Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Look who's blogging now

It is always interesting to see an institution move to a new phase. My employer, the IMF, for the longest time had a reputation for being closed and poor at communication. That has changed a lot over the past 15-20 years, but more so over the past 10 years. Transparency has become a watch word in what it does and what it expects of member countries. So it was with a wry smile, and a raised eyebrow that I noticed that on its main website (www.imf.org) it now has some blogs. One is by the relatively new appointment as Director of Research, Simon Johnson (see http://blog-research.imf.org/), writing in his professional capacity for people who don't get to go press conferences. Another that I have seen is from a group of fiscal technicians in the Fiscal Affairs Department (FAD--not pronounced "fad", but F.A.D.) about public finance management (see http://blog-pfm.imf.org/), where the posters are clearly thrilled to be venturing into a new world, and pump their fiscal fists into the air: "As the first IMF external blog and, to the best of our knowledge, the first PFM blog ever, my FAD colleagues and myself are thrilled to be breaking new ground." Good to feel good about yourself, buddies, but this area may be one that does not stop most people in their tracks. No candidates for reality television either. The use of the internet is even at the highest level of senior officials, where the new Managing Director, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, has his own web site (see link). But he was previously a politicians and that group has been well ahead of the game of using the internet to stay in contact with the public.

Internally, IMF techies have been blogging for a good while about techie stuff, but that's no surprise. It's when the body of the main workforce starts to get on the bandwagon that we want to see. I don't know who will be stirred by these new internauts, but they help open the door on an institution that is poorly understood and often misrepresented. The world of professional economists and finance has already taken note (see link to Portfolio.com). This recent step into the blogosphere, and its subcategory the econoblogsphere will be interesting to watch. The World Bank and its sister organization, the International Finance Corporation have been blogging publicly for some time now so the IMF is doing a little catch up.

I wonder if plans are afoot to make some in-house videos for posting on YouTube. I have often said that the proceedings of the Executive Board would make for good television, but we will have see if like parliaments, this arena of international economic debate gets into the public eye on a regular basis. It needs something equivalent to CSPAN. The mystique of many institutions has declined greatly with television. Also, the behaviour of the "gladiators" in those arenas has often changed in an area of televisuality, though in some case not always for the best (at least that is my view about the British Parliament). It would also be good to show what people do at meetings. It is always revealing to watch CSPAN and see the chamber almost empty. Where is my congressman? It would be a logical extension of transparency and accountability developments. But one step at a time.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Customer service...with more than a smile

I have written before about the general poor level of customer service in Barbados (see http://livinginbarbados.blogspot.com/2007/04/dual-standards-why-do-black-people-seem.html). But I will gladly highlight what comes as excellent customer service.

Nearly 9 months ago I took a watch to Cave Shepherd in Worthing to be repaired (moisture under the screen). Over the intervening time there were exchanges asking whether it was OK for the watch to be sent abroad for repair. In the end the cost of the repair was going to be more than the price of the watch so said forget it. When I was about to get the watch back a month ago it had a new problem (luminous markers had fallen off under the screen). It was due to be sent off to a local repairer. Today I tried to get the watch back. I was told that the latest problem was due to moisture under the screen and the luminous markers need not be replaced if the moisture problem was not resolved. But, because I had been without the watch for so long the manager offered me another watch to wear.

I think that this is an extraordinary gesture, and one that really says "You, the customer, are very important to us. You have gone through a lot, even though little of it is our fault. But we know that you probably feel frustrated and maybe even upset." While the style of the offered "gift" was not one I would have chosen, it was right to be grateful.

I wont say more than thank you Cave Shepherd for restoring my belief that it takes little for businesses to go that extra inch, and for a customer to feel that it has gone a mile. I asked the store senior staff about training, and was told that it starts from the time new staff arrive in the store, and the treatment of customers in monitored constantly. So kudos to the company, and I hope that my experience is in keeping with way that they treat customers in all their branches--though I have heard that it is not.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Ancestral voices

I think I am very typical of a black Caribbean person in wanting to know who I am and from where I came. The history of the slave trade is such that most of those decended from slaves have very little idea of who truly is part of the family. Typically, we have focused on the names we now carry, none of which have any relationship to the names our African ancestors had. Yet, people proudly utter phrases such as "I'm a Cumberbatch..." or "You can tell they are Bethels..." rpoduly hanging on to names given by a European slave owner of overseer.

Maybe some families in the Caribbean had the fortune to be descended for a known African line that had some social cohesion before slavery.True, in the short history that exists since slaves were brought to the Caribbean families have been built in the islands and countries. But because we do not know our true origins, it is impossible to know who is really descended from whom, and who are the true cousins. I have a fear that there is a genetic time bomb ticking in the region because there have been clear instances of deliberate interbreeding. But there have been many inadvertent episodes of interbreeding because we do not know our lineage, with many so-called cousins who are really half-brothers and half-sisters.

As far as the modern history is concerned, for a long time I have wanted to build a family tree. I started that today, using software on http://www.tribalpages.com/. I admire those families who have for generations guarded and nurtured their ancestral history. I regret that many people never had the chance to have a family portrait painted or a family photograph taken. I have been a keen photographer for years and now I can start to make some of the family pictures I have make my family tree come to life.

In the Caribbean, we have some odd lineage anyway. We have some clean lines of ancestry, meaning families built around the social norm of marriage before children, and no children procreated by either partner outside the marriage. Let's loosen marriage to say "long-term relationship", because the slave history created many generations who were not allowed to marry, yet were encouraged to breed.

We also have to a very large extent, maybe greater in some cases, confused lines of ancestry. In Jamaica, where I was last week, all the talk is about two national pastimes. One is "bunning", where a man is being cheated on by his woman. The other is the lethal offshoot of bunning, "jacketing", that is getting a man to accept as his a child conceived with someone else. You get the meaning of this from statistics recently released in Jamaica showing that some 33 per cent of Jamaican men have been named "father" to children they have not sired. Put this into the context of a country that has 85% of children born out of wedlock and over 50% with no registered father (Jamaica's Statin 2000) and you will guess that there is an ancestral nightmare unfolding. Some argue that this is a kind of promiscuity that has its roots in slavery and the way that normal pair-bonded relations were not allowed to develop.I think Jamaica's situation is extreme in the Caribbean, but I do not believe it is unique in Caribbean.

But with that as background, today I embarked on trying to build my family tree. "Shame and scandal in the family" was a great hit because many people could relate to it: "...that girl is your sister, but your Mama don't know..." and "Your Daddy ain't your Daddy, but your Daddy don't know!" can be all too familiar (bad pun?). Every family has skeletons in the closet and I dont know how much of that I will uncover. My simple objective is to try to map what my family looks like.

When all of that is done, I would then like to know who were my true ancestors. If reparations really means something to Caribbean countries I would advocate that they push for every citizen to have a DNA test. That way we could dismiss some of the stories about from where in Africa we came.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

So you want to do online foreign exchange trading?

A month ago I started dealing foreign exchange online. I am an economist but am not a professional foreign currency dealer, and it shows! I have taken the plunge and opened a live trading account after a period with a practice account. I can say frankly that I opened and used the live account too soon, and learning by doing can be very expensive in this venture.

I am not going to try to teach as if I know what I am doing, because I do not. But I have picked up on some basic rules, and have found that if you do not stick to them you will lose and lose badly. Here are a few:

1. Plan the trade and trade the plan; follow the trends: Decide what you are going to do (with analysis beforehand, if you can), set it up and then stick with it. Tinkering tends to mean that emotions are getting involved and nervousness usually means ending deals too early before full gains can materialize. Dealing the plan also means accepting fully the potential loss that you have set in the deal. I have found that with the practice accounts I am more relaxed about dealing, having less of a care, and I have let deals run with the result that gains and losses have evened out. Also, trying to go against the market is doomed to failure: you cannot judge the momentum but if you try to get in its way you will be run over. The art of deal making is to get the entry points right so that the gains can be maximized and losses minimized. There are techniques for working that out and they are very helpful and can be powerful in association with other indicators. But if the sentiment is "buy" or "sell" go with it, if you want to deal; going against the sentiment wont work, though the sentiment will often change. This week has seen enormous volatility, which means potential large gains or losses, or both.

2. Be careful how much of your capital you put at risk. If you are cautious you naturally start with a small amount to play with, but once you put a large portion of that at stake, then losses mean you have less to play with. As many have said you have to be at the party to dance. Remembering that this kind of dealing works on margins, meaning that your stake allows you to trade with an amount many times larger, and the gains and losses from that larger amount are yours to savour or lament. So, between US$35-100 approximately allows you to deal one lot 100 times that size, or of US$10,000. If you do not have margin to support your position your deals get closed out automatically.

3. Monitor your positions and trade only when you have time to do that. I have only once left my live account trading "desk" unattended when I had deals in place, and that was today, when I needed to make a hospital visit with my father. What I did was set my loss limit and then set my potential gain very high to try to capture as much of the gains that could occur during the day. I came back 10 hours later to find that despite all the ups and downs during the day that I was well in the hunt and ahead; I had missed out on a good sized gain during the day with one trade, but I was still in the hunt and looking at positive territory. Another deal was near its top and I decided to take a good sized profit. I had accepted how much I could lose from my loss limits so had put that out of my mind. I was happy with the outcome but it in not an advisable way to approach dealing. If you can lock in some profit ahead of leaving the position you can at least be assured of a gain, though the deal may close out too early, or you may miss a top lower than the upper limit set.

4. Only make deals with good ratios of risk-to-rewards. This is hard to assess without analysis. But at least set the limits of loss to potential gains at a ratio of 1-to-2.

5. Follow the rules you set. I have said to myself many times that I will not deal on Day x, and ending up placing a deal and not been happy with the red ink. Dealing at any time is alright and feeling the right entry levels will mean that more deals succeed at least to some degree. You should buy weakness and sell strength, so in watching the ups and downs, getting in to buy near a relatively low price or selling at a relatively high price is likely to generate more gains.

6. Make sure that your internet connection is working well. It sounds basic but I went through a period several days ago when my internet connection was unreliable: it would be up for long periods, down for long periods, be up and down repeatedly in an hour. I traded despite that (which should be against a rule) and of course lived on my nerves' edge. Last night after I got back to see the outcome of the positions I had left running all day, one reason for taking the profits as I saw them was to avoid a possible reversal. About half an hour later, we had a long power cut and were in the dark for an hour, and of course no internet. But I was calm as my deals had been safely set up.

7. Monitor positions and make sure that stop losses/gain limits are set properly: whatever deal you set up, you need to have a counter order set to close it. (Some told me of people who don't do this, fall asleep and wake up to a horror.) If you close the deal manually you need to cancel the counter deal manually. Some programs give a prompt to do this but sometimes it gets missed. I failed to do this once with the practice account and after seeing the deal move to 70 points against me and a loss of some US$2700 on the account, I had to say "Wow!". Also remember that if the stop loss limit is too tight the deal may cancel too early; similarly if the potential gain is set too tight early cancellation of the deal erases the potential profit that was out there.

8. Try to trade less rather than more. Given that every start position is at a loss (because of the difference between buy-sell prices), you always need movement to at least get even. Every deal therefore starts as a loss, and the more you deal the more the chance that these losses get worse. Small amount traders have to deal with wider buy-sell spreads than those who trade larger amounts; I face spreads of say 4.5 for Pounds:US dollar, but larger dealers can face spreads of only 1.0. So big money finds it easier to make money.

9. Try not to do follow-up repeat deals. Your position gets closed too early and you are immediately tempted to get back into the market to get the rest of the gains you foresee. Remember point 8, you may also be too late, the gains are no more and the losses will start mounting.

10. There is potential for gains and losses every trading day. If you miss out in the morning there will be opportunities later in the day. If you miss out today there is always tomorrow. You can gain from price rises (by buying low and selling higher) or from price falls (by selling at high points and buying back at lower prices). Of course the possibility for losses are also there every day.

Large movements are what makes trading potentially lucrative, and it takes a certain disposition to see prices move a long way in your favour then move a long way against you, before moving back again for you...and so on. But these waves are in the nature of the beast. Sometimes a large unrealised profit evaporates and becomes a real loss. Other times, a long period of no movement is followed by a huge shift in seconds: like that when it' s in your favour and dread it when it's against you.

Assessment of "fundamental" economic of financial situations wont explain much on a daily basis. That is a salutary lesson for an economist. Also, statements of support can often be followed by movements that go against the support. Over the past weekend, the G7 Ministers said nothing about the weak position of the dollar, which was followed by the rates for several major currencies going to new highs. But almost in a flash were followed by huge falls: reports today indicate that this reflected a lot of long term holders taking their profits, and the market's reversed today to get back to positions near to where rates were last Friday.

It is an wonderful feeling to see money being gained as the rate ticker changes. It is a sickening feeling to see unrealised losses mount and then become real. Dealing is not for everyone and is risky. There are many more lessons to learn and these are just a few that have struck me after my short "apprenticeship".

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Fever spreading? Get rich quick and the foreign exchange trading craze

Things are never dull in Jamaica. Last time I was here I was struck by something and now I am here again the same thing has struck me. There is an apparent craze for "get rich quick" schemes, and the current crop are largely based around foreign exchange (forex) trading.

Several years ago, around Christmas time, a priest gave a very good sermon, which sticks in my mind for one phrase: "recticular activation syndrome", where the brain filters out certain things and we start to see everywhere what we find important (see link for a good example). With that in mind, given what struck me a few months ago I have been seeing a lot of reports about a raging fever spreading in Jamaica at least.

My interest was sparked by reports of superb returns to be made from joining an investment "club" called Overseas Locket International (OLINT) Corporation, run by a Jamaican named David Smith (see picture). Mr. Smith was a talented forex trader with Jamaica Money Market Brokers. OLINT is phenomenal for giving members returns of around 10% a month (sometimes more, sometimes less), but with no guarantee. Some "wealth creation clubs" report that they are "facilitated by" OLINT (see ICS Wealth Creation). The high returns are apparently being generated by forex trading. My own limited foray into online forex trading tells me that this is theoretically possible, at least for a short period of time. My own experience, however, does not tell me if it is sustainable over a long period. Now the "clubs" and their high returns have sparked a lot of questions and debate rages about OLINT and several other "clubs" that have come into existence, which also offer very high returns (such as Cash Plus (calling cards, property investment, maybe some forex trading), and Lewfam (forex trading--see link that indicates it invests through OLINT). Are these schemes for real or are they another case of "If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably isn't"?

Quite by chance, I met a Jamaican businessman on a plane just after visiting Jamaica in July and having my eyes opened to OLINT. The topic came up and he admitted that he had a good amount of money with OLINT and had been getting the high returns. The subject also came up with some other Jamaican acquaintances I have and they too admitted that they had invested with OLINT, and were getting their high returns. I know people who have invested in Cash Plus. In all cases, the investors had recouped the initial capital in the space of less than a year. Some who have invested have other concerns, mainly to do with possible tax liabilities which they would prefer to keep away from the relevant authorities.

OLINT is currently in a legal dispute with the Jamaican authorities about whether the activities it is undertaking are legal, after a raid by the Financial Investigations Division (FID) on the company and on Mr. Smith's home in March 2006 (see article). FID agents seized documents records and essential computer equipment. David Smith responded by suing the Financial Services Commission (FSC) for J$300 million (about US$ 4.5 million) for "wrongful intrusion". So OLINT was investigated by FSC for supposed breaches of the Securities Act: the essence of the charges being that OLINT is not licensed to trade securities and offer investment advice (see letter from FSC), which it is alleged to have undertaken. FSC subsequently issued "cease and desist" notices against four companies (Olint Corporation Limited, Overseas Locket International Corporation, Lewfam Investments and Trading Limited and Lewfam Investments Club). OLINT subsequently moved its principal location from Jamaica to the Turks and Caicos Islands (after a failed attempt to move to St. Kitts; it also has some presence in Panama). It still has an office in Jamaica to facilitate transactions for pre-existing members. The dispute between OLINT and FSC has gone through the Jamaican courts, including the Court of Appeal in March 2007.

Some reports indicate that OLINT has some US$300 million-US$400 million from members but this figure has not been confirmed (see report by Venture Research Institute). No new members are allowed but this has not meant that new customers have not become involved as people try to get on the band wagon: some existing members have begun to "share" their accounts, in some cases in return for a share of the proceeds or a "fee".

Views are genuinely mixed (see a recent blog about Jamaica today). Some see the "little man" getting a chance to make big money, but the authorities want to do all they can to make this impossible. Some have seen the OLINT-type developments as shaking up established financial institutions as people move their funds out of banks and other financial institutions, which offer modest returns, and plough cash into the "clubs". I walked into a recently opened Cash Plus office in Mandeville this week and there is plenty of evidence of this occurring as people seek to open new accounts.

Some fear that things are not what they seem and that these "clubs" may be pyramid operations. Their concerns focus on the possibility of the "clubs" being pyramid schemes, and look back at the catastrophe that occurred in Albania in the mid-1990s (see article in IMF Survey). That case was startling for the size of the schemes relative to the national economy, and the vast amount of the population that were involved, as the IMF reported: "At their peak, the nominal value of the pyramid schemes' liabilities amounted to almost half of the country's GDP. Many Albanians—about two-thirds of the population—invested in them."

Some fear that even if the activities are legitimate and in forex, changes in legislation (such as recently occurred with efforts to make online casinos illegal) could take the bottom out of the activities and send the stack of cards crashing. Forex trading is huge (a reported US$ 3 trillion traded daily!-see FXMarketSpace) and very risky and the companies who offer online trading facilities have prominent disclaimers to that effect.

Some individuals have decided to deal with the risks directly. The Silicon Caribe website recently posted an article about the various routes people are taking (see link), and identifies some of the other players in this area, including some individuals who have decided to try to make high returns themselves. Grace Cheng is one of these people and her website (see link) shows that this can become a full-fledged business.

Jamaica has had its share of financial sector crises and the country always appears to be sitting in a fragile financial position. Jamaicans have been used to getting high nominal returns on investments for a long time, and government debt for many years offered high interest rates. Bank of Jamaica 1-year certificate of deposits were offered at 14% annually in September 2007. Treasury bill (TB) annual rates are currently about 11 1/2% (see Bank of Jamaica data). As recently as 2003 TB rates were 29%, and for much of the period since the late 1990s the rates were around 20-25%, with rates over over 40% seen in 1996. In that context, getting high returns is not a new phenomenon.

I also suspect that the average Jamaican is quite sanguine when it comes to financial affairs, and is ready to take the risk and get the reward, but if the risk fails then "Ah so it go." People are less tolerant of things that appear to be low risk blowing up in their face. But in Jamaica the government's dealing with the financial sector crisis in the mid-1990s might also have left people feeling that depositors will be protected (see research article). Given that OLINT, Cash Plus and others of their type are not licensed then if people are rational they should be less than happy.

I guess I got the proof how Jamaicans see things a few minutes ago, when a church brother of my father's came to visit, and we got talking about the investment clubs. He is a man in his mid-50s, recently retired as an engineer, and now does consultancy work and sells real estate. We talked about how land and house prices had escalated over the past 15-30 years,but that only a fraction of the population had gained from that. He gladly stated that he had money in Cash Plus, and had got a lot of nice stuff at their launching in Mandeville: pen, book, bag, etc. He takes his interest out each month and has already recovered his capital after 10 months. When I asked him how he would feel if it folded, he replied "I didn't put the kitchen sink into it. And while the going is good, me happy." So, if investors have done what they should, in risking what they are prepared to lose, then whatever the outcome there may be less of a sense of disaster amongst ordinary people.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Making it happen: Looking back over nine months and more

This is a long post, so get your coffee and get comfortable.

It's taken me a while to really appreciate the phase of life through which I am going. Having done the regular work things for over thirty years, it's not a simple transition to doing "irregular" work; nor is making the transition from going out to work to staying home to work. Long years of education and training are supposed to prepare you for a "career" and being in the workplace, and that road often goes on with little deviation until you hit retirement, and then have the chance to take a look back. In my case, I have had a chance since coming to Barbados nine months ago to take a break and at least look around myself.

Both my parents were nurses in Jamaica when I was born and they foresaw that I would do well at school and get a "good job". In the early days, I remember a lawyer being mentioned. I stayed on track for a standard middle class life, and have become a well-educated professional. I went to law school for one day when I started university, but then switched to economics.

Even though as a young boy I enjoyed and was very good at sports (athletics and football), no one really saw those as what I would do all my life to make money. In the early years after moving to England, I ran well, gained medals, trophies, and titles, and representative honours that made me feel I had done well by the time I reached my late teens and was headed to university. I ran for a year at college but had decided that I was not going to "make it" at the highest level and needed to focus on studying. (I continued playing football at college,though, because I was doing much better at that sport.)

I started playing football at the age of 9 and quickly became good, and got much better in my adolescent years after a summer of a lot of practice. I played well and managed to have a playing career in Britain from my mid-teens on clubs and at university (where I played for 5 years), and as a club level semi-professional at a very high level well into my 30s! I then moved to the US in 1990. There, I continued playing in a international semi-professional league, but also branched out as a referee and coach. I refereed youths and adults, and it actually paid better than playing! I started coaching boys' teams, but then started a girls' team in the mid-1990s (for those born in 1987), which I had for 6 years (till they went to high school). I also formed a men's team, in Washington, made up of college graduates and seasoned players, and coming from at least 10 different countries (I named the team "Internationales"), which did very well over the 4 years I stayed as player-coach, until I was 42! My coaching was never for money, but was part of my "paying back" the sport. By the time I retired from playing I had had a good run for my money and injuries had been few (mainly minor sprains, and scratches, and a cartilage removed when I was 40). I decided to step away, and save for an ironic visit to Barbados in 2003 to play in the Wanderers International Football Masters tournament, my boots have stayed hung up. OK, I kick occasionally with my little daughter (now 4) and may have to "get into it" again for her.

I had also ventured into other sports, and started squash at university (playing reasonably well), and kept that up till my mid-40s. I then started tennis when I went on assignment to Guinea in 2003, and even starting in my late-40s, with the benefit of excellent and cheap daily coaching, I became proficient in a short time.

My wife, who was keen on fitness (running, yoga, reading--yes mental fitness) has discovered "sport", however. I taught her squash, and she also resumed tennis in Guinea (playing daily) and is now on an uptrack of early morning activity: playing tennis several times a week and walking the beach in other work days. She's seeing the benefits of intense sporting activity, which I had enjoyed for over 30 years. Now we both appreciate sport and exercise. We watch a lot of tennis and as one of our important pieces of family time she has placed that at the centre of a new phase in our lives: so we have visited Wimbledon and the US Open, and have plans to see the French and Australian Opens in coming years.

But, I found that handling all of the sporting activity I had once I moved to the US and having a professional career as an economist with an interernational institution was sometimes a challenge. My job involved a good amount of foreign travel (being abroad 2-3 weeks every 2 months on average), and coaching and managing from overseas was not sustainable. When I gave up those sporting responsibilities, I was mentally freed of some very heavy burdens, even though they were "enjoyable". Taking care of the teams really needed more time than I had. It was a tough choice because the truth is that work never had the passionate pull of sport, no matter how fulfilling the job has been, but it more than paid the bills.

My career has been reasonable, and I have worked in several prestige institutions (the Bank of England and the IMF). The working world needs a lot of maneuvering and talent alone does not guarantee success: it took me a long while to realise that. The networking that is needed ("brown nosing" some would say) is not always seen early enough, and diligence will get you to an average point, but it takes something else to rise to the top. That rise in an organization has to be a pull, meaning that someone up there has to be looking to see you rise. That rise can stop if your "mentors" leave or falter or if you get caught in some awkward situations, or somehow lose momentum. In my case, I decided that a certain change was good and when I went on overseas assignment, I realised what I had believed a long time ago, which is that I am NOT a bureaucrat in the sense that I was not content being a small cog in a wheel, no matter how big the wheel. I found my "true calling" being "my own boss" and in an "ambassadorial" capacity, where I had to deal with people one-on-one to resolve problems. I have always had good communication skills and been persuasive. Now, that was what I had to do every day, and I loved it, even when the messages that I had to deliver were unpleasant. But, if you build a good rapport with your counterpart that needed tough talking can be done without animosity, and if there is honesty on both sides then the good and bad even out. A job done with integrity is one that does not give sleepless nights.

Moving to Barbados involved "giving up my job". My wife has a very interesting assignment and she is now the sole breadwinner. So after years of being "a suit" (collar, tie, good shoes, briefcase), I now find myself in casuals every day--T-shirt, shorts, sandals. After decades of commuting to the office by train, bus or car, I now find the walk from the bedroom to the kitchen office is as far as I need to go. After years of sharing conversations in the office, the corridors, over coffee, over lunch and dinner, I now have my own thought, and the occasional "conversation" I hear on radio call-in programs. I also get to do school pick-up, have a lot of time with my youngest daughter, and passing conversations with parents and small children (oten more enjoyable than the office corridor chatter). After years of having important assignments and pressing deadlines ("It's urgent...the Governor needs"; "It's a crisis...the Managing Director will..."), I now do as I please. [As an aside, I have found very few real crises in my working life. There is often a panic that sets in because you are badly positioned and if you don't react fast you and the organization will look bad, but rarely are these situations that warrant the frenzy that can be seen in the office.] Doing as I please is a work-in-progress, and I am going to write more about that.

But just a few pointers to what I have done to please me over the past 9 months. I have started to teach myself to play the piano: I took lessons when I was young but something never clicked and I was always playing sport and focusing on school work; but I have been a frustrated musician for a long time and tried the violin and guitar and none of the instruments ever responded to me. Now, over 4 months, I have used the good fortune of a piano being in our rented home and diligently tried to practice regularly, doing about an hour a day: someone told me several months ago that it's the repetition and quality of the practice that will help make progress, not necessarily the quantity. I can play some tunes and by December I can maybe help with backing for Christmas carols. My little daughter is also inspired and goes to the piano and "plays". I know I want to help her do well with an instrument, if she has the inclination and I can use the experiences of my less-than-successful childhood piano lessons to guide her to being competent.

I started writing regularly (the blogs are the main output), and that has been an interesting adventure. Bureaucratic writing has been a great teaching ground, but I am not putting together well-crafted position papers, which need to be reviewed and revised and perhaps then dumped in the garbage. I have been encouraged to write a book, or several, and I feel that the momentum for that is building. (Much as I enjoy reading, I found that after years of reading documents every day my appetite for books was very low. Thanks to my wife's voracious appetite for books, I have started to nibble at reading books again. I was very moved by Rachel Manley's Drumblair, her historical account of growing up with her grandparents, Norman and Edna Manley. That certainly is inspiring for a writer.) I have used the blogs as a platform for other writing, and produced some articles for fun, which have been published over the past few months. I have also been encouraged to use my experience to write more social commentaries and offer some columns to newspapers, and I will venture into that.

I have also thought about how to earn money. Having left the office life, I also left behind regular pay! I have tried to market myself, which is not simple in a new location: I have no base of contacts, and as I build them I have to exploit them to see if they can help me into earning opportunities. My career skills have markets but I also have to deal with the fact that I am still under contract to my employer, and am merely on leave without pay. But I have gained some teaching assignments at the University of the West Indies (UWI), where I have "facilitated" an Executive Masters in Business Administration course. So, I led a group of Caribbean public servants at the Cave Hill Campus, and then led a group of private and public sector officials in Tortola. The work is intellectually challenging, and I had to read text books on strategic planning, and public policy analysis, so that I could prepare and give good presentations. I now have to look forward to marking individual project reports, which should land on my desk in the next few weeks.

I have some consultancy work ahead, which will involve travel to Guinea--both a surprise, but a pleasure, I hope. I'm excited to have the chance to see what has happened there over the past 18 months of civil upheaval. Being the IMF's resident representative there placed me in a very delicate but important position. And I had my share of consultants visit me to hear the IMF's views about economic prospects. Now, I will be on the other side. It should be very interesting.

My latest venture (and it is really a toe in the water thing) is day trading! Frankly, I do not know if I can make money from this, but money can be made. I will however try to use the experience. After years of working in fields related to financial markets, and being an investor, I was bemused by some stories of Japanese housewives learning to become foreign exchange (forex) traders and doing this online to earn a little pocket money. I was also struck by some articles that I read about some investment clubs in Jamaica based around forex trading, which are paying out amazing interest (over 10% a month; see article on OLINT), and appear to be giving the little and big people a chance to make substantial financial gains. So, I registered with one of these trading companies and downloaded the relevant software, and have been trading for a month. I have not made real money, so far. I have a live account and a practice account, and I am learning. It is initially very painful. It also requires a good amount of time, which I have. Trading also requires a certain steel and nerve so that you can ride out situations that look like disastrous losses to get through to that point of bliss where there is a profit, or the reverse of seeing a profit disappear. Sometimes you can see a gain quickly, but losses can mount up rapidly and be large. No one likes to see the red ink and the declining balances.Yes, my hands get clammy.

I have had to develop a new routine: no more long morning lie-in. Trading is 24/5 (all day from Sunday evening through Friday evening). I presume that no one trades continuously 24/5, but you can trade a long time every day. The Far East markets open in the evenings in our time zone (say 5pm Eastern Standard Time). Then London opens at around 3am EST, followed by New York at 8am EST. You can pick and choose which markets to trade in and for how long. I have preferred to trade on London and New York, which means waking around 3am when London opens and trading through 5pm when New York closes. That is a long day. In reality, I have moved to trading in sections of the day. It is not good to leave positions open if you cannot monitor them. So, I trade when I know I have a good chunk of time, and have traded on all three markets on some days. I am slowly learning the characteristics of the markets and how to trade.

The theory and practice are different in that practice involves emotions, and emotions lead to bad decisions. You also deal differently with real money and practice money. So far, I have found that nervousness with real money tends to lead to trying to take profits early, while letting positions run longer in the practice money world. What that has meant is that the live account has done less well than the practice account. Having the guts to let the position run means that the bigger profits can come. It is not uncommon for a price to move by 100 points during a day. That means that a position can turn a 100% in a day, if you stay the course. But you have to ride the roller coaster sometimes (see image, which you can click to enlarge).

The trading situation in this image also gave me a hard real life lesson, where over the space of an hour I made a huge gain, made a bigger loss immediately after, more or less recovered the loss in minutes, at which point I stopped trading. I went to dinner only to find when I returned that this last gain was due to a glitch in the price information and that my position was still running and eventually turned into a large loss! I had a long conversation with the trading company the next day, which was settled by a credit which meant that I ended up even. One Jamaican blogger is putting his trading experience on line (see link). He shows positions and is trying to give his readers some sense of moving along the sometime bumpy rides.

So, what I have learned over my month of trading is that in theory there are huge gains to be made, but the risk of loss is also great, perhaps more so. This makes the constant high payouts from companies like OLINT are intriguing. The essence of each trade means that whether you buy or sell you start at a loss, so you need a favourable movement to get even at the start. If you trade at price levels that are not the best, the potential for profit is less, and when you get to your objective there may be a gain but not as much as was possible. So, learning the right entry points is key. There are other strategy issues but that's for later. I am intrigued by the investment club schemes that manage to pay out large profits all the time, because this presumes a performance relative to the market that is extraordinary. Clearly, experienced traders can do very well, but well enough to pay out over 10$% a month? But I am going to think about this more.

I have set some objectives for the next month of trading, which include not losing all my money. The trading accounts work on a margin basis, meaning that only a certain small percentage is needed to trade large amounts: between US$40-100 can allow you to trade single lots of US$10,000, and the money made or lost on the larger volume is your actual profit or loss. But if your margin falls below the level needed to support the trade because losses are mounting your positions are closed--no negative balances. So I wont lose all my money but my stake can get very low.

My new trading life has me waking early so, being up at 4am on a Saturday, I have blogged instead of trading, and as I have at this blog regulary for some time, I seem to have a lot to write. It's a lot of reading but it's the weekend and I hope that you reached this far.

Doing as I please has also meant a huge mental adjustment and rebuilding of values, which are also works-in-progress. In a nutshell, you need to plan to make the kind of transition I am in, like planning for retirement. Many of us who have full working lives in an office or factory have little notion of how different it is to spend days at home, working or otherwise. We are not used to that except when we are sick. Fortunately, my home is a wonderful place and I have been fortunate to have great space, peace and quiet, and a natural setting that is very calm. But home-working can seem confining and making it seem less so is sometimes not easy. But the good news is that most people who have gone through similar process have the same experience. Working at home needs structure, just as much as does a day in the office. Without structure, there is a strong sense of aimlessness, which is largely an illusion but still is bothersome. I have eventually come to really enjoy this new situation, but it has taken time to see the positives as larger than things that seem negative. There is little I miss about going to work in an office. There is much I am now learning to appreciate about being able to work at home.

Have a wonderful weekend.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Ways to save and earn money...with Pingo

I have been exploring over the past few weeks various opportunities to earn money. One very interesting idea is being paid for blogs. This post is an example. By writing about products, in this case, Pingo pre-paid calling cards (see image below, and instant'>link) I am supposed to be paid, by Payperpost (link), who track the blogs (see track link)

The Pingo calling card is self explanatory and should save a good few dollars on those by making international calls to all the Caribbean friends in the US, UK, and Canada, not to forget those elsewhere in the Caribbean. Call the world for a few cents a minute and also get a US$ 5 card free to use to make calls. In a world where there are many different ways to make calls and save money, this has to be worth a try. There is already good competition for using voice over internet, with products like Skype and the possibilities with Yahoo and MSN Messenger, but a calling card is more convenient if you are without access to a computer. Check out Pingo and see if it works for you.

When you sign up you receive US$ 8 in FREE Calls! There are also features such as Pingo Business & Family Plan, where you can go global, with no equipment to purchase just easy billing and management with amazing bundled savings. Sounds good to me.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Coconut Court--correction

A call to the hotel led to someone in reservations saying that there were some chemicals incorrectly mixed in a room and that led to some "popping". If that was indeed the incident then let's be grateful.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Bomb at Coconut Court

I have it on good authority that a chemical bomb exploded this afternoon at Coconut Court Hotel, Hastings, and that several were injured. I hope to have further details later.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Service interruption

In the age of the Internet, if you cannot get Internet access then there is no easy way to enter the information superhighway. That's been my problem for over a week, and the dear friends at Cable and Wireless, after saying that a technician would deal with the problem within 5 business days, have still to get someone to test the line, visit the premises or offer any hint that they will begin to assess the problem. When I read the stories this week about price capping and the very generous returns that C&W have been making I wondered who amongst the customers is getting real benefits. And when I read the recent press release about how C&W had improved broadband speed and value across the Caribbean (see link), I wondered when I would get that.

So, I'm borrowing a friend's computer and Internet access to just say that regular blogging service will hopefully be resumed soon.

So, with no phone working at home, no Internet working at home, it's time for more mobile phone use and scrounging from friends and neighbours.

Have a pleasant afternoon.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Beware iPhones!

When Apple's iPhone was launched I lamented that it was not available in Barbados (see earlier blog). However, such is globalisation that the new super phone gadget has found its way here. Good news? Maybe not. For the iPhone to work it is supposed to be in conjuction with AT&T's network according to a 5 year agreement between Apple and the cellular network provider. That really limited the use of the phone. So, in a jiffy, a solution arrived. Smart kids and potential entrepreneurs saw the chance to get the phone to a wider public and perhaps make some bucks in the process, and cracked the code so that the phones can be used on other networks, such as Verizon or Cingular in the US, but also of course on most other network worldwide, such as Cable and Wireless, Digicel and others in the Caribbean. This so-called unlocking of phones (or "hacking" as called by the phone companies and network providers) is not new and it's how a lot of swanky new models get to countries in Africa and work fine there. Apple just announced, however, that it has introduced new software, which will disable the iPhone if it has been unlocked. When I saw some of the iPhones on sale in Mall Internationale at the weekend and staff there had no idea about this development. So, if you buy an iPhone in Barbados be prepared to find that the phone wont work.

But, just like that, Verizon has brought out a competitor to the iPhone, and it may be comparably priced (see article on Silicon Caribe website). It will be made by LG and is called "Voyager". It has a QWERTY keyboard, which the iPhone does not. It looks a little like a Blackberry Pearl and has whizzo stuff (like a camera) that we all don't need but love to have.

The courts are still undecided whether unlocking cell phones is illegal (see article on The Blade website). Since the first reports of a 17 year old who had "hacked" the iPhone the questions have been flying whether this is illegal and if it could damage the iPhones. Apple and AT&T clearly think that both things apply. Those who wanted the new gadget but found that it was restricted to one carrier were clear less than happy. Apple has a habit of doing restrictive things with its products, since its early PCs and such moves have generally hurt the sales of the products. The company seemed to changed philosophy in this regard, but clearly there is a residual tendency to "lock up" the possibility of generaluse for a lot of Apple products. This may turn out to be another mis-step for the much heralded iPhone, which came out at very high prices (about US$600 for the 8 gigabyte version, or a cool few thousand US dollars if you were fool enough to try to get one on eBay within a few days) only for Apple to knock US$200 off that price. Again, some very unhappy customers. Still, around a million have already been sold, so cha-ching for Apple ahead of Christmas, I guess.

Languishing here in Bajan paradise we can go and look at an iPhone, and maybe have it as a cool (non-working) accessory next to the iPod and iMac. Anyway, do some checking before adding an iPhone to the Christmas list or heading off to the US to buy a bunch of them for friends and family.