28. January 2010 · 3 comments · Categories: Money

Since I don’t work I depend upon my investments to provide me with the wherewithal for my modest lifestyle. That means that I spend a serious amount of time each week reviewing my investments and searching my heart to determine what I believe to be true about the world. However, sometimes I don’t get it right. This is a tale of three investments where I got it seriously wrong.

Corazon Capital Absolute Return Fund
One of my weaknesses is that I tend to take on more risk in my investments than I should. I really try to force myself to invest more conservatively than my gut tells me. One such conservative investment was the Corazon Capital Abolute Return fund. For years it has provided a nice, steady return of around 9% per annum – a bit better than cash, but not spectacular.

Then things went disastrously wrong. In 2008 it lost more than 30% of its value. Ouch!

The fund itself is a fund of hedge funds. (Yes, I know the charges associated with such funds are absolutely lunatic, but I hoped for a steady, risk free return.) The problem (in part) was that the fund invested in Weavering Capital’s Macro Fixed Income Fund. The fund was basically a fraud. Weavering apparently had the brilliant idea of not bothering to do any of the trading it was supposed to – rather it did a few trades with … its chief executive.

The FSA (that’s the Financial Services Authority to most of us, and the Fundamentally Supine Authority to Private Eye readers) is looking into things. I won’t be holding my breath. Personally I think there’s already enough evidence for the fund’s CEO to be strung up by his gonads until dead.

I do wonder, however, what Corazon was doing. Magnus Peterson (the fraudulent chief executive) had previously run another hedge fund into the ground. I paid a hefty premium so that Corazon can vet the hedge funds in which it invests. And yet it invests with someone like this scum bag.

To add insult to injury, Corazon decided to move a chunk of the fund into “Special Situations” class. This is USD denominated (and I loathe anything that is USD denominated), and can’t be sold. Over the coming years the investments will gradually be sold and I’ll get some money back. Still, not good enough.

And are Corazon offering to refund their pretty outrageous fees (for doing very little, and doing even that incompetently)? Uhhh … no! In fact, they can’t even be bothered to reply to my email.

To quote (selectively) from Gary Wiess’s “Wall Street Versus America” on the subject of hedge funds:

  • They cause people to pay fees that would be considered highway robbery in even the most wack-a-doo mutual fundamentally
  • They cause people to give their money to creeps they haven’t bothered to check out, the kind of people they wouldn’t trust to run out and buy then a sandwich, must less manage their investments
  • They cause people to sign contracts that are so one-sided they would make a credit-card lawyer blush

Wish I’d read that first.

Arch Cru Investment Portfolio
Diversification is said to be the only free lunch in investment. Beyond the usual equities, bonds and cash, private equity is a fairly common diversifier. Arch Cru provided a seemingly easy way to access this asset class. About half the funds’ assets were private equity. It sat in the “Cautious Managed” sector (according to the IMA) and was described as “low to medium risk”. Sounded good to me. How wrong I was!

The fund was suspended from dealing in March last year. Eventually, in December, we were told by Capita that the fund had dropped in value 40%. Huh! Surely it’s more likely that the underlying investments were grossly overvalued and that investors were basically being conned into buying those underlying investments at grossly overinflated prices.

Capita (or “Crapita” as they’re known to Private Eye readers) have been as fundamentally supine as the FSA. The flow of information has been, at best, treacly. In my mind there’s no doubt that there has been a serious fraud here. But no one’s doing anything about it.

And to top it all, Crapita says that it will take 3-5 years to realise the fund’s (seriously depleted) assets.

And they say lightening never strikes twice.

Carpathian IT
The last investment I got seriously wrong is Carpathian – a property company that invests in retail properties in Central and Eastern Europe. It has a good portfolio of properties and is well managed. However, the share price plunged 90%. Double ouch!

The share price is fundamentally irrational. It’s trading at a 73% discount to NAV. (Though even if the share prices bounces back to reflect NAV I’m still going to be hurting.)

As John Maynard Keynes (allegedly) said:

“The market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent.”


Language change is inevitable. In English we’ve dropped malison (a curse), though kept benison (a blessing). We’ve lost wrine (a deep line in the face), but kept the diminutive form wrinkle. Wofare has gone, too (it means sorrow), but we’ve kept welfare. The change seems capricious, with little logic.

Language change is inescapable. It’s neither a good thing, nor a bad thing, though some try to cling to some past ideal of what language should be like. The French go further than most in this respect; its General Commission of Terminology and Neology has tried to eliminate le weekend, le shopping, le air bag, le cash flow and le stress, but with little success. In England some decry the rise of “Estuary English”, but that’s just the way some people talk, and others want to talk. (Yes, Jamie Oliver, I’m thinking of you.)

Language change is surprisingly fast. Latin mutated into both Spanish and Italian in perhaps as few as 50 generations. And the changes are decidedly odd. For example, the Latin scola (school) became école in French and escuela in Spanish. Actually, the changes weren’t in a single step. For French:

scola → iskola → eskola → escole (Old French) → école (Modern French)

Here we have the introduction of a leading vowel, then a change in that vowel, then the loss of “s” where it occurs before another consonant.

In Spanish the sequence runs:

scola → iskola → escuela

Sometimes sounds even get switched around, so the Latin parabola became the Spanish palabra (meaning word). And Old English brid became bird and hros horse.

Perhaps one of the most astounding changes in English was The Great Vowel Shift as we moved from Middle English to Modern English when long vowels started to be pronounced higher in the mouth and (in some cases) further forward. Thus /o:/ became /u:/, /a:/ became /e:/ and /e:/ became /i:/ . At the same time certain long vowels became diphthongs. (For clarification, a diphthong is not an undergarment worn by the sartorially challenged at the beach.) Thus /i:/ became /ai/ and /u:/ became /aʊ/. So, whilst we used to live in a hoose (as the Scots still do), we now live in a house; and whereas we used to milk a cuu, now we milk a cow. Even the number of digits we have on each hand has changed, from feef to five.

Thai underwent a similarly dramatic change: The Great Tone Shift. Tones are incredibly important in Thai; maa can mean come, horse or dog according to the tone with which it’s pronounced. Similarly yaa can mean grass, medicine or don’t. Every word has its correct tone. However, dramatic changes occurred in which words that were originally pronounced with a low-tone are now pronounced with either a low-tone or falling-tone; words that were pronounced with a mid-tone are pronounced with a high tone or a falling tone &c. Unfortunately, the changes occurred shortly after King Ramkhamhaeng devised the Thai script, which accounts in part for the complicated written mess that is the Thai language; originally the two tone marks each corresponded to a single tone, as did the absence of a tone mark. (Subsequently two further tone marks were introduced to accommodate certain foreign words.)

Such a dramatic shift in the language sounds like a recipe for total confusion. I don’t want to go to a restaurant and order dog meat, yet receive horse. Nor do I want to go to the pharmacy and be given grass to cure my malady. Yet Thais can whisper to each other and be understood with no difficulty at all, even though the physiology of whispering makes it impossible to produce tones. Perhaps the tones aren’t that important after all.

Thai continues to evolve. At the moment perhaps the majority of Thai speakers uses /r/ and /l/ interchangeably (very similar to the way that in most Spanish dialects /b/ (or /β/) and /v/ have merged, so many Spanish speakers Barcelona and Valencia start with the same sound). It is axiomatic in historical linguistics that once two sounds have merged they can never “unmerge”. Whether the merger will run to completion in Thai is unclear to me. There appears to be little social stigma attached to merging the sounds. (In other languages undergoing a similar merger there has been a small “upper caste” which has preserved the sound distinction, and the merger has not been completed, and has often been reversed.) However, Thai is obsessive about maintaining the original spellings of foreign words in its script, so the need to be able to write might just preserve the /r/ /l/ distinction.

A second change is the dropping of consonant clusters. Thai has no consonant clusters at the ends of syllables, so a word such as statistics becomes sa-thi-ti (สถิติ) in Thai. And there are few Thais who could get their tongue around a word such as crisps. Consonant clusters at the beginning of words tend to have an unstressed /a/ inserted. So, sport becomes sa-port in Thai, for example. However, the language does have a limited range of initial consonant clusters- but these clusters are fast disappearing. Thus plaa (fish) is most often pronounced paa, and the polite particle used by men, formally pronounced khrap is most often reduced to khap.

So, like, y’know, language changes. People just talk so vat uvver people cn understan vem. Wasssamatter wiv vat?


Sunday morning coffee concerts at the Wigmore Hall in London are a staid affair. Quite possibly they could be enlivened by ear-splitting amplification, pyrotechnics, spraying water over the audience and stage-diving. Such entertainment was certainly prevalent at last night’s performance by Green Day at Impact Arena on the northern outskirts of Bangkok. And if the staid way that the audience at the Wigmore Hall were replaced by a vast throng of people jumping up and down on the spot, waving their hands in the air, clapping and shouting, well, why not? Of course, I was left with stiff shoulders, aching hands and a hoarse voice, but they say that pain is character-building. I am left wondering, though, why I spent a small fortune for a seat which I didn’t find much occasion to use. It was far more fun being on my feet with everybody else.

The audience at the Wigmore Hall dresses most conservatively. The late-middle aged and elderly turn up in their droves dressed in shirt, tie and jacket or ever-so-tasteful skirt, blouse and knitted cardigan. Here the dress code was equally conservative: black T-shirt and jeans.

Of course, the coffee concerts at the Wigmore Hall conclude with a civilised glass of sherry (or, for the abstemious, a cup of coffee). Here the only refreshment was Singha beer (which you had to pay for) – from one of the sponsors of the concert – not that I imbibed. Sitting for two and a half hours with a full bladder is far from my idea of fun.

As far as I recall, the Wigmore Hall doesn’t explicitly inform its audience that glass bottles, chains, weapons and illegal drugs are banned. Nor does it tell them that cameras are banned “for your safety”. Of course, almost every mobile ‘phone has a built-in camera these days, so at times in front of me I saw a sea of mobile ‘phone screens help up better to capture the artistic moment for posterity in a grainy picture.

As a prelude to the performance a performer dressed in a pink rabbit suit staggered drunkenly across stage clutching a bottle of beer in each hand. I couldn’t tell whether it was Singha, but it certainly demonstrated the perils of the demon drink. It was actually quite funny. Then Green Day took to the stage…

Green Day, Bangkok, 2010, ticket

The performance was both everything I had expected and everything I had hoped for. They performed a full range of their greatest hits, from the early days to the latest album. There were also a couple of songs I didn’t know. Many of the Thai fans knew all the lyrics, and at one point a young man was hauled out of the audience to sign the opening verse of one of the songs. He did amazingly well – and I’m sure it’s an experience he’ll remember for life. It’s not every day you get to perform before a packed arena.

The concert ended with Billie Joe doing a couple of solo numbers with him accompanying himself on acoustic guitar. His voice was a little hoarse after a two and a half hour performance, and the songs were a little bitter-sweet (“Wake Me Up When September Ends”, which is about the death of his father, and “Good Riddance (Time of your Life)”). All in all, for me, a great way to spend an evening.


As I’ve written before, ghosts in Thailand are greatly feared yet ghost stories are a major film genre here. However, as this Thai advert reveals, they’re really not scary at all:


About the Ghosts

Phii Kraseu (ผีกระสือ)
This ghost is in the form of a beautiful woman, albeit one with no lower body and trailing intestines and a brightly beating heart (which you can see just before the lights are turned out at the end of the commercial). Lacking legs she gets about by floating. She lives inside a witch and leaves her host’s body during the night through the mouth. She’s not generally harmful to human, except when she eats their entrails. She’s also rather partial to sucking out and eating the placentas and foetuses of pregnant women just before birth. Generally, though she just eats poo. Consequently going to an outside lavatory in the night can be a terrifying experience. Thank goodness for the invention of the chamber pot. Before the host witch can die she must find someone to eat some of her saliva, so snogging such a witch is not the best of ideas.

Phii Krahang (ผีกระหัง)
This ghost is a man with feathers and a bird-like tail. He flies by means of rice threshing baskets and eats poo and sits on a pestle used for pounding rice. At night he glows.

Banana Ghost, Phii Kluay (ผีกล้วย)
This kind of ghost is female and lives in a banana tree. When it’s dark they come out and try to seduce men. Once seduced the man is trapped in the spirit world and can never return to the real world.

Jackfruit Ghost, Phii khanun (ผีกขนุน)
This isn’t actually a ghost, but rather a slang term for a lady of the night. The English subtitles in the clip are actually wrong – the father says it’s a person, not a transvestite. In days gone by prostitutes used to loiter alongside roads and in parks, often under jackfruit trees. When children asked about these strange ladies the parents, unwilling to explain the real situation, said they were jackfruit ghosts.

Blue Ghost, Phii Puming (ผีปุ่มิ่ง)
Usually this ghost is a beautiful female who is partial to human flesh. However, it also comes in male form. When Suvarnabhumi Airport was built they made a couple of mistakes: (1) they built it on a swamp (the area was originally known as “Cobra Swamp”), and (2) they built it over a graveyard. The former meant that the place started cracking up even before the first passengers had flown. The latter meant the place was infested with ghosts, including this one. A large group of monks performed a ceremony to clear the place of ghosts. The other problem is rather more intractable.

Phii Preet (ผีเปรต)
This ghost is as tall as a palm tree and is very thin on account of having only a tiny mouth. Gluttons tend to be reborn as this ghost. At night it roams the countryside making a plaintive whistling sound begging people to make merit for it so it can be released from the karmic consequences of its greed in a former life. This ghost is one of the pretty harmless ones.


It’s probably fair to say that Thailand isn’t famed for its political correctness. One well-known brand of toothpaste (actually from Taiwan) used to be known as “Darkie”, and the packaging featured a stereotypical minstrel (allegedly inspired by Al Jolson).

Darkie Toothpaste

Procter & Gamble took over the company, and the preparation is now know as “Darlie”, though still has the minstrel as its logo.

The following advertisement, for another toothpaste (which happens to be black) is both touching in its portrayal of a black man in Thailand, and quite shocking for the implicit racism.