Monday, 28 July 2014

An introduction to investing in the Arabian Gulf stock markets


Please click on the link to read my article on the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) stock markets, published in Seeking Alpha on July 28, 2014: 





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Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors and the Deodar Diagnostic, Imran improves profits of businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at imran@deodaradvisors.com

Thursday, 10 July 2014

The three keys to Singapore’s trading success: Boat, Clarke and Robertson Quays


The Singapore River is home to Boat Quay, Clarke Quay and Robertson Quay. Best known for their watering holes and al fresco dining, the three quays are also replete with history. Not surprising really, as Singapore's history itself begins with the Singapore River.

A view of Boat Quay and the Singapore River around the turn of the 1900s.
Perhaps the oldest surviving relic of the island's earlier inhabitants, the curious slab of rock now known as the Singapore Stone, was found at the mouth of the 3.2 kilometer long Singapore River in 1819. The stone's location underscores the river's importance to Singapore's pre-colonial history.

The stone dates from the thirteenth century. The three meters tall and three meters wide Singapore Stone was inscribed with writings of an ancient script. Unfortunately, in 1843 the colonial authorities destroyed the stone before the writing could be deciphered by scholars. 

A fragment of the original Singapore Stone can be seen at the National Museum of Singapore. Note the script on the stone.
The Singapore River sets the foundation for Singapore's traditional 'entrepot' role within Southeast Asia. Artefacts excavated from Bukit Larangan (Forbidden Hill), Fort Canning Park today, point to extensive trading links between Temasek and the rest of the world. Singapore island was known as Temasek, meaning Sea Town in old Javanese, until it was renamed Singapura in the thirteenth century. Following their arrival in 1819, British colonial authorities simply formalized and extended Singapore's status as a free trading port.

Trade fed the emergence of Boat Quay as an area of warehouses and trading establishments. Populated with historical shophouses, Boat Quay is today a playground for Singaporeans, particularly relaxing professionals from the adjacent central business district (CBD). Yesterday's shophouses are today's bars and restaurants. Among its various attractions, the Boat Quay area contains the Old Parliament House, Raffles Landing site, the Cavenagh Bridge and the Asian Civilizations Museum.

With time and as Singapore's trading activities grew, Boat Quay was unable to handle the increasing traffic. Hence were born Clarke and Robertson Quays.

Clarke Quay is named after the second Governor of Singapore and the Straits Settlements (1873-5). Contemporary Clarke Quay houses some of Singapore's favourite nightspots. However, much of Clarke Quay's history can be found in the elegant River House mansion, the Read Bridge named after Scottish merchant William Read and Tan Tye Place, the historical location for pineapple canneries owned by Tan Tye.

The colorful Alkaff Bridge at Robertson Quay.
After Clarke Quay came Robertson Quay. Named after a municipal councillor, Robertson Quay is a mixed residential and commercial development. Consequently, the ambience in the area is slightly different from the preceding two riverside quay areas which are primarily commercial. Within Robertson Quay one can find the colourful Alkaff Bridge, the Singapore Repertory Theater and the Singapore Tyler Print Institute – along with many nice bars and restaurants.

Taking a stroll alongside the Singapore River is a pleasant experience. As is a river cruise or simply downing a few drinks while watching the world. Whatever you fancy, the Singapore River is a great place to begin exploring the island's history.

After all, the river is where it all began.
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Imran is a licensed Singapore Tour Guide. If you wish to arrange any personalized tours in Singapore, including walking tours around the Singapore River and the Civic District, please contact Imran at imran@deodaradvisors.com

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Reason, chance and resignation: an existentialist tour guide's opinion


"Your life is an incessant compromise, between an ultimately slight inclination towards revolt and anarchy, and your deeper impulses that direct you towards order, moral health, and I might also say, routine ... My dear old chap, look yourself in the face ... You have attained the age of reason, Mathieu.

"Pah!" said Mathieu, "Your age of reason is the age of resignation, and I've no use for it."

- excerpt from 'The Age of Reason' by Jean-Paul Sartre. Emphasis added by author.

I have often been accused of succumbing to routine in my life. Sticking to a schedule, visiting the same places, shying away from the new and unknown.

Routine makes our lives orderly and predictable. We all do it. Humans instinctively reduce stress caused by avoiding unknown situations.

But a life of routine is boring. Welcoming, even pursuing, new experiences potentially makes an otherwise drab existence exciting. Continually leading a life of novelty and there is always something to look forward towards. We never really know what might happen.  


Nonetheless, even in the most routine of lives, the element of randomness lurks menacingly, threatening to cause a disturbance to an otherwise usual existence. A chance encounter, an accident or winning the lottery all combine to make lives less routine. But such events may not happen frequently enough to add spice and create a more extraordinary life. Instead, we must chase these atypical experiences proactively to insert them into our lives.


All of us have some rebel inside our souls. Yes, we are not all destined to be Che Guevaras' but we can certainly allow some unorthodoxy to sprinkle our daily lives with adventure. For any individual, finding the correct balance between 'Order' and 'Anarchy' must be like reaching Buddhist Nirvana: the ultimate goal for any 'pseudo-rebellious yet pseudo-conservative' social animal!

Nurturing the rebel inside us may provide one path towards reaching this particular version of Nirvana. Even if we have reached the Age of Reason, there is never any reason for resignation. Life remains full of wonderful possibilities for the adventurous rebel.

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Imran is a banker turned consultant turned tour guide. He presently resides in Singapore. Imran rambles incessantly about history while showing visitors around Singapore. Through his consulting, Imran improves the profitability of small and medium sized businesses. He can be reached at imran@deodaradvisors.com.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Random thoughts on Camus, Existentialism, Absurdism and Al-Qaeeda


I recently picked up a collection of short stories by Albert Camus, the Nobel Prize winning French-Algerian existentialist author. I was stepping back in time – not simply into the 1940-50s, the setting of the stories, but to a different era; a time of US - Soviet rivalry symbolized by the Berlin Wall.

The time after World War Two was also one of great idealism and spawned countless left-wing groups and intellectuals inclined to throw in their lot with the communists in the hoped of creating a classless society. Many of these groups morphed into terrorist organizations, including Germany's Baader-Meinhoff Gang, Italy's Red Brigade and Japan's Red Army.[1] The absurdity of an impending nuclear holocaust poised to destroy civilization also engendered competing schools of thought, notably 'Existentialism' and its closely linked cousin 'Absurdism.'


Existentialism is "characterized by what has been called "the existential attitude" or a sense of disorientation and confusion in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world. Many existentialists have also regarded traditional systematic or academic philosophies, in both style and content, as too abstract and remote from concrete human experience."[2]

Surely, many will agree reality is often more absurd than any fiction we read!

However, it's the 'Absurdist' philosophy which really strikes a chord within me. While there is always a desire for humans to seek meaning in life, Absurdism suggests such a quest is futile. There are far too many unknown variables in the world and too much information for an ordinary mortal to comprehend. Humans, therefore, live in a world of absurdity.

It's the idea of an absurd world which I like. Does it not aptly describe a world of teenage gunmen gone wild, religiously motivated suicide bombers and the many other crazy things happening around us daily? Yes, one easy way to 'systematize' the world is through an absolutist religion, one which defines the world in 'black and white' leaving no room for any doubt in between.

Nevertheless, for me, it adds excitement knowing there are so many uncertainties and opportunities in the (mean!) world out there. As an old Greek friend called Epicurus once said, the world's atoms regularly randomly swerve from their appointed path to create a whole new set of causal realities. It just happens ... no one knows why.
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Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors and the Deodar Diagnostic, Imran improves profits of businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at imran@deodaradvisors.com.


[1] Japan's Red Army was responsible for at least two major violent incidents in Southeast Asia during the 1970s. In January 1974, two members of Japan's Red Army (JRA) along with two colleagues from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine attacked the Shell Oil refinery on Pulau Bukom precipitating the Laju Hijacking incident. The incident was a major milestone in the career of Ministry of Defence employee S.R. Nathan, later to become the Republic's President. Separately, in August 1975 the JRA stormed the building housing the US and Swedish Embassies located in Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur and took over 50 hostages. Following negotiations, the JRA successfully won the release of five comrades imprisoned in Japan in return for freeing the hostages. The gunmen, along with their five freed comrades, later flew to Gaddafi's Libya.
[2] 'Existentialism,' Wikipedia. Accessed on May 26, 2014. 

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Singapore's governance: should MPs only be MPs?


I sent a letter to the Straits Times Forum for publication a few weeks ago. The Forum chose not to publish my letter. I have reproduced the text of my letter below. 

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The Straits Times,
Singapore.

April 20, 2014.
To the Editor:
Recently, I had cause to write to my Member of Parliament (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) to seek his assistance with a particular matter. I was disappointed not to receive an acknowledgement of my request for assistance, leave alone any assistance.
It was not until I followed up with an email ten days later that I finally received a response from my MP. His response was upsetting as the text indicated he had neither bothered to fully read my initial communication nor attempted to properly understand my situation.
Perhaps the blasé manner with which my plea for help was treated is due to the competing demands on an MP's time, i.e. maintaining a professional career within a law firm alongside his duties as an elected representative? In light of my experience, it seems appropriate for the authorities to initiate an independent study to determine whether time spent by an MP on his 'external' professional career, say as a lawyer, impinges on his ability to carry out his obligatory duties towards his constituency.

If the government wishes to maintain the trust of the electorate then the attitude reflected by the MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh does not help. Ignoring requests for help from a constituent simply widens the perceived gap between the 'ruler' and 'ruled.' It is time the governing party implements and enforces quantitative standards upon its elected representatives, e.g. response times to requests, etc. Such delivery standards are the norm within any efficient managerial establishment, including Singapore's own bureaucracy, and are necessary to maintain Singapore's usually high standards of governance.

Yours sincerely,

Imran Ahmed. 

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Faith, hope, miracles and the free market

I believe in the free market of ideas. Even if some of these ideas are ludicrous, the ‘magic of the marketplace’ will discredit them over time. Or so I hope.

Nonetheless, often it seems that my faith in humans is misplaced. Rationality is trumped a human being’s desire to believe irrational thoughts, mostly because these thoughts provide hope.

Hope is the foundation for so many positives in so many lives. Hope helps us achieve in ways which cannot be quantified. And how can I begrudge anyone who provides Hope (with a capital ‘H’)?


Sometimes, though, hope plays to the frailty of the human spirit. Hope often makes us believe things which fly in the face of logic.

Sometimes that’s good but other times it’s bad. It’s good to believe we all can achieve our dreams during our lifetime. But how about believing illnesses like diabetes can be cured through prayer?

Hmmm ... I am a little sceptical. Maybe the Scientific Revolution is so much a part of our modern lifestyle that it is difficult to fathom the miracles Faith (with a capital ‘F’) can wrought upon us?


So how does a person who believes in freedom of thought square the circle of allowing free thought but yet controlling harmful thought? Not easily, if at all! Squares, after all, cannot also be circles.

The only Hope (there’s that word again!) lies in education.

The Scientific Method  – teach people to be rational and we won’t be fooled again! Unfortunately, at times even education fails us ... so we are left with other harsher methods such as censorship through a criminal code. There again, someone has to play God and define morality?

So perhaps it is best to let people attempt to cure diabetes through miraculous prayer ... and let them figure out the truth for themselves!
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Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors and the Deodar Diagnostic, Imran improves profits of businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at imran@deodaradvisors.com

Monday, 17 March 2014

Singapore's future: a miserable and expensive (though global!) city-state?


Singapore’s image has taken a beating in recent times. Not only is it the most expensive city in the world but it has also been labelled a ‘City of Misery.’ A city where everything, perhaps even happiness, must be mandated or authorized by the government!

It’s easy to pick on Singapore? It’s a small city-state whose name is synonymous with efficiency, practicality, authoritarianism and success. At least if success is measured by average per capita income.

The gradual appreciation of the Singapore Dollar is one factor in Singapore's jump in global cost of living indices
As successful people are aware, success come at a price. Envy and jealousy are the most obvious though not the most useful. More important is the analytical discourse surrounding achievements, such as Singapore’s progress from Third World to First World.  

In this vein, Singapore’s newest accolade as the world’s most expensive city is a wake-up call for the city-state.

Like most societies, Singapore’s economic progress is a significant factor in maintaining social cohesion. If Singaporeans’ perceptions about economic progress and social mobility suffer then the impact on the country’s broader social structure may be considerable.

Statements by parliamentarians notwithstanding, during the last few years Singapore has become an expensive city.

Part of the reason is down to conscious policy decisions, e.g. the exorbitant cost of owning a car as a result of the government’s Certificate of Entitlement (COE) system. However, there are factors other than the vehicle COE system affecting Singapore’s cost competitiveness. Certainly, the recent focus on foreigners has added to inflationary pressures. As lower paid foreign workers from nations like China, the Philippines and Myanmar are replaced with better paid Singaporeans, increased wage cost are ultimately borne by consumers. Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are the hardest hit.

Singapore’s foreign exchange rate policy also plays a part. The gradual appreciation of the Singapore Dollar against the US Dollar makes the city seem more expensive to expats, particularly when placed in the regional context. Neighbours like Indonesia and Malaysia sport depreciating currencies.

Singapore may well yet morph into Switzerland or Australia, countries with rigid labor markets and high levels of government provided social welfare. Call a plumber and pay a handsome sum just for the tradesperson to step into your home - and schedule the visit on a future date to suit only his convenience. In such a world, costs are high and efficiency suffers; though society leaves no one behind as a result of an a comprehensive and far reaching social safety.

In Singapore, an all pervasive social safety – coupled with a rigid labour market - net may be ours too ... if we are ready for Goods and Services Tax (GST) rates to gradually move to fifteen percent; and personal income tax rates towards 50 percent!

Is it worth the cost? It’s your choice Singapore.
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Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors, Imran improves profits of businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at imran@deodaradvisors.com