Monday, April 25, 2011

Simplicity and good food

Today I came across the blog/site Three New Leaves by Matt Madeiro.  It is an elegant and inspiring site written by a young man who has dramatically improved his life in a very short time through some deep thinking and research. 

Essentially - he has pared his life back to core elements and simplified his food intake back to the paleolithic diet   (also called the caveman diet).  

You eat meat, fish, eggs, nuts, fruit and vegetables - and oils such as olive or nut oil - but no grains, dairy foods (except a bit of goat cheese) or any processed foods.

The proposition is that in evolutionary terms our bodies are perfectly adapted to this kind of diet - and that processed food makes us sick.

You can see the dramatic impact on Matt's body from following this diet in his post called  How I got into the best shape of my life .

Really food for thought (poor pun) - and now I'm reading Matt's ebook - "Simpler" - I'll let you know what I think down the track.

I did something similar earlier this year and dropped 5 kilos in a couple of months by following the guidance of Michel Montignac - who was one of the pioneers of what is now called the "Low GI" diet movement.  Similar themes to the Paleo diet used by Matt Madeiro - protein and vegetables are good - beware of processed food and especially refined carbohydrates.

More recently I have been reading Dr Perricone's "Forever Young" - and integrating this with the work of Montignac.  As I integrate this material I'll share some conclusions.  However - in the meantime - it's a great read about what is happening in our cells when we eat the right and wrong foods. 

The core message - keep it simple - and eat like our hunter/gatherer ancestors.  

Eat  meat, fruit and vegetables and avoid processed food.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Down South

Living in Perth, when we want to get away for a break - we head along the coast.

We are either "UP NORTH" or "DOWN  SOUTH" sort of people.

I am more of a "DOWN SOUTH" person and have  wonderful memories staying on the South West Coast with friends and family.

At the moment I am "DOWN SOUTH" in Dunsborough, enjoying the Easter Break with my love.

We had a great day today, with perfect sunny autumn weather and a gentle warm breeze.  Now in the evening it is raining with heavy coastal showers that are drumming hard on our metal roof.

The gentle light, the lack of "busy jobs" and the forced slowing down allows time to think.

We went to an opening at  Gunyulgup Gallery tonight. And I fell in love with some paintings by Henryk Sydlowski .

We have had the time to

1. Re acquaint ourselves with ourselves and our game plan.
2. Think over the things we will be working on over the next few months.
3. Read some good books, and enjoy some time together - not in a rush.

Make sure you give yourself time to head DOWN SOUTH - wherever your place is.

DOWN SOUTH is a state of mind - to carry back with us into our busy lives.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

It's like making a cake

      Cake Ingredients at Dean and Deluca, NYC, October 2010

Investing is like making a cake.  For the best results you need to have a range of good quality ingredients, you need concentration  and a steady hand, you need a constant temperature - and most of all you need patience.

This is my conclusion after reading two interesting pieces today.

The first was a New York Times  article by Ron Lieber  on November 26, 2010 headed "A Dying Banker's Last Instructions".  Gordon Murray - a 25 year banker with Lehman Brothers and Credit Suisse First Boston - has terminal brain cancer - and has used his remaining months to write a book "The Investment Answer" with his co-author Dan Goldie.

The book is a lesson on patient asset allocation instead of trying to beat markets.  And summarises some sound principles:

1.  Hire an advisor who is paid by you, not the funds you are investing in.
2.  Divide your funds across both multiple assets (stocks and bonds).
3.  Spread across the globe - diversify your country risk.
4.  Choose passive funds (like index funds).  Few managers can beat the market.
5.  Re balance by selling your winners and buying more of your losers (if you have done 1 - 4 above, and this is hard to do).

The second piece was written by Deborah Nason in Investment News on November 28, 2010.  Nason describes some new funds that have been established for investors who wish to invest in local food systems and local economies close to them and are patient with modest returns.  She describes some funds established by RSF Social Finance which seek to invest in local sustainable food production businesses.  RSF report a 30% per annum growth in client numbers.  Their investors are not expecting double digit returns, and are concerned by climate change and carbon footprints.

Can you see why these two stories synthesised for me?  Have patience, mix your investments around, read some good recipes and listen to good advice, support your passions and convictions (great to invest in local sustainable food production systems!) and don't listen to people who are promising they can beat the market or who are being paid by the funds they trying to sell to you.  Pay for good advice and be patient with steady returns.

Like a lovingly baked cake - your investments will do fine.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Food As an Asset Class

In her Australian Age article today ( Food for more thought) Jo Chandler talks about her trip to Malawi in October 2005 when she saw the desperate famine and the awful spectacle of western aid agencies having to ask village elders to choose who should receive the limited food aid available.  She then contrasts this with Malawi in 2010.  The country is now a net exporter of food to its neighbours after the president introduced a program to subsidise fertiliser and seed and encourage a drive to self sufficiency.

Chandler talks about the emerging food crisis and the consequence of limited investment in agriculture research and development compared to the need.  She quotes the director-general of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation Jacques Diouf.

 "More than 70 per cent of the extremely poor live in rural parts of developing countries, and those areas need investment in seeds and fertiliser, and better access to markets, to reduce hunger. Developed countries promised to invest $22 billion in aid to agriculture from 2009 to 2011,  but so far only $425 million has been spent. Movement is in the right direction, but the pace needs to be accelerated".

And she quotes from the Australian director of Oxfam Australia. 

''We have seen the results of decades of immediate interventions without long-term planning, and it has not helped people in developing countries to have sustainable access to enough food. What we need is a long-term response that invests in small farmers who feed their families and communities, that helps farmers adapt to the impact of climate change, and that provides sustainable ways to use the land and water resources we have.''

The  UK based Financial Times today (Friday 15 October) contained a  special supplement titled "World Food" which profiles the emerging food production crisis in the world.  Reference is made to the recent decision by the  Bill and Melinda Gates to now focus on agricultural research and development as part of its new focus on food security.  There is also reference to the the bid by BHP Billiton, the world's largest mining group - for the Canadian fertiliser company PotashCorp.  

And in Australia - there is a race by Canadian agribusiness companies to win control of the Australian grain sector - with Viterra of Canada acquiring control of the Australian wheat and barley exporter ABB and the more recent bid by the Canadian fertiliser company Agrium for control of the former Australian Government owned grain exporter AWB Limited.  

All this  "food crisis stuff" is attracting  serious attention from  the world's financial press.  What is it telling us?  That perceptions are shifting about food production assets as an asset class - and that food itself is now becoming a strategic lever  as the world starts to realise it  needs to re-scope the capital base around food production technology and infrastructure - within the new constraints of the post GFC  liquidity and capital rationing,  declining sustainable fresh water sources,  limited arable land availability and the impact of volatile climate change.  

The challenge is in three parts:

1. To equip the rural poor around the world to feed themselves (using the Malawi model).

2. To provide sufficient food to the world's city based populations.

3. To understand how and where the global investment community should place capital into food production assets (following the lead by BHP with it's potash play).

I prefer to be optimistic about these challenges.  What an opportunity for the innovative use of capital and for fresh thinking!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Look to the East for Liquidity

We continue to see the impact from the  collapse of liquidity and erosion of value in the old world economies  flowing from the global financial crisis of 2007 and 2008.   The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania recently reported ( In Search of Capital ) that during 2009 angel investing in the USA in start ups declined a further 8.3% to $17.6 billion - following an earlier massive  drop of 26.2% in 2008.  This didn't really overcome the positive news that because deals were slightly smaller in size last year there was actually a 3% increase in the total number of firms that got financing.  If the US stops funding entrepreneurial activity there is something seriously wrong.

In June we saw Dave Kansas pose the question Did China Save Your Retirement in his Wall Street Journal article - proposing that unless the Chinese let their yuan appreciate against the US dollar US retirement savings were under severe threat - and expressing some relief that there appeared to be some signs that China appeared to making moves to loosen controls on their currency.  More recently we have seen the US legislature approve new laws empowering the administration to take punitive action against the Chinese unless they relax their currency controls.  I won't hold my breath.  Why should/would they?

To me the best indicators of what is happening is to watch where the private bankers and investment bankers are going with staff, infrastructure and to source capital.  And it's not Europe or North America. It's India and China.  Look at the example of Lombard Odier Darier Hentsch, the small and venerable old boutique Swiss private bank - which is boosting its Hong Kong team.  At the time it made this announcement in September it criticised it's larger private banking rivals also rushing to China stating that the days of product pushing are over and the future of private banking is "where the client is still the focus".  "The deleveraging that has occurred following the global financial crisis in 2008 has resulted in a structural change in the market.  It is not a cyclical change".

I am excited by this.  As an Australian living in our island at the bottom of Asia I am living right in the middle of the largest global power shift since the war.

What opportunity there lies for the brave and the agile!

Friday, May 21, 2010

The West must try to age gracefully

HSBC's Stephen King says that the US should age gracefully in his latest book.  He is pointing to the tectonic shifts in global power that are evident in the the current financial crisis in Europe - which he says - just like the US - has borrowed too much money for too long (over 40 years of living on deficit budgets) and supporting an unsustainable way of life.

Will the Western Europeans with money (Scandinavians, Danes,  Dutch and Germans) bail out the rest of their colleagues in the EU if the USD950 billion bailout announced on May 9 by the EU Finance Ministers does not restore confidence in the Euro?  As Time magazine points out (May 24 2010, page 19) - this bailout amounts to a massive 8.2% of the EU Gross Domestic Product.

More voices all saying similar things (refer my earlier post about Standard Chartered Bank's commentary about the future being with countries with cash, commodities and creativity - or at least one of these).

The only countries with cash now are the Gulf States, Russia and the strong emerging nations of East Asia - lead by China.

Indeed, the West - at best - will do well to age gracefully!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Super Tax - Super Silly?

I was recently in Geraldton - which is a dynamic regional centre about 1 hours flight north of Perth in Western Australia.  The town was historically wealthy from grain farming and fishing, but more recently the local economy is booming with the development of a handful of new mining companies and the commitment by industry and government to build a new deep water bulk commodity export port which will be known as Oakagee.

The sunset is looking over a new children's water playground on the foreshore - taken from my hotel balcony.  I remember staying at the same hotel ten years ago and trying to go to sleep over the sound of grain trains rumbling through the night along this same foreshore.  The town has relocated the railway to a new route behind the town and has created a new beach by trucking thousands of tons of sand to the foreshore - creating a beautiful seaside lifestyle with marinas, coffee shops and apartments.  This is wealth from mining and commodities, and the thing I like about Geraldton is that food production is still powering ahead in a complementary way.  The locals are developing an integrated economy.  And one of Australia's largest wind farm projects is just outside town.

With the financial rumbles in Europe the world is a buzz about Gold  as a store of value.  This is an article about the "Super Pit" gold mine in the town of Kalgoorlie in  Western Australia- which is apparently now one of the largest man made holes in the earth's crust (soon to be 3.6 km long and 650 metres deep) and also one of the world's richest deposits of gold.  Australia is the second largest producer of gold in the world after China and in 2009 Australia earned $17.5 billion dollars in revenue from gold sales.

You can check out the Google Earth Super Pit to see how big it is.

But all this wealth has now attracted the attention of the politicians trying to shore up government revenue streams.   Australian politics is currently dominated by the announcement by the Australian government that they intend to introduce a new "super profit" tax on mining companies in Australia.  This weekend the Australian  mining lobby is  running advertisements saying that if the tax is introduced, Australia will have the highest tax regime on resource extraction in the world at 58%.  And with an election due in Australia within 6 months or less - the main opposition party has responded by saying that it will abolish the "super tax".  The battlelines are drawn and it will be a fascinating contest.  But like all things political - the focus is on the short term and the spin.

My view?  We have the mineral and energy commodities the world needs now and should develop them in a sensible way - but instead of a super tax (which is fundamentally discriminatory and anti competitive) we should provide global best practice tax and capital investment incentives to attract capital investment into sustainable food, water and energy systems and research and development in these areas.

Look at the example of the Middle East Gulf economies - who know they are running out of energy  commodities and are aggressively investing in food, water and sustainable energy assets around the world.

A little town like Geraldton is starting to get its act together - is it too much to hope for our politicians to think past the short term and do the same?