Cybersecurity & the new Social Studies Syllabus

According to the GCE O-Level Syllabuses Examined in 2017 on the Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board site, Combined Humanities (Syllabus Code 2204), is denoted with:

‘Last year of exam in 2017’.

‘May be offered to repeat school candidates from 5N in 2018’

Hmmm, quite some changes… the new Combined Humanities (Syllabus Code 2267) does not have an essay? It is replaced by ‘One structured-response question testing Assessment Objectives 1 and 3’. Is this something akin to what they do in Hong Kong with their Liberal Studies?

Well terrorism as a topic is still there though it is parked under Globalisation. A related subset, the cyber security element coincides with the setting up of the Cyber Security Agency at the beginning of this year. There is a risk of hacking on telecommunications; company purchasing and payments even in the manufacturing sector. Going by the recent hacking executed by Islamic State inspired personnel, the risk is quite plausible…Especially in light of the recent attack on the New Jersey Transit Police Department where they took information about its officers from an ‘outside vendor.’

On another note, this touches on the tension between privacy and security. As of Mar 2016, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation were still on the path to gain entry to the mobile phones of perpetrators of the mass killings in San Bernardino (California) on 2 Dec 2015. According to the Washington Post <Resistance to accessing terrorist’s phone grows> from the Business Times Weekend (5-6 Mar 2016, Singapore), Google, Facebook and Apple are against any decrease in iPhone password encryption. The long term fear is the eventual legal judgment here could lead to an avalanche of uncontrolled privacy intrusion by the authorities.

Perhaps the way forward is to allow access only on those specific phones?


Melanie Burney. (29 Mar 2016). ISIS hackers target NJ Transit police. Philadelphia Media Network (Digital), LLC.

[…reports to the Prime Minister’s Office…

Engagement and outreach – Nurturing ties with … industry and thought leaders, heightening cyber security awareness through public outreach programmes, and promoting security-by-design

Industry development – …robust cyber security ecosystem, i.e. a vibrant industry … the manpower to respond … mitigate cyber attacks

Protecting critical sectors – … such as energy, water, and banking

Operations – … coordination and deployment … to cyber threats] Cyber Security Agency of Singapore. (3 Sep 2015). Our organisation.

Loke Kok Fai. (1 Jan 2016). Cyber Security Agency looking to strengthen online security in every sector. Channel Newsasia.

[The company says it has shut down 125,000 accounts primarily related to the terrorist group.] Krishnadev Calamur. (5 Feb 2016). Twitter’s New ISIS Policy. The Atlantic Monthly Group.

Anthony Cuthbertson. (3 Jan 2016). ISIS hackers target the wrong Google. Newsweek.


A sporting life – that didn’t

People have asked me why I did not venture into professional football (in the US it is termed soccer since there is NFL: National Football League, another sport altogether).

I believe I was not ready. I was overweight, and more importantly not as hungry. (Nevermind that I could pass and tackle, and scream my head off). Consider those who live in the slums of South America or the mires in much of Africa; those immigrant players now in Europe who feed entire families back in their homelands – those are the ones who stood a better chance of succeeding.

Closer to home, we can look at professional golfer Koh Sock Hwee, bronze medallist in the 28th Southeast Asian games. She took the leap when she was 26. This was what Spencer Robinson wrote of her:

In order to fund her visit to last year’s LPGA Qualifying School in California, Koh tutored maths for long hours and took on other part-time jobs.

Kee Bee Khim’s example puts Koh’s experience in sharp relief. According to Robinson, Kee may have well become LPGA champion between the seventies and nineties. Instead, she chose to stay a ‘career amateur’ and became a remisier. In another illustration, the Devonport Flagstaff of New Zealand, one photographer recalled how football became ‘serious’ when the coaches/staff began shouting at him from the sidelines.

I am just glad that if I make an error, my team will not fail to qualify for the World Cup or get relegated.


Spencer Robinson. (5-6 Mar 2016). Pros and Cons. The Business Times Weekend. Singapore. Singapore Press Holdings.

Dividend Investing

So Lack’s book also offers alternatives to bonds, that is buying shares of companies that pay good dividends. His criteria for selection are:

  • History of high dividends (duration in terms of decades and even in spite of bear markets)
  • non-cyclical
  • usually diversified
  • often profits are larger than company’s reinvestment (in other words not a growth stock)
  • low volatility (overall market beta = 1.0, choose beta less than 1.0. But the danger is when there is false correlation between the company’s beta and the market’s beta)

More research and analysis needed…


[A stock with lower volatility sees smaller share price declines when the market falls. Low volatility may also temper share price appreciation on the way up.] Lawrence Carrel. (2010). Basic Advantages of Dividend Investing. Dividend Stocks For Dummies. New York. Wiley Publishing.

Robert Laura. (29 Sep 2013). Three Easy Ways To Select and Compare Dividend Stocks. Retirement, Forbes.


Employment Snapshot – Mar 2016

In the TODAY paper dated 5 Mar 2016, demand supply exceeds demand for junior lawyers while ‘mid-tier lawyers’ are leaving the the sector. The legal labour in criminal and family law areas have fallen. Recently, the Singapore Institute of Management set up its Bachelor of Laws programme (Undergraduate) to ‘…to meet the need for lawyers in the areas of Criminal Law and Family Law.’

Meanwhile in the public education sector, 22 secondary schools would restructure into 11 – a 50% reduction by 2018. It is the biggest in 5 years. Declining birthrates were cited as a major cause.



Bonds – Again : )

I can’t recall if I had referred to Bill Gross before. I fruitlessly searched for biographies on him through the National Library Board (NLB) online catalogue. But I did get something on Forbes.

In any case, here is another writeup on bonds. Be prepared – it is a mash up.

Bonds are not always safe. Particularly unsafe are those junk bonds and those government treasuries with a history of defaults (i.e. not paying up.) Just last week, I spoke to someone in the industry and she mentioned some corporates (companies) similarly fail to pay their coupons; I inferred this was not necessarily because they were insolvent. Some investors in another instance took a haircut of nearly 50% (I think on the original capital) when their investment turned bad. Finally there was the “Lehman Brothers Minibond saga” in Singapore, 2008 (see NLB’s Singapore Infopedia for more details).

Added to this was the recent reading of Simon A Lack’s Bonds are not forever : the crisis facing fixed income investors. (2013). Hoboken, New Jersey.  John Wiley & Sons, Inc. You can see some author information here at The Wall Street Journal review of his earlier book on hedge funds. He is described on the CFA Institute site as below (The extract is broadly convergent with the description at the back flap of his book on bonds):

the founder of SL Advisors. Previously, he held several positions at J.P. Morgan, working in North American fixed-income derivatives and forward foreign exchange trading, a business he ran through several bank mergers. Mr. Lack also sat on J.P. Morgan’s investment committee and founded the J.P. Morgan Incubator Fund. He serves on the board of trustees of the Wardlaw-Hartridge School, where he chairs the investment committee. Mr. Lack also chairs the Memorial Endowment Trust Investment Committee of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Westfield, New Jersey.

Back to the topic at hand, his main persuasion is to induce the exit from bonds. On p. 122, he cited the traditional reasons for government bonds were public works or war. He argues that the reasons in the US today are different. In one example, the 2004 Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit law effectively makes the younger generation pay for current bills. We can cross reference this to p. 116 where already each US citizen is saddled, according to his calculation, with US$75,000 of debt.

From a political economy perspective (the chapter was entitled ‘Politics’), there is vested interest (no pun intended) to keep the central bank interest rates low. It is cheaper to borrow money since the government bond coupons are cheaper to repay. (p. 191 records that China holds US$ 1.2 trillion of US government debt.) This evidently is negative news for bond owners who hope to profit from interest payments, especially when inflation exceeds the investment return. (The situation is the same for corporate bonds with floating rates.) Further, heightened interest rates in the prevailing political climate appears suicidal for the ruling political party/Presidency. Taking the lead from the central bank rate, they can exact greater payment from their borrowers. Thus, no one desires to be observed as ‘…helping banks or wealthy savers…’ (p. 132)

The conclusion? I am mostly likely to stay off bonds not only due to the above, but that after visiting the below references, bonds hardly seem the most straightforward investment instrument.


For a greater overview, you may want to visit the US Securities and Exchange Commission, Office of Investor Education and Advocacy or MoneySENSE by the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

[In this discourse, higher interest rates would be a bad omen for investors who want to sell their bonds.] Mike Patton. (30 Aug 2013). Why Rising Interest Rates Are Bad For Bonds And What You Can Do About It. Forbes Advisor Network.

Investopedia. How do central banks impact interest rates in the economy?

Bank of England. How does monetary policy work?

[‘The rate at which the issuer pays you – the bond’s stated interest rate or coupon rate – is generally fixed at issuance.’] Wells Fargo Asset Management. (2016). Relationship between bonds & Interest Rates.

[‘When rates rise, lenders try to raise the amount they charge for loans faster than what they pay on deposits.’] Dakin Campbell. (16 Nov 2013). Banks Want Higher Interest Rates. Bloomberg Business.

[Two other ways contribute to higher indirect bank earnings when interest rates rise. One when the banks invests in short term notes while paying the same . The other is ‘…economic growth is strong and bond yields are rising. In these conditions, consumer and business demands for loans spike, which also augments earnings for banks.’] Investopedia. How do interest rate changes affect the profitability of the banking sector?

[‘…floating-rate bonds that have fluctuating interest rates tied to money markets, the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) or U.S. Treasury bonds. These tend to have lower yields than fixed-rate securities of comparable maturities but also less fluctuation in principal value. ‘] PIMCO Asia Pte Ltd. (Mar 2012). What Are Corporate Bonds and What Benefits Do They Offer?

Linette Lim. (30 Oct 2015). Sing-dollar corporate bond market faces rare default. Channel Newsasia.


Zeti Akhtar Aziz – ‘a tough act to follow’ (Bank Negara Malaysia)

Another Business Times article from the same edition. It was written by Anita Gabriel. The above, has served 16 years at the Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM), the country’s central bank. Apparently, she was also considered as a potential successor to Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). That is a a big deal indeed. Arguably, her excellent performance was aided to some degree by the 2009 Central Bank of Malaysia Act. The law prevents politicians in influencing its policy decisions. It is not stated in the report how much she pushed for it unfortunately.

Apart from cultivating Malaysia’s lead position in Islamic bonds (Sukuk), she likewise injected financial discipline a few years after the Asian Financial Crisis. These included increased capital and liquidity ratios in banking; fostering greater risk management and compliance in the sector. Gabriel then pinpointed this as apt preparation for the global subprime crisis that exploded in 2008.  Later in 2013/14, the BNM restricted credit card as well as loan/mortgage policies to curb increased household indebtedness. These actions in itself are hard to execute since right moves are not always popular. With little doubt, to walk her walk would be ‘tough’!


BT article – Following your passion may be a bad idea

What Vivien Shiao Shufen wrote in her Business Times Weekend piece (p. 7, 12-13 Mar 2016) hit me.

The Latin definition of passion means “…to suffer or to endure.” Well, don’t simply take her word for it. Check out the Oxford Dictionary entry (and Collins Dictionaries should you wish).