May Monies

Coming to the end of May and my big cap portfolio is coming along okay.


Shapes in the sky.

It’s up a little over 2.5% for the proverbial Mad Month of May. However as nice as that sounds it has under-performed compared to the FTSE 100 (up around 4%). The main problem here for this portfolio was a sudden fall by Tate & Lyle. Despite announcing a healthy increase in pre-tax profits there was only a small increase in sales. This sales performance appears to have disappointed the market so it has punished Tate with an 8% fall over the last few days. It could well be time to say goodbye to them, also possibly to Ashtead which since a peak in April seems to be starting a downward trend.

Looking at the others, Burberry seems to have recovered from its nasty fall in April with the rest generally coming along nicely.

As for replacing Tate and / or Ashtead, then the investment company 3i (III) and the digital payment company Paysafe (PAYS) are on the short-list. Much depends on what happens when the market opens tomorrow.

My income portfolio (up 2.6%) has slightly outperformed my big cap portfolio in capital growth while also providing dividends at an equivalent annual rate of over 3.3%. No plans here to make any changes to this. It is targeting long term income rather than capital growth with a holdings review probably not till December.

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End of April finance

End of month finance review time.

sunset over bridge

Sunset over the railway bridge.

What’s happened on the finance and investment side of things? Redrow has done rather nicely but star performer has been JD sports, up neatly 15% over the last month. On the downside, Burberry recently announced a reduction in sales and so suffered a sudden fall in price but looks to be recovering a little. Rio Tinto seems to be on a bit of a downer, but it’s GlaxoSmithKline that’s going to be sold out of the portfolio. So on Tuesday (Monday being a bank holiday) Glaxo will go and coming in will be Persimmon (PSN).
Overall the portfolio is up over 2% and is nicely outperforming the FTSE 100 index. It is generally targeting capital growth, any dividends will be seen as a bonus.


As for setting up an income virtual portfolio I’m doing something a little non-standard. I’ve sorted out 10 high income type investment trusts (Brunner (BUT), City of London (CTY), F&C Capital and Income (FCI), JPMorgan Claverhouse(JCH), Merchants (MRCH), Murray Income (MUT), Schroder Income Growth (SCF), Scottish American (SCAM), Temple Bar (TMPL), Value & Income (VIN)), and have, in my simulation, bought £1,000 of each of them.

The slightly non-standard thing is that having decided on what to buy (based on long term dividend stability / growth) I back-dated the purchase to the start of last December. This does immediately give me an idea of how the income side is performing in respect to dividend generation. The start of December is also an important date regarding some pension stuff I have. Having this income portfolio running parallel to my pension stuff will be useful to me. This straight away lets me see that it’s currently paying out dividends at an equivalent interest rate of 3.5% a year. If I add this to overall capital growth then since December it’s showing a 10% gain. This compares to an 8% gain in the FTSE100 Total Return Index over the same period.

I’m happy enough with things at the moment. It is a learning experience and will be useful later in life when I’m no longer having a wage as an income but am relying on other investment sources.

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Time to think about generating income.

wet window

Through a wet window

Income please.

As well as my big cap portfolio I’m playing with, I might start a second one. The objective will be to see about generating income. A mix of relatively high yield unit trust / OEICs and of investment trusts, say 5 of each. The idea will be very much a buy and hold routine. It will have a review it once a year in case any disasters need to be weeded out.
As it will be targeting income I won’t be too concerned about capital growth. (I will assume any growth in one investment will probably be balanced out by losses in another.) Any actual ‘overall growth’ in the portfolio will be through reinvesting any income not withdrawn at yield or dividend payment time. This should be an interesting experiment. Dividends are usually paid out twice a year, so this will not be a portfolio to be ‘rushed’. As a target a 4% income seems a reasonable objective to aim at. This will be a learning experience, I’m not going to worry as to what it actually turns out to be. So long as I can gain some knowledge and experience doing this I’ll be happy.

As for my main virtual portfolio, then I think I will go for the idea at the start of each month of culling out the worst performer if it really has behaved badly. I don’t want to get into the bad habit of too much churning and replacing things just for the sake of it, that will only rack up unnecessary charges. However cutting losses is so important in ensuring an overall gain. Remember that if an investment falls by say 50%, it will need a 100% gain to get it back to where it was.
The portfolio is currently getting into profit. This is mainly through a nice set of results by JD Sports. Rio Tinto is still looking a bit weak, so if anything’s going to go at the start of next month it is still favourite for the chopping block. It would be nice if it did burst back into life.

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financial ups and downs

Time to kick this blog back into life, so let’s try by occasionally talking about some financial ups and downs type stuff.

As part of my Master Plan to become stinking rich and rule the World – or perhaps at least become financially stable – I thought I’d experiment a bit with some virtual stock-market trading. So (using the financial web site). I have, as of 6th March, ‘virtually bought’ 10 of the leading UK stocks. And as this virtual portfolio moves up and down (I hope far more of the ‘ups’ than ‘downs’) I’ll report back here.

The current virtual portfolio is split across Ashtead (AHT), Burberry (BRBY), Carnival (CCL), CRH (CRH), Electrocomponents (ECM), GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), JD sports (JD.), Redrow (RDW), Rio Tinto (RIO) and Tate & Lyle (TATE).

Various financial targets, looking at things over say 6 months or a year. First, and perhaps the most obvious – not to make a loss! Moving up in scale, to beat a high interest bank account. To outperform the FTSE 100 index (surprisingly few ‘professional advisers’ can actually achieve this over the long term). To learn a bit about the financial world of how to sensibly save money.  Also, and perhaps most importantly, to have a bit of fun.

So now we are almost a month in, time for some first thoughts.

These are all big-cap companies varying in market capitalisation size from Carnival at around £680 million up to Glaxo at £1200 million. With these sort of sizes I would not be expecting too many sudden large jumps in value. Six (AHT, BRBY, CRH, ECM,GSK, RIO) are showing small losses, that leaves CCL, JD., RDW and TATE into profit. However despite the majority in loss, overall things are into positive territory through JD Sports increasing by around 8%.

Even as I am writing this there is something I might try. If I have a reason to sell something then it will obviously get sold. However, on a monthly basis, assuming there was the usual mix of ups and downs, then look to see which was the worst performing and if it has fallen by more than 5% then sell it. I must think about this over the weekend (this is being written on a Saturday). Assuming I decide to go with this, then Rio Tinto (down nearly 6% and below its 50 day moving average) will go and probably replaced by Smiths Group (SMIT).

Oh decisions, decisions!

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iPhone 6s Plus First Impressions.

I’ve had my iPhone 6s Plus for a couple of weeks, so I thought I’d comment on my first experiences with it.

As soon as I got it (from my local 3 shop) it was straight off to Starbucks and investigate. (Come on now, you can’t seriously expect any self-respecting technology-related guy not to want to play with a new gadget like an iPhone as soon as is humanly possible.)

The first thing that struck me was the minimalist (if that’s the right word) amount of documentation that was included, and what was there was of such small print size it was almost impossible to read. Putting the SIM in and powering up the iPhone, it immediately wanted to connect through to an Apple registration centre, but not through its SIM / phone data connection but using Wi-Fi. The first efforts through Starbucks’ Wi-Fi failed miserably. It just would not connect to the registration centre. Next I tried using my Samsung Note 2 as a Wi-Fi hot-spot. That got thing a bit further forward in that it did say it was now connecting, but it just sat there and sat there and wouldn’t go any further.

So out with my lap-top (a MacBook Air, but running Windows 10), and with it tethered to the Note 2 it was off to do a bit of internet research. It appears I’m not the only one to have start-up registration problems, the solution being to connect the iPhone to a computer and then use iTunes. A little annoyed at this routine but at least this did work. However considering this was a brand new latest model iPhone straight out of the box I was surprised to see that it wanted to do a major operating system update.

Oh well, at least it’s up and running, but rather than update in Starbucks I thought I’d wait till I got home and use my broadband connection there.

This is where things got a little bit odd. On energising the iPhone at home it immediately locked onto my router Wi-Fi and started updating through that, but without asking for the router’s password! There was also confusion over PIN numbers relating to different levels of security functions – such as me entering in a 4 digit PIN but then later it wanting a 6 digit number (which I had not given it). I don’t know if it had picked up information or numbers that had been attached to my iTunes account, but it got to the stage where I said “sod this, this is leading me round in circles, let’s wipe the machine and start again”, so factory re-set time.
This time (and not going via iTunes) the set-up went as I would have expected. Passwords, PIN numbers, finger-print set-up etc. all ran smoothly. So at least by the end of the day I had, up and running, a nice shiny new device.

I am suitably impressed with it (as I would expect considering its cost!!!). I have all my essential apps loaded and am bringing on-board a range of additional ones. The fingerprint scanner has worked well and I hope more apps will adapt to using that as authentication. Setting up Apple Pay was simple enough, though the touch system has worked about 75% of the time, which means I don’t yet have the confidence to not carry around my (still using touch where appropriate) other bits of plastic.

The best feature of the iPhone – battery life. I’m so glad I went for the physically larger device (with its suitably larger battery). I can’t give an exact between charge figure as most lunchtimes I cable tether my MacBook Air through it, so each day it is getting around a 45 minute top-up. This does mean that I’m going for a good few days before I’m needing to give it a proper (usually overnight) charging session.

The worst feature – the camera, especially the camera app. The camera itself does take good pictures, however I find the physical location of the lens to be too close to the edge of the phone. This means that when taking pictures (or video) in landscape mode it’s all too easy to move your finger over the front of the lens. Or to put it another way, in portrait mode it makes the phone awkward to hold especially when trying to use the on-screen controls; I really am not impressed with this. The controls are poorly laid out, It keeps on taking multiple pictures when I don’t want it to, the whole thing I find annoying to use. If you just want to call up the camera, take a snap, and that’s that then I’m sure it’s okay. However I would like to use it a bit more creatively, but working my way through the controls is a pain and really slows everything down. There are numerous other apps out there for camera control, but each of these seems to concentrate in just one area (perhaps slow shutter / night time, or its effects-rich, or good for video…) and not suitable for ‘universal’ use. I assume over time I’ll adapt, but this is still no replacement for my Panasonic Lumix ‘point & shoot’ camera.

One other indirect side effect. As I put apps onto this 6S the Apple eco-system keeps on trying to put the same version apps onto my old iPhone 3GS. The install process starts, then grinds to a halt half way through. On the 3GS I have to then delete the app, go directly to the app store and select the app from there. The store will say that I can’t install this app because my 3GS is too old, but offer me the most recent version that was compatible with this device. That install will then naturally work without any problem. Why it can’t use the correct version to start with I don’t understand. Oh well, never mind. I can live with this.

So overall a thumbs up for my new iPhone 6s Plus.

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iPhone Upgrade

I’ve just updated my mobile phone to a new iPhone.

As much as I love my Samsung Note 2, it is getting left behind technology-wise. Finger print readers, contactless payment systems, 4G connection speeds, camera quality and so on has made my Note 2 somewhat dated – though it’s still quite a powerful machine. The obvious natural choice would be to move up to a Note 5 (though for some reason Samsung seems very slow in releasing it in the U.K.), however for one specific reason I’ve shifted across to the iPhone.

I’ve got rather fed up with the Android operating system update routine.

Google goes through its usual announcement of the next major operating system release. Naturally the phone manufacturers then announce their support for it too. We then have, sometime later, it arriving on one or two of the Nexus devices. The other manufacturers will announce which of their new phones may get it, they may release it as an update for some very recent models (while still bringing out new models still running the old version), and though the manufacturers may have released updates there is still the local carriers, your Vodafones and all that crowd, to decide if and when they will put out the update. Rumours circulate, companies say one thing, then a couple of months later say the exact opposite, networks aren’t interested…

Then there ‘s the problem with those models (like my Note 2) which are no longer front line devices, and as such no longer make money for the suppliers and manufacturers. They may or may not at some time in the near or distant future get a full or partial upgrade depending even on what region of the world you are or are not located in.

This even means that you can have a nice new shiny model but with this system and its delays you may not get your upgrade until the next upgrade cycle is already happening!

Compare this to Apple. You get operating system upgrades announced. Sometime later they’ll announce actual dates and to which models it will apply to. Then you have it released around the world at the same time. Yes, there are problems and bugs and things don’t go as planned, but then this happens with Android, Windows and everything else. However at least with Apple you know where you stand. A certain range of models will get the update, others won’t.
That’s that. (If you really want to there is the possible option of jail-breaking older devices to force an update onto them, but that’s another can of worms altogether.)

So it is because of this that I have moved (back) to Apple for my latest phone improvement. I’ll still have my Note 2 with its stylus (which I really like) as my secondary or stand-by device with a pay-as-you-go SIM in it, but right now I’m busy getting my apps sorted out and seeing what this iPhone can actually do.

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Evernote thoughts

What’s happening in the world of Evernote?

Came across an interesting article in Business Insider about the ups and now downs of Evernote that highlighting their recent laying-off of staff, and I’m afraid I do agree with the overall conclusion that Evernote, unless it gives itself a big kick up the backside, has had its day.

I first started using Evernote a bit over 4 years ago and found it a really useful cloud storage cross platform note taking application with a versatile screen clipping function. However as time’s gone by Evernote seems to have stood relatively still whereas other providers have either tweaked their existing services or brought on-board newer more comprehensive applications. Google Docs has vastly improved since its conception, Microsoft has developed OneNote and its other OneDrive services, Dropbox (as well as others) can seamlessly cloud store your documents as you work on them. It was only when I read this Evernote article that I realised how little I’d been using it recently. Not any conscious decision to avoid it, but just finding other services so much nicer to use such that Evernote’s usage just naturally fell away. One problem with it is that it’s yet another application that I need to be logged in to. I use various services from both Google and Microsoft (even when I’m using my Apple products) so I have to be logged into them. It’s a bit of a pain but I accept that it’s now part of my computer related life. As they provide overlapping / greater functionality to that of Evernote I really don’t want to be logging into another application to do something I can already do.

I suspect in reality it’s been Microsoft’s recent expansion away from concentrating its services just on Windows to encompassing Apple and Android that’s changed me. That cross-platform expansion then got me looking at Google’s services in greater detail. As much as I like my MacBook and iPad I find the Apple world too restricting considering I also use Windows both at home and at work, so at the moment I am writing this (in Starbucks tethering via my phone) using Google Docs on my MacBook, which incidentally is running Windows 10.

I do hope Evernote can develop itself and compete with the other players in the field. Competition (and choice) is good, but at the moment my choice is not to use Evernote.

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Which Cloud System

Which cloud system for my day to day use?

I’ve been running Windows 10 since they first released their developers preview versions and have generally liked it. Microsoft also has its Onedrive, desktop and web-based Office stuff, all that sort of thing… so I thought I’d give the integrated Microsoft cloud world a try. So services like Dropbox (and Evernote) for backups, and linking / synchronising my desktop Outlook, documents, and all the other associated services I use together through my Microsoft account.

Like it or not, it did work quite well. Whether Word on the desktop or Word through a browser, Excel, or Calendar in Outlook, everything did seem to integrate in a sensible fashion.

However my love affair with Windows 10 now seems to be wearing a bit thin. It’s one thing for Google, as a service, to be monitoring your activity, but having the whole operating system reporting back to its controller everything you are doing, programs you have installed, even what you say… then there are other irritations like the way Onedrive now works its selective sync, or even a small change in your computer hardware and Windows 10 deactivates itself as it thinks it’s a new machine – and reactivating it can be a real pain. (I’ll be curious to see what happens when Microsoft brings out their Enterprise version of Win 10, I don’t think much of commerce and industry will want an outside organisation to be monitoring what their employees are doing!)

So on my Win 10 installs I worked my way through as many of the (numerous) privacy settings that I can find and sorted them out, and for the time being have switched back to the Big Brother of Google for my calendar, word processing and other cloud based activities.

I will give Google one thing – I do find their cloud services more integrated compared to Microsoft, even though I think Word is a far better word processor than Google’s document editor (likewise for Excel), however Google’s various different services seem to flow together in a far smoother way.

I have no particular loyalty to any one system, I use Apple products, Microsoft ones, Android, a Blackberry Z10 is my main mobile to laptop tethering / hotspot device. In the past I’ve played with Linux and BSD. They are all just devices and services there to do a job. So maybe I’ll stay with Windows 10, perhaps move back to an earlier version, or return to Apple; a little uncertain at the moment. Just have to see how things develop, especially looking to Microsoft’s new Surface Pro and / or Apple’s next Mac Mini update. After all both of these will be able to ‘cloud out’ for services and storage to whoever I choose. Though I think at the moment, regardless of operating system, Google is winning my cloud war.

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Giant Squid lavalier or Rode

Giant Squid and Rode smartLav+ lavilier mics.

Recently I bought myself a Giant Squid lavalier microphone. The version I got was the mono, cardioid model and came in at around $(US)40. This makes it about half the price of the Rode smartLav+ (itself around $80, so not exactly expensive). Physically it is a bit larger than the Rode, though I could put it the other way around and say how amazed I was at how small the Rode was. This will mean that, compared to the Rode, this Giant Squid will be a bit harder to hide if you want a your microphone to be concealed and out of view.

Being a cardioid device it will cut out much of the background sounds. One area where this can be really useful and that’s in a room with a bit of an echo to it. This device seems quite good at cancelling out that often rather unnatural ‘hollow’ sound.

Compared to the Rode the overall sound seems warmer, though looking at it the other way I could say the Rode gives a crisper sound. One area where the Rode really does outperform the Giant Squid is outside in the wind. Here the Rode is far less susceptible to that wind noise that can so overpower any outside recording. On the other hand the omnidirectional characteristics of the Rode means that if in a crowded street you may find it hard to hear your speaker’s voice above that of those around you. In this situation the cardioid pattern of the Giant Squid could work in your favour.

The Giant Squid is designed to plug straight into a standard audio recorder (I regularly use a Zoom H1) where the Rode smartLav+ is looking to feeding into a smartphone or tablet device. One big problem here is that the codecs used by phones for recording audio can (and do) vary vastly across models. Far by the best results I’ve had have been when using Rode’s adapter lead which enables the smartLav+ to plug into the Zoom.

Which of these two lavalier microphones is best – that really depends on your own situation, what you want and how you use them. At this sort of price you can’t expect perfection, however for speech recording they both provide a vast step up compared to a camera’s built in microphone.

(When I have some spare time and money I’d like to get an omnidirectional Giant Squid and compare that to these two.)


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Windows 10 Tecnical Preview

I’m having a play with the new Windows Technical Preview (Windows 10) and find myself pleasantly impressed.

I’ve installed it onto two machines, both around 8 years old. One a Pentium D based device, the other with an AMD Athlon processor, both of which originally came with XP. So we’re not talking about modern hi-tech stuff but rather antiquated hardware somewhat on the wrong side of their ‘best before’ dates.

From starting the install process (via DVD) to having a running system took between 20 to 30 minutes. No crashes or hiccups, in fact these were some of the smoothest installs that I’ve done in ages.

The AMD processor’d device is a HP machine which came with on-board graphics; this I had quickly upgraded with a base model NVIDIA graphics card. The support for this specific card ended at Windows Vista, and when I installed Windows 7 onto this machine the graphics did give problems. When I then went to Windows 8 the graphics moved from ‘a problem’ to that of a real pain, though I did get it sorted. However with this new Technical Preview the default graphic drivers worked the card without any real problems, and when I did my first run of Windows Updates it automatically installed some NVIDIA drivers which got the card working nicely.

The only drivers I had to specifically download was for the HP’s audio. As with the NVIDIA card, the support for this machine’s particular Realtek on-board sound ended with Vista, but downloading and installing the Realtek Vista drivers sorted that out.

Perhaps the best thing for many people is that there’s a real ‘Start Menu’. Initially it appears like a blend of the Windows 8 live tiles combined with the more conventional menu system. However it can be quickly configured to the style of earlier Windows (or if you prefer, to the look of Windows 8).

I’ve installed the usual round of programs (Microsoft Office, Firefox, Chrome, Dropbox, Evernote, VLC…) and all (so far) have run without any problems. No delay in opening programs or speed issues that’s made me think I’d want to go back to using an earlier system. I’ve played briefly with the virtual desktops (about time Widows had this feature built-in), being able to snap application windows to corners / sides of the screen is handy and helps to keep things tidy. It is slightly annoying how the control settings seem to be split across the new PC Settings and old Control Panel. As someone who has always configured his screen layout to have a look and feel of a basic Windows 95 desktop, I’d class this Windows Technical Preview as a case of ‘familiar but different’.

It’s still early days and I’ve not yet done anything too demanding or stressful to the either of the two systems. That will come once I’ve built up a little more general usage time (and confidence) in their operation, but first impressions are definitely very favourable.


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