a day for review and rest. The strategy is to go through the majority of the materials, taking notes on material relevant to the Learning Outcomes Statements (LOS) of each chapter. Then work on a large number of practice questions and reviewing the material. Someone suggested studying for Ethics last because it’s the seal that puts together all the other topics together, hence I put it after Alternative Investments. I should have roughly 1.5 months of practice time before my test date, which should be more than enough based on what I’ve seen.

To deal with the boredom of long term studying I’ll be regularly summarizing here the basics of what I’ve learned and my personal experiences in dealing with the more difficult topics, although from what I’ve researched none of the material would be too difficult until CFA Level 2. It’ll be a nice way to review the study material as well as checking how well I’m following my own study schedule.

12/29/2015 – Investing

I’ve always read multiple books at the same time to prevent mental stagnation. Recently I have been reading two market related ones, The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham and The New Market Wizards by Jack D. Schwagner. Both are great books and sheds light on different aspects of the market, the former is about how to intelligent allocate your capital for long term investing, and the latter is a summary of interviews with some of the top performing traders at the time of publishing (1992).

The biggest thing that both books agree on (with regards to how much I’ve read so far) seem to be that:
1) No one can consistently predict the stock market, and
2) Humans are ill-suited to handle themselves in the stock market

It’s important to note that The Intelligent Investor is a book that could benefit both investors/traders, and appeals to a large range of market participants. The Market Wizards series is great but it feels like Schwagner picked a biased subset of the trading world, or according to Nassim Taleb (author of the popular book The Black Swan), they were lucky. Alternatively, it could just mean that most people are too emotional to trade. This is an interesting phenomenon that has spawned countless behavioural finance courses and psychology studies.

I’ve been trading the stock market for fun since early 2013 with a small amount of capital (for me at that time), and during my short stint with the stock market I’ve always questioned whether it is better to invest for the long run or rack up a series of winning trades using leverage and options over a much shorter period of time. As a consequence my strategies were inconsistent and I wasn’t able to produce consistent wins. Due to the recent oil crisis my commodity related options were crushed and brought me to a point where I need to re-evaluate my goals or face eventual annihilation of my trading net worth. Luckily these options only consist of 20% of my high risk capital so much of my trading portfolio is still intact.

I’m currently educating myself on trading indicators so I could make more accurate directional assessments, with the eventual goal of building a probability based trading system with buy/sell signals. This process has been an interesting one, as much of the indicators use a combination of mathematics that feels quite artificial and closer to a computer programming experience than statistics or abstract mathematics. I will update any research efforts as they become available.